From Scientific Blogging: The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not

Full post here.

A brief response by our author to this NY Times Op-Ed piece:

“Graduate education in the humanities may have its problems, but don’t try to tar science with the same brush.”


“The humanities aren’t sciences, they don’t solve problems like sciences, and they shouldn’t try to be sciences.”

Is the public lens currently being focused on the problem in a way that does justice to neither the humanities nor the sciences?

On This Site:  From Bloggingheads: Shakespeare and The Second Law Of ThermodynamicsStanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,,Natalie Angier In The NY Times: Curriculum Designed To Unite Art And Science.

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From Savage Minds: More On The Lawsuit Against Jared Diamond

Full post here.

Addition:  Savage Minds also has a series of essays examining the situation, cross-published with  

Is there really an escape-hatch to “Western” thought, I wonder, or is everyone involved best served by a continued discussion of journalistic and anthropologic ethics and epistemology?

Diamond may have had a ‘factual collapse,’ as the lawsuit against him is for libel, but this post has a good overview of the many issues at play:

“Answerability is something that journalists have been struggling with longer than anthropologists and I think what they have to teach Diamond offers lessons we ourselves will have to learn in the future (if we haven’t already): get your facts straight, report them fairly, and let people know that you are doing so. It is not only the right thing to do, but in a world where ‘they read what we right’, your audience is also your informants.”

It’s a small, and perhaps now smaller, world.  The author also worries about a potential backlash against anthropology.   The comments are worth a read.

See the previous post on this site for links:  From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit  

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From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Full article here (links provided).

Thanks to a commenter for putting up this link.

I first read the article back when it came out in a print copy of the New Yorker, and never doubted the veracity of Diamond’s accounts, so much as his conclusions.  Now, apparently the subjects of his article have filed a lawsuit against him on those accounts:

 “In a new report, the four writers argue that Mr. Diamond botched the history of the conflict he described, and they say that his errors may have placed Mr. Wemp in danger.”

Unintended consequences.  However, there’s also this:

“For nearly a year, Mr. Diamond’s article has been scrutinized by Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the Art Science Research Laboratory, a multifaceted New York organization with a sideline in media criticismMs. Shearer, a sculptor and writer, is the widow of Stephen Jay Gould, who preceded Mr. Diamond as a widely esteemed public interpreter of science.”

Apparently, these gentleman had a little help.  Here’s to hoping that if they were used once to prove a point, they won’t be used twice.  

Jared Diamond: “Vengeance Is Ours” In The New Yorker


Please See The Comments And Also: This letter here which discusses, and disputes, the article paragraph by paragraph, “suggesting” that:

1.  Diamond and the New Yorker issue an apology for the publication insinuating the Handa clan as lawless, taught at an early age to hate, and commit heinous crimes without regard to law, order or morality.

2.  Withdraw from publication and circulation the article in all versions (digital, audio, etc).

3.  That Dr. Diamond consider the impact it would have on his professional reputation should he allow this factually untrue article to remain.

4.   That some form of compensation be considered for Daniel since he has left employment and is hiding in another part of the country for fear of his life.

What were Diamond’s obligations in writing the article, and did he meet them?

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From Bloggingheads: Shakespeare and The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

Full discussion here.

Literature and poetry are deep, and of obvious lasting importance.  Perhaps the current platform upon which great works are read in our universities is lacking…but I also wonder what the direct comparison of literature with the natural laws hopes to achieve?

An ancient debate.

See Also On This Site:  Hasn’t the study of literature already modeled itself on the natural sciences? How To Study Literature: M.H. Abrams In The Chronicle Of Higher Ed

What should a liberal education consist of anyways?:

From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’   Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’  A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

An example of where I think the NY Times went wrong: mixing race, current events, politics and literature in the same shallow pan.  Please let works of art be deeper than that:  From The NY Times: A Brief Interview On Toni Morrison’s New Novel.

-Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From Commonweal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Terry Eagleton “On Culture And Barbarism”

Full article here.

More On Eagleton here (wikipedia).

There’s pretty deep insight in the article, but you have to sift it out:

“Postmodernism is more perceptive about lifestyles than it is about material interests-better on identity than oil. As such it has an ironic affinity with radical Islam, which also holds that what is ultimately at stake are beliefs and values.”

