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

The Science of Music: A Talk with Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D.

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Image: Shutterstock

Why do humans listen to music? Why do we create it? And what does our taste in music say about us as individuals? These were some of the questions that Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D, set out to address in his talk at an event titled, The Science of Music. Hosted by Think & Drink NYC, this talk was part of an ongoing series organized by the cultural initiative to bring experts in their fields to local bars in hopes of stimulating the minds of bar-goers. Responding to thoughts regarding previous studies on music, Wallisch said, “To be honest with you, I don’t think we fully understand what music is.”

Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at New York University, began his lecture by explaining that what differentiates music from sound in general is repetition. “If you ask people,” Wallisch said, “to judge when [a repeating sound] becomes music, there’s a certain repetition frequency in which a random environmental noise becomes music.” For example, as Wallisch explained, water droplets falling are just sounds, but at a certain point of repetition they would be considered musical. He continued by saying that while repetition over time is necessary for something to be considered music, it is not sufficient. “If rhythm is all that matters, then music would be palindromic,” he said, meaning that it would play the same backwards as forwards. Obviously, this is not the case for most, if not all, music.

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