Earlier today, Chris posted a schedule for our C.P. Snow blog discussion. I’ll be participating in that of course, but am also hosting another conversation on Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, which I’m currently reading as part of the research for my next book. Here’s the plan…
First, those interested should get a copy. I’m not one for scheduling assignments so there’s no official calender on when sections must be complete. We’ll begin in a couple weeks and everyone is invited to contribute to the conversation–even if you’re not reading along.
I’ll write about some of the most interesting subjects from Roach’s book and from there, I hope you’ll offer ideas and insights on topic or suggest a different direction about something else you find particularly fascinating. We’ll develop an ongoing conversation that will evolve over several threads. Here’s the table of contents to give everyone an idea of what we’re in for:
Unlike reading a lecture, Bonk is just as good out of order. I started with the prologue, which immediately raises questions about the unusual challenges related to conducting sex research. Just yesterday, I randomly opened the book and started at the nearest chapter, which happened to be #7. Without giving too much away, I’ll say it was a thought-provoking section. I learned that the first testicle transplants came from rather unexpected donors with some surprising results. Then I turned back to the beginning and discovered that artificial insemination of pigs involves far more preparation than one would expect.
So far Bonk is funny and very enjoyable, but make no mistake… This NYTimes bestseller is grounded in science, while providing the context, history, and meaning of some very common–but rarely discussed–behaviors.
[This is the first in a series of posts written in anticipation of the May 9 "Two Cultures" conference at the New York Academy of Sciences, which we helped organize.]
So: I’ve decided to do this C.P. Snow blogging thing. Here’s the plan:
Anyone who’s interested, get yourself a copy of The Two Cultures. The lecture is less than 50 pages long, so it’s not like it’s a ton of work to read or anything. And (the joke is getting old) there are no equations!
We recommend the following edition, pictured at left: Cambridge/Canto, 1993 paperback. There is a spectacularly good opening essay by Stefan Collini, and then there’s also Snow’s 1963 essay “The Two Cultures: A Second Look” included at the back. These are great additional readings, though on the blog here we’ll only focus on the original lecture.
Here’s the schedule: We’re going to take a week to allow everyone to get, in hand, a copy. Then, blogging about the book will begin the week of April 20. We’ll divide the text up into three sections, and we’ll devote a week to each. So it will go like this:
Week of April 20: Part I, “The two cultures,” p. 1-21.
Week of April 27: Part II-III, “Intellectuals as natural Luddites”; “The Scientific Revolution,” p. 22-40.
Week of May 4: Part IV, “The rich and the poor,” p. 41-51.
Clearly, then, this will be a close readings. So: get your books, and start your engines…
Jay Rosen has an interesting post about “on the one hand, on the other hand” journalism, and credits my 2004 CJR article which was one early contribution to critiquing this form of reporting. (Jesus, I’ve been doing this for too long.)
There’s a reason the critique of false “balance” emerged, in significant part, from the science journalism world. In CJR, I was very much channeling the complaints of many evolutionary and climate scientists, who were outraged by media coverage and continually pointed out that since there’s no such thing as “balance” in science, reporting about science which employs such a paradigm often gets the story completely wrong. Indeed, such reporting empowers anti-science voices, who continually demand that their outlier stances be treated on a par with scientific consensus positions.
Anyways, Rosen explains the advantages of “he said, she said” from the journalistic perspective–basically, it saves a reporter from the trouble of having to do any serious intellectual work (it also has political advantages)–but then also postulates that it’s “in decline”:
Today, any well informed blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can easily find the materials to point out an instance [of] false balance or the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Professional opinion has therefore shifted and among the better journalists, some of whom I know, it is no longer acceptable to defend he said, she said treatments when the materials are available to call out distortions and untruths.
Um…maybe. It depends on who these “better” journalists are and whether they will still have a job in five years.
I will concede that there’s a creme of sophisticated print journalists who get the problem with phony balance. But I mean, if you watch CNN or something, it’s as omnipresent as ever. Moreover, cutbacks in the media industry, and the slaughter of journalistic “expertise” that has occurred as various kinds of media specialists (like science journalists) lose their jobs, makes the lazy crutch of “balance” more likely than ever to prevail.
For here’s another advantage to “he said, she said” from a media industry perspective: It’s cheap. Any intern can write a “balanced” story. You don’t need seasoned career journalists if that’s the kind of fare you’re producing. You definitely don’t need to pay their healthcare and pensions.
So I just don’t buy the idea that the blogosphere can beat back “he said, she said” in the media business. Once again, I see it as a basic matter of industry economics; and so far as that goes, all the trends seem to be in the direction of more journalistic laziness and lack of expertise, rather than less….