Why Philosophy Is so Important in Science Education

Subrena E. Smith in Big Think:

ScreenHunter_2909 Nov. 28 22.52Each semester, I teach courses on the philosophy of science to undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire. Most of the students take my courses to satisfy general education requirements, and most of them have never taken a philosophy class before.

On the first day of the semester, I try to give them an impression of what the philosophy of science is about. I begin by explaining to them that philosophy addresses issues that can’t be settled by facts alone, and that the philosophy of science is the application of this approach to the domain of science. After this, I explain some concepts that will be central to the course: induction, evidence, and method in scientific enquiry. I tell them that science proceeds by induction, the practices of drawing on past observations to make general claims about what has not yet been observed, but that philosophers see induction as inadequately justified, and therefore problematic for science. I then touch on the difficulty of deciding which evidence fits which hypothesis uniquely, and why getting this right is vital for any scientific research. I let them know that ‘the scientific method’ is not singular and straightforward, and that there are basic disputes about what scientific methodology should look like. Lastly, I stress that although these issues are ‘philosophical’, they nevertheless have real consequences for how science is done.

At this point, I’m often asked questions such as: ‘What are your qualifications?’ ‘Which school did you attend?’ and ‘Are you a scientist?’

Perhaps they ask these questions because, as a female philosopher of Jamaican extraction, I embody an unfamiliar cluster of identities, and they are curious about me. I’m sure that’s partly right, but I think that there’s more to it, because I’ve observed a similar pattern in a philosophy of science course taught by a more stereotypical professor.

More here.

Blasphemy and the press in Pakistan

Rafia Zakaria at CNN:

171121121437-free-press-blasphemy-laws-pakistan-super-169On August 13, a day before Pakistan turned 70, I received a Facebook message from a Pakistan-based journalist and colleague.

"Please help me report this," he said, linking to the Facebook page of a religious leader in Pakistan. In the post, written in Urdu, the leader accuses him of insulting a renowned 11th Century Sunni Muslim saint during an appearance on a privately owned Pakistani television channel.

In response, the leader demanded action from the Pakistani state and made a number of insults directed at the journalist, many of which were seconded by comments from some of the page's 180,000 odd followers.

The post, along with its accusation and incitement to punish, has never been removed.

The journalist at whom the message was directed was right to worry. Journalists, constantly in the public eye, are easy targets for Pakistan's vague and lethal blasphemy laws, which criminalize any statement that is "defamatory" to Islam, religious texts, the holy prophet or anyone associated with him. The laws are a relic of the colonial era, their bite made dramatically worse by military rulers and others seeking to woo the religious right and silence any potential opposition.

Pakistan is ranked seven out of the 12 most dangerous countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists' "2017 Impunity Index." Together, these 12 countries account for 80% of the unsolved murders of journalists occurring in the last 10 years.

More here.

Does Jewish Logic Necessarily Lead to Israel?

Jacob Abolafia in LA Review of Books:

Screen-Shot-2017-11-19-at-6_02_50-PMAt the very center of his mid-career masterpiece The Counterlife, Philip Roth depicts an argument between the novel’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, and its protagonist, his brother Henry, who has ended up living on a hillside in the West Bank, the follower of a Kahane-like radical named Lippman. Henry, furious at his brother over the portrayal of his family in a revealing Portnoy-like novel, exits the novel with the assertion that “What matters isn’t Momma and Poppa and the kitchen table, it isn’t any of that crap you write about—it’s who runs Judea!” What Roth recognized, and pursued even further in the opera buffa of Operation Shylock, is that parallel to the existence of desire, repression, lust, and fulfillment (painted and repainted in different textures and under different lighting in each his novels) runs a second track of American Jewish experience. Certain solutions to the problems his characters faced, certain urges they might have been asked (and failed) to master, would have led them not to a bedroom in New Jersey, but to a hilltop in Samaria. Roth’s great breakthrough was to suggest that the Americans in the “moonscape” of an Israeli settlement were not an alien species (as Israelis in American fiction from Bellow to Joshua Cohen can tend to be) – they were the actualization of a potential that every member of their generation shared. By studying the American Jew in Israel, Roth is really studying the nature of the American Jew in America. This is an important point, and one missed by Roth’s lesser epigones. The move to Israel is not an existential escape – it is an existential response to the fundamental forces at work in American Jewish life.

