Friday, 3 December 2010

Stuff on the Internet (3 December 2010)

Some things that have come our way recently that are somewhat on topic for the blog.

Ed Yong has a (paywalled) piece in the New Scientist about how birds visually perceive magnetic fields. He followed up on Not Exactly Rocket Science with interviews with two scientists working on this fascinating question: Klaus Schulten and Thorsten Ritz

NPR covers an interesting study on the fact that blindfolded humans tend to walk in circles. This fairly robust result is not due to handedness or any obvious biomechanical asymmetry, but seems to be the result of sensorimotor drift accumulating in the system (link to paper). Without calibration by vision, our sense of direction becomes increasingly noisy. This relates nicely to some data from a study some colleagues and I really need to write up, in which we got people to misperceive which finger was receiving vibrations after an extended period without vision of the hands.

The biomechanics of pterodactyl flight. 

Baroness Greenfield continues her war on the neurological consequences of modern technology.

Cool, I mean, educational stuff
Microsoft's Kinect motion tracker uses structured infra-red light arrays to passively track multiple moving objects. Deformations in the field are robust enough to detect game-specific motions as well as faces, etc. There's apparently a lot of people using the IR fields in their art (e.g here, via BoingBoing; mildly NSFW depending on where you work) and I think these could be a fun way to teach optic arrays to students. All I need is a Kinect and an IR sensitive camera...dear Microsoft...

Hi-speed video taken from a train.

I caught up on some Rationally Speaking podcasts while recuperating from surgery on my wrist; these are the ones that caught my eye:
Newton TV: I haven't had a chance to really poke around, but what could be wrong with science videos hosted by scientists?

There's a new blog  on being a science blogger called The Science of Blogging. We're looking forward to some good advice for broadening our reach a bit.

This editorial about the dangers of science blogging is almost entirely wrong.


  1. "to be honest, I have yet to hear an argument why this isn't just psychology done by people who don't really know how to do psychology properly"

    To be honest, I have yet to hear a defense for such a position. What's so flawed in experimental philosophy, from a psychology point of view?

    If I can propose my defense of experimental philosophy: psychological and neurological research isn't very well tailored to philosophers' research programmes, for obvious reasons. Yet philosophers increasingly need this kind of data: analytic investigation only gets you so far.

    They can't reinvent the wheel, but philosophers can learn to fine-tune scientific experiments to meet the needs of their research, and that's what experimental philosophy is about.

    Thus, philosophers need to get experimental for the same reasons that you can't leave philosophy of science only to philosophers.

  2. My problem is that every experimental philosophy experiment I've ever heard described sounds like an OK undergraduate research project that then gets massively over interpreted. They aren't scientists; their training just isn't in scientifically addressing a question so the experiments are all quite blunt instruments.

    Take the trolley/train experiments. They think they are altering one thing at a time in their various conditions, but a) it always struck me that the conditions varied quite a lot and b) the data bear that out. It's not clear to me they've spent any time validating the measures, for instance, although I'd be happy to be proven wrong.