Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weather Hits Just Keep on Comin'

Lightning map courtesy of Vaisala Lightning Explorer.

We have exactly three days left to finish this experiment. We need every possible participant.
Above is the current lightning activity in the United States. Note how the entire *$&%ing country is lightning-free.
Except for West Texas. We've got plenty of lightning.
We obviously cannot have participants connected to the physiology equipment during thunderstorms. So we have to let them run through the experiment without the physiological data, which is what I really need.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Television Is Arousing

Ever wonder what happens in your sympathetic nervous system while you watch television?
Above is a plot of the electrical conductivity of one participant's palm while watching two minutes of ER.
Each peak represents a skin conductance response, which reflects activity in the sympathetic nervous system.
And we can measure and plot that activity.
How cool.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

We Have Lost Sight of Free Expression

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once said, "No law means no law."

The words "no law" seem rather straightforward and impossible to confuse, but in the history of the court, only Justice William O. Douglas routinely joined Black in this literal interpretation.

It's easy to defend the speech of those with whom we agree, and it's difficult to defend the speech of those with whom we most vehemently disagree. But this country is far poorer when we fail to do so.

But too often these days, we seem to fail to do so.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dr Pepper: Lone Star Lovemark

Most days I quite love my job. I love going to work every day trying to figure out how the brain works. Earlier this week, I was in the lab running an experiment.
One of the experiments we are doing involves having participants look at brand logos. We measure, among other things, activity in the facial muscles associated with smiling and frowning.
Bored as I was to be in the lab yet again, I was staring at the screen watching the anonymous participant's physiological reactions.
When the Dr Pepper logo popped up ... wow! The blue line indicative of activity over the orbicularis oculi muscle group went through the roof. A huge smile. [We're not measuring zygomaticus major activity this time, which I will explain later].
Huge smile!
You see, Dr Pepper hails from Texas. They pretty much love it here. I love it, too. It is a Lovemark of mine. Theirs, too.

And I think that it is too, too cool that when they see the logo they cannot help but smile. Imagine sitting in an overly warm room with a bunch of wires stuck to you. You're there only for extra credit. You just want to get done and get out of there.

But then you see the Dr Pepper logo. And you cannot help but smile.

Too cool.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Consider Coming to the Exam Review

I just analyzed the mean exam scores between students who did and did not attend the in-class review session.

Average grade of those who attended: 74%
Average grade of those who did not: 62%

The difference is statistically significant, p = .005.

Obviously there are many confounds -- especially motivation -- but the difference is telling.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Donate Money to Fight Cancer

So many interesting things to say so little energy to say them.

Highlight of the day was the relay for cancer walk at Frenship High School. I was involved through my friend and colleague, Todd Chambers, a cancer survivor.

Since my mother and my mother-in-law are both cancer survivors, this was a touching event.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Seriously? A Tornado? Today?

Ever since Friday the 13th, my life has been a freakshow.

  • We got stuck at Burlington, Vt., Denny's with no taxi.
  • Real Vermont maple syrup is terrible compared to Mrs. Buttersworth.
  • I witnessed a hit-and-run car accident and police chase.
  • The fire alarm went off at my hotel at 3 a.m.
  • I was denied a tour of Ben & Jerry's, one of my goals in life.
  • Seriously, I went all the way to Vermont in part to see the darned ice cream place, and the factory was closed, and I got one tiny scoop in a cup because I was yelled at and told the tour buses were leaving without us.
  • The same thing happened at the Vermont cheese place 10 minutes later.
  • We flew out of Vermont and dodged a major snowstorm by 15 minutes.
  • Somehow I made instant friends with every eccentric person that I walked by at three airports.

And now I return to a physiology study that must be run by the end of the semester. And we cannot collect physiological data in a storm. The 1 p.m. subject no-showed. Lucky thing. I looked outside about a half hour later, and it looked like nightfall.

