October 31, 2007

Rama @ TEDTalks

Vilayanur Ramachandran was recently featured on TEDTalks.

He talked about creativity & the brain, using these three concepts to illustrate his points:
1. Face perception
2. Phantom limbs
3. Synesthesia
Fascinating, as always.

eta: the embedded video no longer works. This link will take you to his talk at TED.

October 30, 2007

What is binocular vision for, anyway?

Great talk coming up at UConn, and I've marked this one in my calendar. Maybe see you there?

Speaker: Mark Changizi, Department of Cognitive Science, RPI

: What is binocular vision for, anyway?

Abstract: The study of binocular vision typically amounts to the study of the perception of depth it gives us (stereopsis). However, people who have lost an eye tend to have notoriously good vision, and attempts to empirically document real-life performance deficits have led to mixed results. I'll describe a function of the binocular region that has not been appreciated in the literature, the ability to "see through" stuff. If you're an animal in a habitat with lots of clutter, then you can see more of your world by having forward-facing eyes, for although you become blind to what's behind you, the extra amount you can see in front makes up for it. If, however, you're an animal in a non-cluttered habitat, then you can see the most by having your eyes face sideways, having panoramic vision of what's around you and only a tiny binocular region. Evidence across mammals supports this, suggesting that it is the x-ray power of the binocular region, not stereopsis, that is crucial for understanding why our binocular regions are so large.

If You Go
Date: Friday November 30
Time: 4 pm
Location: BOUS 160 [see interactive map of UConn & select BOUS as building name]

October 28, 2007

PowerPoint & CogSci

Interesting book called Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations by Stephen Kosslyn, chair of the psychology department at Harvard. Kosslyn is a cognitive neuroscientist who has written quite a bit about both cognitive psychology and Graph Design for the Eye and Mind (Oxford, c2006). This book talks about PowerPoint design in general with a focus on graph / chart design.

Kosslyn takes issue with Edward Tufte's essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint in which he says Tufte "claims that the PowerPoint program is inherently flawed. He has found the problems with this tool so pervasive and destructive that he challenges the very idea of using it to communicate." Instead, Kosslyn says, after he began "... keeping a lot of the problems in PowerPoint presentations ... [he] ... realized that virtually all of them occur because the presentations failed to respect fundamental characteristics of how we humans perceive, remember, and comprehend information." (both quotes p. 2)

His goals, therefore are simple:
  1. Connect with your audience
  2. Direct and hold attention
  3. Promote understanding and memory
And the book gives some concrete suggestions for how to do this with PowerPoint. One of my favorite cog sci tricks, the Stroop Effect, is mentioned several times -- in suggestions of what NOT to do (unless you're teaching about perception). Kosslyn reviews the problems with many charts, graphs, and other visual designs, including a discussion about "pointers" on this FEMA chart created after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Cog Sci realm, Kosslyn lists a few "capacity limitations" which affect how people process PowerPoint presentations. Most interesting to me are the memory limitations such as "privileges of the first & last," where you more easily remember the first 1-2 things in a list and the last 2-3, but not the middle several; and "multiple memories" where "retention is vastly improved if people ... store information in more than one type of memory." For this, Kosslyn urges presenters to "show ... a picture of an object and name that picture" to enhance memory.

If you're new to teaching or creating PowerPoint presentations, this is a good book. I found it a bit basic, but I have been working on my PowerPoint designs from a cognitive / teaching perspective (as a lay person) for some time. I was heartened to see that many of my techniques are cognitively sound, and I was inspired to change a few things here & there.

For More Information

October 25, 2007

A Bit of Unscientific (Library) Research

I'm taking a very informal, unscientific poll for the Simmons Continuing Ed. class I'm teaching next week:

Is your library making "open access" journals available to your patrons? These are things like articles in the Directory of Open Access Journals, Public Library of Sciencee journals, and other "miscellaneous free e-journals" (tm SFX)? If so, how?

Email me, comment, or otherwise let me know what you're doing in your library.


