November 09, 2009

Cycling and the Brain

More broadly: exercise in the brain, with an emphasis on cycling. There's a neat article in the Nov. 2009 issue of Bicycling about the effects of cycling on ADHD. The focus is on a first-year college student named Adam Leibovitz, in the lead article Riding is My Ritalin, in which Leibovitz is able to control his attention difficulties with long bicycle rides.

There are a few interesting sidebars in the article.
  • Christine Mattheis summarizes some scholarly articles on the cognitive benefits of riding (as well as other regular exercise) in Your Brain on Cycling
  • Bruce Barcott describes exercise as a tool to combat ADHD in The Exercise Option: Who Knew?
  • Mattheis also reviews Michael Wendt's research suggesting the possibility of controlling ADHD with exercise in The Drug-Free Drug
I was intrigued by (summaries of) so much research demonstrating not only that exercise is good for mood but also good for concentration. Barcott quotes Harvard's John Ratey: " 'Regular exercise can raise the baseline levels of both norepinephrine and dopamine,' he says, 'which are the same neurotransmitters that Ritalin and Adderall go after.' "

For More Information

November 01, 2009

The NFL & the Brain

I'm going to (try to) keep track of much of the reputable coverage of the NFL, concussions, and long-lasting effects of concussions on brain health. Recent coverage includes:

WVU's Dr. Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu, M.D., a neuropathologist now practicing in California, appeared on ABC's Nightline program (with guest host Martin Bashir) on October 16, 2009 to discuss the long-term impact of concussions to NFL football players.
Catch up on current stories about nfl concussions via Google News.

October 19, 2009

Cognitive Science Fiction: Alzheimer's Edition

I recently read a very moving novel about a woman suffering from Alzheimer's, called Still Alice. In it, neuroscientist Lisa Genova writes about neuroscientist Alice Howland who develops early-onset Alzheimer's at age 50. I especially enjoyed the first-person account of the progression of the disease, and I'd recommend it to anyone with a loved-one or friend suffering from Alzheimer’s. I'd also recommend it to anyone treating Alzheimer's patients, as it presents Alzheimer's from an unusual perspective.

For More Information
  • Genova, Lisa. Still Alice. New York : Pocket Books, 2009.

October 12, 2009

This is Your Brain in the NFL

As I watched the Giants play football yesterday, I rooted for my favorite players, the offensive line, to have a great game. I also worried about their future, as those players are often susceptible to debilitating brain injuries after retirement.

That's according to some recent and troubling stories about brain injuries among former NFL players. The most detailed is the most disturbing: GQ's October 2009 article entitled Game Brain (available only through GQ's web site in a Very Clunky Format; soon to be available in LexisNexis & InfoTrac). Author Jeanne Marie Laskas interviews neuropathologist and self-proclaimed "brain chaser" Bennet Omalu in his quest to identify this new strain of "punch-drunk syndrome," formerly associated only with boxers. He calls it "gridiron dementia" in his readable and sobering book Play Hard, Die Young: Football Dementia, Depression, and Death.

Omalu named this disease strain chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and published his findings in the journal Neurosurgery; Laskas notes that the article contained "scientific evidence that the kind of repeated blows to the head sustained in football could cause severe, debilitating brain damage." What Omalu found literally were "[b]rown and red splotches. All over the place. Large accumulations of tau proteins. Tau was kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning."

Laskas also spoke with Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon of considerable renown who had for a decade worked as a Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor. Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at West Virginia University Hospitals, who was the first to tell Omalu that he believed in his research. The GQ article details both the medical quest to identify and the political issues as Omalu, et al. try to convince the NFL of their findings.

Since it's football season, there are some other articles about this as well, including one from last month's New York Times and today's New Yorker.
For More Information
Additional Info:

August 31, 2009

A Good Laugh

I often quote from Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science. Here they are, in case you haven't committed them to memory:
  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the User.
  5. The library is a growing organism.
What's great is that S.R. Ranganathan was an Indian librarian (often called the father of library science in India) who published these laws in 1931 -- and they are still relevant today, half a world away. The Laws are particularly valid if you substitute another library-themed word for "books," such as databases or information. While teaching reference, I often exhorted my students to "Save the time of the User" by knowing their collection and knowing how to interview patrons to find out what they really wanted. In my new position at UNC's Park Library of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I find myself saying "Books are for use" as we begin to circulate our books.

How is this funny? So far, it isn't. But fellow librarian Steve Lawson (check out his great blog, See Also) has created a Classics of Librarianship Mad Lib. In it you can add your own nouns and a verb or two to generate Your Own Five Laws of Whatever, consistent in form with Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science.

Browse some of the Laws, or generate your own with his Mad Lib machine. I am chuckling enormously, feeling about as silly as I did when I first created Mad Libs back in 6th grade. It's nice to combine librarianship with 6th-grade silly.

August 26, 2009

The Placebo Effect is Stronger than Ever

The September 2009 issue of Wired has a terrific article about the placebo effect / response. Steve Silberman writes in "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why" that the placebo effect in drug clinical trials has been increasing in recent years, causing many trials to "cross the futility boundary" where drugs are no more effective than a placebo.

Silberman writes: "It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger."

