Spartan Ideas is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions independently written by members of the MSU community and curated by MSU Libraries

# Blade Runner 2049: Demis Hassabis (Deep Mind) interviews director Villeneuve

Hassabis refers to AI in the original Blade Runner, but it is apparent from the sequel that replicants are merely genetically engineered humans. AI appears in Blade Runner 2049 in the form of Joi. There seems to be widespread confusion, including in the movie itself, about whether to think about replicants as robots (i.e., hardware) …

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# Information Theory of Deep Neural Nets: “Information Bottleneck”

This talk discusses, in terms of information theory, how the hidden layers of a deep neural net (thought of as a Markov chain) create a compressed (coarse grained) representation of the input information. To date the success of neural networks has been a mainly empirical phenomenon, lacking a theoretical framework that explains how and why …

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# Independent Streams (Week of October 2)

Problems Summit Held For Ending Campus Sexual Assault(link is external) IPPSR affiliate Rebecca Campbell explains common trauma-responses in sexual assault victims. ‘Fake News’ Course Aims To Improve Media Consumption And Production(link is external) IPPSR affiliate William Dutton comments on the impact of ‘fake news.’ Cooking Books: DOD, HUD Defrauded Taxpayers Of \$21 Trillion From 1998 to 2015(link …

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# Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons in 7 more videos

Last year, I wrote a post about a series of YouTube videos that I used to give a guest lecture on copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. It went well enough that I was asked to come back this year and guest lecture again. I made some tweaks to the presentation this time around, switching the order …

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# Where are participants in American and Canadian teacher hashtags?

My dissertation research is focused on Regional Educational Twitter Hashtags (RETHs), which are teacher-focused hashtags that are associated with particular geographic regions, such as American states or Canadian provinces or territories. This isn’t the first time that I’ve done a project on this phenomenon, and it’s rewarding to come back to RETHs to answer some questions that …

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# Sport and Social Justice in South Africa

Nelson Mandela would have been proud of Colin Kaepernick and the black (as well as a few white) U.S. athletes involved in the national anthem demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism. “Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela believed. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that …

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# How Do Michiganders Feel About a Tax Cut? It Depends On What They Know

In March 2017, the Michigan House of Representatives narrowly voted down a proposal to reduce the income tax. But the issue of tax cuts continues to be discussed, both at the state and federal level. To gauge citizen opinions about tax cuts, MSU’s State of the State Survey asked Michigan residents questions about the proposed tax cut …

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# A Gentle Introduction to Neural Networks

“A gentle introduction to the principles behind neural networks, including backpropagation. Rated G for general audiences.” This very well done. If you have a quantitative background you can watch it at 1.5x or 2x speed, I think :-) A bit more on the history of backpropagation and convexity: why is the error function convex, or nearly …

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# Getting started with ‘open science’ through blogging

Through a few different projects and people (such as SIPS and rOpenSci and conversations with friends / colleagues both online and offline), I have been exposed to the idea of open science. I’m actually going to punt for the moment. Here’s a definition that sounds about right to me: Open science is the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible …

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# A person-in-context approach to student engagement in science (article in JRST)

Over the past few years, I have worked with Jennifer Schmidt and Patrick Beymer to explore student engagement in science using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). Most recently, we used what scholars have referred to as a “person-in-context” approach, using both ESM and a person-oriented approach. A figure is helpful for conveying how the person-oriented approach can be used to …

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# Feynman, Schwinger, and Psychometrics

Slate Star Codex has a new post entitled Against Individual IQ Worries. I write a lot about the importance of IQ research, and I try to debunk pseudoscientific claims that IQ “isn’t real” or “doesn’t matter” or “just shows how well you do on a test”. IQ is one of the best-studied ideas in psychology, one …

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# The Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary is incredibly good. Possibly the best documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s heartbreaking tragedy, with perspectives from all sides of the conflict: Americans and North and South Vietnamese, soldiers from both sides, war protestors, war planners, families of sons and daughters who died in the war. I was a child when the …