It comes as a small revelation, then, that the characters (interviewees, strictly speaking) in Sara Yael Hirschhorn’s indispensable new book City on a Hilltop do in fact often sound as if they have stepped right out of a Roth novel. Hirschhorn’s study of American Jews and the Israeli settlement movement follows dozens of Henry Zuckermans as they leave the suburban homes of their dentist and salesman fathers for a land that God, and sometimes a Jewish Agency brochure, has shown them. Hirschhorn rightly insists that the subject of her research is not merely an Israeli subculture, but the inner nature and development of an entire cohort of American Jews. This makes City on a Hilltop required reading not only for those interested in how American Jews could end up there and why they would do those things, but for anyone seeking to understand the existential and political character of twentieth-century Jewish life.

More here.

Big Data is shackling mankind’s sense of creative wonder

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

BIG-DATAPrimitive science began when mankind looked upward at the sky and downward at the earth and asked why. Modern science began when Galileo and Kepler and Newton answered these questions using the language of mathematics and started codifying them into general scientific laws. Since then scientific discovery has been constantly driven by curiosity, and many of the most important answers have come from questions of the kind asked by a child: Why is the sky blue? Why is grass green? Why do monkeys look similar to us? How does a hummingbird flap its wings? With the powerful tool of curiosity came the even more powerful fulcrum of creativity around which all of science hinged. Einstein’s imagining himself on a light beam was a thoroughly creative act; so were Ada Lovelace’s thoughts about a calculating machine as doing something beyond mere calculation, James Watson and Francis Crick’s DNA model-building exercise, Enrico Fermi’s sudden decision to put a block of paraffin wax in the path of neutrons.

What is common to all these flights of fancy is that they were spontaneous, often spur-of-the-moment, informed at best by meager data and mostly by intuition. If Einstein, Lovelace and Fermi had paused to reconsider their thoughts because of the absence of hard evidence or statistical data, they might at the very least been discouraged from exploring these creative ideas further. And yet that is what I think the future Einsteins and Lovelaces of our day are in danger of doing. They are in danger of doing this because they are increasingly living in a world where statistics and data-driven decisions are becoming the beginning and end of everything, where young minds are constantly cautioned to not speculate before they have enough data.

We live in an age where Big Data, More Data and Still More Data seem to be all consuming, looming over decisions both big and mundane; from driving to ordering pet food to getting a mammogram. We are being told that we should not make any decision pending its substantiation through statistics and large-scale data analysis. Now, I will be the first one to advocate making decisions based on data and statistics, especially in an era where sloppy thinking and speculation based on incomplete or non-existent data seems to have turned into the very air which the media and large segments of the population breathe. Statistics has especially been found to be both paramount and sorely lacking in making decisions, and books like Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” have stressed how humans are intrinsically bad at probabilistic and statistical thinking and how this disadvantage leads to them consistently making wrong decisions. It seems that a restructuring of our collective thinking process that is grounded in data would be a good thing for everyone.

But there are inherent problems with implementing this principle, quite apart from the severe limitations on creative speculation that an excess of data-based thinking imposes.

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EVOLUTION: What the Fossils Say and why it Matters, Donald R. Prothero (2nd edition)

by Paul Braterman

EVOLUTION: What the Fossils Say and why it Matters, Donald R. Prothero (2nd edition)

If you are interested in evolution, get this book. And make sure that your library gets it. And your children's high school library. Incidentally, it's incredible value; list price $35.00/£27.95 from Columbia University Press, with over 400 lavishly illustrated pages.

