12 June 2010

The Week in Mozart

"Wolf Trap lets audience choose the ending to Mozart's unfinished opera 'Zaide'," by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post.

Zaide (the title was added later, after Mozart's death) is a German Singspiel that Mozart began to compose in 1779, but never completed. The general topos of the story—Europeans trapped or in slavery in Moslem countries—was a popular one at the time; a similar story is found in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. There are 15 complete musical numbers in the surviving autograph of Zaide, but the overture and several numbers from the end of the opera are missing. Today its most well-known number is probably "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben," which turns up frequently on soprano recital programs.

In rehearsal, the directors of the production at  Wolf Trap created three variant endings for the Singspiel. Rather than choosing one ending to the exclusion of the others, they decided to let audience members vote on which ending they prefer.

The performances are taking place this weekend.

"Sewage plant plays Mozart to stimulate microbes" reports Kate Connolly in The Guardian. The subhead says it all: "Sewage operator believes chords and cadences of compositions speed up way the organisms break down biomass."  He says it works, and Mozart does it best. (Hat tip to Markus Hauck.)

And along those lines, it's worth mentioning again the article "Mozart effect-Schmozart effect: A meta-analysis," in Intelligence, which I mentioned on 31 May. Unfortunately the article is behind a paywall, at $31.50.... But who knows, perhaps if I'm lucky, an angel will reveal the article to me in a dream (perhaps bound in gold covers...then I can start a religion).
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Annals of Human Ingenuity

From Thomas Haller Buchanan at The Pictorial Arts (by way of Boing Boing):

Buchanan explains:
This rosewood bed, encrusted with silver and the figures made of bronze, was created for Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi V of Bahawalpur in 1883. The four figures at the corners represent women of France, Spain, Italy and Greece. With clever mechanisms, the statues were able to wink and wave fans and fly whisks [....]

To add to its other attributes, the bed was fitted with a music box that played a thirty minute interlude from Gounod's Faust, activated by a button.
Good to know that the Khan was an opera lover.

And in the category of instantiated puns, we have (also via Boing Boing):

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11 June 2010

Daily Digest, 11.06.2010

Today: Leonardo as paleontologist and ichnologist; testosterone vs. oxytocin; humans in the Philippines 67,000 years ago?; yet more on Hare-gate; how deep is the ocean, how high is the sky? (a really cool graphic shows us); the D.C. Revolving Door (elected officials becoming lobbyists)
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NCAA punishes USC football and basketball

The University of Southern California, my alma mater (for my useless Ph.D.), has, according to an article in today's Inside Higher Ed, been "severely punished....for improper commercial dealings involving Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush and basketball standout O.J. Mayo." It all sounds pretty slimy, if unfortunately par for the course. I won't summarize the case here; read the IHE report, which is concise and clear.

The deep institutional integration of sports (and its adjuncts, such as marching bands, cheerleaders, expensive stadiums, and so on) into higher education in the United States is certainly one of the more bizarre aspects of the system here.  Growing up in the United States, you take this entirely for granted, until, perhaps, you realize that no other university system in the world seems to do this (at least so far as I know).  And then you begin to wonder why the budget for your school's marching band is bigger than the budget for its School of Music, or why the salary of the football coach is, oh (let's be conservative here) say, thirty times your salary as a classroom teacher and even though you are (of course you are, because the job description required it!) a world-class scholar in your field.

The traditional justification for college sports is that they are crucial to money-raising from alumni, but I have read (I don't have references to hand) that this rationale is dubious at best, and quite likely simply untrue, at least when it comes to raising money for a university's educational function.

Personally, I always silently chuckle whenever USC (or LSU, for that matter, where I briefly worked for a laughably low salary) loses a big game.  Or even a small one.

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Oxford Sees Scholarly Hesitancy on Open Access

So reads the headline of an odd story at Inside Higher Ed, which I reproduce in full here:
Academics remain reluctant to allow their journal articles to be deposited in open-access repositories, according to the Oxford University Press. The press announced Thursday that the percentage of Oxford Press articles authorized for re-publication in its open-access repository decreased overall from 6.7 to 5.9 percent between 2008 and 2009. Officials attributed the decrease to a relatively low rate of opt-ins from 11 new journals to which the option was extended in 2009; putting those new titles aside, the proportion of authors allowing their work to be made freely available stayed roughly the same. Still, the stagnation of that rate indicates that researchers are still wary of endorsing an open-access model, Oxford officials said in a release. Humanities scholars were the least willing to participate in Oxford Open, the press's open-access initiative, opting in at a rate of 2.5 percent. Life sciences scholars were the most generous with their work, with 11.4 percent allowing their papers to be freely accessible.

Hmmm.  I've published with Oxford (one  journal article and one book chapter) and I don't recall them asking me if I wanted to have my work made openly accessible.  (I do!  I do!)  So I guess I can assume that OUP won't mind if I make my OUP publications openly accessible? (Anyone want to take bets on this?)

And why do I feel that this is a little like the prison warden asking the inmates if they like the cooking?

