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Archive for the 'Author Postings' Category

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Will the New Man Booker International Prize Challenge English’s Dominance in World Literature?

Born Translated, by Rebecca Walkowitz

“Upgrading the status of translators, the prize upgrades the status of multilingualism. It also upgrades the status of translations. No longer merely derivations or adaptations of original works, translated editions will be assessed as works in their own right.”—Rebecca Walkowitz on the new Man Booker Prize for Translated Fiction

The following post is by Rebecca Walkowitz, author of Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature

Earlier this month, the organizers of the Man Booker International Prize announced that they are scrapping the old prize, recognizing the career of a single novelist working in any language, and launching a new prize for a single novel translated into English. So, next year, we’ll have the Man Booker Prize, which celebrates the best novel published in English and also written in English. And we’ll have the Man Booker International Prize, which celebrates the best novel published in English translated from another language. What are the consequences of this change?

The new International Prize is likely to increase the visibility of translated books. All but two of the past International Prize winners have been English-language novelists. That group is no longer eligible, so the Man Booker’s enormous publicity machine will be focused at least half the time on writers who work in other languages. Greater publicity for translated books, it is hoped, will lead to a greater number of readers for those books. Not simply celebrating excellent translations, the Man Booker organizers want to increase the number of foreign-language works contracted by UK publishers.

To be sure, the new Prize is a boon for “foreign” writers, by which they mean writers who use languages other than English. But the organizers also have local readers and local publishing houses in mind. They want English-language readers to have more translations to choose from because they believe that reading books from other languages will help British citizens compete with their more worldly European neighbors. In this sense, the new International Prize, for all its cosmopolitanism, also has nationalist motives: the education of English-only readers. Of course, it may be that reading novels in translation will lead some people to learn additional languages and to think about English as one language among many.

In my view, the new Prize is likely encourage that kind of thinking not because it rewards foreign books but because it rewards translators of foreign books. The prize money (£50,000) will be split evenly between authors and translators, who will share credit for the production of the translated work. Upgrading the status of translators, the prize upgrades the status of multilingualism. It also upgrades the status of translations. No longer merely derivations or adaptations of original works, translated editions will be assessed as works in their own right. Readers will be asked to notice (instead of forget) that the work they are reading was brought from another language.

(more…)

Friday, July 24th, 2015

On Grief: Poems by Alexandra Butler, author of “Walking the Night Road”

Walking the Night Road

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. While Butler has written a wonderful and moving memoir in Walking the Night Road, she is also a published poet, who has written many poems addressing the same stories and themes as Walking the Night Road. In today’s post, the final in our week’s feature of her book, we are happy to present a list of Butler’s poems curated by their author, with short introductions to each poem to help put them into the context of her memoir.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

The author’s memories of her childhood become distorted by grief. Author expresses rage about the promises her beloved mother made to her as a child and could not keep. The promises of Mortals.

Fair Game
o happy childhood
for I did not know
that all my life approached
that old sit down that had been had
so many times
so many beasts in that same brine

how could she ever think
that this cup would not be mine

what we had
what did we have
as transparent now as air
as easy and as casual and as
natural as a yawn
as every day as anything
I found her there but gone
my hand felt for my heart
as if to turn the thing back on

that which she had wiped away
with a mother’s furtive hand
had written its name back
on every surface everywhere
leaning forward through the walls
its halos of fiery hair
its red breath melting the paint
that went rolling down like peels
royal purple at its heels

how easy it had been for it to hide
heartless so no worry
of a beating from inside
while I slept it had swept in
calmly to prepare its feast
sitting down at what had always been its place
at the head of our family table
in the centre of our safe and sacred house

I awoke to find my mother there
smoking at the window
a bright green apple
shoved deep inside her mouth

just like that
she’d been made gone

in what
as a child I had reduced
to a simple ray of light
did I not see the storm within
of countless particles in flight
ditto did I not see in her
the simple beast
she always was despite
elaborate fantasies

an animal—a jungle—and a reign
a wild one who had managed
to convince me she was tame
and that she and I were chosen
two of life’s beloved pets
instead of just two more
among the countless hunted game (more…)

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

No Matter Who’s Elected, We Need the Hillary Doctrine

The Hillary Doctrine

“If Realpolitik implies being “realistic” about the world in which we live, then the Hillary Doctrine is potentially one of most transformative policy changes this nation has ever seen, capable of rendering our foreign policy far more effective than it has been to date.” — Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

This week our featured book is The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy, by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, with a foreword by Swanee Hunt. Today, we have an article by Hudson and Leidl arguing that regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election, U.S. policymakers should take the Hillary Doctrine seriously.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Hillary Doctrine!

No Matter Who’s Elected, We Need the Hillary Doctrine
By Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl

President Barack Obama must be feeling a sense of relief: after being stymied by Congress at every turn, he can now exit the presidency with two major political triumphs to his credit courtesy of the Supreme Court—Obamacare and the legalization of gay marriage.

For even as the champagne bottles pop and long-time same-sex companions rush to tie the knot, the female half of the human population has a good reason to be less than sanguine about the Obama administration’s performance. Although the outgoing president can be credited with a number of high-level female appointments—Janet Yellen and Sonia Sotomayor to name but two—and has fought for the Paycheck Fairness Act and signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, there is one area where his administration has notably lagged: women and foreign policy.

Far from taking a strong stand to affirm the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the administration has been worse than anemic with regard to ensuring that women in Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan and other fragile states take part in negotiations where their participation could mean the difference between war and peace, poverty and prosperity.

And while Obama was quick to condemn Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on his stance on gay rights, he was completely mute on Putin’s tolerance of open, coerced polygyny and harshly enforced female dress code in Chechnya. So why the disconnect? Are not the rights of one half the population as worth fighting for as those of same-sex couples? (more…)

Monday, July 13th, 2015

My Killer Recipes for Two Sangrias — Natalie Berkowitz

The Winemaker's Hand

Now that we’re fully into summer what could be more timely than a recipe for sangria? And, who better to provide it than Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir. Here you go:

A Victorian summer dinner was a formal affair offering a plethora of substantial courses. When heat and humidity strikes, modern palates cry out for lighter fare. It’s time to throw out antediluvian constraints of white wine with fish and red with meat and step up to new ideas. Opting for grilled meats, salads, fish, paella, and shore dinners of lobster and raw crustaceans. Red and white Sangria are refreshing additions to the pantheon of summer beverages.

