Introduction

Welcome to Tim Harding’s blog of writings and talks about logic, rationality, philosophy and skepticism. There are also some reblogs of some of Tim’s favourite posts by other writers, plus some of his favourite quotations and videos This blog has a Facebook connection at The Logical Place.

There are over 1500 posts here about all sorts of topics – please have a good look around before leaving.

If you are looking for an article about Skepticism, Science and Scientism recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ”A Step Too Far?’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Birth of Experimental Science recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Out of the Dark’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Dark Ages recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘In the Dark’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Traditional Chinese Medicine vs. Endangered Species recently published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Bad Medicine’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the rejection of expertise published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Who needs to Know?’, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about Charles Darwin published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Darwin’s Missing Link“, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about the Astronomical Renaissance published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Rebirth of the Universe‘, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about DNA and GM foods published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘The Good Oil‘, it is available here.

If you are looking for an article about animal welfare published in The Skeptic magazine titled ‘Creature Features‘, it is available here.

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What is logic?

The word ‘logic‘ is not easy to define, because it has slightly different meanings in various applications ranging from philosophy, to mathematics to computer science. In philosophy, logic’s main concern is with the validity or cogency of arguments. The essential difference between informal logic and formal logic is that informal logic uses natural language, whereas formal logic (also known as symbolic logic) is more complex and uses mathematical symbols to overcome the frequent ambiguity or imprecision of natural language.

So what is an argument? In everyday life, we use the word ‘argument’ to mean a verbal dispute or disagreement (which is actually a clash between two or more arguments put forward by different people). This is not the way this word is usually used in philosophical logic, where arguments are those statements a person makes in the attempt to convince someone of something, or present reasons for accepting a given conclusion. In this sense, an argument consist of statements or propositions, called its premises, from which a conclusion is claimed to follow (in the case of a deductive argument) or be inferred (in the case of an inductive argument). Deductive conclusions usually begin with a word like ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, ‘so’ or ‘it follows that’.

A good argument is one that has two virtues: good form and all true premises. Arguments can be either deductiveinductive  or abductive. A deductive argument with valid form and true premises is said to be sound. An inductive argument based on strong evidence is said to be cogent. The term ‘good argument’ covers all three of these types of arguments.

Deductive arguments

A valid argument is a deductive argument where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, because of the logical structure of the argument. That is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. Conversely, an invalid argument is one where the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. However, the validity or invalidity of arguments must be clearly distinguished from the truth or falsity of its premises. It is possible for the conclusion of a valid argument to be true, even though one or more of its premises are false. For example, consider the following argument:

Premise 1: Napoleon was German
Premise 2: All Germans are Europeans
Conclusion: Therefore, Napoleon was European

The conclusion that Napoleon was European is true, even though Premise 1 is false. This argument is valid because of its logical structure, not because its premises and conclusion are all true (which they are not). Even if the premises and conclusion were all true, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the argument was valid. If an argument has true premises and its form is valid, then its conclusion must be true.

Deductive logic is essentially about consistency. The rules of logic are not arbitrary, like the rules for a game of chess. They exist to avoid internal contradictions within an argument. For example, if we have an argument with the following premises:

Premise 1: Napoleon was either German or French
Premise 2: Napoleon was not German

The conclusion cannot logically be “Therefore, Napoleon was German” because that would directly contradict Premise 2. So the logical conclusion can only be: “Therefore, Napoleon was French”, not because we know that it happens to be true, but because it is the only possible conclusion if both the premises are true. This is admittedly a simple and self-evident example, but similar reasoning applies to more complex arguments where the rules of logic are not so self-evident. In summary, the rules of logic exist because breaking the rules would entail internal contradictions within the argument.

Inductive arguments

An inductive argument is one where the premises seek to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a sound deductive argument is supposed to be certain, the conclusion of a cogent inductive argument is supposed to be probable, based upon the evidence given. An example of an inductive argument is: 

Premise 1: Almost all people are taller than 26 inches
Premise 2: George is a person
Conclusion: Therefore, George is almost certainly taller than 26 inches

Whilst an inductive argument based on strong evidence can be cogent, there is some dispute amongst philosophers as to the reliability of induction as a scientific method. For example, by the problem of induction, no number of confirming observations can verify a universal generalization, such as ‘All swans are white’, yet it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single black swan.

Abductive arguments

Abduction may be described as an “inference to the best explanation”, and whilst not as reliable as deduction or induction, it can still be a useful form of reasoning. For example, a typical abductive reasoning process used by doctors in diagnosis might be: “this set of symptoms could be caused by illnesses X, Y or Z. If I ask some more questions or conduct some tests I can rule out X and Y, so it must be Z.

Incidentally, the doctor is the one who is doing the abduction here, not the patient. By accepting the doctor’s diagnosis, the patient is using inductive reasoning that the doctor has a sufficiently high probability of being right that it is rational to accept the diagnosis. This is actually an acceptable form of the Argument from Authority (only the deductive form is fallacious).

