I was introduced to “The Two Cultures” during the first lecture of my scicomm MSc. When we were talking about scicomm history, “The Two Cultures” stood proudly on our timeline alongside documents which were fundamental to the field. So I wanted to read it for myself.
Originally “The Two Cultures” was a lecture, presented by scientist-turned-fiction-author C. P. Snow in 1959. Snow’s titular cultures were “people of the humanities and literature” and “people of the sciences”. In the lecture, Snow sketched out divisions between these cultures, with anecdotes from his experiences as a novelist amongst scientists and a scientist amongst literary intellectuals. He blamed this cultural divide on Britain’s education system, which forced people to specialise in one subject too early and prioritised humanities at the expense of science and engineering.
Books which ask the question “what’s wrong with our brains” are a current pop-psychology staple. Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of Its Own was ahead of this trend, as it was first published in 2005.
A Mind of Its Own explores some ways in which our brains don’t make sense, and the cognitive biases which funnel us down faulty mental shortcuts. The books starts with the bias equivalent of little white lies, detailing how almost all of us are biased to see things as a little easier, happier, and less flawed than they really are. From this gentle introduction, Fine talks us through the progressively larger mental failings discovered through social psychology studies.
I first became interested in reading Sapiens because of its polarising reviews; readers seemed divided over whether it was one of the greatest books in existence or one of the most pretentious. With my curiosity piqued, Sapiens jumped to the top of my to-buy list.
As I haven’t studied much biology or early history, I expected that Sapiens might be a challenging read. However, I was surprised by Yuval Harari’s clear writing style- Harari generally restricts his use of jargon, and uses conversational language rather than adding unnecessary complexity. The challenge in reading Sapiens comes from the ideas inside, not how those ideas are communicated.
“imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages. Rather, they are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively”
“This is why today monogamous relationships and nuclear familes are the norm in the vast majority of cultures, why men and women tend to be possessive of their partners and children, and why even in modern states such as North Korea and Syria political authority passes from father to son” .
Although I’m both a science nerd and a video game fan, those don’t often intersect. Many scientist characters in video games are feared (or laughed at) from a distance rather than being understandable or sympathetic. Worse, they are often locked into one of two narrow roles:
The “Mad scientist” – a friendly yet distant (often absent-minded) tinkerer, whose inventions take on a life of their own, or wind up as destructive rather than helpful.
The “Bad scientist”- a character who focuses entirely on their intellect and power, and often sees non-scientists as inferior or weak. Usually they are obsessed with finishing their research or their latest invention, regardless of its use or consequences. Many take utiliarianism to an extreme, seeing no problem with immoral or hurtful acts if they might achieve a greater good.
When I first became interested in video essays I noticed there were very few science-based video essays on YouTube, especially from academics or scientists. I wanted to figure out why. I started with two underlying questions: Do other academic fields use video essays? And can video essays can be used appropriately in science?
For me, the answer to both questions was yes. Continue reading
Over the last few years, a new genre of video has gathered momentum on YouTube; the analytic video essay. Today’s question is; what characterises a video essay?
The phrase “video essay” has two main meanings; the concept currently used by YouTubers (and the internet in general), and the original meaning used in filmmaking communities. For filmmakers, a video essay is a compilation of clips from a film which demonstrates a point about that film. In this definition, the video takes priority- many video essays make their point solely through the chosen clips.
However, other communities use the phrase differently. Reddit’s dedicated subreddit /r/videoessays describes them as:
“a written essay that is read aloud over video accompaniment which seeks to analyze some media text (tv, film, music, art, speech, etc)”.
Small warning- this is a long read (about 2400 words). This first post will cover the basics of some notable sting operations, such as who designed them and why. Later, I’ll talk more about people’s responses, and about the potential downsides of creating stings.
What’s an unexpected connection between Seinfield, chocolate, Mad Libs and Star Wars? All have inspired scientific sting operations- missions designed to expose flaws with how scientific research is published and publicised.
Scientific stings are interesting to me because they create a rare opportunity for conversations about scientific publishing to take place. Everyone loves a takedown story, and the familiar setup and resolution of a sting can bring the unfamilar world of creating scientific research closer to non-scientists.
While there have been thousands of different sting operations, some have made more waves than others. Many have targeted bad actors within academia- corrupt journals and conferences which focus on profit rather than knowledge- while others have taken aim at news media and even Google. Today I’ll be talking about the stings which have recieved the most media attention, and made the most impact.
The “Sokal Affair”
Testing- Whether editors would accept nonsense if it used the “right” buzzwords. (They would).