Signs of Consciousness

Jerome Groopman has an article in the Oct. 15 issue of the New Yorker. Medical Dispatch: Silent Minds: Reporting & Essays is about consciousness, particularly among those in various degrees of coma. Groopman reports on some fascinating work by the British neuroscientist Adrian Owen, who's used fMRI to demonstrate that some vegetative patients respond to language, some of whom show the "the same response to the sentences as scans of healthy volunteers." Once he and and his colleagues determined that one patient could distinguish language from noise sounds, they conducted tests to see if she would respond to mental imagery: when asked to imagine herself playing tennis, again her fMRI " 'activation [was] indistinguishable from those in the group of normal volunteers' "who had also been asked to imagine themselves playing tennis.

Groopman goes on to report on work that Lionel Naccache, a neurologist at the Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris, is doing to develop a medical definition of consciousness, which includes these three elements:
  1. Ability to report the content of a representation ("I see my cat")
  2. Ability to sustain this representation over time ("I still see my cat")
  3. The ability to "broadcast" this information to other areas of the brain. (I think this would mean things like ... "I pet my cat" or "I must feed my cat"). Groopman describes some interesting work Naccache has done to show the importance of broadcasting.
Groopman also talks about work that Joseph Giacino, a neuropsychologist at New Jersey's J.F.K. Johnson Rehabilitation Institute is doing with "deep-pressure stimulation": Giacino would squeeze "patient's muscles with force and precision," after which a patient seemingly in a vegetative state began to talk and answer simple questions. Further work at the Institute uses brain-scan technology to help with diagnosis of patients who might respond to such therapy.

The article is packed with interesting case studies and some fascinating scientific, ethical, and philosophical questions. A related article in the May 2007 issue of Scientific American by Steven Laureys is interesting because Laureys has done similar work himself. The Sci Am article also points to an interesting book about the medical, ethical, and legal dilemmas raised by these breakthroughs.

For More Information

October 23, 2007

Science Blogging: Translating 'Scientese' into English

Great session today on science blogging: Opening Science to All: Implications of Blogs and Wikis for Social and Scholarly Scientific Communication

Bora Zivkovic talked about the types of science blogging, which include ...
  • Translating science into English;
  • Combating pseudoscience (so that refutations of “pseudoscience“ show up in Google searches);
  • Affecting policy - see The Scientific Activist;
  • Fusing science & art; the history, philosophy, ethics of science (including, I would add, Hampshire College science & religion professor Salman Hameed‘s Science & Religion News);
  • Blogging from the "field" - see Bonobo Handshake;
    Popular & serious science magazine blogs (Scientific American, Nature) ... and my favorite for last:
  • Jokes - see interspecies communication via yoga !!
Jean-Claude Bradley, organic chemistry professor at Drexel, talked about "Open Notebook Science," which he compares to traditional "closed" lab notebooks and published articles where scientific data is not shared; instead Open Notebook Science is "full transparency" where all data, notes, etc. - everything that's been done -- is recorded. His Useful Chem Blog serves as integrative tool pulling together several of his blogs, including one for molecules and another for experiments. Bradley has been able to use his blog & wiki data to collaborate with other scientists to evaluate / contribute to various aspects of research, and he uses his wiki to work with his organic chemistry students.

Janet Stemwedel, professor in the department of philosophy at San Jose State University spoke about the "Social & Scientific Implications of Science Blogging." Stemwedel begins by arguing that scientific communication is essential to scientific practice - to gain resources, share information with the public, and as part of science education. Information has been shared through traditional channels such as peer-reviewed literature and conference presentations. These channels usually prevent communication between scientists and their lay audience. Some other limitations of traditional communication include biases among the small number of folks who are reading / commenting on the literature, as well as the delay between when the science was written and reported to when it is published. However, good science communication is useful both combat / screen out biases, and to cover research in many disciplines (cognitive science, anyone?)

Blogs have several promising features, like shorter time-frames between communication; and those with different disciplinary and geographic foci can participate, and there is a record of the "conversation" -- and blogging conference meetings can help make them less ephemeral (!). For current and prospective students of science, blogs can also be a window into the process of "scientific knowledge building" and what life is like as a practicing scientist (See Jane Compute is my favorite example).

