Light blogging ahead

A combination of work, travel and my book commitment means that blogging here will be light for the next few months. I plan to post excerpts from the book in progress, and I’ll try to put up open threads from time to time.

GLAM-Wiki & Coral COE

I’ll be appearing tomorrow (virtually, via Skype) at this event which promises (and may well help to deliver!)

Thousands of years of heritage at your fingertips

Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Wikimedia:
Finding the Common Ground
6-7 August 2009, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

More details here

Meanwhile, in meatspace, I’m speaking tomorrow and Friday at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies symposium Securing Coral Reef Futures on 6th and 7th August in Brisbane at Customs House. There’s a public event on Friday evening

Is this the same Steven Pinker?

A couple of days ago, Jack Strocchi and I were discussing Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, a book which I thought, when I reviewed it in 2002, was much below the standard of his earlier work, though no worse than the average book about the ‘nature-nurture’ controversy. In particular, I thought his discussion of war and violence was hopelessly confused, putting forward a Hobbesian view of violence as the product of rational self interest as if it was consistent with the genetic determinism that was the central theme of the rest of the book.

Now, via John Horgan at Slate, I’ve happened across this broadcast by Pinker at TED (which, by the way I’ve just discovered and is excellent). The broadcast has a transcript which is great for those of us who prefer reading to listening.

In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver. Not only does he present evidence that war and violence are declining in relative importance, his explanation for this seems to be entirely consistent with the Standard Social Science Model he caricatured and debunked in The Blank Slate. He’s still got a sort of rational self-interest model in there, but now Hobbes is invoked, not for his ‘nasty, brutish and short’ state of nature, but for his argument that the Leviathan of social order will suppress violence to the benefit of all.

But even more striking is this:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

I agree entirely, but we seem to have come a long way from the African savannah here.

After the EMH, what next?

Writing a critique of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis in terms rigorous enough to stand up to scrutiny, but comprehensible to the average reader hasn’t been easy, and I still have a lot more work to do. But thanks to the help I’ve had from commenters here and at my blog, and from other readers, I hope to make a go of it. Now comes the hard bit: suggesting some alternatives, both in theory and policy. I’m not by any means satisfied with this draft. In particular, I need to go back and get a better linkage to the question “if the market price for assets is not the “right” price, what is?”. But, I thought I’d do better getting some help and criticisms now, rather than trying for some more polish first.

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Sane Republican hunt

Looking at this video of GOP members running away (in one case literally) from questions about Birtherism it struck me that rather than looking at the vast majority of GOP types who consistently trade in delusion, it would be more interesting to see if there is even one prominent GOP figure certifiably sane. By “certifiably sane”, I mean someone who has clearly and publicly rejected all the main forms of delusion propounded by the majority of Repugs. These include:

AGW delusionism (an explicit statement of support for mainstream science is required)
Creationism (must reject both creationism /ID and “teach the controversy’)
9/11 Trutherism (not, in most cases, the “Bush knew” version, but the “Saddam organised it, via meetings in Prague” version)
Crank medical theories: on passive smoking, the Terri Schiavo case, abortion-breast cancer link, AIDS reappraisal, claims about stem cells (to make it easy, getting any of these right will suffice)
Rejection of plate tectonics: According to the same poll that found most Republicans to be Birthers/sceptics, the majority also deny or doubt that America and Africa were once part of the same continent (brand new, so I’ll take absence of evidence on this one).

Bonus points if we can find one who’s not from Maine.