February 12, 2007

Science, academia, and religion

Where should institutions draw the line between doing good science and permitting religious freedom? What is the value of research that is sound but is later used to mislead students? The New York Times has published an article today about Marcus R. Ross who was awarded a PhD. in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island. Not a small achievement by any means, except that now he now teaches at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia. The article brings attention to the Creationist movement and their lust for young students with advanced degrees from legitimate universities. Although unsettling, I don't see it as becoming too much of a problem but it's important to know that it is happening and needs to be called out for what it is: a misuse of good science. I agree that good and relevant research can be carried out whatever your personal beliefs, but I find it a travesty that the degree that results from such research should be used to propagate a completely faith-based (and thus unsupportable) view of the world.

Read the article here.

Posted by Will at 07:50 AM

February 01, 2007

Sharing anthropological knowledge: the future

I met a colleague the other day in my department who is also a blogger and actually came across Nomadic Thoughts through the growing network of Anthropology-related blogs on the internet. I was pleased for two main reasons: I'm not the only one who does this at USF and I didn't realize that the internet-based anthropology movement was as big as it is. The website Anthropology 2.0: Rethinking Why and How "Information is Power" sums up many of the aspects of internet publishing and idea sharing such as the debate surrounding Open Access and blogging in general. So what is Anthropology 2.0? Marc (author of the 2.0 website) writes:

Anthropology 2.0 may refer to the current stage in the evolution of anthropology, as a discipline being impacted by information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as cell phones, computers and the Internet. Similar to computer software upgrades from the original version often identified as 1.0 to the new and improved 2.0 version, the current stage of the Internet’s evolution is popularly called Web 2.0. The term Web 2.0 also implies that creating, collaborating and disseminating information is easier and more widespread than before.

The many who communicate professionally online are far ahead of the curve in my opinion. The internet has permeated virtually every aspect of our lives and a growing portion of the population, especially in research fields, literally cannot do their job without an internet connection. Traditional ways of sharing knowledge will always be with us (journals, conferences, etc.) but the future of the discipline is online and I predict within 10 or 15 years, maybe less, as older generations of anthropologists retire and newer ones ascend to positions of power as department chairs, journal editors, and society presidents we will see a more profound move to "digital academia." It also helps to recognize the fact that the field of academic anthropology (and even archaeology in the public sector to an extent) is all about who you know. By maintaining a presence online, potential connections are increased dramatically. This is particularly important to job seekers.

That being said, I can easily recognize the hesitancy of academics and students eyeing academic jobs to share their thoughts about the field and their research in an online setting (department politics, anyone?). The realm of public research has much to gain from electronic dissemination and idea-sharing. As my favorite graduate school professor often reminds her students, "all archaeology is public." This is especially true when public funds are underwriting cultural resource management projects. One of the great debates within public archaeology is what to make of the mountains of "gray literature" that is produced from government or privately contracted projects. This, I feel is where the effects of Anthropology 2.0 will be most felt and why non-academic research will experience a revolution of sorts in the coming years.

Posted by Will at 09:58 PM

USF Anthropology second in the nation

USF Anthropology Department Named Second in U.S. in Public Engagement by the Center for Public Anthropology
TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 18, 2007) – The University of South Florida’s department of anthropology is second in the nation in public engagement, according to a recent ranking by the Hawaii-based Center for Public Anthropology.
The ranking assesses academic departments’ levels of public visibility and engagement, using factors such as citations in public media, collaborative programs involving the community, and the engaged scholarship and outreach of individual faculty members.
The USF department of anthropology is widely recognized for its focus on applied anthropology, and has several active engaged units, including the Alliance for Applied Research in Education and Anthropology, the Center for Applied Anthropology, and the West Central Regional Public Archaeology Center.
...
The ranking included 394 schools, with Michigan State University at the top, followed in the Top 10 by USF; University of Pennsylvania; Arizona State University; University of California, Berkeley; Emory University; University of Arizona; University of California, Irvine; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Boston University; University of Washington; and Harvard University.

Full news release here.

Posted by Will at 09:50 PM

August 20, 2006

Special Letters Unit

This isn't really anthropology, but it has to do with two of my favorite things: Law & Order and learning. And it's hilarious.

Posted by Will at 04:58 PM

July 27, 2006

The Alma Mater

Here are some photos I shot today around the campus of my beloved undergrad institution, The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Click the photos to go to the original Flickr photo page.

UNCW Fountain

UNCW Columns

Hoggard Hall

View from the new student union

Posted by Will at 12:00 PM

April 19, 2006

What professors have to look forward to

Be Polite, E-Polite
Two faculty members at the University of Oregon have added “netiquette” to the syllabus.
Lamia N. Karim, an assistant anthropology professor, had gotten more than enough e-mails from students asking for directions to the library, or the bookstore, she said. So when she picked up a February New York Times article entitled “To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me,” the next step became clear.
The article is about how close e-mail has brought students and professors. So close, that students take the liberty of filling professors’s in-boxes with everything from criticisms of classmates to grade venting and questions about how to shop for school supplies.

