Gini Nelson\’s Engaging Conflicts

April 9, 2007

We Still Need Psychology-They Study Different Things —

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 5:03 am

istock_000001894194medium.jpg Psychology studies behavior, and neuroscience studies the nervous system. They overlap in studying what is commonly called “the mind.”

ScienceBlogs reinitiated a revised “Ask a ScienceBlogger” feature, wherein an expert will respond to readers’ questions. This week they responded to this question:

What’s the difference between psychology and neuroscience? Is psychology still relevant as we learn more about the brain and how it works?

They conclude that studying both psychology and neuroscience is the best way to understand it all: behavior, the nervous system, the mind.

Remember, please move your bookmark to


March 26, 2007

Free Workshop On Applications of Psychological Type in Conflict Communication Offered at New Mexico Mediation Association’s Winter Convocation —

Filed under: Business,Theory To Practice,Tips, Treats, and Tools — Gini @ 10:50 am

easel.jpgThe New Mexico Mediation Association’s March 31st Winter Convocation at the UNM Law School offers two tracks of workshops with four free workshops within each track. I’m presenting Communicating with Psychological Type in Mind During Conflict. It’s based on Carl Jung’s principles of psychological type as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), probably the most widely used assessment instrument of its kind (millions are administered annually in the US, and more in other countries around the world). I’ll overview applications in mediation and benefits to mediators and other conflict specialists in knowing and applying the principles, including assisting clients getting through misunderstandings based on type differences, identifying blind spots in the problem- solving process based on type, use of type to bridge cultural and gender differences based on type similarities, and the mediator’s own use of type to identify the kind of practice she wants. I’m a qualified administrator of the MBTI®, and greatly appreciate it as a tool.

Use of this psychological type analysis is better studied in the law practice field than in the mediation practice context. The most notable law-related works are University of Florida Law Professor Don Peters’ article, Forever Jung: Psychological Type Theory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Learning Negotiation, 42 DRAKE LAW REVIEW 1 (1993); and Florida Coastal School of Law Professor Susan Swaim Daicoff’s book, Lawyer, Know Theyself: A Psychological Analysis of Personality Strengths and Weaknesses, American Psychological Association (2004). Direct works are slowly showing up in the mediation practice context, most notably in Sondra S. VanSant’s Wired For Conflict: The Role of Personality in Resolving Differences, Center for Application of Psychological Type, Inc. (2003).

The other workshops offered Saturday are:


Journey into the Heart of Conflict: A Creative Exercise for Your Inner Author (Using Both Sides of Your Brain) presented by Cynthia Olson, with Wallace Ford


Mediation is the journey into the complexity of conflict, searching collaboratively for the links which can tie the elements of resolution and transformation. The mediator’s own journey and experience contributes to this adventure – we are where we’ve been. Come write a book about your personal journey, take the next step on your quest!



Cultural Competency for Mediators, presented by Tonya Covington


As the country becomes more diverse and the majority population prepares to become the minority, cultural competency is imperative. This is particularly true in New Mexico, where mediators are increasingly called upon to mediate inter-cultural disputes. Learn tips on mediating for other cultures and across cultures.



Engaging Reluctant Parties, presented by Stéphane Trustorff Luchini


Prospective participants in a conflict intervention process may initially indicate reluctance or resistance to participate when approached by a mediator or other intervenor. Such parties may be engaged to participate, and when they do, will likely report satisfaction with the process as do parties who initially readily agree to participate. For mediation and restorative justice that uses mediation to be widely accepted, mediators may have to be able to effectively engage initially reluctant or resistant prospective participants. Stéphane Trustorff Luchini will present research findings and practice applications, and facilitate an illicitive inquiry of this topic with workshop participants.



Building Your Mediation Business, presented by Debra Oliver


Are you one of those mediators and/or facilitators who would like to transform your volunteer practice into a paying proposition or quit your day job? If so, you won’t want to miss Debra Oliver as she talks about the importance of marketing yourself, thinking and acting like an entrepreneur. Debra will also talk about the importance of finding good mentors and the value of mentoring others.



