Monday, April 7, 2014

Some things to look at

I've been pretty busy recently and I doubt that I'll be able to post anything "meaty" this week (here's a good place to cheer btw). However, here are some things that might entertain you that people have sent me or that I have tripped over myself:

Thx to Avery for getting the right link to 4 below. The one I linked to earlier went nowhere. This one works.

  1. An editorial on Big Data by Gary Marcus (here).  It seems that the "hype-cycle" is cresting and that people are beginning to consider the problems with Big Data Science (BDS). BDS is the idea that big data sets can substitute for standard scientific practice whose aim is to uncover the causal structure of things. BDS seems happy substituting correlation for causation, the idea being that enough of the former and we can dispense with the latter. The recent Google flu failure has brought home to even the enthusiasts that there is no such thing as thought free science. At any rate, Gary here goes over in bullet form some of the drawbacks.
  2. Pedro Martins sends me this link to an interesting interview with Marc Hauser. Those who want their bio-ling fix can get it here.
  3. Talking about the "hype-cycle," here's a reaction to the MOOCification of education by someone that would have to implement it. Janet Napolitano (formerly head of the Department of Homeland Security, so not one of usual go-to people) is the head of the UC system. Jerry Brown is a big enthusiast of MOOCs, seeing these as a way of providing a quality education to all at a reduced cost. Napolitano talks about the costs of MOOCs and what kinds of service they could provide. It is a reasonable reaction, IMO. Note her observations that these will not really save much money, if any. This, I believe, is a big deal. The fight is about transferring money from universities to education entrepreneurs. The total cost will not change much, if at all.
  4. Last, here's a video of a recent talk by Chomsky at Keio (thx, Hisa). This one should occupy you for at least as much time as it takes you to read one of my long post. 


  1. When I click the 'here's' at your number 4 I get: "Not Found The requested URL was not found on this server." Is the problem at my end or....?

  2. Maybe it's this on youtube:

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  4. @Norbert: so what are your thoughts about Hauser comments regarding the (lack) of interaction between animal work & theoretical ling? He mentions you in particular in that section.

    1. Sorry for the delay in replying. Holidays! Sheesh. I replied to Marc personally on this and noted that I have been influenced, maybe erroneously, by the bird literature. I particularly liked the thing by Berwick and others comparing birdsong grammars, phonological grammars and syntax. Here's what I got out of this. There is good evidence for thinking that (some) non-human animals have kinds of copy and "merge" like operations. Birds after all string syllables together productively to make songs. These tropes are products of stored syllables and combination. The syllables can be repeated. So, I take it that this involves "something" like Copy and "something" like merge to string them together. Of course, it's not like OUR Merge, but something like it. If this is correct, it sets up an interesting puzzle, of the minimalist variety: say that our ancestors had similar bird like copy/merge operations (Marc noted that this may be false. Berwick told me he thinks that it's not a nutty hypothesis. Go figure!). At any rate, assume it. My question is what do you have to add to these two to get OUR merge operation, one that can deliver grammars with the UG properties roughly described by GB. That has been a BIG research question for me over the last 15 years. I try my hand at an answer in 'A theory of syntax' in 2009. So, that's how it influenced me. Look at the kinds of cognitive operations non-soeakers have and see what must be added to THEM to get us.