ProtheroBookThe book is a comprehensive survey of the fossil record, supplemented at times with other evidence, and framed as one long argument against creationism. It opens with a general discussion of the ideas behind current evolutionary thinking, moves on to a survey of specific topics in (mainly animal) evolution, from the origins of life to the emergence of humanity, and concludes with a brief discussion of the threat that creationism poses to rational thinking. The argument is laid out clearly in the seemingly artless prose of an accomplished writer in love with his subject matter, with plain language explanations that presume no prior knowledge, while the detailed discussions of specific topics give enough detail to be of value, I would imagine, even to a professional in the field. The author is an experienced educator and researcher, with thirty books ranging from the highly technical to the popular, some 300 research papers, and numerous public appearances to his credit, and the work is copiously illustrated with photos, diagrams, and drawings by the author's colleague, Carl Buell. These illustrations are an integral part of the work, graphically displaying the richness of the data at the heart of the argument.

ProtheroSelfImage The first edition of this book appeared in 2007, when it was the year's American Association of Publishers outstanding book in earth science, and while progress in the past decade has been less dramatic than in the two decades preceding, nonetheless this update is most timely.

The author's Prologue lays out the agenda: "Instead of the embarrassingly poor [fossil] record that Darwin faced in 1859, we now have an embarrassment of riches." To which one might now also add the records in molecular biology, embryology, and historical biogeography. The final paragraphs of the book summarise the motivation: "Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the pre-eminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going."

As an integral part of the author's strategy, we have quotations from creationist writers that show their arguments to be at best uninformed, at worst consciously dishonest. To a UK audience, this may seem excessive. In a US context, I fear it is not. In any case, the creationists' errors serve to clarify the logic of the genuine science. There is an extensive bibliography at the end, and additional reading suggestions at the end of each chapter, although I would have welcomed some way of relating these to specifics in the text.

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Pakistan’s Pleasures and Pains

by Claire Chambers

In her 1989 memoir Meatless Days, Sara Suleri famously writes that 'leaving Pakistan was, of course, tantamount to giving up the Meatless Days - Sara Sulericompany of women'. She goes on to explain that in Pakistan womanhood did not truly exist as a concept: 'we were too busy for that, just living, and conducting precise negotiations with what it meant to be a sister or a child or a wife or a mother or a servant'.

Having left Pakistan recently after a whirlwind week giving and attending talks, I've had the opportunity to reflect on the acuity of Suleri's words. For me, women's company is always a large part of what it means to visit the Islamic Republic. This was all the more true on the recent trip, since a hotel mix-up led to my sharing a room in Mandi Bahauddin for one night with a young female lecturer from Lahore. As the two of us got on with 'just living', we stayed up late talking about love, academia, and religion. Amidst much laughter, we showed each other Bollywood Thumkas and energetic Zumba.

Earlier, in Islamabad, I had spent time with an old friend who had studied for her PhD in England and now teaches at International IMG_20171108_141710Islamic University. Aroosa was a shining example of South Asia's famed hospitality, taking me up the winding mountainous roads for a walk at the foot of the Margalla Hills. I hadn't seen this verdant view — its serenity only broken by insouciant monkeys — since the 1990s, except in films such as Hammad Khan's Slackistan. At Margalla Hills too, I saw a sign emblazoned with the words 'Long Live Pak-China Friendship'. This was a salutary reminder that while the West tends to focus on longstanding Indo-Pak hostilities and the post-9/11 coinage of Af-Pak, Pakistan has lower-key but important relationships with its two other neighbours: Iran and China. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC includes an ambitious and controversial road being built to connect the northern border with China at the Khunjerab Pass, through Gilgit-Baltistan and Rawalpindi down to the deep sea port of Gwadar in Balochistan. The 'all-weather' Sino-Pakistani relationship is viewed askance by many Indians. For example, the scholars Parvaiz Ahmad and Bawa Singh describe the ramping up of the friendship as a new Great Game for the region. Scarcely contemplating this geo-political maneovring, Aroosa and I sampled the most eye-wateringly delicious paan I had ever tasted (admittedly I had little experience to draw on!) and squinted at as much of the view of Pakistan's capital as was afforded through the smog.

