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Rec Room: Angela Chen: Frontal Cortex

September 26, 2010

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By **Angela Chen**

When thirty-three Chilean miners became trapped underground in early August, the media reported ceaselessly about their families, their mental states, and the fact that they’ve recently been approved to get cigarettes. But during this same time, fourteen million people have been affected by the ongoing floods in Pakistan, and there’s nary a peep about them.

Why? The answer, explains Jonah Lehrer’s Frontal Cortex blog, is due to something called the “identifiable victim.” In other words, the more people affected by a disaster, the less we can find one “story” to identify with, and the less we’re moved. It’s easier to grasp the plight of thirty-three miserable people in one cave than that of fourteen million miserable people scattered around a ruined country.

Frontal Cortex is, in my opinion, the best and most relevant science blog. Instead of discussing quarks and neurons, it uses case studies to analyze the intersection of science and modern society and answers the kinds of questions that people often think about in passing. For example, the most recent post discusses whether one’s flighty, easily distracted friend is just “creative” (possibly).

Other posts examine the case of the Hewlett Packard CEO scandal and why power corrupts, as well as why the real estate market is so bad, how small towns breed superstars like Tiger Woods, and even why the Russians—despite being the masterminds behind such melancholy tomes as Crime and Punishment—brood constantly but aren’t depressed.

If you want to know why people make the choices they do, the advantages of nature and why conspiracy theorists continue to believe in kooky ideas, Lehrer’s your man. As a blog, it has sharp writing, good topics, and is just plain interesting. Maybe claiming that it’s “turned me to the sciences” is exaggerating a bit, since it’s not about the hard sciences and physics and all. Still, it explains the genesis of all science, politics, civilization and thought: how the mind works, and why we do what we do.

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Angela Chen is an editorial intern at Guernica.

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