CS Wednesday Talks 2009/10

Fall 2009

September 23: Ted Stankowich, adjunct assistant professor of animal behavior
On the Evolution of Weaponry in Female Ungulates
Abstract: Weaponry is ubiquitous in male ungulates and is driven by intrasexual selection, but the mystery surrounding its sporadic presence in females has persisted since the days of Darwin and remains unsolved. Female horns are often smaller and shaped differently than male horns, suggesting a different function; indeed, hypotheses explaining the presences of female horns include competition for food, male mollification, and defense against predators. Here we use comparative phylogenetic analyses to show that females are significantly more likely to bear horns in bovids that are conspicuous due to large body size and living in open habitats than inconspicuous species living in closed habitats or that are small. An inability to rely on crypsis or take refuge in deep vegetation has apparently driven the evolution of horns for defense against predators in female bovids, a finding supported by many field observations. Typically, exceptions are small species where females are territorial (e.g., duikers) and use horns in intrasexual contests. Furthermore, we suggest that conspicuousness and territoriality hypotheses may explain other instances of femal cranial weaponry (i.e., antler and ossicones) in other horned ruminants. Our phylogenetic reconstruction indicates that the primary function of horns in females is linked to antipredator defense in most clades but occasionally to intrasexual competition in others.

October 1: Pervez Amir Ali Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear and high energy physics and department of physics chairman, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad
Can the Taliban Win in Pakistan and Afganistan?

Abstract: Over a period of 25 years, Dr. Hoodbhoy created and anchored a series of television programs that dissected the problems of Pakistan's education system, and two other series that aimed at bringing scientific concepts to ordinary members of the public. He is the author of "Islam and Science--Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality", now in 7 languages. In 2003 he was awarded UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for the popularization of science. Also in 2003, Dr. Hoodbhoy was invited to the Pugwash Council. He is a sponsor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists. Over the years, he produced and directed several documentary films that have been widely viewed on national television which deal with Pakistan's political, nuclear, and scientific matters. He is frequently invited to comment on nuclear and political matters in Pakistani and international media.

October 7: Linnaea Stockall, visiting assistant professor of linguistics
How Understanding 'Undoable' Might be Doable

Abstract: The word "undoable" can either mean "not able to be done" or "able to be undone." The difference in these two meanings of the whole word can be understood as the result of differences in the way the three pieces "un," "do," and "able" are combined together. In this talk, I'll describe how my colleagues and I have been measuring people's eye movements while they read sentences containing ambiguous words such as "undoable" to better understand how we go about assembling complex words from simple pieces. I'll discuss the possible roles of such factors as the larger linguistic context, and the lexical semantics of the verb stem might play in resolving ambiguity.

October 14: Ernie Alleva, associate dean of advising and lecturer
Genes and Justice, What, if Anything, Follows, Morally Speaking, if "The Bell Curve" (or Similar Conjectures) Turns Out to be True?

Abstract: It is often thought that, if there are significant genetic-based differences in human cognitive (and perhaps other) capacities that are associated with race or sex, certain kinds social inequality related to race or sex are morally acceptable. One can find views like these in the work of ancient thinkers, such as Aristotle, and in contemporary work by Herrnstein and Murray in "The Bell Curve". In response, critics of such views typically challenge the empirical claims involved, denying that there is a genetic connection between race and intelligence or sex and mathematic and spatial abilities. I shall argue that the widespread emphasis on the empirical issues in these debates often misses or obscures something important: Even if the empirical claims in works like "The Bell Curve" turn out to be true, race- or sex-related social inequality needn't be morally acceptable. Whatever the empirical facts, in drawing conclusions about acceptable or unacceptable social inequalities, one also needs to determine the appropriate moral principles for evaluating such inequalities.

October 21: Laura Sizer, associate professor of philosophy
Do you need to feel it in order to hear it? A debate over musical emotions

Abstract: What does it mean to say that a piece of music *sounds* (italics) happy or sad? Is the emotion expressed by music a property of the music or the listener? I will discuss several different philosophical positions on these questions, and perhaps go on to make some grandiose claims about what this debate reveals about human affect and cognition more broadly.

