Print Story Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
By TheophileEscargot (Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:07:36 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP, Museums, Web (all tags)
Reading: "Die Trying", "Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist". Watching: "Nostalgia For the Light". Museums. Links.

What I'm Reading
Die Trying by Lee Child. Second Jack Reacher novel, in which the superhumanly strong, fast, and intelligent investigator/killer is accidentally kidnapped alongside a superhumanly fast, intelligent, rich and hot female FBI agent, since he happens to be standing outside while she's picking up her dry-cleaning. Things don't go too well for the kidnappers.

A bit silly but entertaining.

What I'm Reading
Finished Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World without Becoming a Bore by Peter L. Berger. Autobiography of an apparently famous sociologist covering his professional career.

The first half of the book is most interesting, describing how he more or less accidentally fell into sociology. He wrote the famous and influential book The Social Construction of Reality as well as a couple of textbooks, which led him to be very successful.

The second half is less interesting. He gradually became more and more divorced from the mainstream of sociology in several ways. Berger favoured qualitative studies, rather than the quantitative methods that became more popular in the field. He also seems to have become gradually more right wing while his colleagues became more left wing. He believes the ideas of "The Social Construction of Reality" were taken much further than he wanted: he always saw the book as about groups' perceptions of reality, but believes others have taken a more postmodern approach, and stopped believing in reality itself.

It's hard to judge the accuracy of his later perceptions. He doesn't claim to have been very personally affected by any politically correct censorship, successfully attracting funding from mainstream foundations as well as the deliberately right-wing institutions.

It's also a bit of an odd combination that he insists that he's a strong believer in objective reality, but doesn't believe in quantitative methods, which seem to be more objective. He's also hostile to economists, who he sees as too dogmatic, though his later work is in similar territory to development economics.

Overall, a somewhat interesting account of a successful academic career, but not unmissable.

What I'm Watching
Saw Nostalgia For the Light on disc. Curious multistranded documentary following different groups in the the Atacama desert: astronomers studying the stars (the arid air is good for observations); archaeologists studying pre-Columbian mummies and art; and women searching for the bodies of their loves ones "disappeared" by the Pinochet regime.

Sometimes the connections seem a little bit forced, but there are some haunting images and the women's story is very moving. Worth a look.

Saw the Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present exhibition at National Gallery. Collection of photographs alongside classical paintings that inspired them.

Fairly good. The paintings and the photos are all fairly minor works, but it is interesting to see how they've influenced each other. Many early photographs used classical-looking nudes to carefully navigate the border between art and porn, so there are some appealingly erotic images here.

£12 seems very steep for what you see here though.

Also popped in to the Taylor Wessig Photographic Portrait Prize at National Portrait Gallery. Tiny exhibition but only £2 to get in: some good portraits here but not much in particular stood out.

Economics. Black economy behind "jobs enigma"? The Red and the Black: replacing capitalism without poverty. ConDem mid-term job stats. Will austerity increase inequality? The end of bunce.

Politics. Is the UK undergoing multiple institutional crises? Ashcroft and bookies on odds for next election, UK Polling Report. Overseas student numbers fall, students deterred by government? Turkey's Sledgehammer case. Torture claim redactions 'show dangers of secret courts' Skivers v strivers: the argument that pollutes people's minds. SWP crisis over sexual assault allegations.

Culture. Omniscient Breasts: The Male Gaze Through Female Eyes. Costume drama and Downton Abbey. Recreating ancient Roman hairstyles.

Sci/Tech. Effect of netbooks on PC sales. Met Office responds to James Delingpole. Does Lead Exposure Cause Violent Crime? Disagreement on harm caused by paedophilia.

Language. The meanings and origins of "feck". Why Americans mispronounce "lieutenant". Is English a Scandinavian language?

Video. MisterSharp on Celebrities. Changes to YouTube coming soon. Trombonecam.

Articles. Deprived teens ride buses all night. Stoic Week Report PDF.

Pics. Decayed-daguerreotypes.

Random. Bookselling: the Fortsas Catalogue. Alastair Reynolds posts Interzone rejection slips. How to Tie a Shemagh/Keffiyeh. Tea in The Hobbit. Contactless debit cards can be used on London buses now.

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Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
That's a common coupling by lm (4.00 / 2) #1 Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:17:26 PM EST
``It's also a bit of an odd combination that he insists that he's a strong believer in objective reality, but doesn't believe in quantitative methods, which seem to be more objective.''