This is not good for drug manufacturers, of course, but it is fascinating for cognitive science aficionados. Some of the points Silberman raises in the article:
  • Previously effective Prozac has recently tested as less effective against placebos;
  • Antidepressant effectiveness compared with placebos differs by geographic region;
  • Perhaps the increase in drug advertising has affected people's expectation of what drugs will do, thus leading to an increase in the placebo effect.
Italian researcher Fabrizio Benedetti, at the University of Turin, has done research showing that "Alzheimer's patients with impaired cognitive function get less pain relief from analgesic drugs than normal volunteers do." Benedetti speculates that Alzheimer's patients can't anticipate the treatment and so only feel the actual effect of the drug, rather than anticipating its effects.

There is a data-mining effort underway, supported by the NIH, called the Placebo Response Drug Trials Survey, in which psychiatrist William Potter and colleagues from many drug firms are trying to "determine which variables are responsible for the apparent rise in the placebo effect." (Silberman notes that the "existence of the project ... is being kept under wraps" -- which is consistent with my experience, as a Google / literature search for "Placebo Response Drug Trials Survey" resulted in no hits.)

Silberman provides a great definition of the phenomenon: "one way that placebo aids recovery is by hacking the mind's ability to predict the future." I enjoyed the article and can't wait to hear more.

For More Information

August 13, 2009

Nom nom nom: brain food!

Brain Food at Street Anatomy

Vanessa Ruiz, creator of the Street Anatomy blog, "obsessively covers the use of human anatomy in medicine, art, and design." Yesterday, she found this: "Red velvet raspberry cake with French vanilla cream cheese frosting and a chocolate brain by Pamela. She made these using miniature brain molds."

Found via @vaughanbell's tweet, who found it on Boing Boing.

August 12, 2009

Concussion Awareness Research

Today's News & Observer had an article about the UNC football team, a body temperature pill, heat-related injuries, and concussions. Combine football with science, and throw in a brain injury ... and I'm hooked.

This CorTemp capsule allows coaches to monitor players' body temperature, which is helpful in assessing whether or not they should continue practice in hot weather. The N&O article has a neat photo of a player's temperature being taken through his back.

The pill is also part of a study that is assessing situations that could promote concussions. Kevin Guskiewicz, head of UNC's department of exercise and sport science, referred to a "theory that dehydration could make concussions more likely;" he added that because symptoms are so similar, it can be difficult to tell if a player is dehydrated or if he has suffered from a concussion.

Guskiewicz has been working on another study, in which sensors are inserted in players' helmets to correlate the amount of force it takes in different locations for a player to sustain a concussion. Used together, the temperature pill and the helmet sensor can help determine if the player has sustained a concussion. Further, because Guskiewicz has been testing the pill on other teams, he says that the the aggregate data can help " 'compare the G-forces to the temperature, and try to correlate whether the [G-forces] get higher when the body temperature is hotter.' "

I'm glad to read that researchers are trying to develop methods to prevent situations that can cause dehydration and concussion, because ... I'm ready for some football!

For More Information
  • Pickeral, Robbi. UNC Gauges a Gut Reaction. News & Observer, August 12, 2009. page A1.
  • HQ Inc. Press Stories and Downloads (about using the CorTemp pill to detect stress). Sources include NBC Nightly News, a PowerPoint showing CorTemp's use on the Minnesota Vikings in 2006 training camp, and a 2006 IEEE Spectrum article on CorTemp.

August 10, 2009

Smart Birds!

Fascinating research shows that rooks, members of the corvid family like crows, can use tools to enhance their access to food. In this case, they used stones to raise water level in a tube high enough so they could get a worm out of the tube. The video demonstrates Connelly the rook's ingenuity; later experiments (also available on YouTube) show Cook the rook putting stones in tube of water rather than sand to get his worm.

Cell Press describes their featured video: "Corvid birds are known for their intelligent use of tools. In this video, three different rooks (Connelly, Cook, and Monroe) use stones to raise the water level in a vial in order to reach a floating worm, as described in detail in the paper by Bird and Emery published online on August 6. In the first two trials, Connelly is required to raise the water level by a varying amount by using seven stones and one stone, respectively. In the third trial, Monroe uses preferentially larger stones to get to the goal, and in the last trial Cook drops the stones into a vial with water as opposed to one containing sawdust."

A related note: I love that Cell Press is marketing its authors' research / publication with a YouTube video channel. It's a great way to promote science!

For More Information

July 20, 2009

The New Yorker & The News Biz

After many years, I am finally subscribing to the New Yorker again. Not in print, but via their Digital Reader. I'm blogging about it because I like their model: the Digital Reader adds something I wouldn't get from the library version, and I feel like this new model bears watching as we migrate from print to online.

The Digital Reader offers a digital flip-through version of the print magazine - I wish I could show you this via a screen shot, but you have to try it to believe it. Click on the white circle within the grey triangle to move from page to page. You see the cover in all its colorful glory, the cartoons, advertisements, and, of course, entire stories. As a long-time New Yorker reader (over 40 years!), I love that I can again see the articles in context - with adjacent cartoons, snarky comments after the articles end, and that unique New Yorker font. I am excited again about reading the New Yorker -- I eagerly check my email on Monday mornings to browse the table of contents online.

But as a librarian in the world of journalism, I am excited about the model, too, because it seems like it just might be sustainable, or at least a step in the right direction. The New Yorker charged me $40 for this access, and I'm so happy about it, I'm blogging it. Points to them for peer promotion. Plus, they get to tell advertisers that folks are seeing their ads, even in the online version. I'd guess that advertisers get little or no benefit from readers accessing magazine archives through a library database. And presumably, readers themselves are happy about it, because they can read just the articles they want, in the familiar New Yorker format.

