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SYSK Best of 2011

Surely you've heard the term cake walk, used to describe some sort of challenge or task that is reckoned to be pitifully easy. Surely you have, please, please don't lie. That figurative definition has been around since the early 19th century, as long as the literal one; in fact it appeared in print first. But did you know that the term is actually pretty racist? I'll bet you didn't. Nor did I until I looked into the origin of the term and found it has roots in the Antebellum South of the early 19th century. See more »

I'm a bit jaded by science. Yes, there's substantial evidence that life can travel from one planet to another, or at least from Mars to Earth, which strongly suggests that life on Earth came from Mars. What's more, there may be life on Mars still! Yes, but those are just microbes, so... Also, if life on Earth started on Mars, how did life on Mars start? Psychology as a field and a science is almost entirely underwhelming. Virtually every recent finding using MRI machines is deductive at best and maybe even borderline fraudulent, as, really, MRIs just track the infusion of oxygen from one region of the brain to another. See more »

On the How Fear Works episode SYSK released, we talked about fear conditioning, the capability for humans top learn and develop new fears, rather than just have to be afraid of the same old boring things throughout our entire lives. Our ability to gain fears as we encounter new things worth fearing makes sense as a survival skill, and it makes further sense that fear acquisition shouldn't take too much trouble, since we should probably learn to fear snakes and the guy who's mugging us in real time rather than slowly, over the course of several weeks. See more »

It is fairly rare when physiology is used to test the claims of psychoanalysis. This is just one of the many, many reasons a study carried out at my almost alma mater, the University of Georgia -- while I was attending, even -- captured my imagination. Probably most acute, though, was my utter and near complete disbelief that someone actually carried out this study. See more »

It frightens and confuses me that the field of economics, a discipline that we as a nation put such thorough and abiding stock into to make large, sweeping decisions that affect everyone, like how to allocate health care among Americans or whether to undertake air strikes in a foreign country, is so uncertain a field that it is subject to politicization. Indeed, the very economist at whose feet one sits, whether it be Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes, is nearly synonymous in the U.S. with which political party one is affiliated. See more »

I am trying very hard to remove the exclamation point from use in my writing in every form. I am finding this difficult. There, right there just a few words back, instead of that period I was very tempted to leave an exclamation point. Overcoming this urge wasn't hard; I have no illusions about whether the exclamation point has any place in professional writing like blog posts and articles. I am no dingbat. The momentary grappling with that decision was based on just how lighthearted this situation may or may not be. See more »

Much has been made of the zero reports of looting following the Japanese earthquake, the ensuing tsunami that may have ultimately claimed upwards of 100,000 lives, and the still growing nuclear crisis. This point has often been made with an wink toward racism; that is, in comparison to the rampant looting that broke out in the predominantly black, poor sections of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. See more »

It is not all that often that women from Indiana I've never met change my mind about things, so I thought this warranted writing down. Such was the case with Patricia Barbera-Brown, a South Bend woman I at first took to be of the dour, humorless type, possibly with too many cats and too many cat sweaters. I came across her as part of a CBS News article from February about how she single-handedly browbeat a local Indiana Mexican restaurant chain into retracting their ad campaign. See more »

It's not difficult to see that we humans have our hang ups. We have a long history of murdering one another when a religious or political difference arises. Key parties are just gross. Your local sports team is inferior to my local sports team. Yet, as distasteful as other cultures and opinions that counter our own may seem, they're just as much evidence that other people need to distract themselves from their inevitable deaths as we do. We all have that in common, at least, and we all tend to delude ourselves equally. See more »

I once said that if you're wearing a lab coat you can pretty much do anything you want to a rat. This sentiment was shouted down via email by a number of lab researchers who listen to the podcast. Since the early 20th century, a number of states have had on the books laws that provide standards of treatment for lab animals and in 1966 lab animals finally came under federal protection in the U.S. Animal Welfare Act. Since then the treatment of animals used in experimentation has been defined and further regulated by successive measures over the following years. See more »