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May 14 2017


May 10 2017

Birdman by Mo Hayder Pavol is currently reading Birdman by Mo Hayder
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Pavol Hardos is on page 40 of 324 of <a href="/book/show/820689.The_Handmaid_s_Tale">The Handmaid's Tale</a>.
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
"Enough peans have been sung in praise of this brief yet poignant account of tyranny in the twentieth century and Snyder's twenty ways in which we can take warning from history. Suffice to say - go grab a copy, you'll be glad you did.
Should be required reading in every high school Civics curriculum. I will certainly incorporate it into mine."

May 09 2017

The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols
"Very sloppy, especially considered it was published and edited by Oxford Press. The author is your average Political Science professor whose views on this subject have little more depth than a well researched article by the New Yorker. He quotes studies, reports and anecdotes that are old news to anyone even remotely interested in this issue. "
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols Pavol gave 2 stars to The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (Hardcover) by Tom Nichols
bookshelves: academia, education, non-fiction, politics, reactionary, science, theory
Our public debates lack intellectual rigor, our scientists no longer enjoy the respect of their authoritative position in a given field, common people ignore facts and asserts their know-nothing opinions as equally valuable. We are living, Nichols says, the age of the death of expertise. Paradoxically – and unfortunately – this book serves as the best argument for its main thesis.

Or maybe it could be read as a sort of elaborate test on the reader – are you capable of seeing through rhetoric & fanciful arguments lacking in empirical support? For if you take the book’s thesis at face value, if you agree with it, despite lacking a convincing argument, then you are what the book argues for – symptom of the true death of expertise.

For a work that talks about expertise and the importance of relying on authoritative judgment it is scant when it comes to actually relying on it. You'd be hard pressed to spot any references to works in the sociology of expertise, philosophy of expert knowledge, or at least some authoritative data (Tetlock’s classic study being a lone exception). What you do get instead are references to other similar tracts and complaints, ranging from Tocqueville, Ortega Y Gasset to Hofstadter, or C.S. Lewis.

We are repeatedly told that there is a change, a growth, a rise in the culture of ignorance, assertive arrogance of the know-nothings and never-learners, but we are given exactly zero data points to prove any of it. Zilch. We do get plenty of assertions that this is so. And anecdotes. Let's not forget the anecdotes. This is all the more irritating when you realize that the issues covered and some of the trends discussed might be worth the attention but are short-shifted by the overly flimsy style, journalistic overreach and – shockingly – lack of citations to relevant academic literature.

You might think I am being unfair, so here is a rundown of the contents:

The first chapter is probably the worst offender, we hear the main thesis asserted and hear nothing to back it up – apart from just-so stories. They sound plausible, but rest on misplaced nostalgia of ‘olden days when experts weren’t questioned’. You get a whiff of reactionary rhetoric, you’ve heard this before – things are terrible ‘these days’. But we do get, for example, a brief explanation of the concept of low information voter. As if to coin low-information pundit for himself, Nichols wheels out a well-known concept in political science on the general ignorance of voters and attempts to build a proof of the ‘culture of ignorance’. Of course, being ignorant and living in a ‘culture of ignorance’ are two very different things, but Nichols tries to get away with such equivocation anyway, probably because he knows most readers won’t notice.

In the next chapter, he explains why they likely won’t notice. It’s because we are stupid. This chapter offers an explainer of our biases, fallacious reasoning, meta-cognitive failures, conspiracy theorizing etc., as if our human inability to hold a reasoned argument were a) anything new and b) at all relevant to the thesis. It’s not – but it sounds nice and informative too.

Then we get the maybe-not-entirely-curmudgeonly-but-still-mostly-irrelevant gripes about the shape and trends in higher education. This chapter is basically an ABCs collection of complaints about students (too many!), administration, grade inflation, ratings, education for sale (students can’t be clients!), etc. There are probably better treatments of the subject (almost any editorial in Chronicle of Higher Education comes to mind), while Nichols strikes even this elitist curmudgeon as going too far. I mean, pointing to emails as too easily available and intimate a means of communication with teachers that can lead to eroding the respect for experts has got to be a stretch of some sorts, right? Right?