Blogger Jason Kottke gave a thoughtful list of pros & cons to the new interface in November 2008, in which I learned that the archives go back to 1925, and the site works on an iPhone. I agree that some improvements could be made to the interface, and I encountered some technical problems early on. It works well enough now on Mac FireFox, but printing isn't great on Safari.

I know that online access isn't the best option for all readers, but clearly the trend is for more online access to media-formerly-available-only-in-print. This is the first online foray by a print outlet that has captured my imagination AND persuaded me to open my wallet. I hope that other print publications will watch this and attempt their own versions.

For More Information

July 12, 2009

Susan Stamberg & Early NPR Days

Stamberg on NPRTwo interesting interviews with Susan Stamberg about the early days of NPR:

Bob Edwards interviewed her in November 2008 for his eponymous XM Radio show, and it was both entertaining and informative. They discussed some of her interviews, including Henri Cartier Bresson and Jorge Mester; they also talked about the monkey version of her cranberry relish recipe. Stamberg talked to Edwards about the very early days of being on the air at NPR, including a vignette about his early work as a newscaster. I laughed out loud while listening on the bus.

The interview is available on Audible, where it is described:
In the early 1970's, Susan Stamberg was one of the first producers hired by the fledgling National Public Radio and later she became the first woman to anchor its nightly news program, All Things Considered. Bob talks with Stamberg about her experience as a radio pioneer, what she feels makes a great interview and the true story behind her mother-in-law's Thanksgiving cranberry relish.
More recently, NPR librarian Jo Ella Straley interviewed "The Mother of Public Radio" and posted the 17 minute piece on the NPR library blog, A Matter of Fact.

For More Information

June 30, 2009

A Twitter Tizzy!

After tweeting privately for over 18 months, I have recently created two public Twitter accounts. One is for folks at my new position as director of the Park Library at UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JoMC), where I am @JoMCParkLib and the other is ... finally! ... as @CogSciLibrarian.

All this Twitter activity has gotten me thinking about how I use Twitter and why I feel the need for three separate accounts. I've also been thinking about it because of an upcoming study at UNC by Fred Stutzman and Woody Hartzog on privacy behaviors in online social networks. They are looking for people who "have started using social networking sites within the last two years, and maintain multiple profiles (e.g. a 'work profile' and a 'personal profile')." I'll use my blog for personal reflection and share my thoughts, in partial answer to "omg! three Twitter accounts" reaction and also in response to Stutzman and Hartzog's interesting call for participants.

My personal Twitter account is for me to stay in touch with my friends. I "know" most of the people I tweet with privately, either in the Real World or from connections made online. I talk about what I'm cooking for dinner, what license plate I'm going to get (NC State Parks), and other miscellaneous chatter that is reserved for friends.

My work Twitter account, @JoMCParkLib, is where I post library items of interest to students, faculty, alumni, and staff who use or might use the Park Library. I want to promote the exciting resources that the library makes available to members of the JoMC and UNC communities. Journalists and other mass communicators such as advertisers and marketers are making good use of Twitter, so I am consciously trying to communicate in a medium that is familiar to my library's audience. If Twitter isn't familiar to folks at JoMC, maybe my Twitter account will encourage them to learn more about it. The tweets are going directly to those who follow me on @JoMCParkLib, but I also have them feed into the library's home page, and I send out a weekly email to faculty & staff highlighting the week's top tweets.

The work Twitter account is also where I'll write the majority of my professional library science tweets; I did some live-tweeting from the recent Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference and will probably do the same for the upcoming Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference. At SLA, I was eager to show my followers how libraries are useful to journalists (there were great shout-outs to librarians by Colin Powell, Judy Woodruff, and Robyn Meredith). At AEJMC, I will also be happy to promote the role of the librarian in educating journalists & mass communicators.

I use Tweetie on my Mac to manage the two Twitter accounts, and that is going so well that I created a third Twitter account for @CogSciLibrarian.

I haven't been blogging much, in part because I was teaching and working full-time last semester, and then moved over 700 miles ... but I was still thinking about all things CogSci. There's been some talk that Twitter is supplanting blogging (it is called microblogging, after all), where shared items (or ReTweets, as they are called; RT for short) on a topic are tweeted instead of written about on a blog. Longer, more thoughtful items are written as blog posts. My new idea is to embed my @CogSciLibrarian Twitter feed into this blog and continue blogging longer items of cognitive science interest. I don't expect to post to @CogSciLibrarian as much as I do to my other two feeds, and I will not post personal material to that feed at all.

While I am dividing my Twitter accounts, I will most likely keep one blog, under the CogSciLibrarian name. I will continue to post about cognitive science and library science, with a splash of music; and I will integrate some journalism / mass communication into the mix.

For More Information

June 29, 2009

A Rock Star of Neuroscience

I've been meaning to read the May 11 New Yorker article on V. S. Ramachandran and this weekend I finally had time to do so. It is a great read for those interested in "Rama" or in many of the hot topics in neuroscience for the last 15 or so years.

Rama really is a rock star of neuroscience, as Colapinto's article ably demonstrates. Ramachandran has developed a mechanism for people to overcome -- and even eradicate -- phantom limb pain; he has studied synesthesia, mirror neurons, and brain plasticity. The article provides examples of all of these areas of Rama's expertise, as well as several of his other endeavors (hiding habits of flounder, for instance).

Colapinto includes a charming interlude with Rama's wife of over 20 years (Diane Rogers-Ramachandran is a UNC grad!) which provides amusing insight into Rama's inability to find his car in a parking lot.

I've blogged about Ramachandran several times, including a vibrant TEDTalk, and if you are interested in his work, I recommend this article.

