Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Burrito-Laden Meditation on Chipotle’s Two-Minute Reads

by Eileen Neary, Assistant Project Manager 
One day, Jonathan Safran Foer was eating a burrito, yearning for something to read. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but was actually the beginning of a new idea. Foer, most famous for his bestselling novels Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, contacted Chipotle CEO Steve Ells, partnered up with the restaurant and made his idea of reading while burrito-eating come to life.

In May 2014, Chipotle announced the Cultivating Thought author series, curated by Jonathan Safran Foer. This project gathers writing from an eclectic blend of famous folks involved in the arts, including producer Judd Apatow, novelist Toni Morrison, comedian Sarah Silverman and actor Bill Hader, among several others, and publishes their two-minute reads on Chipotle’s bags and fountain-drink cups. Foer said in a Vanity Fair interview, “I wanted some that were essayistic, some fiction, some things that were funny, and [some that were] somewhat thought provoking.” In addition to the texts, each style of bag and cup is accompanied by illustrations from various artists, including Antony Hare, whose work appears in Esquire, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and other popular publications.

Foer had reservations about getting involved with such a large corporation, especially one that serves meat—Foer is a vegetarian. Despite his initial uncertainty, Foer agreed to partner with the company, because “a lot of people don’t have access to libraries or bookstores. Something felt very democratic and good about this.” In another statement, Foer expounds, “We live in a world in which there is shrinking space for literature and writing, and less time than ever for quiet reflection. The idea of expanding the space and time, of creating a small pocket of thoughtfulness right in the middle of the busy day, was inspiring to me . . .”

Being the foodies that we are at Publishing Solutions Group, it only made sense to travel to the Chipotle down the street and see for ourselves. The group’s collection of cups and bags displayed several of the different texts and illustrations, and the detail in each design really stood out—enough to be the only topic of discussion over our shared lunch break.

Amidst my grilled chicken burrito, I found myself not only reading the entirety of Michael Lewis’ “The Two-Minute Minute,” but also laughing aloud when I reached the second paragraph:
This morning Walker (my five year old son) asks me if I had a pet when I was a kid. “Yes,” I say, “I had a Siamese cat that I loved named Ding How, but he got run over by a car.” Walker: “It’s lucky that it got killed by a car.” Me: “Why?” Walker: “Because then you could get a new cat that isn’t named Ding How.”

So far, it appears Chipotle has garnered a few new fans with this literary campaign, but they certainly aren’t the first business to use quotes and texts on their products. From the advent of the fortune cookie to the generations of children who enjoy the punny jokes on their Popsicle sticks, companies have been benefitting from this style of marketing for decades.

In the early ’90s, Dove Chocolate launched Promises, a campaign that included inspirational quotes on their chocolates’ foil wrappers, such as: “You are exactly where you are supposed to be” and “Don’t settle for a spark . . . light a fire instead.” About a decade later, Snapple rolled out their Real Facts on the flip side of their bottle caps, and Altoids jumped on the quirky-facts train with their Curiously Strong Facts. In the last few years, we’ve taken comfort in Hall’s Pep Talk in Every Drop cough-drop wrappers when we’re sick and in Starbucks’s The Way I See It thoughtful quotes on the backs of their coffee cups while we get our caffeine fix. These are just a few examples of the two cents given back to us—a quick flash of inspiration that leaves a fleeting impression on us in an otherwise manic marketing world.

I have to say that my burrito was a little bit more fulfilling knowing I was supporting the distribution of literature. And instead of the usual post-fast-food shame I feel upon returning to my desk after, say, a Wendy’s run, it sure was nice to digest something besides a meal that tips 1000 calories.

Did You Know?

Jonathan Safran Foer isn’t the only vegetarian whose writing appears on the Chipotle bags and cups; Sarah Silverman has been a vegetarian since age 10, and Judd Apatow went vegetarian for one year. As for Chipotle CEO Steve Ells? “I am not a vegetarian, but I am a meat reducer.” Like the range of its content, the Cultivating Thought campaign also had a wide range of cuisine experience on its team.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Look Before You Learn

by Caitlin Wilson, Intern Summer 2014

I distinctly remember learning to take notes in school, because I hated it. We were introduced to a two-column style of note-taking in fourth grade, which meant writing summaries or important points from readings in one column and questions about the material on the other. It wasn’t until the end of high school that a teacher mentioned the questions didn’t necessarily have to address confusion about the material, but could include speculation about further applications of ideas or personal notes connecting class reading to other information. What a relief—and what a shame I’d spent nearly eight years inventing questions I already knew the answers to, just to fill up that second column. I didn’t realize it then, but my teachers were describing the process of reflective learning.