The key is that there is no prima facie objective reason to prefer quantitative analysis over qualitative analysis. The argument is usually that in many ways quantitative analysis is actually misleading because its use of numbers gives it the appearance of resting on more objective foundations while it does not actually rest on objective foundations. In other words, the modern mindset is seen as giving undue priority to empirical data over other sorts of information.

Or at least that's how I see the same preference for quantitative analysis over quantitative analysis being explained most Catholic philosophical circles.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Within sociology and economics it seems odd by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:29:10 PM EST
He fulminates against both wishy-washy postmodernists and feminists who don't believe in objective reality; and against literal-minded number-crunchers who don't get his jokes. I think most people tend to side more with one or the other.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Most, perhaps by lm (4.00 / 2) #3 Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:53:03 PM EST
But some of the most thorough going post-modernists are also quite enamored of empirical data. For example, those who hold that scientific truth isn't objective truth in any real sense so much as it's simply just useful for getting stuff done and whether or not it correlates to an objective reality is irrelevant. In many ways the history of philosophy of science of the 20th century is the story of the growing acceptance of that idea.

These sorts of post-modernists stand in grand opposition to the scientific theories that brought in the so-called "modern" era that tend to hold that the only sort of real knowledge is empirically driven scientific knowledge. This "modern" view is probably still the most widely accepted way of looking at the world but it is in decline, especially among scientists that care about an underpinning to the scientific method.

Also opposed to modernists are folks that try to harken back to something of a more classical approach to knowledge. Such neoclassicists are certainly in the minority but they are out there in significant numbers. This is the group I was trying to bring up in my previous post and is the group that I'm most familiar with given that I attend the Catholic University of America. From your brief description of Berger, it sounds like he would be very much in agreement with this group of people.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Quantitative methods is a euphemism by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 3) #4 Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 05:28:28 PM EST
The phrase "Quantitative methods" refers to the following  procedure.

1)Gather numerical data, compute correlations and make naive and invalid causal inferences

2)Get told off for it. "Correlation does not imply causation."

3)Point out that there is mathematics that can deduce causation from correlation.

4)Get told off again. "Maybe there is but your farting about with factor analysis isn't it."

5)Buy a copy of Computation, Causation, & Discovery and learn that the vital "causal faithfulness" assumption is a bit of a stretch for goal-oriented systems (which include the subject matter of social science).

6)Buy copy of Causality. Study it enough to realise that it was likely the inspiration for Charlie Stross' Laundry Series with its vision of computational demonology.

7)Hammer wooden stake through book and bury besides crossroads at midnight.

8)Make naive and invalid causal inferences

9)Get told off for it again.

10)Develop thick skin, close ears, ignore critics, adopt high-handed attitude that worrying about whether causal inferences are valid is for the weaker, hesitant sort of academic who is overly concerned with truth and never gets tenure.

[ Parent ]
Lead by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 09:24:06 PM EST
There's a transition at the end of the widely linked mother jones article where it stops being a broad survey and starts advocating a policy. So there's a change of language from the considered scholarly review to the rhetoric of policy advocacy. Hence "blindingly obvious" etc. Can you ever say that in the context of a scientific paper?

I'm not an epidemiologist, so it would be misguided to try and weigh into the main discussion, but snarking here on the sidelines, it's interesting that Scott Firestone's area is evidence based surgery. Certainly prospective cohort studies are strong support, but treatment decisions are made in the absence of them all the time. For a new surgical technique you probably do need a test of this nature to prove it, but you are also tracking individual patient records so it's a more natural fit. For lead we are kind of already taking the drug and this is evidence of yet more horrible side effects. Even Firestone's post says its horrible get rid of it, just not proven it causes crime waves.

I was surprised that the replication of the result in different countries and timeframes was given little weight in the response. Not sure if there is a technical reason for that or he just wanted to focus on the point about the small number of prospective studies.

Luckily for seeking a gold standard of evidence, most of the developing world, including China and India, is still using lead based paint, so we have no shortage of test subjects for prospective studies. Singapore is an interesting case. It has a rather lax regulation of 6000 ppm. However it's much lower than paint sold in countries without regulation, and simpler for paint companies to just sell the rich world, low-lead paint there, rather than introduce an intermediately poisonous variety.

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