Sangrias of all stripes are delightfully refreshing. Its latitude of no-fail ingredients is its great appeal because there is no definitive recipe. I’ve tinkered with choices for years, adding a dollop of this and a soupçon.

My special recipe for red sangria starts with pouring a bottle of a full-bodied red into a large pitcher: A Côtes de Rhone, Chianti, or classic Spanish Rioja works. In fact, any hearty red wine fills the bill. The addition of a substantial dash of orange juice, a cup of good, inexpensive brandy such as E & J or Christian Brothers adds a special kick. To build up additional flavors, add a tablespoon or two of sugar, (don’t make it sweet), and 6 ounces of club soda for sparkle. Fruit is an indispensable requirement. Slices of stone fruit, like peaches, nectarines, and plums together with cantaloupe and/or honeydew soak up the wine. and make a great stand-alone treat or topping on vanilla ice-cream. Allow the ingredients at to meld least an hour before serving.

White Sangria is an equally delicious, if less well-known alternative to its bolder red sibling. It’s so cool and enticing in a clear glass pitcher that it practically lowers the surrounding temperature. Start with a Sancerre, a fruity Sauvignon Blanc from Chile or Napa, a Vouvray from the France’s Loire Valley, or an Auslese Riesling from Germany or Alsace. (Chardonnay is too heavy for my tastebuds.) Add a cup of brandy, (see above), two or three tablespoons of Grand Marnier, a slug of peach nectar, club soda, green grapes and diced honeydew melon or cantaloupe. Serve over ice cubes as an aperitif or as a divine complement to sushi, sashimi, and grilled fish.

Use your imagination to make these inventive wines suit your taste.

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

The Father-Daughter Relationship in Early China

Exemplary Women of Early China

“Referring to the prevailing concept of the ruler as fulfilling a parental role, ‘How indeed,’ [the Emperor] asked when contemplating the cruelty of corporal punishment, ‘can I be called the father and mother of the people?’ He then declared, ‘Let the corporal punishments be abolished!’” — Anne Behnke Kinney

The following is a guest post from Anne Behnke Kinney, author of Exemplary Women of Early China: The Lienü zhuan of Liu Xiang:

If Fathers’ Day cards are any indication of how Americans idealize the father-daughter bond, we honor our fathers as wise, strong, and encouraging, extolling these virtues in verses set against images of golf clubs, neckties, and for some reason, mallard ducks. The cards are purchased by sons and daughters alike. But in early China, daughters were afforded a status well beneath their brothers because, as females, they could not carry on the family line or the sacrifices necessary to nurture ancestors in the other world. (more…)

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Sheldon Krimsky on the Use of Dialogue in “Stem Cell Dialogues”

Stem Cell Dialogues, Sheldon Krimsky

The following post is by Sheldon Krimsky, author of Stem Cell Dialogues: A Philosophical and Scientific Inquiry Into Medical Frontiers

In 1998 cell biology and medical research had entered a new stage of development. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin isolated and cultured the first human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from donated early stage human embryos. These cells have the potentiality of becoming differentiated into any other cells in the human body. The implications of this discovery are profound. ESCs could be harvested to regenerate damaged tissue, which cannot repair itself. Strokes, heart attacks, spinal cord damage, brain injury, and Alzheimer’s are but a few medical conditions that could potentially be treated with ESCs.

I first became aware of the promise of stem cell research in a class I co-taught with a colleague from the Tufts medical school who had been using stem cells to produce healthy skin. The class focused on the possibilities of human enhancement—covering the science as well as the social and ethical implications. The more I read about the science, the more I realized that medical research and therapy had embarked on a new voyage with new signposts of moral cautions. I did not have to wait very long before stem cells became an issue for presidential politics, feminist politics, right to life politics and even gender politics.

By the first decade of the millennium there were already dozens of books on the market. I could of course have taken a standard approach to combining a scientific narrative with ethical questions and bringing the issues up to date, that is, to 2015. By that point my wife had been immersed in playwriting. I also had been attending some of the plays performed in Cambridge at the Central Square Theater—a collaboration between MIT and two theater companies—that addressed scientific themes. I began thinking of an alternative way to investigate ideas in science and ethics for general readers. The works of Plato and Galileo, which I had read as a student of philosophy of science, came to mind. Could I present the complex issues of stem cell research and therapeutic applications as a set of dialogues?

(more…)

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?

Between a Man and a Woman?

“Romantic love is thus not only a widely shared cultural idea, from Disney to Honey Maid commercials. It is a political idea: the freedom to chose one’s life-partner echoes and reinforces the freedom to bond together as a nation of equals, despite the fissures of class, race, or ethnic background.” – Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

Following today’s Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution of the United States guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, Professor Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, author of Between a Man and a Woman?: Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, offers his thoughts on the decision and discusses where he thinks public debates about marriage equality go from here.

Same-Sex Marriage – Game Over?
By Ludger Viefhues-Bailey

The Supreme Court has ruled and marriage equality is now the law of the land. Yet I doubt that we have the luxury of sitting back, toasting our entry into the marriage industry, and delegating conversations about religion, marriage, and the law to the uncomfortable privacy of the Thanksgiving table.

American Evangelicals and their rumblings on marriage equality will stay with us. This resilience is not simply because of the impact of their networks and numbers but because their resistance reflects a general uneasiness with the value of equality, one that is profoundly embedded in American political culture. Evangelical marriage theology only highlights and baptizes a wider American desire for a complicated mixture of both equality and inequality in shaping our body politic.

The history of marriage in the U.S. is indeed an excellent place to study this complicated union of equality and hierarchy.

