Random Samples

Science  20 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5956, pp. 1045

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  1. Medieval Mind Meld


      “Migrations of the Mind,” an exhibit opening this week at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, California, features more than 50 manuscripts showing how cross-cultural exchanges have fertilized science since medieval times.

      At left is “De Zifras,” or “On Ciphers,” a Spanish primer on cryptography that includes 24 different methods of coding. It's by an anonymous cryptographer responsible for deciphering correspondence between Algeria and the Vatican at the Spanish Court at Navarre in the late 16th century. The manuscript contains coding wheels that the reader can spin to encode and decode. “It's such a beautiful decorated manuscript [that] there's probably no way that they're using it as an ‘Enigma machine,’” says curator David Brafman. “But it's clear the author does work in intelligence, and he is showing off his skill.”

      The oldest manuscript in the show is an early 9th century French translation of Roman philosopher Boethius's commentary on Aristotelian logic. The latest is a Sanskrit document from 1799, linking music and the seasons. The show of manuscripts from the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, which runs through April, “will transform how historians look at the past in the future,” predicts Brafman.

    1. Focus on the Adolescent Brain


        Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg has been awarded the first Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize. The new award, worth 1 million Swiss francs ($1 million), comes from the Zurich-based Jacobs Foundation, founded by chocolate magnate Klaus Jacobs. It's designed to further “groundbreaking contributions to the improvement of the living conditions of young people.”

        Steinberg is well-known for his research on adolescent brain development. He's a former director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice. And he was one of the experts who wrote a U.S. Supreme Court brief arguing that 16- and 17-year-olds are too immature to be executed for capital crimes (Science, 30 July 2004, p. 596). In 2005, the court abolished the death penalty for these juveniles.

        “It's the only million-dollar prize in the social/behavioral sciences,” apart from the Nobel in economics, notes Anne Petersen, former deputy director of the National Science Foundation, who chaired the selection committee. “I believe that it will stimulate more strong research in the field.” An award ceremony will take place on 3 December at the University of Zurich.

      1. Infectious Image

          Pollsters know that how they phrase a question can powerfully affect the answers they get. Now researchers have shown that a metaphor people read can influence their opinions in a completely different context.

          In a study led by psychologist Mark Landau of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and colleagues, 69 undergraduates read one of two articles about airborne bacteria. One version stressed bacteria's threats to health.

          Then students read an essay about post–Civil War economic growth in the United States. One version was written in neutral language; the other used body-related metaphors, such as “the United States experienced an unprecedented growth spurt and is scurrying to create new laws that will give it a chance to digest” millions of innovations.

          Finally, participants were asked whether they agreed with statements about immigration policy. Students who had read the “nation as organism” text were more likely to agree with statements such as “an open immigration policy would have a negative impact on the nation.” A control question about the minimum wage showed no difference between the two groups.

          The researchers report in the November issue of Psychological Science that the body metaphor affected only students who had first read about harmful bacteria. The students' ethnicity did not affect the results. Psychologist Brian Meier of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania says it's a “pretty tight” study and adds to evidence that “metaphors are more than just communication devices but reflect the way we think.”

        1. Thanks Anyway


            “If I believed in God, I would start every morning by saying, ’Thank you, My Lord, for making me a theoretical physicist.’”

            —Vitaly Ginzburg, who died this month in Moscow at 93. A contributor to the Soviet H-bomb, Ginzburg survived Stalin's purges and in 2003 shared a Nobel Prize for his work on superconductors.