October 28: Ethan Gilsdorf, alum
Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks

Abstract: Join Hampshire College grad Ethan Gilsdorf, F84, who will discuss some of the themes of his new book, "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms." In "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks," a blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former D&D addict Gilsdorf crisscrosses America, the world, and other worlds from Boston to Wisconsin, France to New Zealand, and Planet Earth to the realm of Aggramar. Delving into Dungeons & Dragons, live-action role playing games, World of Warcraft, the Society for Creative Anachronism, Tolkien fandom, and other fantasy subcultures, Gilsdorf embarks on a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future. He asks: Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irresistible appeal of such "escapist" adventures? How do the players balance their escapist urges with the kingdom of adulthood? Gilsdorf will talk about the culture's discomfort with the geek/nerd/gamer stereotype and will look at society's ambivalent relationship with gaming and fantasy play, and the origins of that prejudice, as well as the author's own past misgivings and final acceptance of his "geek" identity. Since the origins of D&D, the culture has widely embraced gaming and role-playing as an "acceptable" activity since, a shift largely brought on by the digital revolution. The shame of being a gamer and social isolation are gone, but in their place are other concerns: the loss of "place" and "hereness," and the way games with richly-textured digital landscapes may demand less of the imagination.

November 4: Student Lightning Talks
Abstract: Three students. Thirty minutes. Twelve pizzas. This Wednesday: The first Cognitive Science Student Lightning Talks, featuring original work from students working in and around the School of Cognitive Science. Each ten-minute talk will be short, sweet, and science-tastic. This week's speakers and topics:
Marco Carmosino on natural language processing
Auburn Lutzross on speech differences and sexuality stereotypes
Jarred de Beer on the computer graphics incubator program

November 11: Mark Feinstein, professor of linguistics

Abstract: CHARGE Syndrome is a rare genetic/developmental disorder that occurs in approximately 1 of 10,000 births. It was first described some 30 years ago as an apparently non-random association of six anomalies: C (colobomas, or defects of the visual system); H (heart defects); A (atresia, or blockage of the nasal passages); R (retardation of growth and development); G (genital defects); and E (ear deformation). It is now recognized as a distinct syndrome caused by mutations or deletions in a single regulatory gene, CHD7. Although the brain itself is usually spared by the defective action of this gene, CHARGE Syndrome has a dramatic impact on the peripheral nervous system and other anatomical and physiological systems. Multiple sensory input and motor control systems are affected: CHARGE children typically have moderate to profound hearing loss; significantly impaired vision; olfactory impairment or complete anosmia; strong aversion to touch; deformed or absent semicircular canals leading to profound difficulty with balance and movement; generally ?hypotonic' musculature, poor head control and difficulty in manual manipulation; and impairment of tongue control and swallowing. Not surprisingly, the usual course of cognitive and behavioral development is significantly delayed or disrupted in CHARGE. Many children with CHARGE will not (or cannot) eat or drink normally. Unaided walking often does not occur until age three or later. Perseverative, obsessive-compulsive, aggressive, and self-abusive behaviors can occur, and social interaction may be impaired. Language development in particular can be highly compromised: one third of CHARGE children do not ever exhibit productive symbolic language ability (vocal or gestural) even when their hearing and/or visual challenges are remediated. But there are also children with CHARGE who go on to learn and use language essentially normally, and adults with CHARGE syndrome who attend college and attain advanced degrees. Indeed, non-linguistic assessments of cognitive ability (though difficulty to perform on many of these children) suggest that most individuals with CHARGE are intellectually quite capable. Perhaps most surprisingly, the single strongest predictor of linguistic success in CHARGE children is relatively early emergence of walking. CHARGE therefore may shed some light on long-standing questions about the nature of language and language acquisition: What are the necessary biological/developmental and social preconditions for language? How are language and 'general intelligence' related? What kind of perceptual input is necessary? Are there developmental time-constraints (?critical periods') in the course of learning? What role do motoric abilities such as balance and locomotion play in cognitive development? What is the relationship between productive linguistic ability and language comprehension in these children?

November 18: Anne Pycha, post-doctoral fellow, University of Pennsylvania
Acoustic signatures in speech production and perception

Abstract: Every language contains a set of sounds that people combine to produce words and sentences. When we analyze these sounds acoustically, we see that they are created with an extremely limited set of basic elements--pitch, duration, and loudness--and that speakers use a given element for multiple, unrelated purposes. For example, a speaker may increase the duration of a vowel in order to accomplish a linguistically important phonological goal, such as changing the meaning of a word (because the vowel in "bead" is longer than the vowel in "beat"), but she may also increase the duration of a vowel in order to accomplish an arguably less important phonetic goal, such as signalling the end of a sentence (because "beat" is longer at the end than in the middle of a sentence). This creates a serious problem for listeners, and for our understanding of speech perception more generally: how do listeners know if a duration increase signals a meaning change or not? In this talk, I present evidence from speech production and perception studies which demonstrates that not all duration increases are created alike. The production studies show that speakers signal a meaning change by warping the duration of a vowel according to a specific signature; for less important linguistic goals, speakers omit this signature. The perception studies show that listeners can actually use this signature to distinguish between words with different meanings, such as "bead" versus "beat" -- even in the absence of an overall duration increase. The implications are that a) changing meaning is a categorical linguistic behavior which is distinct from other behaviors; that is, phonological processes are independent of phonetic ones, and b) people use distinct perceptual strategies to detect phonological versus phonetic processes during listening.