Read the whole story here.

Posted by Will at 07:14 PM

February 19, 2006

The best automatic page-turning book scanner ever!

Gizmodo brought this new device to my attention, to be released next month for a cool $35,000: The Atiz BookDrive Automatic Book Scanner, which has a mechanized page turning feature. Sweet! I mention this because as a graduate assistant, I've become quite skilled at scanning book chapters one...page...at...a...time (sometimes two if the book is small enough).

bookscanner.jpg

Posted by Will at 04:21 PM

January 25, 2006

Two sides of the same coin

At Anthropology.net (an excellent site by the way), blogger gringoperdido has an enlightening post about the disparate natures of the American and Latin American education systems. Besides pointing out the differences in the logistics of degree-seeking, he speaks to the dynamics of actually carrying out archaeology (and interpretation) in the Maya world when two different educational structures (and languages) collide in the same region: one emphasizing method over theory (Latin America) and the other theory over method (US):

This has resulted in 2 separate dialogues about the nature of the ancient Maya. The gringos pay little attention to Guatemalan archaeologists and the Guatemalans are unable to access many of the interpretations and a lot of the recent theoretical schools. In addition, there is the actual language barrier. As most of the American projects in the Maya world are in Belize (an English-speaking country), there are many gringos who do not speak fluent Spanish and are thus unable and/or unwilling to read the reports of the Spanish-speaking projects. Most of the Guatemalans do not speak English and the few English-language books and articles that make it here are in out-of-the-way libraries, they do not use them much.

Posted by Will at 12:58 AM

December 23, 2005

Missing the Point of "Higher Education"

Michelle Malkin has linked to the Young America's Foundation list of " America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses" a.k.a. the Dirty Dozen. Of course, Malkin is complaining that these courses represent leftist activism in higher education and suggests that they are completely useless. The list shows that some people see things that aren't there (er, like a war on Christmas?):

A little more of my commentary follows this partial list:

Princeton University’s The Cultural Production of Early Modern Women examines “prostitutes,” “cross-dressing,” and “same-sex eroticism” in 16th - and 17th - century England, France, Italy and Spain (emphasis added).
Like something out of a Hugh Hefner film, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania offers the class Lesbian Novels Since World War II.
Alfred University’s Nip, Tuck, Perm, Pierce, and Tattoo: Adventures with Embodied Culture, mostly made up of women, encourages students to think about the meaning behind “teeth whitening, tanning, shaving, and hair dyeing.” Special projects include visiting a tattoo-and-piercing studio and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding film, Pumping Iron.
Harvard University’s Marxist Concepts of Racism examines “the role of capitalist development and expansion in creating racial inequality” (emphasis added). Although Karl Marx didn’t say much on race, leftist professors in this course extrapolate information on “racial oppression” and “racial antagonism."
Students at the University of California—Los Angeles need not wonder what it means to be a lesbian. The Psychology of the Lesbian Experience reviews “various aspects of lesbian experience” including the “impact of heterosexism/stigma, gender role socialization, minority status of women and lesbians, identity development within a multicultural society, changes in psychological theories about lesbians in sociohistorical context.”
Duke University’s American Dreams/American Realities course supposedly unearths “such myths as ‘rags to riches,’ ‘beacon to the world,’ and the ‘frontier,’ in defining the American character” (emphasis added).
Brown University’s Black Lavender: A Study of Black Gay & Lesbian Plays “address[es] the identities and issues of Black gay men and lesbians, and offer[s] various points of view from within and without the Black gay and lesbian artistic communities.”

Now, the list put out by the Young America's Foundation represents all that is wrong with America today. As an anthropologist, it is frustrating to read about how conservatives get up in arms about things that cannot be examined on a superficial level. Sure, a course in lesbian psychology isn’t for everyone because not everyone is interested in the subject. But how can it possibly be a waste of tuition dollars and an instance of “leftist activism” when the goal of the course is to educate the student on the experiences of someone other than themselves? This is the entire point of college and it frustrates the hell out of me when people don’t realize this. The Young America’s Foundation, Malkin, and other conservatives are simply not comfortable with confronting the true face of America. They preach diversity and acceptance but they refuse to acknowledge the legitimate nature of the people that make up this culture. It sounds harsh to say, but anything that isn’t Jesus-oriented or based on a conservative western view of culture must be leftist propaganda and thus dangerous. It seems to me that this view stems from a deep-seeded fear of reality which in turn limits the ability of the individual to see the value in the Other. To me the most disturbing item on the list is Harvard’s Marxists Concepts of Racism which looks at “the role of capitalist development and expansion in creating racial inequality. How can this be considered a useless course? Only through the narrow and limited (and often caucasian) window of ignorance that characterizes much of conservative thought in the United States.