Well, the next chapter stretches to further latitudes and looks at the internet as a partial culprit. Of course, Nichols does not outright lay the blame on the Internet, it merely ‘accelerates’ a trend, and so on, he is too smart to do such a thing. But then he does it anyway – there is too much of everything, he says. Googling things gives you an illusion of competence – which owning a library card or a set of encyclopedias never did, oh no. You can find stuff online, but need to go through piles and piles of shit – as if there weren’t heuristics, filters, aggregators, newsletters, search engines, or learning curves of information processing already being developed, or the potential for institutional gate-keeping and information filtering weren’t a possibility. Some of the problems he describes are very real, Internet does still have its kinks, but then so did book-printing – again something he recognizes, but annoyingly fails to develop. Wouldn’t fit the dumb-mongering.

The stylized facts which have little to do with the main thesis continue with more old-fusspot gripes about journalism ‘these days’. Howlers and incorrect reporting have always been a feature of journalism, sometimes unavoidable in the rush to publish asap – but Nichols maintains that “these kinds of mistakes happen a lot more frequently in the new world of twenty-first-century journalism” (137). Now, kids, you might notice this is a factual statement of the empirical variety. Do you think Nichols backs it up with any data? Nah. Something like this would not fly by a neophyte Wikipedia editor, eagerly flagging [citation needed] left and right, but it seems good enough for the Oxford University Press. Anyway, much more could be said about this quaint chapter but to give you an idea of the general tenor it’s probably sufficient to note that Walter Cronkite types get name-checked here as ‘calming authoritative figures’ who used to report even ‘most awful events with aplomb and detachment’ (141). Crikey.

Finally, sixth chapter tackles the issue of expert failure. It would be entirely passable (if it weren’t so unintentionally ironic) and informative for anyone who has a very limited knowledge of how science is (or should be) done. However, it is not quite clear what Nichols intends to achieve with this chapter – that experts fail is hardly novel – and it should not make them less respected or useful. Of course, we now know more about their failures, thanks to increased education, and attention paid to their potential misconduct by a citizenry informed through the internet. He does not intend that knowing about the limits of expert knowledge is potentially bad, though given what came before that could be a possible conclusion one might draw here.

The conclusion discusses the necessity for finding the balance between experts and their clients – citizens in a democracy. You’d think Nichols finally dispenses some level-headed analysis of how experts should rebuild the lost trust, how the greatest challenge lies with them. Nope, it’s the proles’ problem. People need to step up, they should not be lazy and ignorant. Gee, thanks, great advice.

In general, arguments often take this painful form: a strong statement "There is X, it sucks!" is followed by an anecdote or two, which usually illustrate a minor 'x' or a related phenomenon, but doesn't really unequivocally support the main statement. Afterword, Nichols wisely offers a paragraph or two of caveats, why actually it isn't so simple and X is not the full story. But then he concludes that "Nevertheless, X!".

Here it is in equation form:

[x, y, un-X1, un-X2, z]

I don't know yet what to call this sandwich, but nothing flattering comes to mind.

Those are the perils of expanding a blog rant into a book. Once the strong statements of an article get to be unpacked, elaborated and supported with evidence, we see that it's a bit more complicated. Once you apply judicious analysis - something the author can do very well, lest I forget to mention this - the simplifications of the thesis no longer hold much water. But without the main thesis, we are left with nothing but qualifications and stories (however illuminating and entertaining on their own some of them may be).

But why do the hard intellectual work of abandoning a sexy thesis, when you can sell a book? The death of expertise indeed, the book seems a case in point. But it's not the public who are to blame. It's the experts, sadly. Resigned to their responsibilities, eager to provide a spotlight for themselves in the public ecosystem with whatever thesis secures popularity, selling the public their biases back with a sign of expert approval. The book is one long example of confirmation bias for those who like to think of themselves as smarter, more knowledgeable, ‘better’ – the book could be catnip to less discerning science-fans, debunkers, and skeptics.

