A culture antithetical to ideas?

14 08 2011

An interesting opinion piece by Neal Gabler in the NY Times today, proposing that our culture is not conducive to generation or dissemination of “big ideas.” The thesis is that popular media and social networking do not promote the kind of discourse that is useful in the identification and development of important, revolutionary ideas. He says it’s particularly tough for social scientists:

because they are scientists and empiricists rather than generalists in the humanities, the place from which ideas were customarily popularized, they suffer a double whammy: not only the whammy against ideas generally but the whammy against science, which is typically regarded in the media as mystifying at best, incomprehensible at worst.

I am sympathetic to the idea (pun intended) that the 140-character tweet is not useful for development of integrative idea generation. And I am also in agreement that we sometimes confuse gathering information with knowledge. But I am not sure I am ready to make a wholesale condemnation of new media for the decline. I would be more interested in the ways educational systems emphasize knowledge (as evidenced in standardized multiple-choice tests) over critical inquiry and exploring ideas.

I am also interested in how 2 factors may be important in idea versus knowledge generation. One is the large number of researchers generating data, and another is the contingencies imposed on academics by tenure systems may contribute to the generation of knowledge over ideas. For example, the competition to publish in a top-tier journal is intense partly as a product of more data being generated, and so the best strategy is to generate lots of experimental data, and hope that one of those experimental lines might be good enough to make it into a journal. This may be at odds with a more considered approach that emphasizes taking an idea and following it to its conclusion (be it productive or non-productive) or following tangents that emerge later in the process, rather than abandoning it because we need to move onto the “next big thing” which might be publishable.

That’s not to say that there aren’t important integrative publications, but rather that those kinds of big ideas are harder to come by, take longer to develop and explore fully, and don’t fit well into the typical tenure clock.

Caveat: I do not know about the development and changes in the tenure and publication system over the last several decades, so these are mostly uninformed opinions. I do not have the time to gather the data, so I’ll leave it up to someone else to take the idea and run with it, if it fits into their schedule.




Scrivener overview tutorial

18 11 2010

I am using a writing program called Scrivener for my academic work lately. It is a very compelling program for academic writers, because it allows for the construction of documents in a very non-linear, non-top-down approach. As I research for an article or chapter or paper for class, I can add parts of the document and not worry about how those parts are connected to the rest of the parts. After I have all the parts laid out, I then start to see connections and can begin to assemble the piece in a way that provides a sensible narrative.

A fellow academic has produced a tutorial outlining some of the features of Scrivener and why it makes sense for academic writibng over a more linear approach such as a word processor. Word processors are great for 2 things I think: relatively short documents such as letters or short papers where there aren’t lots of pieces that have to be interconnected. They are also great for the final assembly and polishing of a manuscript. I like Scrivener for the ability it has to produce the manuscript from bits and pieces of thoughts.

Here’s the tutorial: Five Essentials Tutorial




Back at it!

18 09 2007

I am returning (slowly) from my summer break.

I didn’t realize just how burned-out I had become until a few weeks into the summer break my fiancée commented on just how relaxed I looked, and how she hadn’t seen me like that since the school year started. I still feel relaxed, but as usual, I am feeling the anxiety of the impending class schedule.

I am trying a couple of new things this term — In my Intro Psych class, I’ll be doing more with psychophysiology, because of a NSF-sponsored workshop I attended over the summer. I’ll be creating “Laboratory” sessions in my class, to measure the physiological (body) response to psychological stimuli (mind). It’s also a laboratory in doing science — the experimental method, and how it works. It should be very valuable (and fun) for my students, and it is also serving as a test for a research project being run by the people who ran the workshop.

In Abnormal Psych, I will be implementing a service-learning component, so my students will be conducting a mood disorders screening event. It’s part of the National Depression Screening Day program, and I have run it at another school, but never at this one. It’ll be a little scary, a little risky, a lot of work, and a lot of fun. My job is to help them pul together the resources they need to create a great event educating about and screening for mood disorders.

Classes start in a week, so I’ll be posting more on here this week, and getting content ready for the new school year!