Posted by Will at 01:28 PM

October 13, 2005

Proposals

I submitted my paper proposal/abstract and outline for Chiefdoms (my favorite course of the semester so far). I'll reproduce it here but I'll wait to hear back from my prof first so as to avoid posting something completely off the wall (I don’t want to be denied tenure ten years from now!).

My other two research proposals are due on Tuesday. The one for Archaeological Methods is to be sort of a mock National Science Foundation proposal for funding. I downloaded the forms and guidelines and I must admit I’m glad I’m not actually doing this for real yet. It’s good practice though and will surely come in handy down the road. The summary page that we have to turn in Tuesday must contain a “statement of objectives and methods to be employed, intellectual merit of the proposed activity, and broader impacts resulting from the proposed activities.” Yikes…

There’s no specific format for the graduate seminar research paper, although it will be treated as “an extended research proposal.” This paper will have an applied dimension because, well, I’m in an applied anthropology department. This shouldn’t be too hard because I would have trouble justifying a research project in the first place unless it had some real-world applicability rather than simply doing archaeology for the sake of digging up stuff and documenting it. Like the Methods paper, this one will be a project we won’t actually carry out (or at least don’t have to) but to make it good I’ll have to ignore that fact.

As I mentioned in another post, all three papers will focus on some aspect of Maya agriculture. The Chiefdoms edition is sort of my reference point with the two other papers building off of that to suit the particular needs. Besides being incredibly interesting, there are several applied dimensions that one can take with agricultural research. For an example, check out one of my favorite charities, Sustainable Harvest International.

Posted by Will at 05:07 PM

My blog is none of your business!

Another academic blogger is in the news (well, blog news at least) for being denied tenure. Daniel Drezner is apparently one of the most read political science bloggers and is also a professor at the University of Chicago. Although we don't know for sure why he was denied the coveted position of intellectual invincibility, some are speculating that his blog may have had something to do with it. The response from the chair of the political science department at Chicago is ambiguous: “I can assure you it’s no specifically about the blog.”

I’ve never read Drezner’s blog before and don’t know what’s lurking in his archives, but its stories like these that make me second guess my little endeavor here for a brief moment. But then I remember that I really never cared what people think of what I say. A strong position for a writer who doesn't have much controversial things to say in the first place. Since I started Nomadic Thoughts there have been a few stories about academics either coming under fire, being fired, or being denied tenure because of something they write on the internet (blog or otherwise). As I’ve said several times before here, there is a fine line between the appropriate venues in which to voice controversial opinions. On a public website where potential employers can literally read your thoughts it’s not necessarily a good idea to get controversial in the first place. Many academics would disagree with this but most of them are tenured anyway. Even then, I view it a bit inappropriate to publicly acknowledge your affiliation with an institution (either explicitly or someone being able to do a Google search of your name) and flaunt your political views as if you are free to do so. In America there is no such thing as truly free speech no matter what any document proclaims and anyone who hopes to advance in the academy must realize this. Either blog anonymously and spout of all you want or watch what you say. Nomadic Thoughts has never been politicized and even when a bit of my politics seep into a post here and there they’re usually in the context of current anthropological thinking (anthropology can be a highly politicized discipline).

The New York Sun article.
Charles Norman Todd opines, as does John Bruce.

Posted by Will at 12:42 AM

October 08, 2005

Archaeology Position at USF

Released from the Department of Anthropology:

The Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida seeks an Assistant Professor with expertise in North American archaeology to begin Fall 2006. The position is full-time and tenure-earning with benefits. Candidates must be committed to four-field applied anthropology, have experience in cultural resource management, and hold a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the time of appointment. Preference will be given to applicants whose research focuses within the Southeastern U.S. and who can teach undergraduate and graduate courses in archaeological methods and theory, historical archaeology, and applied or public archaeology. We envision the successful applicant being able to take a leading role in developing a concentration in museum studies or cultural heritage. Salary is negotiable. Send a letter of application with names and contact information of three references, a full curriculum vitae, and evidence of teaching effectiveness to Dr. E. Christian Wells, Search Committee Chair, Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., SOC 107, Tampa, FL 33620. All applications must be complete and received by December 1, 2005. According to Florida law, applications and meetings regarding them are open to the public. For ADA accommodations, contact Sharon Lewis (813) 974-2145 at least five working days prior to need. USF is an AA/EA/EO institution.