Smog! I had never seen anything like it, but was reminded of reading about the 'pea-soupers' of Dickens' London. Friends told me that when this miasma first descended about a decade ago, they were initially charmed by the thought of mists and mellow fruitfulness. However, amidst much choking, the smarting of eyes, and poor visibility, Pakistanis were quickly disabused of this romantic notion.

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Symmetry and Parallels

by Max Sirak

Reflections-on-flipboard-httpswww-pinterest-comforestofdreamsreflections_black-and-white-photographs-of-trees_office_office-space-design-ideas-software-small-network-innovative-pediatric-minimalist-ho(Click here or scroll down for audio version.)

"As above, so below" is possibly the best known Hermetic aphorism. The phrase itself comes from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. An actual tablet that was translated into Latin during the 12th Century and quickly became a favorite of medieval alchemists, and then a bit later someone whom you may have heard of.

His name was Isaac Newton. You know, the guy with the apple who "discovered" gravity. Well, turns out Ol' Zac was quite the mystic. In fact, some believe "As above, so below" is the seed which sparked Newton to begin searching for the similarities between ourselves and the stars.

This principle is said to be represented symbolically in a couple places. One is the six-pointed Star of David, with its two equilateral triangles overlapping and pointing in opposite directions. Another is in the Tarot. The Magician card raises one arm above his head to the sky and drops the other below his waist to the ground.

While I can't necessarily speak, authoritatively, to the origins of symbols that pre-date me, one by many thousands of years, or what precisely motivated a luminary of science to put forth ideas forever changing they way we look at our world, I do think the phrase "As above, so below" could use an addendum:

"As it begins, so too it ends."

In the last couple of years I've noticed six similarities between the beginnings of our lives and their ends. It's almost as though life is like one of those nifty pieces of art where a centerline divides two identical-though-reversed images creating a spectacular and intricate pattern when viewed together.

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A is for Always: Days may not be fair always

by Christopher Bacas

ImageThe month ended anticlimactically. We’d done shitty business for the hotel and, due to some nastiness caused by remnants of our ship crew, hadn’t endeared ourselves to staff. Heading inland, the rhythm section came unmoored. Bass and drums baited each other; refusing to listen and digging in hard. Their beat was a floor covered in marbles: balance gone, you ducked low and grabbed the sides to stay upright. On a tiny stage in Salt Lake City, we closed with A’s original theme; a bizarre dirge with tribal drums, cantorial clarinet and peppery brass commentary. When we cutoff the last note, the curtain was closed. I heard angry words behind, then turned to see T down his bass and walk straight into the trap set, fists raised. Jack hastily de-throned himself and threw his arms forward. Cymbals and drums toppled. Manager waded in and got between them.

T’s lip quivered as he paced the stage between rounds. Jack motor-mouthed himself to the dressing room, leaving his gear in a heap. This wasn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. A divine intervention followed. T caught a bad cold; pneumonia, really. He couldn’t sleep at night and the bus became a torture chamber. He writhed, shivering and hacking, voice a sandpaper squawk, refusing any help. Soloist suggested T check-in to a hospital for a few days. Guitar could play T’s instrument. In Boston, Guitar often gigged on bass. He sounded great and it was a simple way to make money. Those gigs destroyed his hands, so Guitar didn’t relish playing bass in a big band, but he’d do it to help out. Sitting behind the driver, unshaven, eyes cratered, T hated the idea.


He croaked from his diesel deathbed.

“You’re not gonna take my gig!”

“I don’t WANT your gig. I don’t like playing bass. Take a couple days off, man”

Soloist added,

“Chrissakes, T, let him play!”

“No fuckin’ way. He wants to steal my gig!”

In a reversal, Guitar was frustrated by someone else’s paranoia.

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The Friends of Sisyphus: Or, the Meanings Relationships Give Us

by G. M. Trujillo, Jr.

