Humanities

Category archives for Humanities

Assyrian Books and Quote Chasing

While reading bits of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles yesterday, I ran across this quote, attributed to “an Assyrian clay tablet from 2800 BC”: Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents;…

Always Write the Introduction Last

Here are some excerpts from the introductory sections of the very first drafts of some book chapters: [BLAH, BLAH, BLAHBITTY BLAH] and [Introductory blather goes here] and Blah, blah, stuff, blather. There’s a good reason for this, based on the basics of scientific writing, namely that the Introduction should give the reader a rough guide…

I was thinking about attitudes toward physics the other day, and realized that whenever I meet somebody (not a physicist) for the first time and tell them that I’m a physicist, their initial responses most frequently fall into one of three general categories: “You must be really smart.” “I hated that when I took it…

There was a nice piece at Inside Higher Ed yesterday on the myth of more time: A lack of confidence in one’s abilities as a writer, researcher, speaker, etc. is at the root of the myth of more time. When a deadline looms, we become acutely aware of the imminent reception of our work by…

As I’ve said a bazillion times already this term, I’m teaching a class that is about research and writing, with a big final paper due at the end of the term. Because iterative feedback is key to learning to write, they also have to turn in a complete rough draft, which I will mark up…

Prompted by a number of people using the phrase “vast majority” recently, I wonder where the line between “majority” and “vast majority” is. Thus, a poll: What is the minimum level of support that constitutes a “vast majority” Assume for the sake of argument that the issue in question is a simple yes-or-no question, with…

The Evitability of History

As mentioned earlier in the week, I recently read Charles C. Mann’s 1493 (see also this interview at Razib’s place), which includes a long section about the colony at Jamestown. Like most such operations, the earliest colonists were almost comically incompetent, managing to nearly starve to death several times, despite being in an absurdly fertile…

As many a thoughtless person has observed when learning what I do for a living, physics is really hard. But you may have wondered just how much harder is physics than other subjects? Well, now, we have a quantitative answer: This is a shelf of books at the Burlington, MA Barnes and Noble, clearly showing…

Greatest (Nonscientific) Nonfiction

While I was off at DAMOP last week, the Guardian produced a list purporting to be the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all time. Predictably, this includes a tiny set of science titles– five in the “Science” category, two under “Environment,” and one each under “Mathematics” and “Mind.” And that’s being kind of generous about…

(This post is part of the new round of interviews of non-academic scientists, giving the responses of George Farrants, a freelance translator (and occasional marathon runner, as seen in the picture). The goal is to provide some additional information for science students thinking about their fiuture careers, describing options beyond the assumed default Ph.D.–post-doc–academic-job track.)…