lemming watch

Check out these edits to the mission statement proposed by the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (HT: SS). Goodbye “science”! And, goodbye the use of anthropology “to solve human problems.” In its place: a whole lot of “understanding.”

Says a former NSF program officer for anthropology: “another step in the conversion of Anthropology from a social science into an esoteric branch of journalism.” (see blog here)

ask a scatterbrain: departmental colloquia

What do your departments do for departmental colloquia? I have seen various different models; I’d love to hear:

  • Are presenters mostly internal to your department/institution or from outside?
  • Do you have funding for the colloquium? How much?
  • How often does the colloquium happen?
  • Who attends? (Grad students? Faculty? Others?)
  • Is food provided?
  • Does the series have any particular theme or approach?



the whole university

I’ve been worrying a lot about how public universities will survive in tough political and economic times like these, and associated with that I’m concerned that universities (like UNC) are often “sold” to the public as:

  1. Low-cost undergraduate education;
  2. Exciting athletics; and/or
  3. “Innovation machines” for producing technical advances.

I do not dispute that  universities are all of these, but they are much more too, and I worry that we shoot ourselves in the intellectual foot by emphasizing only these three in underwriting the value of a public intellectual engine. Imagine my delight, therefore, to see the below video displayed on the giant screens at the Smith Center at the Barton College game:

There it is – the whole university in all its glory. Great job, UNC News Services!


better than i should be

I used to play the violin pretty seriously. I don’t play much at all anymore, in part because of time, and in part because of my vision. But recently I agreed to help a friend play through a piece he had to learn for an upcoming concert. As usual, I was swamped and put off learning my part until I basically had to learn it during a plane ride. That was an experience. But an even greater experience was when we actually played through the piece (Brahms piano quintet).  Our pianist was sick and so subbing in was none other than Richard Goode. For those of you who don’t follow classical music, Goode is a truly phenomenal musician, one of the best pianists in the world. It was an experience I’ll never forget — getting to play though a bunch of repertoire with him. And as we played through things, I was better than I should be. Much better. It got me thinking about the social scenarios wherein you’re better than you should be. “The Goode effect” (ha!) was, in this case, due to raised expectations, excitement, and at times mimicry (he played something beautifully, and I would echo). But there are other scenarios where I’ve been better than on average, and not because I was interacting with a true virtuoso.

Continue reading “better than i should be”


Greetings from Vancouver!*  It’s that time again: racism! Always a fun topic on scatterplot. Anyway, here’s the deal: I read bwog — a student blog at Columbia every now and then. Given that I’m stuck in a hotel room, this is one of the “now” times. They have a recent post, part of a series I gather, wherein they’re trying to give a nickname to a new dean. Fun idea. It’s college. Whatever. Here’s the thing though: one of the four “finalists” for the unofficial nickname is Jar Jar Hinks. The dean is a Black woman, Avis Hinkson. It’s a play off Jar Jar Binks, from Star Wars. And I have a problem with this because the character is seriously racist.

As Jessica Brown noted when we first say the new Star Wars movies when they came out, Lucas seemed to have given up on having languages make characters distinct (and thereby using subtitles) and instead decided to rely upon often grotesque racial stereotypes to convey characters. So we have the hook-nosed, slimy merchant (a jew!), the greedy and not to be trusted trade federation (Asians, replete with with asian accents and slitted eyes), and, of course, Jar Jar Binks, of the Gungans.

The Gungans speak in a Caribbean patois. Jar Jar is a bumbling fool. His walk is all jive. As Patricia Williams noted in the Nation,

The fat-faced, toadlike ruler of the Gungan race, who is called Boss Nass and who seems to be wearing the distinctive West African robe known as aboubou, expresses his resentment of his grammatically coherent planetary neighbors, the Naboo, in the following terms: “Dey tink dey so smartee, dey tink dey brains so big.”

