Adventures in Ideas: Which Social Science Should Die?

A survey from Freakonomics. What is most interesting about the survey (until the results are published) are the comments, some of which entail a bit of whining.

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‘Silence’s Loud Goodbye’

While the alarmist subtitle—’Cries for turning down the volume on Earth grow louder, but can they be heard over the din of a noise-pollution epidemic?“—made me groan, I do think that silence and being alone are two luxuries of life that are more and more difficult to  experience.

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‘A Few Words About Breasts’

Actually, it’s several links regarding the late Nora Ephron, but the title does grab one’s attention. Then there is this classic video from When Harry Met Sally.


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Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter?

From Wired, an article by Steven Levy about Narrative Science, a company that does this. Its cofounder has a prediction:

I asked Kristian Hammond what percentage of news would be written by computers in 15 years. “More than 90 percent.”

I am presuming they could still structure bias so New York Times readers wouldn’t feel cheated.

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‘Cocaine Incorporated’

From The New York Times, a fascinating report:

Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel is a complex, multi-billion-dollar business operating in more than a dozen countries.

And there is this piece of information that signals their adaptability:

Michael Braun, the former chief of operations for the D.E.A., told me a story about the construction of a high-tech fence along a stretch of border in Arizona. “They erect this fence,” he said, “only to go out there a few days later and discover that these guys have a catapult, and they’re flinging hundred-pound bales of marijuana over to the other side.” He paused and looked at me for a second. “A catapult,” he repeated. “We’ve got the best fence money can buy, and they counter us with a 2,500-year-old technology.”


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The Library of Utopia

From Technology Review, The Library of Utopia:

Google’s ambitious book-scanning program is foundering in the courts. Now a Harvard-led group is launching its own sweeping effort to put our literary heritage online. Will the Ivy League succeed where Silicon Valley failed?

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‘Amazon v newspaper: which is the more valuable review?’

From The Guardian:

Academics have charted reviews on social media sites and broadsheet books desks, and ranked their impact on novel sales. The results make for interesting reading

Hmmm…I’m just looking for good reviews wherever they are.

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Why the online obsession with revealing every detail of your life?

From the Guardian, an excerpt:

Facebook and Spotify automatically want to share my every waking action…Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for sharing thoughts, no matter how banal (as every column I have ever written rather sadly proves). Humans will always babble. If someone wants to tweet that they can’t decide whether to wear blue socks or brown socks, then fair enough. But when sharing becomes automated, I get the heebie-jeebies. People already create exaggerated versions of themselves for online consumption: snarkier tweets, more outraged reactions. Online, you play at being yourself. Apply that pressure of public performance to private, inconsequential actions – such as listening to songs in the comfort of your own room – and what happens, exactly?

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‘The Sniff of Legend’

A mostly scientific article from Discover Magazine—April 1994

Human pheromones? Chemical sex attractants? And a sixth sense organ in the nose? What are we, animals?

Pheromones have long fascinated me—the very idea that we can be attracted (or repelled) via animalistic instincts driven by chemistry within. And I use the notion in my fiction, as in Waiting for Zoë.

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Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

Huh? Two articles, one from the Atlantic and another from The Week address the subject. My question: How can Facebook make us anything, except perhaps stupid for spending too much time on it?

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