Academic Prose

As a scientist and teacher, I was often confronted with the task of communicating very complex ideas to people who, while intelligent, did not have all of the relevant information necessary at the forefront of their consciousness to understand the concepts I was trying to convey. For that reason, scientific writing strives (not always successfully) to be as clear, simple and concise as possible. I was fortunate to have good teachers – that article was required reading in our lab.

One of the (many) problems with scientific English is that so many non-native speakers publish in it, and they bring a lot of baggage to it from their native languages. But the main barrier to understanding is that scientific prose is that it is dense with new ideas. If you do not know the precise definitions of the terms the author is using, you will be lost, no matter what your level of skill. If you have not worked out the math before, you will need to do that when you encounter an equation, or the words that follow will make little to no sense. For this reason, simple, declarative grammar is the byword for a scientist – the ideas make things hard enough as it is.

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Fishing for Meaning with the Mullahs

Stanley Fish was the consummate “star” of the eighties and nineties; rumors are he is the model for the irritating American professor of David Lodge’s quite funny Changing Places. He defined the way academics approached literature during these decades; well, maybe not literature so much as power: how to build a “star” faculty, how to demonstrate one’s superiority to the great old guys like Shakespeare (who were, of course, hopelessly sexist & racist), how to prove all is meaningless, how to obtain & exert power, how to make the big bucks. He built the high-flying Duke English department, considered the best during those years. He was, of course, easily seduced by departments that offered more money and free time. Long a voice for post-modernist criticism & always one to hold his finger to the wind, he now argues against “liberalism.” This has been a position for quite a while, There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech And It’s a Good Thing, Too states this turn clearly.

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Ritual & the Modern Student

Discussing Dvorak, a friend (Scotus) googled and sent me this link. And it brought to mind the importance of ritual and traditions to all of us, to the closure of a funeral, and, especially, the need in a warrior culture. A member of the Sunday school class I�ve been attending died a few months ago and the members seemed quite sad he wished for no funeral, no memorial service. The services are for the bereaved rather than the person laying in state at the front, not just for the intimately bereaved but the community as well.

Tradition is important here. A new apartment complex is called �Traditions, the Dorm.� This obsession is also a bit incongruous when applied to ads for homes in an upscale development on the �Traditions� golf course, mixing nostalgia for old army with Rotary Club boosterism.

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Drezner Denied

Daniel Drezner is denied tenure. He discusses it by quoting Adam Smith and giving an address for Kashmiri relief. Of course, I have no sense of whether the decision was just or not, but I will observe that he has chosen a pretty class way to deal with it; of course, someone with a book accepted at Princeton should land on his feet.