New Year -- New Resources

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mass Media and Science writing

If you are interested in how science is reported in the media, I can recommend two books I've just read:

PHYSICS FOR FUTURE PRESIDENTS: The Science behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller (Norton paperback)

AM I MAKING MYSELF CLEAR? A Scientist's Guide to talking to the Public by Cornelia Dean (Harvard University Press)

The first is based on the author's UC Berkeley class, and it explores what's the media and the public usually get wrong about the risks and benefits of science and technology.

The second is by a former NYT columnist and argues that scientists must reach out more to journalists and must learn to describe their work in accessible language themselves.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tea Baggers verbally assault John Lewis, Barney Frank

I don't understand why The Kansas City Star and Fox News are the only US news sites which have reported this story about racial slurs directed at Black Congressmen, including John Lewis, by Tea Baggers yesterday (and gay slurs against Frank).

Update: The Washington Post has just put up an article.

Other US sources on Google are only blogs. The International papers are picking it up.

Fox News is also the only one to report any repudiation by Republicans, in their case Michael Steele.

As disturbing is the comment on the NYT blog which argues that this is justifiable anger against liberals who don't listen to their constiuents.

Congressmen are abused by protesters at DC demonstration against health care bill
Kansas City Star - William Douglas - ‎11 hours ago‎
W ASHINGTON | Demonstrators outside the US Capitol, angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted obscenities at members of the ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Re-reading history


You'll want to reread Homer after reading this, but you'll also probably find yourself reading first-hand accounts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan too.


I been listening to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because this history of the way English developed is strongest in it's explanation of how the "word hoard" grew and the changes in pronunciation are as interesting as the way English conquered by constantly changing.

BATTLE OF WITS: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II
by Stephen Budiansky

Ever since I worked on William Stephenson's book about the secret history of Enigma and Ultra in WWII when the Official Secrets Act was first lifted, I have been fascinated by books on the subject. Every decade brings new revelations, and this book (unfortunately out of print but available used) is a marvelous overview of both American and British, Japanese and German codebreaking.

The math is complex (frankly, I skim these parts, since I only understand how hard the problem is, not how it is solved), but the individuals profiled are even more interesting.The section about the pre-war efforts of Poles to break Nazi codes and Enigma machines is far more heroic -- and vital to winning the war -- as told here than any I have read before.

The complete story of events on both sides of the Atlantic is simply amazing. It required an extraordinary combination of ingenuity, courage, innovation, physical and mental endurance, patriotism, and sheer luck in the face of a formidable military enemy and the usual bureacratic resistance to change.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The false promise of "Big Idea" education reform

In the LA Times today Diane Ravitch has a good companion piece to Bill Maher in my previous post.,0,2024751.story

Ravitch warns:

Once again, I find myself sounding the alarm that the latest vision of education reform is deeply flawed. But this time my warning carries a personal rebuke. For much of the last two decades, I was among those who jumped aboard the choice and accountability bandwagon. Choice and accountability, I believed, would offer a chance for poor children to escape failing schools. Testing and accountability, I thought, would cast sunshine on low-performing schools and lead to improvement. It all seemed to make sense, even if there was little empirical evidence, just promise and hope.

Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform -- codified in its signature Race to the Top program -- that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better.

No child left behind at home

I often find Bill Maher's liberal libertarian impulses too smug, but I think he really nails it with a new HuffingtonPost piece on education when he says:
The number one predictor of a child's academic success is parental involvement...It's also been proven that just having books in the house makes a huge difference in a child's development.

He also points out that typical American animosity toward teachers has its roots in very personal revenge fantasies, not in sound educational theory:

Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It's just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers' lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school - canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We're chewing gum and no, we didn't bring enough for everybody

It is very upsetting to me that President Obama seems to add punishment for not meeting higher standards to No Child Left Behind without adding any Federal help for teachers or parents. Given his mother's early morning tutoring, surely he must know that learning doesn't take place only in school or without "homework helpers."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tibet, Homer and heroes

I recently got added TIVO to my cable TV set up, and I have found the instant downloads from Netflix delightful, especially for documentaries. I strongly recommend Blindsight, a film about a school for the blind in Lhasa Tibet which was founded by two Germans, and an expedition trekking in the Himalayas led by an American man who was the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest. You can see more about the sponsoring group at the web site for Braille without Borders. Not the least interesting part of the story is how these foreigners were allowed to build a school within Communist Tibet, where the culture still treats the blind as lepers, people who have been punished for the bad karma of their previous lives.

My other new gadget is an iPod Nano. I downloaded several new non-fiction audiobooks, including The War that Killed Achilles, which provides a fascinating new perspective on the anti-war themes in Homer’s reworking of the classic “heroic” epic, including evidence from new excavations at Troy and new scholarship about the Indo-European roots of early Greek mythology. The author, Caroline Alexander, has written before about Ernest Shackleton and the story of how Captain Bligh survived the mutiny on the Bounty.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Novel of the WWII London Blitz

One of my favorite writers, Connie Willis, has just published a new novel, BLACKOUT, and if you like WWII stories, historical fiction, science fiction (rather than fantastic) time-travel, and social comedy, you can't do better than drop everything and read this next. I listened to the audiobook which was particularly mesmerizing.

Michael Dirda has a wonderful review in today's Washington Post, which does more justice than I can. (I can fault him only for not mentioning my all time favorite Connie Wills story, the novela Bellweather).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reading through the ages at Harvard

Thanks to Library Journal magazine, I just learned about a fabulous new site which features Harvard's historical library collections about the science of reading and textbooks teaching reading. Check it out:

Hiroshima book sources discredited

The publisher has cancelled their contract with Charles Pellegrino for THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA because one of his sources has been proved to have lied and others are uncertain.

In today's paper:

Iffy sourcing brings down 'Hiroshima'
Henry Holt is dropping publication of "The Last Train From Hiroshima" after the author, Charles Pellegrino, failed to adequately answer questions about a source in the book and the revocation of his PhD more than 25 years ago.
(By Steven Levingston, The Washington Post)