Memories of my dissertation

by Eszter Hargittai on September 11, 2004

In the Fall of 2001 as I was coding and analyzing data for my dissertation on how people find content online, I realized that some Web sites had changed a few design elements after the events of 9/11. I put up a little Web page documenting some of these changes because I thought they were interesting and worth archiving. I wish I would have had time to find more.

There were some more direct links between 9/11 and my dissertation. One was logistical while the other brought it all up close and personal. I think about these issues sometimes, especially the latter, and thought today would be an appropriate day to share them.

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Creative accountants?

by John Q on September 11, 2004

Today’s NYT runs an archetypal David Brooks piece. The obligatory lame conceit is that the elite is divided into spreadsheet people (notably accountants) who vote Republican and paragraph people (notably academics) who vote Democrat.

Unusually though, Brooks seems to have some actual numbers to back his story, and they give pause for thought. The most striking is that:

Back in the early 1990’s, accountants gave mostly to Democrats, but now they give twice as much to the party of Lincoln.

If this is true, considering the state of US national finances under Bush, it speaks volumes about what has happened to the accounting profession in the last decade. Do the accountants supporting Bush really believe that he has a plan to cut the deficit in half or do they just think that accounts should show whatever the client wants them to show? I guess we learned the answer to that with Enron, but it’s useful to know that nothing has changed.

What Good is Philosophy Education?

by Brian on September 11, 2004

I was pleased to see this paragraph from “Matthew Yglesias”:

bq. As a journalist, I keenly feel the pain of the generalist. I find myself in Mead’s shoes all the time — needing to somehow touch on a range of material that I am perfectly aware I don’t understand nearly as well as those people who’ve spent years focusing in on it narrowly. I like to think that having studied philosophy as an undergraduate is a reasonably good preparation for such a task. Obviously, I never wind up writing an article about meta-ethics or the way structurally similar issues about reductionism pop up in diverse areas (insofar as I know a lot about anything, it’s these things), but what philosophy fundamentally teaches you about (especially as an undergraduate when you don’t really have the time to master any particular sub-area) is how to spot an unsound argument, irrespective of the topic of discussion. That’s a useful and generally applicable thing. And I think we’ll see it pop up again and again in this discussion.

I like to think that some of the specific things I teach in undergraduate classes have relevance to what my students go on to do, but ultimately I’d be happy if most of the students picked up just the kind of skills Matt is talking about. One of the side effects of philosophy being so abstract and disconnected from everyday considerations is that to do well at it, you have to be good at reasoning about unfamiliar topics. And in the modern economy that’s a very valuable skill.