Language Log and The Future of Science Blogging

Last night I head a talk by Geoffrey Pullum about the linguistics mega-blog language log.  Amusing as always, Pullum introduced us to the writers and took us through some of his favourite posts.  We even got to see a post being published live!  I shouldn’t have to tell this audience about language log, but I did learn a few new things – did you know that Mark Liberman sometimes gets up at 4am to write posts?  Did you know Pullum has written his own computer program for keeping track of what he’s said?

Recently, I was talking to a mathematician about blogging and he revealed that most research in mathematics is presented, reviewed, criticised, corrected and incorporated before the journal article reaches print.  Publishing is more about prestige while the actual research has bypassed the review process.  David Dobbs writes this week about the inflated importance of paper publishing and argues that mediums like blogging are faster, cheaper and engage the public – which should be a priority for science.

I asked Pullum whether he thought blogs would take a similar role in Linguistics.  I was expecting a reply about the self-evident nature of mathematics and how Linguistics is a subject where you really need a peer-review and editorial process.  However, Pullum was very positive about the role of blogs in research, and pointed out that many theories undergo rigorous criticism on language log, sometimes within minutes of being posted.  Further, he feels that the blog has had an effect on science journalism and that people are much more cautious about putting forward the kinds of views that Language Log takes apart (Snowclones, prescriptive grammar etc.).  Pullum also feels that blogging requires more bravery than peer-reviewed publishing:  Your idea is open to the wide world without careful consideration by many people.

Certainly, I’ve benefited from blogging about my research.  On the one hand, it forces me to put my research in a clear, concise format.  On the other hand, other people do some of the work for me by asking questions, pointing out problems and even, in one case, checking the validity of my data.  There’s even talk of blogging being part of assessed coursework for the MSc course here.  Maybe one day, there will be no more need for the mysterious art of printing research on paper.

Some Links #7

Deconstructing Chomsky — Rewriting the innate rules of grammar. Andrew Caines over at the Naked Scientist has a good, layman’s article on Chomsky’s conception of UG and Dan Everett’s recent book Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. It’s quite a good introduction for anyone who is open to the possibility that  psycholinguistics doesn’t end with Chomsky (or Pinker for that matter).

New developments in AI. An in-depth article on artificial intelligence over at .CSV. I’m only half-way through the article, but I thought it was worth mention as, the first half at least, is pretty good. H/T: Mind Hacks.

Many English Speakers cannot understand basic grammar. Apparently, “Research into grammar by academics at Northumbria University suggests that a significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences”. Language Log and John Hawks have both picked up on the story. Once the paper is released I’ll probably write an in-depth post at GNXP.

Birth Months of World Cup Players. A short, but interesting, post over at GNXP debunking the relevance of your birth month in regards to sporting achievement. I never thought there was any controversy over the issue… But it turns out I was wrong.

Mathematical Formula Predicts Clear Favorite for FIFA World Cup. Keeping with the football theme, and apparently this formula predicts a Spanish victory. The psychic Octopus appears to think so too. I disagree. Go Netherlands!

How many Zombies do you know? Applied Statistics links to yet another Zombie-inspired study.

Dr Evan Harris. Not a link to a particular article, but it’s just nice to see Dr Evan Harris back writing his blog after being defeated in the recent UK elections.

PepsiCo has been expelled. For those of you who don’t know what this headline’s about, don’t worry, it was all just a very bad dream.

Some Links #4

Back to the future on syntax and Broca’s area. Talking Brains provide a concise and humorous post about why Broca’s area is not the seat of syntax, be it domain-specific or domain-general. I tend to think that areas important for syntactic processing are probably distributed throughout the left perisylvian region. Hence why Broca’s aphasiacs are quite capable of making grammatical judgements. Then again, another reason why damage to Broca’s area doesn’t, to quote Hickok, “obliterate the ability to make such judgements”, is because the processing shifts to another region (sort of an ancillary system). This is very possible in the advent of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is a dirty word. Having mentioned neuroplasticity, I now feel obligated to mention this brilliant post over at Mind Hacks. It provides a sort of 101 approach to neuroplasticity, which, after all, simply means something in the brain has changed. Still, as one poster from pointed out: “However, at its most abstract, the concept of neuroplasticity is often arrayed against that other commonplace abstract notion, that the brain is genetically ‘hard-wired’ in some way”.

Dialect Geography and Social Networks. Mark Lieberman over at Language Log discusses geographical patterns of linguistic variation and recent analyses of facebook networks in the US. Put succinctly: they don’t line up very well. He also asks some interesting questions about the role facebook might play as a proxy for communication patterns.

How best to learn R. R is an invaluable statistical package. If, like me, you find yourself being dropped in at the deep end, then things can seem slightly confusing in an environment that is far less user friendly than, say, SPSS. All the important stuff is in the comments section of the post, but you should take some time out to have a general poke around Statistical Modelling, Causal Inference and Social Science.

Are Scottish People Living Dangerously? The short answer: Yes. Barking Up The Wrong Tree links to a study claiming that “Almost the entire adult population of Scotland (97.5%) are likely to be either cigarette smokers, heavy drinkers, physically inactive, overweight or have a poor diet.”

The Sun Gone Crazy? Apparently, for the past two years there’s been a prolonged absence in sunspots. But as Adam Frank mentions, “The magnetic activity of stars like sun, which is the root cause of the sunspot cycle, is still poorly understood even after decades of intense study.  It’s more than an academic concern”.

Three Questions for Michael Tomasello. A cool little interview with the chimpanzee, linguistic and cooperation guru, Michael Tomasello, over at cognition and culture.