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# Is there such a thing as “white hat” research ethics violations?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about some of the ethical dilemmas involved in using public data for research, using an example of facial recognition researchers who used YouTube videos of people undergoing hormone replacement therapy to improve their algorithms’ ability to recognize faces from pre- and post-transition. Since reading that article, I’ve seen the occasional …

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Advisors empower students to make life-altering decisions for themselves, armed with the best possible information. On Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 I had the opportunity to speak at the first annual MSU Advisor Recognition Ceremony. Advising is a unique academic role on campus: in this role, advisors need to carefully balance giving students accurate and realistic …

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# Minimizing a Median

$$\def\xorder#1{x_{\left(#1\right)}} \def\xset{\mathbb{X}} \def\xvec{\mathbf{x}}$$A somewhat odd (to me) question was asked on a forum recently. Assume that you have continuous variables $$x_{1},\dots,x_{N}$$ that are subject to some constraints. For simplicity, I’ll just write $$\xvec=(x_{1},\dots,x_{N})\in\xset$$. I’m going to assume that $$\xset$$ is compact, and so in particular the $$x_{i}$$ are bounded. The questioner wanted to …

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# Some thoughts on starting year 5 (and French comics)

The image below, from the French comic book Carnets de thèse (“thesis notes”), has been on my mind as I begin my fifth year of grad school. I bought Carnets de thèse as a present for myself for my last birthday, expecting it to be an educational glimpse into the French grad school experience and …

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# Accurate Genomic Prediction Of Human Height

I’ve been posting preprints on arXiv since its beginning ~25 years ago, and I like to share research results as soon as they are written up. Science functions best through open discussion of new results! After some internal discussion, my research group decided to post our new paper on genomic prediction of human height on …

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# Pragmatism and the Cultivation of Digital Democracies

As technology enables us to communicate with one another in unpredictable ways that allow for an unprecedented public exchange of diverse ideas, cultivating the philosophical habits of an engaged fallibilistic pluralism gains in urgency. The emergence of the World Wide calls us to consider how an ethics of philosophy might enable us to cultivate practices …

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# Phase Transitions and Genomic Prediction of Cognitive Ability

James Thompson (University College London) recently blogged about my prediction that with sample size of order a million genotypes|phenotypes, one could construct a good genomic predictor for cognitive ability and identify most of the associated common SNPs. The Hsu Boundary … The “Hsu boundary” is Steve Hsu’s estimate that a sample size of roughly 1 …

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# Comparing MPLUS and MCLUST output

Introduction At present, MPlus is a widely-used tool to carry out Latent Profile Analysis, and there does not seem to be a widely-accepted or used way to carry out Latent Profile Analysis in R. This compares output from MPlus to output from the R package MCLUST, which is accessed through the package tidymixmod which I …

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# “Helicopter parents produce bubble wrapped kids”

Heterodox Academy. In my opinion these are reasonable center-left (Haidt characterizes himself as “liberal left”) people whose views would have been completely acceptable on campus just 10 or 20 years ago. Today they are under attack for standing up for freedom of speech and diversity of thought. Tweet

# Public data and digital research ethics

The Verge recently posted an article that highlights some of the ethical dilemmas involved in collecting publicly-available data for research purposes. The article begins by describing the work of a researcher working on facial recognition of people before and after hormone replacement therapy: On YouTube, he found a treasure trove. Individuals undergoing HRT often document their progress …

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# Varieties of Snowflakes

I was pleasantly surprised that New Yorker editor David Remnick and Berkeley law professor Melissa Murray continue to support the First Amendment, even if some of her students do not. Remnick gives Historian Mark Bray (author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook) a tough time about the role of violence in political movements. After Charlottesville, the Limits …

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# How to be an effective acting director, chair or dean — Part II (essay)

Last week, Inside Higher Ed published an essay of mine describing my experience as an interim dean. It covered several practical, task-oriented topics: identifying one’s core mission for the interim period, allaying colleagues’ fears, acquiring reliable information and triaging the issues that land in your inbox. But leading a college that includes a department of theater helped me recognize …

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# BENEFICIAL AI 2017 (Asilomar meeting)

AI researcher Yoshua Bengio gives a nice overview of recent progress in Deep Learning, and provides some perspective on challenges that must be overcome to achieve AGI (i.e., human-level general intelligence). I agree with Bengio that the goal is farther than the recent wave of excitement might lead one to believe. There were many other …

