Mother’s Day 2017

In May 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issues a presidential proclamation that officially establishes the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers.
The idea for a “Mother’s Day” is credited by some to Julia Ward Howe (1872) and by others to Anna Jarvis (1907), who both suggested a holiday dedicated to a day of peace. Many individual states celebrated Mother’s Day by 1911, but it was not until Wilson lobbied Congress in 1914 that Mother’s Day was officially set on the second Sunday of every May. In his first Mother’s Day proclamation, Wilson stated that the holiday offered a chance to “publicly express our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
In 2002, President George W. Bush echoed Wilson’s sentiments by acknowledging mothers in his official statement on Mother’s Day in 2002. He commended foster mothers as well as his own “fabulous mother” for their “love and sacrifice.” He also mentioned past presidents’ expressions of appreciation for their mothers. He quoted John Quincy Adams as having said “all that I am my mother made me” and Abraham Lincoln’s sentiment that “all that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother. My mother’s prayers have clung to me all my life.” Bush’s own mother, Barbara, was a popular first lady when the elder Bush served as president from 1989 to 1992.

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Crowd Mentality

Crowd wisdom such as what might arise from online voting is popularly assumed to provide better answers than any one person by aggregating multiple perspectives. Democratic methods however, tend to favour the most popular information, not necessarily the most correct. The ignorance of the masses can cancel out a knowledgeable minority with specialised information of a topic, resulting in the wrong answer becoming the most accepted.

To give more weight to correct information that may not be widely known, researchers from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed what they call the “surprisingly popular” algorithm. Reported in the journal Nature, the technique hinges on asking people two things about a given question: What do they think the right answer is, and how popular do they think each answer will be?

The correct answer is that which is more popular than people predict, the researchers report. The technique could refine wisdom-of-crowds surveys, which are used in political and economic forecasting, as well as many other collective activities, from pricing artwork to grading scientific research proposals.

The researchers tested their algorithm through multiple surveys conducted on various populations. In one test, they asked people a yes-or-no question, ‘Is Philadelphia the capital of Pennsylvania?’ Respondents also were asked to predict the prevalence of “yes” votes. Because Philadelphia is a “large, historically significant city,” most people in the group thought that, yes, it is the capital of Pennsylvania; Harrisburg is in fact the state’s capital. In addition, the people who mistakenly thought Philadelphia is the state capital also predicted that a very high percentage of people would answer “yes.”

Meanwhile, a certain number of respondents knew that the correct answer is “no.” But these people also anticipated that many other people would incorrectly think the capital is Philadelphia, so they also expected a very high percentage of “yes” answers. Thus, almost everyone expected other people to answer “yes,” but the actual percentage of people who did was significantly lower. “No” was the surprisingly popular answer because it exceeded expectations of what the answer would be.

Sebastian Seung, Princeton’s Evnin Professor in Neuroscience and professor of computer science and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, said that the surprisingly popular or SP method is still democratic because there is no expectation of who would have specialised information, only that the information exists. Seung added that the researchers’ work was published 110 years after Nature published the seminal paper in crowd wisdom, Sir Francis Galton’s 1907 study “The Wisdom of Crowds.”

“The SP method is elitist in the sense that it tries to identify those who have expert knowledge,” Seung said. “However, it is democratic in the sense that potentially anyone could be identified as an expert. The method does not look at anyone’s resume or academic degrees.”

The researchers developed their method mathematically then applied it through surveys on multiple groups of people, including U.S. state capitals, general knowledge, medical diagnoses and art auction estimates.

Across all topics, the researchers found that the “surprisingly popular” algorithm reduced errors by 21.3 percent compared to simple majority votes, and by 24.2 percent compared to basic confidence-weighted votes (where people express how confident they are in their answers). It also reduced errors by 22.2 percent compared to answers with the highest average confidence levels. On the 50 test questions related to state capitals, such as the Harrisburg-Philadelphia question, the SP method reduced incorrect decisions by 48 percent compared to the majority vote.

“The argument in this paper, in a very rough sense, is that people who expect to be in the minority deserve some extra attention,” said co-author Drazen Prelec, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management as well as of economics and brain and cognitive sciences. “In situations where there is enough information in the crowd to determine the correct answer to a question, that answer will be the one that most outperforms expectations.”

Aurelien Baillon, a professor of economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam who is familiar with the new paper but had no role in it, said that the researchers’ work “opens up completely new ways to think about an old problem.” The paper is persuasive because it contains both theoretical arguments “and empirical evidence that it works well,” Baillon said.

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Faster And Simpler

The purpose of speech is communication not speed, so some new research findings, while counterintuitive, should come as no surprise. Whether we speak quickly or slowly, the new study suggests, we end up conveying information at about the same rate, because faster speech packs less information in each utterance.

The study suggests we tend to converse within a narrow channel of communication data so that we do not provide too much or too little information at a given time, said Uriel Cohen Priva, author of the study in Cognition and assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University.

“It seems the constraints on how much information per second we should transmit are fairly strict, or stricter than we thought they were,” Cohen Priva said.

In information theory, rarer word choices convey greater “lexical information,” while more complicated syntax, such as the passive voice, conveys greater “structural information.” To stay within the channel, those who talk quickly speak with more common words and simpler syntax, while those with a slower pace tend to use rarer, more unexpected words and more complicated wordings, Cohen Priva found.

The study provides only hints about why a constrained information rate might govern conversation, Cohen Priva said. It could derive from either a speaker’s difficulty in formulating and uttering too much information too quickly or from a listener’s difficulty in processing and comprehending speech delivered at too fast a pace.

