- Reblogged from npr
The OECD’s Better Life Index attempts to compare well-being amongst OECD nations using education, housing, environment measures. The Economist has reproduced this graphic, which ranks Australia first, the USA second and Norway third.
On the one hand these types of surveys are useful because they measure social conditions rather than simply material wealth. On the other hand, this particular graphic neglects other socio-economic measures that give a different picture of national well-being.
For example, the Index makes a sweeping statement about gender: “Taking all 11 topics of the BLI into account, the differences between women and men’s well-being are small. However, there are topics where men do much better than women, such as for instance jobs and earnings. Conversely, women fare better than men in health, education, community and life satisfaction.”
This does not really reflect social science data, which show how men and women’s mental health differs according to marital status, life stage, social network support. The 2012 World Development Report compares low, median and high income nations, noting that men in Australia and the USA are over-represented in violent crimes and incarceration. Moreover, domestic inequalities and social welfare distribution mean that these countries are ranked lower than Scandinavian nations.
Being bilingual opens up new worlds to speakers. It also appears to delay the onset of dementia…
In the Hyderabad region, a language called Telugu is spoken by the majority Hindu group, and another called Dakkhini by the minority Muslim population. Hindi and English are also commonly spoken in formal contexts, including at school. Most people who grow up in the region, then, are bilingual, and routinely exposed to at least three languages.
The patients who contributed data to the study, then, are surrounded by multiple languages in everyday life, not primarily as a result of moving from one location to another. This turns out to be an important factor, as the authors explain:
In contrast to previous studies, the bilingual group was drawn from the same environment as the monolingual one and the results were therefore free from the confounding effects of immigration. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors, such as education, sex, occupation, cardiovascular risk factors, and urban vs rural dwelling, of subjects with dementia.
In other words, thanks in large part to the study’s cultural context, these researchers made great progress zeroing in on bilingualism as the specific reason for the delay in dementia symptoms.
What exactly is it about the ability to speak in two languages that seems to provide this protective effect? Alladi and co-authors explain:
The constant need in a bilingual person to selectively activate one language and suppress the other is thought to lead to a better development of executive functions and attentional tasks with cognitive advantages being best documented in attentional control, inhibition, and conflict resolution.
Read the study in Neurology (behind a paywall). Or check out these open source links:
Links via Nicodin Bogdan on Science in Google+.
Some of the world’s most important ideas are invisible.
#Film review: Gravity is a tense and engrossing movie by the uber talented and versatile Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous films include Y Tu Mama También and Children of Men. The film is a masterpiece of the #3D medium. The claustrophobia and infinite vastness of #space is rendered as a breathtaking spectacle. Sandra Bullock has never been better as Ryan, a medical doctor and researcher whose scientific credentials are left vague and as implausible as any other Hollywood depiction of #science. Nevertheless it was gratifying to see a woman as the centrepiece of a blockbuster film that doesn’t simply treat her as eye candy. George Clooney relies on his usual smooth talking charm playing seasoned astronaut Kowalsky. He is overseeing Ryan’s mission to repair a “prototype” in space. The mission is derailed when space debris leaves the astronauts floating off course. The story is sparse, concerned solely with the practicalities of survival, but the visuals and mood are brilliantly gripping. Go watch it at the #cinema. It’s with paying extra for the 3D effects. #movies #latincinema #latin #AlfonsoCuaron
Prove Your World is a terrific webseries being developed by Dr Brian Koberlein, astrophysicist and RIT professor. Brian will be working with a team of experts, all with PhDs in their fields to create a fun and educational webseries for kids under 13 years.
Remember that teacher that inspired you to pursue your scientific dream? This show wants to be that spark for children all over. Most science TV shows for kids are either boring, inaccurate or they are entertaining but they don’t really teach people real science. Prove Your World wants to do more.
They’re looking for donations on their Kickstarter to help them bring the series to life.
Brian is one of my colleagues from the Science on Google+ community (we’re part of the 22 curators of this community). Take a look at Brian’s Google+ page, his posts are insightful, accessible and the quality material gives you further confidence of the amazing job he will do with this webseries.
This comic by xkcd is a great conversation starter for the sociology of moral panics. In 1871, Sunday Magazine lamented the lost art of letter writing. They bemoan the fact that as it becomes cheaper to write and send letters, people value “quality” letter writing less. This is seen to be to the detriment of society. The proliferation of letter writing evolves as new technologies make paper, ink and postal services more available to the masses.
The rest of the comic charts excellent examples from prestigious books, journals and professionals fretting about how technology changes the quality of human communication. We see these arguments continue today as some traditional media owners and some intellectuals decry the advent of social media and blogging, as well as how the internet in general supposedly ruins our collective intelligence. A couple of years a go, I wrote about how philosopher Edward De Bono said social media causes laziness.
What is at play behind these arguments is actually a moral panic about the control of cultural capital: technologies shift power over who controls information (in Marxist terms, the owners of the means of production). Technology doesn’t drive social change as it’s not some overpowering social force that we accept mindlessly. Instead, social relations change in response to people finding new uses for technology, and this is a feed back loop that pushes innovation in communications.
Take a look at the expanded comic and see what you think.
