Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Post-Doc Position in Language Processing and Cognitive Neuroscience, Univ Pennsylvania

Professors Sharon Thompson-Schill and John Trueswell from the
University of Pennsylvania are seeking to hire a post-doctoral
researcher to work on an NIH funded research project entitled
Linguistic and Nonlinguistic Functions of Frontal Cortex. This
individual is expected to take a lead role in designing and conducting
experimental work on language processing using cognitive neuroscience
methods such as fMRI. A PhD in Psychology, Linguistics, Cognitive
Science, Neuroscience, or a related field is required. Research
experience within this area is expected.

The post-doctoral researcher is expected to participate fully in the
intellectual life of the lab. The researcher is also expected to
contribute to the interdisciplinary group of cognitive scientists
cognitive neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania, which
includes faculty, post-docs and students in Psychology, Linguistics,
Computer Science, Neurology, Neuroscience and related disciplines.

The position is available as early as September 2011 and is for an
initial period of one year with potential extension for an additional
year. Candidates should send a CV, samples of written work and three
letters of recommendation to: John Trueswell at Department of
Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Solomon
Lab Bldg., Philadelphia, PA, 19104-6241 U.S.A. Materials and letters
can instead be sent electronically to .
Sending material by email is greatly preferred. Review of materials
will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some political summer reading: the NSF budget matters!

A few weeks ago, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report examining the US National Science Foundation. If you are interested in reading about the politics of science and science funding, it's a disturbing and fascinating report. 

Beyond generic (and uncontroversial) calls for aggressive innovation and extreme frugality (somewhat conflicting goals, to be sure), the balance of the document is irresponsible, both in its careless handling of facts about NSF-funded research (currently discussed and derided in online venues; especially enjoyable is Mike the Mad Biologist blog ...) and in its terrible policy recommendation.

The strangest – and indeed dangerous - suggestion of this report is the call for the elimination of the social, behavioral, and economic sciences (SBE) directorate of the NSF. (That includes, of course, anthropology, sociology, political science, LINGUISTICS, geography, COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE, and many other aspects of research which we value, both as scientists and as citizens.) 

In today's, my NYU colleague Mitchell Moss and I attack Coburn and his report. This is pure science advocacy, so stay away if this sort of thing rubs you the wrong way. This is *not* research on talking or on brains or on both. 

David Poeppel and Mitchell Moss

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Research Associate University of Bristol - School of Experimental Psychology

Research Associate
University of Bristol - School of Experimental Psychology

Ref. 16464
Contract: Fixed Term Contract (30 months)
Salary: £33,734
Grade: Level b in Pathway 2
Closing date for applications: 9:00am 09 Aug 2011
Anticipated interview date: 12 Sep 2011

We are seeking to appoint a talented experimental psychologist for a research project entitled "The Role of Local and Symbolic Representations in Mind and Brain". The goal of this project is to better characterise the representations that underlie language, memory and perception, and you will be involved in both computational and empirical research. Some related work to this project can be found at and

You will conduct literature reviews, carry out computer simulations using Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) networks, complete statistical analyses, and contribute to writing papers for journal publication. You will also have the opportunity to present research findings and conferences. The academic leader of this project is Professor Jeffrey Bowers.

This post is funded for 30 months. If successful, you may be appointed either on a fixed term or a permanent contract depending on the extent of your previous relevant research experience, in line with the University's Fixed Term Contract Agreement. Further information can be found at

Contact for informal inquiries:
Professor J Bowers ( | 0117 92 88573)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A workshop and book in honor of William Marslen-Wilson

I just spent two days in Cambridge (UK) at an event organized in honor of William Marslen-Wilson. William has retired from the directorship of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (Sue Gathercole is now the director). The workshop, Multidisciplinary studies of lexical processing, was a very nice meeting, bringing together many of the students and colleagues that William has worked with over his long and productive career. The workshop was ably organized by Talking Brains regular Matt Davis, with support from many others.

There were talks about all kinds of things, from word learning studies and sleep (Gareth Gaskell) to Arabic morphology (Sami Boudelaa) - two presentations I particularly enjoyed. Lolly Tyler gave a very good talk about testing and imaging stroke patients, with some interesting data about reorganization. Sheila Blumstein gave a strong talk about her imaging studies of lexical processing, although I disagree with her characaterization of the role of inferior parietal structures (this for another time). All the talks were quite good, scientifically and sentimentally. Lots of pictures of WMW as a young hipster, with a mustache, smoking, etc. A historical high point (for the psycholinguistic aficionado) may have been watching Ken Forster back off of a strong modularist position. (Stand your ground, Ken!)

In addition to the workshop at Cambridge, Gareth Gaskell and Pienie Zwitserlood edited a book dedicated to William, Lexical Representation: A Multidisciplinary Approach (Mouton De Gryuter). The book has lots of juicy chapters - including one dry(ish) one by me and Bill Idsardi (Recognizing words from speech: The perception-action-memory loop). I just looked through that one again on the plane, and I didn't even hate it.

Across the talks, two themes really stood out for me. First, virtually all the talks that incorporated a cognitive neuroscience angle (e.g. Davis, Bozic, Blumstein, Poeppel, Johnsrude, Rodd, Zhou, Boudelaa, Tyler, Marslen-Wilson) emphasized - either explicitly or implicitly - the critical contribution of right hemisphere structures. Ten years ago, it was still considered dodgy to argue that perceptual processes were mediated bilaterally, but now the questions are more about which computations are carried by RH structures, what are the subroutines contributing to perception, comprehension, production, and so on. A welcome change, I think.

Second, and less compelling, in my view: the hypothesis that lexical representations are episodic turns out to be the normative standard, as far as I can tell. Although I'm quite certain that many speakers there would have been quite OK with representational abstraction, practically nobody (Aditi Lahiri being a notable exception) put their representational cards on the table. The issue is, simply, that because there are all sorts of indexical and episodic effects, these are taken to be indicative of a representation proper. But ... this is neither necessary nor sufficient. Indexical effect =/= lexical representation. The casual dismissal of the nature of representational abstraction because an indexical effect was observed makes me crazy. I will return to this ...

Overall, a very good meeting. WMW has stimulated lots of research in lots of areas and it was nice to see his contributions acknowledged and discussed in this forum.