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Weekend Reading: Enough Stones Edition

Three stones

While it’s often the case that I’ll read an article in Victorian Studies or Nineteenth-Century Literature and think, *man*, I wish I wrote that, I don’t often have disciplinary envy. Until, that is, I learned about Philippe Charlier, et al.’s recent British Medical Journal article on “Toilet Hygiene in the Classical Era.” As glossed by Steve Mirsky, the article surveys wiping methods from antiquity, from snow to seashells to rocks, which yields a most excellent saying: “Three stones are enough to wipe.” Practical knowledge!

(I’ll grant that it’s a weird article, but it’s been a weird week.)

On to this week’s links!

  • I almost always agree with Audrey Watters about most things, and her recent takedown of education-themed TED talks is no exception: And let’s be clear here: this is a calculated view and one perfectly crafted for the intellectually impeccable TED stage, one that situates education institutions as attacked by the Internet, rather than as the co-creators of it; one that posits professors as necessarily resistors to change, rather than agents of innovation.

    And framed as such, this signals a massive opportunity —a wink and a nod to those investors in the audience — for the tech entrepreneur.

  • Jeremy Yoder explores “Bully-land”, as he reviews Emily Bazelon’s terrific new book, Sticks and Stones: That is, to borrow a thought from Tony Kushner, it is conceivable that some future American society might treat queer young people just the same as it treats straight young people—and still allow all its young people to bully and be bullied, as part of the “normal” cost of growing up.
  • Britt Koskella’s account of why she started studying evolution is also a powerful reminder of the importance of lab work for undergrads: During one of our modules (or “labs” as I called them before becoming a Brit), Janis had each of us sample and test our own gut flora for antibiotic resistance. I won’t go into the details of how we did this (it is kind of gross), but instead explain why. (Via Nothing in Biology Makes Sense.
  • Terry McGlynn explains why having an “elevator pitch” for your research can might be considered harmful: If you’re doing basic research to explain how the world works, doing research that fits the model elevator pitch can be a trap. I suggest that the biggest discoveries happen when scientists go out of the prescribed lines of their elevator pitch and do something different. I do suppose if you’re funding a big lab, this approach makes it harder to keep the money train rolling.
  • Vaughan Bell details the emergence of a folk neuroscience: Politicians have also been keen to use talk of the brain to support their ideas. During the past year, references to neuroscience were used in the House of Commons to argue for a range of social reforms from early intervention with problem families to the regulation of entertainment. Chris Ruane MP argued that unemployment was a problem as it has “physical effects on the brain”. As everything has a physical effect on the brain we are left none the wiser but it is interesting that not having a job was not considered problem enough. It’s not that neuroscience isn’t relevant to these concerns, but just that it has gained such rhetorical power that explaining your concerns in terms of fairness, success, pain or poverty no longer seems sufficient.
  • In this week’s video, Cal Newport explains that the point to success isn’t “following your passion,” but rather being So Good They Can’t Ignore You:

    Bonus: Chimpanzees “retiring” into nature after a lifetime in research cages. It’s a little dusty in here.

    Also: Daft Swanson.

    Photo “Three bases” by Flickr user Jinx! / Creative Commons licensed BY-SA-2.0

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