Friday, May 29, 2015

Learn Arabic

In case you could not think of enough good reasons to learn Arabic, here are some more.

Actually the decline in emphasis on foreign language learning in higher education over the last decade has been alarming.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Bad Month for the Boy Scouts

First there was Stephen Cranney noting how the Church's treatment of boys and girls was unequal because of the scouting organization.

Then there was the Boys Scouts of America (BSA) banning squirt guns and water balloons bigger than a ping-pong ball, which got them compared to a nanny state.

Then the President of the Boy Scouts of America announced that they will probably allow homosexual leaders soon.

None of this is good publicity for the BSA.

By the way, the new Cub Scout program launches at the end of the month with some interesting implications. The BSA would not let leaders look at the specifics of the new program until the beginning of this month. There are a number of unpleasant surprises buried in the manuals. These will likely not make the headlines.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Faking It

This news report covers another instance of an individual faking data in a widely-publicized study designed to advance a particular narrative. The lead author on the study, Columbia University Political Scientist Donald Green, has done the honorable thing upon finding that his co-author faked his data, and retracted the study. A full report can be found at Retraction Watch.

The upshot is that the individual who allegedly faked the data, Michael LaCour, has allegedly been hired as "an Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Politics at Princeton University."

The anthropologist Jonathan Marks makes some apposite remarks:
Incompetence is not a defense, and the end does not justify the means. . . . After all, once you have established that your colleague's work is not reliable, it really doesn't matter why. If some scientists don't do good research, it is difficult to maintain that they should nevertheless still be employed and receiving grants, much less that you want to continue collaborating with them!

The problem with the "incompetence defense," then, is that it implicitly raises a question about the rest of their work and about your own judgment in standing by incompetent work. To say someone is a sloppy researcher whose work is riddled with mistakes is not a compliment, and it immediately raises the questions of why you are associated with such a person, how competent the rest of their research has been, and why they should remain at work. I can think of no other profession in which that would be tolerated.

(Jonathan Marks, Why I am Not a Scientist (Berkeley: University of Californian Press, 2009), 189.)
Kudos to Professor Green for doing the right thing and to UC Berkeley graduate students, David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, and Yale professor, Peter Aronow, for bringing this fraudulence to light. As Marks notes: "it is not in anyone's interests to find fraud, and they will go to odd lengths to avoid it." (ibid.)

[Update: Apparently Michael LaCour made up information on his CV including funding sources, and awards. Here, is an interview with Donald Green about the whole affair. Green's comments about the role of faith in scholarship are worth quoting:
On the one hand, there’s obviously the potential for abuse in that sort of situation. On the other hand, in any professional settings, if we didn’t have certain baseline assumptions that our colleagues are acting honestly, or not making stuff, everything would grind to a halt. There’s no way to not have some degree of trust baked into the research process, right?

I agree. I think that one wants to be skeptical and build in checks, but without some degree of trust one would have to build in so many checks and so much redundancy into the system that nothing would be feasible except at very high cost. So there’s a cost of ratcheting up the level of mistrust.
Scholarship rests on a certain amount of faith in the trustworthiness of your colleagues.]

Monday, May 11, 2015

What Mothers Do

Mother's Day was yesterday, and although I was going to post this yesterday, I simply have not had time to get it written.

Ancient literature tends not to mention much about some facets of daily life, like what women do. Occasionally, one finds references to it scattered about in treatments of other things. This is a mother's description of motherhood in the middle of a war narrative:
υἱέ ἐλέησόν με τὴν ἐν γαστρὶ περιενέγκασάν σε μῆνας ἐννέα καὶ θηλάσασάν σε ἔτη τρία καὶ ἐκθρέψασάν σε καὶ ἀγαγοῦσαν εἰς τὴν ἡλικίαν ταύτην

Son, have mercy on me, who bore you in the womb for nine months, and nursed you for three years, and raised you, and brought you to this age (2 Maccabees 7:27)
It appears that motherhood was a lot of work back then too.