Archive for September, 2010

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Odenbaugh and Jamieson

September 30, 2010

Jay Odenbaugh and Dale Jamieson discuss climate change and ethics on teh philosophy teevee. Worth your time:

In this conversation, Jamieson and Odenbaugh discuss how climate change raises novel philosophical concerns and underscores traditional ones.  Climate change, they explain, poses a challenge for both consequentialism and its alternatives, and brings out questions about our obligations to future generations and about the moral status of non-humans. Further, the public controversy over climate science involves questions about the epistemology of testimony, the value-neutrality of science, and action under uncertainty.

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Looking Back

September 26, 2010

Kwame Appiah has a very nice and provocative article in the Washington Post today. He asks what future generations will condemn us for. His conclusions? Prisons, Industrial Meat Production, the Institutionalized and the Elderly, and the Environment. He doesn’t say much about these issues, but it’s provocative nevertheless.

Condemnation may not be the appropriate term. Perhaps disapprobation is better. The idea, of course, is that we can gain some insight into the moral permissiveness of our actions simply by reflecting on the things for which we might be held accountable in the future.

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The Climate for Beer

September 21, 2010

It has come to my attention that “the world’s most highly cited ecologists and environmental scientists typically consume more than double the amount imbibed by the general population.”

Come again? That’s a pretty startling finding, if true.

The results reveal that consumption for this group averages around 7 alcoholic beverages per week, about 2.5 drinks over the weekly consumption of the average American. Though a fifth of the group does not drink, more than half consume 10 or more alcoholic beverages a week, 20% consume 12 or more and 10% consumer 21 or more. The largest consumer downed 31 per week.

I suppose there are several reasons why this might be so. For one, it might just be the case that these dudes get out of the house more often than the average couch potato. Better to get work done over beer than to get it done over Dexter.

For another, it could also be the case that these folks have a far better sense than the average joe of what’s worth a person’s time. Beer is definitely worth a person’s time, but I wouldn’t expect uneducated corn eaters to know this. They likely spend their weekends soberly watching Nascar and going to church.

For a third, it’s conceivable that these environmental scientists just live in really fancy places, like Colorado and California, where beer flows like water and microbreweries spring up like mushrooms.

Just a guess, of course.

Here’s the abstract of the article:

In science, a relatively small pool of researchers garners a disproportionally large number of citations. Still, very little is known about the social characteristics of highly cited scientists. This is unfortunate as these researchers wield a disproportional impact on their fields, and the study of highly cited scientists can enhance our understanding of the conditions which foster highly cited work, the systematic social inequalities which exist in science, and scientific careers more generally. This study provides information on this understudied subject by examining the social characteristics and opinions of the 0.1% most cited environmental scientists and ecologists. Overall, the social characteristics of these researchers tend to reflect broader patterns of inequality in the global scientific community. However, while the social characteristics of these researchers mirror those of other scientific elites in important ways, they differ in others, revealing findings which are both novel and surprising, perhaps indicating multiple pathways to becoming highly cited.

And here’s the relevant passage:

Our findings regarding alcohol consumption are surprising. Though a fifth of the groupdoes not drink, most drink more than Americans do generally. Furthermore, greater than54% consume 10 or more alcoholic beverages a week, 20% consume 12 or more drinks perweek, and 10% consume 21 or more drinks per week. Though national differences indrinking habits make direct comparisons between these groups difficult, the fact that oursample is both much more productive and much more highly cited, and drinks three timesmore alcohol than the less productive, less frequently cited group used in Grim’s comparison(i.e. Moravians) does give rise to pause, suggesting the need for more and betterinformation before a firm link between alcohol consumption and scientific accomplishmentcan be established. Certainly much more attention needs to be paid to possible intermittingvariables which may make this relationship appear stronger than it is in fact, particularlygiven evidence indicating the opposite relationship between beer consumption, scientificproductivity, and scientific quality at national levels (Lortie 2009).
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Wenn hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen…

September 20, 2010

Oh how I love the comments to this article by Jeff McMahan, an accomplished and well-respected ethicist at Rutgers. They remind me so how not atypical my undergraduates are. (Say what? Yes, you read that correctly.) Here are some gems. Maybe on Monday I’ll actually address the content of the article:

Joe: “this is incredibly flawed, the world of animals and all organisms are only able to survive because of such brutal competition, if there was nothing to fight for, what would it be worth?”

The other guy: “I came away with the same feeling as when I first read Zeno’s “dichotomy paradox” in college, That is, “What was he smoking?” That was also the time in my sophomore year where I swore the stuff off.”

Erika: “The argument you present is offensive.”

Socrates: “Horrifying article.”

into the fire: “Unbelievable, but alas not surprising, that this could be written by someone paid to profess at Rutgers or Princeton.”

Peter: “Mr. McMahan is right to expect to be vilified when intelligent people see his article. It is the height of ignorance.”

Vance: “The amount of large words does not counter the fact that these arguments are from a child’s mind.”

Linda: “This is an astounding example of ivory tower thinking that is totally out of touch with the real world.”

They go on, dear readers! I’m only on page two. Love, love the comments. So wonderful.

Philosophers are crrr-azy!

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Guts

September 19, 2010

Here’s a fun little post that more or less yanks the guts out of Mark C. Taylor, the self-aggrandizing Columbia professor now pushing the line against all things holy in academia:

Mark C. Taylor’s unbelievably misguided book provides an almost textbook example. In April, 2009, he published an incendiary New York Times op-ed entitled “End the University as We Know It,” which denounced graduate education as the “Detroit of higher learning,” demanded the abolition of tenure, and called for the replacement of traditional academic departments by flexible, short-lived “problem-focused programs.” Widely criticized (by me, too, in this magazine), the piece stayed at the top of the Times’s “most e-mailed” list for a cyber-eternity of four days. Enter Alfred A. Knopf.

Just sixteen months later, the book is here, and the signs of the syndrome are all too evident. Taylor, the chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia, has enveloped his original argument in an overblown, cliché-ridden theoretical framework about the on-going shift from a “world of walls and grids” to a “world of networks.” The globe, Taylor declares, with a certain lack of originality, has become “more interconnected.” “Global financial capitalism” is replacing “industrial and consumer capitalism.” And “as cross-cultural communication grows, it transforms old assumptions and ideas.” Recounting a lengthy anecdote about a course he taught partly via video conferencing, Taylor remarks, “That was the Aha! moment in which I knew the world had changed.” (The world is flat!) Abandoning his earlier facile comparison of higher education to the auto industry, Taylor now likens it with equal facility to the financial sector, and speaks in doom-laden tones of the “education bubble.”

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Enlightenment Lecture

September 17, 2010

Here’s some weekend video for you. Enjoy!

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Information Wants to be Free

September 17, 2010

Philosopher Peter Ludlow (Northwestern) offers this nice analysis of the WikiLeaks phenomenon:

WikiLeaks is not the one-off creation of a solitary genius; it is the product of decades of collaborative work by people engaged in applying computer hacking to political causes, in particular, to the principle that information-hoarding is evil—and, as Stewart Brand said in 1984, “Information wants to be free.” Today there is a broad spectrum of people engaged in this cause, so that were Assange to be eliminated today, WikiLeaks would doubtless continue, and even if WikiLeaks were somehow to be eliminated, new sites would emerge to replace it.

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