How to Record the Sound of Silence – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic

“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.”

That’s the opening of “Future of Music: A Credo,” a 1937 speech by Cage. It continues, listing sounds we find at first annoying, then beautiful: “The sound of a truck at 50 m.p.h. Static between the stations. Rain.”

via How to Record the Sound of Silence – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

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Winding Down Possibilities

For a technical scientific term, entropy is pretty popular. I mean, it was the title of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after all. Search the Internet for “entropy” quotes and you’ll find them by everybody from Anton Chekhov and Vaclav Havel to Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick.

What’s more, a fair number of ordinary citizens even have a roughly correct notion of what entropy means. But understanding entropy more deeply is not so simple. For that, you need to master a related vocabulary word: ergodic. Good luck finding famous quotes about that. (I tried and received “We couldn’t find any quotes or authors matching ergodic.”)

Ergodic does have a fairly simple definition, though. It means something like “passing through all the possibilities.” To illustrate: Take 10 cards, numbered 1 through 10, and lay them out in any order. Arrange a system for swapping any two cards at random, over and over again. Every single possible numerical sequence of the cards will eventually appear. That’s ergodic.

via Maybe time’s arrow needs ergodicity as well as entropy | Science News.

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Multiverse Controversy Heats Up – Scientific American

The multiverse is one of the most divisive topics in physics, and it just became more so. The major announcement last week of evidence for primordial ripples in spacetime has bolstered a cosmological theory called inflation, and with it, some say, the idea that our universe is one of many universes floating like bubbles in a glass of champagne. Critics of the multiverse hypothesis claim that the idea is untestable—barely even science. But with evidence for inflation theory building up, the multiverse debate is coming to a head.

The big news last week came from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) experiment at the South Pole, which saw imprints in the cosmic microwave background—the oldest light in the universe, dating from shortly after the big bang—that appear to have been caused by gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of spacetime in the early universe. The finding was heralded as a huge breakthrough, although physicists say confirmation from other experiments will be needed to corroborate the results.

If verified, these gravitational waves would be direct evidence for the theory of inflation, which suggests the universe expanded exponentially in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. If inflation occurred, it would explain many features of our universe, such as the fact that it appears to be fairly smooth, with matter spread evenly in all directions (early inflation would have stretched out any irregularities in the universe).

via Multiverse Controversy Heats Up over Gravitational Waves – Scientific American.

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Palaeontology: Shovel face | The Economist

YUNNAN province, in China, is home to the Luoping formation, a trove of spectacularly preserved fossils of creatures that roamed the seas 240m years ago, during the Triassic period. The latest—and arguably most spectacular yet—is Atopodentatus unicus, described this week in Naturwissenschaften by Long Cheng, of the Wuhan Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources, and his team.

via Palaeontology: Shovel face | The Economist.

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The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends – Carla Diana – The Atlantic

Karotz is an Internet-enabled console in the shape of an abstracted rabbit. One sits on my coffee table, continuously connected to WiFi, programmed to broadcast certain bits of live information such as Twitter messages, news headlines or weather reports by reading them out loud. It’s a voice-driven version of the Internet that makes online cuteness manifest.

via The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends – Carla Diana – The Atlantic.

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A World without Scarcity?

An intellectual property lawyer considers the philosophical and legal consequences of a world where anything can be printed and copied.

…new technologies promise to do for a variety of physical goods and even services what the Internet has already done for information. 3D printers can manufacture physical goods based on any digital design. Synthetic biology has automated the manufacture not just of copies of existing genetic sequences but any custom-made gene sequence, allowing anyone who want to create a gene sequence of their own to upload the sequence to a company that will “print” it using the basic building blocks of genetics. And advances in robotics offer the prospect that many of the services humans now provide can be provided free of charge by general-purpose machines that can be programmed to perform a variety of complex functions. While none of these technologies are nearly as far along as the Internet, they share two essential characteristics with the Internet: they radically reduce the cost of production and distribution of things, and they separate the informational content of those things (the design) from their manufacture. Combine these four developments – the Internet, 3D printing, robotics, and synthetic biology – and it is entirely plausible to envision a not-too-distant world in which most things that people want can be downloaded and created on site for very little money.