For More Information
  • Colapinto, John. Brain Games, the New Yorker. May 11, 2009.(registration required for the full article, or read the article in EBSCO's Academic Search Premier database for free if your institution is a subscriber)
  • Colapinto, John. Ramachandran’s Mirror Trick, blog post at the New Yorker. May 6, 2009. Includes a written description of Ramachandran's ingenious solution to phantom limb pain, the mirror trick, along with a photo of how the mirror should be positioned for the trick to work.

June 27, 2009

A Musical Interlude has some terrific musical material! They have interviews with musical acts of all stripes: rock/pop/folk; classical; jazz & blues; world; and urban. I've mostly explored the first category, which has featured:
You can add these and other musical material to a playlist, and hear albums and songs of all sorts play continuously. This is a highly-recommended summer diversion!

June 24, 2009

Memory, Math, and Cognitive Science Fiction

I just finished a delightful novel called The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa and translated by Stephen Snyder. What was interesting from a cognitive science perspective was that the (unnamed) Professor had a traumatic brain injury which left him with only 80 minutes of short-term memory. He remembers everything prior to the accident which occurred in the late 1970s, but he can only remember the past 80 minutes and anything prior to that is forgotten.

The Professor was a mathematician and copes with his lack of memory by doing mathematical puzzles. He is very interested in prime numbers, and fractals, and the book is full of math (and Japanese baseball).

It was well-written and both the story and characters are memorable. I was particularly struck by the difficulties a person encounters when he has only 80 minutes of current memory, and the Professor's coping mechanisms are fascinating. If you like a good story, math, baseball, or are working with people who have short-term memory loss, you might enjoy this novel.

For More Information

June 22, 2009

More about Synesthesia

I was so excited about my possible synesthetic experience last week (aural synesthesia?) that I didn't explain what synesthesia actually is. It just so happened that on last week's episode of Australia's terrific radio program All in the Mind, host Natasha Mitchell interviewed neuroscientist David Eagleman. The two talked about his new novel Sum: 40 tales from the Afterlives, and Mitchell notes that Eagleman is "also a leading researcher in synesthesia, studying people who taste sounds, hear colours, and live in a remarkable world of sensory cross-talk."

The interview is quite interesting -- for this topic, that's especially true of the second half, where Mitchell and Eagleman talk about his research into synesthesia and what we still don't know about the brain. Mitchell's blog post summarizes more of the interview and has been left open for comments from synesthetes and others.

For More Information

June 18, 2009

Aural Synesthesia?

I was recently in DC for conference of special librarians and I was lucky enough to have a tour of the NPR building. My guide, library director Laura Soto-Barra, asked about my favorite shows on NPR.

News junkie that I am, I said that the top- and bottom-of-the-hour newscasts are tops on my list of NPR shows. Laura thoughtfully took me over to the area where the newscasters work and I was thrilled to meet Ann Taylor and Jack Speer, who speak just the way they sound on the air. I also met the other folks who make the newscast happen, producer Rob Schaefer; editor Jeanine Herbst; and associate producer Whitney Jones. I admit to gawking like a kid. (I was also excited to meet The Two-Way blogger Frank James, who sits in their corner).

The tour continued, and as we walked around the building, I heard the reporters' voices in my head as I saw name plates on cubicles and doors. Claudio Sanchez, Bob Boilen, Felix Contreras, Michel Martin. I didn't meet any of them, mind you, just saw them or even their name plates -- and yet I imagined their voices so clearly it was as if I were actually hearing them. Is this aural synesthesia? Or does everyone hear voices in their heads when they see names?

Regardless, I appreciated the tour and meeting some of the newscasters.

For more about the NPR library, check out the NPR librarians' blog As a Matter of Fact and read their response to Frequently Asked Questions about the library

June 10, 2009

The Reference Interview, Stereotypically

The librarians at UT Arlington are at it again -- if I were still teaching reference, I'd show this video to start a discussion of the reference interview.

Promoting Science

I've just run across three cool ideas for promoting science:

BoraZ reteweets an interesting story from science writer Mary SpiroRock Stars of Science: Will it hype scientific celebrity and increase research funding? In this Baltimore Science News Examiner story, Spiro writes about a nifty campaign called Rock Stars of Science, pairing actual rock stars like Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Sheryl Crow, Black Eyed Pea, and Seal with actual scientists like neuroscientists Ron Petersen, Steven  T. Dekosky, and Sam Gandy. Men's magazine GQ and the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer’s Initiative are working together to create this "promotional" campaign -- which you can download as a pdf. Spiro does a nice job linking the advertising, musicians, and rock star scientists; she also wonders aloud if this kind of project will work.

For younger folks, Linda Braun tweets about a "science-focused kids virtual world" to go along with some science television efforts, "in the name of making science fun." In reviewing the online world, Venture Beat says 
Zula Patrol, on PBS and NBC revolves around aliens who travel from world to world and solve various problems using science. In the virtual world, kids can create an online character, or avatar, and become an alien. They can fly their own spaceships and customize the garages where they park them. They can play mini games within the world that help teach scientific principles, said Deb Manchester, creator of the Zula Patrol. 
Check out the game at ZulaWorld.

And on my own (new) campus at the University of North Carolina, some science majors have started a campus magazine called Carolina Scientific, an undergraduate science magazine.  Their mission is to "produce a scientific publication each semester that focuses on the exciting innovations in science and current UNC research."  Recent articles have covered Sea Turtle Navigation, baby birds in Reproductive Biology & Behavioral Neuroecology: The Sockman Lab, and the International Year of Astronomy. Check out their first issue in pdf (Better yet, pick up a copy of it in th School of Journalism and Mass Communication's Park Library)

Promoting science a little bit at a time!