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# Using notebooks for beginning-of-semester planning

One of the first posts I published to this blog was a lament that I just couldn’t get notebooks to work for me. About a year ago, though, I finally found a routine that got notebooks working for me. I started off working my way through two copies of a Self Journal before borrowing some …

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# DeepMind and StarCraft II Learning Environment

This Learning Environment will enable researchers to attack the problem of building an AI that plays StarCraft II at a high level. As observed in the video, this infrastructure development required significant investment of resources by DeepMind / Alphabet. Now, researchers in academia and elsewhere have a platform from which to explore an important class …

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# Using MPlus from R with MPlusAutomation

According to the MPlus website, the R package MPlusAutomation serves three purposes: Creating related groups of models Running batches Extracting and tabulating model parameters and test statistics. Because modeling involves comparing related models, (partially) automating these is compelling. It can make it easier to use model results in subsequent analyses and can cut down on copy and pasting …

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# Presentation – Food Fraud Prevention Strategy for 24th HACCP Australia Conference, Sydney

Attached you will find my presentation for August 30, 2017. This is at the 24th HACCP Australia Conference in Sydney and hosted by SAI Global. The objective of the conference is to provide food safety-related topics, which now include Food Fraud prevention. I will also be leading a Food Fraud Prevention Strategy Workshop on …

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# How to be an effective acting director, chair or dean — part I (essay)

Several years ago, I served as the acting dean of Michigan State University’s College of Arts and Letters — one of our institution’s three core colleges with 20 departments, programs and centers, 250 faculty members, and a mix of graduate and undergraduate offerings. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know another part of …

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# Normies Lament

Ezra Klein talks to Angela Nagle. It’s still normie normative, but Nagle has at least done some homework. Click the link below to hear the podcast. From 4Chan to Charlottesville: where the alt-right came from, and where it’s going Angela Nagle spent the better part of the past decade in the darkest corners of the …

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# Collaboration for Conservation

I pick up the story of my PhD from Nanchong, China, where I have traveled to take a brief break from lab work to have meetings and an interview with representatives from the China Science and Technology Exchange Center (CSTEC). This summer I am here in China on an East Asia and Pacific Institute Summer …

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# In Other Words (Week of August 21)

On the Left Lack Of Support With Child Care Costs Leaves Families Struggling(link is external) From the Michigan League for Public Policy blog Factually Speaking, a look at the high costs of child care. U.S. Court Of Appeals Rules To Keep Michigan Wolves On Endangered Species List(link is external) From the blog Up North Progressive, Michigan wolves kept on endangered species …

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# Independent Streams (week of August 14)

Problems Are We Thinking About Teacher Pay All Wrong?(link is external) IPPSR Affiliate Joshua Cowen discusses teacher pay. Using Science To Combat Illegal Wildlife Trade(link is external) IPPSR Affiliate Meredith Gore joins scientists in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. Are You Overestimating How Happy Your Customers Are?(link is external) IPPSR Affiliate Tomas Hult co-authors study on customer …

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# A couple of podcasts on screencasting

I’ve posted before about teaching CEP 813, a class on electronic assessment that features a unit on game-based assessment in Minecraft. This unit is by far the most intense in terms of technical support, and we had a major hiccup earlier this month that caused some frustration for the whole class (and instructional team). After …

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# A first pass at Latent Profile Analysis using MCLUST (in R)

Along with starting to use MPlus, I’ve become (more) interested in trying to find out how to carry out Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) in R, focused on two options: OpenMx and MCLUST. The two are very different: OpenMx is an option for general latent variable modeling (i.e., it can be used to specify a wide range of latent …

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# A Farewell to Arms? Surely You Jest!

