Thursday, November 18, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery
By KIRK JOHNSON
Published: October 6, 2010
Mike Albans for The New York Times
Friday, April 16, 2010
Although he claims to be a Luddite and thus unwilling/unable to post to our blog (not to mention Wikkipedia), Alan Clarke has written the following as part of a book proposal he is sending around to prospective publishers.
I post it on his behalf.
This Proposal Adopts a Broad Interdisciplinary Perspective Which Should Attract Interest in the United States and in Europe and Canada
The most multi-disciplinary works on torture or rendition, of which I am aware, are found within edited anthologies. These necessarily present an eclectic range of disciplinary understandings, differing from author to author, and essay to essay. A given essay in an anthology (on torture or anything else) ordinarily uses the methods and understandings of a single discipline. True interdisciplinarity – the integration of a variety of disciplinary perspectives in a single coherent analysis remains rare. Edited volumes are, therefore, more appropriately seen as multidisciplinary rather than interdisciplinary. Their strength revolves around the many perspectives that they bring to bear on a problem; their weakness is in failing to integrate the differing analyses in a sustained critique of the problem at hand.
Examples of edited anthologies focusing on torture include:
The Phenomenon of Torture: Readings and Commentary, (William F. Schulz ed., 2007);
The Torture Debate in America 151, 154 (Karen J. Greenberg ed., 2006).
On Torture, (Hilde, Thomas C., ed., 2008);
Torture, A Collection (Sanford Levinson ed., 2004);
America’s Disappeared, (Meeropol, Rachael, ed., Seven Stories Press, 2005).
The strength of this proposal is that it integrates differing perspectives as it examines the complex problem of torture. A full understanding of the phenomenon of torture resists narrowly focused disciplinary analyses and is most usefully considered by employing findings of history, law, psychology, sociology, politics and philosophy. This book proposal aims to do just that. Because both Canada and many European nations were complicit in the U.S. use of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and rendition, this comprehensive and interdisciplinary treatment of the subject should attract a transnational audience.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
It would appear on the one hand that all story, by nature or stigma of being identifiably"story," whether asserted to be true story or not, is somehow automatically perceived as less perfectly true than pure, narrative-free information. If someone were to tell you that even mathematics is a kind of story about how the universe works, you might either agree or bristle, but you would immediately recognize that the implication is that mathematics does not simply describe the perfect truth of the world as it is.
On the other hand, even the most perfectly fictive stories, making no direct claims for any sort of verifiable truth at all, will be understood as promoting a view of the world that in some sense is either true or false. When the Vatican objects to a fantasy movie for children, we understand that the Church fathers find some insidious message about how the world really is to be objectionable, even dangerous for young children to imbibe.
Moreover, we have been noticing in class that this applies across many cultural and temporal divides, and that audiences wish to know (or to debate amongst themselves in the retelling) what aspects of a story are meant to be bracketed as the fictional or fantastic aspects, so that the true or, in common student parlance, realistic qualities of the story can be properly evaluated.
Aristotle once suggested that it is better story telling to allow the impossible than to allow the implausible. Is fictive story telling a kind of probabilistic estimation of the truth, even a sort of Bayesian reasoning from givens? Is that what story telling is for, in the end, to see what would be true if we (could ever) agree on our priors?
This peculiarity obtains not only across the infamous chasm between the "two cultures" of the sciences and humanities, but also across many of the sciences themselves. Even within closely related disciplines, such as the experimental social sciences, the truth-value of data often bears a certifying stamp specific to a particular, local tradition. Which are more reliable, for instance, data acquired from experimental subjects who did not know what the experiment was actually about (as is typical in social and cognitive psychology), or data acquired from fully informed experimental subjects motivated by immediate cash reward (as is de rigeur in behavioral economics)? The conundrum lies not so much in any profound metaphysical differences as in the different traditions of assuming that certain kinds of information are better than others, when such traditions often define each discipline's sense of its own unique mission.
Is it any wonder then, that it becomes difficult to measure how much research is interdisciplinary at all? The thought crossed my mind after reading the previous post (see below), on the curious contradiction between the assertion of policymakers as "an article of faith" that interdisciplinary research will be crucial to tomorrow's world and the "fuzzy definition of an interdisciplinary program" that confounds the measurement of interdisciplinary activity.
It also led me back to the questions raised in earlier posts (just a little further below) about whether and how the data and theory of the evolutionary neurosciences would revolutionize literary criticism. Until and unless literary critics and neuroscientists forge a common currency as to what counts as true--or at least as importantly true--the disciplines may poach information or ideas from each other but remain more or less locked up behind their castle walls.