Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Links ...

Sometime ago, I linked to Nicholas Carr's piece about the internet's effect on reading. Now, go take a look at Caleb Crain's take on the effect of internet on writing.

What struck me when I read [Philip Larkin's novel Jill] was how wonderfully calm it is. It makes no effort to seize the reader's attention. It assumes, rather, that the reader has taken the risk of extending his attention unsolicited, almost as a gift, which the novelist will do his best to repay by the quiet and steady work of elaborating a world and the way that one character sees it.

The internet is inhospitable to that kind of quietness. If your browser were to happen on such a page, your eyes would likely go blank with impatience. Who is this guy? Why aren't there any links? And, more damningly, Is anyone else reading this? A text on the internet rarely takes for granted your decision to read it or to continue reading it. There is often, instead, a jazzy, hectoring tone. ...

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Peter Singer recoomends Blatant Benevolence:

Jesus said that we should give alms in private rather than when others are watching. That fits with the commonsense idea that if people only do good in public, they may be motivated by a desire to gain a reputation for generosity. Perhaps when no one is looking, they are not generous at all. [...]

A substantial body of current psychological research points against Jesus’s advice. One of the most significant factors determining whether people give to charity is their beliefs about what others are doing. Those who make it known that they give to charity increase the likelihood that others will do the same. Perhaps we will eventually reach a tipping point at which giving a significant amount to help the world’s poorest becomes sufficiently widespread to eliminate the majority of those 25,000 needless daily deaths.

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Jake Young has a pretty nice discussion of a recent paper whose key conclusion was that "gender gap in math scores disappears in gender-equal culture." [I linked to the paper here]. Here's Young:

Now I will grant that this is a correlation study. It does not speak to the issue of causation. There could be some other cultural factor that is confounding. It could be income or access to child care, or a million other things. Also, the correlation factors -- while significant -- are not overwhelming. There are no doubt other issues at play.

What I am arguing, however, is that this is another piece of evidence suggesting that the disparity between men and women in math and science is primarily cultural, not innate. How are differences in innate ability supposed to account for this data? Basically for the innate differences hypothesis to be true, you have to say that not only are women and men different, they are differently different in each of the studied countries. Is that statement accurate? Is the effect of prenatal hormones on brains different enough in France and Norway to explain this effect? Does the additional X-chromosome function sufficiently differently in various countries to explain changes in performance?