Stemwedel concludes with some interesting questions and statements: do blogs help or hurt the scientists' professional reputation? Can blogs shift the culture? Increased communication between scientists and non-scientists could be a good thing.

The panelists were asked what they think are important research questions for the future of science blogging ...
  • How do scientists learn what it means to be a good scientist?
  • How does science actually get done (see examples via the Useful Chem blog / wiki)
  • What is the life of the scientific article after publication? (post-publication peer-review)
For More Information

October 22, 2007

what is “public”? Teens & myspace

Saw a great presentation by danah boyd, Raquel Recuero, and others about Research Directions in Social Network Websites at ASIS&T today.

danah talked about her doctoral work evaluating teens’ use of myspace, asking a few questions like what is “public”? and talking about the fluidity of communication between Facebook, IM, phone, f2f, etc. Sadly, ASIS&T presentations aren’t being podcast, but you can see / hear a similar presentation that danah did as part of her June 2007 presentation at MediaBerkman (Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society) on MyFriends, MySpace. I heard it a while back, and it was terrific.

And check out danah’s blog, apophenia.

October 21, 2007

Animal Bioacoustics & Speech Processing

I‘m in Milwaukee for a conference (about which probably more later), and was happy to have the local newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, delivered to my hotel room rather than a bland national paper.

Even better, there is a fascinating animal & cognitive science story on the front page. Decoding Calls of Wild is about Marquette engineering professor Michael Johnson and The Dr. Dolittle Project. The Project's goal is to "...develop a broadly useable framework for pattern analysis and classification of animal vocalizations, by integrating successful models and ideas from the field of speech processing and recognition into bioacoustics."

The Journal-Sentinel describes Johnson's work, saying that the Dolittle project "... has broad applications, from keeping animals happy in captivity to developing a precise census of endangered species from recordings in the wild." Johnson has worked with folks at the National Undersea Research Center of the University of Connecticut; the Journal-Sentinel says that the project "enabled scientists at University of Connecticut to show that beluga whales engage in a human response to noise known as the Lombard effect. Like friends trying to talk over the din at a party, whales raise their voices to be heard over the drone of ships in the St. Lawrence River estuary."

Read more about the project and see a chart explaining how the vocalizations are extracted and classified. Listen to some of the sounds (whales, prairie dogs, and elephants among them) and see audio spectrograms of the sounds at the Journal-Sentinel.

October 19, 2007

Another Reason I Blog

This blog was originally intended to provide a spot to put articles, links, etc. I found that would interest "my" faculty & staff at Hampshire College's School of Cognitive Science. I became more and more interested in the interdisciplinary topic of cognitive science as time went on, especially psychology, but also computer science, education, and animal science. And philosophy. Well, ok, just about all aspects of cog sci interest me. As part of my own education, I would browsed through journals in the field so I'd know what "my" faculty were thinking about. As part of my job, I purchased books in the various fields, and I used the blog to highlight new books & databases. The focus of the blog was intended to be exclusively cognitive science.

Then I left Hampshire, and that was very sad because the faculty there is great fun. I have kept up my interest in cognitive science and I have taken to listening to podcasts during my 2.5 hours in the car each day. The combination of the two has led to many blog posts, as I try to synthesize what I've learned and share it with the world. Posting about what I've heard helps me remember what I've learned within the cognitive science realm.

On the other hand, I am a working librarian and a teacher of library science at Simmons Simmons Graduate School of Library & Information Science (at their Mount Holyoke College campus). There is some overlap between cognitive science and information science (think usability) and everyone likes to or needs to search, so some posts appeal to both the cogsci audience and the LIS audience. Also, I suspect that many of my regular readers are educators of one kind or another, so the periodic posts about teaching appeal to the cog sci audience.

Some topics, however, are weighted heavily to LIS and probably appeal more to my LIS colleagues, friends, and even former students. My occasional rants about marketing are a good example, as are the rarer posts about reference, or anything labeled "library science."

