Electric Schlock: Did Stanley Milgram’s Famous Obedience Experiments Prove Anything?

Peter Barker on Gina Perry’s book Behind the Shock Machine, about the problems with Stanely Milgram’s famous shock experiments:

The wrinkles in Milgram’s research kept revealing themselves. Perhaps most damningly, after Perry tracked down one of Milgram’s research analysts, she found reason to believe that most of his subjects had actually seen through the deception. They knew, in other words, that they were taking part in a low-stakes charade.

Gradually, Perry came to doubt the experiments at a fundamental level. Even if Milgram’s data was solid, it is unclear what, if anything, they prove about obedience. Even if 65 percent of Milgram’s subjects did go to the highest shock voltage, why did 35 percent refuse? Why might a person obey one order but not another? How do people and institutions come to exercise authority in the first place? Perhaps most importantly: How are we to conceptualize the relationship between, for example, a Yale laboratory and a Nazi death camp? Or, in the case of Vietnam, between a one-hour experiment and a multiyear, multifaceted war? On these questions, the Milgram experiments—however suggestive they may appear at first blush—are absolutely useless.

It is likely that no one understood this better than Milgram himself. In his notes and letters, Perry finds ample evidence that, privately, he had significant doubts about his work.

Full Story: Pacific Standard: Electric Schlock: Did Stanley Milgram’s Famous Obedience Experiments Prove Anything?

10 years later, the real story behind Columbine

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

They weren’t goths or loners.

The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver’s Columbine High School 10 years ago next week weren’t in the “Trenchcoat Mafia,” disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn’t been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and “fags.”

Their rampage put schools on alert for “enemies lists” made by troubled students, but the enemies on their list had graduated from Columbine a year earlier. Contrary to early reports, Harris and Klebold weren’t on antidepressant medication and didn’t target jocks, blacks or Christians, police now say, citing the killers’ journals and witness accounts. That story about a student being shot in the head after she said she believed in God? Never happened, the FBI says now.

A decade after Harris and Klebold made Columbine a synonym for rage, new information — including several books that analyze the tragedy through diaries, e-mails, appointment books, videotape, police affidavits and interviews with witnesses, friends and survivors — indicate that much of what the public has been told about the shootings is wrong.

USA Today: 10 years later, the real story behind Columbine

(via OVO)

Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go


The author of this essay has posted two follow-ups:

Just Don’t Go, Part 2

The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind’

The follow-up letters I receive from those prospective Ph.D.’s are often quite angry and incoherent; they’ve been praised their whole lives, and no one has ever told them that they may not become what they want to be, that higher education is a business that does not necessarily have their best interests at heart. Sometimes they accuse me of being threatened by their obvious talent. I assume they go on to find someone who will tell them what they want to hear: “Yes, my child, you are the one we’ve been waiting for all our lives.” It can be painful, but it is better that undergraduates considering graduate school in the humanities should know the truth now, instead of when they are 30 and unemployed, or worse, working as adjuncts at less than the minimum wage under the misguided belief that more teaching experience and more glowing recommendations will somehow open the door to a real position.

Most undergraduates don’t realize that there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary (though it is generally much lower than salaries in other fields requiring as many years of training). They don’t know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don’t make any fallback plans until it is too late.

Full Story: The Chronicle of Higher Education

(via Cryptogon)

Free advice for humanities majors looking for work: if you don’t have the aptitude or desire to get into the IT industry, consider becoming a sales rep for a wholesaler or manufacturer (here’s why).

Marijuana Could Be Good for Memory — But Not if You Get High

Everybody knows a forgetful stoner, but research suggests that low doses of marijuana could be good for memory, and even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

When given a compound similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, rat brains displayed reduced levels of inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The drug also stimulated the production of proteins associated with memory formation and brain cell growth.

“Everyone is aware that smoking too much marijuana impairs memory,” said Ohio State University psychologist Yannick Marchalant. “Our work stays on the safe side “‘ doses that we know are not going to impair memory, but improved it.”

Marchalant and fellow OSU psychologist Gary Wenk previously showed that marijuana can improve memory formation in rats. The latest research, presented at this week’s Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, provides a detailed look at THC’s effect on the brain.

Full Story: Wired

The Unclear Origins of Oil

Kevin Kelly writes:

Crude oil is almost $140 per barrel.

By now you’d think we would know where it comes from.

No one really knows. The conventional wisdom is that oil descends from algae from eons ago. Lots and lots of algae. Unimaginable mounds of dead algae in quantities no longer found on this planet, pressed, and cooked into hydrocarbon liquids. Thus: fossil fuel. Others, notably the Russians, have an alternative theory that oil comes from non-biological carbon compounds deep in this planet, like the methane oceans we find on other planets. In this scenario oil is a planetary phenomenon. Indeed this abiogenic oil could still be forming in the earth. Thousands of Russian papers supporting this view have still not been translated. The American astrophysicist Thomas Gold also advocated a similar idea (which may or may not have been influenced by the Russians) in his book “The Deep Hot Biosphere : The Myth of Fossil Fuels”.

Full Story: Kevin Kelly

(via OVO)

This reminds me that we have made only the most esoteric of references to Thomas Gold.

Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)
Humans are naturally polygamous
Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy
Most suicide bombers are Muslim
Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce
Beautiful people have more daughters
What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals
The midlife crisis is a myth-sort of
It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male)
Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

Full Story: Psychology Today.

Scientists slow down light

Scientists have used silicon crystals to trap light and slow it down to the lowest speed ever recorded in the material. The breakthrough is a step towards light-based storage for quantum computers.

Researchers at Japanese telco NTT used man-made photonic crystals, which contain nanoscale holes, to achieve the feat. The cavity which controlled the light was less than ten millionths of a metre long.

Full Story: The Register.

Top 10 Bad Things That Are Good For You

1. Sex
2. Chocolate
3. Red wine
4. Marijuana
5. Maggots
6. Sunlight
7. LSD
8. Coffee
9. Anger
10. Beer

Full Story: Live Science.

Light exceeds the speed of light

A press release from Ecole Polytechnique Fédéralede:

A team of researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédéralede Lausanne (EPFL) has successfully demonstrated, for the first time,that it is possible to control the speed of light – both slowing itdown and speeding it up – in an optical fiber, using off-the-shelfinstrumentation in normal environmental conditions. Their results, tobe published in the August 22 issue of Applied Physics Letters, couldhave implications that range from optical computing to the fiber-optictelecommunications industry.

Full Story: Science Daily: Light exceeds the speed of light

(via Discordian Research Technology)

Speed of light not constant?

File this under “everything you know is wrong.” I read a few years ago that the speed of light wasn’t constant, and the main thing I’ve found about it on the web is this story about a group of astronomers who think the speed of light has slown down since the beginnings of time.

But I remember reading an article around summer or fall of 2000 about some scientists that had managed to slow down light in a laboratory setting.

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