why fundamentalist evangelical republican politicians scare me (and should scare you too)

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, standing in front of a wall of mounted animal heads, tells the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet that he does not believe in “evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory”, which he defines as “lies straight from the pit of Hell”. Broun is a Republican representative on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

This is the US Congressman from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, Dr. Paul Broun. He is a member of the Republican Party and the Tea Party Caucus.

He recently gave a speech to the “Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet” (yes, THAT exists, I kid you not) on September 27, 2012, in Hartwell, Georgia. (This explains the WALL OF MOUNTED ANIMAL HEADS that serves as a backdrop for the Congressman.)

Watch a clip of the speech:

Here is the transcript of what he said:

God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

Now, I’ve come to accept that there are some people on this earth that will NEVER accept science, no matter how logical, rational, or intellectually compelling it is because they are not interested in facts; they are interested in maintaining the beliefs and worldview compiled thousands of years ago by desert nomads. But this is not the problem.

Every American has every right to be religious. And every American has every right to make religious speech (just not in places where others are compelled to listen to it or participate in it, like public schools). And every American has the right, if they so choose, to deny reality. You can argue that aliens created human technology, Santa Claus, whatever – you have that right.

Every American, if they so choose, can choose to deny basic science, facts, and data. That too is OK…foolish, but within one’s constitutional rights. Likewise, every American has the right to elect as their representative someone reflects their skewed, ancient, and defunct worldview – a representative who also denies facts and information that science provides. Therefore, even though such behavior is utterly foolish IMHO, Americans have the right to believe what they want, deny reality if they want, and elect someone as their representative who reflects the denial of science, facts, and reality. It’s foolish, but they have these rights as Americans. This too is not the problem.

The real problem, and what frustrates me to no end, is that the Republican Party would place someone like Paul Broun, who obviously has a disdain for science and the factual reality of the world around us, to THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY! Forget the fact that he’s been married four times. Forget the fact that he’s a Conservative Evangelical. These aren’t the problem. The problem is that, based upon his fundamentalist religious convictions, he DENIES the fundamental tenets of science. Yet, despite this, the Republicans named him the CHAIR of the SCIENCE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS AND OVERSIGHT!

The Republicans bring this upon themselves.

While I’m sure the Medical College of Georgia is embarrassed to have Dr. Broun represent them as an alum who rejects the “lies” of basic medical disciplines like “embryology” and other tenets of basic science, they can’t help what he chooses to believe and deny today. But the Republicans can! The Republicans do themselves a major disservice when they promulgate the perception – one rightly deserved – that they are anti-science, and that they are anti-science precisely because they are conservative Evangelicals.

Do you see the problem? The Republicans don’t have to promote a scientifically ignorant congressman to the Committee on Science. Yet, they do. Thus, the Republicans completely deserve to continue to be chided as the party of anti-intellectualism and anti-science, because they continue to elevate people who see no possible compatibility between their faith and the reality of the worldview that basic science has provided. For fundamentalist Evangelical Republicans, faith and science are an either-or choice. And they choose faith. And that’s OK. But that the GOP elevates them and puts them in places of authority over budgets and curriculum for science and technology, this is the problem.

I shake my head.

Congrats to Elaine Pagels: NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers List

Dr. Elaine Pagels

Dr. Elaine Pagels

Hearty congratulations are in order to Princeton University’s Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion, Dr. Elaine Pagels, for making the NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers List for her new book, Revelations (Viking, $27.95), which debuted at #10. This book explores the original context and meaning of the biblical Book of Revelation.

It is good to see a popular book by a reputable scholar break into the bestsellers list, as books in my favorite subjects of religious studies, science, technology, the history of the Middle East, and archaeology have been largely absent from the bestsellers list as of late. In fact, a look at the nonfiction hardcover bestsellers list over the past month demonstrates just how few works there have been in these fields (especially religious studies and archaeology):

