All entries by this author

Universities and Egalitarianism *

Nov 28th, 2002 | Filed by

Arnold and Huxley, Leavis and Snow, dustmen and doctors, prostitution and debt, tuition or taxation, all part of the argument.… Read the rest

Impostor Syndrome and Banal Jokes *

Nov 28th, 2002 | Filed by

Susan Greenfield discusses women in science.… Read the rest

Oh So That’s What Truth Is! *

Nov 27th, 2002 | Filed by

“We will defend it because it is truth, and you can’t deny truth.” Thus spake the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court of his monument to the Ten Commandments.… Read the rest

Where is the Outrage? *

Nov 27th, 2002 | Filed by

Salman Rushdie ponders all the new ‘Rushdies’ that are springing up around the world.… Read the rest

The Group

Nov 26th, 2002 6:02 pm | By

Malcolm Gladwell, in whimsical vein, writes in The New Yorker about the non-obvious connection between comedy-writing teams and groups that stimulate and encourage the creation of philosophy, psychoanalysis, art, ideas. He takes off from a book about the people who created the American tv show ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and then brings in Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men, about the group of thinkers and inventors around Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestley in late 18th century Birmingham. Gladwell points out that one feature of group dynamics is that friends can encourage and provoke each other to take more extreme positions than they would on their own, and that this is generally considered a bad thing. “But at times this quality turns … Read the rest

‘Philosophical laughing’ *

Nov 26th, 2002 | Filed by

Groups can encourage people to take extreme positions, whence innovation is born.… Read the rest

Nussbaum on Rawls *

Nov 26th, 2002 | Filed by

Martha Nussbaum on John Rawls’ much-needed correction of Utilitarian-economist versions of morality.… Read the rest

‘Tell that to the Buddha’ *

Nov 25th, 2002 | Filed by

David Lodge’s book on consciousness and fiction is too accomodating to cultural relativists who say the self is a peculiar Western invention, but interesting anyway.… Read the rest

Popular History and its Enemies *

Nov 24th, 2002 | Filed by

Is the problem that the work is over-simplified, or that it’s commercially succesful? Orlando Figes is not the first to wonder.… Read the rest

Another Disputed Tenure Decision *

Nov 24th, 2002 | Filed by

As so often in these cases, opinions differ on whether there are legitimate reasons or only political ones for a denial of tenure.… Read the rest

Death Sentence for Heresy *

Nov 24th, 2002 | Filed by

A historian reports on the death sentence for a colleague in Iran who dared to call for an end to blind obedience from the laity.… Read the rest

Deference and its Discontents

Nov 23rd, 2002 3:00 pm | By

There are many tributaries that flow into the river of hostility to science, and some of them are ideas and thoughts that, used well, have much to recommend them. Used badly, they are another matter. Good ideas misapplied can turn silly in a heartbeat.

There is for instance the matter of deference. There is a bumper sticker/T shirt slogan in the US: ‘Question Authority’. Of course it’s obvious if you think about it for one second that that idea can cut both ways. To get it right the slogan would have to use qualifying language that would ruin it as a slogan. ‘Question authority but also bear in mind that authority may well know more than you do and knowing … Read the rest

Grammar for Language Teachers *

Nov 23rd, 2002 | Filed by

It is difficult to teach a language without learning it first.… Read the rest

Advertisers Influence Drug Research *

Nov 23rd, 2002 | Filed by

Ad agencies own companies that ghostwrite articles for medical journals.… Read the rest

What of Step-dogs and Step-sofas? *

Nov 22nd, 2002 | Filed by

Simon Blackburn says Steven Pinker omits too much middle ground in The Blank Slate.… Read the rest

Free speech at Harvard

Nov 21st, 2002 7:59 pm | By

Two stories about Harvard in the Boston Globe in the last two days raise a lot of interesting if intractable questions. The first tells of a plan for a Law School committee “to draft a speech code that would ban harassing, offensive language from the classroom.” It is interesting that “another professor’s comment that feminism, Marxism, and black studies have ‘contributed nothing’ to tort law” is included by the reporter in a list of “racial incidents.” Is that comment, that opinion, really a racial incident? By what definition? But perhaps even more unnerving is the name of the new group: the Committee on Healthy Diversity. Oh dear. What sanely skeptical adult does not want to pack a bag and light … Read the rest

Speech Code for Harvard Law *

Nov 21st, 2002 | Filed by

Is it diversity or is it self-serving special pleading, Dershowitz asks.… Read the rest

Yes I mean No I mean Yes *

Nov 21st, 2002 | Filed by

Harvard invites then uninvites then ununinvites poet Tom Paulin to lecture.… Read the rest

‘Our genes are even stupider than we are.’ *

Nov 21st, 2002 | Filed by

Louis Menand is not keen on The Blank SlateRead the rest

Fact and Fiction

Nov 20th, 2002 5:42 pm | By

A remarkably rich essay by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian is full of matter relevant to the concerns of Butterflies and Wheels. His subject is the difficulty and subtlety of distinguishing between fiction and fact, what he calls the border between the two, and the necessity nonetheless of making the distinction, of continuing to patrol that border, and resisting any postmodernist temptation to shrug and say it’s all the same thing. Garton Ash mentions Simon Schama’s Dead Certainties, a fictional account that presented itself as a history until the end. “Schama suggests that history as storytelling, as literature, must reclaim the ground it has lost to history as science, or pseudoscience. I entirely agree; but from this particular … Read the rest