All entries by this author

Rashomon at the White House

Jan 16th, 2003 5:21 pm | By

We all know history is written by the victors. It’s also worth remembering that it’s written by a lot of other unreliable witnesses besides. By participants, loyalists, traitors, friends, enemies, people with various kinds of axe to grind, people who were paying only selective attention (and who ever pays anything else?). Which is not to say that it’s all a fairy tale, that no history is more accurate than any other so there’s no need to be careful with the evidence or the conclusions we draw from it. It’s only to point out how tricky it all is. This story in the Guardian is a good example. Tony Blair and the people around him are quite sure they have influenced … Read the rest



Positive Discrimination *

Jan 16th, 2003 | Filed by

Not quotas but targets; European human rights laws; poverty and privilege. Difficult questions without clear answers.… Read the rest



Confusion for Future Historians *

Jan 16th, 2003 | Filed by

Powell thinks it’s Powell who tames the President, Blair thinks it’s Blair. So history is written.… Read the rest



Yes But How Does it Work? *

Jan 16th, 2003 | Filed by

Even evidence is not enough, in the absence of a theory, Michael Shermer explains.… Read the rest



When is a degree not a degree? *

Jan 15th, 2003 | Filed by

Are some university degrees more equal than others?… Read the rest



University Press Publisher as Deity *

Jan 14th, 2003 | Filed by

The Boston Globe interviews an editor at Harvard University Press.… Read the rest



A Scientific Controversy In Progress

Jan 13th, 2003 | By

The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, a branch of the Danish Research Agency, issued a report on January 7, 2003 that Bjørn Lomborg’s book The Skeptical Environmentalist was ‘dishonest science’. The seventeen page report explaining their reasoning provides a fascinating case study in the workings of science: it’s a small education in itself.

One thing it teaches (in case we didn’t know) is how difficult and complicated such questions are. There is no eureka moment, no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot pacing the hearthrug while he explains how All was Revealed, no conclusive proof. There is only a huge and complex variety of evidence and the hard slog of interpreting it, there is only probability and ‘if…then’ and statistics. There … Read the rest



Dishonesty or at Least Incomprehension *

Jan 13th, 2003 | Filed by

Danish panel says Lomborg did not comprehend the science in his cheerful environmental book.… Read the rest



What Ivory Tower? *

Jan 13th, 2003 | Filed by

Education and politics are and should be intimately connected.… Read the rest



Case Study in Scientific Disagreement *

Jan 13th, 2003 | Filed by

The Danish panel says Political Scientist Lomborg, ‘strangely for a statistician’, uses the word ‘plausible’ often without attaching any probability to it. And there is more…… Read the rest



Wide Awake

Jan 12th, 2003 9:10 pm | By

Speaking of Fresh Air…there was an interesting display of Pathetically Reduced Expectations on that show a few days ago. The political ‘commentator’ David Frum was on to talk about the year he spent as a speechwriter in the Bush White House. He has an unctuous, soft, childishly enthusiastic voice, and he kept getting in a flutter of excitment and admiration at things that were not worth getting in a flutter about. It was all too depressingly reminiscent of what we used to hear about the Reagan White House, when people would tell anecdotes that proved the President was actually conscious and awake as if they proved how brilliant and perspicacious he was. One example in particular struck me by its … Read the rest



What Would Jesus Drive?

Jan 12th, 2003 7:23 pm | By

I do like to see a good roundhouse attack like this one in The New Republic, on that contemporary American plague, the Sport Utility Vehicle. I only wish there were more of them (and that they did any good). There was an auto industry reporter on Fresh Air a few days ago, and it was a pathetic series of missed opportunities as Terri Gross let the guy rhapsodize about the wonders of the SUV without bothering to point out the obvious drawbacks. For instance he sang a little aria to the joy of being so high up off the road and able to look over the other traffic. Well yes, and SUV drivers are so high up that they … Read the rest



Where Are the Young People With Nose Studs? *

Jan 12th, 2003 | Filed by

Should the National Theatre be required to attract yoof?… Read the rest



‘Scientific dishonesty’? *

Jan 11th, 2003 | Filed by

A Danish political scientist is rebuked for optimistic book on environmental issues.… Read the rest



Apples and Oranges

Jan 10th, 2003 7:45 pm | By

This is an interesting and uncomfortable story. The American Association of University Professors is about to publish a study which shows that Affirmative Action policies at US colleges and universities have failed to close the gap between whites on the one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other.

The article will highlight admissions policies that give special consideration to the children of alumni and donors to colleges; prepaid-tuition plans, which benefit only those parents who can afford to save money for college; and the current movement among many public colleges to tighten admissions standards and end remedial programs, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Surely that sentence skates rapidly over the difficult issues inherent in the subject. Surely there … Read the rest



‘Cultural Difference’ and its Discontents *

Jan 10th, 2003 | Filed by

Brian Barry’s Culture and Equality: An Egalitarian Critique of Multiculturalism was short-listed for the British Academy prize, which rewards academic excellence combined with accessibility to the general reader.… Read the rest



Study on Affirmative Action in US Higher Education *

Jan 10th, 2003 | Filed by

Study blames admissions policies that favor children of alumni, and the movement to tighten admissions standards, for failure to narrow racial gap.… Read the rest



Is ‘science for citizens’ real science? *

Jan 10th, 2003 | Filed by

The jury is out on radical plans to restructure high school science curricula in the UK. … Read the rest



Who Needs Evidence When You Have Publicity?

Jan 9th, 2003 6:41 pm | By

Oh good, another piece of Imaginative History, or The Case of the Peekaboo Evidence. Not unlike the Clonaid festivities last week, when the ‘Raelians’ announced the birth of the first cloned baby, but when invited to provide DNA evidence to support such a surprising claim, came over all bashful. There is a good deal of sly wit in Natalie Danford’s Salon piece about retired Admiral Gavin Menzies’ claim that the Chinese sailed to America seventy years before Columbus. It was a shrewd move, for example, to rent the lecture hall of the Royal Geographical Society as the place to announce his ‘discovery’. And publicity does do the trick: there has been so much attention that Menzies’ American publishers have advanced … Read the rest



The Attention of People Who Care *

Jan 9th, 2003 | Filed by

David Bromwich disagrees with Louis Menand that dispassion is the proper state for a critic.… Read the rest