Saturday, December 1, 2007

My experiences in setting up and managing a psycholinguistic lab

I have found some good advice here.

One important issue that I found nothing on is authorship and author-order criteria in psycholinguistics and linguistics. A useful discussion appears here and here. Some of my lab members have been assigned the task of preparing official guidelines for my group, which I will publish on this blog once they are available.

A further interesting issue is research-project management, but I haven't found any interesting discussions yet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Should I be a fox or a hedgehog?

Should one be a fox or a hedgehog?

I keep getting berated by senior scientists more experienced than me to become a hedgehog (in fact, I was recently summoned by the Ministry of Education in Brandenburg--my immediate employers--and sternly told to pursue depth rather than breadth). Here are my views on this:

1. Of the total number of hedgehogs out there, how many are at the same status as Einstein The Ur-Hedgehog? I would say, very close to zero.
2. Of the total number of foxes out there, how many have led others to make hedgehog-level advances? I would guess, not close to zero.

But I'm a fox because it's fun, it's what I am, and because I think I make more important discoveries that way than by being a hedgehog. Let others be hedgehogs and let others get the girl and the money. I'm here to enjoy what I do. I hope the Ministry reads my blog.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Scientists admit mistakes?

Scientists admit mistakes--no other profession or calling does that anymore, it seems. Scientists can not only be wrong but can be shown to be wrong very publicly. You examine evidence, you put together a hypothesis that seems the most likely, or least wrong. Then the tests come back and say, "Sorry guys."
New Yorker, July 9 and 16, 2007, p. 79

I had to laugh out loud at this. Or maybe I am just not in science and I just think I am.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

List of sad things reviewers and journal editors say

Journal reviewers (and even editors-in-chief) sometimes say things that are jaw-dropping. Here are some examples (I paraphrase here, of course):

1. The p-value (for some paired comparison) is not low enough to justify publication of the result.
2. A previous experiment showed the opposite result from yours, hence your experimental result is not credible. Variant: do a second experiment, so that our confidence in your result increases.
3. Since the authors do not use a standard method for statistical analysis, and since I do not understand the new method, I recommend rejecting the paper.

We are lucky that we psycholinguists do research that cannot result in anyone actually dying.

On Monte Carlo, Mathematics, and Meditation

"Monte Carlo...James Bond's smarter lost brother".

"Mathematics is principally a tool to meditate, rather than to compute."

Fooled by Randomness, Taleb. p. 44.

Popper and Statisticians

"He refused to blindly accept the notion that knowledge can always increase with incremental information--which is the foundation of statistical inference."

Fooled by Randomness, Taleb. p. 127

What Popper was like as a person

"He was brilliant but self-focused, both insecure and arrogant, irascible and self-righteous. He was a terrible listener and bent on winning arguments at all costs. He had no understanding of group dynamics and no ability to negotiate them."

Fooled by Randomness, Taleb. p. 129

Monday, July 2, 2007

On building a ship

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea".

Quoted in the New Yorker of Jan 22 2007, p. 39. Attributed to Antoine de Saint Exupery.

On beginning writers

This from a review about a book on RK Narayan. The description is about the problems writers face when they are starting out:

"...the intense period of serious reading; the ensuing time of perfervid first composition, here taking the form of execrable, largely imitative, experimentation; an overlapping period of outsized pride over such compositions; an inevitable period of postal humblings, as submissions are dutifully returned with dismaying little slips; an era of humiliating jobs, to support an ambition that garners no other support."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Experimentalists versus Theorists

An astonishing distinction in particle physics is between experimentalists and theorists. This is astonishing because how do you do the former without the latter, and the latter without the former?

Interestingly, this division spills over to more harmless areas like psycholinguistics. One prominent psycholinguist once talked to me about "us" experimentalists versus "you" modelers. What a world.

Here is the quote that got me started (New Yorker, Crash Course, sometime in May 07):

Particle physicists come in two distinct varieties, which, rather like matter and antimatter, are very much intertwined and, at the same time, agonistic. Experimentalists build machines. Theorists sit around and think. “I am happy to eat Chinese dinners with theorists,” the Nobel Prize-winning experimentalist Samuel C. C. Ting once reportedly said. “But to spend your life doing what they tell you is a waste of time.”

“If I occasionally neglect to cite a theorist, it’s not because I’ve forgotten,” Leon Lederman, another Nobel-winning experimentalist, writes in his chronicle of the search for the Higgs. “It’s probably because I hate him.”

There is one dichotomy in linguistics that mirrors the above situation that makes sense, however. Traditional armchair linguists really do tend to theorize in an empirical vacuum. I hate them too.