Monday, December 18, 2017
Opinion

The Reading File: Excerpts from interesting articles

Scientists overlooked

In the Atlantic, Ed Yong expounds on "The Absurdity of the Nobel Prizes in Science." To wit, "they distort the nature of the scientific enterprise, rewrite its history and overlook many of its most important contributors." Read his essay in full at http://theatln.tc/2xkt3mo. Here's an excerpt.

Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work. Instead of honoring science, they distort its nature, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its important contributors.

There are assuredly good things about the prizes. Scientific discoveries should be recognized for the vital part they play in the human enterprise. The Nobel Prize website is an educational treasure trove, full of rich historical details that are largely missing from published papers. And it is churlish to be overly cynical about any event that, year after year, offers science the same kind of whetted anticipation that's usually reserved for Oscar or Emmy nominees. But the fact that the scientific Nobels have drawn controversy since their very inception hints at deep-rooted problems.

'Solving' fake news not easy

In Wired, Danah Boyd explains why "Google and Facebook Can't Just Make Fake News Disappear." Read her essay in full at http://bit.ly/2wzcS5l. Here's an excerpt.

Although a lot of the emphasis in the "fake news" discussion focuses on content that is widely spread and downright insane, much of the most insidious content out there isn't in your face. It's not spread widely, and certainly not by people who are forwarding it to object. It's subtle content that is factually accurate, biased in presentation and framing, and encouraging folks to make dangerous conclusions that are not explicitly spelled out in the content itself. That's the beauty of provocative speech: It makes people think not simply by shoving an idea down their throats, but inviting them to connect the dots. That content is far more powerful than content that suggests that UFOs have landed in Arizona.

Ishiguro, the Nobel rambler

In honor of Kazuo Ishiguro the newest Nobel laureate in literature, the New Yorker republishes one his essays that it first printed in 2001. Read "A Village After Dark" in full at http://bit.ly/2gfBav3. Here's how it begins.

There was a time when I could travel England for weeks on end and remain at my sharpest — when, if anything, the travelling gave me an edge. But now that I am older I become disoriented more easily. So it was that on arriving at the village just after dark I failed to find my bearings at all. I could hardly believe I was in the same village in which not so long ago I had lived and come to exercise such influence.

There was nothing I recognized, and I found myself walking forever around twisting, badly lit streets hemmed in on both sides by the little stone cottages characteristic of the area. The streets often became so narrow I could make no progress without my bag or my elbow scraping one rough wall or another. I persevered nevertheless, stumbling around in the darkness in the hope of coming upon the village square — where I could at least orient myself — or else of encountering one of the villagers. When after a while I had done neither, a weariness came over me, and I decided my best course was just to choose a cottage at random, knock on the door, and hope it would be opened by someone who remembered me.

A need for nations

In Aeon, Dani Rodrik explains "Why Nation-States Are Good." The worry? "The nation-state remains the best foundation for capitalism, and hyper-globalization risks destroying it." Read his essay in full at http://bit.ly/2z1njAg. Here's an excerpt.

A truly global economy, in which economic activity is unmoored from its national base, would necessitate transnational rule-making institutions that match the global scale and scope of markets. But there are no such institutions.

Nor are market-supporting rules universal. The United States, Japan, individual European nations and all advanced societies are to varying degrees market societies, but all have also developed historically under different circumstances and institutional setups. These market societies feature divergent practices in labour markets, corporate governance, social welfare systems, and regulation. They all have generated comparable amounts of wealth under very different rules. There is no single institutional recipe for economic success. Yes, markets, incentives, property rights, stability and predictability are important. But they do not imply unique blueprints.

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