Posted by Will at 05:16 PM

September 25, 2005

Xavier and Dillard

I never bought into the overt racism accusations by some people in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, but I do believe that race will unfortunately play a role in the rebuilding of the New Orleans area, which is predominantly black. There is a story in today’s New York Times about Xavier and Dillard Universities, two historically black institutions that were each demolished during Katrina. As the article alludes, they are being overshadowed by the larger rebuilding process especially at Tulane and Loyola, two other much larger (and richer) New Orleans universities:

When most people think of higher education in New Orleans, they are more likely to think of Tulane or perhaps Loyola than Xavier and Dillard, two small historically black universities scrambling to get back on their feet. But in the parable of race and inequality left behind by the floodwaters, one chapter still to be written will be the fate of places like Dillard and Xavier, which suffered far worse damage than their wealthier counterparts on higher ground and have tiny endowments, limited resources and students who are almost all dependent on financial aid.

My point here is not that I believe Xavier and Dillard will be completely forgotten in the rebuilding process. They will rebuild like the other universities but it’s going to be especially hard for them given the generally smaller budgets and much smaller student population, most of which is on some sort of financial aid:

"I don't have an endowment I can take money from," said Dr. Norman C. Francis, the president of Xavier. "If I can't recover the money we expected for the first semester to pay faculty and staff and pay our bills, we're standing here naked. We have nothing. And what we're looking for now is the help we need so we won't be severely crippled in our ability to come back."

I am optimistic because from what I can tell universities from across the country have been very generous in their willingness to accept displaced students and otherwise help alleviate the strain that faces the 75,000 college and university students in the New Orleans area (Both Tulane and Loyola have extended the use of their facilities to Xavier in the event they aren't ready for the planned reopening in January). As with the countless small towns that Anderson Cooper never made it to, we cannot forget about the smaller, historically black institutions of higher education that have been destroyed and that may provide one of the only routes out of poverty for some.

Posted by Will at 11:58 AM

September 23, 2005

50 Most Cited Works

Boing Boing pointed me to a list of the most cited works in the Arts & Humanities Index from 1976-1983. Not surprisingly there were a couple of Chomsky entires as well as Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (the most cited work) which I had the pleasure of reading only last year as an undergraduate. Other notable entries include Being and Nothingness by Sarte (#29), and Levi-Strauss' The Savage Mind (#39). Although not necessarily a "best of" list, I'm willing to bet the books included were cited for a reason. I'll put them all on my "to read" list.

Posted by Will at 01:55 PM

September 15, 2005

Playing the Game

Last week "Ivan Tribble" wrote another column at the Chronicle of Higher Education where he expounds on his first article that got many academic bloggers fired up. Quickly: the first article condemned blogging as at best a risky activity if one hopes to find a decent tenure-track position. He explained why making your thoughts and opinions available in such an easily accessible and universal medium as the internet is too much of a risk for potential job applicants and a liability for potential employers. One reason alluded to by Tribble is the compulsiveness of blogging: one can rant and rave in the heat of the moment and publish the results at the push of a button. Even if one decided to subsequently delete such a blog entry, search engines and archiving websites have already snagged a copy that can show up in internet searches down the road (for example if a hiring committee chooses to “Google” a job applicant).

Tribble clarifies himself in his second article but stops short of reversing himself. His overall tone was reduced from a condescending critique of academic bloggers to a friendly warning against publishing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like. He obviously heard the uproar created by his first column and responded accordingly and I find little to disagree with in his second piece, even thought I have the feeling he still views academic bloggers as dangerous to the institution of academia.

When I started Nomadic Thoughts a few months ago I did so with the full knowledge that anything I write could potentially be read by anyone in the world, including my graduate professors and colleagues. The very people that would be awarding me a master’s degree could very easily stumble upon this website by doing a Google search of “anthropology blogs” and browsing through a few links. Obviously that didn’t stop me because my motivations for becoming an anthropology blogger were such that I wouldn’t have to worry about what I published. Nomadic Thoughts isn’t a political blog so I really don’t have to worry about my political views coming back to haunt me if and when I decide to pursue a career in academia. Some of my posts are indeed prompted by my political views about a subject but only when they have something to do with anthropology, culture, or society.

Academic bloggers do indeed have to use a certain degree of discretion and self-censorship when publishing to the internet and not only because it could have a negative impact on one’s career. Most academic bloggers I read have tenured positions at universities so they do not necessarily have to watch what they say. Even so the likelihood of a controversial blog post getting them in trouble with the administration is slim unless the controversy crosses over into other media, such as the student newspaper or the local news. As someone who is contemplating a career in academic realm I am cognizant of the possibility of my blog posts now affecting my evaluation as long as ten years from now. That does not stop me from posting what I feel are valid opinions, political or otherwise.

Posted by Will at 03:13 PM

September 13, 2005

Crime on University Campuses spikes at the beginning of each semester, study shows. University officials baffled.