Ethics and Power in Mediation, presented byWallace Ford


New Mexico Mediation Association has a statement of ethics to which all members agree, as does the Association for Conflict Resolution. This statement points the mediator toward the moral and spiritual foundations upon which our conflict resolution is built. This workshop will explore key moral and spiritual themes embedded in the mediation experience, distinguishing the frames-of-reference we use and identifying the metaphors of well-being which guide our work. Particular attention will also be paid on how reason-giving establishes the power dynamic of conflict and ways the mediator narrates balance.




Latino Families and Domestic Violence, presented by Mariana Montejano (Community outreach trainer, New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence)


Domestic violence is a crucial issue for any mediator working with family and divorce mediation to be able to screen for and recognize. Cultural context shapes everyone’s life and domestic violence occurs in most if not all cultural contexts. This session will discuss domestic violence in the context of Latinas’ lives – daily experience, reality (“way of living”), and psyche (“way of thinking”) to better understand domestic violence within the Latino community. Come explore how to work specifically with this cultural group.



Thank you, New Mexico Mediation Association for sponsoring this event, and thank you, to all presenters for their volunteer efforts in enriching the practice of mediation!

March 9, 2007

Women in Science and International Women’s Day —

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 7:40 am

dramatic womanBelated Happy International Women’s Day (it was yesterday)! Omni Brain at Science Blogs used the day to highlight the 4000 Years of Women in Science site, and the Women in Science site. Omni Brain’s post contrasted these women’s real achievements with:

Louann Brizendine, author of best-selling book The Female Brain, which Nature described as “riddled with scientific errors”. In an NPR Fresh Air radio broadcast, linguist Geoff Nunberg announced that Brizendine was the unanimous winner of the first annual Becky Award for “the single most ridiculous or misleading bit of linguistic nonsense that somebody manages to put over in the media.”

Mark Liberman of Language Log disproved her claim that women use 20,000 words per day, and speak faster, compared to men averaging 7,000. (Turns out she referenced a 1970s self-help guru who simply made it up.) But despite his efforts and the bestowing of the 2006 Becky Award, the stereotyped fictitious claims are still being propagated: Elle Magazine wrote about it in their February issue.

EngagingConflicts previously posted about Brizendine’s book here.

Note: Please change your bookmarks to the new site:

January 22, 2007

Collaborative and Cooperative Law — Promise and Perils —

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 10:32 am

John Lande is Director of the LL.M. Program in Dispute Resolution and Associate Professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He teaches courses on Mediation and Non-Binding Methods of Dispute Resolution. His Scholarship focuses on institutionalization of mediation in the legal system and how lawyering and mediation practices affect each other. Among other issues, he writes extensively on Cooperative Law, an innovation developing in response to Collaborative Law, itself an important innovation in conflict engagement. Engaging Conflicts has a new category in 2007, Cooperative Law — Beyond Collaboration, to which this post belongs. John will also be a Guest Blogger and will be interviewed in Engaging Conflicts Today later in the winter about his work.

This is an abstract from his 2005 article: The Promise and Perils of Collaborative Law:

Getting people to use an interest-based approach in negotiation has been a difficult problem. Experts have provided helpful suggestions for ‘changing the game,’ though these ideas are usually limited to case-by-case efforts within a culture of adversarial negotiation. Collaborative law (CL) is an important innovation that establishes a general norm of interest-based negotiation and intentionally develops a new legal culture. CL reverses the traditional presumption that negotiators will use adversarial negotiation. CL parties and lawyers sign a participation agreement establishing the rules for the process. Under these agreements, lawyers and parties (negotiators) focus exclusively on negotiation, disclosing all relevant information and using an interest-based approach. Negotiators work primarily in four-way meetings in which everyone is expected to participate actively. A ‘disqualification agreement’ clause in the participation agreement provides that CL lawyers represent parties only in negotiation and are disqualified from representing them in litigation. (Although CL lawyers cannot litigate a CL case, CL parties can withdraw and hire other lawyers to litigate.) Professor Julie Macfarlane’s landmark study found that CL negotiators generally did not engage in adversarial negotiation and when they did so, they usually had more information and a more constructive spirit than in traditional negotiation. She found that CL parties generally benefited from improved communication and were satisfied with the process and their lawyers.