The role of IP in such a world is both controverted and critically important.

via IP in a World Without Scarcity by Mark A. Lemley :: SSRN.

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The Overwhelm

Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, talks with the Atlantic Monthly.

Schulte scrutinizes this state of affairs: Why do we all feel so overworked? How is that feeling different for men than for women? Is a better, less harried life possible?

…Can you start by telling us about what “the overwhelm” is, how you see it now after years of research and writing on the topic, and how you think that your understanding differs from the conventional one?

This whole book started when a time-use researcher told me I had 30 hours of leisure a week. And when I told him he was out of his flipping mind, he challenged me to keep a time diary and he would show  me where my leisure was.

The whole premise of his challenge was that there was something wrong with me. That I should have this time, and if I didn’t feel that I did, it was my fault. I already felt totally inadequate—felt that I never did enough work, or that it was good enough, that I wasn’t spending enough time with my kids, or that I was so exhausted I was yelling at them, and I stomped around seething that my “egalitarian” marriage left me up late folding laundry or wrapping Christmas presents or doing the dishes while my husband slept soundly.

Before I began working on this book, I thought that’s just how life had to be—fast, crazy, busy, breathless—particularly for working mothers in the 21st century. I didn’t think it could change. I had no role models. And didn’t really stop and think about why.

via America’s Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted – Rebecca J. Rosen – The Atlantic.

America's Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic

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New spin on zebra stripe origins › News in Science (ABC Science)

A weird zebra-stripe pattern discovered in Earth’s inner Van Allen radiation belt is generated by the planet’s rotation, according to new research.

The study, reported in the journal Nature, changes science’s understanding of Earth’s radiation belts, and may provide new insights into the complicated dynamics of similar belts around other planets.

It also overturns previously held views that they were caused by geomagnetic storms from the Sun.

via New spin on zebra stripe origins › News in Science (ABC Science).

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What Would Plato Tweet? –

…For the past few years I’d been obsessed with trying to figure out what lay behind the spectacular achievements that had occurred there. In a mere couple of centuries, Greek speakers went from anomie and illiteracy, lacking even an alphabet, to Aeschylus and Aristotle. They invented not only the discipline of philosophy, but also science, mathematics, the study of history (as opposed to mere chronicles) and that special form of government they called democracy — literally rule of the people (though it goes without saying that “the people” didn’t include women and slaves). They also produced timeless art, architecture, poetry and drama. What lay behind the explosive ambition and achievement? I’d always planned eventually to catch up on the changes that were going on all around me — once I’d gotten the ancient Greeks out of my system.

Only now did it occur to me that I might be able to arrive at some contemporary perspective precisely because I hadn’t gotten the Greeks out of my system. Parallels between their extraordinary time and our extraordinary time were suddenly making themselves felt.

For starters, the Klout on which my friend prided himself struck me as markedly similar to what the Greeks had called kleos. The word comes from the old Homeric word for “I hear,” and it meant a kind of auditory renown. Vulgarly speaking, it was fame. But it also could mean the glorious deed that merited the fame, as well as the poem that sang of the deed and so produced the fame. The medium, the message, and the impact: all merged into one shining concept.

Kleos lay very near the core of the Greek value system. Their value system was at least partly motivated, as perhaps all value systems are partly motivated, by the human need to feel as if our lives matter. A little perspective, which the Greeks certainly had, reveals what brief and feeble things our lives are. As the old Jewish joke has it, the food here is terrible — and such small portions! What can we do to give our lives a moreness that will help withstand the eons of time that will soon cover us over, blotting out the fact that we ever existed at all? Really, why did we bother to show up for our existence in the first place? The Greek speakers were as obsessed with this question as we are.

And like so many of us now, they approached this question secularly…

via What Would Plato Tweet? –

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The Future of Brain Implants –

What would you give for a retinal chip that let you see in the dark or for a next-generation cochlear implant that let you hear any conversation in a noisy restaurant, no matter how loud? Or for a memory chip, wired directly into your brain’s hippocampus, that gave you perfect recall of everything you read? Or for an implanted interface with the Internet that automatically translated a clearly articulated silent thought (“the French sun king”) into an online search that digested the relevant Wikipedia page and projected a summary directly into your brain?

