Friday Recommended Reads #9


There’s a long tradition of using anthropomorphic common names for animals that do things analogous to humans. Years ago, there was some disagreement about whether we should stop using the term “slave making ants.” Alex Wild recalls that episode and proposes a new common name for these creatures: “kidnapper ants.” In terms of sensitivity to victims of crimes, I’m not sure this is a big step up. I just call ’em Polyergus.

Mulling over job interviews and offers usually presents big-time dilemmas. Mizuki Takahashi discusses his own experience with frank detail. The seasonality and non-synchronicity of interviews leads to some interesting thoughts about bet-hedging and game theory, with really high stakes.

On Wednesday morning, I heard a heartbreaking story on NPR about a Pakistani family that traveled to Washington DC to testify in a hearing about drone strikes. They recounted the remote-controlled murder of their grandmother by the US Government. One thing that they didn’t mention on NPR, as much as I recall, is that only five members of Congress attended this hearing.

Sometimes blogs include posts about blogging. This post by Simon Goring is about the personal motives for blogging and how whether, or not, it matters how well read your blog is. This post ended up getting seen, and commented on, by a bunch of other bloggers and the comments are worthwhile if you’re interested in the topic. (Note: this link starts out saying really nice stuff about this site. That’s not why I linked to it, though I always appreciate nice words.)

You know when a Senior Editor of scholarly journal is really pissed when the editorial is simply entitled, “Fuck Jared Diamond.” That message was brought to you by David Correia.

The density of people on the planet is unevenly distributed, to put it mildly. This animation of birth and death events, simulated using real demographic data, is really cool.

What if Darwin died on The Beagle? Jeremy Fox reviews the book Darwin Deleted that delves into this thought experiment. It was an interesting review, so interesting that I think I might not have to read the book. I’m not big on the alternative history genre, but I did enjoy and learn a lot from Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America when it came out.

Thanks to Boing Boing and Jane Zelikova for links.

5 thoughts on “Friday Recommended Reads #9

  1. I’m guessing the F**k Jared Diamond link came from Boing Boing? I confess that I find it hard to judge that fight as an outsider. Your old post on tribes in the academy is relevant here. As far as I can tell, it’s mostly members of the cultural anthropology tribe, who seem to have a disciplinary commitment to the uniqueness of every society and every historical event, who have a big problem with Jared Diamond. People in other tribes whose views on other matters I really respect think highly of Diamond. And of course, just because you oppose or support Diamond as a matter of tribal affiliation doesn’t mean you’re wrong…

    Thanks for the shout-out on the review of Darwin Deleted, though I hope the review wasn’t so spoiler-filled that you don’t want to read the book now! :-) I have the impression that alternative history has a bit of a bad reputation, that it’s sometimes just a vehicle for ideologues to fantasize about how much better things would be if their side had come out on top in some past conflict. Bowler’s aware of this, and in the introductory chapter he takes on criticisms of alternative history head-on. I think he does a good job of articulating what he’s up to and why it’s worth doing.

  2. I really don’t understand Correia’s take on Diamond. The whole point of Guns, Germs, and Steel was that societies’ different advancements and levels of advancement in technology had nothing to do with ethnic/racial differences in intelligence or ingenuity. It doesn’t blame the victims for imperialism, it has nothing to do with sustaining the bourgeois intellectual order. It never suggests that other societies shouldn’t develop new technology or gain power on the world stage – it isn’t prescriptive at all.

    I have not read the new book; maybe it actually is that bad.

  3. Well, I’ll leave it to the cultural anthropologists to evaluate the validity of what Diamond writes. I haven’t read anything of his after Guns, Germs and Steel. While the book was redundant unto itself in a variety of parts, I thought it brought a few things to the table from ecology and evolutionary biology that might not have been in the discussion – or it could just be that’s the impression he wanted to give people who weren’t cultural anthropologists?

    His dalliance into ecology/evolution, even though he was trained in physiology, was coupled with real publications in peer-reviewed journals, and he was seen as a genuine academic (though a lightweight by those who disagreed with him). But he was engaged with academic peers in the field. With this latest stuff, Diamond is circumventing evaluation by cultural anthropologists and just writing popular books, and attempting to make his ideas matter while not opening them up to the journals used by cultural anthropologists. So, do they think he’s wrong because he is, or because he just ignores them and says stuff anyway? I suspect it’s the former, but I haven’t invested the time to know for sure, and I don’t think I will.

    I’ve heard, from a couple people in the field, that the most recent book is really bad, embarrassingly so. But that’s not my position to make that assessment. The cultural anthropologists have spoken.

    • I’ve read the critique and the only arguments against his analysis are from a “value” point of view. Reminds me a little of how religious folks dismiss evolution by natural selection because of its implications on human morality. Of course such a reasoning is entirely false, because whether something is true is not at all determined by whether you happen to like it or not. I really enjoyed his books, and don’t find any colonial apologetics in there, he actually seems very critical present day capitalism and inequality.

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