This article identifies four potential perils of CL. First, CL clients may have unrealistic expectations about the lawyers’ role, the time and expense involved, and implications of the disqualification agreement. Second, the CL process may result in excessive pressure to settle. Third, CL practitioners may violate rules of professional conduct. Fourth, CL practitioners may develop a quasi-religious orthodoxy that inhibits innovation and discourages clients from exercising legitimate process choices.

Here’s the article from his website.

Remember! Find and bookmark the new site:!

January 19, 2007

Science and Spirit In 2007 –

Filed under: Ethics,Spirit,Theory To Practice — Gini @ 5:29 am

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a wonderful place to live for many reasons, including the eclectic mix of what used to be called New Age mysticism (I’m not sure what the current best term might be – the closest I come is quantum mysticism, now) and cutting edge science exemplified by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), just 45 miles away. When I first moved here, I had to learn some physical and biological science (previously, I had done a masters in sociology, and a law degree) because I was an environmental attorney at the New Mexico Environment Department. I was the primary permitting and enforcement attorney for hazardous and radioactive waste issues, which, in New Mexico, included addressing the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and uranium mill tailings, as well as LANL. I respect science – almost as much as I love the law – and my renamed blog topic category Theory to Practice is meant to facilitate both science education and practical applications of science.

Towards science education, I came across this 2003 Statement on New Mexico Science Education by the Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellows which, while not intended as such, gives some background to what science education is.

As to quantum mysticism, I am agnostic about it just as I am to any other religion or religious path. As I said in one of this blog’s introductory posts, Why Speak Of Spirit and Conflict In the Same Breath?:

What’s so engaging about conflict and spirit? First, most people get solace and direction in stressful times through their religious or spiritual beliefs; information that supports or enriches those beliefs (including practice tools) will strengthen that resource when facing conflict. Second, some people are stressed because of questions about religion and/or spirituality that they think arise out of science. But most of us don’t know much about science … what is it? More to the point, how does science help explain our impulses towards religion and spirituality, and how we chose to practice them (including explaining why those impulses can turn to violence and conflict in some circumstances)? Can the areas of science that relate to religion and spirituality help prevent, reduce, contain or resolve conflict?

Some people may experience conflict when confronting an insistence that there is only one way, or even just a best way, to experience and practice religion and/or spirituality — and what they know gives insufficient solace, or is different. Others may watch with confusion how some forms of religion are changing, as we see especially in the United States in the perhaps parallel growths of more fundamentalist mega churches, and post-modern quantum mysticism. Can science help here?

For the rest of that post, just click on the link. I’ve renamed this category Ethics and Spirit.

Remember to move your bookmark to, and while you are there, please subscribe using the RSS button!

January 18, 2007

Public Insight Journalism — Web-enabled Great Citizen Journalism —

I’ll be interviewing Michael Skoler later this winter for more about his work with Minnesota Public Radio’s innovative “Public Insight Journalism” — an innovative citizen journalism program. Michael is Executive Director of the Minnesota Public Radio’s and American Public Media’s new Center for Innovation in Journalism. Here’s a start about this program:

What is Public Insight Journalism?
Public Insight Journalism is a new way for Minnesota Public Radio journalists to find the best sources and the best information. The centerpiece of Public Insight Journalism is the Public Insight Network – a group of thousands of Minnesotans who have agreed to help us cover the news.

Every week, we ask people in that network to share their observations, knowledge and expertise with us. We take that information, distill it, and pass it on to our reporters and editors. They may follow up with a request for more information, or perhaps an interview.

