Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Natives Are Restless

"Because the horse is not dead, I feel I’m allowed to keep beating it," Nicholas Carr begins his report with a metaphor that will endear him neither to the ASPCA nor my daughters. When it comes to this horse, however, viz., student preference for printed textbooks, few beat it more soundly. The digital natives are restless, as evidenced here, here, and here. For Carr's analysis of the latest study, see Student to e-textbooks: no thanks. It's e-text worth perusing. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Method to the Madness

As readers of Verbum Sapienti who have been with us from the onset know, the creation of this blog was initially inspired by students in my English for Academic Studies Writing course. Our final assignment was the writing of papers suitable for publication in academic journals. Drawing on the logical chronology set forth by  Prof. Gilson Volpato, we have reviewed, in order, the pertinent sections, including methods, usefully distinguished from methodology by Prof. Pat Thomson. methodology isn't methods...or...what goes in a methods chapter

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Curtain Call for Culture?

If loss can be pregnant with meaning, the recent death of historian Jacques Barzun assuredly was. It portended, as Ben Zimmer, Boston Globe language columnist, noted, "the passing of a classically informed view of language as a barometer of human nature" and of one of the English language's most committed defenders. And that barely scratches our presentiment of loss. The departure of one who so brilliantly embodied the "richest and best in the much abused word 'culture' seemed to mark the end of an era," Wilfred McCay writes in the University Bookman, "a curtain-lowering that left us without the promise of any encore." Hope or Despair? Roger Kimball and the Future of Culture

Timeless Moments

In this world, life and time are intimately entwined. "To try to imagine disentangling them," as Michael Clune observes in the Chronicle Review, "is like trying to imagine a melody of one note." And yet we all have, at one time or another, if only for a moment ― a moment that seemed much longer. The effort to counteract time, by poets or lovers, is twofold: a sensed slowing of time accompanying an intensely vivid perception and the persistence of that intensity. To achieve what Schiller called "annulling time within time" may elude us in the end, but isn't that is true of almost every worthwhile pursuit? Clune's essay is entitled "The Quest for Permanent Novelty," but, as in the search for the Holy Grail, what we seek is not new but eternal. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Marking Facebook's Face

Websites reflect the values that inform them. “Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder, Zadie Smith wrote of FacebookPoking, because that's what shy boys do to girls they're scare to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what friendship is. Adrien Chen brings us up to date. Everything wrong Facebook, from its cavalier treatment of privacy to its narrow view of Facebook friendship stems from the fact that it models human relations on Zuckerberg's social graph,” a model of human relationships based on computer logic, he writes. Deo gratias, we aren't mere machines.  

Are Scientists Normal?

Media stereotypes of scientists run the gamut from megalomaniacs out to conquer the world ― think Dr. No to affable, if zany, absent-minded professors Flubber, Back to the FutureHoney, I Shrunk the Kids, etc. A more knowledgeable analyst, Dr. Steve Caplan, associate professor of biochemistry and biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, concludes that for the most part, scientists are quite normal and experience the same stress and anxieties that afflict the rest of us. Are Scientists Normal People? 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Science of Fabrication

The scientific community's barriers against “an epidemic of false, biased, and falisified findings are weak, Daniele Fanelli, a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, concedes at the onset of his column in Nature. “Only the most egregious cases of misconduct are discovered and punished,” he continues, while “subtler forms slip through the net, and there is no protection from publication bias. Dr. Fanelli delineates the deficiencies of the present system with its overreliance on whistleblowers and proposes an alternative. One need not endorse his remedy, however, to concur with his judgment that researchers should be held accountable for what they write. Redefine Misconduct as Distorted Reporting

Throwing the Book at Them

The writer of a dictionary is an historian, not a lawgiver,” observed the renowned semanticist S.I. Hayakawa. Perhaps, that is why the citing of dictionaries by the U.S. Supreme Court was so rare prior to 1987. Over the past 25 years, however, as Profs. James Brudney and Lawrence Baum note in their Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper, as many as one of  three statutory decisions by the High Court have invoked dictionary definitions. As is frequently the case with dictionary definitions, the connotations merit our consideration. Oasis or Mirage: The Supreme Court's Thirst for Dictionaries

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Data Driven

Our ability to amass droves of data drives certain assumptions. Among them, as David Brook notes in the New York Times, are these: that everything that can be measured should be; that data is a reliable, transparent lens that filters out ideology and emotions; and that data will enable us to foretell the future. In introducing what promises to be an informative, ongoing exploration of what he dubs data-ism, Brooks extols data's capacity to disabuse us of views that fly in the face of the evidence and to shed light on emerging and overlooked patterns of behavior. The Philosophy of Data