If he means that both are on shaky epistemological ground, then I agree.

“Part of what has happened in our time is that God has shifted over from the side of civilization to the side of barbarism”

Perhaps, but maybe only if you envision the following:

“Tragic humanism, whether in its socialist, Christian, or psychoanalytic varieties, holds that only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own. There are no guarantees that such a transfigured future will ever be born. But it might arrive a little earlier if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals got out of its way”

I guess if you’re dealing in guarantees on transfigured futures (on a Marxist platform) the best you can do is try and update your “beliefs and values…” as well.

Isn’t good literature deeper than leftist and rightist analysis?

Addition:  If the British left, and Eagleton as somewhat representative of it, can’t sanely recognize that part of the problem is the way that Muslims seek a religious kingdom here on earth, and that there can’t be reasonable discussion of this, then…see here, where Roger Scruton suggests a return to religious virtue: From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”

See Also:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

From Slate: Jack Shafer On The Pulitzer Prize-Who Cares?

Full post here.

Clearly prizes reward merit, but Shafer is highly skeptical of the Pulitzer.  He argues the process needs to be less insular and largely irrelevant to the public:

“There’s no real science or even fairness behind the picking of winners and losers, with the prizes handed out according to a formula composed of one part log-rolling, two parts merit, three parts “we owe him one,” and four parts random distribution.”

Yes, but these are journalists…you can’t expect them to be “scientists.”  You can expect them to be more responsive to the public though, while taking stock of their accomplishments and giving out prizes amongst themselves:

“One way to make the Pulitzers Page One-worthy would be to transform them into an honest annual inventory of journalism…”

“…I’d give awards to the Worst Editorial Page, the Most Compromised Local Paper, the Most Predictable Critic, and the Most Tractable White House Reporter.”


See Also:  From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Via Sound Politics: Why Did The PI Die?… Who Reads The Newspapers?

Classic Yellow Journalism by malik2moon

Remember The Maine!  by malik2moon

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From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

Full interview here.

I just wanted to focus on an interesting problem:

“Nigel: Has relativism had its day as an influential philosophical position?

Simon: No – and I don’t think it should ever die. The danger is that it gets replaced by some kind of complacent dogmatism, which is at least equally unhealthy. The Greek sceptics thought that confronting a plurality of perspectives is the beginning of wisdom, and I think they were right. It is certainly the beginning of historiography and anthropology, and if we think, for instance, of the Copernican revolution, of self-conscious science. The trick is to benefit from an imaginative awareness of diversity, without falling into a kind of “anything goes” wishy-washy nihilism or scepticism….”

It looks like we’ve been dealing with such a problem for a long time, in one form or another.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People  

On the other side: Martha Nusbaum defines the problem in a manner similar to Blackburn…will her vision of Classical Learning suffice?:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’ …Is Amartya Sen on a Nussbaumian type of platform, or have I read him wrong?:  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis

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Some Differences Between Newton And Goethe: Theories Of Light

“My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments…”

Sir Isaac Newton, Opticks.

Here’s a brief visual (scroll to the bottom of the page) of 2 of his experiments.  

From A Wolfram biography of Newton:

“Newton invented a scientific method which was truly universal in its scope. Newton presented his methodology as a set of four rules for scientific reasoning. These rules were stated in the Principia and proposed that (1) we are to admit no more causes of natural things such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances, (2) the same natural effects must be assigned to the same causes, (3) qualities of bodies are to be esteemed as universal, and (4) propositions deduced from observation of phenomena should be viewed as accurate until other phenomena contradict them.”

An artist can transport you to a vast imaginative world of profound insight and profound truth.  Anyone who’s experienced great art can attest to that.  Yet, part of the rigor of science is in its painstaking correspondence to observable phenomenae, to measurement (and a capacity for nimble and accurate estimation), and to a set of laws often derived from mathematics which as far as we know, have not yet been proven wrong when applied to nature.

Many artists seem to take much freer license with their imaginations, and despite their own rigors which are rarely appreciated by the audience, seem to differ in many important ways from such a standard.