We believe that this new approach to journalism will make Minnesota Public Radio an even more trusted and credible source of news and information.

For more information, go here: Minnesota Public Radio’s FAQ about Public Insight Journalism, and here.

Remember to move your bookmark and go to Engaging Conflict’s new home!  Go to

January 16, 2007

Top Science Stories Of 2006 —

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 5:47 am

Discover magazine recently posted its list of the top 100 science stories of 2006, a special report on the most interesting, amazing, and important science news of the year. Articles of particular interest to conflict specialists include these articles about human nature: #72, the source of empathy found in mirror neurons; #58, what differentiates us from chimps, specifically, after comparing human and chimpanzee genomes, the discovery of 49 places where an accelerated rate of mutation stood out in the human genome, places called HARs, for “human accelerated regions;” and others among the top 6 mind and brain stories.

Remember to move your bookmarks to the new site:!

January 13, 2007

The Evolution Of Cooperation —

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 9:42 am

The New York Times today has an op-ed contribution by Michael Tomasello, the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, suggesting that the evolution of our highly visible human eyes — referring to the large whites of our eyes that are several times larger than those of other primates — “made it easier to coordinate close-range collaborative activities in which discerning where the other was looking and perhaps what she was planning, benefited both participants.” And why “collaborative”?

[E]volution cannot select the color of my eyes based on advantages to you. Evolutionary theory tells us that, in general, the only individuals who are around today are those whose ancestors did things that were beneficial to their own survival and reproduction. If I have eyes whose direction is especially easy to follow, it must be of some advantage to me.

If I am, in effect, advertising the direction of my eyes, I must be in a social environment full of others who are not often inclined to take advantage of this to my detriment — by, say, beating me to the food [that I have detected] or escaping aggression [from the approaching dominant male in a fighting mood] before me. Indeed, I must be in a cooperative social environment in which others following the directions of my eyes somehow benefits me.

Please note Engaging Conflict’s new address:

January 9, 2007

Engaging Conflicts In 2007 —

Please note the new address:

In 2007, Engaging Conflicts will continue to center on issues identified by Bernie Mayer’s Beyond Neutrality: Confronting the Crisis in Conflict Resolution, Chris Honeyman’s Theory to Practice work (focusing on his new book, The Negotiator’s Fieldbook: the Desk Reference for the Experienced Negotiator, co-edited with Andrea Kupfer Schneider), and the October 2006 Keystone Consolidating Our Collective Wisdom conference; as well as my Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! program – use of the new social media on the internet for professional, personal and business development. I’ll provide Tips, Treats, and Tools, and talk about Health, Conflict and Stress, on occasion, too.

Some Guest Bloggers In 2007

Planned guest bloggers for 2007 include Kristine Paranica, J.D., Administrative Director and Fellow of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation (ISCT) on transformative mediation and practice; and John Lande, J.D., Director of the Master of Laws Program In Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, on cooperative law, as distinguished from collaborative law.

In Engaging Conflicts Today, the newsletter (subscribe by clicking in the sidebar!), I’ve planned interviews with Bernie Mayer, John Paul Lederach, Robert Benjamin, Chris Honeyman, Janis Magnuson (of Janis Publications), Diane Levin (of the Online Guide To Mediation blog), Jack Cooley, John Stephens, Ann Gosline, and Howard Gadlin, among others. And, as I said, The Negotiator’s Fieldbook, Chris Honeyman’s and Andrea Kupfer Schneider’s new book, will also be highlighted in 2007 (in both the newsletter and in the blog), with reviews, summaries and interviews.

At the new site, you’ll see the administrative categories tabbed across the topbar (Welcome, Contact, Why Engaging Conflicts?, Guest Bloggers, RSS FAQ). The first box at the top of the right sidebar lets you search the blog using keywords. You can then bookmark the blog at Technorati (use the green icon); subscribe to the blog for free at FeedBurner (use the orange icon); and then subscribe to Engaging Conflicts Today by clicking on the blue hyperlinked “Free Engaging Conflicts Newsletter!” I have fewer categories. Also, each post now allows linking with 13 different social content and social bookmarking websites, e.g.,, digg and smarking. (If you don’t know what any of these terms and options are, spend some time in the Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs, Oh My! category!) Finally, I’ve disabled commenting, to help save the site from robotic spamming – write me privately, and I’ll respond, though.

