Friday Recommended Reads #6


My favorite new comic is BuzzHootRoar. It’s brand new, with two new comics that have come out this week. It has science that is accurate and interesting, and the art is super cool. I’d compare it to other comics, but I don’t want to make other comics look so inferior.

There is a group of National Geographic Society member/agitators advocating for a shift in how the Society does its business. Their site is called Society Matters, and if you’ve ever been curious about what it looks like at National Geographic under the hood (and what it means to be an NGS dissident) this is the place to visit. For starters, National Geographic TV Channel is operated quite independently of the rest of the Society, and the controlling owner is Rupert Murdoch. Considering the crap on the channel, compared to what’s in the magazine, that makes a lot of sense. (disclaimer: my research been funded by Nat Geo.)

A dangerous list. Meg Duffy compiled a great list of videos for teaching ecology concepts, but even if you aren’t a biologist you’ll find this a spectacular time sink, I mean, spectacular entertainment. And you might learn something, too.

It”s now clear that anybody who was going to have an Antarctic field season during this Austral summer is not going to have one. Here is a story from one of the many scientists who is adversely affected. (warning: contains offensive language and Comic Sans.) If John Boehner was a patriot, he’d call a vote right now to fund the US government, but he refuses to do so.

On a related note, Andrea Maguire wrote some tips for those writing an NSF Graduate Fellowship application, which could be useful if you presume that NSF gets funded again.

While still on the topic of the atrophy of scientific infrastructure, let’s look into a more historic example of how anti-science obstructionism put the stop to a major research endeavor in the US. Have you heard of the Superconducting SuperCollider? It was a partially constructed accelerator that would have dwarfed CERN, that was in production in Texas, funded by the federal government. Until it wasn’t. Here’s a story from last year about how the SSC was defunded after half of it was already built. When I was in college, I wasn’t even that interested in subatomic physics but I was excited for the SSC as it was under construction. Oh well.

Being a professor is awesome, isn’t it? Why don’t people stop complaining about how hard the academic life is, when it ain’t?

Being Canadian just got a little better. I’m not talking about Alice Munro, their new Nobel Laureate. Citizens traveling abroad can get free beer.

Morgan Ernest brought to my attention (via twitter) a “head-exploding” disaster of a paper by three men (a philosopher, a political scientist and an ecologist) who attempt to study the sociology of ecologists. It might seem vaguely reasonable and only slightly sexist by the abstract, but when you look inside and see the inferences and conclusions that are not supported by their own data, you have to wonder why they would go to the trouble to write a paper that spews 100-year old rhetoric that, in my view, seems misogynist. But please, judge for yourself. Really, if three dudes are going to be making such broad generalizations about women, you’d think they at least would have enlisted a female co-author?

Do you know the spectacular story of the American who is coaching the Egyptian soccer football team which is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup? Grant Wahl’s latest piece in Sports Illustrated tells how Bob Bradley, who was recently a coach for the US National Team, is a hero, in the classic meaning of this overused label. Even if you don’t care much for football, then this is still a great story.

Everything I’ve read by or about Malcolm Gladwell has led me to think that he’s a pseudoacademic hack who who is brilliant at marketing overly simplistic ideas, but not good for much else. Finally, someone has suffered enough through his books to build the the rhetorical takedown that is well deserved and overdue. If I ever meet Christopher Chabris, I’d love to buy the man a drink. What does Gladwell himself have to say in response to his many academic critics? Oh, on the radio he admits that he writes books by cherry-picking concepts out of context to tell a false narrative, because that’s what the public wants and can’t handle serious thought or critical thinking. (That’s a paraphrase, but a pretty good one).

By the way, the Chabris piece was picked up by Slate and reprinted there, but I’d rather not give Slate the clicks because they often publish overwrought junk that serves no purpose but to generate righteous indignation, and as a result, revenue-generating traffic. Gladwell’s oversmug response to Chabris is on Slate, too, and I link to it only because he’s entitled to an attempted comeback from such an epic takedown. I do have to admit it is masterful how he slides in just enough slightly-condescending digs against Chabris, just enough to paint Chabris as an overheated academic, but not enough to make show any of his own flopsweat as the person under attack. Of course, he hasn’t done anything to address the heart of Chabris’s arguments.

Thanks to Dawn Sumner and Alex Wild who brought links to my attention.

3 thoughts on “Friday Recommended Reads #6

  1. Too bad the free beer is Molson. You get what you pay for, apparently. (and I say this as a Canadian citizen who could take advantage of the offer…) :-)

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