Reflective learning, on a basic level, means exactly what you would expect it to mean: analyzing what you’ve been taught after learning it. On a more complex level, reflective learning has gained many staunch adherents in the past decade; it has also been the subject of a great deal of research attention in an attempt to determine whether using reflective learning techniques results in a quantitative difference in student achievement. Professors at Harvard Business School conducted a study with results that suggest learning is indeed most effective when a hands-on approach is combined with reflection on that action. The study’s outcome also provides support for the idea that reflection can improve students’ confidence, thus increasing their chances of performing well.

There is a wide variety of resources available to students and teachers seeking to employ reflective learning techniques; one such resource is from Thompson Rivers University in Canada and is in the form of a guide [PDF link] that provides instructions on keeping a reflective journal, freewriting and mind mapping. A reflective journal allows students to track not only their acquisition of knowledge, but also the thought processes that led them to their conclusions. Freewriting, on the other hand, is intentionally unstructured, allowing students to look back after writing and analyze possible solutions to problems without the pressure of directly seeking a solution. Mind mapping is just as it sounds—a central idea, problem or word is used as a starting point, and related concepts or words are arranged around that point to create a visual representation of the idea or problem. There is software available for digitally making mind maps as well, such as XMind and Lucidchart, among many others. Exeter University offers a series of examples [PDF link] of reflective essays along with analyses of how and why they are effective, allowing students to see a variety of ways to use reflective learning to their advantage.

Although I struggled with two-column notes, I did grow to appreciate the usefulness of reflective techniques, especially when I started working with more complex texts in college. I found that the practice of asking questions—sometimes even questions I felt I knew the answers to—often led me to a deeper understanding of the text I was working with. Even the process of creating questions was useful in spending more time contemplating the work in front of me, which seems to have been the intent all along.

Did You Know?

According to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory, there are four distinct styles of learner: the diverger, the assimilator, the converger and the accommodator. Each style is associated with a particular set of characteristics; for example, divergers often prefer to watch and gather information and tend to have a broad variety of interests. Assimilators like using logic and organization to approach problems and tend to be good at dealing in the abstract, while accommodators like setting definite goals and working in a hands-on, intuitive learning environment. Convergers tend to be good at finding practical solutions to problems and excel at technical tasks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reading and Writing On the Rise Online

by Elizabeth Rule, Intern Summer 2014

Throughout middle school and high school, I was an avid contributor to and reader of numerous social writing websites. My ambition then was mostly to write about my favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and some original short stories—emphasis on short.

Whatever I wrote, though, I aimed to write well and make enjoyable for anyone who happened to stumble across it online. That’s the thing with online writing communities: Anyone around the world is a potential reader, and that creates a broad and diverse readership.

This is what drew me to publish my work online. Before I discovered these sites, I would bombard my friends with stories and poems I had written, only to receive the same old song and dance: “This is great, but I really have no feedback. Good job, Elizabeth!” While these comments were encouraging, they lacked the critique I longed for as a growing writer.

Thankfully, my family had the internet available, and I soon discovered the vast world of online social reading and writing communities. On sites like Wattpad, FictionPress, FanFiction.net and Figment I could read other writer’s work, post my own work, and receive comments and critiques on my writing from other aspiring authors or passionate readers around the world. These communities gave me new inspiration to write and connected me with people who shared my same passions.

To narrow it down, there are two common types of online writing communities one can participate in: fanfiction and original fiction. The former is made of stories written by fans of a TV show, movie, book or any form of story; those fans write continuations of said story. The latter is just the opposite; as the name implies, it consists of original stories with original characters and plotlines. Both forms are accepted and celebrated online, allowing writers either the structure of working with pre-established ideas or the opportunity to publish entirely new worlds and adventures of their own creation.

