Archive for The academic scene

Collegiate Learning

The latest xkcd:

Mouseover title: "I hear Steven Levitt is writing a book analyzing A.J. Jacobs' quest to spend a year reading everything Malcolm Gladwell ever wrote. The audiobook will be narrated by Robert Krulwich of Radiolab."

(As usual, click on the image for a larger version.)

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Introducing: Popular Linguistics Magazine

A new online venture has just been launched: Popular Linguistics Magazine. From editor DS Bigham's welcome message to Volume 1, Issue 1:

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So you want to be a college professor

Passed on to me via Nancy Whittier, this disturbing and bitterly funny animation, here, "So you want to get a PhD in the humanities", which has elicited some Facebook discussion about advising undergrads about going to grad school and about advising grad students.

I was born at the right time, knew that I wanted to be a college professor when I was in high school, and achieved it all as easily as these things can be done (though that involved periods of deep self-doubt and anxiety). Now it gets harder and harder to advise students. Wonderful to teach people, but is it moral to attract them into an academic career? Could any young person find a life doing what I do?

(Allowing comments, with considerable trepidation.)

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Dear [Epithet] spamference organizer [Name]

The most unsuccessful piece of pseudo-personal spam I received this week must surely be the falsely flattering invitation that began as follows:

Dear Professor [Name][Name1],

We would like to invite you as Invited Speaker on the area of Social Sciences, Law, Finances and Humanities in the Conferences

Vouliagmeni Beach, Athens, Greece, December 29-31, 2010

Organized by the European Society for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development / EUROPMENT, www.europment.org in collaboration with the WSEAS...

Dear Professor [Name][Name1]? Come on, spamsters! Can't you even do a standard mail merge? Isn't that the core of your goddamn lousy trade?

Would it be OK with you if I gave an invited talk entitled "[Title][Subtitle]"?

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Making linguistics relevant (for sports blogs)

The popular sports blog Deadspin isn't the first place you'd expect to find a lesson in inflectional morphology. So it was a bit of a surprise to see the recent post "Learn Linguistics the Latrell Sprewell Way," featuring this shot of a linguistics textbook:

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More details on the Marc Hauser case

Tom Bartlett, "Document Sheds Light on Investigation at Harvard", Chronicle of Higher Education 8/19/2010:

Ever since word got out that a prominent Harvard University researcher was on leave after an investigation into academic wrongdoing, a key question has remained unanswered: What, exactly, did he do? […]

An internal document, however, sheds light on what was going on in Mr. Hauser's lab. It tells the story of how research assistants became convinced that the professor was reporting bogus data and how he aggressively pushed back against those who questioned his findings or asked for verification.

A copy of the document was provided to The Chronicle by a former research assistant in the lab who has since left psychology. The document is the statement he gave to Harvard investigators in 2007.

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Don't send me passwords

Keith Allan has bravely outed himself as editor of the journal from which I recently received a thoroughly discourteous message sequence. I thank him for responding to the discussion, and for confirming that it was not about him pressing the buttons in the wrong order. The reason his fine journal (the Australian Journal of Linguistics) sent me a message sequence I found annoying and presumptuous is the design of the stupid ScholarOne Manuscript software. Let me explain a little more about the nature of my life (perhaps my experiences will find an echo in yours), the part that involves those arbitrary strings of letters and digits we are all supposed to carry around in our heads like mental sets of keys.

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Stupid message sequencing discourtesy

Picture this: that you receive two unexpected emails from me in quick succession. The first is a boilerplate pre-packaged message informing you that I have entered your address on my website as my temporary address for two or three days later this month, and I have let my employers know that people can call me or fax me at your house. I'm a complete stranger to you, except that you know my name from Language Log; I have obtained your email address from public sources, and pre-emptively set up arrangements to that assume I'll be staying with you.

The second of the two emails is personally addressed, and says that I'll be in your area later this month to give a lecture, and since I'm on a tight budget, would it be all right if I came to stay for two nights?

I take it you'd be somewhere between insulted and shocked, despite the fact that it is sort of flattering that a famous Language Log writer has singled you out as a person he would like to stay with. Well the equivalent not only happened to me today; it happens to me every couple of months.