References:

Hodges, W. (1977) Logic – an introduction to elementary logic (2nd ed. 2001) Penguin, London.
Lemmon, E.J. (1987) Beginning Logic. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

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Reasoning

Rationality may be defined as as the quality of being consistent with or using reason, which is further defined as the mental ability to draw inferences or conclusions from premises (the ‘if – then’ connection). The application of reason is known as reasoning; the main categories of which are deductive and inductive reasoning. A deductive argument with valid form and true premises is said to be sound. An inductive argument based on strong evidence is said to be cogent. It is rational to accept the conclusions of arguments that are sound or cogent, unless and until they are effectively refuted.

A fallacy is an error of reasoning resulting in a misconception or false conclusion. A fallacious argument can be deductively invalid or one that has insufficient inductive strength. A deductively invalid argument is one where the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises. That is , the conclusion can be false even if the premises are true. An example of an inductively invalid argument is a conclusion that smoking does not cause cancer based on the anecdotal evidence of only one healthy smoker.

By accident or design, fallacies may exploit emotional triggers in the listener (e.g. appeal to emotion), or take advantage of social relationships between people (e.g. argument from authority). By definition, a belief arising from a logical fallacy is contrary to reason and is therefore irrational, even though a small number of such beliefs might possibly be true by coincidence.

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Readers’ wildlife photographs

Why Evolution Is True

For some reason, when I’m traveling I’m reluctant to publish readers’ photos that I’ve saved on my computer. That may be because it requires some time to put them up properly, resize them, look up species IDs and so on. But when photos arrive when I’m traveling, I somehow lack that reserve. (That means, by the way, that if you send photos today or tomorrow, there’s a good chance I’ll post them.

Therefore I present you with two landscape pictures taken by reader Don Bredes, which arrived just a minute ago. They may demonstrate the effect of global warming, though a one-off year isn’t really proof of that. His notes are indented:

Here’s a study in contrasts for you.  Last year on this day, October 23, in northern Vermont we awoke to the first snow of the season.  It was heavy enough to cause a good deal of tree damage…

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The Bad Writing Contest, Press Releases 1996-1998

The Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest ran from 1995 to 1998. For an essay giving background on the contest, click here.

1998

We are pleased to announce winners of the fourth Bad Writing Contest, sponsored by the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature.

The Bad Writing Contest celebrates the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, departmental memos, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be non-ironic, from serious, published academic journals or books. Deliberate parody cannot be allowed in a field where unintended self-parody is so widespread.

Two of the most popular and influential literary scholars in the U.S. are among those who wrote winning entries in the latest contest.

Judith Butler, a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley, admired as perhaps “one of the ten smartest people on the planet,” wrote the sentence that captured the contest’s first prize. Homi K. Bhabha, a leading voice in the fashionable academic field of postcolonial studies, produced the second-prize winner.

“As usual,” commented Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, “this year’s winners were produced by well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and academic journals.”

Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton remarked that “it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’.”

This year’s second prize went to a sentence written by Homi K. Bhabha, a professor of English at the University of Chicago. It appears in The Location of Culture (Routledge, 1994):

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.

This prize-winning entry was nominated by John D. Peters of the University of Iowa, who describes it as “quite splendid: enunciatory modality, indeed!”

Ed Lilley, an art historian at the University of Bristol in the U.K., supplied a sentence by Steven Z. Levine from an anthology entitled Twelve Views of Manet’s “Bar” (Princeton University Press, 1996):

As my story is an august tale of fathers and sons, real and imagined, the biography here will fitfully attend to the putative traces in Manet’s work of “les noms du père,” a Lacanian romance of the errant paternal phallus (”Les Non-dupes errent”), a revised Freudian novella of the inferential dynamic of paternity which annihilates (and hence enculturates) through the deferred introduction of the third term of insemination the phenomenologically irreducible dyad of the mother and child.

Stewart Unwin of the National Library of Australia passed along this gem from the Australasian Journal of American Studies (December 1997). The author is Timothy W. Luke, and the article is entitled, “Museum Pieces: Politics and Knowledge at the American Museum of Natural History”:

Natural history museums, like the American Museum, constitute one decisive means for power to de-privatize and re-publicize, if only ever so slightly, the realms of death by putting dead remains into public service as social tokens of collective life, rereading dead fossils as chronicles of life’s everlasting quest for survival, and canonizing now dead individuals as nomological emblems of still living collectives in Nature and History. An anatomo-politics of human and non-human bodies is sustained by accumulating and classifying such necroliths in the museum’s observational/expositional performances.

The passage goes on to explain that museum fossils and artifacts are “strange superconductive conduits, carrying the vital elan of contemporary biopower.” It’s demonstrated with helpful quotations from Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality.

Finally, a tour de force from a 1996 book published by the State University of New York Press. It was located by M.J. Devaney, an editor at the University of Nebraska Press. The author is D.G. Leahy, writing in Foundation: Matter the Body Itself.

Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality, viz., of the dark/of the self, the identity of which is not outside the absolute identity of the outside, which is to say that the equivocal predication of identity is possible of the self-identity which is not identity, while identity is univocally predicated of the limit to the darkness, of the limit of the reality of the self). This is the real exteriority of the absolute outside: the reality of the absolutely unconditioned absolute outside univocally predicated of the dark: the light univocally predicated of the darkness: the shining of the light univocally predicated of the limit of the darkness: actuality univocally predicated of the other of self-identity: existence univocally predicated of the absolutely unconditioned other of the self. The precision of the shining of the light breaking the dark is the other-identity of the light. The precision of the absolutely minimum transcendence of the dark is the light itself/the absolutely unconditioned exteriority of existence for the first time/the absolutely facial identity of existence/the proportion of the new creation sans depth/the light itself ex nihilo: the dark itself univocally identified, i.e., not self-identity identity itself equivocally, not the dark itself equivocally, in “self-alienation,” not “self-identity, itself in self-alienation” “released” in and by “otherness,” and “actual other,” “itself,” not the abysmal inversion of the light, the reality of the darkness equivocally, absolute identity equivocally predicated of the self/selfhood equivocally predicated of the dark (the reality of this darkness the other-self-covering of identity which is the identification person-self).

Dr. Devaney calls this book “absolutely, unequivocally incomprehensible.” While she has supplied further extended quotations to prove her point, this seems to be enough.


1997

We are pleased to announce winners of the third Bad Writing Contest, sponsored by the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature and its internet discussion group, PHIL-LIT.

The Bad Writing Contest attempts to locate the ugliest, most stylistically awful passage found in a scholarly book or article published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be non-ironic, from actual serious academic journals or books. In a field where unintended self-parody is so widespread, deliberate send-ups are hardly necessary.

This year’s winning passages include prose published by established, successful scholars, experts who have doubtless labored for years to write like this. Obscurity, after all, can be a notable achievement. The fame and influence of writers such as Hegel, Heidegger, or Derrida rests in part on their mysterious impenetrability. On the other hand, as a cynic once remarked, John Stuart Mill never attained Hegel’s prestige because people found out what he meant. This is a mistake the authors of our prize-winning passages seem determined to avoid.

The first prize goes to the distinguished scholar Fredric Jameson, a man who on the evidence of his many admired books finds it difficult to write intelligibly and impossible to write well. Whether this is because of the deep complexity of Professor Jameson’s ideas or their patent absurdity is something readers must decide for themselves. Here, spotted for us by Dave Roden of Central Queensland University in Australia, is the very first sentence of Professor Jameson’s book, Signatures of the Visible (Routledge, 1990, p. 1):

The visual is essentially pornographic, which is to say that it has its end in rapt, mindless fascination; thinking about its attributes becomes an adjunct to that, if it is unwilling to betray its object; while the most austere films necessarily draw their energy from the attempt to repress their own excess (rather than from the more thankless effort to discipline the viewer).

The appreciative Mr. Roden says it is “good of Jameson to let readers know so soon what they’re up against.” We cannot see what the second “that” in the sentence refers to. And imagine if that uncertain “it” were willing to betray its object? The reader may be baffled, but then any author who thinks visual experience is essentially pornographic suffers confusions no lessons in English composition are going to fix.

If reading Fredric Jameson is like swimming through cold porridge, there are writers who strive for incoherence of a more bombastic kind. Here is our next winner, which was found for us by Professor Cynthia Freeland of the University of Houston. The writer is Professor Rob Wilson:

If such a sublime cyborg would insinuate the future as post-Fordist subject, his palpably masochistic locations as ecstatic agent of the sublime superstate need to be decoded as the “now-all-but-unreadable DNA” of a fast deindustrializing Detroit, just as his Robocop-like strategy of carceral negotiation and street control remains the tirelessly American one of inflicting regeneration through violence upon the racially heteroglossic wilds and others of the inner city.

This colorful gem appears in a collection called The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Political Criticism, and the Public Sphere, edited by Richard Burt “for the Social Text Collective” (University of Minnesota Press, 1994). Social Text is the cultural studies journal made famous by publishing physicist Alan Sokal’s jargon-ridden parody of postmodernist writing. If this essay is Social Text’s idea of scholarship, little wonder it fell for Sokal’s hoax. (And precisely what are “racially heteroglossic wilds and others”?) Dr. Wilson is an English professor, of course.

That incomprehensibility need not be long-winded is proven by our third-place winner, sent in by Richard Collier, who teaches at Mt. Royal College in Canada. It’s a sentence from Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory, by Fred Botting (Manchester University Press, 1991):

The lure of imaginary totality is momentarily frozen before the dialectic of desire hastens on within symbolic chains.