Ever since the invention of the printing press colleges and universities have been ripping off students with textbooks. OK, maybe not that early but it has been a time-honored tradition to charge ridiculous amount of money for seemingly inconsequential reading materials. I have had friends who were charged as much as $200 for a single volume with accompanying compact disc or other supplemental material. Here at USF, one of the cashiers at the bookstore was telling me their most expensive book this semester was a Spanish text ringing in at about $175. And we have all seen the “textbooks” that university bookstores sell that aren’t even bound together; they’re simply a shrink-wrapped stack of pages masquerading as a required reading. The most expensive book I’ve purchased in the past four years has been Fundamentals of Physical Education for the basic Phys. Ed. course required of all undergraduates at UNC-Wilmington. That book was around $80 and was softcover, spiral-bound, and consisted mostly of tear-out worksheets that we had to turn in weekly. A racket for two reasons: you could not sell back the used textbook and it was co-authored by one or two P.E. faculty at UNCW. Therein lies conflict of interest that so many students have complained about over the years: professors assigning their own books for required reading in their courses.

The Daily Pennsylvanian has this story today about this issue and cites a handful of examples, including Robert Sharer using his The Ancient Maya for an anthropology course. Perhaps I’m a little bias because I study Mesoamerican archaeology myself but Sharer’s book is pretty much the definitive volume on the Ancient Maya. It’s huge, almost 900 pages, but I found it new on Amazon.com for a little over $20 last year. Most books are much cheaper on such sites as well as off-campus stores as opposed to an on-campus bookstore so it must be granted that there are options for students. The article describes how some students see a conflict of interest with professors assigning their own books but one author makes the point that sometimes they really have written the most useful material for their uniquely-designed course.

I’m not so much bothered by the perceived conflict of interest as I am of the obviousness of the racket that publishers and universities have. They knowledgeably sell grossly-overpriced material to consumers who traditionally have a limited income (if none at all) and then turn around and give them much less during buyback at the end of the semester. Granted, many times a volume is so obscure that the cost of printing a few hundred copies for a university will jack up the price considerably but more often than not I see flimsy paperbacks and pencil-thin hardcovers selling for much more than other outlets are charging.

Posted by Will at 08:51 AM

July 26, 2005

Guns, Germs and Steel: Final Review and Analysis

Last night was the conclusion of the Guns, Germs and Steel mini-series on PBS. Episode Three, Into the Tropics, tests Jared Diamond’s theory of global European domination on the continent of Africa. He looks at why Europeans were so successful in and around the southern tip of Africa and why the Dutch failed miserably at extending their domination northward. Diamond concludes his train journey by examining the role of disease, climate, and technology in the development of global inequality.

Like the previous two episodes, Into the Tropics was wonderful aesthetically but it was a little more scattered than its predecessors. Africa is a rather large continent and it is clearly impossible to apply Diamond’s theory to such a geographically expansive area in less than an hour. Whereas Episodes One and Two achieved the goal of providing a good introduction to the roots of European domination, Episode Three was a bit of a stretch. The conclusion, however, was well written and summed up the series quite well, but it felt rushed; sort of that “oh crap, we’re running out of time so let’s get to the point” feeling. I believe I got this feeling because this particular episode dealt with a vastly important and emotional topic and focused largely on contemporary human suffering. The footage of Diamond breaking down in a Zambian children’s hospital was awkward yet effective.

Now that I have the entire series to base my opinion on, I still stand by my belief that documentary filmmaking on scientific topics does not have to be high-density in order to provide a useful tool for both laypersons and professionals. The fields relevant to Guns, Germs and Steel (geography, anthropology, environmental science, etc.) all have their professional journals and academic conferences that provide a useful and necessary forum for the exchange of ideas and thus the development of theory and method. Speaking from an anthropological perspective, I have always thought that the entire point of scientific inquiry was to address real problems relevant to real people. If a topic is of absolutely no use to anyone and as a result makes no useful contributions to the broad base of human knowledge then such a topic is a lost cause (thankfully, it is hard to think of a feasible research project that does not meet these requirements). For this reason, the aim of any scientist, social or otherwise, should strive to make their research available to the masses. This may mean numerous translations in some cases or the preparation of visual aids in others. Particularly in anthropology, there is a cultural divide that often must be crossed to do this.

I feel that Guns, Germs and Steel (the television version) does just that: it provides a succinct yet informative introduction to Jared Diamond’s theory. It doesn’t rob the viewer of the importance of the topics covered nor does it sell short the science of those topics. The television series never purported to be a highly scientific documentary examining the ultimate and proximate factors in the development of inequality. In this respect, neither does the book that the series is based on (although is does examine the factors closely).

