One-of-the-blue-marble-li-007.jpgMy sister sent me this this link from the English newspaper, The Guardian. Evidently, during a hailstorm, these blue balls fell on the lawn of an Englishman in Dorset.

"They were almost impossible to pick up, they were very jelly-like. I had to get a spoon and flick them into a jam jar. They had an exterior shell with a soft inside. They only landed in our garden in an area of a couple of hundred square metres."

Aliens? A sinister government plot gone very wrong? Chemicals from an airplane toilet?

Where is scientific thinking when we need it? Occam's razor would suggest that this is not aliens, just something ordinary, right?

And among the comments is confirmation that the answer is simple:

"I work at Bournemouth Uni applied sciences - Some samples just did the rounds in our offices and there is a reason this guy only found them in his garden, not his roof, or on the road etc

The blue mystery marbles are.......... garden hydration gel balls. They're going to be analysed as a exercise in university PR. But safe to say our alien overlords have not landed just yet."

The blue blobs were garden hydration gel balls. Hurray, science wins again!


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Beauty is as beauty does?

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Aging beauty before.pngNo longer aging beauty after.pngI have spent quite a few minutes clicking on the before and after shots of these photo-shopped images. The researchers are proposing a numbering system to indicate how much images have been altered which would be a useful reminder to viewers that no one really looks like this, but what caught my attention was the specific choices made by the photo-shopper. You can see it very clearly in the example of this aging beauty. Her face has been smoothed out. Her chin has been made crisper and more pointed, her wrinkles are gone, and her complexion cleared up. The whole image is bathed in a bright golden light.

What struck me was how the choices were so consistent with evolutionary research on what we find "beautiful." Clear skin, average features, a lack of wrinkles, a pointed chin--all signal health and fertility.

Check out the other before and afters on the page; the same choices are made again and again. Even a child's face is smoothed out and clarified to a gleam to increase attractiveness.

How smart is a dog?

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border collieI found this article on dog intelligence extremely interesting. Psychologist Stanley Coren has defined intelligence--dog intelligence, that is--as having three parts: adaptive intelligence (the dog's ability to solve problems), instinctive intelligence (what the dog was bred to do) and obedience/working intelligence (how readily the dog learns from its owner.) Based on estimates of how quickly a specific breed of dogs learns and how often it obeys, Coren has come up with a ranking of the intelligence of various dog breeds.

Border collies top the list. Poodles are second.

Two of these domains are comparable to how human intelligence is defined--speed of learning and problem solving--but a definition of human intelligence would tend not to include a dimension of "instinctive intelligence."

Hyperbole-and-one-half-dogFor something very amusing, read Hyperbole-and-a-half's account of trying to measure her dog's intelligence.

"A lingering fear of mine was confirmed last night: My dog might be slightly retarded."

"I've wondered about her intelligence ever since I adopted her and subsequently discovered that she was unable to figure out how stairs worked."

This is the sort of thing I'd love to use in 1001 but, then again, maybe not...

Do you see the invisible man?

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I was fascinated by this article and these this series of photos of Liu Bolin, a Chinese artist who makes himself invisible through his art.

I was also very interested in the concept behind his art, which he views as acts of protest that which is not seen. For example, his grocery store art was motivated by his sense of helplessness at food additives.

"He said the inspiration behind his work was a sense of not fitting in to modern society and as a silent protest against the Government's persecution of artists.

He said: "Some people call me the invisible man, but for me it's what is not seen in a picture which is really what tells the story.

"After graduating from school I couldn't find suitable work and I felt there was no place for me in society. I experienced the dark side of society, without social relations, and had a feeling that no one cared about me, I felt myself unnecessary in this world.

"From that time, my attitude turned from dependence into revolting against the system."

I find art most interesting when it is used to illustrate an idea, when it helps us to "see" what we could not see. That was definitely my experience with this series of photos.

Watch this video of a surfer on a 90 foot high wave. It's awesome. Then ask yourself whether you would ever want to do something like this. What adjectives would you use to describe the personality of someone who would seek out adventures like this?

Thirty people worked for 1,357 hours over 22 months to create the stop-motion animation music video for singer Kina Grannis's sweet song, "In your arms." What did they do? They could have used CGI, of course, but they didn't. They created images with 288,000 jelly beans, one image after another, then carefully photographed each image--2,460 frames in all--with a still camera. Iconic memory does the rest.

Is it cranky for me to point out that 30 people working full-time over 22 months would be 110,000 hours (it is standard to assume that a full-time position is 2,000 hours per year.) Was the team that created this video dedicated but under-employed artists? So it must be a labor of love.

If you are curious about how it was actually done (a very interesting video, actually):

The Chair of the Psychology Department sent this article from the New York Times to everyone in the department of Psychology to remind us of the "importance of scrupulous care in the ways we handle our data and report our findings." Basically, the researcher in question has been making sensational stuff up.

The article mentions the dangers of confirmation bias:

"Researchers in psychology are certainly aware of the issue [of fraud]. In recent years, some have mocked studies showing correlations between activity on brain images and personality measures as "voodoo" science, and a controversy over statistics erupted in January after The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology accepted a paper purporting to show evidence of extrasensory perception. In cases like these, the authors being challenged are often reluctant to share their raw data. But an analysis of 49 studies appearing Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, by Dr. Wicherts, Dr. Bakker and Dylan Molenaar, found that the more reluctant that scientists were to share their data, the more likely that evidence contradicted their reported findings."

"We know the general tendency of humans to draw the conclusions they want to draw -- there's a different threshold," said Joseph P. Simmons, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "With findings we want to see, we ask, 'Can I believe this?' With those we don't, we ask, 'Must I believe this?' "

I had an experience recently that suggests to me that this incident may trigger changes in how psychologists do and report research, the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back." Last August, the faculty team that teaches Psy 1001 and I had a day-long workshop with the author of our textbook. During the course of the day, I was struck because we spent nearly two hours talking about cases of fraud--the social psychologist who forged data, the highly regarded psychologist who claimed to have found evidence of ESP, the behavioral geneticist who was accused of faking data but who may not have been. Once we got started, we couldn't get off the topic. Everyone had something to offer from their area of psychology. The energy and concern being expressed suggested the emerging awareness, a consensus forming; it was as if researchers had been aware as individuals of the issue, but as they talked with one another their understanding and concern became clarified and more certain. It became a group concern. That kind of moment, when individuals realizes that something is bigger than themselves, can be a tipping point. All it takes is one more incident to motivate change.

This makes me laugh

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What makes us laugh is an interesting area of psychological study. Freud says that we laugh at things that make us uncomfortable, but other researchers say that we find incongruities funny. This picture is a sight gag. We laugh at the discrepancy between the three real dogs--golden lab, brown lab, black lab--and the verbal pun, "meth lab" with its silly dog.

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