The IHE doesn't provide a link to the OUP "release," and I don't have time to look for it now. Does anyone have any insights?
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No comment

This story from Reuters:

"U.S. scientists design smart underpants that could save lives."

According to the article, the technology was "developed by nano-engineering professor Joseph Wang of University of California San Diego and his team."
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10 June 2010

Daily Digest, 10.06.2010

Heute: Clay Shirkey's new book; the perils of street walking (sort of); bad science funded by Big Milk; Batesian mimicry; relaxed selection and the evolution of language; more on Hare-gate; paleolithic erections.

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ein mort vil grimmec unde grôz

Bettina Blidhauer has published a excellent review ("Better than Wagner") in TLS of a new English prose translation by Cyril Edwards of the Middle High German epic poem, the Nibelungenlied.

I've never read the Nibelungenlied in whole or in part (heck, I've hardly read any Shakespeare; that's what a modern education will fail to provide you). The Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs) is notoriously one of the inspirations for Wagner's extended mythological potboiler, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Bildhauer reproduces in her review one pair of couplets from the poem in the original Middle High German:
Dô sluoc daz kint Ortlieben / Hagen der helt guot,
daz im gegen der hende / ame swerte vlôz daz bluot.
und daz der küneginne / daz houbet spranc in die schôz.
dô huop sich under degenen / ein mort vil grimmec unde grôz. 
I haven't studied Middle High German, but Edwards's translation is enough for me to figure out nearly all of the correspondences to modern German:
Then Hagen, the worthy hero, dealt the child Ortliep such a blow that the blood shot back along the sword up to his hand, and the boy’s head flew into the queen’s lap. Grim and massive slaughter began then among those knights. 
Thus, for example, the line "und daz der küneginne / daz houbet spranc in die schôz" would correspond in modern German (but keeping the original word order) to "und daß der Königin das Haupt sprang in die Schoss" (literally "and that to the queen the head sprang into the lap").

Beats the heck out of Wagner's turgid attempts to imitate this style.

Makes me wish there were an edition with the original text and an annotated prose translation on facing pages (maybe there is; I haven't looked).

Speaking of Wagner, here's an entertaining post by Jaime Weinman at Macleans.ca, pondering whether (in light of the large sum that the Metropolitan Opera is paying to shore up the stage so that it doesn't collapse under the weight of Robert Lepage's set for the new production of the Ring) Wagner is really worth it. He cites a wonderful, and I think very astute passage by Tchaikovsky, which I reproduce here:
Since opera, in [Wagner's] view, is nothing other than drama accompanied by music, and since the characters in a drama are supposed to speak rather than sing, Wagner irrevocably banishes from opera all rounded and self-contained musical forms, i.e. he does away with arias, ensembles, and even choruses, which he uses episodically and very moderately only in the last part of his tetralogy. That is, he banishes that conventional element of opera which to us had not seemed offensive or false merely because routine had made us quite insensitive to it.
Since in the moments of passionate intensity to which people living in a social community are subject nobody would think of striking up a song, arias are to be rejected; and since as a rule two people do not speak to one another at the same time, but rather one will let the other speak out first, there can be no duets either. Similarly, since people in a crowd do not generally all utter the same words together at the same time, a chorus must also be out of the question, and so on and so forth.
Wagner, by apparently forgetting in this context that the truth of life and the truth of art are two quite different truths, is in effect striving after rationality. In order to reconcile these demands of truth with the requirements of music, Wagner exclusively recognizes the form of the recitative. All his music—and it is a music which is profoundly conceived, always interesting, often splendid and exciting, though at times also a bit dryish and unintelligible, a music which is astonishingly rich from the technical point of view and equipped with an instrumentation of unprecedented beauty—all his music, I emphasize, is entrusted exclusively to the orchestra. The characters sing mainly just completely colourless successions of tones which are tailored to the symphony being performed by the invisible orchestra.
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The Deepwater Horizon disaster

I've just become aware of the deep and frequent coverage in Mother Jones of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which is now well on its way to (if it hasn't already reached) being the single worst human-caused environmental disaster in history, per unit time. I'm only starting to browse the Mother Jones coverage, but you can find it here.

And when you need to laugh to keep from crying:

Doonesbury sends Duke to wrangle the PR on the oil spill (via Language Log).

At The Onion: "Massive Flow of Bullshit Continues to Gush from BP Headquarters"

And UCBComedy reenacts the great BP Coffee Spill:

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World Cup

I don't watch TV.  I can't even remember the last time I turned it on: was it for Obama's inauguration?  But even then, only for 15 minutes. Oh, sure, I cheat a little sometimes:  I'll watch part of a Red Sox game on a TV when I'm cat-sitting Zeus and Lucy, or I'll catch up with recent Simpsons episodes on Hulu. But basically, I live in a non-televised world.

But I hear rumors that there is some kind of "World Cup" that is about to start? A group of "foodball" matches, or something?

At any rate, I'm trying to educate myself about this. Others in my situation may find the following links helpful:

"The Rules of the Game," The Paris Review Daily (well, what other clever headline did you think they were going to use?).