REMEMBER: Please move your bookmark, and — try something new! — subscribe to Engaging Conflicts! If you’d like to learn more about RSS or web feeds from a podcast or blog consumer’s point of view, visit our RSS FAQ.

December 29, 2006

Mediators Without Borders —

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 4:49 am

Please note: this blog has moved to — please reset your bookmarks, accordingly. I’ll cross-post for a while, yet.

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon has an inspired tribute to the Mediators Without Borders project, as well as links for more information. As further stated here:

A key goal of MWOB is to develop indigenous skills for group facilitation, public dialogue, strategic planning, collaborative negotiation, and peer mediation.

The concept is for teams of volunteer mediators to conduct skill-building workshops consistent with the norms, values, and culture of the locale.

The mission is to increase the capacity of hostile communities to prevent, resolve, and recover from violent conflict.

Ken Cloke’s article, Mediators Without Borders: A Proposal to Resolve Political Conflicts, is posted online at Guy and Heidi Burgess’ Beyond Intractability Project (“Beyond Intractability: A Free Knowledge Base on More Constructive Approaches to Destructive Conflict”). Ken is the key founder of MWOB.

November 9, 2006

Web Science Includes the Social Impacts of Web 2.0

A Thinking Ethics post from Nov. 6:

Web science

MIT and the University of Southampton, UK, are launching the new field of Web Science. The research will guide the future design and use of the world wide web. Tim Berners-Lee says the web is full of blogs that are inaccurate, defamatory and have uncheckable information. This new program is aimed at adding intelligence to the web, and will cover things like trust, responsibility, empathy, and privacy. It looks like Web 2.0 will be kinder and gentler. more

The link goes to a New York Times article:

Web science, the researchers say, has social and engineering dimensions. It extends well beyond traditional computer science, they say, to include the emerging research in social networks and the social sciences that is being used to study how people behave on the Web.


Web science represents “a pretty big next step in the evolution of information,” said Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, who is a computer scientist. This kind of research, Schmidt added, is “likely to have a lot of influence on the next generation of researchers, scientists and, most importantly, the next generation of entrepreneurs who will build new companies from this.”

Web science is related to another emerging interdisciplinary field called services science. This is the study of how to use computing, collaborative networks and knowledge in disciplines ranging from economics to anthropology to lift productivity and develop new products in the services sector, which represents about three-fourths of the United States economy. Services science research is being supported by technology companies like I.B.M., Accenture and Hewlett-Packard, and by the National Science Foundation.


Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland, said Web science was a promising idea. “Computer science is at a turning point, and it has to go beyond algorithms and understand the social dynamics of issues like trust, responsibility, empathy and privacy in this vast networked space,” Shneiderman said. “The technologists and companies that understand those issues will be far more likely to succeed in expanding their markets and enlarging their audiences.”


October 31, 2006

AlphaPsy’s Primers: Introductions to Evolution, Cognition and Culture

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 4:35 am

AlphaPsy editors, over the past couple of months, have created a series of primers giving us what they describe as “really short introductions to various topics in the fields of evolution, cognition, and culture. It is chiefly aimed at social scientists with no background whatsoever in the domain. Each primer includes a link to the relevant AlphaPsy Bibliography, which is particularly suited for beginners. Again, it is only a very rough guide; it has no scientific ambitions, so don’t judge it too harshly.”