Besides connecting readers and writers around the world, the aforementioned communities also allow budding writers a place to publish their works when they have nowhere else to turn. Though such sites cater to any and all writers, they especially help younger, aspiring writers come out of their shells and acquire confidence and experience with their writing. The concept has become so popular in recent years that Candice Faktor, general manager of Wattpad, has speculated that generations Y and Z may become “the most literate generation.” The claim is not without support: Wattpad’s users spent 41 billion minutes on the site in 2013.

These online communities also boast various contests and challenges to encourage writers and give them jumping-off points for new story ideas. Wattpad, for example, is currently hosting the Young Writers Prize, the winner of which is promised a publishing contract with Hot Key Books in addition to £10,000. Also via Wattpad, authors of young adult (YA) fiction are hosting the Common Room Teen Mentoring Contest, pairing 15 YA writers with 15 teenage authors to mentor and encourage them and their literary goals.

Though some contests center around young writers, there are sites for anyone of any age to contribute to and enjoy. It’s all about collaboration and promotion, and in the grand scheme of things, getting more people to read and write!

Did You Know?

Amazon has a publishing platform called Kindle Worlds that allows fanfiction writers to publish their works and earn profits. The catch? The program only applies to certain “Worlds,” meaning the fanfiction can only apply to movies, books, TV shows, and other media whose rightsholders have agreed to participate. The list includes former CW show Gossip Girl, the ABC Family original TV series Pretty Little Liars and Neal Stephenson’s Foreworld Saga. Writers receive a royalty based on their sales numbers; however, they also give Amazon and the rightsholder (called the World Licensor in the licensing agreement) the right to incorporate any new ideas into their own works.

Kindle Worlds currently has about 650 different ebooks available for purchase, ranging in price from $0.99 to $3.99.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Print Me Up, Scotty!

by Caitlin Wilson, Intern Summer 2014

When my siblings and I were younger, we had a huge tub of Legos we’d amassed from birthdays and holidays. We would spread out all the Legos across my brothers’ room, sifting through them for exactly the pieces we needed for our creations—the wheels and chassis were always hotly contested, because even a combination airplane/restaurant/castle could be made infinitely cooler if it could also roll ponderously across the floor. We also made marble mazes and fortresses out of Jenga blocks and spent nearly all winter one year fitting together a 3D puzzle of the Notre Dame cathedral. Once, we made a working Ferris wheel out of K’Nex. Now, 3D printing is becoming less expensive and less complicated, and students across the country are getting the opportunity to design and build their own creations from the ground up.
Bre Pettis, a co-founder and CEO of MakerBot Industries, imagines that 3D printing will fundamentally alter how students approach design challenges. Rather than working around the limitations of a pre-made set of tools, students will be able to design and print their own items—if the first try doesn’t work, they can just alter the original design and print again. Additional reasons for having 3D printing in the classroom are numerous: The printers could be used to create custom chemical or anatomical models for chemistry and biology courses; design prototypes for engineering, architecture or graphic design courses; and even make food molds and cookie cutters for culinary courses. The range of possibilities keeps expanding as more students and teachers gain access to the technology and interact through online forums such as Thingiverse, where users can upload and download plans for 3D printable items or look through galleries of other users’ creations.
Museums are also getting in on the fun, like the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which has used 3D printing to create durable copies of fossil specimens for visitors to handle and use in order to learn about skeleton reconstruction. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, has begun to generate 3D scans of items in its collection, including some indigenous artifacts, fossils, and two life masks of Abraham Lincoln, all of which can be downloaded and 3D-printed anywhere in the world.
In California, Chico High School students have used 3D printing to build manufacturing prototypes for local businesses, learning about design and engineering as well as business principles. The prototypes allow students to confront real-world problems by applying the concepts they learn in school. The process benefits the businesses as well, in that their prototypes are much less expensive and can be made much faster than those their competitors are creating.
The range of uses for 3D printing in education is tremendous, and this is only the beginning of the possibilities. These printers have become easier to build and maintain, less expensive, and more user-friendly since their inception several decades ago, and schools are taking advantage of that accessibility to expand the tools teachers and students have for learning. Imagine learning about DNA by printing strands that can “zip” together like real DNA does, or drafting plans for a building and then printing up a small, accurately scaled model to display. I am confident there are uses for 3D printing that have yet to be thought of; in the meantime, anyone up for designing an airplane/restaurant/castle with wheels?
Did You Know?
There are a few 3D printing pens available now: they work like hot glue guns, with a heating element inside the barrel of the pen and a thin plastic filament that feeds through. The filament is heated just enough to melt and cools quickly once it’s been drawn, allowing the pen’s user to create freehand 3D structures directly in the air. Check out the 3Doodler site for a gallery of exceptional 3D doodles or the LIX site for a brief video showing the pen in action.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Ifs, Ands & Buts of Financial Literacy

by Elizabeth Rule, Summer Intern 2014

I remember leaving high school and being completely confused about how to conduct some financial aspects of my life without the help of my parents. How do I file my taxes? What does signing a lease and renting an apartment actually entail? How do I finance a car?