And (a first for this blog), a link to the WSJ:  John Heilpern's review of the collection "Soccer and Philosophy," edited by Ted Richards.

Heilpern begins his review with a reference to the Monty Python sketch in which German philosophers meet the Greeks in a football match. I hadn't seen it.  Here it is:

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A really old shoe

You would have to have been living in....well....a cave (or perhaps sitting in an office somewhere doing productive and paid work) not to have heard yesterday's news about the discovery of what is being claimed to be the world's oldest known leather shoe, found in the Areni-1 Cave in Armenia. The shoe is said to be 5,500 years old, based on carbon dating of bits of the leather of which it was made and the grass with which it was stuffed.

I first read of the discovery last night in a NYT article by Pam Belluck, which is so caught up in its own clever references to "prehistoric Prada," Jimmy Choo, and Manolo Blahniks, that it neglects to give an adequate description of the discovery. As often seems to be the case, the most accurate and sober report I've seen so far is in Science News, in this case by Bruce Bower, who avoids most of the shoe jokes and provides helpful supplementary references. See also the shorter summary at 80beats (which cannot, however, resist a Blahnik reference, but makes up for it by having the best pictorial analogy, saying that the shoe "looks a bit like a baked potato"). Bower, unfortunately, beat me to the use of "a really old shoe."

Why do we care? Perhaps for no good reason except the entertainment value, suggests Charles Petit at Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

I think he's probably right about the general laziness and shallowness of journalistic motives. But from my perspective as a historian (or former historian) who loves the eloquence of old objects, this shoe is a beautiful and telling one because of its excellent state of preservation.

At any rate, in this case you can decide for yourselves. The paper describing the discovery, Ron Pinhasi et al. (2010), "First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands," is freely available at PLoS ONE. Oddly, none of the press reports that I have read on this discovery seems to contain a link to the paper itself. Hey guys, that's what HTML is for.

The Chalcolithic, for those of you who don't know, is the Copper Age, the dates of which vary from place to place.
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The perils of polymathy

Polymathy (also known as Incontinent Polymathic Affective Disorder, or IPAD) is a compelling candidate for inclusion in the forthcoming DSM-V. It is a debilitating illness, often alienating the sufferer from friends and family, and leading to social dysphoria. Many polymaths are unable to hold a steady job. Symptoms may include extreme bibliophilia, obsessive information hoarding, and logorrhea. Often co-occurs with “Lorenz Syndrome” (Besserwisserei). Polymathy may lead to tabmania, the obsessive multiplication of browser tabs.

Research on this hitherto neglected condition is still in its early stages. Opinion in the literature is divided over the most effective treatment. Many believe that permanent sequestration on a remote Pacific island is the only socially responsible option. Others recommend returning to leucotomy, and yet others suggest simply securing the sufferer in a tightly bound canvas bag along with two or three concrete blocks and tossing him in the river.


“Hi, my name is Dexter, and I’m a polymath.”

"Hi, Dexter!”

“I first realized I was a polymath when I woke up one morning and noticed that I had 12 windows open in Firefox, each with an average of a dozen tabs. The fan on the MacBook was running full speed all the time, battery life had plummeted from the normal 1 hour and 45 minutes to about 25 minutes, and the computer seemed to have developed one hell of a swap file—at any rate, roughly 6 GB had gone missing in just a few days, and I hadn’t really been downloading anything. ‘This can’t be good,’ I thought. ‘Maybe I really do have a polymath problem.’ Yet, later that morning, I found that I had opened yet another window, and had opened 22 tabs before lunch.

Sure, I’d been telling myself (like all addicts do) that I’d get around to blogging about all those old tabs from yesterday and the day before, just as soon as I’d finished blogging about the 22 from this morning. But then suddenly there were a dozen new posts in Google Reader that I just had to look at right away. I found myself opening window 13 right after lunch, and opening yet more tabs. ‘This has got to stop,’ I told myself, ‘Get help.’ So here I am.”


“Hey Dexter, why don’t you just try using Chrome for a while? That way, you can keep all your old tabs preserved in Firefox, while continuing to open new ones in a different browser, without causing the MacBook to burn out the mother board....”


According to the OED, a polymath is:

[ad. Gr. πολυµαθής having learnt much, f. πολυ- much + µαθ-, stem of µανθάνειν to learn. So F. polymathe.]

a. A person of much or varied learning; one acquainted with various subjects of study.

The OED also leads me to the wonderful synonym,


[a. Gr. πολυΐστωρ very learned, f. πολυ-, poly- + ἵστωρ (see history).]

A man of much or varied learning; a great scholar.

(The OED does not provide links to the term for a “woman of much or varied learning,” so perhaps readers can enlighten me....)

