Archive for January, 2009

Rorty, Bourdieu, Gross, n+1

n+1 has a fantastic review of Neil Gross’ book about Richard Rorty. The review by Gideon Lewis-Kraus provides a challenging discussion both of Gross’ book and of Bourdieu’s concepts Gross is working with. Lewis-Kraus disagrees with portraying Rorty’s leave from analytic philosophy as an act of rebellion against disciplinary authority. He argues to see Rorty as someone understanding that analytic philosophy “was a futile, unnecessary, and occasionally pernicious ambition.” According to him, Rorty was just trying to change the subject out of boredom. Embedded in the review is a sporadically elaborate criticism of Bourdieu’s sociology of science (which Gross calls the new sociology of ideas).

This review is part of the new book review supplement of n+1 called N1BR. For those not familiar with n+1: go check it out! It is one of the places on the web (and in print) proving that not aiming at the common denominator but challenging the user/reader can work.

Lewis-Kraus on the analytic philosophy and sociology: “The philosophical conversation had gotten so bad precisely because the analytic philosophers had been so successful in convincing themselves that only they had a clue about what was really going on, that everything done in any other discipline was frivolous and epiphenomenal and not worth worrying about. This is the peril of hermetic rigorism and abject professionalization: if you believe that whatever it is you have chosen to hypostasize—truth in epistemology, the class structure in economics, the drive for status in social relations—is the only thing ultimately worthy of discussion, you stand a good chance of finding yourself on the defensive, with fewer and fewer people to talk to and increasingly occult things to talk about. Whenever a discipline becomes too self-congratulatorily reflexive, when it thinks, for example, that the corrections to the blind spots of sociology will be illuminated in an infinite regress of ever more sociology, that discipline has become moribund.”

22/01/2009 at 18:18 1 comment

Wikipedia und Unipolitik

Es scheint, als hätte tatsächlich jemand versucht über den Wikipediaeintrag zu Eva Horn “Unipolitik” zu betreiben. Eva Horn hat sich offensichtlich persönlich in die Diskussion eingeschaltet und den Eintrag korrigiert.

“Der von mir gelöschte Satz wurde von einer IP-Adresse meines früheren Instituts (Uni Basel) gepostet. Er ist irreführend und rufschädigend für mich und das Rektorat der Uni Basel und wurde in dieser Absicht und wider besseres Wissen so ins Netz gestellt.”

15/01/2009 at 11:41 1 comment

Magicology instead of voodoo

Some say science is all about values. The scientists from the last post have probably some misguided value-orientations. Neuroscientists studying magic tricks to find out how the brain works, however, are aiming in a more promising direction. Their research has the added value of disentchanting all those magic tricks, that I personally find by and large just annoying.


14/01/2009 at 12:21 2 comments

Voodoo correlations

Very often science can be somewhat trivial: First, a correlation is found between two properties that nobody was expecting. Second, someone proposes a theoretical argument why this correlation is to be expected. Third, other aspects of this theoretical argument are found to be reasonable.

Neuroimaging seems to be one of the present hypes in science and I suspect that large parts of it do not fare well even in light of the trivial picture of science presented above. Large parts of the theoretical part of explanation seem to be substituted by glossy and colorful pictures of the brain. Worse, a recent paper by Vul et al is arguing that even the correlations are statistically impossible or false. No correlation + no theoretical argument = no science.


12/01/2009 at 15:53 3 comments

Die Dummheit von Überwachungstechnologien: Der Fall Gesichtserkennung

Es ist traurig genug, dass unsere Gesellschaft sich die Entwicklung von Überwachungs- und Sicherheitstechnologien einiges kosten lässt. Diese triste Tatsache kann nur noch von der Dummheit solcher Technologien in Schatten gestellt werden. Ein Beispiel:

In einer Wissenschaftssendung des traditionellen Formats berichtete gestern das Schweizer Fernsehen über die “Möglichkeiten biometrischer Daten”, selbstständlich mit dem obligaten Hinweis auf die dabei involvierten “heiklen Punkte”. Dessen ungeachtet referierte ein Anbieter entsprechender Tools stolz von der geringen Fehlerquote, die sich durch Brillenreflexionen und plötzlichen Bartwuchs höchstens geringfügig erhöhen kann.

Das Gesicht kenne ich doch!

Das Gesicht kenne ich doch!

Das Traurige an der ganzen Sache liegt eben in der Effizienz dieser Technologie und zwar nur in ihrer Effizienz, welche durch den Einsatz simpler Statistik erreicht wird. Neuronale Netzwerke, evolutionäre Algorithmen oder ein innovatives Modell von Gesichtsrepräsentation? Fehlanzeige. Dumm ist Statistik, da sie über ihre Effizienz hinaus nichts zu den kognitiven Herausforderungen humaner Gesichtserkennung beiträgt.  Sie führt, mit anderen Worten, Gesichts-Erkennung digital ad absurdum.

Doch über die Stupidität digitaler Gesichtserkennung erfährt der Zuschauer von “Einstein” nichts – genauso wenig wie derjenige, dessen Gesicht für den nächsten Access gescannt wird. Wäre es mein Gesicht, würde ich mich sicherer fühlen, wenn es von etwas erkannt würde, das nicht nur effizient, sondern auch intelligent ist. Dafür nähme ich auch in Kauf, bei übernächtigten Augen abgewiesen zu werden. Denn vielleicht wird in solchen Fällen mein Bedürfnis auf Nichterkennung wahrgenommen.

08/01/2009 at 23:22 1 comment

Not so happy sociologists in Germany

The socbloggers are rather monothematic this week. Everyone is talking about their profession being ranked eighth out of 200 in an evaluation of the best and worst jobs. (And I mean everyone, see here, here, here, here, here, and here) I will not speculate on what that says about sociologists’ self-confidence.

In Germany, however, that list would most likely look quite different. Job satisfaction as a sociologist might be lower if one of the possible outcomes of job performance is criminalization, jail time, and accusations of terrorism. German sociologist Andrej Holm is still charged with membership in a terrorist association on the grounds of publishing academically on the subject of gentrification. (more here and here. In German also here and here)

08/01/2009 at 16:16 Leave a comment

Journals under threat?

The European Science Foundation is trying to establish a European rating system for humanities journals (ERIH). The resulting list would classify journals according to their quality in three groups (A, B, C) and could then serve as some kind of metric in the humanities. I am not a big fan of metrics in science evaluation for a lot of reasons. One of them is that if the main purpose of them is that administrators get an easy decision tool to cut funding, then this does not improve science at all. (Most probably science gets worse.) But establishing metrics on the journal-level is an even worse idea as has been discussed many times for the case of the impact factors.

I am thus kind of supportive of the joint response from ten editors distancing themselves from the ESF journal policy. However, publishing the joint response with restricted access, e.g. in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, and trying to charge the reader $31.50 (I kid you not!) points to the real threat for journals: restricted access. Journals will be fine with or without ERIH. Their answer to the challenge from the open access-movement, on the other hand, will determine their fate.

The joint response can be read here, free of charge. If ERIH would incorporate metainformation about the journals like rejection rates, review times, publication times, etc. then I might even become a supporter.

07/01/2009 at 13:11 Leave a comment

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