Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Strengthening public broadcasting

January 23, 2013

T T Ram Mohan calls for strengthening of public broadcasting. I also agree with him about the quality of Doordarshan programmes. Podhigai and Bharathi give so much of music, for example, with very little interruptions for advertisements, if any. Their news coverage is also much better and well balanced. So, these days, DD is one of my first flips before I start browsing channels.

Academic writing for public

July 23, 2012

Via John Hawks, I ended up at this piece, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are some nice put-downs as Abi would call them:

Thomas Friedman knows how to write a freshman-year research paper at the last minute.

It goes on to point the importance of developing a formula:

… Friedman, although admittedly annoying, actually has manufactured a coherent, transportable analytical framework. We many disagree with it. He may simply be wrong (often, I suspect). But he’s actually got a coherent explanatory strategy that you can even spoof as Nolan has. The satire works because of the formula.

The sad thing is that, at this point, I’m not sure that we’ve got the same sorts of, hopefully much better, formula to provide a public based on new research in neuroanthropology. Evolutionary psychology has got a formula. Marxism has got a formula. Dynamic systems theory in biocultural anthropology — nope.

And, the need for effective writing with some examples:

One thing you and I at least try to do is communicate with the public, and to write reasonably clearly when we discuss our ideas and research. That in itself – good writing, without the convolutions and jargon and stilted prose seen in some academic papers – is a form of generalization. That is something I appreciated about the Nolan piece. Take this short paragraph:

Scrutiny does not make it more difficult for leaders to make sensible, brave decisions; it makes it more difficult for leaders to be corrupt and cheat on their wives. Thomas Friedman does not point out this discrepancy. He has more important thoughts to deliver.

That paragraph delivers critique, a discussion of power, a characterization of leaders, and more, all in four simple lines. It’s complex, even though it reads in a straight-forward manner. I do wish more anthropologists realized that effective writing matters. Rather than going on and on, hitting the reader over the head with all the detail of how something is complex, good writing can deliver complexity in an intelligible and enjoyable way. It’s one of our greatest tools, but we misuse it constantly.

And, there are also some nice pointers to writing a blog post too:

Have a lead, something to grab readers attention. Then tell readers what your post is about. Go through a series of clear points or illustrations (your argument). Wrap it up, generally by providing the reader with some sort of pay-off for sticking with you for so long – a good conclusion, some funny final thought, a personal note, and so forth.

In his pointer, John Hawks makes another interesting point about the current status of column writing:

The “public intellectual” space is choked with airheads who don’t understand science and technology. But I would sound like an airhead if I argued that people would better understand complexity if only scientists could write more like Thomas Friedman. The problem isn’t that the 800-word NY Times column lacks content. That’s foreordained. The problem is that longer-form pieces, the 4000-word New Yorker variety, have become the province of formula writers like Malcolm Gladwell. Long-form gives space to actually explore a complex idea, but mainstream media has blinkified the format. For now.

Finally, while we are on the topic, I had thoughts very similar to that of Greg and Daniel while reading Nico Slate’s Colored cosmopolitanism: the shared struggle for freedom in the United States and India. The book has several interesting things to say; but the way it says them is such a plod! And, certain passages are distinctly academic (specifically, of the dissertation or thesis writing variety). With a little bit of crisp-ifying, it would have been such a pleasure to read.

NB: By the way, the comment of how Slate’s book is written should not discourage you from picking it up; it is just a warning; the plodding is worth for the information that you glean; all I am saying is that it could have been done with more style and flair.

A video recommendation

July 5, 2012

An hour long documentary on Paul Erdos: strongly recommended!

Science for public consumption

October 3, 2011

John Hawks’ post is worth quoting in its entirety:

Christie Wilcox makes a case that every lab should be doing science outreach on social media: “Social media for scientists Part 1: It’s our job, and Part 2: You do have time. Her rationale is worth spreading:

Yes, part of the solution to this problem is to invest in better education. But even assuming we do that, we are ignoring the millions of Americans who are no longer in school. We can make the next generation more scientifically literate, but we have to consider the current generations, too. Adults over age of 35 never learned about stem cells, nanotechnology or climate change in school, so they depend on the media to learn what they need to know. These are the people who vote. They are the ones whose taxes pay for scientific funding. We need to reach out to them, and to do that we need their trust.

