Getting Attention By Avoiding Attention
Recall Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), America’s “archprude” and upholder of Victorian morality. Comstock devoted his life to denouncing art he deemed "obscene, lewd or indecent." In response to a New York City gallery that displayed nude French photographs, his 1887 pamphlet, Morals Versus Art, warned parents in the United States that, “the morals of the youth of this country are endangered by obscenity and indecency in the shape of photographs of lewd French art -- a foreign foe.” Today, the eponymous noun “Comstockery” describes overzealous moral censorship to supposed immorality in the arts.
Comstockians were crucial for the percolation of modern art into everyday culture. By denouncing provocative art they drew more attention to it, thereby giving artists free press and, often times, monikers for their movements. The Fauvists got their name from critic Louis Vauxcelles, who described their 1905 exhibition, Salon d’Automne, with the phrase “Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (Donatello among the wild beasts!) Vauxcelles once mocked a Braque picture, saying it is “full of little cubes.”
Some postmodernists have taken a cue from Comstockians. Andres Serrano took a photograph of a crucified Jesus floating in a jar of his urine - Piss Christ is one of the most talked about photographs in the last two decades. Chris Ofili painted The Holy Virgin Mary with elephant dung, promoting Rudy Giuliani to threaten to cut annual funding to the Brooklyn Museum. If you want to baffle and provoke, combining the worst of our bodily functions with sacred religious images is a good start.
Literature experiences similar moments. An old Christopher Hitchens’ review of The Annotated Lolita by Alfred Appel, Jr., drew my attention to Brian Boyd’s lengthy account of Vladimir Nabokov. Boyd reports that after an initial run of 500 copies Lolita sales appeared dead. Giving the book a second life was not praise by Graham Greene in the Sunday Times during the winter of 1955-56 but John Gordon’s (editor-in-chief of the Sunday Express) raucous response to Greene. Venting about Greene’s undesired praise, Gordon said Lolita was “the filthiest book I have ever read.”
Nabokov was “vexed” that Gordon and others deemed his book pornographic but ultimately grateful, for the exchange between Greene and Gordon influenced Éditions Gallimard (France’s most prestigious publishing house) to publish his provocative novel in French. Today Lolita is considered a classic.
So, a heuristic: if you’re looking for a good book (or art) check the list of the most frequently banned books. I recently came across a Kierkargaard quote. He once told a friend that he was only going to read “writings by men who have been executed.” Precisely. The publishing industry believes that blurbs from notable authors help push books. I’m sure they do. But if a publicist is wily he will include scathing blubs from eminent authors.
This brings me to a new question: What is the opposite of a Comstockian? A few months ago I came across a paper by Kimberlee Weaver (Virginia Tech) and two colleagues titled “The Presenter’s Paradox.” It opens with a narrative about one of the authors sitting in a crowded airplane waiting to take off. The plane is delayed for two hours until a mechanical issue forces everyone to switch aircrafts. To compensate disgruntled passengers the airline issued three things: a coupon for future travel, an amenity coupon for a meal, premium beverage or mileage bonus, and a 25-cent phone card. The phone card was good for maybe 5 minutes of free long distance, so its uselessness added to the author’s frustration. “Is it possible” Weaver and her colleagues ask “… that from the customers’ perspective [the thrifty coupon] actually detracted from their evaluation of the package as a whole?”
Consider one of their seven studies. They asked participants to create packages containing an iPod Touch. They had two options: bundle an iPod Touch with a protective cover or bundle an iPod touch with a protective cover and one free music download. As predicted, a group of evaluators were willing to pay more for the former package - the later appeared cut-rate, even though it was more valuable.
I discovered that I have been intuitively using this “less-is-more” rule in the social media world for years. The other day a Facebook friend advertised on his wall for people to follow him on Twitter because he is “hilarious”. I de-friended him and knew, in that second, that he was not funny. The opposite of a Comstockian is, therefore, someone who draws attention away from something by trying to draw attention to it.
Arrogant to the point of vexation captures the essence of the anticomstockian. Just imagine the difference between someone who introduces himself as a Nobel laureate versus a new friend who you discover, independently, and well after meeting him, that he is a Nobel laureate. The difference is more than humility; the latter appears wiser. Psychologists talk about “halos” – the idea that specific judgments (e.g., he tells funny jokes) spill over into general judgments (e.g., he is intelligent). This explains why, despite his acclaim, we might consciously avoid the boastful laureate in the future.
If Comstockians increase sales and attention by deeming something offensive then here’s an anticomstock heuristic: if you want to decrease sales and draw attention away from something tell people it is “good” or, worse, “really good.” Nothing is more unappealing when a string of adjectives ending in “ly” is attached to it.
There is a third category. This person neither promotes nor denounces; he receives attention by avoiding attention. Let’s term this person a Banksian, after the pseudonymous British graffiti artist whose wily career focuses on stencil street art. Nobody knows who Banksy is, what he looks like or how old he is. We just know his artwork. The fact that he goes lengths to conceal his identify – to avoid attention – is one reason he receives so much attention (the other being his obvious talent). Daft Punk also comes to mind. Since the mid 1990s the French DJs preform in costumes equipped with masks that completely cover up their face. It adds to the intrigue. (Of course, the opposite of a Banksian is someone who strives for attention and gets it. Kim Kardashian and her cohorts are easy examples – shock artists as well though their motivates are categorically different.)
What can we learn from Banksy? Praise inflation has set in on the social media world, and everything is fascinating. This is especially true in the cognitive science sphere, where every new paper or article is ostensibly spellbinding. This is an inherent problem of Twitter and Facebook: why would anyone share the mundane? And despite the banal advertisements clicks are at an all time high – it’s difficult to resist a “groundbreaking idea.”
We’re forgetting a simple axiom: if you want to draw attention towards something that you’ve created focus on the quality and originality of your creation, not on drawing attention towards it. The cliché that great art speaks for itself is true, but I’d revise this old chestnut slightly: experts will (nearly) always recognize art that is novel and demonstrates expertise. (Colloquially, game recognizes game.) Focus, therefore, not on attracting every last eyeball but impressing the experts.
I’m guessing there is a bias at work here. There is a tendency to look back in the history of art and assume that attention and praise immediately follow presentation or performance. This distortion is a product of hindsight, and it explains why some impatient bloggers, artists, writers, etc., feel anxious when their ideas do not percolate through social media platforms and into the world the moment they click “publish” or, worse, “tweet.”
The world of ideas is oddly fair: it keeps the good ones and ignores the bad ones. We learn from Banksy that if something really is good, the rest will take care of itself. Quality over quantity, less is more.
 This prompted Greene to establish the John Gordon Society “to examine and if necessary to condemn all offensive plays, paintings, sculptures and ceramics.” If it weren’t for the satire, Comstock would have been proud.
 Comstockians are typically critics whereas anticomstockians are typically artists, but the reverse is possible.
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.