Science fiction? Perhaps not for very much longer. Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come.

via The Future of Brain Implants –

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The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and Your Cherished Beliefs – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Anyone with a basic grasp of biology knows that all animals have immune systems that battle pathogens—be they viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi—on the cellular level. And it’s also fairly well understood that animals sometimes exhibit outward behaviors that serve to ward off disease. Just around the corner from the fastidious Mashudu, Thornhill and I watched an orangutan named Sarah grooming her six-month-old son Pixel, poring through his hair for parasites. Some species of primate, Thornhill told me, will ostracize sick members of the group to avoid the spread of disease. Cows and other ungulates are known to rotate their movements among pastures in such a way as to avoid the larvae of intestinal worms that hatch in their waste. And in ant societies, only a small number of workers are given the task of hauling away the dead, while sick ants will sometimes leave the nest to die apart from the group.

At the most quotidian level, Thornhill finds it easy to convince people that humans likewise manifest such instinctual behaviors to avoid infection and illness. Some of these habits very much parallel those seen in other creatures.

via The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and Your Cherished Beliefs – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society.

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Elephants recognize the voices of their enemies : Nature News & Comment

Humans are among the very few animals that constitute a threat to elephants. Yet not all people are a danger — and elephants seem to know it. The giants have shown a remarkable ability to use sight and scent to distinguish between African ethnic groups that have a history of attacking them and groups that do not. Now a study reveals that they can even discern these differences from words spoken in the local tongues.

via Elephants recognize the voices of their enemies : Nature News & Comment.

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The Youngest Technorati –

Ryan [Orbuch]… is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into “the real world.” This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks “unprecedented,” said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of Ryan’s, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall — part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It’s a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: “Go to college. Go to college.” College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. “The evidence is overwhelming.”

But the “do it now” idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. “College is not a prerequisite,” said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. “These kids are motivated to take over the world,” she said. “They need it fast. They need it now.”

The college-or-not debate neglects other questions that high school students like Ryan and Louis and their families are wrestling with now: Go to class or on a business trip? Do grades still matter? What do you do with $20,000 when you’re 15? And when the money rolls in, what happens to parental control?

“Things used to be linear. You went to a good school and you got a good job, and that was the societally acceptable thing to do,” said Ms. Stern, Ryan’s mother, who was a straight-A student and is a graduate of Duke University.

Now, she said, “there is no rule book.”

via The Youngest Technorati –

From left, Michael Hansen, Ryan Orbuch and William LeGate at the TEDxTeen event in SoHo this month. Michael and Ryan, both in high school, developed the procrastination-fighting app Finish, which became a top seller.

From left, Michael Hansen, Ryan Orbuch and William LeGate at the TEDxTeen event in SoHo this month. Michael and Ryan, both in high school, developed the procrastination-fighting app Finish, which became a top seller.

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How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner | King’s Review – Magazine

An interview with molecular biologist Sydney Brenner…

In most places in the world, you live your social life and your ordinary life in the lab. You don’t know anybody else. Sometimes you don’t even know other people in the same building, these things become so large.

The wonderful thing about the college system is that it’s broken up again into a whole different unit. And in these, you can meet and talk to, and be influenced by and influence people, not only from other scientific disciplines, but from other disciplines. So for me, and I think for many others as well, that was a really important part of intellectual life. That’s why I think people in the college have to work to keep that going.

Cambridge is still unique in that you can get a PhD in a field in which you have no undergraduate training. So I think that structure in Cambridge really needs to be retained, although I see so often that rules are being invented all the time. In America you’ve got to have credits from a large number of courses before you can do a PhD. That’s very good for training a very good average scientific work professional.  But that training doesn’t allow people the kind of room to expand their own creativity. But expanding your own creativity doesn’t suit everybody. For the exceptional students, the ones who can and probably will make a mark, they will still need institutions free from regulation.

via How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner | King’s Review – Magazine.

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Graduate Student Research Symposium – TWU Federation of North Texas Area Universities – Texas Woman’s University

The Federation of North Texas Area Universities is pleased to sponsor its fifth annual Graduate Student Research Symposium on April 25, 2014, at Texas Woman’s University (Symposium Location & Directions).

