Monthly Archives: November 2008

Eggcorn collection

For several years now, I have been collecting eggcorns.  Eggcorns are words and phrases that make sense, but are not technically correct. The name comes (supposedly) from a child who asks how to spell “eggcorn,” which is how she had interpreted the word “acorn.”  Acorns look egg-shaped, and starting in the “E” section of the dictionary it would be hard to find the entry that would dispel the misconception.

So I would like to share some of my collection. I caught all of these in the wild.

  • “to rage war” (from “to wage war”)
  • “I would like to relay a story” (from “I would like to relate a story”)
  • “To breach a subject” (from “to broach a subject”)
  • “to interfear with the government’s terror campaign” (from “to interfere…”)
  • “Exception to the rulers” (from “exception to the rules”)
  • “I beg to dither” (from “I beg to differ”)

Comment and add your favorites!


The rare individuals and their new role in science

The film “Unbreakable” builds on the premise that there may exist a human who is virtually invincible, but who does not know of his ability. After all, who would want to put that to the test?

It is an interesting premise from a  scientific standpoint. How might one go about finding such a rare case? It’s a different take on the so-called “Black Swan Problem”. If we study the averages, we come out with a picture of “how things are” that works most of the time. For instance, the average person’s temperature is 98.6 deg F. If a person has a temperature of 100 deg F, you would suspect something is wrong with them; that they are sick. For most people it would be true. But I think that it is likely that there is someone out there (in a population of 6 billion) whose normal body temperature is 100 degrees F.

Here’s another one. Let’s take it for granted that someone, somewhere, is totally immune to HIV. How would you go about looking for them? Certainly, it would be unethical to go trying to infect random people and examining the cases for whom your attempt fails. But it would be OK to look at high-risk individuals who (statistically speaking) should have been infected but were not.

Here’s the thing: that takes a lot of data. A lot of data requires a lot of money. No two ways about it. But given that, we can do some amazing things. The old way to look for a cure was to study the average, normal disease progression (that takes a lot less data). Once it is understood, an appropriate intervention can be made (drug, lifestyle, diet, etc.). It worked for scurvy, it worked for Malaria (to a degree) and it worked for erectile dysfunction (go Pfizer!). This new way is different. This suggests that to cure a disease, we should take a huge collection of data, sift through and find the cases where a cure has arisen spontaneously. Then, understand this spontaneous cure and propagate it.

Via slashdot, here are two stories that purport to do just that. In 2004, doctors looked for people with natural immunity to HIV. In 2006, a man was given a bone marrow transplant to treat leukaemia; the bone marrow donor was a known carrier of such natural immunity. The bone marrow recipient was HIV free as of 2008 without anti-retro-virals. Bone marrow transplants do not constitute a viable treatment for AIDS (with a reported 30% mortality rate). But it’s a start of a whole different paradigm.


Color Percetption and Linguistic Effects – Our words affect what we see


I just went looking for a story I heard about years ago.  Some tribes don’t have words for all of the colors that have names in the English language.  The upshot was that, as a consequence, they are unable to discriminate between the two colors that are lumped into the same linguistic category.  Blue and Green share the same word, and so they look the same.

I think this is the person who found that data (from the American Psychological Association):

University of Essex psychologist Debi Roberson, PhD, and others … have found results that … suggest that there are differences–small but nonetheless significant–in the color perception of speakers of different languages.

“These kinds of categorical perception effects seem to be language-dependent,” says Davies, who has collaborated with Roberson on some of those studies. “If an African language doesn’t mark a blue-green boundary, then adult speakers don’t seem to show categorical perception across that boundary, whereas English speakers do.”

I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they controlled for genetic effects. Obviously, if this tribe happens to have a high incidence of inherited color-blindness, then they would lack words in their language for colors they can’t see.

But I think it’s really an interesting thing to consider.  Could we see more colors if we invented names for them? Would that enrich our lives?

Using color-language as a metaphor, how much could our world-view change just by modifying our “mental vocabulary”?


The dial on human nature: Stanford Prison, Milgram, Abu Ghraib

The system in which a person is enmeshed can inspire evil.

Zimbardo’s Ted Talk

This guy studied the Milgram Electro-learning experiments. He worked on the Stanford Prison Study. He has created evil in a jar. I suspect that most people think that evil can’t infect them, but Zimbardo proved that it can. He spells out how it is that Abu Ghraib can happen.

Here is the recipe for evil: Give people a goal, add authority, defer responsibility, remove dissenters, and you can create hell.