I’m not sure social media are necessarily the best way for most labs to make an impact on the public. You may do better working with other institutions, or by going into a collective with other labs. I know that one great way to increase your lab’s profile is to get your department or program to set up a group blog, where the lab’s home page is one contributor along with other labs. Two new posts a month, as Wilcox suggests, is a good start for a single lab but won’t drive much interest; weekly or biweekly posts by a group of five labs would build much more attention.

I also came across to a book review for Randy Olson’s Don’s be such a scientist which talks about writing science for public:

I’ve just finished Randy Olson’s “Don’t be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an age of style” (after loving his article in New Scientist, “Top five tips for communicating science “). Olson is a marine biologist turned filmmaker, so knows the world of science from the inside, and from the outside perspective.This book is 75% solid gold – absolutely essential perspective for scientists who want to communicate outside of their specialism. But it is also 25% misleading and elitistic simplification. At heart, Randy Olson’s message as a populariser ends up pandering to a mistaken belief in scientific exceptionalism – that what scientists do and who scientists are is so beyond the ken of the rest of the population that it cannot be conveyed to them, that we have to use a pound of silly songs and fart jokes to make the public to swallow an ounce of important information. Sorry, Randy, but when you underestimate the public taste you end up demeaning it.

Take a look!

Impact of blogs

September 3, 2011

At least in economics have been quantified (via MR):

There is a proliferation of economic blogs, with increasing numbers of economists attracting large numbers of readers, yet little is known about the impact of this new medium. Using a variety of experimental and non-experimental techniques, this study quantifies some of their effects. First, links from blogs cause a striking increase in the number of abstract views and downloads of economic papers. Second, blogging raises the profile of the blogger (and his or her institution)and boosts their reputation above economists with similar publication records. Finally, a blog can transform attitudes about some of the topics it covers.

Take a look!

Doordarshan need strengthening

June 21, 2011

I sort of agree with Malavika Singh:

The press, an essential and critical player in a democracy, has failed us by not being able to transmit the pros and cons of issues that are fundamental to our everyday lives. With a few exceptions, TV channels have reduced debate to sarcastic comments, banal questioning and rather supercilious, personal comments.

Had there been a proactive government at the Centre, it would have seized the moment to reinvent Doordarshan so that it could compete with the frivolous channels in our media space. There is a crying need for a public interest channel that will treat the viewer with respect and not dumb down every idea to the lowest common denominator. Our people think and hear even if they cannot read and write. We have an oral tradition handed down over the generations that is alive and volatile. It hears and listens, and does not accept the drivel that is communicated.

We need to speak to our people through the small screen. We need to engage with them and keep them connected. We do not need to declaim. Sadly, the untrained electronic lot screams at us, pushes its agendas in high-pitched, aggressive tones and kills the potential strength of the television. Anchors get away with anything. The same, predictable faces from civil society appear for the discussions. They flit like flies from one channel to the next. They represent themselves and their ‘hosts’. Boring, uninspiring and disconnected.

Having said that, I do not understand why DD is not already doing what it should be doing, namely providing space for meaningful and non-partisan ground for debates and discussion!

Why we loved MasterChef Australia

December 31, 2010

For the drama and human interest, of course; but also for the passion that comes through, for the strictness of the evaluation procedures and the kind of challenges that you set up making the learning process so enjoyable and rewarding. There are plenty of things to learn from that programme — at least for me as a teacher!

PS: It is the season 2 that we watched.

The fear that “the-company-which-should-not-be-named” used to inspire!

August 13, 2010

Paul Graham:

If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.