December 2: Jonathan Westphal, adjunct professor of philosophy
Sorting Out the "Self"

Abstract: What is the Self? It cannot be something eliminable, or psychological or mental or made of consciousness. The grammar of the first person singular pronoun tells a different story: "a whole cloud of philosophy dissolved into a drop of grammar" (Wittgenstein). "I" is like a variable whose type sense is "the speaker," and whose token sense is a variable that ranges over speakers.

December 9: CS Student Lightning Talks, Andrew Fulmer, Erik Hoel/Michael Hogan, John Schanck
Abstract: CS Lightning Talks are an opportunity for students to present their work and areas of interest to the School of Cognitive Science community. This month: Andrew Fulmer on courtship displays and bat harems; Erik Hoel and Michael Hogan on the neural correlates of consciousness; John Schanck on anonymized filesharing, so the spooks can't track your...totally legal Linux downloads

Spring 2010

February 10: Neil Stillings, professor of psychology and dean of cognitive science
Space, Time, and Complexity: Thinking and Learning about the Earth and Climate

Abstract: Over the past six years I have participated in two NSF-funded projects to promote research on thinking and learning in the geosciences, titled Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences and Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences. The projects involved collaborations among researchers and teachers in the geosciences and cognitive scientists who work on learning and development; thinking and reasoning; visual cognition; and instructional design. I will talk about what we learned on these projects, particularly about the roles of space, time, and complexity in thinking and learning about the earth and climate change.

February 17: Ray Coppinger, faculty emeritus
The Mexico City Dump and Island Paradise of Dogs

Abstract: Within any well-defined area dogs will find food, reproduce, and try to stay out of trouble. Mexico City, perhaps the largest city in the world, creates an enormous amount of waste food delivered daily to the 700 dogs in the dump. "All species of animal are limited by food," says Darwin. But if Darwin had studied the dogs in the Mexico City dump he might not have come up with that theory. The 700 dump dogs have a 24/7/365 reliable food resource. So that is the problem for those dogs living in the dump? That is a very interesting question!

February 24: Charlene D'Avanzo, professor of ecology
Using Diagnostic Questions to Improve a Notoriously Poorly Taught Course: Introductory Biology

Abstract: For the last several years I have been working on an NSF-supported program that integrates research on Diagnostic Question Clusters (DQCs) and their use by faculty teaching introductory biology and ecology. The questions, developed by an education research team at Michigan State, are designed to: 1) help faculty better understand their students' reasoning about key biological processes, 2) focus on thinking and reasoning most problematic, 3) use targeted active learning approaches to help students improve, and 4) assess students progress. I will describe the Framework for these questions focusing on energy and matter, example student responses to some of the DQCs, and how faculty from a wide range of institutions are responding to this project.

March 3: Meagan Curtis, post doctoral fellow, Tufts
The Pitch Patterns of Emotional Speech Mirror Those Used in the Musical Communication of Emotion

Abstract: This research examines the prosodic contours of emotional speech and identifies specific pitch patterns that typify the expression of sadness and anger. Direct comparisons between speech and music reveal strikingly similar pattern usage across domains. These findings have implications for the fields of emotion, psycholinguistics, music cognition, clinical psychology, and evolutionary psychology.

March 24: Jacob Reider MD (83F) and Isaac Bromberg, MD (89F)
Healthcare and Information Technology: How Cognitive Science Will Impact YOUR Next Doctor Visit.

Jacob Reider (83F) studied cognitive science at Hampshire, then promptly disappointed his mentors by snubbing his nose at an academic career, choosing to go to medical school. Now a leader at one of the most successful healthcare technology companies in the U.S., Dr. Reider has returned to the fold. He works with teams of physicians, cognitive scientists, designers, and engineers to create the user experience that physicians use to care for their patients. In this interactive session, Dr. Reider will provide a quick overview of the crazy, exciting world of health IT, software design processes, and how cognitive science weaves increasingly important threads into the healthcare system in the United States. With Dr. Reider, Dr. Isaac Bromberg (89F), director of informatics, emergency department @ Cooley Dickinson Hospital, will provide a "real-world" view of the role of health IT and its impact on the practice of medicine.

Dr. Reider (83F) is a family physician from Slingerlands, New York, where he continues to practice on an occasional basis in a two-physician office, in addition to his primary professional role as chief medical informatics officer for Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, a company whose electronic health record systems are in use by over 100,000 physicians in the U.S.

