All entries by this author

Pseudo-investigation *

Dec 18th, 2002 | Filed by

A show of journalistic digging without the reality lets the powerful off the hook.… Read the rest



Scientists Against Boycott *

Dec 17th, 2002 | Filed by

The universality of science is too important to give up lightly, four Oxford professors say.… Read the rest



Listen Up, Sir

Dec 16th, 2002 10:12 pm | By

SciTechDaily gives us an item from the archive today: Richard Dawkins explaining to the future king why scientific reason is a better way of thinking about issues than intuition. As he points out (and it seems so obvious one shouldn’t have to point it out), Hitler and Saddam Hussein and the Yorkshire Ripper had their intuitions too. John Stuart Mill made, mutatis mutandis, the same point in On Liberty a century and a half ago.

Dawkins also points out that nature is not necessarily admirable or something humans ought to imitate in all respects.

No wonder T.H. Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, founded his ethics on a repudiation of Darwinism. Not a repudiation of Darwinism as science, of course, for you cannot

Read the rest


Unprized *

Dec 16th, 2002 | Filed by

Historian de-prized after panel concludes he did “unprofessional and misleading work.”… Read the rest



Manipulation *

Dec 15th, 2002 | Filed by

The therapeutic and market world-views converge, when “personal well-being” is our only goal.… Read the rest



What Do You Mean, You Don’t Want Your Bones Back? *

Dec 15th, 2002 | Filed by

It’s not the indigenous peoples themselves who want their ancestors’ remains back, it’s caring academics who insist on returning them.… Read the rest



Argument by Fashion

Dec 15th, 2002 12:00 am | By

There is a review of Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate in the current American Scientist. It raises some reasonable objections to Pinker’s book, including a contradiction I have wondered about too: on the one hand Pinker rejects the “naturalistic fallacy” (also known as the fact-value distinction, or confusing “is” with “ought”), and on the other hand the whole book is an argument that a proper understanding of human nature undermines ideas about social engineering and utopian dreams. Fair enough. But then there comes a very odd paragraph.

At this point in the book I was increasingly struck by resonances with the intellectual conservatism of science warriors such as Paul Gross and Norman Levitt. Pinker’s standard lists of blank-slaters (exponents

Read the rest


The Persistence of Superstition *

Dec 14th, 2002 | Filed by

Magical thinking thrives when the other kind can’t perform miracles.… Read the rest



Secularism is Good *

Dec 14th, 2002 | Filed by

Hermione Lee admires Salman Rushdie’s chutzpah: extolling unbelief in a Sunday address in King’s College Chapel.… Read the rest



Identity What

Dec 13th, 2002 8:34 pm | By

There is an essay by Martin Jay in the current London Review of Books about “situatedness”, about speaking azza. Azza woman, azza Muslim, azza graduate, azza whatever. The subject is similar to that of Todd Gitlin’s Twilight of Common Dreams: the difficulties and limitations of what we like to call “identity”. As Jay points out, in reviewing David Simpson’s Situatedness: or Why We Keep Saying Where We’re Coming From, it is difficult to decide which bit of our identity is relevant to any given discussion.

How can we know, for example, whether it is more important that a person is a woman, a baby boomer, a heterosexual, Asian-American, a Catholic, a breast cancer survivor, upper-middle class, a college

Read the rest


Rawls and Nozick *

Dec 13th, 2002 | Filed by

It is instructive to consider the two opposing principles of equality and liberty taken to the extreme conclusions Nozick and Rawls did.… Read the rest



Truth in Advertising

Dec 12th, 2002 8:12 pm | By

Euphemism is a subject that keeps coming up on Butterflies and Wheels. That’s not very surprising, because much of what we’re talking about is education, writing, public debate. It’s all about language, and euphemism is a well-known and time-honoured way of trying to make one’s case by prettying up crucial facts. George Orwell was particularly good at pointing this out, but he was certainly neither the first nor the last. The tactic was the issue in three stories we linked to recently: the one about incitement to murder as free speech, the one about death threats as a personality quirk, and today, again, a commentary about about death threats as free speech or freedom of religion or piety.

Do we … Read the rest



Threat Envy *

Dec 12th, 2002 | Filed by

When piety equals incitement to murder, not to mention murder itself, there is nothing to negotiate.… Read the rest



How to Attract Corporate Interest *

Dec 11th, 2002 | Filed by

Issues of patenting and profit versus free exchange of knowledge surface in new stem cell research.… Read the rest



Troublesome DNA *

Dec 10th, 2002 | Filed by

Mormon scientist faces excommunication after DNA casts doubt on Mormon heredity story.… Read the rest



Situatedness and its Discontents *

Dec 10th, 2002 | Filed by

Are we doomed never to be able to see past our own situations?… Read the rest



Be Cool, Don’t Study *

Dec 9th, 2002 | Filed by

Report says social conformity among black students works against academic achievement and for confronting the teacher.… Read the rest



Alternative Medicine in a World of Science *

Dec 9th, 2002 | Filed by

Why do we heed “the songs of the New Age pied pipers whose melodies interweave quantum physics and the workings of the colon”?… Read the rest



Hawks, Doves, Dawks, Hoves *

Dec 8th, 2002 | Filed by

Containment, Kurds in jeeps, re-alignments, suspicion, fear, hope, revolution from above, Paine, Trotsky, Bosnia, Iraq…it’s all so complicated.… Read the rest



Different Personalities

Dec 7th, 2002 5:47 pm | By

Here is an interesting statement from a spokeswoman for Surrey local education authority quoted in yesterday’s Guardian:

“The schools are skilled in coping with pupils of all abilities and personalities and have excellent behaviour management practices.”

The context for this statement is the case of two boys who were expelled from Glyn Technology school for making death threats against a teacher, then reinstated by an independent appeals panel. The teachers at the school threatened to strike, Estelle Morris intervened to say the expulsion should stand, and the boys have now been placed at other schools, schools with the above-mentioned skills. It is interesting that a strike of teachers occurred this week at a school in France for precisely the … Read the rest