REVELATIONS by Elaine Pagels

NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 25, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House)
3. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
4. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
5. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
6. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
7. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
10. REVELATIONS, by Elaine Pagels. (Viking) (religious studies)
11. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
12. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg. (Grove)
13. BECOMING CHINA’S BITCH, by Peter D. Kiernan. (Turner Publishing)
14. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
15. HOUSE OF STONE, by Anthony Shadid. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (history of Middle East)
16. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
17. THE PEOPLE’S MONEY, by Scott Rasmussen (Threshold Editions)
18. COMING APART, by Charles Murray (Crown Forum)
19. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
20. SPACE CHRONICLES, by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Norton) (science)
21. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford (Random House)
22. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
23. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
24. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba (St. Martin’s)
25. OUTLAW PLATOON, by Sean Parnell with John R. Bruning (Morrow)
26. DON’T PUT ME IN, COACH, by Mark Titus (Doubleday)
27. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
28. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
29. RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS, by Alain De Botton (Pantheon) (religion and atheism)
30. TURING’S CATHEDRAL, by George Dyson (Pantheon) (technology)
31. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
32. THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, by Masha Gessen (Riverhead)
33. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
34. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
35. WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?, by Jeanette Winterson (Grove/Atlantic)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 18, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
3. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
4. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House)
5. BECOMING CHINA’S BITCH, by Peter D. Kiernan. (Turner Publishing)
6. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
7. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
8. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
9. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
10. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
11. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
12. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
13. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
14. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
15. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
16. HOUSE OF STONE, by Anthony Shadid. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (history of Middle East)
17. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max (Blue Heeler Books)
18. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
19. SPACE CHRONICLES, by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Norton) (science)
20. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
21. OUTLAW PLATOON, by Sean Parnell with John R. Bruning (Morrow)
22. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
23. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba (St. Martin’s)
24. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster)
25. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
26. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
27. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
28. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
29. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth (Harper/HarperCollins)
30. ENEMIES, by Tim Weiner (Random House)
31. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
32. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
33. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
34. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)
35. IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME?, by Mindy Kaling (Crown Archetype)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 11, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $26.99.)
2. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. (Free Press)
3. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
6. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
7. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
8. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
9. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
10. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
11. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
12. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
13. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
14. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
15. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
16. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
17. WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS, by Russ Feingold (Crown)
18. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
19. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
20. EISENHOWER IN WAR AND PEACE, by Jean Edward Smith (Random House)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 4, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
3. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
6. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
7. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
10. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
11. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
12. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker. (HarperCollins)
13. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
14. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba. (St. Martin’s, $27.99.)
15. ALL THERE IS, by Dave Isay. (Penguin Press, $24.95.)
16. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
17. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster)
18. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
19. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth (Harper/HarperCollins)
20. ENEMIES, by Tim Weiner (Random House)
21. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
22. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
23. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
24. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
25. FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, by RoseMarie Terenzio (Gallery Books)
26. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
27. HIDING FROM REALITY, by Taylor Armstrong (Gallery Books)
28. THE MAGIC ROOM, by Jeffrey Zaslow (Gotham)
29. THE WORLD AMERICA MADE, by Robert Kagan (Knopf)
30. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
31. AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL, by Ben Carson with Candy Carson (Zondervan)
32. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
33. JACK KENNEDY, by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster)
34. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
35. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction February 26, 2012:

1. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
2. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
3. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
6. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
7. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
10. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
11. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker. (HarperCollins)
12. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
13. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
14. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad. (Simon & Schuster)
15. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth. (Harper/HarperCollins)
16. ALL THERE IS, by Dave Isay. (Penguin Press)
17. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
18. FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, by RoseMarie Terenzio (Gallery Books)
19. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
20. HIDING FROM REALITY, by Taylor Armstrong (Gallery Books)
21. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
22. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
23. GREEDY BASTARDS, by Dylan Ratigan (Simon & Schuster)
24. DA VINCI’S GHOST, by Toby Lester (Free Press)
25. HOW TO BE BLACK, by Baratunde Thurston (Harper)
26. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
27. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
28. THE OBAMAS, by Jodi Kantor (Little, Brown)
29. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
30. JACK KENNEDY, by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster)
31. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)
32. THE OPERATORS, by Michael Hastings (Blue Rider)
33. ALL IN, by Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb (Penguin Press)
34. BEING GEORGE WASHINGTON, by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe (Threshold Editions/Mercury Radio Arts)
35. INSIDE APPLE, by Adam Lashinsky (Business Plus) (technology)

So congrats again to Dr. Pagels, and thank you for your contributions to religious studies scholarship!

rest in peace, steve jobs, rest in peace

Steve Jobsmr. jobs,
thank you for your life, for apple, for sticking up for the underdog, and for changing the way we work, think, play, and dream.
rest in peace.
robert cargill

Steve Jobs

Lawrence Schiffman, Robert Cargill Interviewed Live on Israel National Radio’s LandMinds Program

Arutz Sheva's Israel National RadioI was interviewed live this morning on Arutz Sheva’s Israel National Radio on the LandMinds program with Barnea (Selavan) and David (Willner). Jim Long sat in for Barnea, who was away. NYU’s Dr. Lawrence Schiffman was interviewed in the first hour (mp3: part 1, part 2), and I was interviewed in the second hour (mp3: part 1, part 2).

