What have I been up to?

Wow, it’s almost April! It’s been 4 months at StudyLA and it’s been a VERY hectic time. In fact, I never thought i’d make fun of my past PhD self thinking I was “very busy” with my dissertation.. Being a research associate at a rather small yet ambitious research center definitely gave some perspective on what “busy” can really mean ūüôā

Some of my colleagues have been curious what type of things I do at my first “real” job post-PhD ūüėÄ It’d say that overall, the activities would be similar to a postdoc. Here are some of them:

  • I was a lead on a community study in downtown Los Angeles (Pico Union), where I trained & supervised 34 undergraduate researchers in the field. They collected over 400 intercept surveys in under 2 weeks!! I was SO impressed by their work. All the data is cleaned and entered now, and some of these students may be using it for their final papers this Spring.
  • I’ve been one of the mentors for our 15 undergraduate research assistants as they prepared their posters for the Undergraduate Research Symposium at LMU. It was quite busy but extra fun (I LOVE mentoring students, you guys).¬†Among other things, I did mini workshops on data analysis in STATA and on Chi2 statistical tests… which was particularly “fun” considering i’ve always used SPSS before and never needed chi2 for any of my dissertation work :D. I have to say- STATA has definitely grew on me. I may even like it more than SPSS *gasp*
  • I’ve also been learning a lot about automated report generation… StudyLA has a LOT of data- they’ve been collecting public opinion surveys of LA county residents for years now. If a sudden press release, or official study report is requested, how do you produce a professional-looking report of the necessary data ASAP? We use LaTeX, and it’s quite a learning curve. I simply never had a need for something like this before, as any data I had to prepare (for conferences, papers, presentations) didn’t require more than several charts. When you need a 200+ page report, however… automation is absolutely necessary ūüėÄ


Anyway! Our next big event is ForecastLA– the center’s¬†annual conference exploring “civic and economic concerns, cultural identities, and levels of satisfaction of residents and leaders in the Los Angeles region”. I’ve already written a couple of articles for the corresponding ForecastLA 2018 book, topics including police use of drones and perceived quality of childcare accessibility in Los Angeles (not exactly my main area of expertise, but so good to venture out of it). I’m looking forward to this event, but also know it’ll be a crazy couple of weeks leading up to it!

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.09.56 AM


LAST BUT NOT LEAST UPDATE! I still keep active with the Science Communication Journal Club (https://twitter.com/scicomm_jc) and we are now doing podcasts!! The first one is now available: https://anchor.fm/scicommjc

For this podcast, my #SciCommJC colleagues and I interviewed the winner of our State Your Mission Challenge, who talked about using cosplay & nerd culture in science communication ūüôā

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.25.59 AM

Hello, Los Angeles!

My 5 years at Arizona State University have been quite amazing and I will miss Phoenix dearly… However, it’s time for new beginnings.

Hello, LA! This week, I relocated to Los Angeles with my husband, who got a lecturing position in the area. Transition stages are always rough, but I am excited to be pursuing research and teaching opportunities in California.

I haven’t even been here for a full week, but already I met new fantastic people. Yesterday, I went to the Versatile PhD meetup. It was refreshing to make new academia (and non-academia) friends and hear everyone’s research stories. And it is a small world- one of the attendees studies the cultural history of Eastern Europe and probably knows more about my hometown of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine than I do.

West Los Angeles Versatile Phd- August Meetup in Marina Del Rey

Note: aside from exploring career paths in the area and working on some more science communication content this month, I also desperately need to get used to the infamous traffic of LA… Wish me luck.

Evil Genius’ playlist: instrumentals and rock&roll

Well, this short post will be off my usual topics.

My husband¬†& I have just been (once again) discussing how villains in various forms of media are often shown enjoying classical music (my husband is an orchestral conductor, thus the topic) . We’re suspecting it has to do with trying to portray their higher intelligence. But why do we think super intelligent people are into “classical music”?

Want to be an evil genius? Both routes work! (yes I might be using¬†my husband’s photo in this illustration, mkay? My husband is on the bottom RIGHT- just to be clear)

First of all, a bit of interesting information that particularly pleases the rock fan in me:¬†¬†“more intelligent”* individuals prefer reflective and complex genres of music (classical, jazz, blues, and folk), but they also prefer ‚Äúintensive and rebellious‚ÄĚ music (alternative, rock, and heavy metal) (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2003). I will keep putting “intelligence” in brackets because measuring such a complicated construct.. well, i’ll keep taking it with a grain of salt.

I was in a mood to procrastinate on my own work, so i began looking up studies on music and intelligence. I quickly noticed this one- since I love evolutionary perspective on all the things, I was immediately biased to read further!

Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 4.25.01 PM.png

These guys propose an alternative hypothesis to the more intuitive suggestion that classical music is more complex thus highly intelligent people enjoy it more. This explanation is one I myself assumed- classical orchestral pieces are definitely more complex in their design than a modern 3-minute pop song containing up to 4 chords. In this study, Kanazawa & Perina apply the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis hypothesis (Kanazawa, 2010), which suggests that more intelligent individuals have less difficulty with evolutionarily novel stimuli- such as classical music.

