Tag Archives: Linkonomicon

Pinker explains why academics can’t write

Ahead of tomorrow’s release of Steven Pinker’s new book on writing, The Chronicle features a teaser essay – “Why Academics’ Writing Stinks”:

An insight from literary analysis and an insight from cognitive science go a long way toward explaining why people who devote their lives to the world of ideas are so inept at conveying them.

Bad academic writing shouldn’t be so surprising. During your training as an academic, you get almost no training in writing after your undergrad studies. Sure, you are required write, but you’re not formally trained to do it well. In fact grad students in the sciences generally don’t write very much anyway – a thesis proposal, and a couple of papers, so maybe 4-5 relatively short manuscripts during your entire 5-7 years of PhD training.

I won’t make any grand claims for my own writing, but I have to plug my favorite style guide: Joseph Williams’ Style beats Strunk & White, hands down.

UPDATE: Link fixed!!!

Doctors Without Borders: Don’t wait for Ebola magic bullets

Earlier this week I argued that hand-wringing over the lack of Ebola vaccines and drugs is misguided. We have effective tools to fight Ebola right now.

This week in the New England Journal of Medicine, physicians from WHO and Médecins sans Frontières make a similar argument much more eloquently:

There has recently been immense media, public, and medical attention to specific treatments for Ebola virus infection. Although these experimental interventions represent important potential treatments, they also reflect our seemingly innate focus on developing magic bullets. It seems that focusing on reducing mortality in the existing “control group” by applying the current standard of care is less interesting, even if much more likely to be effective. Though we recognize the potential incremental value of new antiviral options, we believe that EVD requires a greater focus on available basic care…

Public health interventions including characterizing the outbreak epidemiology, contact tracing, social mobilization, and public education are essential steps in stopping Ebola and will ultimately save many more lives than can be saved by individual patient care…

Excellent clinical care and improved outcomes will result in improved community compliance, will help to break transmission chains, and will lead to a greater willingness of health care workers to engage in care delivery. To quote William Osler, “The best preparation for tomorrow is to do today’s work superbly well.”

Better science fiction, better science?

Neal Stephenson and Arizona State University want scientists and engineers to think bigger – with science fiction. Therefore, they’ve created Project Hieroglyph: “If we want to create a better future, we need to start with better dreams.”

Some of those dreams are laid out in a new anthology of stories and essays, many of which you can now read online. The book features a skeptical foreword by Lawrence Krauss, and a bullish preface by Neal Stephenson. Some comments should be made about Stephenson’s claims regarding the relationship between science and science fiction, but those are for another day. In the mean time, check out the project, it’s well worth your time.

My Kids Need a Velociraptor

UPDATE 2014-09-29 11:45AM – Project is fully funded and closed with £11,057 (£7600 needed) from 268 backers

UPDATE 2014-09-08 11:17AM – Project is now fully funded with £7981 pledged from 193 backers

UPDATE 2014-09-02 11:26AM – Project is now 88% funded with £6680 pledged from 155 backers

UPDATE 2014-08-28 11:34AM – Project is now 61% funded with £4643 pledged from 102 backers

Rebecca Groom, creator of Paleoplushies is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of scientifically accurate, poseable velociraptor stuffed animals (aka, plushies in the UK). You have until 28 September to pledge. As of this writing, 79 backers have pledged £3103 of the needed £7600. Misrepresentation of these creatures in toys and movies interferes with the communication of interesting discoveries in paleontology. It has also incorrectly convinced my children that Daddy could not beat a ‘raptor in a fight. Groom’s velociraptor, complete with feathers, opens up discussions.

Rebecca Groom’s velociraptor plushie prototype

If, like me, your kids* desperately need such a toy, the “perks” that include a toy start at £30 plus £4 shipping to the US (about $56).

*Or your kids are a socially acceptable excuse for you desperately needing one.

HT: John Conway

Geology of Thrones

The folks at Generation Anthropocene have created a geologic history of the fictional world in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. They walk us through eight eras of geological development that explain the environment in which all the characters you like die horrible (plus one more explanation of how big the planet is). Each post helps you understand both geology and the Game of Thrones world a bit better.

Generation Anthropocene: ALL OF THE MAPS CREATED FOR THIS PROJECT ARE BASED ON MAPS CREATED BY JONATHAN ROBERTS, TEAR, AND THEMOUNTAINGOAT.  CERTAIN ARTISTIC DETAILS (SUCH AS MOUNTAIN RANGES) HAVE BEEN COPIED AND ADAPTED TO SUIT THE NEEDS OF THE GEOLOGIC RECONSTRUCTIONS.

Generation Anthropocene: ALL OF THE MAPS CREATED FOR THIS PROJECT ARE BASED ON MAPS CREATED BY JONATHAN ROBERTS, TEAR, AND THEMOUNTAINGOAT. CERTAIN ARTISTIC DETAILS (SUCH AS MOUNTAIN RANGES) HAVE BEEN COPIED AND ADAPTED TO SUIT THE NEEDS OF THE GEOLOGIC RECONSTRUCTIONS.

If you are interested in how people got around Westeros, you should check out Michael Tyznik’s stylish transit map.