Credit: Link via Brian Glick on Google+.
A survey of 98 women and 23 male anthropologists finds that 30% have been verbally abused. A further 63% of women and 39% of men have faced sexualised comments in the field and 21% of women have been sexually harassed in a physical way – mostly by senior researchers in their field team. The study is being extended as more field researchers come forward and share their stories.
Monsanto is the largest corporation in Hawaii but other biotech companies also have strong influence in Hawaii. Protesters say that the biotech industry is another form of colonialism, as it evokes parallels with the USA sugar industry in 1893 which deposed the Hawaii Kingdom, effectively removing the local custom of land as a communal resource.
Al Jazeera cites that in 2012 alone 170 million hectares of land around the world was used to grow GM crops, and around 69.5 million hectares of this was in the USA. While some researchers say that GM crops are perfectly safe and necessary to feed the world’s rapidly growing population, the problem is that the law does not require GM foods to be labelled. Effectively, this disempowers consumers from making informed choices about their own nutrition.
Good article on the historical and social influences on technology adoption. Science Professor Bernard Carlson, (University of Virginia, USA) tells engineering students: “they are going to produce sociotechnical systems,” meaning they need to understand how people “interact with technology.” MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER writes:
Society shapes the development and use of technology (this is a function of social determinism; for example, cars didn’t really become ubiquitous until they became easy to operate and cheap to buy), but technology also shapes society (technological determinism; think of the way cars then essentially created the suburbs). Over time, the two interact with and change each other, an idea known as technological momentum, which was introduced in 1969 by Thomas P. Hughes, a historian of technology. According to Hughes’s theory, the technologies we end up using aren’t determined by any objective measure of quality. In fact, the tools we choose are often deeply flawed. They just happened to meet our particular social needs at a particular time and then became embedded in our culture.
"Why Your Car Isn’t Electric." Source: The New York Times.
Link via +Gaythia Weis
In this video, Raewyn Connell touches on her research on academia in the Southern hemisphere and on education, but most of her discussion is on her considerable research on masculinities. This is a very accessible overview of Connell’s work. She says her research is motivated by a desire to make the world safer for herself as a transgender woman, for her daughter, and for her community. I like this representation of sociology - producing research and activism to create a safer world. It’s poignant to remember that as another International Women’s Day passes, sociology and the feminist movement have a responsibility to all women, including transgender women.
Two anthropologists, Rachel Caspari and Karen Rosenberg, talk about the Scars of Human Evolution. This excellent Google+ Hangout for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (below) addresses great questions such as, “what are the downsides of evolution?” The chat covers the costs on our bodies, health, reproduction and on our aging populations. Caspari and Rosenberg pose an argument that runs counter to the way in which many people think about human evolution. That is: evolution is not always geared towards perfection. Humans have made excellent strides towards improving our quality of life, to make evolution “workable,” but we don’t often stop to think about the trade offs of evolution. All species have these evolutionary imperfections, but “It may be because humans are cultural animals, we’re able to ameliorate the effects of some of those [issues].”
It’s lovely to hear these researchers answer a viewer question on why we’re one of the only species to only have one race when other species have many sub-divisions. As sociologists and anthropologists know, race is a social construction. That is, it’s a cultural idea that varies from one society to another, and ideas about race also change over time. Neanderthals and modern humans were different species, but modern humans have long been a single species.
Caspari and Rosenberg argue that there are two characteristics that distinguish modern humans genetically from our ancestors: 1) We have no races. 2) We live longer. These anthropologists note that other fields of evolutionary science continue to see ongoing diversification, including the development of new diseases and the discovery of new insects. Yet there’s no evidence that there has been increased complexity in human evolution. Looking at our history, modern humans are not the “inevitable outcome of the evolutionary process.” There is, however, increased cultural complexity amongst modern humans, which impacts on the challenges we face in the evolution process, particularly regarding our health and our procreation experiences.
The researchers answer a viewer question about whether keeping people alive who are genetically imperfect weakens our gene pool. Their answer - incorporating the cultural idea of stigma and our relationship to our environment - is a fantastic example of social science. Enjoy!
Credits: Video link via Chris Robinson on Google+.
One of my favorite bits from Jacob’s post on “seapunk” was this bit about keeping subcultures “sub”:
It is an impossibility for a subcultural style to be “owned”. Sub-culture exists when gazed at by mass-culture. The only way to ensure that your aesthetic is not going to become used by others is to never share it with anyone. Another approach is to protect your aesthetic with physical violence (see: gang colors). Otherwise, once you allow your presence to be seen, it can be consumed.
Most communities protect their culture through some form of obfuscation: hiding the meaning of their communication by making it hard to interpret.
This is a practice I’ve been studying for some time and some of it is incredible.
- Tum bl r an d L J u sers sep ar ate w ords thr ou gh o dd spacin g in o rde r to fo ol sea rc h en g i nes.
- Chinese users hide political messages in image attachments on Weibo.
- General Pretraeus communicated solely through draft mode.
- 4chan scares away the faint of heart with porn.
- Other groups communicate through obscure messaging systems.
If you want your subculture to go undetected, all of these techniques are moderately effective at keeping your activity undetectable by people and their machines.