Northwestern journalism students wrote something dumb. The freakout around it is even dumber.

In a story that will surely captivate Fox News pundits for at least the next week, the student newspaper at Northwestern released a statement about their own reporting, following a visit to campus by Jeff Sessions.

It's…not great.

Essentially, the newspaper is apologizing for the way it covered the protest resulting from Sessions' presence. According to their statement, some students were upset that they were photographed, or contacted via the school directory, or texted for comments on the protest, mostly out of fear of retaliation by either the school administration, or the media at large, or really wrathful authority figures of any kind.

This, of course, comes on the heels of the recent debacle at Harvard, where reporters at the Harvard Crimson reached out to ICE for a comment after another protest, which is also a…fairly standard journalistic practice. While the concerns of these individual students might be valid, the entire field of news reporting should not be expected to compromise itself and over-cautiously cater to needs of every possible individual. This doesn't mean that journalists—student, or professional—should not try to approach situations with empathy and sensitivity, particularly when dealing with subjects who might be placed at risk by their reporting. In the case of the Daily Northwestern, the paper's backpedaling response may be a prime example of over-correcting for such sensitivities. Read the rest

How science turned into science fiction

Moran Cerf is a neuroscientist. In the video above, which Cory posted on Friday, he tells the story of how a paper he published in the journal Nature ended up getting him phone calls from Apple and invitations to appear with Christopher Nolan on the publicity tour for Inception. The problem: Nolan, Apple, and a lot of other people thought Cerf had figured out a way to record dreams. He hadn't. Not even close.

Cory's piece, and a link that Xeni sent me to the video, got me reading up on this case and I wanted to provide more of the scientific background—so you can see clearly what Cerf's research was really about and how the media got wrong. Back in 2010, Cerf and his colleagues were trying to figure out how humans look at a world cluttered with different faces, objects, smells, and sounds and manage to filter out the specific things we're interested in. What happens when I look at a messy desk and immediately focus in on one piece of paper? If there are two objects on the desk that are familiar to me, but only one of them really matters, how does my brain resolve the conflict and direct my attention in a single direction?

Turns out, at least under laboratory conditions, humans can filter out the important stuff by consciously controlling the firing of neurons in their own brains. Here's how Alison Abbott at Nature News described the research at the time:

In the last six years or so they have shown that single neurons can fire when subjects recognise — or even imagine — just one particular person or object.

Read the rest