When you want to decry a culture, look at what the producers of said culture do.

Indeed, there's a potential case to be made for the hollowing of our public discourse and the trust in expert knowledge, but this book serves not as prosecution, but as an exhibit.
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black Pavol gave 2 stars to Christine Falls (Quirke, #1) by Benjamin Black
bookshelves: crime, fiction, thriller
Pleasantly boring, evocative noir, ultimately not very satisfying.

May 05 2017

Sexuálna zmluva by Carole Pateman Pavol wants to read Sexuálna zmluva by Carole Pateman
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols Pavol Hardos is on page 188 of 240 of <a href="/book/show/26720949-the-death-of-expertise">The Death of Expertise</a>.

May 04 2017

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood Pavol is currently reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

May 03 2017

Pavol Hardos is now following Simona Stopková
Pimp State by Kat Banyard
"Banyard’s thesis can be summed up as follows: propped up by free market values and structural gender inequality, the gradual reframing of prostitution as “sex work” since the late 1980’s has legitimized and normalized the increasingly violent and exploitative sex industry. What’s more – the increased social acceptance of prostitution as a “trade like any other” has sanctioned the exploitation of women’s social vulnerability to (and real experience of) gender-based violence on an unprecedented industrial scale.

Banyard argues her point across six chapters, each of which address a specific line of reasoning commonly held up by proponents of the “pro sex worker perspective”.
Ambitious in scope, Banyard sets out to debunk the idea that efforts across the Western world to decriminalise or legalise prostitution have somehow made women less vulnerable to sexual exploitation or that they have made sex workers’s conditions safer or healthier.

To illustrate her point, she draws on recent legislation impact in the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and Sweden. This was where I would have liked to see more critical engagement with more sources, Banyard would have done well to either narrow her scope or otherwise produce a text that is more extensive and show more engagement each case study.

Pimp State is a suitable gateway-book to understanding the basics of prostitution abolitionism in feminist discourse. Banyard's language is accessible, impassioned and often rhetorical. Her tone can be more conversational than academic, which at times renders her thesis prone to dismissal over frequent use of anecdotes and emotional language. This space may otherwise have been used to showcase additional data to build a more cohesive case (more rigour and detail on the case studies, comparative analysis). Her use of data improves somewhat towards the second half of the book.

Occasionally the reader might intercept an intersectional approach (Banyard is vaguely receptive to classism and racism), still - her analysis is *mostly* colorblind.

Crucially, Banyard argues that the concept of mutual consent has been hijacked and distorted by the sex trade and sold to the public as something it is not. The struggle over the meaning of "consensual sex" is a hegemonic battle played out on the political landscape of women’s bodies. According to Banyard, the brand of “consent” that is given in prostitution is qualitatively and semantically different to consent given freely and out of desire – as opposed to what she calls “manufactured consent” – consent appropriated in exchange for financial renumeration.

The deliberate reframing of “prostitution” as “sex work” is part of the linguistic and cultural strategy whose function is to give the sex industry an aura of credence and at once to underplay its inherent misogyny. Commodified sexual consent (as opposed to other things people do as work for cash) is qualitatively different due to the often underplayed contextual injustices that underpin (and correlate with) prostitution (pornography, understood as choreographed and mid-wived prostitution is included in this) as a mass industry. The agency of women is also mangled with my pimps, of who coerce the women they are pimping into degrading and unwanted "work" (and yes, the overwhelming majority of prostitutes are pimped by men who also abuse them).

Banyard’s deconstruction poses a hegemonic challenge to the dominant, rigidly patriarchal, free-market discourse of women’s sexuality (passive, receiving, available, functional, commodifiable).