Monday, February 11, 2013

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

The narcissistic queen's mirror of vanities hung on her castle wall. Many today indulge their fantasies via online walls. According to researchers at Berlin's Humboldt University and Darmstadt's Technical University, viewing photos of Facebook friends oft evokes envy, misery, and loneliness. The scientists, who studied users logging on the ubiquitous social network, found that one in three felt worse after visiting the site“The most common cause of Facebook frustration came from users comparing themselves socially to their peers,” Time reports. As so often, the Bard puts it best, comparisons are odorous. Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Games People Play

Children know something adults have forgotten, philosopher Mark Rowlands reminds us, something we lost when we began to play “the great game of growing up and becoming someone. Today's world is a utilitarian one in which actions have instrumental value, worth not inherent in their essence but derived from the tokens they amass  money, for one. “Work is a classic example,” Rowlands notes. In its pure form, play has no external purpose or reward. Young children know this intuitively, reveling in the joy of the moment. If we could get lost in their spirit, we might find what we have lost. Tennis With Plato

The True Ice Age

The world's oldest portrait has arrived in Britain. Dug from the earth of Moravia, she is carved from a mammoth's tusk and 26,000 years old. Her long slender face, with its almond eyes and hint of a dimple, is straight out of Modigliani, writes Laura Cumming in a review almost too poetic for a London daily. “One of her eyes is lively, but the other droops downwards as if injured or sad, and there is rueful twist to her smile. Dolorous too is our contemplation of the draconian and Darwinian drive against the arts, which leads us to ask ourselves, “Which is the true Ice Age? 

Friday, February 08, 2013

By Jeeves, It's Wodehouse!

The quintessential English humorist P.G. Wodehouse was the oldest of old boys, as Robert Messenger aptly notes in his New Criterioreview of an anthology of Wodehouse's letters. Little wonder then that my appetite for his witty offerings were insatiable in my college days when I was the youngest of the good ol' boys. Wodehouse charmed as a writer with his self-deprecation, as Ronald Reagan would do decades later as an orator. Indeed, P.G. never lost the insouciance of his British stiff upper lip. Would that I could say the same. What I can say is that we all could use some mirth-inspiring P.G. humor today.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Racket Bawl

As arbiters of science's reputation system, journal  publishers acquire copyright to the world's leading scientific output for free. They then charge scientists, who authored and reviewed the articles, and taxpayers, who funded the research, $8 billion a year to access the findings. The exit from this  revolving door lies in creating new reputation metrics, Academia.edu's Richard Price argues

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Carnival of the Animals

As Mardi Gras nears, what better time to celebrate a carnival? Composed in 1886, While French composer Camille Saint-Saens was vacationing in Austria, Le Carnival des Animaux, a suite of 14 movements, remained unpublished until his death. From an era when cartoons were also classics. 

Search . . . for the Motive

In a day in which “Google” has assumed the status of a verb, the increasing role of search engines is readily apparent. Less well known is the significance of the ongoing shift from keyword to semantic search. Yet, as physicist and computer scientist W. Daniel Hillis points out, with semantic search results are determined not by data but by the proprietor's Weltanshauung. Thus, search engines have moved from indicators of what is important to arbiters of truth. “From now on, search engines will have an editorial point of view, and search results will reflect that viewpoint,” he concludes. “We can no longer ignore the assumptions behind the results.” Nor Hillis' analysis. The Opinions of Search Engines

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Pursuing Knowledge Is Never Useless

As an inveterate researcher, I have often advised those engaged in the lifelong quest for knowledge that the relevance of a specific finding may rest in doubt for years, perhaps a lifetime. In a puzzle in the order of magnitude and complexity that is life, a missing piece oft remains undetected until its adjacent counterparts have been discovered. On her aptly named site Brain Pickings, Maria Popova cogently encapsulates a seminal 1939 essay by U.S. educator Abraham Flexner on “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.” As Flexner rightly observes, “The world has always been a sorry and confused sort of place.” Thanks to Popova and Flexner, however, a tad less.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Hybrid Hype

For modern theorists of technology, hybridity is ontological. They believe that to be human is to be technological. This seemingly innocent assumption has significant implications about how we think about morality, law, and politics. Perhaps this is what the Hybrid Age is all about: marketing masquerading as theory, charlatans masquerading as philosophers, a New Age cult masquerading as a university, business masquerading as redemption, and slogans masquerading as truths. The Naked and the TED