There was a tornado warning. Hail was coming down like crazy. We had to go to the basement.

So much for 20% chance of isolated thunderstorms, eh?

I am afraid to get out of bed tomorrow.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tech, Professionals Enjoy Advertising Conference

Texas Tech doctoral student Wendy Maxian presents our "Lovemarks" paper on April 13 at the American Academy of Advertising annual meeting in Burlington, Vermont.

Wendy did an excellent job, and Tech had a strong showing at AAA.
Here (from left) Wendy Maxian (Tech), Marcie Mutters, Tim Laubacher (both of Buchanan & associates) and I have fun at the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory.

Here I am with my master's advisor, Bob Meeds, of Kansas State University.

Outside the Sheraton as we frantically head out of town trying to dodge the Noreaster snow storm set to arrive 15 minutes after our flight time.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Off to Vermont

It will be sunny and in the upper 70s this weekend in Lubbock.

Instead I'll be in the snow of Vermont for the American Academy of Advertising meeting.

Let the good times roll.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Frame Your Science or Have it Framed

Update: Tuesday, April 10, 2007, 7:48 a.m.: Persuaders quotations added.

A few weeks ago, the Texas Tech college of mass communications faculty sat around a room talking with heads of media industries. The question was asked, "How often do you read our research in academic journals?"

The answer was never.

This is a problem. And if it is a problem with mass communications, it must be an even worse problem with more traditional sciences.

If you were to pick up the latest issue of a communications journal, you could probably read it and make some sense of it. If you're not a scientist, you might get a bit lost on the methodological detail. But you could probably learn how to make a better advertisement.

But you don't.

And we don't encourage you. As public scholars, most of us fail completely.

The problem is intensified with controversial topics, such as global warming, evolution, and genetically modified food products. In these areas, politicians, pundits, and a vast array of non-scientists have an agenda to push.

They do not want to do science. They want to sway public opinion. They want to do it quickly. And you're never going to do that with a long lecture of the science behind it all. Like the introductory textbook, they want a simple metaphor or exemplar. They want something simple.

"My grandfather was not a monkey," you might hear.

Sure it oversimplifies everything and misses the scientific point, but it resonates.

Sometimes rather than an exemplar, politicians and pundits might try to frame the way in which an argument is discussed. GOP researcher Frank Luntz helped renamed "global warming" as "climate change" for a large chunk of the Republican party. Here is an expert from the Frontline documentary, "The Persuaders."

FRANK LUNTZ: Look, for years, political people and lawyers – who, by the way are the worst communicators – used the phrase "estate tax." And for years, they couldn't eliminate it. The public wouldn't support it because the word "estate" sounds wealthy. Someone like me comes around and realizes that it's not an estate tax, it's a death tax because you're taxed at death. And suddenly, something that isn't viable achieves the support of 75 percent of the American people. It's the same tax, but nobody really knows what an estate is, but they certainly know what it means to be taxed when you die. I'd argue that is a clarification, it's not an obfuscation.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Luntz has admonished Republican politicians to talk about "tax relief" instead of "tax cuts," and to replace the "war in Iraq" with the "war on terror." He once told his party to speak of "climate change," not "global warming."

FRANK LUNTZ: What is the difference? It is climate change. Some people call it global warming, some people call it climate change. What is the difference?

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: It apparently made enough difference to Republicans that they began to use "climate change" almost exclusively.

Sen. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): –cause global – cause climate change.

SPENCER ABRAHAM, Secretary of Energy: –the President's global climate change initiative–

Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: –climate change research–

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: –and we must address the issue of global climate change.

What is a scientist to do? My former colleague, Matt Nisbet, studies this area, and this week came out with a bold agenda for scientists in the journal Science with science writer Chris Mooney.

"In reality, citizens do not use the news media as scientists assume. Research shows that people are rarely well enough informed or motivated to weigh competing ideas and arguments. Faced with a daily torrent of news, citizens use their value predispositions (such as political or religious beliefs) as perceptual screens, selecting news outlets and Web sites whose outlooks match their own," Nisbet and Mooney write.

