Archive for: August, 2012

Around the Web: The Naked and the TED, The end of the Twilight of Doom and more

Aug 11 2012 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: Mars Rover Should Not Get So Much Attention, Say Higgs Boson Scientists

Aug 10 2012 Published by under friday fun

You all knew I was going to find something on the lighter side of all the Mars Rover/Higgs Boson hype and glory, didn't you?

But I guess you didn't think I would be able to find one that combined both of them! w00t!

Mars Rover Should Not Get So Much Attention, Say Higgs-Boson Scientists

GENEVA (The Borowitz Report)—The landing of the Mars science rover Curiosity does not qualify as a significant scientific achievement and should not be getting so much of the public’s attention, says the team of scientists who discovered the Higgs boson last month.

“People see these beautiful pictures from outer space and they’re inclined to think that something amazing has been achieved,” a spokesperson for the Higgs-boson team said. “Let the Mars rover do something of genuine value, like, say, discover how the universe was created. Then I’ll be impressed.”

*snip*

From the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, response to the Higgs-boson team’s comments was swift and irate, as a NASA spokesman called the remarks “an unacceptable diss.”

“You know the difference between the Mars rover and the Higgs boson?” said a NASA spokesman, his face red with anger. “You can actually see the Mars rover.”

BTW, I'm definitely not done with the Higgs for these Friday Fun post, and probably not Curiosity either!

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Around the Web: Yet more about the University of Virginia controversy

Aug 10 2012 Published by under acad lib future, academia, education, Politics

This is the third and hopefully final summary post on the controversy at the University of Virginia surrounding the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan. The previous two are here and here.

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Reading Diary: Deep Water: As Polar Ice Melts, Scientists Debate How High Our Oceans Will Rise by Daniel Grossman

Aug 08 2012 Published by under book review, environment, science books

I feel a little weird reviewing this book.

It's a TED book, you see.

What's a TED book, you ask. I'll let TED tell you:

Shorter than a novel, but longer than an magazine article -- a TED Book is a great way to feed your craving for ideas anytime.

TED Books are short original electronic books produced every two weeks by TED Conferences. Like the best TEDTalks, they're personal and provocative, and designed to spread great ideas. TED Books are typically under 20,000 words — long enough to unleash a powerful narrative, but short enough to be read in a single sitting.

TED talks, in other words, but in longer, more in-depth treatment that's possible in a short book rather than a short talk.

On the surface, actually a really great idea. In practice, it can be a bit problematic, just like TED talks. Carl Zimmer and Evgeny Morozov have gone into fairly extensive detail about the dark side of TED talks and TED books. Basically, the format encourages a kind of hip superficiality and fame-mongering. Ideas want to be famous, to paraphrase the famous saying that information wants to be free. Well, just like information also wants to be expensive, ideas also want to be deep and well thought-out. And, you know, even perhaps a little on the valid side too.

Which brings me to this particular TED book: Daniel Grossman's Deep Water: As Polar Ice Melts, Scientists Debate How High Our Oceans Will Rise (TED site, trailer, home page).

As global warming continues, the massive ice caps at Earth’s poles are melting at an increasingly alarming rate. Water once safely anchored in glacial ice is surging into the sea. The flow could become a deluge, and millions of people living near coastlines are in danger. Inundation could impact every nation on earth. But scientists don’t yet know how fast this polar ice will melt, or how high our seas could rise. In an effort to find out, a team of renowned and quirky geologists takes a 4,000-mile road trip across Western Australia. They collect fossils and rocks from ancient shorelines and accumulate new evidence that ancient sea levels were frighteningly high during epochs when average global temperatures were barely higher than today. In Deep Water veteran environmental journalist, radio producer and documentary filmmaker Daniel Grossman explores the new and fascinating science — and scientists — of sea-level rise. His investigation turns up both startling and worrisome evidence that humans are upsetting a delicate natural equilibrium. If knocked off balance, it could hastily melt the planet’s ice and send sea levels soaring.

Contrary to any TED-inspired queasiness I might have had diving into the book, it actually does a pretty good job of what it sets out to do: make the case that what we're doing to our climate is having disastrous effects on sea levels. He explains the details fairly clearly, wrapping it up in an engaging package of fairly typical science writing. In keeping with the pop science writer play book, Grossman does a good job of finding some key scientists and following them around on a bunch of fun adventures, getting them to tell the climate change and sea level story in a very human and accessible way. The spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, as it were.

If the main message sometimes seems a bit obscured sometimes by cool fun stories and colourful characters, well, that's something I guess I can live with and it is certainly part of the TED ethos of embedding ideas into very personal stories. The real problem I have with the book is that as a book rather than a TED talk it very definitely needs a solid bibliography and accurate citations if it's going to establish and maintain credibility with anyone. I'm not saying I don't believe the claims that Grossman makes about climate change and rising sea levels, because I do, but I still think is important to back up such claims with direct links to the science itself.

At very least, if climate skeptics are reading this they will be more likely to be convinced if they can track back to the research. Or maybe not, which is the sad case with climate skeptics. But I still would like to see actual citations in the text rather than the typical "research says" or "recently it was shown."

Would I recommend this book to people interested in climate science and the state of our oceans? If you already know a lot about these topics, not really. It you would like to get up to speed in a hurray, then actually this book is a pretty decent way to do this.

As for TED books in general, while it might be wise to avoid the more conceptual and pop-cultural examinations of serious topics, at very least this example of the TED beast is quite respectable. Perhaps closer to what TED was initially conceived of rather than what it has evolved into. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing more TED books in this vein.

Usually, I would talk about what kinds of libraries should consider purchasing the item under review but since this book is only available as a Kindle Single, through iBooks or via the TED Books app, none of which are really particularly accessible to libraries and their patrons, I'll pass on that, perhaps preferring to break up with ebooks in my librarian capacity.

Grossman, Daniel. Deep Water: As Polar Ice Melts, Scientists Debate How High Our Oceans Will Rise. New York: TED Conferences, 2012. 53pp.

(PDF version of book provided by publisher.)

Update 2012.08.08: Added links to the book trailer and website.

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Friday Fun: 10 Best Books on the Future of Higher Ed

This one is a little less on the strictly amusing side and a little more on the useful and thoughtful side for a Friday Fun post, but sometimes it's worth mixing things up a bit.

I've mostly not read these books myself but I am in the middle of the Christensen/Eyring book right now. And they all look very useful and interesting, if only as a springboard for disagreement and debate. A little bit of end-of-summer reading is always a good thing!

Without further ado, from OnlineUniversities.com, the 10 Best Books on the Future of Higher Ed.

  1. Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It by Claudia Dreifus and Andrew Hacker
  2. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring
  3. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa
  4. CChange.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy by Andrew S. Rosen
  5. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz
  6. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg
  7. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David L. Kirp
  8. The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World by Ben Wildavsky
  9. The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected by Jonathan R. Cole
  10. Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition) by Derek Bok

Each book has a little blurb accompanying it on the site which will help you figure out if it's interesting.

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Around the Web: Is algebra necessary, The challenge for scholarly societies and more links than you can shake a stick at

Aug 03 2012 Published by under around the web

This is some vacation catch-up...

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Around the Web: Library school mergers, Makers in the library, Quiet makes a comeback and more

Aug 02 2012 Published by under around the web

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Around the Web: Music industry business models, Silicon values, Disruptive innovation and more

Aug 01 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

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