To conduct the study, Cohen Priva analyzed two independent troves of conversational data: the Switchboard Corpus, which contains 2,400 annotated telephone conversations, and the Buckeye Corpus, which consists of 40 lengthy interviews. In total, the data included the speech of 398 people.

Cohen Priva made several measurements on all that speech to determine each speaker’s information rate, how much lexical and structural information they conveyed in how much time and the speech rate, how much they said in that time.

Deriving meaningful statistics required making complex calculations to determine the relative frequency of words both on their own and given the words that preceded and followed them. Cohen Priva compared how long people take to say each word on average vs. how long a particular speaker required. He also measured how often each speaker used the passive voice, compared to the active voice, and in all the calculations accounted for each person’s age, gender, the speech rate of the other member of the conversation and other possible confounds.

Ultimately he found across the two independent dimensions, lexical and structural and the two independent data sources, Switchboard and Buckeye, that the same statistically significant correlation held true: as speech sped up, the information rate declined.

“We could assume that there are widely different capacities of information per second that people use in speech and that each of them is possible and you can observe each and every one,” Cohen Priva said. “But had that been the case, then finding these effects would have been very difficult to do. Instead, it’s reliably found in two corpora in two different domains.”

Cohen Priva found a key difference involving gender that might offer a clue about why conversation has an apparently constrained information rate. It may be a socially imposed constraint for the listener’s benefit.

On average, while both men and women exhibited the main trend, men conveyed more information than women at the same speech rate. There is no reason to believe that the ability to convey information at a given rate differs by gender, Cohen Priva said. Instead, he hypothesizes, women may tend to be more concerned with making sure their listeners understand what they are saying. Other studies, for example, have shown that in conversation women are more likely than men to “backchannel,” or provide verbal cues like “uh huh” to confirm understanding as the dialogue proceeds.

Cohen Priva said the study has the potential to shed some light on the way people craft their utterances. One hypothesis in the field is that people choose what they intend to say and then slow their speech as they utter more rare or difficult words (e.g. if harder, then slower). But he said his data is consistent with a hypothesis that the overall speech rate dictates word choice and syntax (e.g. if faster, then simpler).

“We need to consider a model in which fast speakers consistently choose different types of words or have a preference for different types of words or structures,” he said.

In other words, how one speaks appears related to how quickly one speaks.

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Positive Play

Adults can positively utilise their inclination towards playfulness in many situations. They are good at observing, can easily see things from new perspectives, and can turn monotonous tasks into something interesting. At the same time, playfulness should not be equated with humour. Instead we need a new vocabulary to describe it, write psychologists from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in the international journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Unlike research on playfulness in children, little research has been conducted on playfulness in adults. “Models of childhood playfulness have often been transferred to adults. This results in the loss of many aspects including those related to romantic relationships or intellectual performance,” explains Dr René Proyer from the Institute of Psychology at MLU. Playful people are able to reinterpret situations in their lives so that they experience them as entertaining or are able to reduce stress levels.

Proyer investigated this phenomenon in adults in many studies and surveys of around 3,000 people. He found that playfulness has an overlap, but no redundancy with the big five personality traits frequently used to describe personality. These include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience and emotional stability. “Playfulness is an independent personality trait that shares certain aspects with these five global dimensions but which cannot be interchanged,” explains Proyer. The study also shows that people who describe themselves as playful are also viewed by others as such. Furthermore, playful people act out their propensity in many day-to-day situations.

The psychologist has identified four basic types of playful adults: “There are people who like to fool around with friends and acquaintances. We describe this as other-directed playfulness. By contrast, light-heartedly playful people regard their whole life as a type of game,” says Proyer. Another category includes people who like to play with thoughts and ideas; this describes intellectual playfulness. These people are able to turn monotonous tasks into something interesting. The psychologist describes the final group as being whimsically playful. “These people tend to be interested in strange and unusual things and are amused by small day-to-day observations.”

The studies reveal that playfulness in adults is expressed in very different ways and should be regarded as a positive trait. However, it has more negative connotations in the German-speaking world; playful people are sometimes not taken seriously or are seen as unreliable. Unjustly so, as Proyer relates: “When looking for solutions to complex problems, they can easily change perspectives. This allows them to find unusual and novel solutions.”

The current study also provides incentives for other areas of research, such as evolutionary psychology. Even though playfulness has no direct advantage for survival, it could play an important role when choosing partners and in romantic relationships. The psychologists from Halle will be devoting their energies to this topic in the coming months.

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Coral Sea Remembered

75 Years On.

coral sea

The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought during 4–8 May 1942, was a major naval battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and naval and air forces from the United States and Australia.
Hundreds have gathered in Townsville for a dawn service to commemorate the 75th anniversary of WWII’s pivotal Battle of the Coral Sea.
Families from sailors who served on the aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington that was lost in the battle, have flown from America to attend the service.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was fought southwest of the Solomon Islands and east of New Guinea from May 4 to 8, 1942.
It was the first decisive halt to the Japanese push south towards Australia during WWII.
It was also the first aircraft-carrier battle and stopped a planned Japanese sea invasion of Port Moresby.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was the largest naval battle ever fought so close to Australia. It was fought entirely by aircraft attacking ships; the opposing ships did not fire at each other at any time during the battle. More importantly, it was the first time the Japanese had been halted during their southwards advance in the Pacific.
Just a month later, the Japanese suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Midway, when the Americans sank four Japanese aircraft carriers within a matter of hours. From early June 1942, the Japanese abandoned their plans for the capture of places like Fiji, Samoa and the New Hebrides. They no longer possessed the ability to cut Australia off from American support and the two battles reinforced the alliance between Australia and America.

oz-us flags.

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