There are important implications in scientists stepping away from the proverbial microscope and into the policy arena. However, as Nisbet and Mooney point out, sticking to the facts might end in a lost battle to defend their science.

Public science is a part of science, and science plays an increasingly important role in society. Scientists who hide in the ivory tower and allow others to frame their ideas may have honor on their sides, but they will have few voters or their government funding on their sides.

Read a Weblog-based discussion of this issue on Nisbet's blog.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter 2007

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Seeing the Obvious in Science and Radio

Philosophy of science is a pet passion of mine. I owe this to my doctoral advisor, Annie Lang.

I wish that I had more time to read more in this area. One of the tenets to which I cling is that you cannot see the world exactly as it is. Instead you see the world through a filter that is your experience. You cannot be blind to your own biases. If I we both had the time, I could spin a neural network based tale about why this might be.

At any rate, I am fascinated by our own perceptual limitations.

Today my parents are in town. At Texas Tech, we currently house Gordon McClendon's personal record collection. McClendon was instrumental in the growth of the Top 40 radio format, and my father, too, played a role in the early days of Top 40 radio.

Because of this link, my dad was eager to see the collection. Today we finally made it down to room 030, where the LPs are housed.

Sitting there, dad told some of the stories about the birth of Top 40 radio. If you are reading this, chances are that you know nothing but format radio. But five-plus decades ago, things were different. The major radio networks syndicated programs much like ABC and NBC do today.

That was just the way things were done. So local programming followed much the same idea.

Many times I have heard my dad say, "We invite you to join us for an interlude of transcribed music." And that was usually followed by 30 minutes of polka, which might be followed by 30 minutes of Hawaiian music. On the same station.

That's just the way things were done.

And it's damned hard to see past what you were taught.

From July 28, 1949, to April 1953, my dad worked at KCHS-AM radio in Truth or Consequences, N.M. (named Hot Springs when he arrived). During that time, he hosted an afternoon call-in request show named It's All Yours.

People called in and requested current hits. The same songs. It was not unlike TRL on MTV. And it was popular. And when it was over, they went back to programs segmented into 15, 30, or 60 minute blocks.

It was obvious, really. Just play the hits all of the time. If you had realized this in 1951 and had any cash to invest, you'd be a rich person today.

Todd Storz got the idea and implemented it at KOWH-AM in Omaha, Neb. He followed with WHB-AM in Kansas City, my hometown (and one-time employer of my mother).

Storz made a lot of money. He saw what others could not. It's hard to see what is so plainly in front of your face when it does not fit your picture of the world. It happens in science every day. It happened in radio for a long time. It is happening today. But we cannot see it. If you have that rare vision, you might very well soon be rich.

Texas promoter Gordon McLendon took that idea and ran with it. He, too, made a lot of money.

When Charles Darwin finally published his theory of natural selection, his friend and colleague Thomas Henry Huxley said “How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that!”


See Wikipedia's history of Top 40.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Semester's Third Experiment Finally Running

Well, participant number 2 is running as we speak.

Ugh. Thank goodness for a three-day weekend. I am beat.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Experiment Prep Puts Life on Hold

This is a screen capture from the episode of ER used in the current experiment. It is part of the signal detection recognition memory test.

This is my life right now. Insanity. Trying to fit 28 hours into 24 hour days.

Come on, mid-May. I know you'r e just around the corner.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hands for Hope 2007: A Walk for Autism

Today the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research played host to the 2007 Hands for Hope walk.

My amazing wife, Emily, works at the center and was co-director of the walk. The entire center did an amazing job, and it was a great event.

We spent two hours in the wonderful West Texas sun, and I think that they raised a lot of money to help fund autism research.

Here two of my kids pose with Raider Red of Texas Tech University.

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