Here’s the list of primers with links:

A Primer on Evolution

A Primer on Cognition

A Primer on Culture

A Primer on Darwinian Psychiatry

A Primer on Religion

A Primer on Coevolutions and Domestications

A Primer on Technology

A Primer on Meta-Evolution

A Primer on Neuroeconomics

A Primer on the Psychology of Politics

A Primer on Cognitive Arts

A Primer on Science and Folk Science

A Primer on Racialist Prejudices

A Primer on Mirror-Neurons

A Primer on Theory of Mind

Here, too, is the link to the guide to their bibliographies.

October 18, 2006

See-Through Science: Why Public Engagement Needs To Move Upstream

Filed under: Ethics,Theory To Practice — Gini @ 11:22 am

Politics and science needn’t be like oil and water. How do scientists make their advice credible to a sceptical public? How can social outcomes of scientific and technological developments be improved by, yes, “engaging” the public from a substantive perspective (“citizens are seen as subjects, not objects, of the process. They work actively to shape decisions, rather than having their views canvassed by other actors to inform the decision[s] that are then taken”), not just normative (“dialogue is an important ingredient of a healthy democracy”), or instrumental (“engagement processes are carried out because they serve particular interests”) ones?

James Wilsdon, a researcher on science, technology and sustainable development at Demos (“The Think Tank For Everyday Democracy”), and Rebecca Willis, then Associate Director of Green Alliance (“thinking, talking, acting on the environment”) and Vice-Chair of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, published a thoughtful piece in the context of comparing public involvement in genetically modified foods, and nanotechnology, on “See Through Science” in January 2005. Here is their .pdf article:


September 29, 2006

Scientists and Engineers for America

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 5:44 am

This new organization launched two days ago. From their website:

Today a group of scientists and concerned citizens launch a new organization, Scientists and Engineers for America, dedicated to electing public officials who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy.

The principal role of the science and technology community is to advance human understanding. But there are times when this is not enough. Scientists and engineers have a right, indeed an obligation, to enter the political debate when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research.

We ask every American who values scientific integrity in decision-making to join us in endorsing a basic Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers. Together we will elect new leadership beginning in 2006, and we will continue to work to elect reasonable leadership in federal, state and local elections for years to come.

America needs your help. Will you join us?

These are the points in their Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers:

Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers

Effective government depends on accurate, honest and timely advice from scientists and engineers. Science demands an open, transparent process of review and access to the best scholars from around the nation and the world. Mistakes dangerous to the nation’s welfare and security have been made when governments prevent scientists from presenting the best evidence and analysis. Americans should demand that all candidates support the following Bill of Rights:

  1. Federal policy shall be made using the best available science and analysis both from within the government and from the rest of society.
  2. The federal government shall never intentionally publish false or misleading scientific information nor post such material on federal websites.
  3. Scientists conducting research or analysis with federal funding shall be free to discuss and publish the results of unclassified research after a reasonable period of review without fear of intimidation or adverse personnel action.
  4. Federal employees reporting what they believe to be manipulation of federal research and analysis for political or ideological reasons should be free to bring this information to the attention of the public and shall be protected from intimidation, retribution or adverse personnel action by effective enforcement of Whistle Blower laws.
  5. No scientists should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of their research.
  6. Appointments to federal scientific advisory committees shall be based on the candidate’s scientific qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology.
  7. The federal government shall not support any science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science.
  8. While scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused there shall be no federal prohibition on publication of basic research results. Decisions made about blocking the release of information about specific applied research and technologies for reasons of national security shall be the result of a transparent process. Classification decisions shall be made by trained professionals using a clear set of published criteria and there shall be a clear process for challenging decisions and a process for remedying mistakes and abuses of the classification system.

Science literacy: politics can affect “science”.

September 27, 2006

Is String Theory Unraveling? Does Sprouting New Brain Cells Cure Depression?