There will be more on polymathy (and also on expertise and specialization) later. But right now, I’ve got to start trying to close some of those tabs.
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09 June 2010

Daily Digest, 09.06.2010

Lots of excellent links and interesting happenings today:

Is the World Cup bad for your health?; European anti-Semitism on the rise; does citation count depend on journal prestige?; the "flash lag illusion" and the blown Galarraga call; lady humpback whale meet-ups; more on the snake shortage; more on SSRIs and suicide; a new study of the genetics of autism; a new study of Jewish genetics (the second in as many weeks); University of California system proposes boycott of Nature Publishing Group over price hikes; direct recordings of pitch responses from the human auditory cortex; the week in UK science journalism (with great links); Giuseppe Taddei dies; does opera have a future?

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Stupid Editing Rules and "Cognitive Editing"

Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log rants over the apparent editorial ban at The New Yorker on placing the subject of a sentence (however complex) after the verb "said" in reported speech; as in "'I doubt it,' said the Carpenter...," which The New Yorker (were this sentence to appear in a prose piece) would probably change to "'I doubt it,' the Carpenter said."

Or, as Pullum's technical description has it, The New Yorker evidently prohibits "subject postposing in a parenthetical report frame for directly reported speech, even when the quoted speech is preposed."  (Say that ten times fast and call the doctor in the morning.)

This leads to such monstrosities as:
"Galleries and magazines send him things, and he doesn't even open them," Zhao Zhao, a younger artist who works as one of Ai's assistants, said. [The New Yorker 24 May 2010 p.56]
"He used to have this great, dignified passion to him," Christopher Hitchens, who, until his own political change of heart, defended Chomsky, says. [Larissa MacFarquhar, "The devil's accountant", The New Yorker,
March 31, 2003, p.67, column 2.]
Having worked professionally as an editor, I am painfully familiar with the editorial imperative to formulate and slavishly apply rules, regardless of whether they make any sense. When I was working at the Packard Humanities Institute in Cambridge (Mass) as senior editor of the complete works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time arguing against the knee-jerk application of rules for which there seemed to be no rational ground, and making long arguments supported by copious evidence for the creation of rules that were based in sensible scholarly practice, clarity, intellectual consistency, and usability by the expected audience (musicians and scholars). I actually won quite a few of those arguments (perhaps because I'm like a dog with a bone, and won't let go); but on the other hand, I'm no longer employed there....

In editing my own work, or that of any other writer (I still edit the work of friends and clients as the occasion arises), I've recently come to call my approach "cognitive editing," which is just a highfalutin way of saying: edit (and write) in such as way as to assist the cognitive processes of your readers as they take in what you've written, and avoid or fix whatever may interfere unnecessarily with those processes. And that "whatever" covers everything from consistency of spelling and the use of punctuation, to larger issues of syntax, logic, and argument.

Both monstrosities from The New Yorker are excellent cautionary examples. By delaying the verb "says" until the end, as in the Christopher Hitchens example, the reader is left hanging in an attempt to parse the meaning. The reader expects a verb, but the very mental process of anticipating what the verb might be ("Christopher Hitchens....screams"? "Christopher Hitchens....mumbles disconsolately"? "Christopher Hitchens....sings"?) interferes with the brain's attempt to take in and remember what came before and after the initial cue for the subject position ("Christopher Hitchens").

On the page, we at least have the quotation marks to signal that someone (oh, I see, it's "Christopher Hitchens") is saying something. But imagine the sentence read aloud.  The cognitive complexity of interpreting what you have just heard by the time you get to "says" is so great that you will quite possibly miss the next sentence completely.

(I make no claim here, even implicitly, that there is any reason for the reader or listener to care what Christopher Hitchens says about anything. This simply makes a convenient example.)

I spend part of my week (a good portion of the paying part, as insignificant as that currently is) coaching singers. As I have worked in vocal coaching over the past few years, I have come to apply a very similar principle to diction in singing: the point is not the sound that you think you are singing, but rather what the listener hears.  When the text is cognitively dense or difficult (as poetic texts set to music sometimes are), then projection of consonants and avoidance of undue distortion of vowels (a chronic pitfall for singers) is crucial. On the other hand, when a word is redundantly marked in the text, by repetition, rhyme, and expectation, so that there is little potential for misunderstanding, then the singer has more leeway.

The other day I was coaching golden-voiced Avi in "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof, which we're preparing from the full score of the show, not from the simplified sheet music. The last line of the number (sung in the show by the chorus) is "Laden with happiness and tears."  The word "tears" is held for ten quarter-note beats.  As any singer knows, the "ee" sound (i in IPA) is not the happiest one to have to sing for a long time, and it is complicated further here by the eventual alteration to the vowel by the following "r," and the need to project the "z" sound at the end of the word so that the audience can hear it.

But in this case, the audience has already heard the line once earlier on, and the very regular rhyme scheme makes clear that something is coming up that is going to rhyme with "years."  And it is also abundantly clear to the listener at this point that we're going to have a word that contrasts with "happiness." So the listener is very strongly primed to hear the word "tears," and it almost doesn't matter what vowel you sing. Thus as a singer, you can here safely open the vowel to something much more like an "eh" (IPA e or even ε), and no one (except perhaps another vocal coach) will be the wiser. And so, as a singer, you can "cheat" a little, in the service of making a much better sound on a long note, without in any way causing cognitive dissonance in your listeners.