Still, prolixity is often a feature of bad writing, as demonstrated by our next winner, a passage submitted by Mindy Michels, a graduate anthropology student at the American University in Washington, D.C. It’s written by Stephen Tyler, and appears in Writing Culture, edited (it says) by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (University of California Press, 1986). Of what he calls “post-modern ethnography,” Professor Tyler says:

It thus relativizes discourse not just to form — that familiar perversion of the modernist; nor to authorial intention — that conceit of the romantics; nor to a foundational world beyond discourse — that desperate grasping for a separate reality of the mystic and scientist alike; nor even to history and ideology — those refuges of the hermeneuticist; nor even less to language — that hypostasized abstraction of the linguist; nor, ultimately, even to discourse — that Nietzschean playground of world-lost signifiers of the structuralist and grammatologist, but to all or none of these, for it is anarchic, though not for the sake of anarchy but because it refuses to become a fetishized object among objects — to be dismantled, compared, classified, and neutered in that parody of scientific scrutiny known as criticism.

A bemused Dr. Tim van Gelder of the University of Melbourne sent us the following sentence:

Since thought is seen to be “rhizomatic” rather than “arboreal,” the movement of differentiation and becoming is already imbued with its own positive trajectory.

It’s from The Continental Philosophy Reader, edited by Richard Kearney and Mara Rainwater (Routledge, 1996), part of an editors’ introduction intended to help students understand a chapter. Dr. van Gelder says, “No undergraduate student I’ve given this introduction to has been able to make the slightest sense of it. Neither has any faculty member.” An assistant professor of English at a U.S. university (she prefers to remain anonymous) entered this choice morsel from The Cultures of United States Imperialism, by Donald Pease (Duke University Press, 1993):

When interpreted from within the ideal space of the myth-symbol school, Americanist masterworks legitimized hegemonic understanding of American history expressively totalized in the metanarrative that had been reconstructed out of (or more accurately read into) these masterworks.

While the entrant says she enjoys the Bad Writing Contest, she’s fearful her career prospects would suffer were she to be identified as hostile to the turn by English departments toward movies and soap operas. We quite understand: these days the worst writers in universities are English professors who ignore “the canon” in order to apply tepid, vaguely Marxist gobbledygook to popular culture. Young academics who’d like a career had best go along.

But it’s not just the English department where jargon and incoherence are increasingly the fashion. Susan Katz Karp, a graduate student at Queens College in New York City, found this choice nugget showing that forward-thinking art historians are doing their desperate best to import postmodern style into their discipline. It’s from an article by Professor Anna C. Chave, writing in Art Bulletin (December 1994):

To this end, I must underline the phallicism endemic to the dialectics of penetration routinely deployed in descriptions of pictorial space and the operations of spectatorship.

The next round of the Bad Writing Contest, results to be announced in 1998, is now open with a deadline of December 31, 1997. There is an endless ocean of pretentious, turgid academic prose being added to daily, and we’ll continue to celebrate it.


1996

The entries for the second run of the Bad Writing Contest have now been tabulated, and we are pleased to announce winners. But first a few tedious words. There is no question that we have better — if that’s how to put it — entries than the last time we ran the contest. Some of the entries are stunning, and we think almost all of them deserve a prize of some sort.

This is not to say that much of the writing we would consider “bad” is necessarily incompetent. Graduate students and young scholars please note: many of the writers represented have worked years to attain their styles and they have been rewarded with publication in books and journal articles. In fact, if they weren’t published, we wouldn’t have them for our contest. That these passages constitute bad writing is merely our opinion; it is arguable that anyone wanting to pursue an academic career should assiduously imitate such styles as are represented here. These are your role models.

First prize goes to David Spurrett of the University of Natal in South Africa. He found this marvelous sentence — yes, it’s but one sentence — from Roy Bhaskar’s Plato etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution (Verso, 1994):

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal — of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard.

It’s a splendid bit of prose and I’m certain many of us will now attempt to read it aloud without taking a breath. The jacket blurb, incidentally, informs us that this is the author’s “most accessible book to date.”

Second Prize is won by Jennifer Harris of the University of Toronto. She found a grand sentence in an essay by Stephen T. Tyman called “Ricoeur and the Problem of Evil,” in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, edited, it says, by Lewis Edwin Hahn (Open Court, 1995):

With the last gasp of Romanticism, the quelling of its florid uprising against the vapid formalism of one strain of the Enlightenment, the dimming of its yearning for the imagined grandeur of the archaic, and the dashing of its too sanguine hopes for a revitalized, fulfilled humanity, the horror of its more lasting, more Gothic legacy has settled in, distributed and diffused enough, to be sure, that lugubriousness is recognizable only as languor, or as a certain sardonic laconicism disguising itself in a new sanctification of the destructive instincts, a new genius for displacing cultural reifications in the interminable shell game of the analysis of the human psyche, where nothing remains sacred.

Speaking of shell games, see if you can figure out the subject of that sentence.

Third prize was such a problem that we decided to award more than one. Exactly what the prizes will be is uncertain (the first three prizes were to be books), but something nice will be found. (Perhaps: third prize, an old copy of Glyph; fourth prize two old copies of Glyph.)

Jack Kolb of UCLA found this sentence in Paul Fry’s A Defense of Poetry (Stanford University Press, 1995). Together with the previous winners, it proves that 1995 was to bad prose what 1685 was to good music. Fry writes,

It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness — rather than the will to power — of its fall into conceptuality.