At the Symposium, graduate students from Federation disciplines across the three universities–Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas Woman’s University, and the University of North Texas–will present posters of their research findings…

via Graduate Student Research Symposium – TWU Federation of North Texas Area Universities – Texas Woman’s University.

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Public Books — Stop Defending the Humanities

Those who matter most to the humanities fall, I think, into two classes. The most important is that relatively small group of 18-year-olds (disproportionately few from poorer families) who are inclined to study the humanities. Our immediate future rests primarily with them. And in regard to them, surely, we support the humanities best by teaching well whatever it is that we teach, and then by inviting them further into our world by presenting ourselves as its fit and welcoming members (not exemplars).

The second group who matter are the policymakers and politicians who control public research and education funding, and those who may influence them. This is tricky terrain. But one caution seems apposite. It is true that the humanities are socially instrumental in various and not unimportant ways, but pointing that out is, in the end, a vulnerable policy argument since the social uses the humanities do have could probably be achieved more cheaply by means that don’t require the humanities as a whole. After all, most of what the humanities do has internal, not external, use value, where it has use value at all.

via Public Books — Stop Defending the Humanities.

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Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers : Nature News & Comment

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers : Nature News & Comment

The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013…

Labbé developed a way to automatically detect manuscripts composed by a piece of software called SCIgen, which randomly combines strings of words to produce fake computer-science papers. SCIgen was invented in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers — and, as they put it, “to maximize amusement”… SCIgen’s output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick…

…Labbé does not know why the papers were submitted — or even if the authors were aware of them. Most of the conferences took place in China, and most of the fake papers have authors with Chinese affiliations.

Read the longer report via Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers : Nature News & Comment.

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Scientist proposes revolutionary naming system for all life on Earth

A Virginia Tech researcher has developed a new way to classify and name organisms based on their genome sequence and in doing so created a universal language that scientists can use to communicate with unprecedented specificity about all life on Earth.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS ONE, Boris Vinatzer proposes moving beyond the current biological naming system to one based on the genetic sequence of each individual organism. This creates a more robust, precise, and informative name for any organism, be it a bacterium, fungus, plant, or animal.

Vinatzer, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, suggests a new model of classification that not only crystalizes the way we identify organisms but also enhances and adds depth to the naming convention developed by the godfather of genus, Carl Linnaeus. Scientists worldwide have used the system that Linnaeus created for more than 200 years.

“Genome sequencing technology has progressed immensely in recent years and it now allows us to distinguish between any bacteria, plant, or animal at a very low cost,” said Vinatzer, who is also with the Fralin Life Science Institute. “The limitation of the Linnaeus system is the absence of a method to name the sequenced organisms with precision.”

via Scientist proposes revolutionary naming system for all life on Earth.

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College Applicants Sweat The SATs. Perhaps They Shouldn’t : NPR

[William] Hiss’ study, “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” examined data from nearly three-dozen “test-optional” U.S. schools, ranging from small liberal arts schools to large public universities, over several years.

Hiss found that there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “nonsubmitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “nonsubmitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

via College Applicants Sweat The SATs. Perhaps They Shouldn’t : NPR.

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A simple exercise to increase your happiness and lower depression, the greatest maps of imaginary places, David Foster Wallace on leadership, and more

A simple exercise to increase your happiness and lower depression, the greatest maps of imaginary places, David Foster Wallace on leadership, and more

Celebrated Italian novelist, philosopher, essayist, literary critic, and list-lover Umberto Eco has had a long fascination with the symbolic and the metaphorical, extending all the way back to his vintage semiotic children’s books. Half a century later, he revisits the mesmerism of the metaphorical and the symbolic in The Book of Legendary Lands (public library) – an illustrated voyage into history’s greatest imaginary places, with all their fanciful inhabitants and odd customs, on scales as large as the mythic continent Atlantis and as small as the fictional location of Sherlock Holmes’s apartment.

via A simple exercise to increase your happiness and lower depression, the greatest maps of imaginary places, David Foster Wallace on leadership, and more.

