Archive for January, 2009

Building the Wikipedia for academic research

One of my occasional frustrations with the academy is the walled garden within which it operates. Too often, the theoretical and empirical work that academics do is shared only among a small group of similarly focused, educated, and interested peers within research groups and at peer institutions.

We are great at discovery, but not so at dissemination. We learn a lot, but don’t teach nearly enough.

Some of my colleagues, when describing members of their workgroups as “popular” —  for focusing their attention on translating academic jargon in articles aimed the general population, or for explaining the themes and implications of studies that are tucked away in elite academic and research journals that cost thousands of dollars to even access — use it as a pejorative term. 

I think we should treat the “mass market” as a collection of students, that we should use the popular press as an alternative classroom, and that technology should help us liberate and share knowledge.

The academy, however and unfortunately, has not yet embraced or harnessed the potential of the Internet to bridge the powerful, important, and interesting work being done in the labs and libraries within its ivory towers with the equally powerful, important, and interesting work being done in “the real world.”

All of this makes me excited about the potential and promise of AcaWiki.org, an ambitious and awesome project to make public and accessible the results of publicly-funded research. Its aim is to be the “Wikipedia for academic research.”

Below is a recent email I received on a graduate school list-serve about AcaWiki.org. Check it out, contribute or edit an entry (or two!), and let’s build something together.

play, think…

J.R. Atwood

— 

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

I’ve included you on this list because I’ve probably bent your ear about AcaWiki.org before, and/or you are an academic and can help. Please read and forward along!

Did you know that while most academic research is publicly funded, most of the public and scholars developing world cannot access it?

AcaWiki.org is one solution to this problem.

AcaWiki is a “Wikipedia for academic research” and hosts user-contributed summaries of  peer-reviewed papers. While AcaWiki facilitates access to academic papers to the public, it also helps researchers by offering easily digestible summaries of papers, commentary, and discussion.

AcaWiki is a nonprofit organization and all content is contributed under the CC Attribution license.

Here is Where you Come in 

We just finished building the BETA version of the AcaWiki site and need your help in two ways:

1. Test Drive the Site

Before AcaWiki makes a big announcement to the public we want your feedback! Does the site work well? Is it confusing? How can it be improved?

Check out http://acawiki.org and fill out this quick one-page survey, or email comments to acawikisummaries.gmail.com.

 2. Contribute a Summary

We certainly don’t want to launch the site with nothing on it! Write up a summary of your favorite peer-reviewed academic paper, or one of your own! As a special thank you, we’d like to offer a $20 gift certificate to Amazon.com to anyone on this list who contributes one full summary (or more) by January 31st, 2009. We have limited gift certificates so if you receive this via forward please email acawikisummaries@gmail.com before acting on this offer.

Here are a few examples of summaries:

http://acawiki.org/The_confounded_nature_of_angry_men_and_happy_women
http://acawiki.org/Medium_Maximization

AcaWiki will likely officially launch in February.

Thanks for all your help and please forward!

Regards,

Team AcaWiki
http://acawiki.org
acawikisummaries@gmail.com

Note:

Also of great interest, if you are intrigued by the AcaWiki project, is debatepedia, a “global wiki encyclopedia of public debates, pro and con arguments, and supporting quotations.”

This site was created by a college buddy of mine and is best understood as “the Wikipedia of debates” with the aim of engaging “citizen-editors in centralizing original arguments – as well as arguments and quotations found in millions articles, essays, and books – into a single encyclopedia.” Cool factor of this site: debatepedia is endorsed by the United States National Forensic League.

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January 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

How money shapes the brain; weighty issues in America; and more

Roundup of news and such…

** Income affects brain development: In a soon-to-be-published article in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, researchers have shown that brain physiology patterns of kids from low-income backgrounds are similar to adults with brain damage. Kids from high-income backgrounds, on the other hand, have normal frontal lobe activity. 

“This is a wake-up call,” says Berkeley psychology professor Robert Knight. “It’s not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums.”

