The first is a report of a recent breakthrough for storing information on DNA. This is not a new discovery (see here), but it appears to be scaling up rather dramatically. The NYT reports the following:
The new research demonstrates that specific digital files can be retrieved from a potentially vast pool of data. The new storage technology would also be capable of keeping immense amounts of information safely for a millennium or longer, researchers said.This is a big deal, if you keep in mind how often science follows technology. If DNA becomes the basis of long term memory storage in industry, how long before the idea hits and hits and hits again that humans do the same with their DNA. This would solve "read" part of the required read-write memory issue that the Gallistel conjecture requires. The scientists quoted in the piece acknowledge that at present the "write" part is the "bottleneck."
The scientists acknowledge that their current bottleneck is in the ability to write the information in DNA, but they say they expect that technology to begin to improve rapidly.And when it does, we will have a realized proof of concept for the the Gallistel conjecture. And then bye bye neural nets. Can't wait.
The second piece is a blog post by my distinguished colleague Colin Phillips. He takes on the vexed issues of grad education in linguistics suggesting that it might be time for a re-think. Many of the heavyweights chime in with their views and the discussion is very informative, if also a tad defensive in parts (I won't name names, you can see for yourself). One thing that Colin does not mention, but I think is germane (and probably impolitic to mention) is that there is an understory to the debate. Like it or not, I believe that linguistics is now at an intellectual cross-roads. How so?
Part of the field wants it to stay pretty much as it has always been, and by 'always' I mean for the last several hundred years. For these the subject matter of linguistics is language and the methods basically philological. Sure GG is an important advance, but mainly because the methods developed are philology on steroids. At any rate, for this group, the mantra is "linguists study language."
The other group, of which Colin is an important leader, takes the subject matter of linguistics to be a mental faculty, either FL or G in both the narrow and wider sense (to borrow two Fitch Hauser and Chomsky terms). One studies language to study these objects that are contributing causes to linguistic "behavior." On this view, philological methods are useful but not exclusively so. This group believes that other methods both can and are contributing to understanding Gs and FL as cognitive objects.
These divergent views will take differing views on a proper linguistics education. Both will respect the standard ling methods as both agree that those methods have and continue to tell us a lot about language and G/FL. The latter however believe that other methods are no less central to understanding the cognitive (and ultimately, biological) object and so these methods should have a place in a good grad curriculum.
Now the problem, there are only so many hours in a grad education 5 years and so what to cover, given that not everything can be covered. And this is a problem where departments will differ influenced by what their view of the subject matter is. The fact, however, is that something will have to give and that allowing people to develop skills beyond the philological will require that the depths of their philological education will have to be sacrificed. This, IMO, is a sign of progress. Grad school is there to allow neophytes to become professionals. Professionalism requires specialization. However, one cannot specialize in everything. So, choices must be made. What's the best way to make them? Well here people can legitimately disagree. However, if you are a cog-bio-linguist then you will believe that training in non philological techniques will be as legit as the other methods. This does not mean ignoring the standard methods, but it does mean making room for the others and understanding their importance for certain kinds of investigations.
Linguistics, I believe, will soon move the way of other developed sciences. Papers will be written by gangs of researchers as the expertise required will transcend the expertise of any one person. This will mean learning to work with people who know stuff you don't and that you can talk with. This does not entail becoming the other, but it does mean learning to understand the other's techniques and modes of thinking.
At any rate, take a look at the discussion. It is nothing if not amusing watching the heavyweights tussle.