Category Archives: Uncategorized


What Data Can’t Convey

Several years ago, when passing the house where my father grew up, I noted an odd distinction. Dad, it seemed, had been more familiar with the families that had lived on his street in Cincinnati than I had grown to be, a generation later, with those who lived near our house outside Buffalo. Friendly neighbors had animated his childhood in ways in which they were entirely absent from mine.

I might have left it at that. In the course of our day-to-day lives, we all have a tendency to note little t…


Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?

I recently received an email from a “consultant” inviting me to help a publisher create an automatic essay-grading technology product for humanities professors to use in introductory-level courses. The consultant claimed that once completed, the program would “accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments – 500 to 900 words.” The program, the email said, “uses specific writing prompts and rubrics to achieve computer grading accuracy.”

And how will these impressive results be achieved, you ask?…


Public Intellectuals? LOL.

It’s not every day that you are carded and then tagged with a neon green bracelet so that you can listen to an eminent scientist explain evolutionary genetics. I took advantage of the fact that Oberon Theater (the second stage of Harvard’s American Repertory Theater) has a bar and ordered myself an Oberon (gin, St. Germain, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice) before taking my seat to watch “You’re the Expert,” a podcast and WBUR radio show recorded in front of a live audience.

When I first heard …


What We Talk About When We Talk About Sending Our Kids to the Ivies

For those of us who teach, work, and study in universities–especially those who, unlike me, find themselves within Ivy League institutions—no topic has aroused more passion recently than William Deresiewicz’s New Republic article, “Don’t Send Your Kids To the Ivy League.” If one can look past the article’s click-bait headline, one discovers that the substance of the piece deals with a number of weighty issues in American life: the dramatic increase in income inequality; the slow and painful de…


Get Politics Out of the Common Core

There can be no significant reform of higher education without a major overhaul of primary education and extensive changes in secondary education. One of the reasons students are graduating without being prepared to compete in today’s workplace is that far too many arrive at college without the knowledge and background to do college-level work. They have to spend their time catching up rather than taking the courses they need for their degree programs.

That poses significant challenges and creat…

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…


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 …


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


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…