All these thoughts and more were running through my head at high speed when I was moving off my college campus for the first time—essentially moving out on my own. I thought it very strange that my high school, which is considered one of the top public schools in Connecticut, taught us absolutely nothing about the everyday financial issues we were soon to face upon graduation.

Though many schools across the nation do offer some form of financial education, the 2014 Survey of the States: Economic and Personal Finance Education in Our Nation’s Schools [PDF link] indicates that the spread of economic and personal finance education in classrooms is sparse among the 50 states and DC. Looking at data from 2013 [PDF link], only 17 states require high schools to offer mandatory personal finance courses, and only 6 states mandate assessments in addition to personal finance courses.

There are very clear advantages to teaching high school students personal financial skills such as managing money; using consumer credit; financing a home; buying a car; investing in bonds, stocks, and mutual funds; and saving for retirement. These skills are valuable in helping prepare teenagers for impending adulthood. The value of these skills was especially evident in the recent financial crisis and recession that followed, which showed that Americans could benefit from financial literacy.

However, there do seem to be some drawbacks of implementing laws that require schools to teach financial literacy. Since so few states actually require schools to teach financial skills, there are few qualified teachers available to instruct these finance classes. Julie Heath, economics professor and director of the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati, notes that “82 percent [of teachers] say they are not prepared to teach these [personal finance] concepts, even as over 90 percent of them think they need to be taught in schools.” On top of this, one must also question situations where a teacher is in poor personal financial standing: If they have defaulted on a loan or have a large amount of credit card debt, are they qualified to teach students about finances?

Though financial literacy in high schools is one way to get all of America’s teenagers ready for the real world, financial literacy should also be taught at home. According to a survey done in March 2014 by H&R Block’s Dollar & Sense financial literacy program, 75 percent of teens say they see their parents as the most influential source of financial information. Of that percentage, 62 percent of teens say they see their parents as good role models for money management. Parents need to be aware of their children’s need for financial education and try to guide them in the right direction as they approach adulthood. 

Many students use school as a means of learning the things their parents may not have time to teach them or not be comfortable discussing. This argument echoes the discussion of teaching sex education in schools and feels like it might follow a similar trajectory. Though learning financial literacy at home would be beneficial, a required personal finance course will help make sure all students gain some sort of financial education, which is really the most important part of the matter.

Did You Know?

The first large-scale international study on financial literacy was done in 2012, and the results were released in July 2014. Part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the test was given to more than 29,000 fifteen-year-old students from 18 countries. Of the 18 countries tested, the United States ranked at best 8th and at worst 12th, while Shanghai, China, was ranked number 1. See the full results here [PDF link].

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Early Childhood Memories Fade

by Claire Paschal, Intern Summer 2014

When I think back to my childhood, I can usually come up with a handful of memories that have stayed with me through the years: spinning on the tire swing in my grandma’s backyard, the time my family and I drove 530 miles to reach Big Bend National Park, or the time my brothers and I were certain our babysitter had unknowingly swallowed the tadpole we’d caught using a plastic cup. But when I try to remember anything prior to the age of five, I tend to draw a blank.

Over the past decade, studies have provided evidence as to why after a certain age, most people can’t seem to recall early childhood memories. Professor of Psychology Patricia Bauer and Research Associate Marina Larkina, PhD, both of Emory University, decided to study the memories of a group of children over time, keeping track of which memories remained consistent and which were forgotten. They began by recording a group of three-year-old children discussing recent events—such as a vacation or visiting a relative—with their parents. Bauer and Larkina tracked the children’s ability to recollect the discussed memories as they got older.

