Links from the last week

Think I will try to start this weekly post up again, again because there are too many interesting articles I come across I’d like to share, and because I myself enjoy so many blogs (including posts that are mainly collections of links).  So here we go…

1. First The Fall Of Alexandria, And Now Fidget Spinners

Via a Facebook friend, a post in which fidget spinners lead to philosophy.  I always appreciate articles that remind us of something obvious Americans like to forget – our ancestors may have lacked our technology, but they weren’t idiots.  If something as simple as a fidget spinner would have produced the dramatic educational benefits some claim, that fact would have been realized a very long time ago.  (I personally have seen a couple in class – and yes, they did seem to enhance distraction, not improve the learning environment.)

If a fidget spinner is no different than spinning a pencil, spin a pencil. The fact of the matter is a fidget spinner is nothing like a pencil, for a pencil is made for writing and a fidget spinner is made for distraction. “It helps me pay attention” is the same manner of specious moonshine I floated back in the fourth grade when I told my mother Nintendo would help me “improve my hand-eye coordination.” The claim is passed from sneaky adults to children so that children can defend themselves with Recent Studies Show balderdash against the common sense of the stodgy adults. Only in America would adults give children amusing, distracting, mind-numbing, addictive, easily-hidden little toys and tell them, “These will help you pay attention in school.”

2. Walker Percy’s Last Self-Help Book

One of many articles making the rounds again because of the recent death of the author, Peter Augustine Lawler.

Darwin was basically right until we showed up. He’s right to say that we’ve been equipped by nature to be who we are, but he slighted or ignored the ways we introduced a fundamental discontinuity into the process of evolution. Darwin was basically right until the creature with a self or soul showed up who could actually discover the theory of evolution and fail to locate himself in it.

Darwin didn’t reflect enough about who Darwin, the being who wonders and wanders, is, and to some extent his theory is a diversion from that personal question. Darwin wasn’t scientific enough when it comes to the strange and wonderful being who can be a scientist, but is never only a scientist.

3. The True Purpose of the University

A nice Heather Mac Donald piece that basically says… the president of Yale says education is about teaching students to recognize “false narratives”, and Yale faculty are a model of stubborn skepticism when it comes to such narratives.  Heather says this is ridiculous because…

  • Like most universities, Yale is hardly a bastion of mythbusting and skepticism when it comes to the important progressive cultural narratives of the day.
  • Education isn’t about recognizing false narratives anyway, primarily.  It’s about spreading knowledge.  Because students arrive at college not knowing much at all in a tremendous range of subjects.  You can’t start arguing about interpretation when you lack knowledge of the bedrock.

So Salovey’s claim that Yale resolutely seeks out and unmasks “false narratives” is itself a false narrative. But is the routing of “false narratives” even an apt description of what a college education should ideally be? It is not, even though that goal, in different iterations, is widely embraced across the political spectrum. The most urgent task of any college is the transmission of knowledge, pure and simple. American students arrive at college knowing almost nothing about history, literature, art, or philosophy. If they aspire to a career in STEM fields, they may have already picked up some basic math and physics, and possibly some programming skills. But their orientation in the vast expanse of Western civilization is shallow; they have likely been traveling on a surface of selfies and pop culture with, at best, only fleeting plunges into the past.

4. The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies

“The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.”

That’s how we began. We used this preposterous sentence to open a “paper” consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.

Via Michael Shermer, Dr. Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsey craft a totally fake article with the title above, submit it to a peer-reviewed Gender Studies journal… and it gets published.  Lots of lessons here (read the piece), especially:

  • There’s nothing magic about peer-review.  It’s a good thing, it’s just not magic.  Oodles of flawed papers are published every year.  As I sometimes have to tell people, peer-review absolutely does NOT mean that someone reproduced your research and found it valid.  All it means is that someone, hopefully doing work somewhat like your own, read your paper, noticed no obvious flaws, and thought it important enough to publish.  (And perhaps offered some suggestions.)  That’s it.  That’s a good thing to have done, but it’s not magic.
  • Of course another one of the goals here was to poke fun at “Gender Studies” for being unable to distinguish utter nonsense from real work in the field – as I told a friend in the social sciences on Twitter recently, I feel like the social sciences on the whole are much, much less constrained by reality when it comes to what conclusions they may draw.  To me, they often feel much more like “just interpret this thing in some way nobody has interpreted it yet” – boom, publication.  The friend replied that the data in social science fields is just a lot more complicated, and that’s probably true too… but I still say the fields feel much less constrained by reality.  I am wary of commenting outside my field but there you go.

5. University Of Michigan Student Who Insists Wood Paneling Is Racist Gets It All Backwards

OK, I was charmed that this article was written by an undergraduate engineering major.  Also love the middle sentence.

The university describes the union building as “one of the University of Michigan’s most recognizable landmarks,” and if that is racist, sexist, and oppressive, then so is the entire existence of the University of Michigan—and maybe the existence of any college in America today. Civilizational progress is, in many ways, a making available to lower classes what once was available only to the elite. The changes of the modern age are always good when they take a wealthy man’s possession, like comfortable furniture, and allow the poor to have their own version of it.

6. Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

Because I have to have some neat Physics in this line-up.

Dipping a tube into a container filled with water will make the water rise in the tube. This phenomenon is called liquid capillarity. It is responsible for many natural and technical processes, for example the water absorption of trees, ink rising in a fountain pen, and sponges absorbing dishwater. But what happens if the tube is dipped into a container filled not with water but with sand? The answer is – nothing. However, if the tube is shaken up and down, the sand will also begin to rise. Scientists have now discovered the mechanism behind this effect, the so-called granular capillary effect.

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This week’s post brought to you by “au revoir Montréal!”, a city we were vacationing in until yesterday.

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