So we might call that "cognitive vocal coaching"....

I have lots of openings in my coaching schedule, and my rates are cheap :-)

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08 June 2010

Daily Digest, 08.06.2010

Today: Lesbian parents & their well-adjusted kids; recent books on social networking; streaming music; the future of peer review; the many meanings of "neuroplasticity"; excessive grooming in mice; Turkish bees in ancient Israel; why cats rub against your leg; snake shortage; New Savanna

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I lose my iPad viriginity

Last night I attended a dinner at West restaurant in West Roxbury held to express our gratitude to Tom Keydel for directing a monthly workshop on improvisational theater at Theodore Parker Church over the past few months (thanks Tom!). The lovely Kristina, who had organized the dinner, happened to have in her handbag her brand-spanking new iPad, which she had just purchased on Friday. Since this was my first chance to get my grubby hands on one "in the flesh," I (and Nancy, who was sitting next to me) managed to monopolize it for about the next 45 minutes.

It is, no question, very cool to play with. How useful it would be for daily work remains to be seen. I'll keep quizzing Kristina about this....at least until some kind reader of this blog buys one for me.

One tip: the iPad on the ATT network is not the right tool with which to scroll through a 57-page pdf displayed in Safari.  Nancy and I were trying to think of something to look up on Google. We decided to look for Joan Smiles, an old friend of Nancy's from their distant days in Hawaii, and the author of a Stanford dissertation that, we remembered, had something to do with Mozart and 18th-century music, although I couldn't remember its title. Our first appropriate hit was a pdf of what seems to have been a Music Ed paper that listed Smiles's thesis in its bibliography. So naturally, as soon as Safari had loaded the title page of the pdf, I immediately started to try to scroll to the bibliography.  After about 7 or 8 minutes, I had managed only to scroll to p. 27, and gave up (it turned out that the dissertation was listed by name in the Google search results a little further down the page).

The glacial pace of downloading the pdf to Safari, was, I am assuming, an ATT problem, not an iPad or Safari problem.

As it happens, the blog ProfHacker at The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published a post entitled "Impressions after Two Months of Using an iPad." Well worth reading, especially by anyone who might be thinking of using an iPad for anything vaguely academic.

At home later that evening, Dr. Mike and I debriefed each other over the phone on "the day in Apple."  I told him about losing my iPad virginity, he told me about the (perhaps slightly anticlimactic) presentation by Steve Jobs at WWDC: the iPhone 4 (looks pretty with its great new screen, and front and back cameras) and the new version of the iOS (with multitasking), but no hint of streaming music service to replace the lamented Lala. We both downloaded and installed Safari 5.0 while chatting, which made a slightly underwhelming first impression: now with extensions (hooray), access to Bing in the search box (oh joy, oh rapture....not), and a "Reader" button, which extracts the text of a page in a manner more or less like Readability does, but with the ability to enlarge text. I immediately thought how well that would work for my Dad, who suffers from macular degeneration.

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The Khan Academy

The Chronicle of Higher Education online has a freely available article about Salman Khan, the creator of 1,400 short educational YouTube videos, and the "most popular educator on YouTube."  Some quotes:
[Khan's] unusual teaching materials started as a way to tutor his faraway cousins, but his lectures have grown into an online phenomenon—and a kind of protest against what he sees as a flawed educational system.
"My single biggest goal is to try to deliver things the way I wish they were delivered to me," he told me recently.
The Khan Academy explicitly challenges many of higher-education's most sacred assumptions: that professional academics make the best teachers; that hourlong lectures are the best way to relate material; and that in-person teaching is better than videos. Mr. Khan argues that his little lectures disprove all of that.
The article also contains insights from Clay Shirky and Jason Fried. I was particularly struck by this quote from Fried:
"The next bubble to burst is higher education," he said. "It's too expensive for people—there's no reason why parents should have to save up a hundred grand to send their kids to college. I like that there are alternative ways of thinking about teaching."
A link to Khan Academy is here.

My interest (at the moment) is not so much in whether Khan's alternative approach to education is a good one or a model for the future. In fact, I haven't yet watched any of his videos, although I'll probably watch one or two later today in order to get a taste of what he's up to. Rather I am especially interested in what his enterprise and it's popularity implies about the state of higher education and its institutions.

I've been known to say that the current model of higher education is unsustainable, and this is a theme I'll be returning to often in future posts. The condensed (and partial) version: Higher education as it currently exists is in many respects a vastly overpriced scam, which in fact largely does not serve to educate students, but rather serves as a cog in a vast "certification industry." In other words, you don't, by and large, go to university primarily to learn what you will need to know in order to do what you're going to do in life, professionally or otherwise. Rather, you go to university in order to obtain the degree that you believe you'll need in order simply to be hired. And that "gate-keeping" function of the degree-production system has allowed the growth of bloated administration-heavy institutions that are in it primarily for the money (not just universities, but also textbook publishers, educational testing companies, and so on). They are not (in spite of their own marketing) in it to dispense knowledge in an efficient, reliable, and affordable way.
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Miller-McCune series on the DSM-V