There has been some great discussion happening on academic blogs in the wake of Guns, Germs and Steel, most notably at Savage Minds which offers two posts, both critical of Diamond’s theories rather than the television series itself. I suggest you read them to balance out the GG&S love-fest that has been going on here at Nomadic Thoughts for the past three weeks:

Anthropology's Guns, Germs and Steel Problem by Ozma
What's Wrong with Yali's Question by Kerim

Posted by Will at 11:13 AM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2005

Panda's Thumb reports from Creation Mega Conference

Jason at The Panda's Thumb is providing a series of incredibly fascinating posts about his time at the Creation Mega Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia (home of Liberty University, Falwell's institution). They're coming in parts, so read there or keep an eye on this post for excerpts:

Part 1:

People start taking their seats and Jerry Falwell approaches the platform. Golly! He's famous. I've seen him on television.

He describes the conference as an historic event, and claims around 2000 attendees. My own informal count says that's a plausible number. He then asserts that all the polls show that 2/3 to 3/4 of Americans agree with AiG on this issue, which is total nonsense. The polls have consistently shown that the percentage of people accepting the Young-Earth position is just under fifty percent.
He boasts that the debate is being won by the church. He says that despite having the media, Hollywood and academe against them, the church of Jesus Christ returned George W. Bush to the White House. And this is about science, right?

Part 2:

At scientific conferences, the purpose of the presentations is to transmit facts and ideas to the audience. Glitz and flash are not viewed as important. But in creationist conferences, the point is to fool people into thinking that something of great import is being delivered from the stage. They want to provoke the reaction, “How could they be wrong? Their presentation is so slick!”

Part 3:

Nonsense has to be confronted. A short drive from my home, some two thousand people are gathering to listen to a series of frauds and charlatans impugn the characters of my colleagues and tell lies about what scientists believe and why they believe it. How could I live with myself if I didn't do what little I could to challenge it? Frankly, I think it should be a requirement of every science PhD program in the country that students attend a conference such as this. Let them see first-hand the ingorance, the anti-intellectualism, the anti-science propaganda, the anti-anything that doesn't conform to their idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible attitude. Maybe then people on my side of this would wake up, and stop acting like it's a waste of time to pay attention to these folks.

Posted by Will at 06:08 PM

July 12, 2005

Death to Academic Bloggers contd.

The academic blogosphere has been going nuts over this opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which (anonymously) blasts academic blogs, claiming that they can, and usually do, hurt potential job applicants (I mention the article in my post here).

Well, the article has hit #4 on BlogPulse's most active links and while virtually all posts I've read have been critical of the piece, Jeff feels otherwise:

Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," whoever you are, for reminding me why choosing not to pursue an academic career was one of the best decisions I ever made. Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," for personifying the petty tyranny that I am newly grateful to have avoided. Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," for confirming that I was right to spend the past seven years working, traveling, and writing rather than leaping through hoops to please fickle and cowardly hiring committees. Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," for showing that there are few rewards, spiritual or otherwise, in scholarship and pseudo-collegiality predicated on the fearful question, Gosh, what if some fool expresses his personal opinion?

Indeed...

Posted by Will at 12:33 PM

June 22, 2005

That's dinosaurs, right?

There's an interesting discussion going on at Savage Minds about the "Indiana Jones Syndrome" in anthropology. Rex writes:

When I tell most people that I am an anthropologist, the most common response is “ah… dinosaur bones. Fascinating.” But, as Kerim points out many focus on the Indiana Jones thing as well. This isn’t surprising. As a kid I loved Indiana Jones flicks as much as anyone else, but I never went into anthropology because of them (how that happened is a longer story!). But truth be told, I am genuinely shocked at how many anthropologists I know got into the business as a result of Indiana Jones—and if people were willing to admit it, the numbers would rise even higher.

I commented here that I was not immune from the Indiana Jones syndrome.

indie_head.jpg
Very rarely does an archaeologist need to replace an artifact with a bag of sand to avoid death.

I have heard the dinosaur comment a few times since I started taking anthropology classes. The best one was when one of the managers at a cafeteria I used to work at thought anthropology was the study of bugs. Many times, those of us in the field loose sight of the fact that anthropology really is a minority discipline at most American universities and that there are only a few thousand professional archaeologists in the entire country. As a result, the majority of non-anthropology geeks have false impressions or no impression at all. For such an important field, I hope that this changes over time.

American anthropology has always sort of been one of those disciplines that people view as either exotic and exciting or completely dull and unimportant. Both extremes are the result of ignorance and it is up to the field alone to correct these false impressions. As I am relatively new to the field I can't give an expert opinion but it seems to me that the key is dialogue. By engaging the general public on a regular basis we clarify what we're all about as well as the importance of what we do.