Incidentally, Kolb is reviewing Fry’s book for Philosophy and Literature, and believe it or not he generally respects it.

Arthur J. Weitzman of Northeastern University has noted for us two helpful sentences from The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, edited by Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth (JHUP, 1994). It is from Donald E. Pease’s entry on Harold Bloom:

Previous exercises in influence study depended upon a topographical model of reallocatable poetic images, distributed more or less equally within ‘canonical’ poems, each part of which expressively totalized the entelechy of the entire tradition. But Bloom now understood this cognitive map of interchangeable organic wholes to be criticism’s repression of poetry’s will to overcome time’s anteriority.

What can we add to that?

William Dolphin of San Francisco State University located for us this elegant sentence in John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (University of Chicago Press, 1993):

A politics presuming the ontological indifference of all minority social identities as defining oppressed or dominated groups, a politics in which differences are sublimated in the constitution of a minority identity (the identity politics which is increasingly being questioned within feminism itself) can recover the differences between social identities only on the basis of common and therefore commensurable experiences of marginalization, which experiences in turn yield a political practice that consists largely of affirming the identities specific to those experiences.

Finally, the Canadian David Savory found this lucid sentence in the essay by Robyn Wiegman and Linda Zwinger, in “Tonya’s Bad Boot,” an essay in Women on Ice, edited by Cynthia Baughman (Routledge, 1995):

Punctuated by what became ubiquitous sound bites — Tonya dashing after the tow truck, Nancy sailing the ice with one leg reaching for heaven — this melodrama parsed the transgressive hybridity of un-narrativized representative bodies back into recognizable heterovisual codes.

Thanks to these and all the other entrants. If you didn’t win this time, the next round of the Bad Writing Contest, prizes to be announced, is now open with a deadline of September 30, 1996. So you’ve plenty of time to find examples from the turgid new world of academic prose.

Reblogged by permission from dennisdutton.com

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Embers of War by Frederik Logevall (2012)

Books & Boots

This is a staggeringly good book. The main text is a hefty 714 pages long, with another 76 pages of endnotes, a comprehensive list of further reading, and a thorough index. It is beautifully printed on good quality paper. It is in every way an immaculate book to own and read and reread (in fact I found it so addictive I read the first 500 pages twice over).

Vietnam before the war

Most histories of the Vietnam War focus on ‘the American War’ of the mid- and late-1960s. Logevall’s epic account comes to an end in 1959, when there were still only a few hundred U.S. troops in the country, before the American war of the movies and popular legend had even started (the Gulf of Tonklin Resolution in the U.S. Congress which gave President Johnson full power to prosecute a war was passed in August 1964.)

Instead, Logevall’s focus is on…

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Where are you placed?

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Those Wild Rabbits, by Bruce Munday

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

It struck me this morning when I was reading The Weekend Australian Review, that two of the books reviewed are companions to this one which I have just read by Bruce Munday.  Those Wild Rabbits is a salutary reminder (and a warning) from an era that has vanished.  Geoffrey Blainey makes the same point about a vanished world in his review of Slow Catastrophes: Living with Drought in Australia (Australian History)by Rebecca Jones and The Vanished Land: Disappearing dynasties of Victoria’s Western Districtby Richard Zachariah.

When I was married to The Ex, I became part of a huge family, and most of them lived in the bush or wanted to.  That was where their roots were, in the dry dusty plains of the Mallee in an arc that had spread out from the Goldfields where some had been quite successful.  When the aunts and uncles of this extended family retired they went back to the bush, to Wedderburn…

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October 21, 2017 · 2:03 pm

Universities unite against the academic black market

The Conversation

File 20171016 30966 50d5tk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The second annual International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating is an attempt by universities around the world to raise awareness about students who hire others to do their work.
(Shutterstock)

Sarah Elaine Eaton, University of Calgary

On the TV show Suits, Mike Ross’s character charges a hefty fee to students to take the LSAT (law school admission test) for them. Ross has a stellar memory and a remarkable ability to take tests without getting crushed by stress — he is the perfect “contract cheater.” Later, Ross builds a career as a lawyer based on fake credentials, presumably from Harvard.

Mike Ross may be fictional, but his business is only too real within universities globally. “Contract cheaters” such as Ross complete academic work on a student’s behalf — for a fee. This work includes test taking and homework services. It includes essay-writing and even PhD thesis-writing services, also known as “paper mills.”

In my role as interim associate dean of teaching and learning at the University of Calgary, and as a researcher who specializes in plagiarism prevention and academic integrity, I have been writing about contract cheating since 2010. Since then, it has become rampant at high school and post-secondary levels.

This black market for academic work is vast and little understood. Universities in Canada, and around the world, are having a very hard time trying to police it.

On Oct. 18, 2017, many universities have committed to the second International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. This aims to tackle the issue head on — by raising awareness and sharing prevention strategies.