Arnie Cooper at Miller-McCune Online completes his excellent series of three articles on the controversy over the DSM-V (the major revision, in progress, of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The three parts of the series are:
  1. Infallibility and Psychiatry's Bible (25 May)
  2. Who Benefits? DSM Conflicts of Interest (3 June)
  3. Are You Normal or Finally Diagnosed? (8 June)
The draft of the DSM-V is openly available for perusal and comment online. There has been a flood of articles on this topic over the past few months, and I'll be tracking at least some aspects of the debate here. Anyone involved with psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, either as a provider or patient, should be following and participating in the discussion. I am particularly concerned with the issue of collusion and conflict of interest among drug companies and doctors.  If you're not acquainted with the issues (or even if you think you are), Cooper's series is a good place to start.

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07 June 2010

Daily Digest, 07.06.2010

I'm posting today's digest a little earlier than usual, because I'm going out with friends this evening! Yes, it happens sometimes, even to a crusty hermit like me.

Today: Report of the Physicians for Human Rights on evidence for illegal experimentation on the effects of torture by the CIA; Prozac and neuroplasticity; bad science writing; the efficacy of acupuncture; life on Titan?; more on Laurie Anderson's concert for dogs
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Swiped from a comment (by "FrankNStein") to a post at io9.

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Comments Test Post

Comments for this blog do not seem to be working properly for some people (including me).  In fact, the only successful commenter so far has been Martin (hi Martin!).

This is a test post for troubleshooting the problem. If you have any suggestions for a fix, let me know....preferably by e-mail.
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06 June 2010

Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist: Closed Access

[Editor's note: The following post began as an introduction to my first summary post on "Closed Access," which is what I call the nearly universal practice among publishers of scientific and scholarly journals of charging prohibitively high prices for electronic access to single copies of the articles they publish. The post quickly morphed into an installment (let's call it "Part 27") of my series "Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist." Although it is Part 27 (or maybe 53), it is the first to be published...and I haven't begun to write any of the rest of the posts yet.  Welcome to the nonlinearity of the blogosphere.]


I spent a considerable fraction of my life doing serious scholarly work in music history, a field in which I eventually earned what now seems a useless Ph.D. I moved to Vienna in the fall of 1987 on a Fulbright Fellowship to undertake the research for my doctoral dissertation, which initially was devoted to the history of the concerto in Vienna from 1740 to roughly the time of the Napoleonic wars. I lived mainly in Vienna until 1993, by which time I had made several significant archival discoveries related to Mozart, and was deeply engaged with research into Mozart's Viennese music copyists, a hitherto almost entirely neglected topic, but one that turned out to be quite important (provided one cared at all about the sources of Mozart's music), and which I decided to make the new topic of my dissertation. Among my most significant discoveries were the orchestral parts from the original Viennese productions of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni; those for Figaro, in particular, showed a great deal that was unknown about the first production in 1786 and the first Viennese revival of 1789–91. By the time I finally finished my dissertation in 2001, after many twists and turns, and personal and scholarly detours, I had published more than a dozen scholarly articles, many in prominent venues, and I had given—well, not innumerable, but far more scholarly papers at international scholarly conferences than I would care to take the time to count now (the word "shitload" comes to mind, but would obviously be inappropriate for such a serious essay). Many people seemed to think (and many have told me) that they consider my work in the field to be on the highest level, and I myself think at least some of it is pretty good. I'm still proud of my dissertation, although somewhat disappointed that hardly anyone seems to understand what I was up to (yet another story for another time). None of this was enough in recent years to get me even a phone call from any of the dozens of academic jobs I applied for. That, however, is very definitely a story for another time.

A paragraph like the one I've just written is inevitably going to sound self-serving to some.  However, I mention this sorry history not in order to blow my own horn, an idea that seems faintly ludicrous to me given my present circumstances. It just happens to be the way things went.  My point here is that, at a conservative estimate, I spent 19 years as an active scholar in the field of music history, a considerable fraction of my life. Once one has been a scholar for that long, one doesn't really stop being a scholar and thinking like one, just as one doesn't stop being a musician if one doesn't have a piano (or a horn to blow).

My dissertation, "Mozart's Viennese Copyists," is absurdly long: 2416 pages, including the bibliography and appendices (but not the front matter). It honestly didn't seem that long as I was writing it:  I wrote most of it in a period of less than 18 months in the years 1999-2000. At the time it just seemed that I was saying what needed to be said (and what I knew) about the topic.  Since I was, in many respects, building a subfield of research from scratch, there was a lot of groundwork to be laid.  I joke that my dissertation is so long because it has a lot of pictures—which, in fact, it does...but then, it has a lot of everything.  (You can download a pdf of my dissertation here; it is 96 MB, so go have a cup of tea.)