In its history and in popular culture, marriage is in fact an institution allowing for the fulfillment of romantic equality while simultaneously promoting a stratified society. On the one hand we tell the story of romantic love by imagining that we could just marry anyone and that love is blind to status, class, or race. On the other hand, we police what counts as respectable marriages and who is allowed to have them. If anyone wishes to promote marriage as a particularly traditional American institution, they would need to focus on this tension between equality and inequality. (more…)

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Why Henry George Matters in This Second Gilded Age — Edward T. O’Donnell

Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality

The following post is by Edward T. O’Donnell, author of Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age:

What value does the story of Henry George, a self-taught economist from the late nineteenth century, hold for Americans living in the early 21st century? Quite a lot, if we stop to consider the ways in which contemporary American society has come to resemble America in the late-nineteenth century, a period popularly known as the Gilded Age. As in our times, that era was marked by a dramatic increase in income inequality. It also witnessed a sharp and disturbing rise in the numbers of Americans living in poverty, even as Wall Street boomed and overall productivity soared. The Gilded Age was also marked by a surge in the size and power—and political influence—of large corporations and banks. And the politics of late-nineteenth century American society were characterized by extreme partisanship and paralysis. Indeed, the parallels between then and now are so striking that many contemporary progressive reformers, activists, and commentators have taken to referring to the era in which we now live as the Second Gilded Age.

If we are indeed living in a Second Gilded Age, then we can gain important insights into potential solutions to our economic, social, and political problems by taking a close look at the first Gilded Age. In particular, it is instructive to examine the people who emerged in this period to demand reforms—many of which were enacted in the subsequent Progressive Era. Henry George was one of these figures and he gained an enormous following among a wide cross section of American society.

George was a little-known journalist living in California in the 1870s when, moved by the aforementioned troubling trends of the Gilded Age, he began to study economics and history with an eye toward writing a book. The result of this effort was a book published in 1879 titled Progress and Poverty. The book is still in print and available in many languages. As its title suggests, George focused on a vexing question: why amidst so much material and technological progress was poverty increasing? This was, George warned, “the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to our civilization, and which not to answer is to be destroyed.”

The book became a best seller and launched George as one of the era’s best-known and most influential reformers. The solution George proposed—a “single-tax” on land values—appealed to some of his followers. But far more were drawn to and inspired by the broad claims he made regarding American’s republican heritage and values. And here we see where George speaks to the concerns of our age.

(more…)

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 2

Excellent Beauty

“Over the years, I’ve talk to many psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers about consciousness, and almost none of them think that consciousness is beyond explaining, none regard it as an enduring mystery. Pressed for why they should think such a thing in the face of our abject ignorance, they shrug and fall back on what is clearly faith—faith that our science will be one day explain everything.” — Eric Dietrich

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. In today’s post, Dietrich discusses the continuing existence of “excellent beauties” (currently unsolved and possibly unsolvable mysteries).

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 2
By Eric Dietrich

In yesterday’s post, we saw what happens when science confronts religion, now we will what happens when science confronts the cosmos.

The grandest example of an excellent beauty is consciousness. I don’t mean anything unusual or strange by the word “consciousness”. Consciousness—or being conscious—is the most ordinary thing in your life . . . so ordinary, you rarely note it or think of it. Consciousness is the way the world seems to you, the way you experience it, feel it. Taste an apple, see a sunset, smell a rose or an angry skunk, stub your toe on the foot of the bed frame at 4:00 am, hear your dog breathe or a baby gurgle and coo. Introspect and consider your belief that there are an infinite number of numbers. These are all conscious experiences. We have experiences because we are conscious. Or, rather, our having them constitutes our being conscious. Being conscious is what makes it fun or horrible or merely boring to be a human (or anything else that is conscious). Using a phrase that the philosopher Thomas Nagel made famous (apparently only among philosophers), we can say that a being is conscious when there is something it is like to be that being. (See Nagel’s oft-cited paper, “What is it like to be a bat?”).

Consciousness has so thoroughly eluded scientific explanation that we have no idea what an explanatory theory of consciousness would even look like. This runs deep. Given an explanatory theory of conscious by, say, friendly, advanced, visiting space aliens, we couldn’t even begin to tell if it was correct or not. Consciousness somehow exists only inside our minds (not, note, inside our brains), while science can only tackle what is on the outside, what is public and measurable. But why should this be the case? Why should there be anything it is like to be a dog or an octopus or a lobster? Why should there be “insides” to our minds, beyond the reach of public, measuring science? A famous quote (apparently only among consciousness researchers) by Stuart Sutherland is apropos here: “Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it,” (from the International Dictionary of Psychology).

The denialism here is thick. Over the years, I’ve talk to many psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers about consciousness, and almost none of them think that consciousness is beyond explaining, none regard it as an enduring mystery. Pressed for why they should think such a thing in the face of our abject ignorance, they shrug and fall back on what is clearly faith—faith that our science will be one day explain everything.

Here, briefly, and minus explanations, is a short list of other excellent beauties. We begin with the most well-known: Basically all of quantum mechanics. Next, the infinity of numbers comes in sizes—that’s right: some infinities are bigger than others, by rather a lot, it turns out. No one knows why, yet the proof for this fact is relatively easy to follow. Logic contains some of the strangest mysteries. First, classical logic is completely unable to represent its fundamental notion, the inference from one sentence to another, say from “X is a prime number bigger than 2”, to “X is an odd number.” Second, there exist logics that allow some statements to be both true and false at the same time. More shockingly, some philosophers argue that such “true contradictions” are required to correctly describe completely ordinary things like walking into a room or blinking your eyes. Thirdly, any logical system that contains numbers and operations like addition produces truths that are obviously true, but which cannot be proven; here truth extends beyond proof. There are more logic mysteries, but let’s move on.

Here is a mystery involving something more ordinary: Did you know that there is a very old, currently undecipherable text complete with detailed colored drawings sitting in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library? The author, purpose, and meaning of the text are unknown. Attempts to decode it or translate it defy all modern techniques used by linguists and cryptologists (going clear back to World War I). It’s called the Voynich Manuscript. Most scholars believe it was written sometime in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, but no one is sure (recent carbon-14 dating does put the date of the vellum in the fifteenth century). The language the manuscript is written in, if indeed it is a language, is completely baffling. Detailed statistical analysis of the symbols making up the manuscript, however, leads most scholars to believe that it is in fact written in some language, just not one used by any known culture or people. Here’s a final example. Recently it has been discovered that science itself, in its quest to find and explain all that can be found and explained, produces paradoxes that completely undo all the assumptions science has to make to be science. Science, it turns out, must assume what it wants to prove. (All the references to the above mysteries can be found in Excellent Beauty, except the last one; that one can be found in the paper “Science generates limit paradoxes.”)