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 5:48 am

Scientific American magazine in a recent Science News column identified six “raging debates” in current scientific theory. The articles remind us that scientific theory is created, developed, and supported (or not) in a process involving people and time, and that its final, accepted form will seldom be the same as its earliest iterations. Here’s the introduction:

Textbooks usually make the triumph of a scientific theory seem inevitable and uncontestable. But at the time that a theory is being forged, the reality is not nearly so tidy. An experimental result is only clear-cut if researchers agree on how to interpret it. Individuals may have conflicting hunches about what nature is up to, however, and a finding that is conclusive to one scientist may be unimpressive to another. In some cases the ideal experiment is not yet possible. In others only one or a few data points exist. Disagreement is productive, though. It forces each side to clarify its views and to find experiments that will distinguish one idea from another. And in the end, researchers generally come to a new consensus. Experiments corroborate each other. Theories make defensible predictions. And new students come along who lack the prejudices of their predecessors. Science marches ahead, in other words, erasing m any records of dissent along the way. Here are six raging debates that textbooks will one day no doubt present as cut-and-dried:

Is String Theory Unraveling?

Is Global Warming Raising a Tempest?

How Does A Planet Grow?

Should Epidemiologists Swear Off Diet Trials?

Does Sprouting New Brain Cells Cure Depression?

Was the Hobbit Just a Sick Modern Human?

For example, the give-and-take process in critically challenging string theory is engaged – two recent books critical of the current state of the theory are being reviewed these days, including this review in Scientific American.

September 26, 2006

Sex Differences In the Brain

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 8:26 am

Here’s an online Scientific American article on sex differences in the brain.

September 25, 2006

Science Literacy and The Female Brain

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 4:33 pm

Many of us are fascinated by male – female differences, or, rather, by investigations into what the differences are, if any, and, further, what the differences mean, if anything. Here, too, science literacy reigns. Or, rather, should.

A new book that has generated much buzz is also generating criticism about one of the points used to promote its premise. This from ScienceBlogs, specifically from The Frontal Cortex blog:

Factchecking the Female Brain

Category: Neuroscience
Posted on: September 25, 2006 10:36 AM, by Jonah Lehrer

It’s a shame that exaggerating the extent of brain differences between men and women can be such a boon for book sales. (Call it the Mars and Venus phenomenon.) This publishing truism has been most recently demonstrated by Louann Brizendine, a researcher at UCSF who wroteThe Female Brain. But now the backlash has begun. The Boston Globe ran a nice column dismantling Brizendine’s oft cited claim that women use 20,000 words per day while men only use 7,000.

The author of the Boston Globe column is Mark Liberman, Trustee Professor of Phonetics at the University of Pennsylvania. After reviewing what appears to be Ms. Brizendine’s source for the claim, and the existing research literature, he concludes:

I haven’t been able to find any scientific studies that reliably count the entire daily word usage of a reasonable sample of men and women. But based on the research I’ve read and conducted, I’m willing to make a bet about what such a study would show. Whatever the average female vs. male difference turns out to be, it will be small compared to the variation among women and among men; and there will also be big differences, for any given individual, from one social setting to another.

I haven’t read the book yet, and I haven’t reviewed the studies, but I think the Boston Globe article is interesting, and exemplifies some of generalizable themes I hope to explore through this blog’s Science and Science Literacy categories: emphasis on some divides, such as a male-female divide can be, well, divisive and a source of conflict; if we are considering classifications that can be divisive, like gender, race or religion, we may want to be particularly careful about the sources for our information and be confident they are credible; and when we do use them, we will want to be careful to use them in ways that acknowledge their limits, too. Inappropriately or improperly emphasizing a male – female difference may divert us from remembering male-female similarities, and, further, may divert us from recognizing that individual differences within a gender, and particular social settings, may explain more.

