Sunday, April 24, 2016

Seasonal Affective Disorder may not exist

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression... The disorder, which like an early snow often first lands in late autumn and can hang around all winter, affects an estimated 10 million Americans...

Combating SAD can lead to any number of treatments, including light therapy, vitamin D supplementation, counseling or even antidepressants.

A recent study in Clinical Psychological Science asks a question that might perplex those who feel their own psychological climate changing with the seasons: Does SAD really exist?

According to analysis of a CDC survey of 34,294 U.S. adults ranging in age from 18 to 99, no evidence exists to show that a change in depressive symptoms along with seasonal patterns. Using a combination of self-reported answers to questions screening for depression, geographic location information and seasonal weather data, the researchers did not find any evidence for SAD either in the general sample or a subset of participants who scored within the range for clinical depression. ...

The latest research echoes past studies that considered SAD with some skepticism. A 2013 published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people often overestimate the impact of wintry skies clouding their mood. The study doesn’t refute the existence of SAD, merely that the condition is overdiagnosed.
--Talal Al-Khatib, Discovery News, on evidence of absence

Microaggressions in South Korea

I know that when people look at me when I walk down the street that they think I’m American, they think that I eat hamburgers or pizza for dinner every night and I like to go out and get drunk most nights. Korean men, like the man earlier, think that I’m probably easy and promiscuous.

On more than one occasion I’ve tried to order food in a Korean restaurant and been told by the waiter that I can’t have it because it’s too spicy for me- how do they know what my spice limit is?

I’m complimented daily on my chopstick skills.

Everyone I meet asks me if I can eat kimchi and is shocked when I say yes.

My co-workers are always shocked when I tell them that pizza isn’t actually my favourite food and that I don’t like to eat fried chicken.

9 times out of the 10 times that someone approaches me in the street, they will choose to ask me if I’m American, rather than just asking where I’m from.
--Scottish immigrant to Korea Nicole Louise on the Korean analogue of “Your English is so good!”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Yale undergrads have 2.5 hours for 2 hour final exams

Dear Instructors in Yale College:

With the end of the term upon us, we write with reminders from the Faculty Handbook and the Yale College Programs of Study. ...

Students have 30 minutes of extra time for all final examinations. The Yale College Programs of Study explains that "final examinations normally last either two or three hours but, in either case, students are permitted to take an additional half hour before being required to turn in their answers. This additional time is given for improving what has already been written, rather than for breaking new ground." Please avoid confusion by announcing this policy and writing it on the exam, with language such as: “This is a two-hour exam for which you have two and a half hours.”
--Email to Yale faculty from the deans of the Graduate School, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Yale College, on Yale undergrad privilege

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Skydiving is no longer an extreme sport

These days, jumping out of an airplane with a parachute strapped to your back is hardly the death-defying feat it once was. ...

While people do get injured skydiving, the jump is generally less fraught than the drive to the airport. All skydivers now carry reserve chutes in case something goes amiss with the first one (it rarely does). Even if you find yourself paralyzed with fear in midair, you’re likely not going to plunge to your death. A small gizmo called an automatic activation device, or AAD, will blast the canopy open for you when you reach a predetermined altitude. ...

In 2014, the last year for which complete records are available, 24 people died skydiving and 729 were injured in a total of about 3.2 million jumps. The number of annual fatalities has generally hovered in the low 20s for years, according to the USPA.
--Jonathan Welsh, WSJ, on the taming of the freefall

Monday, April 18, 2016

Moral relativism is no longer a thing

Moral relativism has been a conservative boogeyman since at least the Cold War. ... But the prevailing thought of the second decade of the 21st century is not like the mid-to late-20th century. Law, virtue, and a shame culture have risen to prominence in recent years, signaling that moral relativism may be going the way of the buggy whip. ...

Thoughtful conservatives who are less concerned with waging culture wars have begun to admit that such a shift is occurring. In The New York Times last week, David Brooks argued that while American college campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming. ...

Although this new code is moral, it is not always designated as such. As Brooks (echoing Andy Crouch of Christianity Today) said, “Talk of good and bad has to defer to talk about respect and recognition.” No wonder many God-and-family conservatives dislike this new moral code as much as the relativism it replaced.
--Jonathan Merritt, The Atlantic, on a philosophical foundation of the new shaming culture

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lack of deadlines is deadly for researchers

In recent years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia, has struggled with the logistics of evaluating a rising number of grant proposals that has propelled funding rates to historic lows. Annual or semiannual grant deadlines lead to enormous spikes in submissions, which in turn cause headaches for the program managers who have to organize merit review panels. Now, one piece of the agency has found a potentially powerful new tool to flatten the spikes and cut the number of proposals: It can simply eliminate deadlines.

This week, at an NSF geosciences advisory committee meeting, Assistant Director for Geosciences Roger Wakimoto revealed the preliminary results from a pilot program that got rid of grant proposal deadlines in favor of an anytime submission. The numbers were staggering. Across four grant programs, proposals dropped by 59% after deadlines were eliminated. ...

The no deadline idea began several years ago with a small grant program for instruments and facilities within the earth sciences division of the geosciences directorate. After making the switch in 2011, the program saw a more than 50% drop in proposals—and that number has stayed down ever since.

But many people doubted that NSF would see the same effect if officials dropped deadlines for one [of] its regular science grant programs, says Alex Isern, the head of the surface Earth processes section. So she decided to test it out. She eliminated the twice-a-year deadlines for four of her grant programs, in geobiology and low-temperature geochemistry, geomorphology and land-use dynamics, hydrological sciences, and sedimentary geology and paleobiology. NSF sent out a notice about the change at the beginning of 2015, and after a 3-month proposal hiatus, the no-deadline approach began in April 2015. The number of proposals plummeted, from 804 in 2014 to just 327 in the 11 months from April 2015 to March. ...

Feedback from scientists has been good so far, Isern adds. In a field where many scientists do field work, having no deadline makes it easier for collaborators to schedule time when they can work on a proposal. “I think they like the flexibility,” she says. “They’re able to be more thoughtful about it.” However, one scientist told Isern that he was very busy and couldn’t function without a deadline. Her response? “I’ve actually given you 365 deadlines.”