Link carefully in case people don’t read carefully

by Eszter Hargittai on January 15, 2007

(Despite the pathetically boring title of this post, I hope you will consider reading on, the plot concerns Web search, racism and teaching.)

Today’s Google doodle is in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S.. These doodles always link to something relevant regarding the focus of the drawing. I was especially curious to see what the target link would be in this case, given some peculiarities of the results to a search on martin luther king jr. Not surprisingly (to me at least), the doodle links to the search results of a somewhat different query: martin luther king jr. day, which yields a sufficiently different set of links.

Why was I not surprised and why do I take such interest in this particular case? It dates back to exactly two years ago when I was teaching my Internet and Society class to undergraduate students. At that time, Northwestern didn’t excuse students from classes for the entire day (it does now), but my class conflicted with several campus events so I decided to cancel class. However, I did want student to do some course-related work so I had them blog about something related to the holiday that they found online. It was a very open assignment, but focused enough to get some of the spirit of the holiday on their minds.

One of the students wrote an entry pointing to the Web site and discussed how she had found the site’s critical approach to the holiday and the man behind it intriguing. She cited the sources featured on the site, prominent media outlets such as Newsweek and The New York Times. I found her discussion interesting, but was a bit skeptical and so I went to look at the site. I quickly realized that it was hosted by an organization called Stormfront, which prominently describes itself as White Pride World Wide on its logo.

[click to continue…]

Living With Darwin by Philip Kitcher

by Harry on January 15, 2007

I’ve just finished reading Philip Kitcher’s new book Living With Darwin (UK). It is fantastic. He provides a careful but completely accessible defense of Darwin’s ideas about evolution, against the defenders of Intelligent Design theory. He also agrees with religious opponents of evolutionary theory that it is a genuine threat to a certain kind of religious belief. He calls this “providentialist” belief, on which “the universe was created by a Being who has a great design, a Being who cares for his creatures, who observes the fall of every sparrow and is especially concerned for humanity”. Darwin really is a threat to their beliefs and, in a nice observation that he attributes to Christopher Peacock, Darwin is probably singled out because he is the only threat whose views get encountered in a systematic way by anyone who does not get an elite college education in the humanities (in the US especially). Voltaire, Hume, Kant, all might be seen as worse threats if anyone knew who they were.

[click to continue…]