What does the existence of enduring mysteries, of excellent beauties, mean? We have seen that in a sense, religion and science are co-conspirators—they conspire to create a world that is flatly natural. The supernatural bits of religions are not real, being only the products of our over-active imaginations fixed by group membership. But the excellent beauties are real, they are waiting there for any one to find and marvel at, and they are not the products of over-active imaginations. What are they the products of? That is itself the final excellent beauty: how is it that we inhabit a world that contains so many foundational paradoxes, so many enduring mysteries? How is it that some of our science and knowledge-seeking provides us with fulfilling and affirming explanations, while other parts of it shock us with strange enigmas that cause us to question the very core of what we think we know? It appears that what our science is telling us, with increasing urgency, is that the universe is not fully open to our comprehension. But it is fully open to our sense of beauty. And in the end, that’s better.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 1

Excellent Beauty

“Every time a virus is found, a particle is discovered, an element is produced, some DNA is sequenced, or a planet’s unusual orbit is explained, our deeply held enlightenment ideal is affirmed: Yes! We inhabit an understandable world.” — Eric Dietrich

This week our featured book is Excellent Beauty: The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of the World, by Eric Dietrich. In today’s post, Dietrich delves into our innate attraction to mystery, our nature as metaphysical realists, and the war between science and religion.

Don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of the book in our book giveaway!

Everyone Loves a Good — Temporary — Mystery, Pt. 1
By Eric Dietrich

Everybody loves a good mystery . . . as long as it gets solved. But if a mystery persists in spite of our best efforts to solve it, our love wanes. In fact, very few among us can tolerate an enduring mystery. Why is that? Why are enduring mysteries so upsetting? The answer cuts to the heart of what it means to be a human being and explains the enormous impact dodging enduring mysteries has played in human history. Science and religion owe their existence to such dodging. Excellent Beauty is the story of these three, science, religion, and enduring mysteries. The title of the book comes from a quote by Francis Bacon, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The book also closely examines several such mysteries, revealing their excellent beauty, why they are enduring, and what this upsetting fact means.

Of course, most of the mysteries we encounter in our daily lives are upsetting not because they are mysteries, but rather because of what they are about. If someone you love has fainting spells, but six months of medical tests have revealed nothing, then you are confronted with an upsetting mystery. It is upsetting because someone you love is suffering, and experts cannot tell you why and so cannot fix the problem.

The mysteries we love are not like this. They occur at some remove from us. Murder mystery novels are a billion dollar a year industry for precisely this reason. Sir Charles Baskerville has died, apparently of natural causes, yet the footprints of an unknown and enormous hound were found near where he perished. This fact has a pressing and dark relevance because the Baskerville family has been living under an old curse, apparently involving a hound from Hell. . . . All good fun. And in the end, Sherlock Holmes solves this mystery nicely. Of course, mysteries such as these are at such a remove from us that they aren’t real. Consider a real mystery that is nevertheless something we can love: Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? We now know the answer to this mystery, or at least there is wide agreement on what the answer is: Earth was hit by a massive asteroid or comet, the smoking gun of which is the Chicxulub crater off the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. (For a recent definitive treatment, see “The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary” in Science, 5 March 2010: 1214-1218.) Before this explanation was discovered, the mystery of the missing dinosaurs was compelling and intensely investigated. (It is still being investigated since there is only “wide agreement” among scientists on the asteroid theory.)

There is a great affirmation for humankind in solving any deep, real mystery. This affirmation extends beyond the utility of any solution. The discovery of the virus responsible for AIDS was a tremendous advance in human health care and in the treatment of the disease itself. But the discovery of HIV goes deeper than human health. Two human properties explain this going-beyond aspect of the affirmation. Humans are, quite naturally, realists, in the metaphysical sense: we all think that there is a mind-independent world out there. We don’t know, except roughly, how many dogs there are in the world now, but we all think there is some definite number of them. And we think this number is what it is independently of our minds, independently of what we want it to be or what we wish it was. We are also all children of the Enlightenment at least in the sense that we carry around with us an Enlightenment ideal: we think we live in a rational universe, and we think that problems can be solved, at least in principle, by rational discourse or by some application of rationality. Putting these two together, we all think that there are answers out there and rationality can in principle reveal them. Every time a virus is found, a particle is discovered, an element is produced, some DNA is sequenced, or a planet’s unusual orbit is explained, our deeply held enlightenment ideal is affirmed: Yes! We inhabit an understandable world.

Religion is a great participator in this affirmation. And in this important sense, religion and science are compatible. Religious mysteries run deep. How can Jesus’s death redeem sinners today? How can their faith in him activate that redemption? Why is there evil if God is all-good and all-powerful? Why are there so many religions? (This bears a short digression. Conservative estimates put the number of religions today well into the tens of thousands. This estimate includes sects or denominations of the twenty or so major religions, which can be defined as religions with at least half a million adherents. Often, these sects or sub-religions differ almost as much from each other as the major religions differ from each other. So, for example, some experts estimate that there are over 30,000 versions of Christianity (see, for example the World Christian Encyclopedia or this list). Arguably all these versions worship some version of Jesus Christ, but beyond that, they differ significantly. For example, some see Jesus Christ as a sort of warrior against sin; some see the Christ as a god of love, unconcerned about sin; still others regard Jesus as a male human being who managed to live the perfect life and should therefore be emulated.)

The answers to all religious mysteries are commonly believed to be out there and fixed (realism), the understanding of which awaits our final fate. If our fate is good enough, the answers will be revealed to us, and such revelation will, at that time, finally make perfect sense (the Enlightenment ideal).
From this perspective, there is no war between science and religion, not really, and the world we live in, while troubled and dangerous, is, at least in principle, law-like and understandable.

Excellent Beauty argues that the above view of us and the universe we inhabit is Panglossian. There is a fierce war between science and religion. Science is winning—by a lot (this war is examined in detail in Excellent Beauty). Realism is at best an ineluctable metaphysical position. And most importantly, holding the Enlightenment ideal depends crucially on self-deception. Soberly considered, our universe contains only islands of understandability, islands where rationality is the dominant force, islands where our explanations work. Beyond these islands there is a vast, bizarre world consisting almost exclusively of enduring mysteries at which we can marvel, but can never explain or explain away.