May 31, 2009

Thinking Critically About Science

How can we think more critically about science? I've recently heard/ read two bits of information (1) about some bad science being promulgated.

First up, favorite radio show host Paul Harris interviewed bad astronomy blogger Dr. Phil Plait about the anti-autism vaccination movement, spearheaded by Jenny McCarthy and espoused on Oprah. Paul Harris writes on his blog that he "invited Phil to explain the battle between people of reason and people of nonsense, the role Oprah Winfrey is playing in the story, and whether he blames anti-vaxxers for the recent death of a four-week-old child in Australia who died of whooping cough." They also talked about science in Star Trek (not so great either, but at least that's fiction), the Hubble Space Telescope repair, and the upcoming Amazing Meeting (blogged here before). The 30-minute interview is a great listen if you're interested in any of those topics.

And then Bora Z tweets "Newsweek critical of the Oprah Effect re quackery" linking to this Newsweek article: Live Your Best Life Ever!, subtitled "Wish Away Cancer! Get A Lunchtime Face-Lift! Eradicate Autism! Turn Back The Clock! Thin Your Thighs! Cure Menopause! Harness Positive Energy! Erase Wrinkles! Banish Obesity! Live Your Best Life Ever!" In which Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert discuss the Oprah phenomenon as it relates to her passing on information that is scientifically sound (mostly related to diet and overall health) as well as information that is questionable at best (the Secret, taking extra hormones, and vaccines-cause-autism).

"If she says something is good, it must be. This is where things get tricky. Because the truth is, some of what Oprah promotes isn't good, and a lot of the advice her guests dispense on the show is just bad." The Newsweek article also describes what happened to Jenny McCarthy to make her such an advocate for the no-autism vaccination movement: her son was vaccinated and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with autism. Correlation, sure, but not necessarily causation.

Librarians often teach people to question what they find, but not necessarily in the scientific arena. We talk about verifying facts, determining who's behind a certain web site, and when we can do that, it's a good thing (we should do quite a bit more of it, but that's another story). Who is teaching critical thinking about scientific assertions? Or at least, the difference between correlation and causation. Clearly Oprah is having some influence in this arena. It would be nice if there were more public discussion about how to evaluate scientific information; the Newsweek article is a good start.

(1) what do we call groups of articles, podcasts, lectures, etc.?

For More Information

May 06, 2009

Oooh! I'm a Shover! and a Maker!

Shovers and Makers 2009: I’m a winner! (So are you.)
I just got word that I was awarded the prestigious Shover & Maker award, sponsored by the good library people at the Library Society of the World. I'm in great company, as over 140 librarians have won the award in 2009.

People I know in person:
People I'd like to know ... there are too many to mention! Browse the list of winners, and then ... nominate yourself! The May 15 deadline is fast approaching, so hop on over to the S&M web site to appoint yourself a Shover and Maker.

April 20, 2009

Deaf Sentence

I just finished reading David Lodge's most recent novel Deaf Sentence. My enjoyment was enhanced by its relationship to cognitive science, as it touches upon linguistics and language comprehension by the deaf.

Desmond, the main character, suffers from high frequency deafness, and he writes about his increasing difficulty hearing with both accuracy (as he describes loss of hair cells inside the ear and various technology he uses to compensate) and frustration. It was fascinating and somewhat chilling to read about this character's struggle to understand conversation, starting with the loss of consonants. It's often humorous as well, as Desmond describes some language misinterpretations, as well as the continual "what did you say, darling" conversations between him and his wife.

I suspect that the personal description of high frequency deafness would be helpful to new or experienced audiologists, as the character is articulate about the limitations of his hearing in a personal, rather than clinical way. I highly recommend this novel.

Also of interest to some cognitive geeks is the linguistic aspect of the novel. Desmond is a retired linguist, and most of his encounters throughout the novel are tinged with his linguistic touch. He reviews concordances for words like deaf and love; thinks about homophenes (words that look the same when lipreading, such as park, mark, and bark); and, academically, the stylistic analysis of suicide notes.

For More Information

April 15, 2009

Promoting & Poking Fun @ Your Libary

... if you're at the University of Texas at Arlington, that is.

My e-buddy Eric Frierson tweeted yesterday "librarian v. stereotype videos getting great feedback - next one will involve a gorilla suit." The current YouTube videos are a great combination of library promotion and poking fun at the profession; here's the video introducing Librarian and Stereotype:

and here are Librarian and Stereotype talking about scholarly communication:

Can't wait to see the gorilla suit!

April 12, 2009

Government Web Site Widgets

I just had two great librarians talk to my reference class, and I learned as much as the students did about government documents work and GIS / geography sources. Thanks to UConn's undergraduate and GIS librarian Michael Howser and Connecticut's federal documents librarian Nancy Peluso!

Nancy showed a fabulous feature of, the US government's search engine. A search for the word widgets yields some amazing widgets, free for use on any web site.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has many widgets, including an FDA peanut recall widget, a National Flu Activity map, and a Daily Health tip (today's is a warning not to give birds as gifts):
CDC Everyday Health Widget. Flash Player 9 is required.

This is also available in Spanish:
Widget de Salud al día. Flash Player 9 esta necesario.