——————–Here’s a repost I put up about Goethe:

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is perhaps Germany’s greatest poet and writer, best known for Faust.  Not so well known is Goethe’s theory of color (which claimed insights that could refute Newton).  Like many artists, Goethe isolated the effect color has in terms of experience, making profound observations on refraction…for example…but for which he didn’t have a workable theoretical framework.  To this, a certain type of philosopher might say:  he ignored the fact that his thoughts and his senses combine to form experience.  

Goethe from Steiner, from wikipedia:

The colours therefore, to begin with, make their appearance purely and simply as phenomena at the border between light and dark…”

Colours arise at the borders, where light and dark flow together.

Click here for a visual representation.

Goethe seems to have thought of light and dark in terms of a metaphysical dualism, from whose interaction color is born. 

Newton held that white light passing through a prism is diffused into its various wavelengths.  He also may have steered the discussion into wave-particle duality.

See Also: Wikipedia’s article, Physics Today article on his experiments, Goethe’s color triangle.

It seems like this debate (art/science) is a product of the times.  I don’t think I’ve offered too much in the way of real insight.

See Also:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’


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Sandra Tsing Loh In The Atlantic: Class Dismissed

Full article here.

Another class analysis, but at least it’s done with humor and wit, not with the suffocating urgency that some the excessive egalitarians bring to the table (the super-rich are too isolated…tax them into submission!). Even, of course, as excesses of the egalitarians may have helped make it so.  This too, of course, is if all this is a proper analysis.

Tsing Loh uses the recession as a vehicle to critique the presumptions of Generation X, and what Richard Florida has termed the “creative class.” 

“This economic catastrophe is teaching the Xers that their prized self- expression and their embrace of personal choice leads to … the collapse of capitalism.”


“The age of narcissistic creative-class strivers has brought this country cool new neighborhoods and an infinitely better selection of coffees and greens, but it has also brought shameful social stratification and a consumer binge that our children’s children may well be paying off”

That seems a little harsh…it’s not as if anyone is solely responsible for the economic mess either.  I think she’s after narcissism and destructive individualism.

See Also On This Site:  Sandra Tsing Loh On Feminism In The Atlantic: “I Choose My Choice, I Choose My Choice”From The Atlantic: Richard Florida’s ‘How The Crash Will Reshape America’Revisiting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

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From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”

Full article here.

“Wherever the Western vision of political order has gained a foothold, we find freedom of expression: not merely the freedom to disagree with others publicly about matters of faith and morality but also the freedom to satirize solemnity and to ridicule nonsense, including solemnity and nonsense of the sacred kind.”

Scruton argues that here in the West, such freedom is maintained by secular government and the rule of law.  Both have created a platform of economic opportunity and personal freedom found attractive to people around the globe in the form of citizenship.  Citizenship is a contract of consent that carries many duties and responsibilities…and is kind of a grim business full of moral sacrifice (after Kant).  It also can not meet the demands that either religious nor secular idealism demand of it (from the Muslim Brotherhood to communists):

“What is needed is not to reject citizenship as the foundation of social order but to provide it with a heart. And in seeking that heart, we should turn away from the apologetic multiculturalism that has had such a ruinous effect on Western self-confidence and return to the gifts that we have received from our Judeo-Christian tradition.”

I think he’s correct in pointing out the excesses of multiculturalism and extreme egalitarianism (probably at a higher watermark in Britain right now), but in doing so, his solution seems to be to return to the virtues of Christianity, virtues which he suggests Islam does not possess:

“The Koran, unlike the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, is a joke-free zone.”

Is it a false choice to have to choose a return to our civilization’s roots in Christian virtue against an Islam that has no such roots?

Scruton offers a deep analysis of the situation:

“There is nothing we can offer the Islamists that will enable them to say that they have achieved their goal. If they succeeded in destroying a Western city with a nuclear bomb, or a whole population with a deadly virus, they would regard it as a triumph, even though it conferred no material, political, or religious benefit whatsoever.”

and the threat of attack:

“…comes from individuals undergoing a traumatic experience that we do not fully understand—the experience of a déraciné Muslim confronting the modern world, and without the benefit of the two gifts of forgiveness and irony.”

Through the pursuit and defense of our Christian virtues (underlying our secular government and rule of law) we must use force if necessary against the radical muslims defending (get the infidel out of Arabia, attack them in any way necessary) theirs?

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