According to their findings, children as old as seven could recall more than 60 percent of such events. By the age of eight or nine, however, less than 40 percent were still able to recall the recorded memories. “What we observed was actually the onset of childhood amnesia,” Bauer said. She explains that although scientists don’t have a definite answer, this decline in memory is likely related to the structures and circuits in the brain that store events for future recall.

Bauer writes that forgetting is a critical component of childhood amnesia and references a “forgetting function” demonstrated by Scott E. Wetzler and Robert M. Sweeney in their 1986 study “Childhood Amnesia: An Empirical Demonstration,” which can be found in Autobiographical Memory, edited by David C. Rubin. The function is based on memories from age eight until adulthood, and then it is applied to data from birth to age six. Wetzler and Sweeney observed that in childhood, the rate of forgetting is accelerated. Bauer suggests that with more systematic studies of children of different ages, “we will likely see that within the period of childhood, memories formed at age eight years and older would be forgotten at a slower rate, relative to memories formed at the ages of four and six years, for example.”

Bauer stresses [PDF link] the difference between explicit memory and implicit memory, explaining that the different forms of memory are supported by different neural substrates. Explicit memory (or declarative memory), she explains, allows for the recall and recollection of dates, places, names, and events. Implicit memory (or nondeclarative memory) is something that is recalled through repetition and previous experience. A good example would be “muscle memory” (a type of procedural memory), where an action is performed over and over until a person can do it without consciously thinking about it. Bauer states that this difference is critical for “the accurate description of the timing and course of memory development and neurodevelopmental models of age-related changes in memory.” She also states that the development of memory through childhood deals primarily with explicit memory.

With more time and research, Bauer posits that the rate of forgetting would indeed be proven faster depending on age. The implications that this could have aren’t entirely clear, but would nonetheless have a profound influence on our understanding of how memory works.

Did You Know?

In 1997, Tony Dottino introduced the USA National Memory Championship, billed as “an Olympiad for ‘thinking’ games.” Participants compete in events including memorizing names and faces, the numbers and suits of a deck of cards, poems, and speed numbers. In 2005, Joshua Foer attended the championship as a spectator. He then went on to learn how to train his memory, came back in 2006 as a participant and won the championship. Foer is the author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. The book, which was inspired by an article he wrote for Slate in 2005, is described in one review as “[popularizing] scientific concepts in a breezy, accessible fashion while cheerfully dispensing some practical insights and lots of entertaining anecdotes.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Intern Spotlight: Meet Claire!

by Claire Paschal, Intern Summer 2014

Over the past four years, I’ve spent a large amount of time in poetry workshops. At Emerson College, classes are usually no more than 30 people, and the writing workshops are even smaller. As a Writing, Literature & Publishing major with a focus in poetry, I took full advantage of the writer stereotype. At any given time, I more than likely had a large cup of black, unsweetened coffee in my possession. It didn’t take long for me to replace my contacts with thick-framed glasses and embrace this new place where I no longer had to struggle through math and science classes.

Being from Texas, I was enamored with the fast-paced rhythm and concentrated sprawl of the Greater Boston area, and was quick to call it my second home. Four years later, I’m still enamored, and have no plans of leaving just yet. One of the many qualities of Boston that led to my decision to stay is its thriving scene for publishing and literature.

If you’re a literary nerd like me, you’ll find that it’s nearly impossible to overlook the plethora of used bookstores in the area. The amount of books my shelves have accumulated is borderline obscene, and they serve as my own personal reservoir of both pride and shame. Apart from the bookstores, it’s no secret that Boston is a hub for publishers. A number of educational publishers, major and minor, have offices in Boston.

Granted, Boston’s lofty reputation for publishing can be pretty intimidating to a newcomer such as myself. As I made my way towards graduation, I began to feel overwhelmed by the amount of opportunities available. Where was I supposed to start? In keeping with the renowned adage, I knew that I would never know unless I tried. And now, well into the summer, I’m thankful that I did.

After being with PSG for a little over three months, I’m certain that I’ve gained invaluable experience in publishing. I’ve had a chance to learn about audio file editing, code text with HTML and develop my editing skills through writing blog posts. I’ve gained a better understanding of educational publishing—a subject I previously had very limited knowledge of. Apart from learning, I’ve also developed a tremendous amount of respect for those who dedicate so much care and effort to the educational cause.

