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> > Tweet dreams
Biologist Daniel Margoliash reported in the October 27 Science that sleeping songbirds dream of singing. Margoliash's team studies the activity of brain cells in sleeping Australian zebra finches. Though the researchers have speculated on this in the past, improved recording technology now lets them track the firing of birds' neurons throughout the night, revealing complex patterns similar to those generated when the birds are awake and singing. The activity patterns of the sleeping birds vary slightly from their waking patterns-as if they are improvising variations on the songs. The study sheds new light on the theory that rehearsing new skills during sleep is important in the human learning process.

> > The distrustful generation
The younger generation-those between the ages of 18 and 24-is becoming more distrustful of society than were their counterparts in previous decades, says the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). Only 20.2 percent of youth today believe most people are trustworthy, while 36.4 percent held that view in 1973, reports Tom Smith, PhD'80, director of NORC's General Social Survey and author of "Changes in the Generation Gap, 1972-1998." When it comes to community involvement, today's young people are also less likely to "attend church, belong to a religion or a union, vote for president, or identify with a political party than previous generations and contemporary older people," says Smith.

> > PAC a punch
The attention given to corporate contributions to Congressional candidates' Political Action Committees (PAC) is far in excess of their actual importance, says Harris School assistant professor Jeffrey Milyo and two Stanford researchers in the November paper "Corporate PAC Campaign Contributions in Perspective." Despite popular belief that PACs have a major influence on policy making, the authors found that corporate PAC contributions account for only about 10 percent of Congressional campaign spending. In fact, major corporations allocate far more money to lobbying or philanthropy than to PACs.

> > Seeing through the glass ceiling
Women who make it to the executive suite, although they are few in number, are paid almost the same as men in similar jobs once age and experience are taken into account. So says an October study for the National Bureau of Economic Research by Marianne Bertrand, assistant professor of economics and business, and Kevin Hallock of the University of Illinois. The pay gap between men and women executives, apples to apples, is less than 5 percent in favor of men, the study found. The researchers examined total compensation from 1992 to 1997 for the top five highest paid executives-449 women among the 17,960 total-at all firms in Standard & Poor's 500, Midcap 400, and Smallcap indexes.

> > The math behind sentence diagrams
Computer scientist Partha Niyogi co-authored a January 5 report in Science on the evolution of grammar learning. Niyogi and researchers from Princeton and the University of Leeds, offer a mathematical framework that maps out how children learn to fit together parts of speech and evaluate whether sentences make sense. All languages, say the authors, have a "threshold" for coherence-the conditions under which understandable communication occurs within a population-resulting in "natural selection" of the rule-based, generative grammars that underlie complex languages today.

> > Attention, doctors
Researcher S. Jay Olshansky, AM'82, PhD'84, and Bruce Carnes of the Center on Demographics and Economics of Aging at NORC, aim to debunk the longevity myth with their book The Quest for Immortality (W. W. Norton, 2000). Although physicians can postpone death, the authors say, they cannot slow aging. So despite the past century's vast increases in life expectancy attributable to improvements in nutrition, hygiene, and medicine, survivors to old age aren't necessarily healthy, having accumulated a lifetime of damage to genes, cells, and tissues. - S.A.S.


  > > Volume 93, Number 3

  > >
Battle of THE books
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Search for meanings
  > > Anatomy of a text
  > > Publish and flourish
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