Adds Silvia Bunge, a colleague of Knight’s at Berkeley who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in youth using fMRI, “The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development.”

More information about this research can be found here.

**  Obese Americans now outweigh the merely overweight: 34 percent of American adults — more than 72 million people over the age of 18 —  are obese, another 33 percent are overweight, and 6 percent are morbidly obese. 

Earlier this year, it was reported that 32 percent of American children were overweight, 16 percent were obese, and 11 percent were morbidly obese.

Obesity and overweight are calculated using a formula called body mass index. BMI is equal to weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Someone with a BMI of 25 to 29 is classified as overweight, 30 to 40 counts as obese and people with BMIs of 40 or more are morbidly obese.

A person 5 feet 5 inches tall becomes overweight at 150 pounds (68 kg) and obese at 180 pounds (82 kg). The U.S. National Institutes of Health has an online BMI calculator at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi.

** Sudoku over Seinfeld. Feeling antsy, restless, or overcome with anxiety? Don’t zone-out. Instead, actively engage the mind.

New research has found that “brain-sharpening activities – rather than mind-numbing ones – can rein in a restless psyche by activating the region of the brain that commands logical reasoning and concentration.” 

“If anything, hard tasks can keep anxious people from being sidetracked and can help them stay on task,” said Sonia Bishop, a UC Berkeley psychologist and lead author of the brain imaging study, published online by Nature Neuroscience yesterday on Dec. 14.

Bishop’s study shows that people who are overly anxious have a hard time concentrating on mundane tasks such as ironing and filing paperwork, even when they are not imagining worst-case scenarios. This is because, when distracted, anxious people struggle to activate the prefrontal region of the brain needed to focus on the task at hand.

These findings break new ground in understanding the brain circuitry of anxiety because previous anxiety investigations have focused on an overactive amygdala, or fight-or-flight reflex, which alerts the body to protect itself in times of danger. The new findings suggest that poor concentration in anxious people is as much due to a slow response in the prefrontal cortex when they are engaged in undemanding pastimes or chores. More info here.

** In Defense of Teasing.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

January 14, 2009 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

Visualizing GDP

Hat tip to MH for forwarding me this interesting map that renames each state with a country that has a GDP similar in size

pt…
jra 

January 13, 2009 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

Conference on Neurocognitive Development

An intriguing conference…

U.C. Berkeley Conference on Neurocognitive Development

On July 12-14, 2009, UC Berkeley will host a conference on the developing mind and brain, with a focus on research in humans. Registration is open to all interested parties.

The field of developmental cognitive neuroscience focuses on the changes in brain function and behavior over the lifespan. This field has exploded over the last 10 years. It draws on the fields of 
developmental, cognitive, affective/social, and clinical psychology, as well as neuroscience, computer science, and physics. Increasingly, as we learn more about the developing brain, research in this area has implications for medicine, education, the law, public health and social welfare.As such, good research in developmental cognitive neuroscience requires extensive training and collaboration. 
 
The UC Berkeley Conference on Neurocognitive Development will provide researchers from UC Berkeley with the opportunity to learn from and interact with many of the top developmental cognitive neuroscientists from around the country. These speakers will present data on the changes in brain function and behavior from infancy through adolescence. This conference will provide the opportunity for communication and collaboration between scientists at various stages in their careers.

 A special issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience will be assembled based on research presented at the conference. Each of the speakers will be asked to contribute a review paper summarizing work covered in their talk. Other participants will be encouraged to submit manuscripts. Dr. Robert Knight is the Editor-in-Chief of this journal, and Dr. Silvia Bunge is the Associate Editor who will coordinate this issue of the journal.