September 21, 2006

Science, Borderline Science, Pseudoscience, and Why Science Literacy Matter: The Series

Filed under: Theory To Practice — Gini @ 9:58 am

There are other sources for definitions, but, for ease, let me start with the categories included in a well-considered and stated post done by the A Blog Around The Clock blog, published by a Ph.D. student named Bora Zivkovic. His blog, as he describes it, “regularly covers many areas of biology including neurobiology of behavior within ecological and evolutionary contexts, science education, higher education and science communication, as well as intersection between science and politics – this not so much about science policy, but rather what science can tell us about the way people acquire their political ideology and why they vote the way they do.” In a post originally published August 5, 2005, but subsequently republished, most recently on August 31, 2006, he wrote:

According to Michael Shermer [author of The Borderlines of Science: Where Science Meets Nonsense; also the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine] there are:

– science
– borderlands science
– pseudoscience, and
– nonsense

Science is a methodology of figuring out, with as great confidence as possible, how the world works. Evolutionary theory is one of the biggest, strongest and best-supported bodies of all of science.

Borderland Science refers to first small steps in acquiring realistic knowledge about a not-well-understood aspect of the world. It aspires to become Science, but is often held back by various factors, e.g., difficulty in studying the phenomenon of interest, biases of the investigators, social biases against investigations of such phenomena, etc.

For instance, very little is known about hypnosis. It is a real phenomenon but very difficult to study. There is not much funding for it as there is a social bias against such research. Thus, it is still doing its first small pioneering steps and has not resulted in data that are good enough to place it in the realm of real Science.

Another example is Evolutionary Psychology – it is done by psychologists (thus real scientists) who understand biology very poorly, yet strive to make their research scientific. Their own biases make them go up wrong alleys and bark up wrong trees (I love adding up mixed metaphors, sorry). Yet, they are asking real questions about real phenomena and it is expected that at some point evolutionary psychology (lowercase) will get its methodology straight and make enough advances to become real Science.

Pseudoscience is an attempt to sell out-of-ass beliefs as scientific by using hifallutin’ terminology, perform meaningless calculations, draw elaborate charts etc. Examples are many (peruse past editions of the Skeptic’s Circle for examples) and include astrology, biorhythms, pyramid force, Feng Shui, crystal balls, alternative medicine, Holocaust denial, Intelligent Design Creationism, and many, many others. The main goal, usually, is making a quick buck, although more sinister motivations are sometimes behind such ideas, i.e., these may serve as methods for making an unrespectable ideology (e.g., Nazism) respectable again, or there is political gain to be had.

Nonsense does not even pretend to be scientific, e.g., Old Earth Creationism.

Knowing the differences between science and pseudoscience is important because, as he states in another recent well-considered post:

People argue bad science, pseudoscience and nonsense for a variety of reasons, some religiously motivated, some politically motivated, some out of ignorance, some out of arrogance, some out emotional needs, some due to psychological problems.

When they encroach onto the scientific turf and argue nonsense within a scientific domain, they use a limited set of rhetorical tools. The exact choice of tools depends on the motivation, as well as the forum where they advocate the nonsense. Some, the generals in the army in War On Science, have big soapboxes, e.g., TV, radio and newspapers. Some teach and preach in schools and churches. Some run blogs, and some – the footsoldiers of The War – troll on other people’s blogs.

So, when the motivation is political, when they are pushing for debunked conservative ideas, from femiphobic stances on anti-abortion and anti-stem-cell-research, through thinly-veiled racism of the War On Terror, to failed economic policies (“trickle-down”) and global-warming denial, they mainly use one set of rhetorical strategies.

When the motivation is religious, as in Creationism, the strategies are similar, but not exactly the same. Loony fringe pseudoscience, from the Left or the Right (and sometimes it is difficult to figure out if they come from the Left or the Right) – appears to employ very similar rhetorical devices as the religiously motivated pseudoscience, suggesting that perhaps both are sharing the same underlying emotional disturbances.

The links for both these posts are: on pseudoscience; on uses of bad science. I don’t agree with everything he says and concludes, but I read and consider them. His premise, which I share, is that there is much threatening political activity related to misuses of science and in conjunction with attacks on science, such that we critically need science literacy.

For me, there’s another, equally important need for science literacy — the fact that we are in a time of immense, even revolutionary developments in science, and will be for perhaps the next decade or two (for now). What are these developments? How will they relate to our practices as conflict specialists and otherwise to our lives in the world?

Blog at