Crisis in the Red Zone

31st October 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come, by Robert Preston. We’ve been fans of Robert Preston ever since his gripping New York Times best-seller The Hot Zone first came out. Crisis in the Red Zone focuses on Ebola—Preston traces its origin back to a little boy playing in the forest, probably touching a bat. Ebola got its initial foothold in humanity largely because of lack of education—most people simply couldn’t believe that the love and care that is at the heart of our humanity is what allows the contagion to take place. The bravery of the nurses and doctors on the front lines of this epidemic, and the potential danger to humanity of these types of diseases, is something everyone should know more about.  Don’t miss this edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Living With—and Learning From—ADHD

In this thought-provoking article by Sarah Stein Lubrano, a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, she describes how she learned to make distraction work for her.

Key graf: “I work in instructional design, which is the practice of developing engaging and effective educational products and experiences to help others learn. In creating interactive classes and workshops, my aim is to cultivate the learners’ attention and focus, but one of the first things I learned was that this is incredibly difficult, for everyone – neurotypical or otherwise. In fact, there are common rules of thumb that reflect how universally short attention spans really are: one is that even 10 minutes of lecturing is too long for some people to follow (think of the number of times that you’ve caught yourself, or someone near you, wilting during a long meeting, presentation or conference paper). The trick is to intersperse lectures with exercises and discussions. Moreover, research increasingly suggests that people are more likely to take in new ideas and information when it relates to something they already care about. All of this is magnified for people diagnosed with ADHD, who lack focus, unless there’s a strong and clear connection to their immediate concerns, but who can nonetheless focus profoundly when this element of deep interest is present.” [Hat tip: Tom Busk]

Busting the attention span myth

Here’s an article on attention by Simon Maybin in BBC News that’s also worth your attention. Key grafs: “In the always-connected world of social media, smartphones and hyperlinks in the middle of everything you read, it can feel that much harder to stay focused. And there are statistics too. They say that the average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now…. But the sources are infuriatingly vague… And when I contact the listed sources – the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the US National Library of Medicine, and the Associated Press – neither can find any record of research that backs up the stats. My attempts to contact Statistic Brain came to nothing too. I have spoken to various people who dedicate their working lives to studying human attention and they have no idea where the numbers come from either. 

“In fact, they think the idea that attention spans are getting shorter is plain wrong.” [Hat tip Enrique Planells]

How to Really Listen

This video, featuring deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, explores how we can inadvertently become limited in the possibilities of sound—and of life.  [Hat tip: Kurt Meyer.]

Newly Discovered Brain Cells Help Us Recall Where We Last Saw Objects

This fascinating article by Jason Arunn Murugesu in the New Scientist (well worth subscribing to), describes how newly discovered “vector trace cells” in the brain depend more on the objects in the environment rather than the environment itself.

Key graf: “The vector trace cells become active when we see an object. They help us judge how far that object is from us and also its relative distance to other objects we can see.

“But vector trace cells are active even when the object they have been tracking is no longer visible or has been removed by someone else, and they can remain in this active state for hours. In other words, these cells – assuming they are present in the human brain – may help us remember where we last saw an object.”

So, now you can blame your vector trace cells when you can’t find your keys…

Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s Tips on How to Write a Great Science Paper

Here’s an article in Nature describing literary genius Cormac McCarthy’s approach to editing scientific articles. Barb can vouch for the fact that Cormac McCarthy is not only tremendously altruistic, but a tremendous editor—he edited her books Evil Genes and Cold-Blooded Kindness, and the books were much the better for it.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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