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Update on the annihilation of Computational Linguistics at KCL

[What follows is a guest post from Robin Cooper, Professor of Computational Linguistics, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, and Director of the Graduate School of Language Technology, University of Gothenburg. He reports on the ill-considered and appallingly executed destruction of the Computational Linguistics group at King's College London. — David Beaver]

The crisis at King's College, London and in particular the targeting for redundancy of its computational linguists and logicians has stirred significant international protest (see http://sites.google.com/site/kclgllcmeltdown/). Many hundreds of highly distinguished scholars from around the world have organized letters of protest querying the rationale behind these moves, which have happened at the same time as the College invested more than £20 million in acquiring Somerset House, a prime piece of central London real estate. Moreover, in contrast to universities that have undergone similar budgetary pressures in the US (e.g. in the UC system where senior faculty have been asked to take pay cuts in order to preserve jobs), at KCL moves towards firing permanent staff has been the first resort.

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The annihilation of computational linguistics at KCL

[What follows is a guest post reporting on a very disturbing situation at King's College London involving the sacking of senior computational linguists and others in a secretly planned, tragically stupid, and farcically implemented mass-purge. The author of the post is currently employed at KCL, and for obvious reasons must remain anonymous here.

Although it is clear that KCL is suffering from severe budgetary problems, the administration has reacted to the problems inappropriately and unconscionably: the administration is sacking some of KCL's most successful, academically productive and influential scholars, showing arbitrariness and short-sightedness in its decision making, and acting with extreme callousness in the manner by which the decisions have been imposed on the victims.

For those out of the field, I would note that I and other Language Loggers are intimately acquainted with the work of those under fire at KCL. It is among the most important work in syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and computational linguistics, presenting ideas that many of us cite regularly and have absorbed into our own work, and which nobody in the field can ignore. – David Beaver]

Philosophers have been aghast at recent developments at King's College, London
where three senior philosophers, Prof Shalom Lappin, Dr Wilfried Meyer-Viol and Prof Charles Travis, have been targetted for redundancy as part of a restructuring plan for the KCL School of Arts and Humanities. The reason for targetting Lappin and Meyer-Viol has been explained to be that KCL is `disinvesting' from Computational Linguistics. One of the many puzzling aspects of this supposed explanation for targetting Lappin and Meyer-Viol is that there is no computational linguistics unit in Philosophy to disinvest from. (For detailed coverage see the Leiter Report here, here, and here, and these letters protesting the actions taken in the humanities.)

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Claude Lévi-Strauss

[Below is a guest post by Dan Everett]


On the 22nd of December, 1942, Franz Boas and Claude Lévi-Strauss were having lunch at the Faculty Club of Columbia University when Boas fell from his chair. Lévi-Strauss tried to revive him, but to no avail. The founder of American anthropology died of a heart attack, in the arms of the founder of French anthropology.  Boas was 92. Lévi-Strauss was 34. At that moment, Lévi-Strauss assumed from his fallen colleague the symbolic mantle of leadership, becoming the most important living anthropologist of the twentieth century, a distinction he maintained for another 67 years.

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Expert

While people are discussing the label polymath in another thread (which reports that the polymathic Noam Chomsky has been cited as, in descending order, a philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, and author, but not as a linguist), a letter to the New York Times Magazine (October 18, p. 12, from Andrew Charig of Middlefield, Mass.) laments the death of William Safire, "who most likely was the foremost expert on the American language". Expert?

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Freakonomics: the intellectual's Glenn Beck?

The new Freakonomics book is about to come out (called Super Freakonomics, natch), and Marginal Revolution thinks it's great: "a more than worthy sequel, a super sequel you might say." So does Bryan Caplan at econlog: "Overall, it's better than the original." Time Magazine thinks it's "very good — jauntier and more assured than their first".

But not everyone is convinced: negative voices include Ezra Klein, "The Shoddy Statistics of Super Freakonomics", WaPo, 10/16/2009; Matt Yglesias, "Journalistic Malpractice From Leavitt [sic] and Dubner", 10/16/2009; Bradford Plumer, "Does 'Superfreakonomics' Need A Do-Over?", 10/16/2009; Andrew Sullivan, "Not So Super Freak", 10/17/2009.

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