Four Stars: Who Are Movie Reviews For?

Watching a recommended movie is risky business. If the stars don’t align in your favor, you might find yourself nurturing a distrust of your source, forever altering conversations with friends and colleagues. Even when Oscar season rolls around, which should reliably provide lists of “good” movies, you might question if everyone sat through the same movie after scanning a few social media feeds. Does data science offer us evidence of something we might be missing?

PascalWallisch1-PhotoCredit(Yadin Goldman)

Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D.. Photo credit: Yadin Goldman

“There is a tremendous diversity in appraisal for any given movie,” said Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at NYU. “It’s actually quite striking.” Wallisch, seeking to measure the reliability of movie critics, gathered ratings from critics, aggregator sites (think Rotten Tomatoes and The Internet Movie Database (IMDB)) and a multi-year study with 3,000-participants. After determining the correlations of reviews from a pool of over 200 movies, he admits to being astonished—there was not a single film with any hint of a “moderate degree of agreement.”

“The Science of Movies,” presented by Wallisch and organized by Think&Drink NYC’s Gil Avidor, is a stimulating yet relaxed evening talk, suitably tailored to seekers of intelligent nightlife. Wallisch, whose research interests hone in on the intersection of psychology and neuroscience, extolled the virtues of finding your “movie twin,” bemoaned the scarcity of originality (ahem, creativity) in present-day Hollywood, and explained what happens to a brain exposed to a healthy dose of M. Night Shyamalan. Continue reading

AAAS and Learning & the Brain Conferences Coming Up

This weekend, Dana Foundation staff are heading to conferences on both coasts, and we hope to see you there!

In Washington, DC, we’ll be reporting and tweeting from the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting (#AAASmtg). While most events are members-only, at least four talks will be livestreamed, one a day Thursday through Sunday. Livestream should be here: https://meetings.aaas.org/attend/livestream/

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New High School Neuroscience Curriculum

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Image: Shutterstock

A neuroscience curriculum for high school students has found a home on The Franklin Institute’s new website dedicated to the brain. Educators looking to generate excitement about brain science with an eye towards the field’s societal implications can now access the expertly reviewed—and free—resource.

The curriculum, developed jointly by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience & Society and The Franklin Institute, is a cohesive blueprint of instructional material designed around teenagers’ everyday decisions as they enter adulthood. The website describes the units as roughly two-week-long sections that can be offered as a semester-long course or as stand-alone components that can be incorporated into existing courses. Continue reading

How Our Brains Respond to Gratitude

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which means that along with spending time with our families and overeating turkey and side dishes, many of us will think at least a little bit about what we are thankful for in our lives. Whether that be our aforementioned families, our careers, our educations, or something more tangible such as the discounted items we can buy on Black Friday, the holiday unofficially requires us to gives thanks for something before we dive into the mashed potatoes. Is there, however, something more to giving thanks than simply assuaging grandma at the dinner table?

As it turns out, there is. Studying the effects of gratitude on the brain is nothing new–studies on the topic seem to have begun in the early 2000s–and the results appear to remain consistent regardless of the methodology used. In short, having gratitude has positive effects on us psychologically and neurologically, so we should probably try to be more thankful throughout the year instead of waiting for November. Continue reading

Nerd Nite Returns to NYC

caveat logo.JPGThe good folks over at Caveat, New York City’s lounge for “intelligent nightlife,” have once again managed to provide knowledge-seekers an evening of fun and discovery through stimulating presentations, this time under the Nerd Nite banner, hosted by Matt Wasowski.

As the organization’s curator and self-proclaimed “Big Boss” Wasowski was quick to describe Nerd Nite as “the Discovery Channel with beer”—an accurate analogy for their cross-discipline presentations that take place in bars in over 100 cities around the world. The performance at Caveat included three presentations for the evening.

Each speaker brought with them a different topic and different flow to the evening, some more humorous and some more solemn. Brice Particelli, Ph.D., and Chris Cummins both provided amusing, food-for-thought talks on stage, discussing how creationists successfully use genre to promote “alternative” facts and trying to untangle exactly how the cultural marvel of “The Fonz” came to pass.

In a presentation with more gravitas, guest speaker Jay Stahl-Herz, M.D., a forensic pathologist and medical examiner, offered the audience a sobering look at the opioid epidemic currently ravaging America, using an informative and (at times) devastating presentation to elaborate on the drug overdose crisis. Continue reading

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