Monday, July 18, 2011

Patt Morrison for Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Tues, 7/19/, 2011

1-3 p.m.






1:06 – 1:39





1:41:30 – 1:58:30

Do parents who decline vaccinations for their kids pose a public health threat?

Fears of a link between vaccinations and autism have fueled reluctance among parents over the last decade to vaccinate their children. Though the link was disproven in January, populations across the U.S. and around the world persist in rejecting vaccines on religious or philosophical grounds. The impact of this movement, argues Harvard professor and risk perception consultant David Ropeik in an LA Times op-ed this week, is becoming all too clear: last year, California saw its biggest whooping cough outbreak in a long while, with 9,000 cases; France has documented 7,000 cases of measles so far this year. Ironically, preventable diseases have been on the rise in wealthy, educated areas, and according to a 2008 study from the state of Michigan, the risk of disease in such “exemption clusters” can be three times higher than the average risk in other areas. It’s clear that disease spreads quickly, especially in high density areas such as schools and hospitals, and those epidemics can be costly to contain and clean up. Should it be more difficult for parents to opt-out of vaccination? And could financial disincentives or stricter regulations increase public safety?



David Ropeik (ro-PEAK) is an instructor at Harvard University and the author of an op-ed in this week’s Los Angeles Times; his latest book is "How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts"





2:06 – 2:19





2:21:30 – 2:30

Study shows the internet is changing the way we remember

Is the internet changing the way our brains remember things? That’s the sneaking suspicion from a new series of studies conducted by a Columbia University psychologist and published this week in the journal Science.  One experiment showed people are more likely to remember data they’re typing into a computer if they think it will be erased from the computer’s memory, and more likely to forget it if they think the information will be saved. (Being told to remember the information made no difference in whether people remembered it, suggesting there’s no conscious “deciding” about whether to remember something.) Another experiment found that when presented with information we think will be easily accessible in the future, we’re more likely to remember where to find it rather than the details of the information itself. Similar to the way we rely on friends, family and colleagues to remember things for us, the internet may be training us to unconsciously outsource some memory functions to its collective intelligence. The findings don’t show the internet is causing the brain to lose its ability to remember facts, just that we don’t use it the way we used to. Is that necessarily a bad thing, or could there be any benefits to these changes in our memory function?



Betsy Sparrow, professor of psychology at Columbia University and lead author on the study “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips,” published this week in the journal Science





2:41:30 – 2:58:30

Raising a chimp as a human: the wild story & monkey business of Project Nim
Imagine if we could free a chimpanzee’s mind through a communicative vehicle. This was the goal that Columbia university researchers set out to achieve in the mid-1970’s. How? By raising a 2-week-old chimp like a human child, by a human mother, in a house of seven children. Because chimpanzees lack the vocal apparatus to speak, the communicative vehicle was American Sign Language—even though no one in the large family knew sign language. The project was the brain child of behavioral psychologist Herbert Terrace, and the human mother to raise the chimp was one of his graduate students, Stephanie LaFarge. The two back-handedly named the chimp Nim, after Noam Chomsky, the linguist who insisted that language is exclusively a human trait.

The story of Nim is the subject of James Marsh’s, who won the 2009 Best Documentary Academy Award for Man on Wire, newest documentary. In theatres now, Project Nim has received raving reviews, won the best directing award for world documentary at Sundance, and been heralded already as a likely candidate for an Academy Award. But the story told within the film is a less happy one. LaFarge was not prepared for the “wild animal in Nim;’ and neither was her husband, who quickly realized the chimp’s hard-wired nature to compete with other males. As tension began to arise between Terrace and LaFarge, who had once been lovers, and because Terrace claimed LaFarge’s house lacked order and methodology, Nim was handed off to Laura-Ann Petitto, an attractive 18-year-old student who was highly motivated and organized. Further complicating matters, Petitto, who also had a romantic relationship with Terrace, and LaFarge did not get along—in fact, they still don’t to this day.

What happens next is a shocking and amazing story that involves both tragedy and joy—much as a human life does. The results of this experiment and film reveal as much about human behavior as they do about chimp behavior. Alongside heart-warming and tear-jerking moments of love and long-lasting chimp-human relationships, the film exposes arrogant and self-serving actions that are quite unsettling. At the heart of this film is the question of why humans feel so compelled to bring the “human” out of animals. Is the means of communication the missing link between humans and animals or is there simply not more going on in the minds of animals to be communicated? Was it wrong to bring an animal out of its natural habitat or is it important to test the scientific question that this experiment asked? And ultimately, was the experiment a failure or success?


Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, science director, National Science Foundation's Science of Learning Center; professor of Psychology at Gallaudet University and Georgetown University



Jonathan Serviss
Senior Producer, Patt Morrison
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