A vast online marketplace

According to a CBC News survey, more than 7,000 Canadian university students were disciplined for academic cheating during 2011-12. Of those, more than half had plagiarized written material. Contract cheating differs from traditional plagiarism because students are not merely copying and pasting content. Instead, they pay for unique content, custom written to their exact specifications, such as instructions for an assignment.

No one knows exactly how many of these services exist, or how much money they make. In the U.K., more than 30,000 cases of contract cheating have been discovered over the past decade. In Australia, there are documented cases of students being expelled from a university due to contract cheating.

We have very little data about the reality of the situation in Canada. A Google search using the terms “Canada” and “write my essay” returns more than 47 million results. Among the top results are services offering to write essays for between $19 and $25 per page. Another claims to have over 1,200 writers working for them. All offer completely original content, based on the assignment instructions and criteria.

It gets worse. Students can order an entire PhD thesis to be custom ghost written. In some countries, the PhD thesis market is publicly blatant. For example, In Hanoi, Vietnam, an entire area of the city is known as the “thesis market.”

In Canada, thesis-writing services and contract cheating remain largely hidden in an online black market for academic work. Social media helps students find and share information about how to get someone to do their academic work for them. There are also sites where students can auction off their work to various bidders. One website, Bid4papers.com, shows exactly how the process works. Student place an order for a specific assignment. Then they can communicate with various bidders to figure out who they’d like to work with. After choosing a contract cheater, students can follow the entire workflow process online, answering questions along the way, with round-the-clock support.

Why students outsource their work

Students outsource their work to a third party for a variety of reasons. For some students, the pressure to complete their work by deadlines, or to get good grades may prompt them to work with a contract cheater.

There are many different reasons why Canadian students use contract cheaters instead of doing the work themselves.
(Shutterstock)

For others, the time they might spend completing an assignment is time they could more lucratively spend working at a paid job.

For example, let’s say a student has a job where he or she earns $15 per hour. If an assignment takes about 10 hours to complete, but costs only $50 to outsource, the student is better off using those hours to earn $150 at their paid job. They come out $100 ahead and maybe even with a better grade. If they’re careful, their instructors are none the wiser.

Secret jobs for impoverished academics

Some contract cheaters are located offshore, in countries such as India, Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria, and the money they earn may be substantial when converted into their local currency. But not all contract cheaters work offshore. A recent report from the U.K. reveals that teaching assistants and lecturers also top up their earnings by supplying black market academic work.

In recent years, the working conditions of highly qualified Canadian academics have come under increasing scrutiny, with some being classified as poor, according to Statistics Canada. In 2014, CBC uncovered that most undergraduates were being taught by poorly-paid part-time academic staff, some of whom earned as little as $28,000 per year.

The reality is that some of these contract faculty may have second (and secret) jobs as contract cheaters.

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Most students who hire a contract cheater never know the real identity of the person who completed work on their behalf. And they don’t care. The relationship is purely transactional. The student gets an academic product to submit for credit and the supplier gets paid.

Day of action to #defeatthecheat

Educators struggle to tackle the issue of contract cheating because it is hard to detect and harder to prove. The International Center for Academic Integrity has produced a toolkit to help institutions and educators combat contract cheating. Strategies include educating students about how to make good ethical choices when it comes to school work. There’s also a resource for faculty on how to design assessments and detect contract cheating.

More than 40 institutions across more than a dozen countries have committed to the second International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating — to raise awareness about what contract cheating is and sharing strategies on how to prevent it. Events will be held on campuses to help instructors and students understand what contract cheating is and why it is wrong.

The ConversationA social media campaign using the hashtags #excelwithintegrity and #defeatthecheat will be used to promote the day of action online. You can join the conversation on Twitter to help raise awareness about this important issue in education.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, Acting Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Postmodernism and its effect on politics and prose

Why Evolution Is True

Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, has managed to both be an LGBT activist and queer studies professor and at the same time demonize Israel at the expense of Palestine. She does this, of course, by claiming that gay rights in Israel (there are none in Palestine) is an example of Israeli “pinkwashing” or “golden handcuffs“. This is a classic example of how the anti-Israel faction of the Left is adept at turning virtues into vices, for Puar ignores the abrogation of gay rights by Palestine–so violent is her hatred of Israel.

She’s also claimed, falsely, that Israelis systematically poison the Palestinian populace with chemicals and radiation, do medical experiments on Palestinian children, and harvest the organs of dead Palestinians. This woman has a dicey relationship with the truth.

I spent an unpleasant hour after a…

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Victoria may soon have assisted dying laws for terminally ill patients

The Conversation

Ben White, Queensland University of Technology and Lindy Willmott, Queensland University of Technology

July 21, 2017

An independent group of experts set up by the Victorian government has today delivered its final report outlining 66 recommendations for how voluntary assisted dying would work in the state.

Chaired by former head of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, the Ministerial Advisory Panel’s role was to work out how legislation should be drafted to allow terminally ill people to receive assistance to die. The panel based its report on the recommendations of the Parliamentary committee’s Inquiry into end of life choices in December 2016.

