22 July 2013

Items to share: 21 July

Education Focus
  • Who Ruined the Humanities? - WSJ.com "Of course it's important to read the great poets and novelists. But not in a university classroom, where literature has been turned into a bland, soulless competition for grades and status." (I couldn't agree more. I enjoyed my undergraduate experience, and had some fantastic teachers, but the net effect was still to put me off the humanities for about 20 years.)
Other Business
  • Differences among languages: True untranslatability | The Economist  Roman Jakobson, a linguist, is credited with the notion that languages differ not so much in what they can express as what they must express. ... The traditional idea of "can't be translated" has the facts exactly backwards. Who knew that the truly untranslatable words were those that say the least? 
  • Unhappy Truckers and Other Algorithmic Problems (Nautilus)  "As mathematicians, operations research specialists, and corporate executives set out to mathematize and optimize the transportation networks that interconnect our modern world, they are re-discovering some of our most human quirks and capabilities. They are finding that their job is as much to discover the world, as it is to change it." (The travelling salesman problem.)
  • "Positivity Ratio" Criticized In New Sokal Affair - Neuroskeptic | DiscoverMagazine.com  "The target this time is the ‘critical positivity ratio’ – the idea that if your ratio of positive to negative emotions is over a certain value, 2.9013, then you will ‘flourish’; any lower and you won’t. The ‘critical positivity ratio’ is a popular idea. Fredrickson and Losada’s 2005 paper on it has been cited a massive 964 times on Google Scholar, just for starters. And yet – that paper is complete rubbish. As are Losada’s previous papers on the issue. I criticize a lot of papers myself, but this one really takes the biscuit. It’s an open and shut case." 
  • These child-abuse stats are PANTS | Ken McLaughlin | spiked "In his classic book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, the late Stanley Cohen warned us that one of the dangers moral panics pose is that they can manipulate us into taking some things too seriously and other things not seriously enough. That is why advocacy research can adversely affect social policy. As we are manipulated into viewing abuse as everywhere and encouraged to give our money to the NSPCC, many much-needed services for children who have suffered horrendous experiences will miss out. It would be far better for the worst-affected children, and society in general, if the NSPCC and others offered a more realistic assessment of the risk of abuse."

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