It’s hard for anyone much younger than me to understand the fear Microsoft still inspired in 1995. Imagine a company with several times the power Google has now, but way meaner. It was perfectly reasonable to be afraid of them. Yahoo watched them crush the first hot Internet company, Netscape. It was reasonable to worry that if they tried to be the next Netscape, they’d suffer the same fate. How were they to know that Netscape would turn out to be Microsoft’s last victim?

By the way, it is good to see that the frequency of Graham’s publication of his essays is increasing. If I ever teach a course on writing (which I really want to do sometime — at least as a short term one), these pieces would surely be part of the syllabus.

Blogging, hedgehogs, foxes and mathematics

July 5, 2010

A couple of interesting points from Fleix Salmon’s piece (Hat tip to Swarup for the pointer):

Horn’s point is that any organized attempt to look deeply at something risks being self-defeating: you can end up disappearing down all manner of silly dead ends, and understanding less than you would with a more-is-more approach.This absolutely rings true to me. For reasons which today elude me, I decided when I was doing my A-levels in England to do what they call “double maths” — essentially taking two mathematics exams (Maths and Further Maths), in the same two years you’d normally spend studying for just one. As a result, we had a highly accelerated mathematics curriculum, and there was no time to circle back and make sure the class had understood something before moving on to the next thing. It was all rather sink-or-swim.

And at any given point in time, I was sinking — along, I think, with most of the rest of my class. I was pretty fuzzy about what we’d been taught in previous weeks, and I was very unlikely to understand what the teacher was trying to say at any given time. Maths class, for me, was a combination of panic and incomprehension, combined with a desperate attempt to bluff my way through as much as I could. (Needless to say, if you’re reduced to trying to bluff, mathematics is not the best subject to choose.)

Yet somehow my classmates and I all did very well, at the end of the two years, when it came time to taking the actual exams. As I recall, nearly everybody taking double maths wound up getting an A in their Maths A-level, and most of us got an A or a B in Further Maths as well. Somehow we had managed to gain a pretty good grasp of the subject by dint of sheer velocity: the mechanism, I think, was that a desperate attempt to understand a new concept had the effect of making earlier ideas drop into place. And that the best way of mastering the Maths curriculum was not so much to study it directly, but rather to try to study the Further Maths curriculum: even getting halfway there would bring you pretty much up to speed on the stuff that went before.

Something similar, I think, happens with blogging. Bloggers tend to be foxes, rather than hedgehogs; it’s pretty clear that Athreya is an archetypal hedgehog and has a deep-seated mistrust of foxes. We skip around a lot of different things, and much of the time we don’t really understand them. But somehow the accumulated effect of all that skipping around is to make connections and develop understandings which hedgehogs often lack. What’s more, we live, as Athreya admits, in a highly complex world — one which there are serious limits to what economics can do on its own.

A good post!

Transcending the personal

March 13, 2010

In blogs:

To really work, Sierra observed, an entrepreneur’s blog has to be about something bigger than his or her company and his or her product. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. It takes real discipline to not talk about yourself and your company. Blogging as a medium seems so personal, and often it is. But when you’re using a blog to promote a business, that blog can’t be about you, Sierra said. It has to be about your readers, who will, it’s hoped, become your customers. It has to be about making them awesome.

So, for example, if you’re selling a clever attachment to a camera that diffuses harsh flash light, don’t talk about the technical features or about your holiday sale (10 percent off!). Make a list of 10 tips for being a better photographer.

If you’re opening a restaurant, don’t blog about your menu. Blog about great food. You’ll attract foodies who don’t care about your restaurant yet.

If you make superior, single-source chocolate, don’t write about that great trip you took to the Dominican Republic to source cocoa beans. That’s all about you. Instead, write the definitive article about making chocolate-covered strawberries. For the next 10 years, whenever a gourmand or a baker searches Google for a recipe on how to make chocolate-covered strawberries, he or she will find your post. Helping your users make awesome chocolate-based confections is likely to attract readers who might buy fancy chocolate, and that’s the point of a successful blog. Writing about trips to the Dominican Republic is going to attract only people who might want to travel to the Dominican Republic. Unless you’re selling that, you shouldn’t be blogging about it.