Lost Time

by Henry on July 18, 2017

Some months ago, I started listening to audiobooks while walking the dog. By and large, they’ve been serious audiobooks, because these days when I get to read fiction, it’s late at night, and I’m too tired to read anything that’s too demanding. Hence my need to assuage my guilt, and hence the reason I’ve been listening to Marcel Proust. [click to continue…]


What Sharks Are Left To Jump?

by John Holbo on July 17, 2017

On the one hand, we on the left are relieved that so much of the Trump administration so far has been reality TV-worthy bluster rather than something even worse. (This is not to deny that the Trump administration has accomplished some bad things, besides trolling us.) On the other hand, the bluster itself is sure to get worse and worse because that’s the nature of the media game. To keep everyone’s attention Trump needs to keep outraging expectations, so there’s a ratchet. Where does he have left to go? He can’t keep tweeting ’fake news!’ for four years (assuming he does stick around that long.) That wouldn’t be real news. Then what?


Morality Tale

by John Holbo on July 17, 2017

Hey, look! I published a short sf story.


Wait, so what is this science-a-thon thing?

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

I’m nine hours into posting for science-a-thon and someone (thanks, DT!) finally asked me to clarify what the fundraising is for. I didn’t realize that accessing Tracey Holloway’s description of Science-a-thon—which is what I used for explanation—requires a LinkedIn login so I’ll copy her note here:

From Tracey Holloway:

Hi All –
You’ve probably heard about the study that over 80% of American’s can’t accurately name a living scientist—and my guess is that the numbers are similar when asking “what do scientists actually do?” Of course, we do lots of things – work in labs, go out in the field, teach classes, program computers – but the public doesn’t get to see this.

As a large-scale public outreach initiative, and the first major fundraiser for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN), we’re launching Science-A-Thon. … an international “day of science” where participants share 12 photos over 12 hours of their day. From morning coffee through the ups and downs of a day in the life of a scientists (any scientist, any field of STEM, students, professionals – all are welcome).

We already have 100 scientists signed on – lots of earth scientists of course, but also cancer biologists, computer scientists, and more. Men and women, from 10 different countries so far. We’d love to have you! Just go to scienceathon.org/how to sign up. (And you’ll get a great “I love science” t-shirt)

If you’re not up for showcasing your own day, you can support ESWN and Science-A-Thon by sponsoring your favorite scientists (like me!)

Even if you’re not interested in donating to the cause, I highly recommend checking out the #scienceathon hashtag on Twitter as it’s a great way to get a sense of what a scientist’s day looks like. You can see my own Twitter photos here or on Facebook if that’s your preference. Or simply as updates to my earlier CT post today. Actually, I’ll make it easy and am copying the material to the bottom of this post.

Thanks to those who have contributed, I much appreciate it! Perhaps now that the goal is clearer, others will join in. You can donate here, any amount appreciated.

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How to Think about Digital Research

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As part of #scienceathon, I want to give some context to my work. My PhD is in sociology, but I work in a communication department (for 13 years I was at Northwestern University in the Department of Communication Studies, for the past year I have been at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich). In 2002, when I was on the job market, colleagues in communication seemed much more interested in my work than sociologists so I decided to pursue that route. Of course, some sociologists were very supportive, including my wonderful advisor, but others seemed to see any study of the Internet as a joke. I still remember an interaction in 2008 (!) where a well-known and very established sociologist introduced me to her sociologist colleague using very kind words to describe my work only to have said colleague laugh as though the introduction was meant as a joke since how could a sociologist possibly take the Internet seriously? A few awkward moments followed, but I wasn’t new to it (although a bit surprised for it to continue happening). In any case, I’ve very much enjoyed being in this line of work. But skepticism likely still exists. Although addressing the skeptics wasn’t really our goal, the introductory chapter [pdf] my co-editor Christian Sandvig and I wrote to our edited book Digital Research Confidential can serve as some guidance to such people as well. In it, we discuss the Internet as instrument and the Internet as object of study. We thought it was a helpful intro to the ten chapters that follow describing the behind-the-scenes details of how empirical social science about studying behavior online gets done. I thought it fitting to post about it as part of Science-a-thon since this day is about how researchers work and that entire volume is about the messy reality of everyday research endeavors as compared to the polished versions we see in published accounts.

You can contribute to Science-a-thon here.

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It’s Science-a-thon!

