Judging who, or what, judges people best

January 27th, 2015

This week’s Gestalt Which-of-These-Alternatives-Do-You-See? Question asks you to look at a newly published study.

The question is: What, exactly, is this study judging?

kosinskiThe study is “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans“, Wu Youyou, Michal Kosinski [pictured here], and David Stillwell, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, epub January 12, 2015. The authors are at the University of Cambridge, UK, and Stanford University in California.

What is being judged? The choices are:

  1. The good judgment of certain computer programs
  2. The bad judgment of many human beings
  3. Something else

BONUS: Video of Monty Python‘s Argument Sketch performed with two vintage speech synthesizers:

BONUS: Video of Monty Python’s Argument Sketch performed with Monty Pythons:

Not as bad as you think … [a possibly cheerful collection of same]

January 26th, 2015

Improbable doings in Vienna this coming week

January 25th, 2015

The organizers posted a sneak preview of the ‘sneak preview’ event at the University of Vienna on Thursday evening, January 29:

Und hier die nächste Veranstaltung in unserem Rahmenprogramm: Als sneak preview zur Mitternachtseinlage wird  Marc Abrahams am Donnerstag, den 29.1., eine seine sehr speziellen Vorlesungen an der Uni Wien halten; auch dies eine Premiere: es handelt sich um den ersten Auftritt von Abrahams in Wien. Marc Abrahams, Schöpfer und treibende Kraft der Ig-Nobel Preise, mit denen die Menschen „erst zum Lachen und dann zum Nachdenken gebracht werden“ (Abrahams), wird einen öffentlichen Vortrag (auf Englisch) zum Ig-Nobel Preis und der Bedeutung der geistvollen Wissenschaftskommunikation geben (Uni Wien, Hauptgebäude, Hörsaal 41, 18.30 Uhr, Anmeldung mit dem Stichwort “Ig-Nobel” unter ball@wissenschaftsball.at).

The main event, of course, is the Vienna Ball of Sciences, on Saturday night, January 31, in Vienna’s City Hall:

The City of Vienna invites the ball season in the Town Hall into a ball of Sciences with the participation of the entire Viennese research and university landscape. The motto of 2015: “Waltz and science.”


The science ball represents the Vienna research landscape in its excellence and diversity.The typical elements of a Viennese ball are combined with references to the Universities of Vienna. International visibility is produced by global stars of the popular science communication.

“Gay bomb” research facility urges caution about “love hormone”

January 25th, 2015

oxytocinThe laboratory facility that long ago won honors for doing research and development on the so-called “gay bomb” is casting a skeptical eye at widespread claims about oxytocin, a substance some people call “the love hormone”.

The Neuroskeptic blog reports:

A new study offers two reasons to be cautious about some of the claims made for the role of the hormone oxytocin in human behavior.

The paper’s out now in PLoS ONE from researchers James C. Christensen and colleagues, who are based at the US Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio. That the military are interested in oxytocin at all is perhaps a testament to the huge amount of interest that this molecule has attracted in recent years. Oxytocin has been called the “hug hormone”, and is said to be involved in such nice things as love and trust. But according to Christensen et al., quite a lot of previous oxytocin research may be flawed.

The 2007 Ig Nobel peace prize was awarded to the Air Force Wright Laboratory, Dayton, Ohio, USA, for instigating research & development on a chemical weapon — the so-called “gay bomb” — that will make enemy soldiers become sexually irresistible to each other.

REFERENCE: “Harassing, Annoying, and ‘Bad Guy’ Identifying Chemicals,” Wright Laboratory, WL/FIVR, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 1, 1994.

BONUS: James C. Christensen [pictured below] also is part of a team that says: “We did something that has never been done before. Modifying a car—a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray—so a qualified quadriplegic driver can safely operate it under racetrack conditions. We call it SAM. A semi-autonomous motorcar.”


Behold the evasive leap behavior of a spooked squirrel

January 24th, 2015

“This video shows a series of clips of ground squirrels responding to a spring-loaded device that uncoils toward them at the same velocity at which rattlesnakes strike,” writes Rulon Clark of San Diego State University.

Clark adds:

All responses are shown slowed down to one-quarter regular speed. Squirrels either scrambled away from the spring (first set of clips in video), or exhibited an evasive leap, jumping into the air and contorting their bodies with the tail (second set of clips). Squirrels that had recently interacted with rattlesnakes at that site, and that exhibited tail flagging signals, responded more quickly to the device, and were more likely to exhibit an evasive leap than a scramble.

Further details are at his web site, and in the study “The fear of unseen predators: ground squirrel tail flagging in the absence of snakes signals vigilance“, Breanna J. Putman and Rulon W. Clark, Behavioral Ecology, epub 2014.

Also see Susan Milius’s essay about this, in Science News: “Why ground squirrels go ninja over nothing