Why the mix of topics and audiences? I want to naturally, personally, show scientists & psychologists what we librarians do and how we think. It's partly my nature to be inclusive, but it's partly a mechanism through which I can demonstrate the "marketing" of library science without being dreadfully obvious about it. I read somewhere -- and I can't go back to the source, because I read this a few weeks, months, years ago (you all know how memory works, right?!) -- that it's a good idea for academic librarians to publish in the non-library literature to highlight what they do in a venue where their faculty colleagues congregate. I definitely can't get published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences or Trends in Cognitive Sciences, which some of you might read, but ... I can publish here and reach a few faculty / graduate students in cognitive science and psychology and philosophy.

It's a big Internet, but the nice thing is we can get to know each other in ways we can't quite in real life. So ... that's another reason I blog.

Welcome to readers of these science-y blogs ...
* BPS Research Digest (from the British Psychological Society)
* the Brain Science Podcast
* Channel N
* Combat Philosopher

and all you Googlers!

October 16, 2007

Christof Koch Now

["... Now" is a short post of cog sci topics in the news]

Ginger Campbell over at the Brain Science Podcast recently interviewed Christof Koch. It’s a fascinating discussion -- almost a lecture by Koch -- on the nature of consciousness. Koch kept things (relatively) simple and it was pretty easy to follow for the non-philosopher, non-neuroscientist, non-physicist. He was delightfully gracious, even as he knocked philosophers here & there.

Koch and Susan Greenfield had an interesting point/ counterpoint about where the neural correlates of consciousness are in the October 2007 Scientific American: very short version; full version your library. :-)

Another podcast ... (tho' I haven't listened to these yet)
* 'Consciousness, Free Will, and God': "The nature of consciousness in humans and animals and its effect on how we view religion, science and philosophy will be tackled during three lectures at Vanderbilt University by prominent researcher Christof Koch." This page offers links to the three lectures in mp3; you can also get them via iTunes.

October 15, 2007

Events I Will Be Leading

I thought some of you might be interested in this Continuing Ed class I'm co-teaching with Terry Plum in November about open access journals: "Open Access and Free Scholarly Resources: What Are They and How Can You Find Them?"

Terry will answer these questions & more: What is Open Access? What does it mean for libraries, with respect to journals, databases, and other scholarly resources? What do publishers think of this model, and who pays for it? We will provide a brief overview of the Open Access movement and discuss future possibilities. We will also address related issues such as the Google Book Project, the Open Content Alliance, and journal embargoes.

I will talk about how we can find these Open Access journals. These are usually free, so it's a nice way of adding content for your users at no cost. Terry and I will review harvesting standards and protocols such as OpenURL. I will demonstrate some academic resources such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) as well as some free scholarly search engines such as the science search engine Scirus and Google Scholar. Finally, we will discuss how you can promote use of these resources to your patrons.

Date: Nov. 4, from 10-1:30.
Location: GSLIS West Office, across from the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. Easy access for western Mass. & Connecticut residents, and lots of free parking.
Cost: $160 -- current GSLIS students & faculty can register for half price!

October 12, 2007

Condoms @ Your Library

Yes, it’s true! This is my favorite example (so far) of libraries thinking outside the box to promote their services.

The October 2007 issue of American Libraries writes about the Penn State Altoona Eiche Library’s recent participation in a recent student health fair. Library staff sponsored a booth where they gave away free condoms with “Eiche Library: Facts You Need Between the Covers” stickers on the packages. Hee! They made glossy bookmarks with the call numbers of sex-related library materials, had a display of sex-related books & reference materials, and had a sex quiz modeled on their library’s existing trivia quizzes.

Terrific idea!

For More Info.
* Imler, Bonnie and Michelle Tomaszewski. “The Powers of Attraction.“
American Libraries, Oct2007, Vol. 38 Issue 9, p60-61. Free online if you’re an ALA member.

Oliver Sacks Now

["... Now" is a short post of cog sci topics in the news]

Oliver Sacks is plugging his new book, Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain (New York : Knopf, 2007), and you can follow along:

* He had an article in the Sept. 24 issue of The New Yorker A Neurologist’s Notebook: The Abyss (subtitle: music & amnesia).

