by Brian on August 14, 2003

Here’s an odd little fact about philosophy and linguistics, my two areas of ‘expertise’.

In linguistics, or at least in semantics which is what I mostly read, it is quite common to see PhD dissertations cited in research articles. This is true even when the dissertations have been turned into books. (Which they often are, and which are often widely cited.) To take one prominent example, I think the canonical work on negative polarity items is still William Ladusaw’s 1980 PhD dissertation, which is cited in just about every paper on negative polarity.

In philosophy this kind of thing is very rare, at least in the areas in which I work. I can’t remember the last time I saw a dissertation cited that wasn’t written by one of the authors of the citing paper. (Perhaps there were some were the dissertation was by a student of the citer, but I can’t even remember one of those.) And this isn’t because dissertations are published so the books that come out of them are cited. In the areas I work in, many if not most people do not publish their dissertation as a book, and those that do are often much less widely cited than the journal articles by the same authors. (There’s one prominent recent exception.)

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Power Outages

by Kieran Healy on August 14, 2003

Just catching the news about the power outage in New York and — reportedly — also in a number of major cities along the east coast, up into Canada and even into the midwest. I wonder why this is happening, especially if the early reports of outages in other major cities are accurate. Apart from the obvious (but I imagine unlikely) explanation that we all don’t want to jump to because we’re responsible people, the other thing that springs to mind is the network structure of the national grid. This is a topic of which I of course know nothing. But in his book Small Worlds I seem to remember (it’s a pain not having access to my library) that Duncan Watts has a discussion of power grids and the potential for serious cascading failures under certain conditions. The idea is that small failures can spread rapidly through networks with the right properties. Here’s the Google cache of one of his working papers on this topic, that treats power grids as a sample case. I wonder if this is what’s happened.

I guess I’ll just have to keep watching the news (like all the other bloggers who are reminded of their dependency on primary media sources).

Update: CNN is now reporting that the Niagara/Mohawk power grid may have become overloaded and then failed. Score one for CT analysts over that jumpy guy on CNBC that I just saw. He was clearly hoping for terrorists. You could see the hungry gleam in his eye. So, although the Sociology Department isn’t at the top of your list of places to call for comment on events like this, someone should give Watts a ring. Except they can’t, because, um, he teaches at Columbia and there’s a blackout.

John Rawls

by Brian on August 14, 2003

Does anyone know who was John Rawls’s PhD dissertation advisor? This question came up in discussion around here (a propos of nothing much at all) and no one knew, but I imagine at least one reader, if not a fellow Timberite, will know.

There’s no place like home.

by Maria on August 14, 2003

Le Monde ran a story yesterday about the ‘Russians’ in Guantanamo who are begging NOT to be extradited. The Russian government is trying to have 8 prisoners – including Chechens and Tartars – sent to Russia to face trial on terrorism charges. Meanwhile, the mothers of two of them are begging the US not to send their sons to Russian prisons where they could face torture and death.

America has certainly fallen well below its own standards of justice and fair treatment in Guantanamo. But to a prisoner who’s already known jails in Chechnya, Russia and Afghanistan, the prison camp evidently measures up to the best of Russian sanatoriums.

Radio Free Europe ran a piece on this last week. The story was then picked up and a further corroborating interview added by a Russian tv station, and that seems to be where Le Monde’s reporter saw it.