…people of “higher intelligence” might find it easier to like classical music because such music is more evolutionarily novel,¬†not because it is more complex

The Savanna-IQ interaction hypothesis is a logical union of two theories: 1) evolutionary psychology argues that human brains (like any other organ of any other species) are adapted to the conditions of the “ancestral environment”, not necessarily the current one. As a result, they might find it difficult to comprehend and deal with situations that did not exist in the past; and¬†2) evolutionary psychological theory of the evolution of general intelligence¬†posits¬†that “general intelligence may have evolved as a domain-specific adaptation to solve evolutionarily novel problems, for which there are no predesigned psychological adaptations”.

Bringing that back to music: people of “higher intelligence” might find it easier to like (thus have higher preference for) classical music because such music is more evolutionarily NOVEL, not because it is more complex (music, in its evolutionary origin, is considered vocal by a recent theory- see Mithen, 2005). So the “novelty” of such music is driven by it being instrumental (evolutionarily unfamiliar) and not vocal (evolutionarily old). To summarize, the prediction is: more intelligent individuals today are more likely to appreciate purely instrumental music than less intelligent individuals because such music is evolutionarily novel, while general intelligence has no effect on the appreciation of vocal music”.

The authors test this theory in US and Britain. They measure music preference, intelligence*, and some control variables (e.g.¬†social class and education). I was of course particularly interested in how “intelligence” is measured: this study¬†used a verbal intelligence test that asks people to select a synonym for a word out of five candidates (verbal intelligence is highly correlated with general intelligence). As for music preference, respondents had to rate liking for¬†different¬†types of music, which researchers categorized as mostly vocal (15 genres) or mostly instrumental (3 genres) in the analysis. Their results in both cultural groups show that individuals who score higher on the “intelligence” test indeed are more likely to prefer :purely or largely instrumental music, while measured intelligence has no effect on preferring purely or largely vocal music. Social class and education also predict liking for instrumental music, but they do not confound the statistically significant effect of intelligence (they don’t explain it away).

This is interesting.. an immediate alternative view is that people want to “show off” their intelligence by publicly expressing a taste for instrumental music (like classical and jazz), but it’s still not clear why such genre of music came to be associated with higher intelligence in the first place. Perhaps the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis can explain why such an association developed and, once this association is popularly known, it’s easy to explain people’s motivation to cultivate this preference (to “signal” intelligence). Lastly, it’s important to¬†clarify¬†that this hypothesis does NOT propose that preferring evolutionarily novel values and preferences is MORE ADAPTIVE in the current environment- it doesn’t¬†increase reproductive success in any way.

My “research” on an off-topic took me less than an hour. This is obviously not my area of expertise so if you have any comments- please feel free to share!


Kanazawa, S., & Perina, K. (2012). Why more intelligent individuals like classical music. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 25(3), 264-275.

Mithen, S. (2005). The singing Neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind and body. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Rentfrow, P. J., & Gosling, S. D. (2003). The do re mi’s of everyday life: The structure and personality correlates of music preference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84,1236‚Äď1256.




“They” did a study!.. But where did they publish it?

Most people don’t read original research articles…why would they? They might have an access fee or be too technical to comprehend for the normal lay person. Yet many websites report on¬†results of those “recent studies”. I’ve seen many health websites sensationalize new super important work in peer reviewed journals.. just to¬†realize that the journal it’s published in is rather suspicious.

Recent example: one anti-vaccine website posted a list of studies that apparently showed the danger of vaccinating. I wanted to read the very first article on that list and the website provided a PDF. I¬†found myself thinking¬†the results were a bit too extraordinary [see infographic towards the end of this post for HINTS on spotting a suspicious article] … I noticed it was published by some asian journal with a strange-looking website.¬†I proceeded to search for this same article on Google Scholar and guess what? it did not exist there.¬†That’s just fishy.

Certain journals have big names and high reputations and are easily recognized (especially by academics). I read a lot of fantastic research articles in Appetite, for example, on the psychology of eating. So we as a research community generally “know” what kinds of journals publish high quality science. YET, even researchers have to be careful to avoid¬†trashy journals that have no standing in the scientific community.

What is a “bad” journal: one that publishes low quality work, basically; something that a high reputation journal with scientific standards would not consider publishing. Bad journals often publish anything for a fee, and while they state they are “peer reviewed”, nobody really does any good reviewing, if any¬†(I even saw a case where one of the lister reviewers was a diseased academic). The peer review process is supposed to ensure that your work actually uses real data, appropriate methods, sound conclusions based on the results, etc. It’s supposed to protect us from reading and taking into consideration fake, unscientific, biased work.

Who publishes in these trashy journals? It can be young academics who are just trying to publish their research and get duped to pay a lot of money to one of these predatory journals. It can also be bad researchers with bad studies who could never get their trashy work into a good peer-reviewed journal in the first place (yet they can pay to publish, pay to announce this publication, and watch the internet sensationalize their misleading work).

One way to know a journal is high quality is to know the publisher is high quality (some famous ones are Elsevier, Springer). Also, some websites post a list of journals (as well as list of publishers) to avoid. Check out THIS BLOG. Both academics and public alike can be fooled by low quality journals- they often have legitimate-sounding titles, resembling prestigious journal titles; they have professional-looking websites, etc.

Great guide to spotting poor-quality journals!

Lastly, while a lot of bad research can be published in bad journals..some poor research can get published in decent ones. A poor study, though, will eventually be retracted. Please follow RETRACTION WATCH to be up-to-date with such work! Otherwise, you could be falsely spreading information about research that was low quality in the first place (e.g. good example is the Seralini rat study on GMO feed (read more here).