Professor Schiffman answered questions about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls for the first hour and provided some wonderful insights and background to the study of the scrolls. In the first part of the second hour, I answered questions about Qumran and offered my opinions about the establishment of the site, its residents, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the role of virtual reality modeling in archaeology. In the second half hour, I answered questions about the history of archaeology, the role of scholars in public education, technology’s role in archaeological education, the importance of debunking pseudoscience and sensationalist claims, how to teach critical biblical studies without abandoning the faith and/or alienating people of faith, issues of biblical historicity and mythology, and finally answered the story about how I came to be Nicole Kidman’s private tutor.

Many thanx to David Willner and Jim Long for a wonderful interview. Don’t forget to add the LandMinds Facebook page.

LandMinds broadcasts live at www.israelnationalradio.com every Wednesday from 5-7pm Israel time, 3-5pm in the UK, and 10-12am EST. Shows are rebroadcast, and archived on the A7 and Foundation Stone websites for your convenience. Podcasts are also available on iTunes.

user interface means everything: how 20 top websites looked when they first launched

The popular social networking site Facebook (then, The Facebook) when it first launched in 2004.

The popular social networking site Facebook (then, "The Facebook") when it first launched in 2004.

technology changes quickly, and the internet changes perhaps more frequently and rapidly than any technology. so i was reminded of my technological age when is read this article in the uk’s telegraph, which surveys what twenty of the top internet sites looked like when they first launched.

it reminded me of a couple of rules in technology:

  1. even the best websites must be willing to change over time
  2. the first idea is not always the best idea
  3. the last idea is not always the best idea
  4. gui (graphical user interface, or how a site looks and feels) is incredible important. if a user can’t find or do what he wants or if she doesn’t feel comfortable on a site, the user won’t like it – no matter how well the site performs.
  5. the more documentation a site needs, the less intuitive it is. think to yourself: how many times have you read help articles of faqs in the help or support section for drudge report? google? even facebook? if a website needs a lot of help documentation, the site isn’t intuitive enough.

take a look at the sites and see what they have in common. some haven’t changed much. some have changed tremendously. all are easier to use than moodle. ;-) and i am forced to remember: even though i’ve worked in technology for a while, there is always some young kid with some better idea that knows it better than i do.

to see the other 19 websites, read here.

(with thanks for the tip to stephen smuts.)

google’s caffeine spells further trouble for microsoft and bing

Google Caffeine

Google Caffeine

now that microsoft has purchased taken over partnered with yahoo, it is google’s move. i had commented earlier that google’s venture into the pc operating system business would mean temporary salvation for flailing yahoo, and this has come to pass with the partnership with microsoft. then again, this was expected. microsoft’s partnership with yahoo means google must now step up its game. the fact that they knew this was coming were prepared for this partnership was made manifest by their announcement of ‘caffeine’: the next generation of google search technology. google’s quick response to microsoft’s long and labored with partnership negotiations with yahoo reveals that google is holding all the cards and driving the development of the web-based communication services we use.

the article states:

Basically Google engineers are re-writing the foundation code of their search engine infrastructure. The Caffeine preview is meant for developers to test search page powered with same Google search engine. This infrastructural change will be the foundation for the future indexing changes that will take place in Google s search engine to speed up website. By speed, the next-generation architecture would be focused on offering real-time search results.

real-time searches? wow! that is fast. and the timing of it will make microsoft’s bing obsolete before it is fully adopted by the public.

this is one strategic area where google (and apple for the matter) is superior to microsoft. while microsoft produces new software, tests it, tweaks it, and then launches it with much fanfare (only to watch it bomb like vista), google develops a simple version of a much-demanded software and soft launches it as a beta to an open development community. this not only allows new ideas and innovation to be integrated into google’s existing products in development, but gives google users a sense of ownership in the forthcoming product. everyone likes to say, ‘i helped with that,’ or ‘i already use that’ whenever something new is released. google understands this and exploits it like no other. google then tweaks the live product, instead of holding the product back until it is supposedly ‘perfected.’

