Tag: STS132

The Stats to Back it Up: Living in the New World of Data

For almost a year and one half now, every morning for me has consisted of a somewhat odd routine.  Odd in that it includes at least one activity that all Americans could not ten years ago have done.  Each morning I wake up, I shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and then check my phone for one thing; the polls.  Perhaps, a sign of insanity, perhaps a simple act of intrigue, my mornings have included looking at fivethirtyeight, the statistical news site, for much of the last two years.  My main focus; the U.S. election. Primaries, Democrats, Republicans, Clinton, Sanders, Cruz, and of course Mr. Trump.   Specifically, searching that the latter of these won’t actually be elected, and frequently being reassured by the numbers that pop up on the screen.

The fact that these poll numbers are a comfort as of late in this political climate is a phenomena unique to our modern age.  It’s data; hardcore evidence processed not by humans but by machines which couldn’t have any subjectivity.  It’s a new language, as the emergence of the term within a language-english-can chart.  That is what Professor Hanlon explored in his lecture,  in what was a compelling argument for the fact that recently, humans have looked for proof of things and ideas in very different places than we used too.


The main shift Hanlon points out is the historical change from proof in science being displayed to the public on a purely qualitative platform, such as in Microscopia, to a more empirical quantitative manner.  As science advanced this sort of proof, “data”,  became the primary way that we as humans chose to back our ideas up, even if not in science.  Hanlon argues that the increased usage of the word data is evidence of this, and that it has had consequences on how we live our lives as individuals and societies; right up to how we elect a president.  And so it is today that we live in a world where evidence is synonomous with data, and statistics are given precedent over other forms of rhetoric.  We therefore live in a world where logos is valued over pathos  and ethos, something that is a new and presents itself in many forms.

The most evident of which is Nate Silver’s media giant, fivethirtyeight.  In the current political climate it is given precedent over the media, the objectivity of a newscaster, because in a world where computers can completely eliminate objectivity, the newscasters objectivity is now subject.  Hence we have found comfort in data as a means of supporting our ideas, which is a new idea in itself.  We live then in a world undergoing a revolution of data.


The Perfect Political Revolutionary: Khalid Albaih and How Revolutions can Actually Work

One month into being on a college campus, and I can already tell that one of the trendiest topics in higher education these days is the Arab Spring. I’m sure that played a role in the arts and humanities theme for the year here being literally “revolutions”, and it’s no doubt the reason why the fellow at the Oak Institute played a key role. I should start again. I’m not writing a declamation of this, rather I’m giving props to Colby and higher education for recognizing that the “Arab Spring” was important, for one, and really just outright cool to study.

Of course I find it cool to study though. Me, who owns a sizable vinyl collection in which is included a few sex pistols and clash records, whose roommate proudly hangs a poster depicting the famous “black power” salute at the 1966 Mexico City Summer Olympics, and who attended multiple Bernie Sanders rallies this spring, finds a real life political revolutionary in Khalid Albaih. He’s just so cool. I think Khalid is living the dream of every angsty teenager whose complained about how bad their lunch food is at the local high school. He’s an artist, who is not self-righteous but is righteous, his art is poignant and looks at the worst situations in the world with cock-eyed honesty. What I actually admire about him though, is his ability to keep his head level.

His part in the Arab Spring revolution can’t be understated. Art is the means to the end of political revolution. That’s why the 60’s in America can be defined by a series of Bob Dylan protest songs. Khalid knows this is his role in the chaos that spread across the middle east in 2011. He doesn’t necessarily boast about it, or recognize it explicitly. Rather, he shows the true face of revolution, he is able to say that yes, that cartoon pissed off the dictator of Egypt, but that’s what I was looking to do cause he pisses me off. Only, he would say it way more articulately. Through this intention, this conscious knowing of purpose, Khalid is the epitome of what a good political revolutionary looks like. He is Therou’s Civil Disobedience, Martain Luther King Jr.’s sermons put into action, and his results are impressive.

That is then what all sixty of us enrolled in the continuing revolutions course learned from observing him in conversation. That the role of revolutionary is not filled by people who are clear in intent and ruthless in action for their goals, but articulate, talented, and above all smart people, who act only on the notion that they know what they want is right. That’s what Khalid was teaching us by his conversation, that if want to change the world start by being smart, and being creative.