Other cool widgets that come up include:
  • San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District "BART" News Widget
  • AmeriCorps widgets
  • Gadgets; their widget includes a search box and links to information helpful to small businesses.
  • FDA Drug Information links, including widgets for drug safety information, Medwatch, FDA podcasts, and Drugs @ FDA

... search for, oh, say, Wellbutrin & see what kind of information you get.

Take a peek at the search, too -- the results page offers a nifty preview option, displaying the widget right in the results page, and a "Remix" option on the left which lets you narrow results by topic, agency, or source.

There are some great free web resources here for libraries, health marketers, and others.

April 06, 2009

the Brain, lately

I've seen some neat stuff about the brain lately, and since I'm swamped with mid-semester craziness, plus mid-move tasks, I thought I'd just link to the stuff I've seen:
Today's New York Times reports on research showing ways memory may be erased. Yipes! The article raises lots of interesting physical and philosophical issues. See Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory, by Benedict Cary. New York Times, April 6, 2009.
Last week, uber-librarian Stephen Abram blogged about 2 Wired stories reporting on efforts to map the human brain. (Note that the images are not for the squeamish, but if you want to see what the grey matter looks like, check out these images). Mapping the Human Brain, Stephen's Lighthouse, March 31, 2009.

edited to add: I just went the print issue of Wired and thoroughly enjoyed the article that goes along with the photos: Jonah Lerer's Scientists Map the Brain, Gene by Gene from the April 2009 issue of Wired. Highly recommended!

March 30, 2009

What is an Electronic Resource Librarian?

I've had a few friends ask what I do as an Electronic Resource Librarian, and I thought I'd share the answer more widely, in case others are curious.

If you are looking for a job as an Electronic Resource Librarian, I expect that most libraries (usually academic) would want:
  1. Experience with licensing for all kinds of electronic resources (individual journals, journal packages, databases, e-books, etc.)
  2. Experience using & troubleshooting access to same
  3. Experience obtaining, compiling, and analyzing usage data
One big issue that many electronic resource librarians are wrestling with is how to manage the resources -- often, but not always using something called an ERM (electronic resource management system). Elements that need to be managed can include (but are not limited to!):
  1. When the license was signed, by whom, and if by the university alone or in a consortium. When the license renews / expires;
  2. What the license permits (for Interlibrary Loan -- sending by print, email, or secure transmission; for electronic reserves -- in print? an electronic course pack?);
  3. The URL for patron access as well as the administrative interface;
  4. If & how the resource provides access to usage statistics. If so, notes about how & where to access them.
ERM systems are usually based on the Electronic Resource Management Initiative (ERMI), which covers most possible permutations of data elements that electronic resource librarians need to track.

I have blogged about troubleshooting UConn's e-resources at which provides a real-life sense of the issues we deal with.

Definitions from the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science
For More Information (all of these are available in Gale's OneFile database)
  • Young, Jeanne. "Electronic records management on a shoestring: Three case studies." Information Management Journal 39.1 (Jan-Feb 2005): p58(3)
  • Tull, Laura. "Electronic resources and Web sites: replacing a back-end database with innovative's Electronic Resource Management." Information Technology and Libraries 24.4 (Dec 2005): p163(7).
  • Grogg, Jill. "Investing in digital: as electronic spending rises, ERAMS, ERM, and URM systems step in to help with acquisitions and reporting." Library Journal 132.9 (May 15, 2007): p30(4).
  • "The ERMI and its offspring." Library Technology Reports 42.2 (March-April 2006): p14(8).

March 27, 2009

Working with Faculty on Instruction Assignments

Two of my former students have pointed me to an interesting blog piece called "Stepping on Toes: The Delicate Art of Talking to Faculty about Questionable Assignments" by Ellie Collier.

Collier talks about faculty aversion to "online" resources -- and instead of just complaining about difficult-to-teach library assignments, she provides examples of how to other librarians have worked with faculty to improve those assignments.

I recommend it especially to students interested in working in an academic library, but it's got some actual instruction interactions which would be interesting to librarians of most stripes.

For More Information

March 17, 2009

Interesting CogSci Folks

Two quick notes:
  • Ginger Campbell, of the Brain Science Podcast recently interviewed Patricia Churchland on Neurophilosophy and other topics.  Read Ginger's show summary & download the show if you want to hear the whole thing:
Churchland is the author of Brain-wise : studies in neurophilosophy [] (c2002) and Neurophilosophy : toward a unified science of the mind-brain [] (c1986). She is currently on the faculty of the University of California at San Diego and she was a featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2008.
In this interview we talked about neurophilosophy, which is an approach to philosophy of mind that gives high priority to incorporating the empiric findings of neuroscience. We also talk about the evolving relationship between philosophy and neuroscience. Churchland shares her enthusiasm for how the discoveries of neuroscience are changing the way we see ourselves as human beings. We also talked a little about the issues of reductionism

  • If you'll be anywhere near Storrs, CT on Thursday, March 19, you might want to stop by the Dodd Center's Konover Auditorium to hear Marc Hauser (Professor of Psychology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Anthropology, Harvard University) speak at 4:00 p.m. His talk is entitled:  
 The Evolution of a Moral Grammar.  Marc Hauser is an expert on the evolution of animal communication, behavioral ecology, and the evolution of mind.  His work integrates animal behavior, cognitive neurosciences, anthropology, and philosophy.  He is the author of a number of influential books, including The Evolution of Communication [] (c1996) and Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong [] (c2006).  
  • Hauser was interviewed on Australia's radio programme All in the Mind in late 2006, which I summarized on this blog.