Legislation giving effect to the report is likely to be tabled in the Victorian Parliament within a month.

Who does the law cover?

At the heart of debates about assisted dying are eligibility criteria – who can get assistance to die and who cannot. The panel’s recommendations are broadly consistent with the report of the parliamentary committee. Access is allowed for an adult who can make their own decisions, is terminally ill and their suffering cannot be relieved. They must also be a resident of Victoria.

But the panel widens the committee’s earlier recommendation that a person must be “at the end of life (final weeks or months of life)” to be granted their request. Instead, the current report states the “incurable disease, illness or medical condition” must be expected to cause death in no later than 12 months.

While we agree eligibility should be based on a terminal illness, we don’t favour time limits as they are arbitrary and difficult to accurately predict. They can also lead to people taking harmful steps to fall inside them, such as starving themselves.

But the panel’s recommendation to extend the time to 12 months is still a better approach than the committee’s, as it is likely forming a clinical view about prognosis will be more manageable in that time. Providing a set time frame also avoids the uncertainty of the vague use of the phrase “at the end of life”.

Former AMA president, Professor Brian Owler, chaired the Ministerial Advisory Panel.

Also of note is that the panel specifically stated mental illness alone and disability alone will not satisfy eligibility requirements; but nor will they exclude access to voluntary assisted dying.

What assistance can be provided?

This is primarily a physician-assisted dying model, which means the patient is expected to take the lethal dose of medication themselves. This is a narrow approach to assisted dying as it is the person themselves who takes the final step to end life, not the doctor.

The panel’s approach is consistent with the committee’s report – both are broadly along the lines of the US assisted dying model such as the one in Oregon.

There are downsides to this and we favour a more inclusive model (like in Canada or under the European model) that permits assistance to die being directly provided by a doctor as well. This choice better reflects the autonomy that underpins these laws.

But the panel (and the committee) did recommend an exception where the person is physically unable to take the medication or digest it themselves. This may not be used often but helps address potential discrimination, for example on the grounds of physical disability which prevents someone taking the medication themselves.

What safeguards are there?

The panel has proposed a very rigorous process – comprised of 68 safeguards – that involves three separate requests for voluntary assisted dying (one which is witnessed by two independent witnesses) and two independent medical assessments.

A patient seeking assistance to die must be provided with a range of information including about diagnosis and prognosis, treatment options available, palliative care, and the expected outcome and risks of taking the lethal dose of medication. Doctors involved will have to receive special training about the law and how it operates.

Other safeguards are at the systems level, with a Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board recommended to examine each case and also to report on how the scheme as a whole is operating. The panel has also proposed a range of new offences specifically about voluntary assisted dying to deter conduct outside the scope of the regime, such as an offence against inducing someone to request assisted dying.

Will these recommendations become law?

Strong public opinion, shifting views in the health and medical professions and international trends towards allowing assisted dying mean it will become lawful in Australia at some point. But will it be in Victoria, and soon?

The politics of assisted dying are notoriously fickle and this is the latest of over 50 bills in Australian parliaments addressing this issue over the past two decades.

But as we have argued in the past, features of this law reform effort suggest it could happen. The process of examining the issue has been very careful, inclusive and thoughtful with multiple reports and engagement with expert opinion and national and international evidence.

The ConversationThis is a narrow assisted dying model with a lot of safeguards. There is also high level and public support of senior politicians on both sides of politics. But as always, the ultimate test is what happens on the floor of parliament.

Ben White, Professor of Law and Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology and Lindy Willmott, Professor of Law and Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Night by Elie Wiesel (1960)

Books & Boots

In front of us those flames. In the air, the smell of burning flesh. It must have been around midnight. We had arrived. In Birkenau.
(Night, page 28)

Wiesel was 15 when the authorities in his Hungarian hometown, Sighet, rounded up all the Jews and forced them into a tiny ghetto. A few months later, with terrifying suddenness, the Germans arrived, arrested all the Jewish elders, packed the rest of the population into cattle trucks and sent them to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. On the ramp men and women were separated in a matter of minutes, then marched off to their separate dooms, to be stripped naked, forced into the gas chamber, then incinerated in the crematoria. The bewildered boy watched his mother and sister lined up with the other women and marched off, and that was the last he ever saw of them. Wiesel and his father were…

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Was agriculture the greatest blunder in human history?

The Conversation

File 20171018 32345 1rwww1s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Rice farmers near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Darren Curnoe, Author provided

Darren Curnoe, UNSW

Twelve thousand years ago everybody lived as hunters and gatherers. But by 5,000 years ago most people lived as farmers.

This brief period marked the biggest shift ever in human history with unparalleled changes in diet, culture and technology, as well as social, economic and political organisation, and even the patterns of disease people suffered.

While there were upsides and downsides to the invention of agriculture, was it the greatest blunder in human history? Three decades ago Jarred Diamond thought so, but was he right?

Agriculture developed worldwide within a single and narrow window of time: between about 12,000 and 5,000 years ago. But as it happens it wasn’t invented just once but actually originated at least seven times, and perhaps 11 times, and quite independently, as far as we know.