As I arrived home last night after a meeting and having been serenaded on the way first, by the end of Mr. Trump’s Afghanistan speech, and then by NPR’s commentators, I realized that I was more disheartened by the phalanx of commentators than by Trump’s final words. An additional irony for me was the reflection that here …

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# Lessons from the field

As glamorous and thrilling as fieldwork might sound, no field season is complete without a few tales, typically funnier after the fact. Here’s my attempt to impart some humor and share lessons learned after the emotional trauma subsided. Lesson #1: Try new things but acknowledge your limits The second day of our trip, I was …

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# The Bannon Channel

Rumor has it that Bannon will start a Breitbart TV channel to rival Fox News. Given the success of YouTube- / pod-casters like Joe Rogan (5 million downloads per episode), it’s plausible this could be done with very modest capex (the channel could start out as pure streaming and only go to cable later). Billionaire …

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# Updated Stepwise Regression Function

Back in 2011, when I was still teaching, I cobbled together some R code to demonstrate stepwise regression using F-tests for variable significance. It was a bit unrefined, not intended for production work, and a few recent comments on that post raised some issues with it. So I’ve worked up a new and (slightly) improved …

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# Ninety-nine genetic loci influencing general cognitive function

The paper below has something like 200 authors from over 100 institutions worldwide. Many people claimed just a few years ago (or more recently!) that results like this were impossible. Will they admit their mistake? In Scientific Consensus on Cognitive Ability? I described the current consensus among experts as follows. 0. Intelligence is (at least …

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# Chinese Social Media Notices US Cultural Revolution

The joke below is making the rounds on Chinese social media. See Struggles at Yale and Baizuo = Libtard. Also circulating on Chinese social media: A Report on the Cultural Revolution in the United States. Yes, an entire country can go crazy for a decade… Cultural Revolution (Wikipedia): The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a …

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# In what months are educational psychology jobs posted?

Division 15 of the American Psychological Association sponsors the Ed Psych Jobs website, which is an excellent resource for Ed Psych job seekers. I thought it would possibly be helpful to see when jobs were posted in the past in order to have a better idea about when jobs may be posted this year. Ed Psych Jobs, Robots …

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# Comparing estimates and their standard errors from mixed effects and linear models

Some background One reason to use mixed effects models is that they help to account for data with a complex structure, such as multiple responses (to questions, for example) from the same people, students grouped into classes, and measures collected over time. Often, the way they account for these complex structures is in terms of …

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# Swiss accents and using the Internet as a French teacher

Last week, on August 1st, I popped over to Radio Télévision Suisse to spend a couple of minutes celebrating the Swiss national holiday. While I was there, I spotted an article containing five “spoken portraits” of Swiss Francophones from different regions. Each portrait highlighted a different accent (or two) from Francophone Switzerland, and it was …

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# Meanwhile, down on the Farm

The Spring 2017 issue of the Stanford Medical School magazine has a special theme: Sex, Gender, and Medicine. I recommend the article excerpted below to journalists covering the Google Manifesto / James Damore firing. After reading it, they can decide for themselves whether his memo is based on established neuroscience or bro-pseudoscience. Perhaps top Google …

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# Behold the Brogrammer: James Damore (Bloomberg video)

Watch a few minutes of this Bloomberg interview and I think you’ll agree he’s both sincere and well-meaning, if a bit naive about the buzzsaw he has stepped into. Definitely not a brogrammer. He reminds me of Richard Hendricks of the HBO show Silicon Valley. See also Damore vs Google: Trial of the Century? and …

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# Damore vs Google: Trial of the Century?

In his memo, James Damore asserts that Google is engaged in illegal discriminatory practices as part of its efforts to increase diversity. (See earlier post, In the matter of James Damore, ex-Googler.) The image below is from the actual memo. Does Damore sound like a sexist brogrammer Neanderthal? OKRs = Objectives and Key Results. Damore …

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# In the matter of James Damore, ex-Googler

James Damore, Harvard PhD* in Systems Biology, and (until last week) an engineer at Google, was fired for writing this memo: Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, which dares to display the figure above. Here is Damore’s brief summary of his memo (which contains many citations to original scientific research), and the conclusion: Google’s political bias has …

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# What’s in a banana?

Or: A sack of chemicals by any other name would smell as sweet (1). ​ [Andy writes… ] Do you want safe food? Do you eat chemicals? How do you decide what’s natural, and is “natural” a good indicator of safety? What’s a chemical anyway? Is a banana still natural if it contains 2-hydroxy-3-methylethyl? There’s …

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