* He was briefly interviewed in the October issue of Wired, with expanded coverage online: Oliver Sacks on Earworms, Stevie Wonder and the View From Mescaline Mountain.

* And while this isn’t recent, Jaime Diskin blogs about an interview in which Oliver Sacks talks about musicophilia. Diskin says: "In January, 2006, everyone's favourite Brain doctor, Oliver Sacks spoke with the New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar in a series hosted by the Columbia University Arts Initiative. One of the subjects he talked about was the brain's reaction to music and in particular, the strange phenomenon of musicphilia." (and check out the rest of Jaime Diskin’s blog as there is some cool multimedia / neuroscience stuff).

edited to add
* On Nov. 1, Oliver Sacks was interviewed on WHYY's Radio Times: "In his new book, Musicophilia, neurologist OLIVER SACKS examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people." Listen to the show via RealAudio or download in iTunes (usually available only for a limited time)

October 09, 2007

Seniors & Medical Information

Read an interesting article yesterday from JASIS&T which covered usability for seniors in two domains: first, the article talks about how seniors get information about drugs, and then it talks about how they look for information about drugs within two specific web sites.
Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Given, Ruecker, et al write about an study they did on Inclusive Interface Design for Seniors: Image-browsing for a Health Information Context in the Sept. 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. While seniors are prescribed drugs by their doctors, they rarely call their physicians for drug-related information, even though "seniors are particularly prone to negative drug interactions, hospitalizations, addictions, etc. as a result of improperly identifying their medications" (many recent articles support this).

Instead, seniors are more likely to get drug & drug interaction information from their pharmacist, followed by contacting "personal contacts" (friends and family, "especially those working in the health care field." Note that libraries don't show up on this list of trusted information sources.

Seniors like using the Internet for find health / drug information, but they are aware of the potential accuracy / bias problems that exist on the Web, including the "difficulties sorting out drug 'ads' from truly informational Web sites."

The authors tested a couple of interfaces with a group of 12 seniors to see how different sites met their needs with respect to identifying specific pills. A major problem that seniors have using the Web is physiological: difficulty reading small font, trouble distinguishing colors and even small shapes -- which is especially important when trying to find "their" medication on a Web site. And as frequently happens when doing usability testing, the participants often didn't see the "affordances" on the page, such as a "zoom" feature, while others didn't see the "sort" button.

The study itself was an interesting insight into how older folks use Web sites, especially one that is geared to them, and to addressing one of their serious information needs.

I read it thinking ,"how can libraries market their services to seniors?" Here are a couple of ideas: provide local pharmacists with information about the public library -- hours / phone number / contact information, maybe a handout with selected health resources available through the library -- telling the seniors, via a trusted resource -- how we in the library can help them. Perhaps we could put this in emergency rooms also? I don't know what the protocols are, but ... that's where seniors are, and when they need health information. And aren't we good at providing information to people, when they need it?

For More Information
Given, Lisa, Stan Ruecker et al. Inclusive Interface Design for Seniors: Image-browsing for a Health Information Context Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Volume 58, Issue 11 (September 2007), pp: 1610 - 1617. Link to abstract; full-text available only with subscription, or check out Interlibrary Loan.

October 04, 2007

Event I *Will* Attend

Next Generation Library Catalogs

Wednesday, November 7, 2007
1:00 - 4:00pm
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Campus Center Auditorium

As a library’s key database and the one system with which most users interact, the online library catalog has been evolving for over 30 years. Software upgrades, enhanced functions and performance improvements have brought us a long way. In the past two years, however, catalogs have begun to undergo a change that is more dramatic. Driven by evolving user expectations and the explosion of web 2.0 technologies, library databases are on the verge of a paradigm shift that warrants consideration as a whole new generation of discovery and delivery tool.

Come and hear more about this “next generation” of library catalogs from some folks on the front lines:

David Lindahl is Director of Digital Library Initiatives for the River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester. He has extensive experience in library-related digital research and design projects and is currently co-principal investigator for the eXtensible Catalog Project.