Posted by Will at 04:14 PM | Comments (3)

June 16, 2005

Evolution of Beliefs

I can't remember where I read this (leave a comment if you've read it too), but a professor was attacking the right's perceived liberal bias in academia by suggesting that liberalism is the inevitable outcome of an American education in the social sciences. I was struck by this for a number of reasons, most notably because I have come to realize the recent evolution of my own political beliefs and how much of that is the result of my four years at UNC-Wilmington. North Carolina is a state that is as red as they come and I have found that the UNCW student population is largely conservative, at least in a very general sense. There is only a small minority of vocal liberals and progressives on campus and they usually find themselves lost in a sea of military wives and girlfriends and rich white kids who have oval "W" stickers on the back window of their Jeep Cherokee (usually right next to a "Young Life" sticker). My point is that while I observe the student population to be largely conservative, the faculty and professorship embody the trend playing out across the United States. I could go into great detail here but many readers may already be aware that the vast majority of professors and faculty members at any major university in the United States are anything but politically conservative, especially in the social sciences.

In this context, I was ruminating on the implications of this and what it means to me and my educational history. For the past four years, I have taken mostly courses under the College of Arts and Sciences. Most of those were within the Anthropology and Philosophy & Religion departments. The social sciences in particular have mostly liberal professors (based on my personal observations) and the Philosophy & Religion department seems to be even more so. I do not want to give the impression that I feel my education has in any way been directly shaped by the personal political beliefs of these professors but rather that the curriculum and material in my anthropology and philosophy courses are typically in the context of what would be considered a liberal framework (the religion classes that I took were pretty straightforward surveys rather than interpretations of paradigms).

So, I am left to ponder how exactly my political beliefs are intertwined with my education. When I first came to UNCW as a timid freshman, I considered myself conservative but not Republican. I supported George W. Bush in his first run for office but four years later I was scared for the country should he be elected again (we're still alive, so far). I found myself progressing to a more liberal mindset and while I still agreed with Bush on some issues, they were little in number and growing fewer by the day. In learning about different cultures, worldviews, and religions, I came to know a different side of human existence that I hadn't realized was there. On the surface most of us lead a shallow, materialistic existence dominated by money, greed, and the effects of American pop culture. As I delved deeper into the important, philosophical questions I began to realize that my life didn't have to be one-dimensional any longer. Starting my junior year, the world began to take on new meaning and slowly but surely more and more dimensions became evident until they all blurred into one confusing view of reality. It's beautiful and scary at the same time but I wouldn't have it any other way. If you are one hundred percent comfortable with your existence, something is wrong. You aren't thinking hard enough. This is what I came to understand through my philosophy courses aided by my exposure to various topics in anthropology. It was a wonderful dynamic that was playing out before my eyes: my philosophy and religion courses were teaching me new ways to think while my anthropology courses gave me a frame of reference; something to which I could apply my newfound understanding of reality.

I have sort of strayed from the point I was trying to make, but I'll conclude by saying that I think there is anything but a liberal bias in academia. Instead, I feel that liberalism and progressivism is the result of the broadening of one's view of the world, which is what anthropology is all about. How can one travel outside of this country (in my case, to Belize, a third-world country) and still subscribe to the notion that the United States is in some way inherently better than or more privileged than another nation? This is a major tenent of the modern conservative movement and one that cannot be reconciled with an appreciation of the beauty and importance of things outside the realm of American politics and culture.

Posted by Will at 12:13 AM

June 08, 2005

Overboard?

Inside Higher Ed reports on the case of Timothy Shortell, a Sociology professor at Brooklyn College. Amid controversy surrounding an essay he wrote for a website not affiliated with the College, Shortell has declined his election as chair of the sociology department. The essay, written for a website called The Anti-Naturals, caused controversy because it characterizes religious people as "moral retards" among other things. The essay has been interpreted as particularly offensive to Christians. Many were not happy with Shortell's thoughts on religion and began pressuring the College to do something. Although he was not forced to do so, Shortell decided to decline the offer of department chair, presumably because of indirect pressure from the administration. Shortell maintains that his thoughts on religion have no bearing on his academic career and that “It is a mistake to believe that simply because I have expressed my political views as a private citizen that I am unable to treat people fairly in my professional role" (quote from his website).

It is unfortunate that Shortell felt he had to forgo the opportunity of department chair because of external pressure to do so. This case is particularly notable because the offensive piece in question was written for a website that was not in any way affiliated with Brooklyn College or his role as an educator. While I believe that there is a certain responsibility that a professor has to live up to, the academy must distinguish between professional obligation and freedom of thought and speech. It would be one thing if Shortell qualified his statements by citing his role as a professor at Brooklyn College: that is irresponsible because it brings into the equation an indirect affiliation between his opinions and his institution. The only potential hole in this argument would be the fact that Shortell has linked to the Anti-Naturals website on his professional web page. Even then, it would be a stretch to assume that such a link implies a causal connection between his personal opinions and any perceived bias as a professor.