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2017

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am participating in Science-a-thon today, which has two goals: show the world what the day in the life of a researcher looks like and raise money for science. I will be posting twelve images as updates to this post throughout the day. (I won’t overwhelm the feed by making each image a new post.) I will also be writing about issues related to doing research. My first image is of the main University of Zurich building that I passed with the tram this morning on my way to my office. (For those who’ve been reading CT for a while, yes, this is a change, I moved institutions and countries last year.) If you’d like to support science-a-thon, you can do so here: http://bit.ly/scienceathon. I’m 23% toward my goal of raising $1,000 as of this morning.

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I got into a bit of a twitter fight with the always interesting Branko Milanovic yesterday. It was a second-hand fight, because he’d already been involved in one with Kate Raworth and had blogged about that. What was interesting to me was how Milanovic believed some things to be not only true, but obviously true, which I thought not just false but obviously false.

Milanovic’s claim is that limitless economic growth is both necessary and desirable in today’s societies. In fact, he puts the claim in the negative:

De-emphasizing growth is not desirable, and perhaps more importantly, is utterly unrealizable in societies like our modern societies.

He may be right or wrong about that. If such growth implies increased consumption of resources, then that’s a pretty bleak prospect for anyone who believes in ecological limits, worries about heat death from climate change and the like.

Still, more interesting to me was his reasoning:

the really important counter-argument to Kate is that her proposal fails to acknowledge the nature of today’s capitalist economies. They are built on two “fundaments”: (a) at the individual level, greed and the insatiable desire for more, and (b) on the collective level, competition as a means to achieve more. These are not necessarily most attractive ethical characteristics for either individuals or collectives but they are indispensable for capitalism to function—they provide the engine that pushes it ever further. … This extreme commodification is obviously linked with insatiability of our needs and by our desire to climb up in hierarchical rankings. Since today’s uber-capitalism accepts only one ranking criterion, money (and since all other possible ranking criteria can be, through commodification, converted into the money-metric), the desire for higher societal rank is almost entirely identified with the desire for higher income. And if everybody wants to have higher income, how can we then argue they our society should cease to place a premium on economic growth …. ? [click to continue…]


Heterodoxy Contra Holbo

by John Holbo on July 12, 2017

Some months back I wrote a series of three posts critiquing Jonathan Haidt and, by extension, some stuff at Heterodox Academy (part 1, part 2, part 3). After that I traded a few emails with one Preston Stovall, who has just posted a brief critical response to my stuff at Heterodox Academy. So I’m linking to it. [click to continue…]


Jacob Levy on “The Sovereign Myth”

by Chris Bertram on July 12, 2017

Jacob T. Levy has written a really interesting piece for the Niskanen Center, which has at its centre the myth that the postwar era was one of sovereign and national democratic control and the fantasy that’s what we need to restore, a fantasy that fuels both the current wave of right-wing populism but is also present in some of the thinking around Jeremy Corbyn.

The imagined Golden Age in these kinds of stories of the fall from democratic grace is the postwar era; it’s often referred to as les trente glorieuses, the thirty glorious years of high economic growth, broadly distributed, during which most Western market democracies built substantial welfare and regulative states after World War II. The chronology varies from one country to another, but roughly speaking the Golden Age is taken to have ended sometime around 1970-75, opening political space for a very different political-economic model to take hold — with the election of Thatcher and Reagan, and the reconciliation of Mitterrand’s Socialist government in France to the market. … The people [now] want to take back control of their economies and their societies. Thus, to critics of neoliberalism, the populist upsurge is a kind of dark morality play; we’re being punished for Margaret Thatcher’s sins.

In the lens of Levy’s piece, UKIP and Trump, Theresa May, David Goodhart and “Liberal” Brexiteers like Carswell and Hannan are on the same side of a key dividing line together with some left-Rawlsians in political philosophy, and other “relational egalitarians”, with people like David Miller, with Blue Labour, with the Furedites with their enthusiasm for national sovereignty, with Lexiters and national-sovereigntist socialism-in-one-country types like John McDonnell and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. On the other side of that line are cosmopolitans of various stripes and with seriously differing attitudes among themselves to “capitalism”, to property and markets. Sitting uncomfortably in the middle are some of the Labour “mainstream”, the US Democrats, and people like Macron, who want to hang onto the postwar international order but are nevertheless wedded to the nation state and the possibility of control in ways that foster the myth.