in the rapidly changing world of technology, you’ve got to be ahead of the competition not only in innovation and development, but in release to the public. google has perfected this; they wait to announce new product offerings on the heels of their competition’s announcements, essentially drafting off of their competition’s expensive press release campaigns and taking the wind out of their sails all in one swift motion. there is nothing more frustrating than working for years on a new product, ramping up the release, and spending time and money and releasing it to the public, only to have someone else announce something better a week later. microsoft is learning this the hard way.

and if you haven’t yet seen this classic video, this is why i use mac and google.

new online legal tool helps you track criminal cases

eCourts

eCourts

as a scholar in the digital humanities, i try my best to keep readers informed about the newest technologies available to the public. i am especially attentive when the technology is readily available online, and even more so excited when it is free. so i was delighted to discover a new service readily available to the public domain offered by the new york state unified court system. their new software, ecourts, provides a free service called webcrims, which allows an internet reader to view new york state criminal proceedings of interest to the online reader. after entering a simple captcha spam guard, this service allows the reader to search for cases in the new york criminal justice system, read a summary of a pending case, including the defendant’s name, a record of the offending incident(s) and arrest, attorney information, next scheduled appearance, and sentencing information. the reader can also view a history of appearances in the court system, which provides details like whether or not a temporary order of protection has been issued in the case. perhaps most impressively, the reader can read a laundry list of charges brought by the people of new york against the accused. you can even subscribe to receive criminal case alerts using the etrack email alert system to make sure you don’t miss any of the proceedings in your favorite case.

all this technology is brought to you free of charge in the public domain by the good people of the state of new york, so give it a try.

academic publishers should make digital copies of their books available online for free

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education

attention academic publishers. a new article by david wiley in the chronicle of higher education‘s ‘wired campus’ section entitled ‘giving away academic books online can actually help print sales‘ makes a lot of sense, and there is data to back it up.

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has been digitally distributing free copies of its books, but print sales have not declined. “After the complimentary distribution of 21 titles in 2008 that had for many years only been available in print, sales of these titles increased by 7 percent compared with the previous two years,” institute officials reported on their Web site.

i was particularly struck by a comment by james boyle, co-founder of the center for the study of the public domain at duke university school of law. he explains why it is beneficial for academic publishers to make digital volumes available for free:

First, most people hate reading a book on a screen, but like finding out if it is worth buying. I am sure I have lost some sales, but my guess is that I have gained more new readers who otherwise would be unaware of my work, and who treat the digital version as a ‘sampler,’ to which they then introduce others.

this actually makes a lot of sense. a scholar can flood the market with his or her ideas, which increases the visibility of the book and its arguments. those arguments then become a more talked about part of the public and academic debate because of increased familiarity with the subject matter. if the argument withstands scholarly scrutiny, it will become a ‘must have’ volume. because scholars take pride in their libraries (much like popular music listeners *have* to have the new cd of their favorite artists), they will order the book. thus, the free distribution of academic books in a digital form allows readers a preview of a book they might not otherwise have purchased. (and does this strategy sound familiar??)

this won’t necessarily work with popular books, because popular readers aren’t concerned with building up their libraries. but for academics, this is a marketing strategy that makes a lot of sense because it appeals to a scholar’s fundamental desire: the ability to say, ‘i’ve read that. in fact, i have a copy if you want to borrow it.’

smu dean suggests removing technology from classrooms

Dr. Robert R. Cargill lecturing in the UCLA Visualization Portal

Dr. Robert R. Cargill lecturing in the UCLA Visualization Portal

we in the digital humanities spend a great deal of time exploring new ways of using technology to make instruction and research more efficient and effective. but one university is now suggesting educators remove technology from the classroom. josé a. bowen, dean of the meadows school of the arts at southern methodist university is challenging faculty to ‘teach naked’ and cease using technological aids like powerpoint in the classroom. according to the chronicle of higher education,

Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web.

i most certainly disagree. i object not only to the suggestion that professors who use powerpoint need a crutch, but to the assumption that those who use powerpoint in class do not ask their students to prepare before class.