To register online or to learn more, please visit:
http://devcogneuro.net

For more information about the cutting-edge Frontiers journal series, including Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, please visit:
http://frontiersin.org
http://frontiersin.org/humanneuroscience/

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

January 12, 2009 at 2:18 am Leave a comment

Woof for Adventure Travel

Mad Dogs and Americans is a great article in the WSJ on the phenomenon of ultra-endurance events and extreme-adventure travel. Some interesting nuggets…

  • Adventure racing is America’s fastest-growing outdoor sport.
  • Examples of extreme adventure travel: the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur, a 750-mile, 90-hour race through northwestern France; trekking across Antarctica and camping on a 200-foot icefall to explore ice caves and see penguins; a three-day, 125-mile foot race through spider-infested jungles and hip-deep swamps of the Amazon basin.
  • How much do these “experiences” cost? Upwards of $43,000.
  • To the inevitable question of “why?!” that participants receive from peers, colleagues, friends, and families: “Sure, [the week-long Jungle Marathon] sounds agonizing. And it was. It was miserable. But what’s appealing is that it’s all discipline, not talent. I could never be Tiger Woods, but I can commit to the training, research, planning and execution to complete one of these races.”
  • The Adventure Travel Trade Association estimates world-wide spending on real adventure-travel packages at $75 billion to $150 billion a year.
  • The founder of Racing the Planet and director of the Gobi March says that as many as a third of athletes make a career change after participating in one of these extreme adventure races.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

January 11, 2009 at 2:46 am 2 comments

Murakami: At least he never walked

For Christmas, a good friend of mine sent me Haruki Murakami’s most recent book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It is an enjoyable, subtle,  funny, and  thoughtful collection of Murakami’s ruminations about long-distance running and the lifestyle of a writer.

Recently, another friend sent me this link to Spiegel’s interview with Murakami. An excerpt:

SPIEGEL: Which is nicer: completing a book or crossing the finishing line of a marathon?

Murakami: Putting the final full stop at the end of a story is like giving birth to a child, an incomparable moment. A fortunate author can write maybe twelve novels in his lifetime. I don’t know how many good books I still have in me; I hope there are another four or five. When I am running I don’t feel that kind of limit. I publish a thick novel every four years, but I run a 10-kilometer race, a half-marathon and a marathon every year. I have run 27 marathon races so far, the last was in January, and numbers 28, 29 and 30 will follow quite naturally.

SPIEGEL: How do you manage to motivate yourself again every day?

Murakami: Sometimes I find it too hot to run, and sometimes too cold. Or too cloudy. But I still go running. I know that if I didn’t go running, I wouldn’t go the next day either. It’s not in human nature to take unnecessary burdens upon oneself, so one’s body soon becomes disaccustomed. It mustn’t do that. It’s the same with writing. I write every day so that my mind doesn’t become disaccustomed. So that I can gradually set the literary yardstick higher and higher, just as running regularly makes your muscles stronger and stronger.

SPIEGEL: Do you know the novel “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe?

Murakami: I wasn’t impressed by the book. It’s boring. You can tell that Sillitoe wasn’t a runner himself. But I find the idea itself fitting: running allows the hero to access his own identity. In running he discovers the only state in which he feels free. I can identify with that.

SPIEGEL: And what did running teach you?

Murakami: The certainty that I will make it to the finishing line. Running taught me to have faith in my skills as a writer. I learned how much I can demand of myself, when I need a break, and when the break starts to get too long. I known how hard I am allowed to push myself.

SPIEGEL: Are you a better writer because you run?

Murakami: Definitely. The stronger my muscles got, the clearer my mind became. I am convinced that artists who lead an unhealthy life burn out more quickly. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin were the heroes of my youth — all of them died young, even though they didn’t deserve to. Only geniuses like Mozart or Pushkin deserve an early death. Jimi Hendrix was good, but not so smart because he took drugs. Working artistically is unhealthy; an artist should lead a healthy life to make up for it. Finding a story is a dangerous thing for an author; running helps me to avert that danger.

SPIEGEL: Could you explain that?

Murakami: When a writer develops a story, he is confronted with a poison that is inside him. If you don’t have that poison, your story will be boring and uninspired. It’s like fugu: The flesh of the pufferfish is extremely tasty, but the roe, the liver, the heart can be lethally toxic. My stories are located in a dark, dangerous part of my consciousness, I feel the poison in my mind, but I can fend off a high dose of it because I have a strong body. When you are young, you are strong; so you can usually conquer the poison even without being in training. But beyond the age of 40 your strength wanes, you can no longer cope with the poison if you lead an unhealthy life.