Farming was invented in places like the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, the Yangzi and Yellow River Basins of China, the New Guinea highlands, in the Eastern USA, Central Mexico and South America, and in sub-Saharan Africa.

And while its impacts were tremendous for people living in places like the Middle East or China, its impacts would have been very different for the early farmers of New Guinea.

The reasons why people took up farming in the first place remain elusive, but dramatic changes in the planet’s climate during the last Ice Age — from around 20,000 years ago until 11,600 years ago — seem to have played a major role in its beginnings.

The invention of agriculture thousands of years ago led to the domestication of today’s major food crops like wheat, rice, barley, millet and maize, legumes like lentils and beans, sweet potato and taro, and animals like sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, alpacas and chickens.

It also dramatically increased the human carrying capacity of the planet. But in the process the environment was dramatically transformed. What started as modest clearings gave way to fields, with forests felled and vast tracts of land turned over to growing crops and raising animals.

In most places the health of early farmers was much poorer than their hunter-gatherer ancestors because of the narrower range of foods they consumed alongside of widespread dietary deficiencies.

At archaeological sites like Abu Hereyra in Syria, for example, the changes in diet accompanying the move away from hunting and gathering are clearly recorded. The diet of Abu Hereyra’s occupants dropped from more than 150 wild plants consumed as hunter-gatherers to just a handful of crops as farmers.

In the Americas, where maize was domesticated and heavily relied upon as a staple crop, iron absorption was consequently low and dramatically increased the incidence of anaemia. While a rice based diet, the main staple of early farmers in southern China, was deficient in protein and inhibited vitamin A absorption.

There was a sudden increase in the number of human settlements signalling a marked shift in population. While maternal and infant mortality increased, female fertility rose with farming, the fuel in the engine of population growth.

The planet had supported roughly 8 million people when we were only hunter-gatherers. But the population exploded with the invention of agriculture climbing to 100 million people by 5,000 years ago, and reaching 7 billion people today.

People began to build settlements covering more than ten hectares – the size of ten rugby fields – which were permanently occupied. Early towns housed up to ten thousand people within rectangular stone houses with doors on their roofs at archaeological sites like Çatalhöyük in Turkey.

By way of comparison, traditional hunting and gathering communities were small, perhaps up to 50 or 60 people.

Crowded conditions in these new settlements, human waste, animal handling and pest species attracted to them led to increased illness and the rapid spread of infectious disease.

Today, around 75% of infectious diseases suffered by humans are zoonoses, ones obtained from or more often shared with domestic animals. Some common examples include influenza, the common cold, various parasites like tapeworms and highly infectious diseases that decimated millions of people in the past such as bubonic plague, tuberculosis, typhoid and measles.

In response, natural selection dramatically sculpted the genome of these early farmers. The genes for immunity are over-represented in terms of the evidence for natural selection and most of the changes can be timed to the adoption of farming. And geneticists suggest that 85% of the disease-causing gene variants among contemporary populations arose alongside the rise and spread of agriculture.

In the past, humans could only tolerate lactose during childhood, but with the domestication of dairy cows natural selection provided northern European farmers and pastoralist populations in Africa and West Asia the lactase gene. It’s almost completely absent elsewhere in the world and it allowed adults to tolerate lactose for the first time.

Starch consumption is also feature of agricultural societies and some hunter-gatherers living in arid environments. The amylase genes, which increase people’s ability to digest starch in their diet, were also subject to strong natural selection and increased dramatically in number with the advent of farming.

Another surprising change seen in the skeletons of early farmers is a smaller skull especially the bones of the face. Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers had larger skulls due to their more mobile and active lifestyle including a diet which required much more chewing.

Smaller faces affected oral health because human teeth didn’t reduce proportionately to the smaller jaw, so dental crowding ensued. This led to increased dental disease along with extra cavities from a starchy diet.

Living in densely populated villages and towns created for the first time in human history private living spaces where people no longer shared their food or possessions with their community.

These changes dramatically shaped people’s attitudes to material goods and wealth. Prestige items became highly sought after as hallmarks of power. And with larger populations came growing social and economic complexity and inequality and, naturally, increasing warfare.

Inequalities of wealth and status cemented the rise of hierarchical societies — first chiefdoms then hereditary lineages which ruled over the rapidly growing human settlements.

Eventually they expanded to form large cities, and then empires, with vast areas of land taken by force with armies under the control of emperors or kings and queens.

This inherited power was the foundation of the ‘great’ civilisations that developed across the ancient world and into the modern era with its colonial legacies that are still very much with us today.

The ConversationNo doubt the bad well and truly outweighs all the good that came from the invention of farming all those millenia ago. Jarred Diamond was right, the invention of agriculture was without doubt the biggest blunder in human history. But we’re stuck with it, and with so many mouths to feed today we have to make it work better than ever. For the future of humankind and the planet.

Darren Curnoe, Associate Professor and Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of New South Wales, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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