Chaos, Art, and Other Thoughts on Observing a Volcano

Some years are more important than others.  That’s just the way history works. 1945AD, 0AD, the ones where something so monumental to the way humans after will live happens that it gets put into a multiple choice test as the right answer in some high school kids history class.  1816, is not one of those years.  However it’s a fascinating year to look at for study as it seems to offer 200 years on a remarkably similar situation in which the world was and currently is in environmental, societal, political, and historical contexts.  Why is this?

Well as professor Wood pointed out the parallels between the world two hundred years ago and the world today is remarkable.  The biggest threat to the way we live is environmental today, as it was in 1816 with the eruption of a volcano.  Because of this, peoples have been displaced and threatened, find themselves refugees, and largely the political and intellectual debates of the time surround this.  In 1816 a volcano erupted causing global temperatures to plunge and crop yields to plummet.  In 2016, the industrial world set up by humans is causing global temperatures to rise, and extreme weather events, directly impacting the industrial world have caused destruction across the world.  People, which is what these events really have to do with each other, are effected in the same way.  The most vulnerable to these events, often the working class and impoverished suddenly have their lifestyle’s attacked; they are victims, forced from living their way into the life of refugees.  Thus, the parallel is there, prof Wood urges us to learn from 1816 to try and handle our present day better.

Wood infers that the art of the day is our key to this.  He examined Frankenstein as being perhaps the tale of a monster created by society.  He pointed out the parallels between the way the monster is viewed in Shelly’s novel and the way refugees are looked at by people.  He argues that the fear of otherness is what’s relevant about the story.  His example is very well articulated and brings to thought a question for today.  What does the art and rhetoric of this time say about the climate and the people affected by it?  That is ultimately what Wood questioned.

This is a tough question for someone living in the year 2016 to answer completely.  Certainly the upcoming election will tell us a great deal about what the collective mass feels about global warming and the refugees of war and weather.  We can look at art, but it’s worth mentioning that it has taken a considerable amount of time for Shelley and Lord Byrons works to have been read critically like Wood does.  Perhaps, a good place to start would be here on Mayflower Hill, or slightly down it more specifically with the Oak Fellow, Khalid Albaih, and his political art.  The point is that the environment changes the course of human lives, and the place where we show that is in our art.  Ultimately that is what taking a analytical look at the eruption of Tambora in 1816 tells us about today-that’s why it is a “Revolution”.

Shoot the Messenger: Not the Science

The history of science was throughout my primary and secondary schooling, the unit I hated.  I just didn’t and still to some degree don’t really care about the so called “brilliantly designed” experiments and “great discoveries” made by some guy that’s been dead for hundreds of years and probably wore a wig when he was alive.  That’s always been my view on the Scientific Revolution.  So I was delighted when I saw the title of the first lecture, “How Scientific was the Scientific Revolution”.  “Finally”, I thought, “someone’s going to actually criticize the view that Newton, Galileo, Descartes, and company are to be revered as some sort of Mt. Olympus of science”.   The lecture didn’t actually take down the scientific-man in the closest form to a punk rock anthem I can imagine a philosophy professor getting, instead it recognized but didn’t mythologize, the figures of the scientific revolution.


That is to say that yes, Professor Cohen did like to name drop a lot during his lecture, but it wasn’t to say that the men of the scientific revolution were extraordinary in their motives for change.  His examination for the motives behind the revolution as a whole basically came down to that the partakers in the scientific revolution weren’t trying to forge something new, but instead were trying to capture a classical spirit for knowledge about the natural world.  In short, they were trying to be Aristotle.  I don’t necessarily think this gives men like Newton and Descartes enough credit, it makes them sound like fanboys, or imitators.  They weren’t I don’t think, trying to be Aristotle, but were I think grounded in the same spirit as him, one of curiosity for the natural world.  Curiosity, not classical studies, is what made the scientific revolution revolutionary.  Cohen concluded with the notion that the scientific revolution resulted in a greater of variety of voices in intellectualism for Western culture.  Where once there was just Aristotle there was then Descartes for philosophy, Newton for physics, Galileo for Astronomy, and everyone who followed them.  That is what was revolutionary about the scientific revolution, it was the moment western culture stopped obsessing over the Greeks and Romans and started to find that it had voices who were just as curious.


As far as the scientific revolution being scientific then, it doesn’t by modern senses.  Newton’s most famous works weren’t empirical, scientific method-driven, peer reviewed journal entries into investigating the natural world.  Yes, they employed some of each but in large part they were original inquiries into the stuff around him using logic.  He would have been a star pupil in a philosophy department. By modern standards no the scientific revolution was not scientific but that is because it wasn’t about a shift in science, it was a shift in ideas which led to the scientific method, scientific publishing, and modern science itself.