SisyphusAmong the gray crags and russet stalagmites of Hades, Sisyphus heaves a boulder. Zeus, the king god, banished him there after he tricked Thanatos and Persephone, thus making a fool of death and rebirth. He thwarted the gods, so they thwart him. He must endlessly haul the rock up a mountain, but before it reaches the crest, the enchanted boulder crashes back to the base. Sisyphus must retreat, heave again. Toil upward, slump downward. Already in the underworld, not even death may liberate him. So there he trembles and labors. His sinews creak; his lungs gasp. The gods tremble and gasp as well. With laughter.

Homer and Ovid immortalized these poetic images, but why has Sisyphus inspired so much philosophical reflection? Traditionally, philosophers analyze the myth to understand the meaning of life. We see ourselves in Sisyphus and muse about the implications. Here, I continue that tradition by asking: how can Sisyphus endure his struggle yet judge his life worthwhile? I argue that Sisyphus’s life is meaningful because of the relationships he has with others. The myth of Sisyphus affirms that social activity consecrates our lives with significance.

Many interpretations consider Sisyphus only as an individual and thus neglect the fact that he lived with others, just as we do. Theories about meaning in life should reflect the profound and intricate nature of the social interactions we cherish. By exploring the social aspects of life, we stumble upon an insight: a person’s life may be made meaningful when others view it as such, when we enjoy rich relationships with others. Maybe Sisyphus could find his life meaningful through an act of reflective defiance, constructing meaning for and through himself. Maybe his participation in rituals of the Greek afterlife contributes meaning to his existence. However, even when subjective interpretation or objective activities fail, our friends, family, and lovers anoint our lives with meaning.

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Writing Nameless Things: An Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin

David Streitfeld in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailDAVID STREITFELD: How’s your health?


How’s your mood?

Okay. [Laughs.] One slows down increasingly in one’s upper 80s, believe me. I’ve dropped most of my public obligations. I say, “No, thank you,” a lot. It’s too bad. I love reading at Powell’s Books. I’m a ham. Their audiences are great. But it is just physically impossible.

Much of the work in these two new Library of America volumes was done in a short span of time — a few years during the late 1960s and early ’70s. You were on fire, writing The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and The Dispossessed (1974) practically back to back. That was a period when you also wrote the first Earthsea novels.

I worked just as hard before that and just as hard after. The work of that period isn’t all my significant work. There’s pretty good stuff after.

You were also raising three young children.

I had a child under age five for seven or eight years. Number three came along slightly unexpectedly, about the time number two was beginning to go off to kindergarten. I could not possibly have done it if Charles had not been a full-time parent. Over and over I’ve said it — two people can do three jobs but one person cannot do two. Well, sometimes they do, but it’s a killer.

More here.

Why the Greek Bailout Went So Wrong

Justin Fox in the New York Times:

81b8VYgtN9LIn 2010, Greece was insolvent. The profligacy of Greek governments and the staggering laxity of lenders after the country joined the European common currency in 2001 had left it with huge debts that, in the aftermath of a global recession, it could no longer afford to service. Countries in such straits usually go through ad hoc bankruptcies known as sovereign debt crises, in which the currency is devalued and debts defaulted upon and/or written down. These can be messy, but they do at least allow for fresh starts.

Short of leaving the euro, a move with no precedent or procedure and a high risk of cascading chaos, this was not an option for Greece. So in May 2010, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund stepped in with what was characterized as a 110 billion euro ($146 billion at the time) bailout.

It wasn’t so much a bailout of Greece, though, as of its lenders, notably the struggling big banks of France and Germany. Greece still owed an impossible amount of money, only now its main creditors were the “troika” of E.C., E.C.B. and I.M.F., which went on to impose harsh austerity measures. That austerity accelerated Greece’s economic decline, making repayment of its debts even less likely. More bailouts that weren’t exactly bailouts followed.

“Fiscal waterboarding” is the name that the University of Athens economist Yanis Varoufakis gave to this process, after the torture method that simulates near-drowning again and again. And just as intelligence experts generally don’t think waterboarding is an effective way to extract information, it is hard to find an outside economic or financial expert who thinks the troika’s Greece policy has been effective or sensible.