there are pedagogical reasons for the effective use of a information organization and dissemination tool like powerpoint in class. the fact is that lower division undergraduate courses provide much of the raw materials required for the critical thinking and research exercises at the upper-division and graduate levels. the lower division accumulation of knowledge provides the building blocks for skills learned in advanced seminars. while it is important to teach critical thinking skills at every level, lower division courses provide the in-class instruction and discussion that allow students the environment to take in vast amounts of information from a credible source and synthesize it via discussion and questions into their intellectual skill set. of course, those discussions are more productive when students have done their readings (in textbooks or online) beforehand, but as anyone who has ever taught freshmen will tell you, this is not always the case. reading ahead of class and using the classroom period to discuss prior readings is the essential expectation of an advanced seminar. and they are advanced seminars for a reason: only the best students are responsible and disciplined enough to prepare in this manner. most students need to be… wait for it… *taught* things. a good instructor can quickly ascertain what percentage of a class has read and how much they have read, and can balance his or her lecture and discussions accordingly (unless you just want simply to punish the students for not reading, as some are wont to do).

to advocate for the removal of powerpoint from the classroom reveals a couple of misconceptions about powerpoint itself (and the use of technology in class in general). this negative view of technology is either the product of instructors who do not possess substantive information to disseminate, or of instructors who simply do not know how to use powerpoint. the assumption that technology, and powerpoint in particular, is to blame for poor teaching is just as dumb as blaming vehicles for traffic accidents, guns for violent crimes, or garbage disposals for  severed hands – it is not the technology, but the misuse of it that is the problem.

a one-size-fits-all approach to technology is just as silly as a one-size-fits-all approach to pedagogy. powerpoint shouldn’t be used with jazz flute class (i didn’t see ron burgundy using powerpoint), but a history of music certainly would benefit from a lecture of prepared bullet points to aid in conveying key points. (making the slides available before class for download and review would be even better, allowing the students to prepare for lecture and spend more time in discussion during the lecture, leaving the familiar powerpoint material to be available in class to prompt discussion). likewise, while powerpoint might not much assist a discussion on ancient trade and economic theory, a slide or two displaying the archaeological evidence for certain claims made during the discussion would go far to drive into a student’s mind the wealth or scarcity of evidence for said claim. and no, perhaps a theology class wouldn’t require a lecture in powerpoint, but courses in an introduction to ancient near eastern backgrounds, hebrew, aramaic, greek, biblical criticism, and the synoptic gospels would benefit greatly from prepared, informative comparisons on slides, saving the instructor from having to spend time writing out and flipping to texts needed to make his argument.

(as an aside, maybe this is why so many theological classroom discussions result in worthless banter – students lack the foundational tools necessary to have an intelligent discussion. i’m all for teaching people how to think, but proper logic is well served by a set of vetted facts from which to draw logical conclusions. when an upper division theology class discusses ridiculous (and non-biblical) ideas, and the class participants weren’t well grounded in a foundation of scripture, language, and history (drilled into them by lower division courses), should we at all be surprised by the drivel these ‘theological’ discussions produce? but i digress…)

technology allows for a maximum dissemination of information in the shortest amount of time in an efficient manner. but that requires preparation and pedagogical consideration – two things that too many professors are failing to do in their courses.

please allow me to conclude my response to smu dean bowen with an equal and opposite chastisement of ‘class discussion.’ discussion within a class can be a useful way to draw new ideas and insight from students, prompting them to engage and participate more fully in the material being discussed. but ‘class discussion’ or ‘breaking into groups’ can be just as much of a waste of time and sign of unpreparedness on the part of the instructor as fumbling through a lecture with chalk in hand. and in most undergraduate courses, discussion time is often little more than a “share your ignorance” period facilitated by lazy professors. as a student, i didn’t pay tuition to sit in a class discussion and listen to what the the dumbass sitting next to me ‘thinks’ a text says (especially if he didn’t prepare for class and do the readings as i did). i certainly don’t care what he ‘feels’ about the text, or what it ‘means to him’ if those ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ are the product of misinformation, sensationalism, popular myth, and a lack of preparation. i paid tuition so a professor would consolidate the information that i could otherwise gather myself over the course of a couple of years into compact, vetted, and digestible units that i could take in, process, and use as i develop critical thoughts about the subject. as a professor (and an admitted dyed in the wool lecturer), it is my responsibility to present a course that does not waste a student’s time. i am charged with imparting as much information (especially at the undergraduate level) and critical thinking ability (especially at the upper division and graduate levels) as i can in the few weeks i am given. technology helps this happen.

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