SPIEGEL: J.D. Salinger wrote his only novel, “Catcher in the Rye” when he was 32. Was he too weak for his poison?

Murakami: I translated the book into Japanese. It is quite good, but incomplete. The story becomes darker and darker, and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, doesn’t find his way out of the dark world. I think Salinger himself didn’t find it either. Would sport have saved him too? I don’t know.

SPIEGEL: Does running give you the inspiration for stories?

Murakami: No, because I’m not the kind of writer who reaches the source of a story playfully. I have to dig for the source. I have to dig very deep to reach the dark places in my soul where the story lies hidden. For that, too, you have to be physically strong. Since I started running, I have been able to concentrate for longer, and I have to concentrate for hours on my way into the darkness. On the way there you find everything: the images, the characters, the metaphors. If you are physically too weak, you miss them; you lack the strength to hold on to them and bring them back up to the surface of your consciousness. When you are writing, the main thing isn’t digging down to the source, but the way back out of the darkness. It’s the same with running. There is a finishing line that you have to cross, whatever the cost may be.

SPIEGEL: Are you in a similarly dark place when you are running?

Murakami: There is something very familiar to me about running. When I run I am in a peaceful place.

SPIEGEL: You lived in the United States for several years. Are there differences between American and Japanese runners?

Murakami: No, but when I was in Cambridge (as a writer-in-residence at Harvard), it became clear to me that the members of an elite run differently from ordinary mortals.

SPIEGEL: How do you mean?

SPIEGEL: You grew up as an only child; writing is a lonely business, and you always run alone. Is there some connection between these things?

Murakami: Definitely. I am used to being alone. And I enjoy being alone. Unlike my wife, I don’t like company. I have been married for 37 years, and often it is a battle. In my previous job I often worked until dawn, now I’m in bed by nine or ten.

SPIEGEL: Do you know the novel “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe?

Murakami: I wasn’t impressed by the book. It’s boring. You can tell that Sillitoe wasn’t a runner himself. But I find the idea itself fitting: running allows the hero to access his own identity. In running he discovers the only state in which he feels free. I can identify with that.

SPIEGEL: And what did running teach you?

Murakami: The certainty that I will make it to the finishing line. Running taught me to have faith in my skills as a writer. I learned how much I can demand of myself, when I need a break, and when the break starts to get too long. I known how hard I am allowed to push myself.

SPIEGEL: Are you a better writer because you run?

Murakami: Definitely. The stronger my muscles got, the clearer my mind became. I am convinced that artists who lead an unhealthy life burn out more quickly. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin were the heroes of my youth — all of them died young, even though they didn’t deserve to. Only geniuses like Mozart or Pushkin deserve an early death. Jimi Hendrix was good, but not so smart because he took drugs. Working artistically is unhealthy; an artist should lead a healthy life to make up for it. Finding a story is a dangerous thing for an author; running helps me to avert that danger.

SPIEGEL: Could you explain that?

Murakami: When a writer develops a story, he is confronted with a poison that is inside him. If you don’t have that poison, your story will be boring and uninspired. It’s like fugu: The flesh of the pufferfish is extremely tasty, but the roe, the liver, the heart can be lethally toxic. My stories are located in a dark, dangerous part of my consciousness, I feel the poison in my mind, but I can fend off a high dose of it because I have a strong body. When you are young, you are strong; so you can usually conquer the poison even without being in training. But beyond the age of 40 your strength wanes, you can no longer cope with the poison if you lead an unhealthy life.

SPIEGEL: J.D. Salinger wrote his only novel, “Catcher in the Rye” when he was 32. Was he too weak for his poison?

Murakami: I translated the book into Japanese. It is quite good, but incomplete. The story becomes darker and darker, and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, doesn’t find his way out of the dark world. I think Salinger himself didn’t find it either. Would sport have saved him too? I don’t know.