Some quantifiable realities: the decision of the vast majority of women to enter the sex trade is made on the backdrop of a personal history of sexual abuse, rape, child molestation and domestic violence, often combined with a low level of education and unremarkable socio-economic status. Decisions made with agency, but with extreme vulnerabilities as prerequisites. In other words, the sex trade profits by exploiting existing social inequalities and then contributing to their perpetuation. Finding themselves in desperate situations, women are also a lot more likely to enter prostitution when they are able to do so legally. Many are trafficked into prostitution and are broken to believe that that’s all there is for them.

I was somewhat taken aback at the extent to which the consumption (and production) of pornography fuels violence against women, “as well as an array of attitudes that minimize, trivialize and normalize it”. This includes perceptions of women's sexuality that contribute to their continued sexual exploitation, as evidenced by “assessments corroborated across methods, measures and samples.” It is, I checked.

However one tries to frame the sex industry as “sex-positive” or “empowering” for women, the patriarchal, market-driven power structures within which this trade operates remain in tact (trying to excuse the industry by citing fringe sub-sections of “feminist-porn” is a red herring detraction from the point in case) and will, until dismantled, continue to dictate its content and packaging. Feminism and prostitution, for Banyard, are incompatible.

Pimp State makes a compelling enough case to have stimulated serious reassessment of my conceptual understanding of prostitution, but I plan to read more.

TRIGGER WARNING for survivors of rape/child molestation/gender-based violence:

This book is triggering and I literally had to stop to hyperventilate and sob every 40 pages. Just putting that out there. Understanding the social and legal backdrop of rape culture is paramount to being able to cope with what and why happened to you, yes, but so is being kind to yourself.
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black Pavol Hardos is 50% done with <a href="/book/show/12582962-christine-falls">Christine Falls</a>.
Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg Pavol gave 3 stars to Guilty Plea (Paperback) by Robert Rotenberg
A competent legal thriller - well, mostly the legal aspect seems competent and can be thoroughly enjoyable. But there are not many thrills to be had. The ending is predictable, the resolution forced. The characters are what you'd expect from a book like this - not much. The author seems to have mistaken detail-oriented descriptions and irrelevant character asides for verisimilitude and immersive writing. It's not.

The most annoying aspect of the book - apart from taking its time to get going (setting the pieces can be less of a plod) - is the weird vibe of the book; you feel like the author lost touch with the world sometime in the 70s or 80s, the jobs, the environment, even the characters' lives, everything feels dated.


April 26 2017


April 23 2017


April 18 2017

The Death of Expertise by Thomas M. Nichols
"Marred by the author stepping out of his area of expertise and making causal and explanatory claims without proper data or argument on journalism, education, and philosophy of science."
A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power
"Výnimočná a výnimočne dôležitá kniha. Detailný príbeh vzniku konceptu genocídy, medzinárodnej intervencie a príbeh genocíd 20. storočia (Arméni, Kambodža, Rwanda, Bosna, Kosovo) a americkej reakcie a nereakcie na ne.
Ak vás trápia otázky, prečo "niekto niečo" neurobil v Rwande alebo Sarajeve, tak tu je nepríjemná odpoveď: nemáme žiadnu jednoduchú odpoveď typu "nebola tam ropa" alebo "mocným na životoch nezáleží", ale vždy je to komplikovaný výsledok činnosti alebo nečinnosti množstva rôznych úradníkov a politikov s veľmi rôznymi názormi na to, čo sa vlastne deje a čo sa s tým dá alebo nedá urobiť.
Z definície sa autorka venuje oblastiam, kde západ nezasiahol a udiali sa hrozné veci, nie tým, kde zasiahol a udiali sa tiež - autorka sa snaží neustále vysvetľovať aj argumenty proti zásahom, ale vzhľadom na výber najväčších zverstiev modernej doby je to nakoniec 500 strán argumentov za americké humanitárne intervencie. Bez ohľadu na to, čo si o nich myslíte, mimoriadne dielo.
Pulitzerova cena za non-fiction 2003, 10 rokov po napísaní sa autorka stala veľvyslankyňou USA pri OSN."
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