Let’s take these points in turn.

Stephen Jay Gould is the avatar of the view that science and religion are not at war. He proposed what he called nonoverlapping magisteria for the proper relationship between science and religion (see his Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life). Gould said that science and religion are in fact so different that they can easily coexist, respecting each other’s dominion (i.e., magisterium; a magisterium is “a domain of authority in teaching” (p. 5)). Gould says:

I do not see how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis; but I also do not understand why the two enterprises should experience any conflict. Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve. (p. 4)

If anyone other than Gould had written that, I would have thought that person irremediably naïve. But Gould is not naïve. So, I can only assume this suggestion of his results from some level of desperation. He so wanted to halt the war between science and religion that he fabricated this idea of separate but equal domains. A moment’s reflection, however, reveals that religion and science are not separate magisteria at all—they are profoundly overlapping magisteria. All religions make factual claims about the world: Jehovah created it in six days, Changing Woman created it and the Navajo who live on it, ghosts roam the world, magic can heal the sick, prayer is talking to Yahweh (or Jesus or Allah or Zeus, etc.), living beings reincarnate, and on and on. In fact, it is because all religions make factual claims that they are able to supply purpose, meaning, and values. Going the other direction, religion is not the sole provider of purposes, meanings, and values. There are plenty of atheists and agnostics whose lives hum with meaning. They get meaning from the traditional places: their families, their jobs, their hobbies—from doing science, making art and music, climbing mountains, learning to juggle, raising children, working on their marriage, and so forth. Oddly, and disturbingly, in flatly denying the obvious truth that religions make factual claims, and in denying that religion and science are at war, Gould is behaving exquisitely religiously: he is changing the “evidence” to fit his beliefs, rather than letting the evidence change his beliefs. The nonoverlapping magisteria idea is simply false. Science and religion are at war.

Science has arguably already won this war, and in the best way possible: by explaining why we are religious. Evolutionary theory explains both why we humans are religious and why there are tens of thousands of religions. Being religious, or having the propensity to be religious is an evolutionary adaptation. What advantage do religions bestow? They help knit groups together, among other things. The details of such an evolutionary explanation are complex and still being worked out by anthropologists, biologists, philosophers, and psychologists. In broad outline, most of these nascent theories are similar, and contribute to a large emerging explanation. In Excellent Beauty, I combine two of the most well-known and well-received theories, David Wilson’s group selection theory and Daniel Dennett’s hyperactive agent detection device (see, respectively, Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral, and Dennett’s Breaking the Spell). In brief, I argue that religions help bind groups together via shared magical thinking. We like being in a group that shares our beliefs about the weird, disturbing stuff we’ve experienced. And we like belonging to a group that offers and promotes compelling explanations of the stuff we experience. Both Wilson and Dennett’s theories are needed: Only Dennett’s theory can explain the universal existence of belief in the supernatural in the world’s religions, and only Wilson’s theory can explain why there are thousands of religions instead of billions of them.

Tomorrow we turn to the excellent beauties themselves.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

What History Can Tell Us About Food Allergy — Matthew Smith

Another Person's Poison, Matthew Smith

“If we want to know anything about the health issues that face us today and will face us in future, the very first thing we should do is turn to the history of such issues.”—Matthew Smith

The following post is by Matthew Smith, author of Another Person’s Poison: A History of Food Allergy:

What can the history of medicine tell us about food allergy and other medical conditions?

An awful lot. History is essentially about why things change over time. None of our ideas about health or medicine simply spring out of the ground. They evolve over time, adapting to various social, political, economic, technological, and cultural factors. If we want to know anything about the health issues that face us today and will face us in future, the very first thing we should do is turn to the history of such issues. This is particularly important if we are dissatisfied with current ways of thinking about and treating particular conditions (as I have argued in the past with respect to ADHD or hyperactivity) or if we are bamboozled by the causes and deeper meaning of other conditions, such as food allergy. Otherwise, we are uninformed and highly likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

A few weeks ago, my 16-month-old daughter broke out in spots. As the parents of two remarkably healthy children, my wife and I were bemused. Our first thought was that she may have come down with chicken pox, a real pain, but not the worst thing in the world. We looked up some of the early symptoms of chicken pox online, which appeared to confirm our suspicions and steeled ourselves for a week of scratching and crying.

The following morning however, the spots had disappeared. We were flummoxed. Could chicken pox be a 24-hour thing? No such luck. Then, I remembered that I was the author of a book on food allergy. Could it have been something she ate? I tried to think about what she had been eating and then it struck me: strawberries.

Scottish people are often maligned for never eating fruits or vegetables. While this is true for some people, the traditional Scottish diet is actually chock-full of healthy foods. The cold and rainy climate allows us to grow plenty of neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), for instance, and there is also a thriving berry industry in places such as Perthshire, and strawberries are central to this. Every year, when the sun shows its face and the buds begin to emerge, the first punnets of strawberries emerge in supermarkets. And we dutifully buy them up, gobbling up strawberries as fast as we can.

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Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Your Seventh Sense: Beyond Mindfulness

The Seventh Sense, William Duggan

The following post is by William Duggan, author of The Seventh Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life:

You need more than meditation to calm your mind.

Over the past decade, meditation has become a popular method in the business world for promoting “mindfulness” among employees. The benefits are better health in general and a calmer mind to concentrate better at work. And a calm mind promotes creativity: that’s why you have your best ideas when your brain is relaxed, in the shower, driving, on the train or plane, at the gym, running, walking, or falling asleep at night. In a calm mind, pieces of a puzzle come together in a flash of insight, otherwise known as your “seventh sense.”

Your sixth sense is rapid recognition from experience: for example, when you hear a relative’s footsteps and know exactly who it is. Your seventh sense is slower, and draws from everything you know, not just your own experience. The calmer your mind, the better your brain can search through more and more connections until the solution comes in a flash.

Meditation makes you more “mindful.” That is, you train your mind to appreciate the present moment rather than dwell on past sorrows or future worries. There are two basic kinds of mindfulness training: samatha and vipassana, both from the Hindu tradition. Most forms of meditation today follow one or the other method, or combine them both.