I wouldn’t trade my experiences in Boston for anything. Over the past four years, I’ve spent countless hours in used bookstores, hunched over essays, going to poetry readings and getting to know some truly extraordinary people. I’ve even been trick-or-treating in Beacon Hill (twice!). I can only imagine where this city will take me next.

Little-Known Facts About Claire

Every summer since infancy, Claire has picked blueberries in East Texas with family and friends. The daylong pilgrimage usually involves a stop in the small town of Edom for a slice of homemade chocolate pie.

After spending a semester abroad in France, Claire has vowed to learn as many foreign languages as she can. She hopes to one day master French so she can relocate to Paris and enjoy two-hour lunch breaks.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

America Invades the UK . . . with Grade Point Averages!

by Elizabeth Rule, Intern Summer 2014

The United Kingdom currently uses the two-hundred-year-old British undergraduate degree classification system as a grading structure for undergraduate degrees. This system consists of degree levels divided into five distinctions: first-class honors; second class, upper level (also known as a 2.1); second class, lower level (2.2); third class; and pass without honors (or an “ordinary degree.”)

Though many other countries including Australia, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand also use this system, many academic professionals in Britain are pushing for the switch to the more quantifiable and practical American GPA system.
The problem with the current UK grading system is that employers generally look to hire students above the 2.1 mark and disregard students with a 2.2 or below. Since 2012, the number of students above the 2.1 mark has tripled. The concern is that the five-class honor system used across Britain is too broad and fails to properly showcase bright and weak students.

Currently the chair of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the UK, Professor Sir Robert Burgess of the University of Leicester is at the forefront of the transformation from the honors system to the GPA system. The switch has been in motion since 2004, when Burgess introduced the Measuring and Recording Student Academic Achievement Scoping Group [PDF], which recommended a new achievement system be sought. In 2008, Burgess began implementing the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR). The program encourages a more sophisticated approach to measuring student academic achievement, including a GPA.

In 2013, the HEA began a pilot program where 21 British universities, including Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Nottingham, began using the GPA system on a trial basis. The hope was the GPA system would help solve grade inflation problems and better evaluate students’ efforts. All of the universities are still currently using the GPA system, and the program is considered a success so far.

Though many university administrators are on board with the potential switch, a number of traditional universities such as Oxford and Cambridge hold on dearly to the sentimental value of the old system. The Independent reported in 2013 that a representative from Oxford University said, “We have no plans to consider GPA at this time."

Despite the slight backlash, Nottingham University is planning on becoming the first university to completely abandon the honors system in favor of the GPA system. Dr. Paul Greatrix of the university is a supporter of the switch as a result of the growing difficulty in separating graduates’ competency levels, especially for employers seeking top-notch candidates. He was quoted by the Nottingham Post as saying, “Any shift away from degree-classification to GPA will be a very significant development for the university. . . . GPA would make it easier to distinguish the top students from the good graduates.”

Nottingham is not far ahead, as other universities are also working on the switch to GPA permanently, such as Birmingham, York, the London School of Economics and University College London, among others.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Studies Link Level of Trust to Intellect

by Claire Paschal, Intern Summer 2014

According to political scientist Robert Putnam, successful democracies rely on strong social networks. In his 1993 book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions In Modern Italy, Putnam analyzes the regional governments of Italy, positing that prosperous institutions have strong social networks, whereas less successful institutions have weak social networks. Strong social networks, he reasons, promote trust between citizens, thus strengthening the democracy.
Now, a more recently published research article by Noah Carl and Francesco C. Billari (both affiliated with the University of Oxford) builds upon Putnam’s theory, citing evidence that individuals who place more trust in the general public are more likely to start a business, perform volunteer work, and report better physical health and overall happiness.
With that in mind, Carl and Billari specify that trust can be broken down into either one of two categories: generalized or particularized. Particularized trust refers to the trust we place in close friends and family members, while generalized trust refers to the level of trust we place in fellow citizens. It is the latter specification that has been linked to economic success, better physical and mental health and, perhaps most interestingly, higher intelligence.
To identify the link between trust and intellect, Carl and Billari analyzed results from the General Social Survey (GSS), a public opinion survey administered to a nationally representative sample of US adults every one to two years. The first component of the test was a ten-word vocabulary test that is noted to have a 0.71 correlation with the Army General Classification Test, an IQ exam developed by the US military. In addition, surveyors rated how well participants understood the survey questions. Participants’ generalized trust ratings were measured by the question, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” The respondent could pick one of three answer choices: can trust, cannot trust or it depends.
According to Carl and Billari’s findings, those who scored well on verbal ability were 34 percent more likely to trust an individual than those who scored lower. The findings also indicate a positive correlation between generalized trust and question comprehension, with an individual who exhibited a favorable understanding being 11 percent more likely to trust others than an individual who showed a poor understanding of the questions.
In their conclusion, Carl and Billari reaffirm that the link between generalized trust and intellect “supports the hypothesis that being able to evaluate someone’s quality as a trading partner is a distinct component of human intelligence, which evolved through natural selection.” They point out that more research is needed to determine the exact nature of the link and posit that future research should evaluate the mechanisms by which generalized trust enhances health and well-being.
Did You Know?
The General Social Survey (GSS) is considered the single best source on societal trends. Many of the questions on the survey have remained unchanged in over four decades “to facilitate time-trend studies as well as replication of earlier findings.” Topics covered include civil liberties, intergroup tolerance, morality, national spending priorities, psychological well-being and social mobility.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

