People with autism spectrum disorder avoid eye contact because it causes anxiety

My culture has taught me that eye contact is a sign of respect and empathy. As a teacher, I value eye contact because it’s a way students can assure me they are paying attention. (Lack of eye contact is also useful feedback; when I see too many students smiling vacantly while staring at something they are holding under the table, I know I need to shift my teaching tactics.) Today…

Predatory Journals Hit By ‘Star Wars’ Sting

I’ve been contacted by editors who would just love for me to publish in international relations journals (I’m trained as an American literature specialist), or write a textbook on pretty much any topic I suggest. I’ve also seen my own web pages reproduced word-for-word, except for the removal of my name, in books other people have listed on their academic resumes. It’s very frustrating for students who find what appears…

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Poetry Stimulates the Brain’s Reward-Anticipation Arousal Near Ends of Stanzas

I fixed the NY Mag’s clickbaity title, “This is what happens to your brain when you read poetry.” In fact the original study was about what happens when you listen to a recitation, not what happens when you read. While people “get chills” when they listen to music or watch movies, their brains seem to respond uniquely to poetry, anticipating an emotional rush as they near the end of a…

Shakespeare’s Genius Is Nonsense

Just as comedians generally don’t laugh at their own jokes, Shakespeare doesn’t call too much attention to his own linguistic cleverness, which is one reason his work rewards close scrutiny. It’s not that he was being deliberately obscure or flowery — though some of his obsequious characters definitely exhibit such speech patterns. One line of inquiry into Shakespeare’s language explores how the brain processes sequences of images. As a playwright…

The Religious Origins of Fake News and “Alternative Facts”

A good exploration, in the light of current interest in “fake news,” of the troubled relationship between conservative Christianity’s understanding of truth and secular experts’ understanding of facts. (Mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism have negotiated this difference much more smoothly.) But it wasn’t Christianity, or religious faith itself in general, that helped make Republican voters more likely to be duped by fake news than their Democratic compatriots. (There were, and continue to…

Captain, the Fake News Detectors are Offline!

Slate has a good article about William “Captain Kirk” Shatner’s involvement with a Twitter incident that involved Autism Speaks, the alleged connection between vaccines and autism, and the ready availability of easily Googled but unreliable “information.” Shatner is a celebrity, which means that he has outsized influence. That he would use his platform to lend credibility to such sites, spreading them to 2.5 million followers, could have terrible consequences. Shatner…