More here.

Ten reflections inspired by the Rohingya crisis

Accept the Rohingya image

Amal de Chickera in openDemocracy [h/t: Ram Manikkalingam]:

2. ARSA terrorists and the Burmese state – the world judges the perpetrators, not the crime

The most immediate reactions to the events since 25 August were very insightful. Many countries were nuanced in their response to the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military, which were touted as a “clearance operation”.

They were quick to point out the state’s right to protect its territorial integrity, and were supportive of state efforts to root out terrorism. No state questioned if the ARSA attacks were the excuse Myanmar had been waiting for, or looked at the atrocities in the context of Myanmar’s decades-long track record on the Rohingya.

The gripe was with the degree of force used by Myanmar and its indiscriminate nature. It was not with the fact that force was being used at all. And so, Myanmar was called on to carry out its clearance operation with restraint. This is akin to asking a rapist to in future, only commit sexual harassment.

By contrast, condemnations of ARSA – the fledgling militant outfit – were fast, furious and uncompromising. The killing of 12 police officers was condemned without qualification; not so, Myanmar’s killings, rapes, arsons, forced expulsion etc., of Rohingya in the hundreds of thousands.

This duality of response is telling of a deeper (perhaps the deepest) problem in global politics. And it is not just limited to state responses. States are at the centre of the status quo, and states will be extremely conservative and cautious in their criticisms of other states, while being liberal and (almost) uninhibited in their criticisms of actors who confront or threaten states.

More here.

Wonk Republic


Timothy Shenk in TNR:

The notion that a government’s chief obligation is getting stuff done is a fairly recent arrival on the historical scene. Not until the twentieth century did it attain the commonsensical status it enjoys today. As Antonin Scalia observed with characteristic snark, the Constitution “contains no whatever-it-takes-to-solve-a-national-problem power.” Policy arose in fits and starts over centuries, and the legacy of that jagged evolution is still with us. Today, policymaking has taken over a government that is nonetheless bound by the Constitution; politicians promise to swoop in and fix whatever has gone wrong, while working in a system that is designed to curb the impulse to intervene. That tension has helped bring us to our current impasse, where Americans ask more than ever from a government they increasingly distrust.

Understanding how we arrived at this juncture is the task that political scientists Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek have set for themselves in The Policy State. Completed at the onset of the Trump administration, it is a slender volume that draws upon their decades of research on the making and remaking of American political institutions. The book is also a sterling example of political science at its best: analytically rigorous, historically informed, and targeted at questions of undeniable contemporary significance. In the measured tones of senior academics, Orren and Skowronek uncover a transformation that revolutionized American politics and now threatens to tear it apart.

When James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and other delegates gathered in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution in 1787, they aimed to balance two conflicting imperatives. They wanted a state powerful enough to take decisive action in a few key areas but not so strong that it would give way to tyranny. They also wanted a government accountable to the will of the people but equally able to resist demagogues, who might sway voters with what Madison called a “wicked project” like the “equal division of property.”

More here.

A mission for journalism in a time of crisis


In The Guardian, its editor-in-chief Katharine Viner:

No former period, in the history of our Country, has been marked by the agitation of questions of a more important character than those which are now claiming the attention of the public.” So began the announcement, nearly 200 years ago, of a brand-new newspaper to be published in Manchester, England, which proclaimed that “the spirited discussion of political questions” and “the accurate detail of facts” were “particularly important at this juncture”.

Now we are living through another extraordinary period in history: one defined by dazzling political shocks and the disruptive impact of new technologies in every part of our lives. The public sphere has changed more radically in the past two decades than in the previous two centuries – and news organisations, including this one, have worked hard to adjust.

But the turbulence of our time may demand that we do more than adapt. The circumstances in which we report, produce, distribute and obtain the news have changed so dramatically that this moment requires nothing less than a serious consideration of what we do and why we do it.

The Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, stated a very clear purpose when it was established in 1936: “to secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity and to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian free from commercial or political interference.” As an editor, it’s hard to imagine a finer mission for a proprietor: our sole shareholder is committed only to our journalistic freedom and longterm survival.

But if the mission of the Scott Trust is to ensure that Guardian journalism will exist for ever, it is still left to us to define what the mission of that journalism will be. What is the meaning and purpose of our work? What role do we play in society?

More here.

Table-top generals

Tim Cross in More Intelligent Life:

GamesDraughts is a funky little café tucked into a railway arch in Islington, in north London. It has exposed brick walls, a bar stocked with trendy craft beers and a selection of comfy chairs. The toast is artisanal and the avocados are smashed. But the most striking thing is the shelves arrayed at the back of the café. They groan with board games – more than 700 of them, according to Russell Chapman, who works there. When it was founded in 2014, Draughts became London’s first dedicated board-game café. All the old classics are there: Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, along with their memories of family arguments at Christmas. But the main draw for the patrons is a new generation of deeper, more involving – simply better – games that have been devised over the past couple of decades. At one table a group of people are playing Pandemic, a tricky, strategy game in which players are cast as doctors and scientists trying to save the world from four plagues. Their neighbours are engrossed in a game of Castle Panic, in which the defenders co-operate to defend a fortress from a horde of encroaching monsters.

A board-game café sounds like the sort of niche business that appeals only to hip millennials with a fondness for ironic nostalgia. But, on a Friday afternoon, the crowd is more diverse than that, with families and 50-somethings alongside the youngsters. Draughts is doing so well that its owners are now pondering opening another branch. It is just one beneficiary of a new golden age in board games. The most popular games sell in their millions. Top of the list is Settlers of Catan, in which players compete to settle a fictional wilderness. It has shifted more than 20m copies since the first edition of 5,000 was released in Germany in 1995. Dominion, a medieval-flavoured card game, released in 2008, has sold 2.5m copies.

More here.

The Justice Gap: America’s unfulfilled promise of “equal justice under law”

Lincoln Caplan in Harvard Magazine:

BlackAlmost a century ago, a young Boston lawyer named Reginald Heber Smith published a landmark book called Justice and the Poor. It was about how people struggling economically were faring in the American legal system and why American lawyers needed to provide them with free legal aid. He wrote, “Nothing rankles more in the human heart than the feeling of injustice.” At the time, there were only 41 legal-aid organizations in the country, with a total of about 60 lawyers. The Boston Legal Aid Society, founded in 1900, was one of them. As a student at Harvard Law School, Smith had spent his summers as a volunteer there. When he graduated in 1913, he became the leader of that four-lawyer office and instituted a “daily time sheet”—on which lawyers recorded the hours they spent on cases—as a tool for increasing efficiency in addressing the 2,000 or so cases the society had on behalf of clients.

Smith’s book recounted how American lawyers had devised a system of substantive law and legal procedure so convoluted that it denied access to justice to anyone who didn’t have a lawyer to navigate it. That system, he contended, had to be fixed by greatly multiplying the number of legal-aid societies. Smith wrote, “It must be possible for the humble to invoke the protection of the law, through proper proceedings in the courts, for any invasion of his rights by whomsoever attempted, or freedom and equality vanish into nothingness.” His goal was to give “reality to equality by making it a living thing.” He warned that “denial of justice is the short cut to anarchy.” If the bar provided lawyers for free, the poor would have access to justice and society would benefit. Smith’s vision was of lawyers for the poor providing the full range of legal services that lawyers for the rich were expected to deliver. His book’s introduction summarized his view: “Class hostilities would diminish, the turbulent marketplace would return to stability, and the poor’s disposition toward righteous conflict would be diverted. Society would be cleansed of its anarchistic elements, and the confidence of poor people in lawyers and the legal system would be re-established.”

Smith’s vision has never been realized in the United States, but it haunts the debate about how best to serve the legal needs of poor and low-income Americans—and about whether we even know what works best to solve the problems of this group.

More here.