Whilst nation states may be unable to produce the level of control for democratic electorates that they falsely promise, they are rather good at classifying, organizing, excluding and generally bullying people, with miserable effects for the people and their families who don’t fit into the neat little containers of nationality and citizenship or who would challenge them. The people in the sovereigntist and middle groups have very different ideas about what they’d do with state power, of course, — some of them benign in aspiration — but they all want to bend state power to the production of their pet outcomes on behalf of democratic electorates within which the interests of the “national”, the ethnically dominant and the sedentary are over-represented compared to all the people who don’t fit. In my view, the renewed fostering of the “we” who want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy carries serious dangers for those others.



by John Holbo on July 10, 2017

Why do people say Putin is playing chess and Trump is playing checkers when it is obvious Putin is playing poker and Trump is playing Calvinball?

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are playing Jenga plus Hungry Hungry Hippos. (The object is to eliminate critical structures and foundations without having them collapse on your turn. And you have to feed the hippos.) What game would you say Democrats are playing? Animal Crossing? Clue? Fix-It Felix Jr.?


Next Thursday, July 13th, is Science-a-thon and I will be participating by writing several posts and sharing pictures about how science gets done. If there are questions you’d like me to address, please post in the comments as I welcome suggestions for topics to discuss.

Science-a-thon is being organized by a graduate school friend of mine, Tracey Holloway, who is an Earth scientist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The idea is to showcase in 12 pictures throughout the day the work that scientists do with the goal of raising public awareness. I decided to join even though my work is rather different since I very much support the cause of raising funds for science. Here is my fundraising page if you’d like to support the effort financially. Or if you’re a scientist and would like to join Science-a-thon yourself, you can do so here.


Expertise and punditry

by John Quiggin on July 7, 2017

I concluded my post “Against Epistocracy” with the question “Who gets to decide who is well-informed? And who gets to decide who gets to decide?”. This is, I think, a fatal flaw in any system proposing to replacing democracy with rule by a well-informed elite, or any kind of putative aristocracy. But even in a democratic system, we have to make decisions about who should decide things. In many cases, we would like to call on expert advice, and that brings us back to the question “who, if anybody, is an expert on a given topic”. I don’t have a complete answer, but I think it’s helpful to distinguish between experts and pundits or, better, between expertise and punditry.

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Against epistocracy

by John Quiggin on July 6, 2017

I’ve finally been got around writing something about US philosopher Jason Brennan’s arguments for “epistocracy”, that is, restricting voting to people who are well-informed about the issues. For a long time, I assumed that such an idea would be ignored, and fade into oblivion, as most academic ideas do. But it’s popped up here in Australia. Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs has a trenchant piece on a variety of anti-democratic commentators, including Brennan, to which I can’t really add much.

So, I’ll try to offer some more specific objections to Brennan’s case for epistocracy.

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Happy 4th of July!

by John Holbo on July 4, 2017

I got up at 5 AM to take a hike in the Arizona desert with older daughter. Nothing around me but cactus, rocks, and the sun getting it together to glare over the mountains. (Older daughter was a couple hundred meters away, around the bend. I was alone!) A few bird noises. Ah, nature! How … natural it all seemed. Suddenly - voices! Two hikers, their words carried across an ancient, solemn landscape, although they are invisibly off in the distance. They are arguing, loudly, about Trump and how stupid his tweets are. And yet all I see is primordial desert. Trump has, to all appearances, managed to troll the desert itself - patient floor of a primordial, long-dead sea. That guy is a pro, as trolls go.

But don’t let it get you down! On the way out I remembered to photograph a teensy bit of desert, dawn fireworks. Didn’t come out so well, but you get the idea. [click to continue…]


Gellner, Mair and Europe

by Henry on July 3, 2017

(Below is the text of a debate piece I gave last week at a meeting of the Tocqueville society, which is maybe of interest to some CT readers. A more polished version may appear sooner or later in the Tocqueville review)

The great Czech-English sociologist Ernest Gellner remarks somewhere that the Austro-Hungarian empire was strong so long as its subject populations complained about its central rule. It was when they stopped arguing with the center and each other – and instead took matters into their own hands – that it got into trouble.

Europe is surviving the Hapsburg test. For sure, it has lost the United Kingdom, but this loss has not triggered a cascade. People in the remaining member states still prefer grumbling to secession. Indeed, in the last few months the European Union has arguably become a little stronger, providing a fortress against a world that has suddenly become more dangerous and unpredictable. Trump’s election has not led to a tidal wave of populism overwhelming traditional democracies. If anything, it has made populism look less attractive.

Still, from a certain perspective, the European Union resembles the Hapsburg empire than one might like.  European leaders too have their court language, incomprehensible to their own citizens, and attachment to bureaucratic obscurities. As Gellner suggested in his last book, they also have the same enemies – irredentist nationalists who hate what they view as bloodless cosmopolitanism. [click to continue…]