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Thursday, May 21st, 2015

PTSD and addiction

The Thirteenth Step

“Here’s a dream: A future in which every patient with alcohol problems, man or women, is thoroughly evaluated for PTSD, treated with evidence based behavioral interventions, and given the opportunity to benefit from synergistic effects of psychotherapy and pharmacology. Wouldn’t that be something?” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. In today’s post, Heilig discusses the deep connection between PTSD and substance addiction which scientists are still trying to fully understand.

And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

PTSD and addiction
By Markus Heilig

The public is clearly waking up to the fact that much of the toll of PTDS comes from substance use. Hard drinking may appear as the only way to temporarily escape the intrusive memories of traumatic events, face people at the grocery store, or fall asleep without the torment of nightmares. Up to 75% of combat veterans with PTSD also have alcohol problems. Conversely, between a third and half of patients seeking treatment for alcohol problems have PTSD.

But here’s something else to think about: The vast majority of PTSD patients are actually not veterans of wars. Firefights or explosive devices are not the most common causes of PTSD. Rape, sexual assault, or intimate partner violence are. Even with the recent wars, PTSD is twice as common among women as it is among men, affecting 8 – 16% of adult females in the US. Yet women suffering from PTSD are not much talked about. When they seek treatment for alcohol problems, the questions that would allow a PTSD diagnosis to be made are rarely asked. And even if the diagnosis is obvious, people look the other way. Traumatic events are so hard to talk about. Excuses are plentiful. Maybe bringing back traumatic memories will trigger cravings and relapse? So this difficult material is left for a “later” that never comes. (more…)

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Why breakthroughs in addiction research have not changed addiction treatment

The Thirteenth Step

“But the size of the addiction research enterprise is dwarfed by a $35 billion a year or so treatment industry in this field. This is a booming entrepreneurial world, where treatment centers charge people tens of thousands of dollars for various offerings. And despite all the investment in science, few of those treatments make much use of the scientific advances in the area of addiction. In fact, treatment approaches have not changed much at all over the past quarter century.” — Markus Heilig

This week our featured book is The Thirteenth Step: Addiction in the Age of Brain Science, by Markus Heilig. To open the week’s feature, Heilig has written a powerfully argued guest post in which he contrasts the advances in the science of addiction and the stagnation in the way that addiction is actually treated.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway of The Thirteenth Step!

Why have breakthroughs in addiction research not changed addiction treatment?
By Markus Heilig

The US taxpayers fund the overwhelming majority of addiction research in the world. Every year, Congress channels about $1 billion to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). An additional almost 0.5 billion is separately given to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), my own workplace for the past decade. That may sound impressive, and in many ways it is. With the help of these resources, there have been truly amazing advances in the understanding of how addiction works. “Brain reward systems” have become part of the general parlance. The NIDA director has become a celebrity who has appeared on 60 Minutes. New findings on how alcohol and drugs get people hooked have shown a rare ability to fascinate people far outside the circle of scientists. And there has been perhaps a more modest, but still significant progress in figuring out better treatments.

But the size of the addiction research enterprise is dwarfed by a $35 billion a year or so treatment industry in this field. This is a booming entrepreneurial world, where treatment centers charge people tens of thousands of dollars for various offerings. And despite all the investment in science, few of those treatments make much use of the scientific advances in the area of addiction. In fact, treatment approaches have not changed much at all over the past quarter century. If someone were to be pulled out of a 12-step meeting then and transported through time to one today, he or she would probably not notice much of a difference. Here is, perhaps unsurprisingly then, something that the investment in research has not bought us: Any measurable dent in the damage done by addictions.

Some basic facts: Alcohol continues to kill about 80,000 Americans each year. Death from prescription pain killers adds almost 20,000 more, and has been on the rise for over a decade. As we have begun clamping down on these prescriptions, heroin has become resurgent instead. Why is it that all the passionate research efforts by dedicated scientists have such a hard time producing much of a change in the lives of real people with addictions? Only about one in 10 people with alcoholism ever receive treatment. For most of those, that is synonymous with joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a movement formed three-quarters of a century ago, when medicine had little to offer addicts beyond perhaps treating the shakes of acute alcohol withdrawal. (more…)

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

An Intellectual Toolbox

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants

“The majority of philosophers will tell you that, if you are concerned with moral thought, you must begin by reading and rereading the great texts in the history of ideas, in order to have “firm foundations.” But it is not obvious that the best means of inviting readers to undertake ethical reflection is to give them the feeling that they can calmly rest upon the doctrines elaborated by the giants of thought.” — Ruwen Ogien

This week our featured book is Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics, by Ruwen Ogien, translated by Martin Thom. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Ruwen Ogien in which he explains what he hopes his book will provide to entrants into the study of ethics.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants!

An Intellectual Toolbox
By Ruwen Ogien

Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants is a general introduction to ethics. But it has neither the pretension to instruct anyone how to live, nor the mission to teach the history of moral ideas from their origins to our own time, in chronological order. Its ambition is far more modest: to put at the disposal of those who might be interested a sort of intellectual toolbox enabling them to brave the moral debate without allowing themselves to be intimidated by the big words (“Dignity”, “Virtue”, “Duty”, etc.) and the grand declarations of principle (“You must never treat anyone simply as a means”, etc.). If these titles had not already become registered trademarks, I might have called it Anti-Manual of Ethics or Little Course of Intellectual Self-Defense Against Moralism.

The majority of philosophers will tell you that, if you are concerned with moral thought, you must begin by reading and rereading the great texts in the history of ideas, in order to have “firm foundations.” But it is not obvious that the best means of inviting readers to undertake ethical reflection is to give them the feeling that they can calmly rest upon the doctrines elaborated by the giants of thought. This is why it seems to me that it would be more logical for readers to be directly confronted with the difficulties of moral thought, by submitting to their perspicacity a certain number of problems, dilemmas and paradoxes, and by exposing them to the results of scientific studies that run counter to certain received ideas within the philosophical tradition. (more…)

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Japan’s Adjustment to Geostrategic Change

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. In today’s guest post, Smith looks at recent events in Japan-China relations, and explains how they relate to her argument in Intimate Rivals.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Japan’s Adjustment to Geostrategic Change
Sheila A. Smith

Adjusting to the rise of China is not simply a task for diplomats or strategists. Rather, the adjustment to new centers of global economic and political influence involves a broad array of social actors.