February 25, 2009

Meet Paul Jones!

I heard a fascinating interview with Paul Jones, a clinical associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communications and a clinical associate professor in the School of Information and Library Science. Frank Stasio, interviewer for WUNC, also calls Jones a "public intellectual."
The interview is a like a whirlwind tour of the interwebs, as Jones talked about having worked with Tim Berners-Lee (the birth of the Internet), Larry Lessig (the birth of the Creative Commons), and Brewster Kahle (the birth of the online archive), as well as a bit about setting up Jones talked about Roger McGuinn and Youssou N'Dour (find out what they have in common!). He also read a lovely poem he wrote called Dividing Waters and talked about what poetry and coding have in common.

If you have 49 minutes and are interested in the interwebs, I highly recommend this interview.

For More Information

February 12, 2009

Future of Journalism? Newspapers?

I heard a neat interview on Radio Times today about the future of journalism & news.  It was surprisingly, and happily, upbeat (or maybe it was just my mood).  Listening to the conversation, I felt optimistic that while news gathering as we know it may change, but that reporting and writing will not change so much as to be unrecognizable.  I even felt optimistic that some kind of revenue stream could perhaps be worked out so that in-depth reporting (ie, what we think of now as print journalism) could continue.  Probably it won't look the same, but maybe it will continue to exist.  

One surprising bit of information that one of the guests mentioned (and I forget which; I was driving and didn't take notes) is that actual readership of content-formerly-known-as-print- journalism is UP, after a slide that started in the 1940s.

Here's what Radio Times says about the show:  "We talk about the challenges facing the profession of journalism and consumers of the news. How will we fund news-gathering operations, what will they look like how will we access the news and how we will ensure quality journalism? Our guests are ROBERT NILES of Online Journalism Review and TOM ROSENSTIEL of The Pew Research Centers Project for Excellence in Journalism."

For More Information

February 03, 2009


... is a conference I wish I could have attended. The third annual science blogging conference took place Jan. 16-18, 2009 in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The wiki states that the "goal [was] to bring together scientists, bloggers, educators, students, journalists and others [i.e. librarians!] to discuss, demonstrate and debate online strategies and tools for promoting the public understanding of science."

There were four tracks: science blogging; science communication and education; doing and publishing science; and show-and-tell quick sessions. If I had gone, I would have attended these sessions:
  • "You are a science blogger but you want to publish a pop-sci book?" moderated by Tom Levenson and Dave Munger (discussion page)
  • "Science online – middle/high school perspective (or: 'how the Facebook generation does it'?)" moderated by Stacey Baker and her students (discussion page)
  • "Teaching College Science: Blogs and Beyond" moderated by Andrea Novicki and Brian Switek (discussion page)
  • "Race in science – online and offline" moderated by Danielle Lee (discussion page)
  • and, of course, "How to search scientific literature" moderated by science librarians Christina Pikas and John Dupuis (discussion page)
There were many more sessions I'd like to have attended.

If you're interested in this conference, I highly recommend this interview with Bora Zivkovic, one of the conference organizers, on Minnesota Atheist Radio. Interviewer / conference attendee Stephanie Zvan talks to Bora about the conference, its origins, and his goals for the 2009 conference.

What appeals to me about the conference is the inclusive nature of the attendees and topics. There were high school science students & bloggers in attendance (and presenting!), as well as people of all genders and races and scientific interests. I am a big fan of science, but I'm no scientist (maybe I would have been, had conferences & teachers like this been around when I was in high school) ... and I feel like I would have been welcomed. And welcomed not only to attend, but to participate, to ask questions, to provide my perspective on science. As a science librarian and a future journalism librarian, I definitely have some thoughts about science and its promotion -- and I'd love to be part of this conversation.

Next year, I will be.

For More Information

January 28, 2009

Delightful Cognitive Science Fiction

I just finished the best novel of 2009 ... and while it's early in the year, I am confident this will still be towards the top of the list at the end of the year.

Stephanie Kallos' Sing Them Home is delightful, and also relevant to cognitive science, language, and library science. Here's how:
  • Cognitive Science. One of the characters, Larken, is an art history professor who sees people in color. She does this throughout the novel, and I was reminded of synesthetes each time. Here's an example:
"Sometimes Daddy was yellow - not Mommy Yellow (the color of egg yolks in the mixing bowl, prescrambled and paled by lacings of milk, the color of Hope [the mother] when they were reading together at bedtime), but his own special Daddy Yellow: intense, glossy: the pudding-y filling inside lemon bars served at church de bachs; dandelion flowers after a downpour." (p. 93-94)
  • Language. The novel takes place in the fictional town of Emlyn Springs, in southeast Nebraska near Lincoln with strong ties to Wales. Many of the characters speak or sing Welsh, and there are many Welsh rituals. Kallos' loving portrayal of the language and rituals, is touching and might be appreciated by those who enjoy language.
  • Library Science. One small but terrific scene takes place at a library in nearby Beatrice, NE; it nicely illustrates principles of good reference librarianship that I try to instill in my students. Viney, the not-quite stepmother, goes to the library to send an email to a Welsh acquaintance, and she asks for help. Emphasis is mine, with [comments] explaining just why this is such great reference service.
" 'I'd be happy to help you,' the librarian says, coming out from behind the information desk. 'Follow me.' This librarian is no pinched, spinsterish matron wearing a cardigan and spectacles. She's a big girl, twentysomething, and she walks like a man. ...

