URLs du Jour

2007-11-06

  • According to Anne Applebaum, all the useful idiots are traipsing off to Venezuela, following the pattern established last century when their equivalents went off to Moscow to kowtow to Lenin and Stalin.

  • Unfortunately too late for this year, Scott Johnson at Power Line nominates Thomas Sowell for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jay Nordlinger agrees. Here is today's column about …
    Among the many mindless mantras of our time, "making a difference" and "giving back" irritate me like chalk screeching across a blackboard.
    Dr. Sowell gets Pun Salad's Medal of Agreement.

  • Dean Barnett has a very good article on Barack Obama, wherein he uses his old Harvard contacts to find out the low level dirt.
    The results surprised me. Regardless of his classmates' politics, they all said pretty much the same thing. They adored him. The only thing that varied was the intensity with which they adored him. Some spoke like they were eager to bear his children. And those were the guys. Others merely professed a profound fondness and respect for their former classmate.

    Even more interesting was what wasn't said. In dozens of conversations, not a single person said anything negative about him, and some were hardly the senator's political fellow travelers. Also noteworthy is that virtually everyone seemed to know Obama. Usually people who have such a high profile on law school campuses have their detractors. Obama apparently didn't.

    Dean is impressed, and … so is Pun Salad.

  • And, lastly, in our occasional "Ah. That explains a lot" department: Yesterday, David Frum debunked the latest historical blather from Andrew Sullivan, and added as an afterthought:
    I thought the Internet was supposed to make us all smarter.
    Today he posts the reply from one of his readers:
    No.

    The Internet is supposed to make it easy for us to copy each other's work. As in school, however, there's no guarantee that the person from whom you are copying has the right answer.

    All together now: "Ah. That explains a lot."

Super Cruncher Also Super Plagiarizer

A few weeks back I blogged on the book Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, which described how sophisticated statistical analysis of large dynamic datasets was revolutionizing many fields. It was OK, but seriously marred by a frothy style. I also linked to an NYT review of the book where the reviewer noted Ayres' "quite troubling" tendency to reproduce others' words in his book without quotation marks.

Ayres is a law prof at Yale, and the Yale Daily News student paper apparently smelled a story in the NYT review. They looked into things on their own, and reported:

Several passages in Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres' … newest book are unattributed verbatim reproductions or nearly identical paraphrases of passages from various newspaper and magazine articles published in the last twenty years, an investigation by the News has shown.
Woops! In addition to the one reported by the NYT reviewer, the Yale Daily News turned up eight more.

The article quotes Ayres' prepared apology and a mixed bag of other people with varying ideas about the nature of this misbehavior. In Ayres' (slight) defense, the investigation was aided immensely by the fact that the original sources are referenced in the book's endnotes, and were easy to look up and compare. So there's no indication that Ayres was trying to hide anything; it's just that he was too lazy to either phrase things in his own words or to clearly indicate the quoting in the main text.

Other than the apologies and fixes to future printings of the book, it looks like Ayres will skate. Not everyone's happy. For example, read this Inside Higher Ed "University Diary" blog entry. (I enjoyed the snarky title: "Plagiarism: Yours, Mine, and Ayres'") The author compares Ayres' behavior with similar instances at Southern Illinois University and Harvard, and makes the obvious point: tuition-paying students would have been in serious trouble for plagiarism in their academic writing. Higher-ups, on the other hand, continue to rake in royalties for their mass-appeal works containing similar sins. The Diarist deems these cases "instructively clear instances of oligarchic corruption," and believes more examples are on their way to a university near you.

Columbia law prof Michael Dorf has worthwhile observations here and here.

(Original link to Inside Higher Ed via Clayton Cramer. He comments: "That Ayres is one of the academic community's gun banners just makes it sweeter.")

The Happiness Hypothesis

[Amazon Link]

This book got a laudatory mention from Will Wilkinson. There was also a flurry of web discussion in many of the sites I frequent about how the theories of the book's author, Jonathan Haidt, intersect with American politics. (Jonah Goldberg joins the discussion, and points to a lot of others here.) So I picked it up at the UNH library, and it's a pretty good read.

The subtitle is "Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" and the sub-sub-title is "Why the Meaningful Life Is Closer Than You Think". It sounds like a schlocky self-help book, and you can probably use it for that, but it's more. Haidt is a research psychologist at the University of Virginia, and his work shows where and how those old coots in robes had decent insights into the mind.

At the beginning, Haidt introduces, an arresting metaphor that weaves itself into the rest of the book.

Modern theories about rational choice and information processing don't adequately explain weakness of the will. The older metaphors [proposed by Buddha and Plato] about controlling animals work beautifully. The image that I came up with for myself, as I marvelled at my weakness, was that I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I'm holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn't have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I'm no match for him.
Obviously, rogue elephants can be rough on both the rider and innocent bystanders. So the discussion of happiness quite quickly becomes a story about how to control your inner elephant better. And (it turns out), this rapidly becomes a discussion of moral systems: the happy life is the ethical life.

Haidt describes himself as a "Jewish atheist" and a "political liberal," so it's especially revalatory to have him take up seriously in the later chapters discussions of religious insights into morality. He (seemingly reluctantly) has come to believe that these can't be ignored when discussing how to live the good life; to a happiness researcher, they're as real as gravity and electromagnetism are to the physicist.

If you'd like to see more about the book, there's a website devoted to it here. You'll note that the paperback version has an elephant on the cover …


Last Modified 2012-10-16 5:52 AM EST