Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wanted: A Future for Philosophy

How goes it with the institution of philosophy? Consider the situation of “Jeremy,” a Ph.D. student in the graduate program at the University of North Texas. As a second-year student, he has a teaching fellowship. This means that in addition to taking nine credit hours of graduate coursework, he teaches two sections of “Contemporary Moral Issues” each semester. Each section has 45 students. Jeremy is responsible for the entirety of the class, just as any professor would be.

In 2014, for teaching…

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It Takes a Campus to Stop Assaults

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s investigations into the state of sexual-assault policies on the nation’s college campuses have revealed a system badly in need of reform. Many of us who work in this area have been arguing as much for decades—and we welcome the increased political attention to this topic that has been catalyzed, in part, by the courageous activism of sexual-assault survivors.

While reform is needed at multiple levels, I would like to provide some recent historical perspective and context …

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Lessons Learned From the Facebook Study

By now, anyone who is remotely interested knows that the Facebook data-science team, in collaboration with some researchers at Cornell University, recently published a paper reporting “experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.” If you’ve heard about this study, you probably also know that many people are upset about it. Even the journal that published it, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has issued an “editorial expression of concern

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Facebook Is Good for Science

Over the past two weeks, an important debate has taken place about the ethics of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by researchers at Facebook Data Science and Cornell University. In the study, researchers manipulated some parameters in news feeds to evaluate how the changes influenced readers’ moods as defined by their subsequent posts. While it is easy to get lost in the weeds of this debate, the controversy has raised significant questions about the role o…

The New Misogyny

When Elliot Rodger set out to kill what he described as “hot” sorority women, his actions set off a nationwide discussion about sexism. That Rodger had posted a YouTube video and an extensive manifesto stating his murderous intentions, and that he had frequented an online message board called PUAHate, where users employed extremely misogynistic language to rail against “pick-up artists,” focused attention on the possible role new media might play in facilitating sexist violence.

Feminists have a…

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Why Doubt Is a Scientific Virtue Worth Supporting

On May 28, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology passed the First Act. Among other things, the legislation would cut some $50-million in funds to the National Science Foundation for research in the social sciences.

Elected officials might have more than one reason to oppose NSF support for the social sciences.

First, social scientists study humans, and politicians govern humans. For that reason, the social sciences cannot avoid producing political claims. “We don’t like your stud…

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Life After Lab Closure

For the past six years, I’ve been watching myself die out.

Across three decades, I studied social organization in insects. Investigating how ant colonies went about their daily work, as well as how evolution shaped their societies, held me captive for most of my professional life. Then, six years ago, I closed my “ant lab” to devote my remaining academic years to gender issues in science and engineering. Moving into a completely different area of scholarship has been fun and exhilarating. Bu…

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Too Fat to Be a Scientist?

I have long dreamed of becoming a scientist, but now—just weeks after receiving my B.A. in biology from a prestigious university—I’ve decided to leave science behind. I am rejecting a career in science, or rather, science is rejecting me, because much like oil and water, being fat and being a scientist don’t mix.

The problem with being a fat scientist is that, as a scientist, I’m supposed to know better. Science is all about rules, laws, and logic that can be applied to even the most complicat…

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Why Joyce’s Syphilis Burns People Up

What weapon was used

To slay mighty Ulysses?

The weapon that was used

Was a Harvard thesis.

– Patrick Kavanagh, “Who Killed James Joyce?” (1951)

Kevin Birmingham’s new The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses is itself embattled, having caused a kerfuffle within the Joycean scholarly community. At issue is the author’s argument, taking up five of his 300-plus pages, that throughout the composition of Ulysses (and before, and after) Joyce was suffering from syphilis. The book…

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What the Head of Hiring at Google Doesn’t Understand About Skills

Try as I might, I just can’t seem to let it go.

When Laszlo Bock, of Google, tells the columnist Thomas Friedman, of The New York Times, that he would prefer to hire a computer-science student with B grades over an A-plus student who studies English, it doesn’t surprise me. Google is in the business of computing, after all.

But then I read Bock’s rationale, and that’s when I nearly lose a mouthful of Cheerios: Unlike English—and presumably other non-STEM fields—computer science “signals a rigor …