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Petra Boynton on Sex Research

10 05 2007

The excellent psychology blog, Mind Hacks, has a very interesting interview with a psychologist and sex researcher, Petra Boynton. I link frequently to her blog. Here, she talks about one thing I always try to emphasize in my teaching — behavior in a historical-cultural context.

Knowing your history. You can’t study anything in social science without understanding historical and cultural issues. This is particularly the case in the study of sex where there’s a trend towards reductionism – just studying hormones, the brain or behaviour. To really understand sex you need to understand history, culture, global differences and sex as an holistic issue rather than just one issue. Otherwise it just doesn’t make sense.

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PsySR press release on psychologists and interrogations

14 08 2006

The American Psychological Association Council of Representatives met at APA to deal with the APA Executive Council’s approval of psychologists being involved in interrogations and, as a consequence, torture. Click here to read the press release from APA on the resolution.
Here’s the press release by PsySR (an independent organization of psychologist activists) regarding the resolution, and how it does not go far enough, soon enough. I’m not sure how we can advocate setting aside “normal procedures” for stopping the participation any more than the president of APA did when he established the policy endorsing it in the first place… The issue goes both ways… Anyway…


For Immediate Release
Contact: Anne Anderson (202) 262-0989


PsySR to APA: Don’t Stop Now — Declare Emergency
“No Participation” Policy in National Security Interrogations

Psychologists for Social Responsibility urges the American Psychological Association not to mistake the start it made this week for the kind of conclusive action still needed to prevent psychologists from enmeshing themselves in psychological abuse at U.S.-operated detention centers. Given the urgency of ending the potential for abuse immediately, PsySR calls on the APA to set aside its normal procedures and immediately declare an emergency “No Participation” policy for psychologists in national security or military interrogations at this time.
PsySR welcomes the new, stronger resolution passed by the APA Council of Representatives this week that ties APA’s ethics code to international human rights standards regarding torture and abuse. But that resolution is just the first step — not the end of the matter. PsySR urges the Council to take emergency action Sunday to set a “No Participation” policy while APA deliberates on how to implement the resolution.

“We encourage APA to demonstrate its commitment to this new policy by placing an immediate moratorium on psychologists’ participation in national security or military interrogations,” said Richard Wagner, president of PsySR. “The secrecy surrounding the interrogations makes it very difficult — possibly impossible — for psychologists to be able to effectively monitor and prevent torture, abuse, and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment.”

Michael Wessells, a member of both PsySR’s Steering Committee and former member of APA’s Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) added: “The passage of this resolution is an important step forward because it establishes international human rights standards as the foundation of APA ethics guidance for working on issues of national security. However, the statement is only a first step and, by itself, is seriously incomplete.”

“Human rights standards become actionable only when coupled with clear operational guidance and effective systems of monitoring, reporting, and action. These do not exist at present. The APA needs to provide on an urgent basis the specific operational guidance needed to define what psychologists can and cannot do in national security work and whether it is ethically appropriate for psychologists to work at or support detainment sites such as Guantanamo Bay that operate outside the spirit and letter of the law established by the Geneva Conventions and other human rights standards. Also, the APA should denounce the systematic use of specifically psychological methods of interrogation and take steps to insure that psychologists have the support and protections needed to be effective whistleblowers. Most important, without these additional elements, psychologists remain at serious risk of violating human rights, and psychology as a profession will not have fulfilled its obligation to protecting human rights.

We appreciate the hard work and commitment of all of our colleagues who have helped to prepare and pass the new Resolution this week and urge the Council to call a halt to participation by psychologists in any way in national security or military interrogations at this time.

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Stephen Jay Gould on probability in science

8 02 2006

A great quote attributed to Stephen Jay Gould came across my browser window today:

Quote Details: Stephen Jay Gould: In science, ‘fact’ can… – The Quotations Page:

“In science, ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’ I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.”

Stephen Jay Gould
US author, naturalist, paleontologist, & popularizer of science (1941 – 2002)

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Psychology and More goes live!

22 01 2006

This posting initiates a new weblog specifically for my Psychology classes – Psychology and More. Let me know if you encounter any problems reading it or using its features. I will also be commenting on teaching and research in general here, so stay tuned.