Jennifer Ward is the Head of Web Services for the University of Washington Libraries and manages the Libraries' usability program. She is part of the University’s WorldCat Local implementation team.

Anne M. Prestamo is Associate Dean for Collection & Technology Services at Oklahoma State University Library. Dr. Prestamo's main area of interest is with technology for the delivery of library resources and she has been involved with Oklahoma State’s implementation of AquaBrowser.

This free program is sponsored by the Five College (MA) Library Directors (with support from Simmons College GSLIS West)
Advance registration required

For More Info
* Further program information and some interesting reading are available
* Oklahoma State University's AquaBrowser catalog
* University of Washington's WorldCat Local

October 03, 2007

Events I Wish I Could Attend

Coupla interesting events at UConn / Hampshire that I wish I could attend. Darn work, always getting in the way. Anyway, they're fun to think about, and maybe you can attend one or the other...

From the University of Connecticut, comes this announcement of their Cognitive Science fall colloquium schedule:
C.L. (Larry) Hardin, Syracuse University (Philosophy) Friday Oct 12, 4 pm BOUS 160 (the Alivin Liberman Room)
Title: TBA
Larry Hardin is the author of the groundbreaking book Color for Philosophers (librarian alert: subject heading = Color (Philosophy) heh heh) and numerous articles on color, perception, and the mind-body problem.
His talk will focus on color and is co-sponsored by the UConn Philosophy Department.

And from Hampshire College's Culture Brain & Development program,
Thursday, October 18 at 5:30 p.m. at Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
"Autism: What does it mean to be a spectrum disorder?"
Public Lecture by Roberto Tuchman, M.D.
Location: Franklin Patterson Hall Main Lecture Hall, Hampshire College

The labels of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD) are commonly used to describe individuals who have varying deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, social skills and a restricted repertoire of interests or repetitive behaviors. These labels are now used interchangeably with autism. The criteria for determining who is and is not affected by autism are based on arbitrary clinical behaviors. The characteristic clinical feature that set autism apart from other disorders of brain development associated with communication and behavioral problems are impairments in reciprocal social interaction. Is there more autism or are we just recognizing it more? How do we define social deficits? What are the causes of autism and what factors biologically and culturally impact the social phenotype? How do early deficits in social communication lead to the clinical phenotype of autism, and what are the cellular and neural mechanisms that define the social constructs that determine social cognition? These questions will be discussed from the perspective of child neurology. The focus of the discussion will be on the changing criteria of autism over time and how this has affected the concept of the "normal" social phenotype. Examples of etiologies of autism will be discussed. The early social constructs that determine an individual's distinctive social phenotype will be demonstrated. Our present understanding of the neuronal networks responsible for social behavior will be reviewed and discussed in terms of intervention strategies for social communication disorders.

About the speaker:
Roberto Tuchman, M.D., FAAN, FAAP, is the director of Autism and Related Disorder Programs at Miami Children's Hospital Dan Marino Center (note football connection) and director of Developmental and Behavioral Neurology at Miami Children's Hospital. Dr. Tuchman is an Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. See some of his publications in PubMed. He is a graduate of Hampshire College (73).Yay Hampshire grads!

CogSci to PsycINFO?!

It's not often that my cognitive science interests and my library science interests overlap, but here's one of those times. This note came into my email & I thought it might interest others:

APA Invites You to Participate in a Cognitive Science Survey

Dear Colleagues,

As a result of some requests from librarians, APA is seriously considering the development of a cognitive science add-on to PsycINFO. This enhanced version of PsycINFO would feature a new coverage list of journals not currently covered in the database, as well as new index terms. Searching across the entire database would be seamless.

We'd like to hear your thoughts about this idea. Please go complete a brief survey online (note: it really was brief!) - and enter our raffle for a chance to win a $350 Amazon gift certificate.

Please let me know if you have questions.


Susan B. Hillson
Manager, Customer Relations

PsycINFO/American Psychological Association 750 First Street, NE Washington DC 20002-4242 shillson@apa.org