Wednesday Morning Omnibus Post

by on 2013-02-06 in Duck- 5 Comments

Knight DucksGood morning to the western hemisphere. Today brings with it a whole slew of stuff from the Duck of Minerva.

First, I’ve made some progress in updating the academia page — our one-stop shop for our ever-popular posts on the academic life.

Second, I have a general query about awards. As you may know, the voters have clicked and we now have finalists for the 2013 OAIS Awards. The winners will be selected via a pool of judges. The internal consensus seems to be to keep that pool classified this year–not for nefarious reasons, but because the blogging community is small and we want our judges insulated from concerns about hurting feelings. I’m curious if our readership has an opinion on this view.

Third, I have a new podcast up at New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I interview R.S. Belcher about his debut novel, Six-Gun Tarot.

Fourth, some MOOC-related stuff. If a MOOC crashes and lots of people are around to see, does it impact the movement? For that matter, why wouldn’t the combination of e-books and online quizes be a more efficient alternative than the lecture-based MOOC? Or just books? Regardless, a funny thing happened on the way to the MOOC. Well, two things, actually. Alex Tabarrok waxed poetic about how MOOCs are just like the Oxbridge approach to education — except that they’re not. He also argued how awesome MOOCs are by pointing to his most excellent TED adventure:

I won’t comment on my teaching quality but what I can say without fear of dispute is that the 15 minutes of teaching in my TED talk was among the best 15 minutes of my career. Knowing the potential size of the TED audience, I honed my talk and visuals with months of practice. I’d rather be judged by my best 15 minutes than by my average 15 minutes. My offline students get my average 15 minutes; my online students get my best 15 minutes.

This is just all kinds of wrong. As Eugene Morozov notes in his now-classic The New Republic piece:

Today TED is an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering—a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books. In the world of TED—or, to use their argot, in the TED “ecosystem”—books become talks, talks become memes, memes become projects, projects become talks, talks become books—and so it goes ad infinitum in the sizzling Stakhanovite cycle of memetics, until any shade of depth or nuance disappears into the virtual void. Richard Dawkins, the father of memetics, should be very proud. Perhaps he can explain how “ideas worth spreading” become “ideas no footnotes can support.”

Now, on to “morning linkage….”

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  • LFC

    “The internal consensus seems to be to keep that pool [of judges] classified this
    year–not for nefarious reasons, but because the blogging community is
    small and we want our judges insulated from concerns about hurting

    Oh come on. If this were an award for which five-year-old drew the best teddy bear, that might be justified. But as we’re not in kindergarten, I don’t think it’s justified. I would make the pool of judges public.

  • Dan Nexon

    That’s interesting. I’m pretty agnostic, but opinion is very strongly in favor of not disclosing the judges — mostly to make sure that they stay objective. You’re comparison about “teddy bears” aside, I can see why judges might be reluctant to upset a high-profile blogger.

    What’s the affirmative reason for publicizing them?

  • LFC

    “Upset a high-profile blogger”? Like, say, Stephen Walt, who is a finalist in the individual blog category? Do you really think an established scholar with a named chair at the Kennedy School is going to be upset, indeed is even going to care that much, about whether he wins a blogging award? I doubt it. (Ditto for Drezner.)

    The affirmative reason for publicizing the judges is transparency. At any rate, if the judges don’t want their names disclosed, then you should at least make clear whether they are all drawn from the Duck of Minerva’s regular bloggers or whether you are also including judges from outside of the Duck. Since these awards are an initiative of the Duck of Minerva it seems to me you have some responsibility to indicate who the judges are, at least in a general way. (Also the size of the pool — how many judges there are.)

    As for “making sure they stay objective”: I think you mean “unswayed by extraneous personal factors,” not “objective.” But that’s a semantic quibble, I suppose.

  • Dan Nexon

    No matter how we proceed, we will describe the pool. But I want to push you on this, as I solicited comments and am genuinely unsure about how to proceed: what transparency value is served by naming specific individuals?

    Note that this is a first-year issue, as a condition of the award is that past winners participate in the future pool.

  • LFC

    If the pool is described in a general way, I suppose that may be enough.

    But clearly, different people have different perspectives and views and tastes and in the nature of things they can’t park those at the door when they vote, nor should they be expected to. The announced criteria — substantive insight and compelling writing (I think that’s close, if not verbatim) — are sufficiently broad and vague so as to allow for personal taste to enter in. Which is both fine and inevitable, but also means that the more one knows about the judges the more fully one will be able to evaluate for oneself their decisions.