William Wegman: One Doggone Good Artist

by Dan Plonowski, Intern Summer 2014

There are only five 20×24-inch Polaroid instant cameras in the world. One of these 5-foot, 235-pound mammoths of a camera is responsible for many of the iconic photos produced by artist William Wegman. And if you haven’t heard of Wegman or his work with the camera, you have probably seen his art in someone’s home, online, or in a museum at one point or another.

He’s one of the fortunate contemporary artists who have been able to reach a broad audience, and his impact and presence in the art world refuses to halt. From popular art shows and viewings to children’s books, Wegman’s fascination with the Weimaraner lead to the creation of a new style in art and photography: the personification of dogs. 

Wegman is fully aware that “dogs are not like people.” Instead, his videos and photos are meant to reflect “nature, transcendentalism and the didactic tools people create to understand the natural world.”

To Wegman, the Weimaraner is the perfect dog for his work. He loves them for their supermodel-like persona with their “cool, blank gaze” and the fact that they “know innately how to be still.” And these dogs are much more famous than one would presume. They have been featured on Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, among others.

Yet each photo is taken once. With Wegman, there is only one authentic photo and one true print. If he misses the shot, he misses it.

It is important to note that Wegman does not use these dogs as subjects. Each one has been a pet, and has meant something much more to him. In fact, the idea to use his pets in his work first came to him when his first dog, Man Ray, attempted to be involved in his art. In an interview with Four & Sons, Wegman says, “I would bring him to my studio in California and tie him up in the corner, but he would whine and chew things. I noticed that when I focused the camera on him—both still and video—he became really interested in what I was doing.”

When Man Ray passed away in 1981, Wegman thought his work with dogs was finished. At first, he “thought it would be wrong” to work with another dog. Then he got a new puppy, Fay Ray, named after both Man Ray and Fay Wray from the 1933 film King Kong. After six months with Fay, Wegman says she “told” him “that she was ready to go to work.” Fay participated in some of his best-known work, like Dressed for Ball.

His technique for dressing up Fay in human attire involves placing a hanger around her neck like a collar. Some have claimed this is a form of abuse—to use dogs as art subjects—but Wegman truly loves his dogs. Each one has had a quirk and personality that have contributed to his work and he does not use them solely for art. If anything, it seems they want to be involved.

Although Man Ray and Fay Ray have both passed away, Wegman has four new Weimaraners who love their work and home. He owns two buildings that are conjoined. Part of the buildings is dedicated to his work—which includes a studio as well as rooms for props, editing and storage. The living area accommodates the dogs’ needs with concrete flooring and couches just for them. The dogs are very involved in work and home life. They love to follow Wegman around and watch him paint and work.

Though Wegman has created videos, photos, paintings and books, he has also created a new GIF to add to his oeuvre. It’s an oeuvre that is dedicated to his dogs, but ironically mimics humans.

Did You Know?

Dr. Edwin Land created the first Polaroid instant camera between 1977 and 1978, and only five were ever made along with a working prototype. There are currently two in New York City, one in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one in Paris, one in Prague and the one working prototype in San Francisco. At its time it was the largest camera to ever produce an instant photo. Several photographers and artists were invited to use the first prototype, which involved names like Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Lucas Samaras and, of course, Wegman himself.