SPIEGEL: Does running give you the inspiration for stories?

Murakami: No, because I’m not the kind of writer who reaches the source of a story playfully. I have to dig for the source. I have to dig very deep to reach the dark places in my soul where the story lies hidden. For that, too, you have to be physically strong. Since I started running, I have been able to concentrate for longer, and I have to concentrate for hours on my way into the darkness. On the way there you find everything: the images, the characters, the metaphors. If you are physically too weak, you miss them; you lack the strength to hold on to them and bring them back up to the surface of your consciousness. When you are writing, the main thing isn’t digging down to the source, but the way back out of the darkness. It’s the same with running. There is a finishing line that you have to cross, whatever the cost may be.

SPIEGEL: Are you in a similarly dark place when you are running?

Murakami: There is something very familiar to me about running. When I run I am in a peaceful place.

SPIEGEL: You lived in the United States for several years. Are there differences between American and Japanese runners?

Murakami: No, but when I was in Cambridge (as a writer-in-residence at Harvard), it became clear to me that the members of an elite run differently from ordinary mortals.

SPIEGEL: How do you mean?

Murakami: My running route took me along the Charles River, and I was constantly seeing these young female students, Harvard freshmen. They jogged with long strides, their iPods in their ears, their blonde ponytails swinging to and fro on their backs. Their entire body was radiant. They were aware that they were unusual. Their self-awareness impressed me deeply. I was a better runner, but there was something provokingly positive about them. They were so different from me. I was never the member of an elite.

SPIEGEL: You are 59 years old. How long do you intend to go on taking part in marathons?

Murakami: I will go on running for as long as I can walk. You know what I would like to be written on my tombstone?

SPIEGEL: Tell us.

Murakami: “At least he never walked.”

Read the entire Spiegel interview, “When I Run I am in a peaceful place,” by clicking here.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

January 10, 2009 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment

Golden Bear, indeed

Jeff Tedford, head football coach at the University of California, Berkeley, has recently agreed to a contract extension that will keep him at the helm of the Golden Bear program through 2015. This news gives me the opportunity to follow-up on something I scrawled in the margin of my notebook during a conversation last year with a faculty member at Berkeley related to the intersection of athletics and academics:

Football coach Jeff Tedford is the highest paid California state employee!

I remember being struck a bit, at the time, by this note.

California, which if it were an independent nation, would have the 10th largest economy in world. Of the more than 238,000 employees on the California state payroll, the job that is most valued — using gross salary as the metric for this measurement — is the head coach of a university football program.

More than the governor of California (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, while not accepting any pay for his job, was entitled to a salary of $206,500 in 2007)…

More than Mark Yudof, President of the University of California ($828,000)…

More than Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor of U.C. Berkeley ($421,000)…

More than George Smoot, Professor of Physics and Berkeley’s most recent winner of the Nobel Prize ($193,000 in gross pay)…

More than all these figures is the salary of Cal football coach Jeff Tedford. Last year, his gross salary was $2,831,654 (source).

Tedford’s most recent contract, available here, has a couple of lines that are worth noting:

  • Base salary: $225,000
  • Talent fee: $1,575,000 (increases by $50,000 for each subsequent year following a BCS Bowl game appearance)
  • Retention bonuses of $1,000,000-1,500,000 each year beginning in 2009, with another $50,000 BCS Bowl game appearance bonus
  • Signing bonus of $1,000,000

A Golden Bear, indeed. (Worth keeping in mind, the financial support for Tedford’s contract is being provided by Athletic Department self-generated revenue.)

Another few lines of Tedford’s contract further illustrate the tension between promoting academic and athletic successes within the modern university:

  • Bonus for winning a National Championship: $150,000
  • Bonus for assembling a team that maintains or exceeds a cumulative GPA of 2.8: $25,000

It’s worth noting that the highest possible salary a teacher can earn in the school district where I was educated is $83,949 (source).

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

For more info:

January 9, 2009 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment


Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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