December 17, 2010

Can culture be decoded like a genome? A team from Harvard has teamed up with Google to crack the spines of 5,195,769 digitized books that span five centuries of the printed word with the hopes of giving the humanities a more quantitative research tool. The Google Books Ngram Viewer, launched online and described in a paper in Science, allows Web users to query their respective areas of interest based on n-grams (a method of modeling sequences in natural language). (Katherine Harmon, Scientific American)

Authors of the Controversial Arsenic Paper Respond to Critics
The controversy over findings that suggest life can grow using arsenic entered a new phase: The researchers behind the radical claim issued a statement responding to their critics—and said the comments and responses generated by their experiments would be reviewed and published in a future issue of the journal Science. (Alan Boyle, Cosmic Log,

A Fearless Woman
Meet SM, a 44-year-old woman who literally knows no fear. She’s not afraid to handle snakes. She’s not afraid of The Blair Witch Project, The Shining, or Arachnophobia. When she visited a haunted house, it was a monster who was afraid of her. SM isn’t some cold-blooded psychopath or a hero with a tight rein on her emotions. She’s an ordinary mother of three with a specific psychological impairment, the result of a very rare genetic disease that damaged a brain structure called the amygdala. (Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press)

Learning More About the Carbon in Comets
Comets may contain much less carbon than thought, which could rewrite what role they might have played in delivering the ingredients of life to Earth, a new study suggests. (Charles Choi,

Boosting Your Creativity
Just want to have fun? Two pieces of recent research suggest that getting in a good mood helps you perform better at certain tasks and be more creative. (Elizabeth Landau, CNN)

Ancient Statuary Found in Egypt
Archaeologists found what may be a trove of 3,400-year-old statues on the west bank of the ancient temple city Luxor, said the head of Egypt’s antiquities department. Teams unearthed two rose granite statue fragments from an area west of the burial temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, said Zahi Hawass. One fragment, the first of its kind, he said, depicts the baboon head of the god Hapi with a human body. The other is a fragment of a statue of the body of Amenhotep III. (Associated Press)

Dan Levitin

A former record producer, Dan Levitin has had Sting wired up in his lab to see what happens to his brain when he hears different types of music and worked with a host of musical luminaries to try to figure out why music plays such a big part in our brains and, by extension, our lives. (Doug Sweet, McGill Reporter)

Category: Field Notes


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