Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel *****

The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel opens with the interesting observation that if a preschooler can wait 20 minutes for two marshmallows instead of grabbing one marshmallow now, psychologists can predict more success in life (by almost any measure) decades later.

This observation is the basis of this excellent parenting manual based on the latest research.  Fortunately, evolution moves very slowly and human nature has changed very little in the last hundred (or thousand for that matter) years, so this advice is compatible with previous research-based parenting books. The one my wife and I used decades ago offers similar advice with reference to different research: Children: The Challenge - now celebrating its golden anniversary, though still readily available in reprint.

I can highly recommend Mischel's book for its sound advice and up-to-date review of the current research. The title not withstanding, this book offers a broad survey of current research. If parents want to focus their parenting, either of these boos will provide an excellent basis for the personal style that parents must synthesize to provide a consistent and supportive environment for their children.

With the recent progress in neurobiology and the results of many new longitudinal studies, does this research based on the Marshmallow Test offer unique new insights into child development?

Recall the story of the blind men and the elephant -- so many different answers (like a snake, wall, tree trunk, ...) -- all partial and all correct. Parenting is the same. The child never changes, but the blind observers see many differences.

Fortunately, in the case of children, correlation gives us a hint to the underlying truths. Many different experiments give the same results. Methods that focus on teaching academic skills, reducing stress, improving nutrition, setting goals, improving self-worth, increasing need for achievement, aiding social skills, etc. all can be shown to deliver positive results. Looking at any of these individually will show positive correlation with a wide variety of positive outcomes.

So once again the deductive trap of correlation rears its ugly head. Each correlation is just part of a larger story. However, fortunately for parents, they do not need to see the full picture, they only need an approach that works. Ignoring the hype, this book delivers advice that works.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich ****

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich is actually the 25th book about Stephanie Plum and her two love interests police detective Joe Morelli and security expert Ranger. As expected by the millions of readers, this book is long on clever, wise-cracking and short on character risk.

Writers, and others, might wonder how a plot that includes multiple rocket attacks might maintain its light tone. One technique author Evanovich uses is her vocabulary, including the ever-popular preschool peepee, along with dookey and boink. One Evanovich specialty is doo-dah, as in
... a poison green skirt that came just a few inches below her doo-dah.
A character with dialogue like this
Stanley said, "The make you take your clothes off and they look up your poopoo hole."
can never be in real jeopardy.

 This current episode of Stephanie Plum's love life, mostly cerebral, leaves her single - not really a spoiler. There is something about some bad guys jumping bail and some other bad guys killing each others, but reading Plum novels are about fun, and this one is no disappointment.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin *****

The beauty of Science Fiction is the inclusive nature of the genre. Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin is SF based on linguistics. Much of the novel hinges on language relativity or the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis or the idea that language affect the speakers world view and cognitive process. That is: different languages cause their speakers to think differently.

The is a attractive, popular and seductive idea. Certainly the various language police and PC have this principle as one of their core beliefs. Much research continues to be done in this area, mostly concluding minor or no actual effects. However, the siren song of this idea continues regardless.

Native Tongue examines two linguist issues. The first is language relativity and the impact on society by the invention of a new language ... in this case one invented for women. The second is language acquisition, especially early acquisition by infants and later acquisition by adults. Both topics add the the narrative.

Even though the book is 30 year old, it is rightfully still available.

Native Tongue (published in 1984) is a 1984 for feminists. It presents a dystopian extrapolation of women's rights where women ultimately have none. The men are arrogant, self-confident and in control, while the women are subversives.

While this premise might sound ludicrous (at least I hope it does), the world created by Elgin is so realistically constructed, the result is more frightening and insightful, than hyperbolic or unbelieveable.

An excellent book for anyone interested in SciFi by and about women, and after 30 years it is still available - a recommendation in itself.