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1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says : The Two-Way : NPR

A quarter of Americans surveyed could not correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, according to a report out Friday from the National Science Foundation.

The survey of 2,200 people in the United States was conducted by the NSF in 2012 and released on Friday at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

via 1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth, Survey Says : The Two-Way : NPR.

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Where does the Amazon start?

The Amazon is believed to be the world’s largest river. A tough question has been where that river actually begins. Naming its source has evidently been difficult as centuries of efforts indicate. With technology and scholarship on hand why should deciding on the true source be so difficult? Various sites in Peru have been pinned as the source through the years. A study published online this month in the journal Area makes the case for Amazon’s source to be the Mantaro River in southwestern Peru, even though the Apurímac River has been said since 1971 to be the source. Jane Lee of the National Geographic wrote on Thursday that, if accepted, the newer findings could affect measurements of the length of the Amazon River. That length is measured at about 4,000 miles by the U.S. Geological Survey. The discovery would add 47 to 57 miles to the Amazon’s length.

via Where does the Amazon start? Study points to source.

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Study on evolution of flu viruses may change textbooks, history books

The study, published in the journal Nature, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the evolutionary relationships of influenza virus across different host species over time. In addition to dissecting how the virus evolves at different rates in different host species, the study challenges several tenets of conventional wisdom, for example the notion that the virus moves largely unidirectionally from wild birds to domestic birds rather than with spillover in the other direction. It also helps resolve the origin of the virus that caused the unprecedentedly severe influenza pandemic of 1918.

The new research is likely to change how scientists and health experts look at the history of influenza virus, how it has changed genetically over time and how it has jumped between different host species. The findings may have implications ranging from the assessment of health risks for populations to developing vaccines.

via Study on evolution of flu viruses may change textbooks, history books.

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What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? | David Graeber | The Baffler

My friend June Thunderstorm and I once spent a half an hour sitting in a meadow by a mountain lake, watching an inchworm dangle from the top of a stalk of grass, twist about in every possible direction, and then leap to the next stalk and do the same thing. And so it proceeded, in a vast circle, with what must have been a vast expenditure of energy, for what seemed like absolutely no reason at all.

“All animals play,” June had once said to me. “Even ants.” She’d spent many years working as a professional gardener and had plenty of incidents like this to observe and ponder. “Look,” she said, with an air of modest triumph. “See what I mean?”

Most of us, hearing this story, would insist on proof. How do we know the worm was playing? Perhaps the invisible circles it traced in the air were really just a search for some unknown sort of prey. Or a mating ritual. Can we prove they weren’t? Even if the worm was playing, how do we know this form of play did not serve some ultimately practical purpose: exercise, or self-training for some possible future inchworm emergency?

This would be the reaction of most professional ethologists as well. Generally speaking, an analysis of animal behavior is not considered scientific unless the animal is assumed, at least tacitly, to be operating according to the same means/end calculations that one would apply to economic transactions. Under this assumption, an expenditure of energy must be directed toward some goal, whether it be obtaining food, securing territory, achieving dominance, or maximizing reproductive success—unless one can absolutely prove that it isn’t, and absolute proof in such matters is, as one might imagine, very hard to come by.

via What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? | David Graeber | The Baffler.

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Scientists reading fewer papers for first time in 35 years : Nature News & Comment

A survey of the reading habits of US university researchers saw a drop in the traditional, paper-based consumption of information.

A 35-year trend of researchers reading ever more scholarly papers seems to have halted. In 2012, US scientists and social scientists estimated that they read, on average, 22 scholarly articles per month (or 264 per year), fewer than the 27 that they reported in an identical survey last conducted in 2005. It is the first time since the reading-habit questionnaire began in 1977 that manuscript consumption has dropped.

“People have probably hit the limit of the time they have available to read articles,” says information scientist Carol Tenopir, who led the study.

Tenopir, who heads the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, speculates that a wealth of other information sources is cutting away from the time scholars have to read articles in detail. The survey defines ‘reading’ as going beyond titles or abstracts to the main body of an article, and so it does not reveal whether researchers are quickly skimming over more articles than they did before.

via Scientists reading fewer papers for first time in 35 years : Nature News & Comment.

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