This invocation of minstrel characters is a grotesque form of racism. And while Lucas defended a lack of intent, the imagery is fairly clear. I’m going to email some of the folks at BWOG about this. Unless, of course, our fair readers think I’m crazy again.  Continue reading “ugh”

as American as …. stealing apple pie

Thought this would be an interesting example for teaching students – and magazine editors, apparently – the perils of copying from the Internet.   The web, as we know, is not public domain, and copyright laws apply.  The editor of Cooks Source magazine, after a self-proclaimed 30 years of magazine work, thought otherwise, and now a small part of the Internet has erupted in support of Monica Gaudio and others who had their work lifted.  Gaudio found a blog entry she had written on 14th and 16th century apple pie recipes reprinted as an article – without her permission, knowledge, or payment – in the magazine.

See here (for original post) and here.

Recipes have been a tricky area for intellectual property law, as they are frequently reprinted (with permissions), changed by new users, and evolve through time and trial/error.

But what is so outrageous about this story was the editor’s response to Gaudio, filled with blatant arrogance, after Gaudio requested a public apology (in the magazine and on CS’s Facebook page) and a small donation to the Columbia School of Journalism ($130, or 10 cents a word, what she would have been paid for the article), apparently to teach others about copyright law:

Continue reading “as American as …. stealing apple pie”

not sure she gets it

“I’m the least racist of anyone. Some of my greatest friends are black.”

That is what Tennessee state rep Terri Lynn Weaver said after news broke that she posted a picture of her Halloween costume on Facebook: her in black face with the caption “Aunt Jemima, you is so sweet.” Not sure what definition of racist she is using, but I’m pretty sure that under any definition I am familiar with she would not rank near the bottom. Who is to blame for this brouhaha? You guessed it, the Democrats!

data visualization

Yesterday, Kid came home from school with this graph that he made, displaying the results of his poll of the favorite drinks of the elementary class:

Note that the color of the graph bar (sort of) matches the beverage color. No, I don’t usually serve him lemon lime juice, but maybe I’ll start now. For the record, this was a fixed-response survey of the entire lower-elementary classroom. I guess sample design will be next week’s lesson.

dancing with them who brung you

I think that Jeremy is right: if you feel like working at McDonald’s is better than graduate school, then you should leave.  And it is offensive to people who hear graduate students and professors whining about our lives. Beyond just the offense, I think that we do ourselves a great disservice by continuing the meme of irrelevance.

In the meme of auto-voice-generated movies about becoming an academic the repeated theme is that we write obscure articles in obscure journals that no one reads. In other words, our lives and our work is worthless. Why, then, are we surprised when Tom Coburn threatens to cut funding to the NSF or, as Brayden points out on that other blog,* states look to make professors “accountable” and threaten to cut funding to public institutions that don’t meet those metrics. I mean, seriously, if we give the impression that our research doesn’t matter, why should taxpayers believe that it is?

This is something that has constantly irked me since I started graduate school. I attended a state institution for graduate school from a state that was hurting before the latest economic crisis; now it is close to being devastated. All but one year I was in graduate school, my salary was funded (or subsidized) by either the taxpayers of the state or federal taxpayers through teaching salary, fellowships, and federally-funded research assistantships. When I heard people complain about the need to explain why their research is important to people outside of academia or that non-academics could “never understand” their work, this really got under my skin. While I understand that my research, which tends to lean towards understanding the role and potential benefits of public policy, is conducive towards this stance, I am still shocked by the sense that people feel offended that they have to explain the value of their work to the people who help pay their salary. Like Chris Uggen, I believe that it is important that we “make ourselves useful” regardless if we are in public or private institutions (though, arguably, especially if we are in public ones).

If we don’t start explaining the value of our work to others, then state legislators will start doing it for us. I guarantee you that we will all regret not explaining the value of our work if we leave it to those legislators with an axe to grind to explain what we are worth.

*Since Brayden highlighted the Texas legislature in his post, quoting the famous progressive Texas political commentator Molly Ivins seemed apropos.