All entries by this author

Non Sequitur of the Year

Aug 17th, 2003 11:23 pm | By

I’ve just done a study, one which involved reading one article from the THES and coming to a conclusion about it. My conclusion is that the guy doing the study the article discusses is, well, over-interpreting his evidence just a tiny bit. What did he find in his pioneering research which involved watching a popular quiz show on tv and seeing what kind of people won? He found that non-academics (or ‘housewives’ and workers, as the article oddly called them) did better than academics. Uh…gee…really? Could that be because shows like Wer Wird Millionär? don’t usually ask qestions about quantum mechanics or the Duhem-Quine thesis? On account of how most of the people who watch them aren’t academics themselves? Is … Read the rest

Peer Review Before Press Release *

Aug 17th, 2003 | Filed by

‘If the MMR and autism paper had been looked at by serious statisticians, it would never have been published.’… Read the rest

Intersection of Discovery and Sales *

Aug 17th, 2003 | Filed by

Confusion of health and fashion concerns in study of obesity research.… Read the rest

Clash of Cutlery *

Aug 17th, 2003 | Filed by

Knives, hatchets – it’s the Guardian on the Booker prize long list.… Read the rest

Literary Reputation and its Discontents *

Aug 17th, 2003 | Filed by

Why is everyone so eager to rubbish Martin Amis?… Read the rest

Politics Was Rough in the 1790s, Too *

Aug 16th, 2003 | Filed by

And politicians were occasionally greedy and ambitious then.… Read the rest

Breakthrough for ‘Trans-national’ Legal Perspective *

Aug 15th, 2003 | Filed by

US Supreme Court is considering entities like the European Court of Human Rights in its decisions.… Read the rest

On Their Own Terms

Aug 14th, 2003 8:25 pm | By

‘On their own terms’ again. Such a handy phrase that is (see ‘Dyslexia in Excelsis’ below). It’s behind so much woolly thinking – the notion that if we’ll all just see all ideas and truth claims ‘on their own terms’ then no one’s self-esteem will be damaged and all will be well. Of course the idea doesn’t apply everywhere – which is indeed the oft-noticed contradiction in relativism, which is the same as the old Cretan liar’s paradox. Relativists want everyone to think that relativism is non-relativistically true. Same thing with ‘on their own terms.’ We’re not supposed to take, say, skepticism about taking things on their own terms on its own terms. But religion, now that’s another story. And … Read the rest

Science and Islam *

Aug 14th, 2003 | Filed by

‘a minimum amount of freedom is necessary for the advancement of science, for the advancement of thought.’… Read the rest

Congratulation or Denigration? *

Aug 14th, 2003 | Filed by

Do higher A-level pass rates mean better students or dumbed-down exams?… Read the rest

Students Opt For Easier Subjects *

Aug 14th, 2003 | Filed by

We need math, science and language students, but we’re getting television students.… Read the rest

Holistic, Sacred, Communal Bilge

Aug 14th, 2003 2:01 am | By

Ah well. Sometimes I worry about the possibility of becoming ever more reactionary and bilious as the days thunder past, but then other times, other times, I just throw up my hands and give in to it. There is just no alternative. For instance when reading the cringe-making ‘Mission Statement’ on the Web site of what sounds like the most cringe-making educational institution one could possibly imagine. The kind of place that makes one want to, I don’t know, dress up as a combination Wall Street shark and Ramboesque thug and roam about kicking small children and grinding the faces of the poor.

We teach of the need to heal from the traumas of living in less than a just,

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Un-Victorian Uppityness *

Aug 13th, 2003 | Filed by

Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ has more to do with unchained minds than unfettered possessions.… Read the rest

Shadows on the Cave Wall

Aug 12th, 2003 8:56 pm | By

This article has a lot of food for thought, about how science works and the vexed relationship between theory and experiment.

It was not theory but experiment that plucked the quark idea from near oblivion. Aided and abetted by theory, experiments made quarks real, transforming them from a wayward hypothesis into concrete objects of experience. Experiments are what ultimately discarded the science fashions of the sixties and turned quarks into hard scientific fact.

It’s interesting to think of science and physics as being centers of fashion. Who knew that quarks were a fashion until experiments provided evidence that they were actually there, were not just Platonic physics, as Riordan calls it, but ‘hard scientific fact’? Well of course in a … Read the rest

Freedom of Inquiry *

Aug 12th, 2003 | Filed by

Accusations that ideology is shaping research require evidence.… Read the rest

Martin Amis Unlikely to be Nominated *

Aug 12th, 2003 | Filed by

So also (not surprisingly) unlikely to win.… Read the rest

Whose Culture?

Aug 11th, 2003 9:51 pm | By

And here we have an exhilarating opinion piece. Exhilarating I suppose because the things it says are both so obvious and so non-trendy. (Though there’s some danger in that line of thought – or perhaps I just mean some discomfort. The woods are all too full of people who are all to willing to make you a present of their bravely unfashionable opinions. You know the kind of thing. Defiant racism and sexism, defiant urges to trample on people, defiant calls to get rid of the minimum wage. Go away.) But that being said, the fact remains that this is great stuff, and should be said more often and more loudly, especially to people who don’t know it yet:


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Dyslexia in Excelsis

Aug 11th, 2003 8:16 pm | By

Well here’s a piece that strikes me as completely bizarre. As if one should stare at a landscape buried under three feet of snow and say ‘How come it never snows around here?’ Or go for a nice walk in Death Valley and comment on how wet and cold it is, or eat some vanilla ice cream and say it’s too spicy. It’s like a kind of dyslexia. I suppose it’s really just the usual: confirmation bias, seeing what one expects to see and ignoring what one doesn’t. No doubt I’ll just be doing the same thing but in reverse – Elshtain sees the photograph and I see the negative or vice versa. But all the same, it does seem … Read the rest

No, Not Proof, Evidence

Aug 11th, 2003 5:38 pm | By

What was that I was just saying the other day about people translating ‘evidence’ into ‘proof,’ thinking the two words are interchangeable, just plain confusing the two? You’d think at least science journalists would know the difference, wouldn’t you? Well you’d be wrong, apparently.

Sir Patrick said scientists used peer review “almost exclusively” to publicise findings. But he said researchers could still attract publicity “for highly questionable results even when they offered no evidence that their research had been checked”. This was evident earlier this year when the Raelian sect announced the births of human clones. The only proof the sect’s US-based company Clonaid produced to support its assertion was a photograph of one of the children alleged to have

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Cultural Relativism of Human Rights *

Aug 11th, 2003 | Filed by

‘What is usually defined as the culture of a people is in reality the interpretation and discourse put forth by the ruling class…’… Read the rest