The next meeting will be Good Friday, April 2nd, at 10.30 am., in the Javits room, library 2nd floor. Good Friday Title: Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Benefits of Giving.
Abstract: It's good to be good. This is kitchen table wisdom and is central in most moral and spiritual traditions. Increasingly, science is delving into why this is so. We know the mirror neurons are involved, that oxytocin is the "compassion hormone," that there is a well described "helpers high," and that brain pathways associated with joy get active when people even think about making a donation. We know that in AA those who help other alcoholics have a 40% recovery rate after one year while for those who do not it is 22%. This "helper therapy principle," is the core of self-help movements, and has roots in the very origins of American psychiatry. Science now shows that pro-socially engaged, self-giving individuals - so long as they act "within limits" - are happier, healthier, and even live longer than those who are not. We will have a broad integrative presentation and discussion of recent interpretations of evolution, game theory, and psychology, coupling science, the humanities, and spirituality.
Bio: Stephen G. Post is Professor of Preventive Medicine and Director/Founder of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook. He was previously Professor in the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, and Senior Research Scholar at the Becket Institute of St. Hugh's College, Oxford.
From the late 1980s, Post focused on the dynamic of caring and on ethical issues surrounding persons with developmental cognitive disabilities and dementia and is an elected member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel of Alzheimer's Disease International. Related to this, Post is a leader in the study of altruism, compassionate health care, and love in the integrative context of scientific research, health care delivery and outcomes, philosophy, and religious thought. He is an elected member of the International Society for Science and Religion, based at Cambridge UK, and a Senior Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. Post is the primary author of over 150 articles, 7 books on altruism, compassionate care, and love, and is the editor of nine others. His book, The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying (Johns Hopkins 2000) remains widely influential. He served as editor-in-chief of the third edition of the five-volume Encyclopedia of Bioethics (Macmillan Reference, 2004). His articles in the early 1990s contributed directly to the de-pathologizing of religion and spirituality in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistic Manual. He writes the Psychology Today blog The Joy of Giving, and frequently appears on TV programs such as Nightline and 20/20.
Chair Al Carlson introduced our speaker for the day, Steven Skiena, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science, to talk about his Lydia news analysis project and the start-up company through which he hopes to market it. For a bio of Steve see the last issue of this newsletter (click on newsarchive)
Steve started with the sad tale of Hong Kong pop singer Edison Chen who was unwise enough to take his computer for repair after making a photographic record of his (numerous) sexual conquests. Sure enough this show was soon available on the international blogosphere, resulting in a large dent in Mr Chen's reputation everywhere except China (where his popularity surged).
The Lydia project was created to provide a tool to track the temporal and spatial distribution of (hopefully more edifying) entities in the news: who and what is being talked about, by whom, when, and where.
First there is the doing of it: Like Google, spidering agents are used crawl the web, pulling in material from various categories of sources. The data is analyzed to identify sentences, and parts of speech. The identification of nouns and pronouns is followed by normalization, EG: Instances of "Dr Skiena", "Steve", and "he" may refer to the same person or object, while Manhattan in NY and Manhattan in Kansas may refer to different objects. Again, similar to Google, the algorithms are structured so that the work is able to be distributed in parallel across a cluster, in this case two dozen processors in the CEWIT building.
Second there is the analysis: This is distinct from Google. Steve is interested in such things as "Where are people talking about particular topics?" How are persons and objects linked?". He is particularly interested in sentiment. Are people /objects, being viewed favorably or unfavorably? And how is this varying over time and in different places? For this the analysis makes use of the Princeton wordnet facility to identify synonyms and antonyms. One has to take care with this, but although the analysis methods are not perfect it is hoped that occasional errors will be averaged out by the large volume. Currently there are about 20 million identified objects in the database. Every day information is coming in from over a thousand news sources and 20 million blogs.
Third there is the application. It is hoped that as the search and analysis methods are refined, the results will be of interest for marketing and investment strategies. At least there was much interest from this audience in the form of many questions. Steve offered members of our audience a privileged opportunity to preview the system for themselves by setting their browsers to http://www.textmap.com/access and creating a user-id and password. Then if you click on testmap/help under the various subcategories you will obtain an inset of Prof Skiena himself giving more or less a repeat of this lecture. After that, fill in the keyword(s) for a person, place, or thing, and let it fly. Your correspondent just started on this road himself. So far I never did manage to verify the chinese taste for Edison Chen's naked girlfriends but I did find out that in the first 3 months of this year Kentucky Senator Jim (jobless-get-lost) Bunning was regarded positively by most of this country, except negatively in New York, New Jersey, and - Utah?
Survey of ethics courses at Stony Brook.
The medical ethics program being established by our next speaker is certainly timely (eg: Recent NY Times article Doctors without morals http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/01/opinion/01xenakis.html. It prompted your correspondent to revisit this topic relative to all the other departments at Stony Brook. Besides Health Sciences, other programs that offer undergraduate courses on ethics are Business and Journalism. But after these, some of the ones that do and do not are not what you might expect. Eg: Ones that do: Technology and Society, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science (quit hacking into our security and just make sure that accelerator-pedal software is done right!); Some that do not: Religious Studies, Psychology, Economics, and Political Science. Yet the professions corresponding to this last group have been no less prominent in recent news of the ethical crashing and burning of careers. So maybe it is just a question of those that recognize that there is an ethical problem in the way their professions are being practiced? But then again are ethics courses to students of college age the appropriate way to address this? How to convince them that good ethics will make them feel better than a handsome kickback, a million dollar bonus, or a juicy sex scandal? Perhaps the course on parenting should be brought back (where is Norman Goodman when we need him)? Unfortunately, as far as parenting, million dollar bonuses, or sex scandals are concerned, for most emeriti it is too late.