The bibliography of my dissertation covers 33 pages, and doesn't include the hundreds of archival sources that formed the core of my research: it includes only printed books and periodicals from the period covered by my dissertation, and the relevant secondary literature. A spot check suggests that the average number of entries on each page of my bibliography is around 12. Thus, as a very rough estimate, it contains around 400 items, all of which I read, in whole or in part, all of which are cited in my dissertation, and many of which I engaged with quite closely and critically.  Gaining access to this material was difficult, time-consuming, and relatively expensive (in terms of photocopying). This was all in the days before electronic access to digital copies of journal articles.  It would be unwise to say more about the photocopying, but suffice it to say, one did what one had to do.

The way secondary scholarly research is done has now changed utterly, and very rapidly.  Access to the electronic resources of a first-class research library system (such as Harvard's) gives one nearly instantaneous access to practically any journal published in the last few decades, and many journals are available electronically going back much further. What is more, the search capabilities of the electronic systems are such that finding relevant material is vastly easier than it used to be.  There are, of course, limitations: articles published in books (such as Festschriften and conference reports) are generally not yet available electronically, and, depending on one's field, such articles can be crucial.  Nor are recent books generally "available" to scholars electronically in the way that one needs them to be available: that is, as they are in a library, where one can read an entire book without buying it or perhaps even check it out for a limited time in order to read it off site.

But generally, having these resources at one's computerized finger tips is a wonderful thing that enhances one's research immensely.

Unless you haven't got access to the resources.

After leaving my last scholarly job in 2005 (in private conversation I would probably say "after being booted out in a fit of pique by my employer"—but that, too, is a story for another time), I lost access to the Harvard Libraries, which had been a perk of my employment, although not one of which I was able to make as much use as I would have liked because of the circumstances of the job.  I continued to work on scholarly projects into 2007, in spite of lack of ready access (or sometimes any access) to the specialized secondary literature; I obtained what I needed mainly by cadging favors from friends and using what resources I could in lesser libraries. In 2007, I had to face the fact that it made no sense to continue to try to produce research (and it was impossible, in any case, to produce research at a high level) without access to institutional resources and an income from a job that would allow me sufficient time to produce the work.

Giving up, at least temporarily, my research work of 19 years was distressing and disorienting in many respects, but freeing in others. Perhaps most importantly, it freed me to return to a serious engagement with many of the intellectual topics and issues that I had put on the back burner for decades while pursuing my vain attempt to become institutionally established in musicology.  The topics on this blog are a reflection of my somewhat incontinent expansion into new or neglected territory.

In the fall of 2007, I began to take one or two courses per semester through the Harvard Extension School; I took these classes not only because of my inherent interest in the topics (evolutionary biology and cognitive science), but also because registering for the classes allowed me full access to Harvard's electronic resources, although not to most of its libraries.  (I stopped taking these classes in the spring of 2009 because I could no longer afford it, and because I had come to realize that the level of teaching and intellectual content in many of the classes was too low to justify the expense in any event.)

In Spring 2008, I took "Animal Cognition" with Irene Pepperberg, well known for her decades of research with Alex, the African Grey Parrot, who—as Pepperberg persuasively showed in paper after paper—could use spoken words to communicate, both referentially, to objects, and to some degree abstractly, as in counting.

Pepperberg's class consisted mainly of undergraduates, many without extensive backgrounds in college-level science. Yet assigned reading for the class consisted entirely of research articles in scientific journals. Initially, this was terrifying, even for me. Although I had read hundreds of scholarly articles in the humanities, I had attempted only a relatively small number of actual scientific articles up to that time (mainly ones having to do with ink chemistry, digital imaging, and computer science).  I had never attempted an article in psychology, animal behavior, or biology.

Yet within three weeks, I found that I was entirely comfortable with this material.  The jargon was relatively easy to master, and once I understood the basic ideas behind experimental design (something that Pepperberg was especially good at explaining), it became possible not only to understand the articles, but to read them critically, something Pepperberg explicitly required us to do (our midterm was to produce a critique of what turned out to be a really quite appallingly designed and argued paper published in one of the leading journals in the field). True, I knew practically no statistics when I began (although more than most musicologists), and nearly all of the articles contained extensive statistical analyses of data.  But I had always been good at math, so I started to study statistics on my own (an interest I've continued to pursue, especially through my enthusiasm for the free open-source statistical language R), and I rapidly learned that most of the animal behaviorists, biologists, and so on who were engaged in this work had only sketchy understanding of the statistics themselves:  they tended to plug numbers into formulas that they had learned by rote to use in particular circumstances, or to have someone more competent run the statistics for them.

And I found that this pattern repeated itself in other classes; in Evolutionary Biology, for example, where I participated in the master's-level seminar, I reported on articles concerning topics about which, prior to the class, I had had only the haziest notions: for example, the subtleties of dating 3-billion-year-old metamorphic rocks, or the seminal discoveries about gene expression in the field of Evo-Devo (evolutionary-developmental biology). And as a result, I began avidly to follow and read the scientific literature on any and all of the topics that interested me.

Until April 2009, when my access to Harvard's electronic resources ceased.

