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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

There’s a great discussion going on over at the Empirical Legal Studies blog, where legal scholars are thinking about the merits, problems and functions of law reviews. This forum was prompted by research by Jason Nance and Dylan Steinberg, “The Law Review Article Selection Process: Results from a National Study.” Many of the points apply equally well to scholarshp in Canada.

My thoughts parallel those of Benjamin Barton, who had this to say (in post #5, with emphasis added) on the incongruity of faculty complaints about student editors:

First, there are so many student-edited law reviews that it is not an exaggeration to say that virtually anything a law professor writes that is in English and makes some vague sense can and will be published. This is an enormous comparative advantage for a law faculty member over other disciplines, since a law professor can remain “productive” regardless of whether their work is relevant or even particularly good.

Second, having students edit most of the work means that law professors do not have to. Being a reviewer for a peer-edited journal (let alone being an editor) takes a great deal of time, and is in many ways a relatively thankless pain. The fact that student editors do the bulk of this work is a major benefit for law faculties.

Peer review in the law is an embarrassment to the discipline, and authors are coddled by overworked student editors who are intimidated by faculty. It needs to be fixed, and a look to how things are done in the humanities and social sciences would be a start – just make sure to take the open access path, so everyone can see the results of reform…

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The hero trap

Jane Espenson, a screenwriter with a blog, reveals to The New Republic the secret to selling sci-fi.

Her hypothesis is that if you want to sell fantastical fiction like Harry Potter to a mass audience, the best story has nothing to do with the elements of fantasy. It’s all about a Chosen One who has a special place in a strange new world.

The Chosen One paradigm is the most positive, most comforting, most affirming metaphorical version of change, of growing up, that I can imagine.

Which sort of explains why so many incarnations of the Chosen One theme usually involve young adults growing up and taking their place in the world. And why most heroes are born to the job.

It’s doubtless why I am, as an adult craving nuance, finding such stories shallow. This is never more the case than when a writer creates a protagonist destined to be a hero in a universe where a good vs. evil dichotomy is written into the universe.

Head over and give it a read, but take note: there’s a difference between selling a science fiction story to a TV executive who hopes it entertains a general audience, and telling a good story. For the latter, try Iain M. Banks.

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How to copy me

Over the past couple of weeks, a few accidental trackback alerts have revealed a blogger has been copying content from Thought Capital – and quite a few other blogs – without attribution.

Tut tut.

As noted by the Creative Commons license on the sidebar:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

So, you are welcome to republish Thought Capital content as long as you don’t:

  1. claim it as your own by failing to name the original author;
  2. use it commercially; or
  3. alter it.

A link back to the original post would be polite, too…

I’m reluctant to give the plagiarist traffic or ‘link-cred’, but if you wish you can find the faux blog My 1983 at booknn.cn. (That link will take you to the results of a Whois search.)

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And they use pretty words to do it.

Take this, for example:

The whole point of the “soundbite used to be to mine one nugget of gold from a longer point, to boil it down to its essence. But we’ve boiled over as a culture, and there’s nothing left in the pot. We’re not just going for the choicest cut anymore. We’ve devolved to a media culture where that nugget is zapped and worked over and processed to the point of irrelevance. There is nothing behind the nugget anymore.

That’s Denis McGrath, mixing metaphors about the lost art of conversation, and getting there by way of an obituary. Brilliant.

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Today at ScienceBlogs there are a few posts of interest to science writers:

The Daily Transcript’s post, History and analysis of scientific publishing, comments on a interesting book with an overly long title, In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing.

Recent posts to Adventures in Ethics and Science discuss science writing.

That first post refers to an old paper with an inflammatory title:

  • P. B. Medawar, Is the scientific paper fraudulent? Yes; it misrepresents scientific thought, Saturday Review, 1 August 1964, pp. 42-43.

The analysis of Medawar’s paper involves some fun philosophy of science – mostly Hemple and Popper on induction and inductivism. Medawar makes a great deal of the way scientific papers represent orthodox norms about scientific thinking, but I doubt researchers think scientific papers are supposed to convey norms of scientific deliberation. Still, I can’t help but think that papers representing scientific thinking would be a lot more fun to read, if only because they would break away from the structure involving:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion

My suspicion is that scientists use this as a crutch, like high school (and university) students who cling to the dreaded 5 paragraph essay because it gives direction without requiring too much thought.

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