The whole situation as illustrated by the Shortell controversy is particularly worrisome to those of us who maintain public, online journals for whatever reason. I started Nomadic Thoughts in order to give me a chance to express my thoughts and opinions on anthropology and related topics. It is public because of my firm belief that the furtherance of scientific thought and theory can only happen through informed public discourse, hence the purpose of academic print journals and professional conferences. While important, the internet has provided scientists and researchers the opportunity to bypass the often restrictive and highly selective nature of these two venues and reach a much larger lay audience that may or may not be well versed in the rhetoric and lingo employed by professionals. As I mentioned in a pre-Nomadic Thoughts post on my personal blog, anthropology and the other social sciences should not be restricted to the few who hold degrees in these fields because doing so would defeat the whole purpose of such inquiry.

For these reasons, a writer must not feel restricted in what he says outside of his professional affiliation. While a certain degree of self-censorship is inevitable, the value of public discourse as described above ceases to be effective. This Fall I will be completely new in the world of higher education, although I am already somewhat familiar with how it works. For that reason, I am mindful of what I post here and how it may potentially affect my future in academia. The Shortell situation is a reminder that we don't live in a society where freedom of speech is absolute. It is sad when an individual with the qualifications and experience necessary to make him or her a quality educator able to make a difference is held back because of what some perceive as controversial statements in the private sector.

Update: Malkin rejoices; story in the NY Sun

Posted by Will at 12:51 PM

June 03, 2005

An anthroplogist after my own heart

Check out this story in the student newspaper of Glendale College about Wendy Fonarow, an Anthropology professor who's master's thesis was on children's behavior on Halloween and her doctoral dissertation on "the aestetics and rituals of indie rock music".

Posted by Will at 03:47 PM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

Academic Blogging

This is a re-post of an entry at my other blog, The Journal, but it's quite relevant to the creation of Nomadic Thoughts:

I have finally pinpointed my latest obsession: academic blogging. AnthroBlog Blog referred me to an article in the Village Voice about academic blogging and it's brief history. The obvious appeal from the viewpoint of academics is that it enables them to bounce ideas off one another and otherwise organize and develop their thoughts in their area of expertise. Of course, I am mostly interested in blogs having to do with the humanities (i.e. anthropology, philosophy, and religion) and indeed these fields seem to make up the bulk of the academic blogs out there (unless I'm missing something). Anthropology and philosophy in particular are perfect for a blogging community because so much of the subject matter has to do with discourse and the exchange of ideas. Read the Village Voice article for elaboration on this; it's very interesting.

My realization that anthropology is a field of ideas is the basis of the appeal of academic blogs. Whereas a hundred years ago an elite group of intellectuals would sit around parlors and universities and discuss their work, public blogging seems much of the same except that it allows for a potentially unlimited audience who are able to comment on what a particular author posts. Thus, it is fundamentally different than what has been going on for the past century. Should an academic choose to maintain a blog, he or she is inviting criticism not just from his peers but from laypersons as well. This forces the academic to exercise his or her ability to espouse ideas and theories so that nonspecialists can understand them. Of course, I am sure there are academic blogs out there that are highly specialized and retain field-specific jargon, but the majority of them are out there because they want to be read by a wide audience outside of their immediate circle. Otherwise, there is no point in maintaining a public blog. That is what academic journals are for.

I have always felt that anthropology is a very critical position in that it must maintain its status as a respectable scientific endeavour but at the same time be accessible to a general audience when necessary. This is because of the immediate social implications of virtually all anthropological research. I am not trying to advocate anthropology as superior to any other science, but rather that because anthropologists study human beings the field must make a conscious effort not to distance itself from the general public. This doesn't always happen, but on a personal level I will enter graduate school with this in the back of my mind.

All that being said, here are some of my favorite academic blogs and a short description of what they're all about:

General Academic Blogs:

Crooked Timber - This one is written by a group of about 12 academics with various backgrounds, so it makes for an interesting mix of opinion and ideas. From what I can tell, this is the granddaddy of academic blogs because I've seen it cited on many others. Usually one of my first stops when I sit down to read.
The Valve - Somewhat new, The Valve was primarily started to serve the literary community. There are plenty of posts on literary theory but also some relating to anthropology and culture. Also written by a collective.

Anthropology Blogs:

Savage Minds - Savage Minds is written by a group of anthropologists about anthropology (duh). Great design and excellent writing make for a good read. It's just getting started but already they have some great posts.
Field Notes - Another great blog that seems to be geared to the author's students and a wide audience. Easy to read with great topics, nice design/layout too.
Motes and Theories on Anthropology - Simple layout and straightforward discussion. I can see this one becoming one of my favorites.
Gloublog - Written by Alex Golub, a PhD candidate at U. of Chicago. Fun to read about his personal experiences as well as his opinions on academia and his journey to achieving his doctorate.
Stranger Fruit - John M. Lynch of Arizona State writes fun posts with some satire. Haven't read much of it yet but there seems to be several posts critical of Intelligent Design (yay!).

Posted by Will at 01:03 AM