" 'I'm here to write an email letter. Can I do that?'
" 'You bet.' The girl lays her hand on a silver, dinner-roll-sized object on the desk and expertly starts sliding it around. ...
" 'This is called a "mouse,"' Addison remarks. 'Sadly it's the only named part of a computer that has any poetry.' "

Addison the librarian goes on to show Viney how to select a username in gmail and says "'While you work on that, I'll go help those folks at the counter. As soon as you've got something we’ll get you started, okay?' " [librarian gives patron information, lets her work, and goes to help other patrons, promising to return]

Viney thinks and tries several names until she finds one that works. "Addison is back. 'How you comin' along?' she asks." [returning as promised, still helpful.] They figure out a good username for Viney (Addison's is "Sad bison at gee mail dot com;" Viney ultimately selects nutriyogavine) and Addison explains how to write the "email letter:"

" 'Now,' Addison continues, 'We’ll get the cursor moved down to where you need to start writing ... Now you just start typing the way you would on a regular typewriter.' Addison's fingers move with incredible speed." She shows Viney how to send the message when she's ready, and then says " 'You'll do great. I'll be right over there if you have any questions." [Addison is so patient with Viney, and she ends the encounter with good closure, inviting Viney to ask for more help if she needs it.] (pages 290-292)
If I were writing this up for a reference observation paper (which is an assignment I ask my students to complete), I would demonstrate the many ways that Addison meets the ALA /RUSA Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. And does a great job of helping a patron we care about in the novel ... as I know many public librarians do in the Real World.

Kudos to Stephanie Kallos for portraying good library assistance. The novel is good in a lot of other ways as well, but for the purposes of this blog, I recommend it for the cognitive and information science tidbits strewn here and there.

For More Information

January 27, 2009

Mind Not on the Road?

If you're driving and talking on a cell phone, your mind isn't on the road. Period.  And the problem isn't the the physical act of dialing, holding the phone, or listening to the person on the other end. The impairment comes from speaking; and in terms of accident risk, the impairment is comparable to driving drunk.
So says David Strayer, psychology professor at the University of Utah. Radio Times' Marty Moss-Coane interviewed Stayer on Monday's show, and it was a fascinating listen.  Some tidbits from the conversation, mostly derived from Strayer's studies in his lab's driving simulator:
  • Cell phone conversations are much more distracting than in-car conversations.  While conversation-making is a big drain on attention, if you are talking with someone in the car with you, the other person is paying attention to the road as well. 
  • The levels of impairment are essentially the same for hand-held and hands-free devices.
  • Text-messaging while driving is, not surprisingly, even more dangerous.
  • Listening while driving -- to the radio, to a book on CD, pre-recorded conversations to this interview on Radio Times -- is not nearly as problematic.  It's the generation of communication, according to Strayer, that causes the interference. (phew!)
  • Strayer said:  "driving also interferes with your ability to make good decisions while you're on the phone."  Because attention is limited, and because it takes attention to both drive safely and make good decisions, when your attention is divided, both driving and decision-making can suffer.
  • Finally, if you do business on your phone while driving, Strayer suggests that you might be putting your company at risk for liability if there is an accident.
The interview is a great listen; callers asked great questions to which Stayer provided fascinating responses.  A logical conclusion would be that talking on cell phones & driving don't mix.

For More Information

January 25, 2009

Interruptions & Watching Television

Apparently, television commercials serve a useful purpose in the enjoyment of television shows. Future Tense's Jon Gordon interviewed Jeff Galak, a doctoral candidate at NYU's Stern School of Business last week regarding Galak's research suggesting that "commercial interruptions make TV shows more enjoyable."

Apparently it's not the commercials themselves that make us enjoy the shows we are watching. Instead, it's the forced break; we get habituated to what we are doing and thus enjoy it less over time. Since the commercials stop the show, when we return to the show, we enjoy it more because we've had a break. From the abstract:

"...[S]tudies demonstrate that, although people preferred to avoid commercial interruptions, these interruptions actually made programs more enjoyable (study 1), regardless of the quality of the commercial (study 2), even when controlling for the mere presence of the ads (study 3), and regardless of the nature of the interruption (study 4)."

The article will be published August.

For More Information
  • Gordon, Jon. Study: Interruptions make TV shows more enjoyable. Future Tense, Jan. 20, 2009.
  • Nelson, Leif D., Tom Meyvis, and Jeff Galak (2009), “Enhancing the Television Viewing Experience through Commercial Interruptions,” in Press at the Journal of Consumer Research, 36 (August). [Paper; subscription required or check @ your library]

January 19, 2009

Leaving New England ... Moving to North Carolina!

The CogSci Librarian is on the move! I am leaving my position as Electronic Resource Librarian at the University of Connecticut on April 30. I'll be moving to North Carolina to serve as the director of the Park Library at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina starting June 1. I'm really excited about the new position, as newspaper libraries are my first love, and I'm thrilled to be going back to the field of journalism.
This is a great time of year to be thinking about moving out of New England -- we've got several inches of snow on the ground, and it's a wee bit warmer in Chapel Hill.

Once again, I'll be rethinking this blog, which is good for me and for the blog. There are interesting connections between journalism, communication, and library science,and I will be exploring those in some form, in some place. JOMC hosts some fascinating blogs, and I may move over there at some point.

For this semester, things will remain the same: I'll continue to serve the University of Connecticut ELibrary & troubleshooting; the departments of communication and psychology; and I'm teaching reference for Simmons GSLIS. Crazy, but I plan to blog things library science and cognitive science for a while yet.