Today, many in Japan worry about how to manage this complex task. Fishermen, scientists, oil and gas interests, and coast guards all converge on the East China Sea, and today, for the first time since World War II, their interactions could prompt an escalation of tensions to include the Japanese and Chinese militaries. But there are also interests across Japanese society that feel the impact of this transforming China, and Intimate Rivals introduces the variety of advocacies that now shape Japan’s China policy.

Today more than ever, popular perceptions are shaping Japan’s interactions with a transforming China. In polling conducted over the past decades by Genron NPO and the China Daily, Japanese respondents reveal a gradually deteriorating view of China. In the 2014 poll, 93% of respondents had a negative view of China. Even more striking is the more recent evidence in the poll of a growing concern of the possibility of military conflict with China.

Of course, Japanese and Chinese political leaders hold the key to crafting a positive relationship. Last November, after yet another extended period of diplomatic standoff, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and President Xi Jinping met at the Asia Pacific Economic Community meeting in Beijing, opening the way for a resumption of a host of other government meetings that manage this relationship between Asia’s two largest nations. The two governments must address the growing interactions between their societies, solving problems from criminal prosecution to fisheries management and facilitating the travel of millions of citizens that travel back and forth between the two countries.

The photo taken of President Xi and Prime Minister Abe last fall did not suggest that this most recent round of reconciliation will be easy, but it did bring to a close an extended diplomatic estrangement that compounded the danger of maritime conflict. In the months since, Japanese and Chinese officials have begun to address the risk of unintentional incidents in the East China Sea escalating into a much more difficult crisis, and the hope is that the two nations can build a sustainable mechanism for crisis management for the maritime space between them.

While this effort to build cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing resumes, however, the legacy of this new era of contention in their relationship is most conspicuous at home. New generations of political leaders in both countries now see greater opportunity in exploiting the tensions between them. Chinese nationalism has often been seen as a function of the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to legitimize its continued leadership of an increasingly diverse and contentious society.

But in Japan too the domestic balance of interests in support of a cooperative approach to problem solving with China has shifted as Beijing and Tokyo have increasingly failed to come to agreement over their differences. This is particularly important for those issues that highlight perceived vulnerabilities. My book looks at four policy issues where this matters most for Japan’s relations with China over the past decade or so: war memory, maritime boundary management, food security, and island defense.

Contention has become more frequent in Japan’s relations with China, but upon closer inspection of these policy challenges, I find a number of reasons for the declining confidence in Japan that their government can succeed in solving problems with China. On the surface, it would seem that many Japanese see China’s rise as eclipsing Japan’s role as Asia’s leading power, and thus anxiety about Japan’s future is part of the answer. But the more important impact has been the growing belief in Japan that China is not interested in a peaceful negotiation of their differences, not only with Japan but with others as well. The intense confrontation over their island dispute seemed to bring Japan and China close to conflict, and has revealed that the longstanding political channels of communication and confidence that had grounded the relationship in the past no longer existed. The growing worry in Tokyo is that China’s leaders are more interested in undermining the global order upon which Japan has based its postwar foreign and economic strategy.

Demonstrating that Chinese and Japanese leaders are capable of building a different kind of partnership will be crucial in the years ahead. Intimate Rivals suggests that the most important task for policymakers will be to build a track record of success in finding common ground. While there is no national consensus in Japan that organizes around the strategy of confronting China, it is clear that confidence in a cooperative relationship has suffered. Rebuilding popular confidence in the governments’ ability to protect their citizens’ interests will be a challenge.

Designing new approaches to building trust between the two governments is one crucial first step. Just a few weeks ago, the head of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the Komeito, visited Beijing with the express interest of building party-to-party ties. In fact, these two Japanese political parties have had longstanding ties, but today they must forge new institutional arrangements with the current generation of China’s political leaders. Earlier generations of Japanese and Chinese political leaders negotiated the terms of their countries’ postwar peace, but today, a new generation of leaders must renew their commitment to finding common ground.

Beyond their bilateral ties, however, Japanese and Chinese leaders will also need to consider how they can work together to build regional institutions that will embed their relationship in a more stable and reliable pattern of cooperation. For all of the other Asian nations that have watched the growing tensions between Tokyo and Beijing, the past several years of contention have been alarming. Instead of investing in a future of competition, Chinese and Japanese leaders should begin to articulate and invest in pathways for cooperation that will create and sustain confidence in the region’s future.

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: James Davis on the Writing of Eric Walrond

Eric Walrond, James Davis

For our Thursday Fiction Corner, we asked James Davis, author of Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean, to discuss what makes the fiction and journalism of Walrond so distinctive.

All of Eric Walrond’s writing has a kind of restless quality, a turbulence that is a bit disturbing yet intensely compelling.

Besides Tropic Death, which I enjoy for these sensory appeals as much as its critique of colonial relations, I really like Walrond’s story “Miss Kenny’s Marriage” and his essay “White Man, What Now?” The first is a sly trickster tale set among Brooklyn’s early 20th century black bourgeoisie. It’s shrewd and hilarious, published originally in 1923 in The Smart Set, a New York magazine edited at the time by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. A sendup of the social pretensions of the “strivers” of the race, the story chronicles the rise and fall of a pompous Atlantic Avenue hairdresser—or as Miss Kenny puts it, “not a hairdresser at all, but a beauty culturist.” Day and night she’s in the shop, coiffing “girls and old women, spinsters and preacher’s wives, scrubwomen and colored ladies of gentility,” and saving bundles of cash. But despite her work ethic and churchgoing ways, she is arrogant and her striving for respectability involves deep prejudices. “I am not like a lot of these new niggers you see floating around here,” she tells a client, “A few hundred dollars don’t frighten me. Only we used-to-nothing cullud folks lose our heads and stick out our chests at sight of a few red pennies.” No, she adds, “there ain’t none of the nigger in me, honey.”