While studying biochemistry and marine biology at Hampshire and during a semester and summer at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC, Isaac Bromberg (89F) volunteered as an EMT and later director of the Hampshire College EMT Program. After graduating, Isaac continued to work as an EMT and later paramedic in Springfield and Northampton, eventually going to medical school at Albany Medical College, in Albany, NY. Upon graduation from medical school Isaac returned to western Massachusetts to complete a residency in emergency medicine at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. Since completion of residency, Isaac has worked at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, MA. Cooley Dickinson Hospital began implementation of an electronic medical record in 2007, and since that time Isaac has been the director of informatics for the emergency department, working in collaboration with members of the IT department and the chief medical information officer on design, implementation, and training for clinical information systems.


Reeve Thompson March 31: Reeve Thompson (93F)
Interactive Authoring Revolution: Changing How Videogames and Apps are Made
As videogames have become more visually sophisticated, their development teams have grown from a few highly technical programmers to teams of hundreds, many of whom are artists and designers. To empower effectively these huge teams new ways of developing games needed to be created.

Advanced tools with visual components have allowed the large number of artists and designers to author more and more of the game experience without programming. Led by the iPhone, the complexity and visual sophistication of mobile applications is rapidly increasing, and similar to the videogame industry, tools are starting to emerge that address the challenges of developing content for these devices. In this talk I will discuss the evolution of tools used in videogame development, and how those tools and techniques are applicable to mobile applications. I will also demo the development platform for mobile applications my company is currently creating to solve these challenges and expand the number of people who can develop mobile apps.

April 7: Katherine J. Midgley
Lexis nexus: Investigations of cross-language interactions in bilingual word processing

In 1989 François Grosjean remarked that a bilingual is not simply two monolinguals in one. Grosjean was referring to the high level of interactivity between a bilingual's two languages. In Wednesday's talk evidence of this interactivity in the lexicons of a bilingual's known languages will be presented. This evidence, in the form of electrophysiological data, or brainwaves, comes from experiments involving second language learners and proficient bilinguals in the USA and France. With this line of research, we aim to address the specification of cognitive mechanisms involved in written word recognition in bilinguals and second language learners.

In 2009 Katherine J. Midgley received her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Provence in Marseille France under the direction of Jonathan Grainger. Her research has been centered on word recognition in bilinguals with a concentration on cross-language interactions. Four published articles from her Ph.D. dissertation can be read in The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain Research, Psychophysiology, and the Journal of Neurolinguistics. She currently holds a research position at Tufts University and a research appointment at the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive in Marseille.

April 14: Student Lightning Talks
Evan Silberman on the joys and sorrows of theoretical computer science.
Dan Taub on fox tails and phenotypic variation.
The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) has a tail tip that varies between black and white. This study looked at the occurrence and possible behavioral implications of this phenotypic trait by analyzing museum specimens taken from Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was found that 8% of the study population carried this trait and could aid in antipredator behaviors.
Ian McEwen on the Semantic Web and why ontologies are awesome.
Among the more notorious alleged instances of "vaporware" is the Semantic Web, the W3C's vision for a meaning-encoded version of the World Wide Web. In ten minutes: What is it? Why bother? Does anyone actually bother with this craziness? Show me!

April  21: Charles Ross, Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology
Using hybrid zones to elucidate adaptation and barriers to gene exchange in crickets

Abstract: Hybridization in nature presents a paradox: It should homogenize two hybridizing species, yet in many cases they remain genetically distinct. For this reason, hybrid zones (areas where two species meet and produce offspring of mixed ancestry) are useful to study because they potentially can tell us about how speciation works, as well as reveal how organisms become adapted to their environments. Barriers to genetic exchange may be important in maintaining the species integrity between two hybridizing species. Two North American ground crickets (Allonemobius socius and A. fasciatus) that hybridize in a band from New Jersey to Illinois exhibit a barrier called, "conspecific sperm precedence" (CSP), which may play an important role in keeping the species distinct. Here I will show data on a potentially new barrier to gene exchange, micro-habitat association, that may act before CSP. Together with CSP, habitat segregation may provide an effective barrier to genetic exchange, maintaining the integrity of these species despite hybridization.

Bio: Charles L. Ross, assistant professor of evolutionary biology, received his B.S. and M.S. in biology from Stanford University, and his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University. He did postdoctoral work at the University of Arizona and New Mexico State University. Charles studies the ecological and evolutionary genetics of hybrid zones and speciation, specifically in crickets. His research and teaching interests include all aspects of evolutionary biology, as well as population genetics, molecular ecology, entomology, and genomics.

April 28: Student Lightning Talks

May 5: Chris Perry, assistant professor of media arts and science; and Jeff Butera, ERP systems manager
Improving TheHub




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