Dr Dr

by Kieran Healy on May 13, 2008

While at a conference in Germany over the weekend, I was initially quite chuffed by the greeting on my hotel-room TV:

But I quickly learned I am quite unable to compete on this front:

Somewhat more substantively, the conference, on norms and values, was attended by a bunch of interesting philosophers and political science types of a generally soft rat-choice disposition. As it happens, this week Aaron Swartz is writing about Jon Elster’s recent book, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. Aaron likes the book a lot. I haven’t read it, but now I’m curious to do so. Elster’s early work laid out an ambitious agenda for social science and its critical edge did a lot to kill off some styles of social explanation that were prevalent at the time. But then the prospects for achieving the more positive side of the research program seemed to recede in the face of efforts to achieve it, to the point where Elster became highly critical of work that might well have been inspired by Ulysses and the Sirens or Sour Grapes. The most recent book seems to be a comprehensive expression of late-Elsterian pessimism about the possibility of a general science of social explanation.

Rothstein and Hess on fixing schools

by Harry on May 13, 2008

No-one will be surprised to know that I admire Richard Rothstein, especially given how often I seem to parrot his arguments myself. Some readers may be more surprised that I also admire Frederick Hess (of the AEI no less); in fact one of my minor betes noir is the frequency with which NPR, when it wants a right winger to comment on an education policy issue, goes to Heritage or Cato, rather than to the AEI who have someone on staff who is a genuine expert, and smart with it. (If you want to understand why I like him, read Common Sense School Reform, which is typical of his work: lots of well-informed analysis and imaginative critique, peppered with just enough free-market ideology to signal that he’s firmly on the right but not enough to obscure the quality thinking). Both are somewhat skeptical of mainstream school improvement rhetoric, with Rothstein emphasizing out-of-school interventions, and Hess emphasizing the need for reforming school governance and organisational structures. If I had any power at all I’d force all public school officials ranked assistant principal or above, as well as all Education PhD students, to read Rothstein’s Class and Schools and Hess’s Common Sense School Reform. So I’ve always been curious what a Rothstein-Hess debate would be like and, to my delight, now I know: smart, sensible, and bereft of “invented artificial points of disagreement” (as Rothstein puts it). Cato Unbound commissioned Rothstein to write a 25th anniversary comment on A Nation At Risk, and recruited Hess as a critic. The other critics are not so interesting (partly because in order to criticize Rothstein they have to misinterpret him, which his critics frequently do, both from the right and the left). To help you out, the correct order of reading is Rothstein, Hess, Rothstein, Hess, Rothstein, Hess. Cato Unbound is often worth reading, and none more than this one.

More on Miliband and Pol Pot

by Chris Bertram on May 13, 2008

I was pretty much determined to let the question of Ralph Miliband and Pol Pot lie. Blog spats are generally pretty unpleasant and tend to degenerate into a mush of claim, counterclaim and obfuscation. But “along comes Brad DeLong”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/05/in-which-we-add.html , of whom I’ve generally had a good opinion in the past. Unfortunately Brad lets his rage and disgust overcome his critical faculties whenever certain key figures come into view (Paul Sweezy, Gunther Grass and Noam Chomsky, to name but three).

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In praise of Rachel Carson

by John Quiggin on May 13, 2008

Tim Lambert and I have a piece in the online edition of Prospect, defending Rachel Carson against the tobacco/DDT lobby. It was cut down for publication from a much longer article, which I’ve appended over the fold. The article shows how the legend that Carson caused the banning of DDT, just as it was about to wipe out malaria, was invented and popularised by tobacco lobbyists, most notably Steven Milloy, who wanted to mount a flank attack on tobacco’s archenemy, the World Health Organization.

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