Walrond delivers her comeuppance in the form of Elias Ramsey, a prominent young lawyer, member of Brooklyn’s “olive-skinned aristocracy,” twenty-three years her junior. Courting Miss Kenny with professions of love and adulation, he absconds soon after their wedding with all her hard-earned savings. Although the story is just a lark, it exhibits Walrond’s flair for code switching, alternating idiomatic registers between Southern migrant characters, black New Yorkers, and his own wry narrative voice. A twenty-four year old writer only a few years removed from the Caribbean, Walrond’s performance in “Miss Kenny’s Marriage” is a kind of masquerade, a way of becoming a New Negro author by writing like an American. The story also stages a theatrical punishment for its title character because she commits the cardinal sin of harboring contempt for less respectable members of her race.

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Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Proposed 1920s Orphanage Study Just One Example in History of Scientific Racism — Michael Yudell

Race Unmasked, Michael Yudell

“Racism has indeed left its stain on scientific thought.”—Michael Yudell

The following post is by Michael Yudell, Drexel University and author of Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the Twentieth Century. The essay was originally published in The Conversation:

In the late 1920s, scientists hatched an outrageous plan to settle a question at the heart of American racial thought: were differences between racial groups driven by environment or by heredity? In other words, was the racist social order of the time – white over black — an inevitable and genetically driven outcome? Or did the environment in which all Americans lived create the deep disparities and discord between races that defined the social, economic and political reality of the United States?

A committee on “Racial Problems,” jointly sponsored by the venerable National Research Council and the Social Science Research Council, discussed an experiment: create racial orphanages, separate institutions where children of different races would be received as close to birth as possible. The idea was to compare white and black children under similar conditions. Scientists could closely monitor the institutionalized children as they developed to figure out whether differences were due to innate characteristics or environmental influence. Nursery schools and foster homes were proposed as places of comparative study too, but most of committee’s discussions focused on the idea of racial orphanages.Science has made claims about race in America since the late 18th century, when Thomas Jefferson hypothesized that the differences between races are “fixed in nature.” In the 19th century, anthropologists such as Samuel Morton argued for a racial hierarchy of intelligence and believed human races evolved from separate origins. Eugenicists tried to quantify the hereditary nature of race difference in the early 20th century, using their science to develop social policy, including forced sterilization and anti-immigration laws. Racism has indeed left its stain on scientific thought.

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Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Reaganism and the Rise of the Carceral State — Doug Rossinow

The Age of Reagan, Doug Rossinow

The following is a post by Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s

In the moment of Black Lives Matter, with public awareness of mass incarceration and lethal force by police reaching new heights, it’s important to look back on the racial dimension of what I call “the Reagan era” and how that politics led us to where we are now.

Today’s carceral state has its roots in the “war on crime” that took hold in America in the 1980s. That “war” was led by the political forces that I associate with Reaganism, a conservative political formation that generally favored a rollback of state power. A notable exception to this rule was policing and imprisonment. Both Reaganism and the “war on crime” had a racial politics embedded in them, so that these three phenomena—Reaganism as a movement, the “war on crime,” and the resulting carceral state, and the racial politics of the 1980s—strengthened and reinforced the others.

All of those who care about racial equality, of a certain age are likely to remember the 1980s as a bleak time for people of color and for African Americans specifically. The social reality of the era was complex. More African Americans were making it into the middle and upper classes than ever before, while others were stuck in impoverished urban neighborhoods. Because of middle-class flight, being a big-city mayor in the 1980s was very challenging; nonetheless, it is significant that, during this decade, African Americans were elected or reelected mayor in four of the country’s five biggest cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City).

While African American political power was growing in the city, at least by some measures, Ronald Reagan and the broader conservative movement he led were often openly hostile to urban America and African Americans. When Reagan ran for president in 1980, he peddled a fictionalized tale, one with an obvious racial subtext, of what he called a “welfare queen” living large on the public dole, and he visited Bob Jones University, a segregationist institution in South Carolina, which he called a “great institution.” Moreover, throughout his political career, Reagan was antagonistic toward civil rights law. That was his record, a long record—one that was interrupted only at moments when Reagan bent to irresistible political forces, as when he signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982. Reagan was a realist, but there is no mistaking the broad pattern of his views about civil rights.

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Friday, February 20th, 2015

Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air: The Denial of Global Warming — James L. Powell

James Lawrence Powell, Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

“As bad as the effects of smoking have been and will be, they pale beside the death and destruction that global warming is set to visit upon us. Will Big Oil one day find itself in the courtroom?”—James Lawrence Powell

The following is by James Lawrence Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth. Powell examines the persistence of the denial of global warming and the forces behind it:

Why, in spite of the undeniable scientific evidence, do so many mem­bers of the public and so many politicians fail to accept global warm­ing? Mainly for two reasons. First, for several decades, newspapers have bent over backward to present global warming as though it were the subject of a genuine debate—and not just the sensationalist press, but mainstream papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. When one of these papers runs an article on some new finding that supports global warming, the reporter feels compelled to add, “but some scientists disagree,” going on to quote one of the always available deniers. The reader is presented with “both sides” of an issue on which, as far as science is concerned, there is only one side. This has happened too many times to be put down to sloppy journalism. It must be the result of a policy decision made at the upper echelons of each newspaper’s decision makers.

As evidence, consider this example. In the first five months of 2010, the New York Times ran twelve prominent articles about global warm­ing. Judging from the headlines, ten were about the alleged contro­versy: “Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons” and “Skeptics Find Fault with UN Climate Panel,” for example. Only two articles were about the science of global warming, and one of them was writ­ten in such a way as to give the impression that scientists might have cooked the evidence. During 2010 the evidence for global warming was growing stronger, but from the paper whose masthead proclaims “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” readers got exactly the opposite im­pression. Television has done no better. The major network news re­ports spend less and less time on climate, leaving the field to Fox News, which has denied global warming at every opportunity.

The second reason that the public has been misled is that fossil fuel companies and conservative foundations have poured scores of mil­lions of dollars into propping up denial propaganda groups with such names as Competitive Enterprise Institute ($2,005,000), Frontiers of Freedom Institute ($1,002,000), and the Heartland Institute ($561,500). The figures are the amounts that ExxonMobil alone provided each or­ganization from 1996 through 2005. But these front groups and dozens more like them used the money to deceive the public and Congress about the true state of climate science. According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists,

like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil has:
Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.

• Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.

Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists [about] global warming.

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