Saturday, February 14

A Glimpse Into The Future?...Masdar City

Why is it that the countries with the oil are the ones who are taking the biggest steps toward initiating research on alternative energy and sustainable living? Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City is a 2.3-square-mile state of the art complex that should be up and running by 2016. The city will house 40,000 people working on next-generation energy technologies, and will serve as a "manifesto for sustainable living" - NO CARS (click the picture to the right to find out more), 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY, LOCAL AGRI- CULTURE, WASTE FULLY RECYCLED - AND ALL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT! Why can't a project like this be a part of the stimulus plan? It would certainly create a lot of jobs and put the US in the forefront of the green revolution - which may determine the international balance of power for generations to come. So I say, why not turn some of those wasteful golf courses in the South West into similar model cities for sustainability? Check out the promotional video below for a virtual tour - IT IS SIMPLY AMAZING! Whether or not their goals are realistic remains to be seen, but at least they have goals! (The video quality is lacking a little to be desired, but if you go to the actual site, you can find a much higher quality version)

Friday, February 13

Obama Poster Debate

We talked about it in class, so I figured I'd post this debate on the Obama poster dispute from The Colbert Report. Both sides make good points, and funny as always. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12

Steven Pinker On The Colbert Report

Below find two interviews with the author of The Stuff Of Thought and an essay, "My Genome, My Self," that I blogged about recently (Click HERE or picture above to link to post). You should definitely check them out, both hilarious and informative.

Am I really that naive?

I would like to think that I am not a naive person, but maybe I am. I went to one of the best public high schools in the country, and for some reason I believed my teachers were above just skipping over unpleasant parts of US history - but apparently I was wrong. All I remember being taught about the 1920-1940’s in the US is regarding the huge wave of immigration, industrialization, prohibition, the start of the feminist movement, and I’m sure some more or less significant stuff – but what was blatantly omitted was US involvement in the eugenics movement (Nazi Germany sure got its fair coverage). Furthermore, as a genetics major at Cornell, you would think eugenics would have come up as an example of a misuse of genetics in at least one of my classes, but surprisingly it has not.

In case you don’t know, eugenics is the social philosophy that genetic principles can be used for the improvement of human populations (see poster/advertisement above). Although eugenics is most often associated with Nazi Germany and the holocaust, few people talk about the more than 60,000 people that were forcibly sterilized in the US between 1920-1940 - because they were carriers of supposed genes for traits such as “pauperism” and “feeblemindedness.” Similar numbers were sterilized in Canada and Sweden, and sterilization programs continued into the 1970’s in all three countries. The movement was so popular in the US that state fairs during the period often had eugenics exhibits in which families could undergo eugenic evaluation for the “fittest family” competition, held in the “human stock” sections.

How could such an atrocity have been ignored in all my high school history classes. It was possibly the worst case of mass discrimination in US history, and something that we all can, and should, learn from. And if you think eugenics is a problem of the past, you’re wrong. As recently as 1995, China passed a law requiring that couples with unspecified genetic diseases “considered to be inappropriate for childbearing” can get married only if both agree to practice long-term contraception or to be sterilized. Absolutely ridiculous, and a perfect example of why we all need to be taught the history of eugenics - so we can try to avoid repeating such a regrettable period in history.

Kelves (1999) Eugenics and human rights. BMJ 319:435–438
Beardsley (1997) China Syndrome Sci Am. 276:33-34

Tuesday, February 10

Chromatic Cognition

Ravi Mehta and Juliet Zhu describe the effects of color on human cognition in a new study published on February 5th. The study began with tests designed to measure avoidance and attraction. Students vehemently avoided red and were strongly attracted to blue. In a follow-up experiment, test subjects given attention-demanding tasks did best when given a red background, and when asked to be creative, they responded best to blue. Below is a graphic showing the results of the study from a The New York Times article about the findings (click here to link to article, click image to enlarge).

Previous research on the cognitive effects of the color red have provided mixed results. Red has been linked to cognitive impairment on IQ tests, but also to improvement on low-demand tasks and clerical work. Red has also been shown to attract people to food and enhance sexual arousal. This study strengthens the link between red and an increase in cognitive ability. When asked to explain why red might be linked to concentration, and blue to creativity, Zhu offered this explaination,
Think about red, and what comes to mind: stop lights, stop signs, danger, ambulances - people want to avoid those things, and that's why they do better on detail-oriented tasks. Blue is the color of the sky, the ocean, safety - when their environment is safe, people are more explorative.
Interestingly, creativity has apparently not been given much consideration in past studies examining the effects of color on cognition. Furthermore, the strength of the link between blue and creativity in this study is far from solid. The score for creativity was not exactly quantitative; when asked to come up with as many creative uses for bricks as possible, the red group actually came up with the same number of responses, suggestions from the blue group were merely graded by a panel of judges to be more creative - so take that result with a grain of salt. The link between red and concentration is much stronger, and supports many previous studies.

As for the implications, Zhu suggests people engaged in creative tasks surround themselves with blue, and people trying to focus should forget about energy drinks, and surround themselves with red (hey look at that, my background is red!). The study also points to the possible consequences associated with unintentional uses of color. According to Stony Brook University psychologist Markus Meier, co-author of a conflicting study that linked red to drops on IQ test scores,
In our university, some professors use different color sheets for different groups during exams…Using them in an unthinking way could produce bad results for some students, and good for others.
It really makes you think about other ways in which colors may be impacting your life - without your knowledge!

Mehta, R and Zhu, J. 2009. "Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances." Science, Vol. 324, Issue 5915.