Since that time, although my intellectual interests have continued to broaden and I have continually striven to delve into current research across a number of topics, my access to this research has continually run headlong into the dreaded "paywall": that is, the screen at which one has to pay for electronic access (downloadable pdfs, or HTML versions) to articles in scientific and scholarly journals. Those whose institutions provide them with electronic access to such materials may not realize just how absurd and prohibitive the prices charged for access have become for those without an institutional affiliation, and how insulting, silly, and arbitrary the conditions of access are. In this blog, I have undertaken to cite the price of every such article I link to, and I plan to publish tabular summaries of these roughly once a week. I have just published the first of these summaries. The total price for the 10 articles to which I linked over a period of 9 days was $287.40, or an average of $28.74 per article.

My friends in the "real" world (that is, not in academia) have trouble believing these prices.  And very often, these prices come with insultingly restrictive strings attached:  for example, for that price, one may be purchasing only the privilege of downloading the pdf for a period of 24 hours from a single computer.  Some of these articles are 10 pages or less; thus they would cost around, say, $1.00 to photocopy if one had access to a paper copy of the journal.

One can hardly imagine what those who set these prices are thinking.  Does anyone actually pay for access to single copies at these prices?  What possible justification can such prices have?  Consider, for starters, that a very large proportion of the funding for the research that is reported in these articles is public, and not only in the United States, but also in Britain, Germany, and elsewhere.  The authors of the articles are by and large not paid for their articles (and yet routinely give up their copyright), and the peer reviewers upon whose expert opinion the reputation of the journals depend are generally not paid, nor are the members of the editorial boards.

So just where is this money—and the money from the extremely high subscription costs of many scientific journals—going?  Certainly not to pay for disk storage space, which has become so cheap that the cost per pdf is essentially zero.  The publishers employ copy editors, but these are (I can tell you authoritatively) underpaid, as are, very likely, those employed to do the design and layout of the print versions of the articles.  And doing the layout and design for most of these articles simply isn't that difficult or time consuming in most cases anyway. The production cost of a pdf is essentially zero.

So, again, exactly where is this money going?  Why is it that a 10-page pdf costs $32.00 rather than, say, $1.00 (a price that I, for one, would be happy to pay in most cases)?  Why do academics and academic librarians in effect collude with this system by failing to challenge it?

I'll have much more to say on this issue over the coming months.  But I'd also really like to hear from you, whatever your position on this issue may be.  Please contribute your comments.
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Weekend Roundup, 5-6 June 2010

I've been preoccupied with a couple of long original posts this weekend, as well as with various behind-the-scenes tweaks and clean up.  So today's Weekend Roundup will be thinner than usual. But even so, we have:

Weird Cambrian critters! Illusions! Urine! Recording Industry vs The People! Corruption! Ancient Estonian meteorite cult!
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Closed Access Summary, 28 May to 5 June 2010

I have now been posting to this blog for 10 days. If you've been following my blog closely so far, you'll know that one of my hobbyhorses has been what I will call "Closed Access," by which I mean the absurdly and prohibitively high prices that publishers of scientific and scholarly journals charge those without an affiliation to a subscribing institution for access to the pdf of a single article. These prices in effect make it impossible for anyone without such an institutional affiliation to do research in the way that their affiliated colleagues are able to do.  I have written at length about this issue in a separate post, and I will continue to try to give as much publicity as possible to this unconscionable practice (unconscionable in part because of the degree to which the published research is publicly funded, both in the U.S. and elsewhere).

During the first 9 days of posting to this blog, I have discussed and linked to 10 articles behind paywalls, in 10 different journals. The total cost of these articles, had I downloaded them, would have been $287.40.  The prices ranged from $10.00 (an outlier) to $34.00, with an average of $28.74.  I would have downloaded and read all of these articles, and perhaps reported on them here at more length, had I been able to acquire them.  But the total cost is only slightly less than my total income for the same period.

The articles and prices are listed below.  I plan to publish similar tables weekly.

28.05.2010 "Neurology at the Opera," Frontiers of Neurological Science $25.00
29.05.2010 "The Scientific Impotence Excuse," Journal of Applied Social Psychology $29.95
31.05.2010 "Cerebral Localization of Functions and the Neurology of Language," The Neuroscientist $32.00
31.05.2010 "Mozart effect-Schmozart effect: A meta-analysis," Intelligence $31.50
01.06.2010 "Sexual Dimorphism in Chin Shape: Implications for Adaptive Hypotheses," American Journal of Physical Anthropology $29.95
02.06.2010 "Early Hominin Diet Included Diverse Terrestrial and Acquatic Animals 1.95 Ma in East Turkana, Kenya," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences $10.00
02.06.2010 "Do Bonobos say NO by Shaking Their Head?," Primates $34.00
03.06.2010 "Cemented Ash as a Receptacle or Work Surface for Ochre Powder Production at Sibudu, South Africa, 58,000 Years Ago," Journal of Archaeological Science $31.50
03.06.2010 "Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Easter Ancestry," American Journal of Human Genetics $31.50
05.06.2010 "Association of the Anxiogenic and Alerting Effects of Caffeine with ADORA2A and ADORA1 Polymorphisms and Habitual Level of Caffeine Consumption," Neuropsychopharmacology $32.00

Total: $287.40
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