PUP News of the World — July 11, 2014

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Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


now 7.11

BEAUTIFUL GAME THEORY

It’s finally here. After weeks of World Cup action, all eyes will be on Germany and Argentina on Sunday when the teams face off during the World Cup final. In a piece in the New York Times, John Tierney discusses the role of luck in the past weeks’ soccer match-ups. He writes:

I’ve been watching the World Cup with some frustrated American social scientists. When they see an underdog team triumph with a miraculous rebound or an undeserved penalty kick, they don’t jump up and scream “Goooaaalll!” They just shake their heads and mutter, “Measurement error.”

If you regard a soccer match as an experiment to determine which team is better, then it’s not much of an experiment. It involves hundreds of skillful moves and stratagems, yet each team averages only a dozen shots, and the outcome is decided by several quick and often random events. In most games, no more than three goals are scored, and the typical margin of victory is a single goal.

To a scientist, the measurements are too few to draw a statistically reliable conclusion about which team is more skilled. The score may instead be the result of measurement error, a.k.a. luck.

So what’s luck got to do with it? And what kind of measurements can social scientists apply to the “beautiful game”? Tierney quotes PUP author Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, who discusses why the second team to shoot in penalty shootouts is less likely to win the game by scoring more “GOOOOOAAAAAALS.” Looking to prep for Sunday? Read the full article for more on how much of an impact the pressure of going second can have. Luckily for us fans, the pressure is off. Regardless, we’ll be glued to our TV screens on Sunday.

For more from Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, take a look at his new book, BEAUTIFUL GAME THEORY: How Soccer Can Help Economics. This brilliant and entertaining book illuminates economics through the world’s most popular sport. He offers unique and often startling insights into game theory and microeconomics, covering topics such as mixed strategies, discrimination, incentives, and human preferences. He also looks at finance, experimental economics, behavioral economics, and neuroeconomics. Soccer provides rich data sets and environments that shed light on universal economic principles in interesting and useful ways. Preview the introduction to Beautiful Game Theory here.

MIRROR, MIRROR

From Tour de France near-misses to a viral EDM hit, the art of the selfie has people talking. But behind the Instagram filters and hashtags, is there a lesson about narcissism? PUP author Simon Blackburn discusses narcissism in a recent interview with the Irish Times:

When does self-esteem cross over into narcissism?

Simon Blackburn: “A modest degree of self-esteem is what Milton called a ‘pious and just honouring of ourselves’. It is no more than a decent self-respect. It can actually stand in the way of vanity, which is an undue concern for the admiration of others.

“The road to narcissism, or a fixated self-love, goes via conceit: if the vain person is too concerned with how he stands in the eyes of others, the conceited person has learned to ignore the others and just thrive on his own good opinion of himself. Narcissism is the fatal extreme of this.”

For more on the subject, check out the introduction of Blackburn’s book, MIRROR, MIRROR: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love. A sparkling mixture of learning, humor, and style, Mirror, Mirror examines what great thinkers have said about self-love–from Aristotle, Cicero, and Erasmus to Rousseau, Adam Smith, Kant, and Iris Murdoch. It considers today’s “me”-related obsessions, such as the “selfie,” plastic surgery, and cosmetic enhancements, and reflects on connected phenomena such as the fatal commodification of social life and the tragic overconfidence of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Ultimately, Mirror, Mirror shows why self-regard is a necessary and healthy part of life. But it also suggests that we have lost the ability to distinguish–let alone strike a balance–between good and bad forms of self-concern.

PHILOLOGY

Calling all liberal arts graduates! Can you describe what “philology is”? For those who can’t quite recall the definition (don’t worry), we bring you PUP author James Turner, whose new book, PHILOLOGY: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, has your answer. Many today do not recognize the word, but “philology” was for centuries nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as religion, history, culture, art, archaeology, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences. But around 1800, Turner explains, these interlinked philological and antiquarian studies began to fragment into distinct academic fields. These fissures resulted, within a century or so, in the new, independent “disciplines” that we now call the humanities. Yet the separation of these disciplines only obscured, rather than erased, their common features.

Philology is reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, and Tom Shippey says that the book “must be the most wide-ranging work of intellectual history for many years.” More from Shippey on philology below:

Its original meaning, “love of words,” is unhelpful. “Tough love” would be a better description: a critical attitude toward words, their roots and their meanings—one that admits no exceptions. It could well be said that a readiness to scrutinize anything, treating even the Bible “like any other book,” is still one of the distinctive marks of Western civilization, seen in every discipline, from literary criticism to theology, history to anthropology.

The first philologists, back in the pre-Christian era, took that attitude with Homer’s epics, which were already deeply venerated and formed the basis of young men’s education. But “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were centuries old by the time of the great librarians of Alexandria Eratosthenes and Zenodotus. The poems’ texts had been passed on first by word of mouth and then by scribes prone to error or deliberate meddling. The early philologists, then, compared different versions of texts, noted repetitions and struck out dubious lines, such as those added to cover up the non-participation of Athens in the Trojan War.

Well-meaning Americans cleaned up George Washington’s spelling and vulgar idioms; philological historians put them back again. Noah Webster’s 1828 “American Dictionary” piously traced etymologies back to the biblical language Aramaic: After Webster’s death a German philologist removed them. J.M. Kemble swallowed Suhm hook, line and sinker in his first 1833 edition of “Beowulf” but repudiated his mistake in a panic only four years later.

Check out the full review in the Wall Street Journal. The book was also reviewed in Books & Culture, where Timothy Laren writes:

“Sell all the books you have which purport to explain the nature of the academic disciplines and buy James Turner’s Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities. If you want to understand higher education in its current configuration of departments, divisions, and professional associations, I can commend no better book….Mind-invigoratingly entertaining.”

Is a “starvation diet” the cure for the crisis of the humanities?

Turner_PhilologyIt may seem strange, but as James Turner argues on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Conversations blog, the modern humanities may not be at “death’s door,” as so many commentators imply. He says that a longer view–one that extends back to ancient times–tells us that what we are seeing is a reemergence of a generalist, philological approach to the humanities. Back to Philology indeed!

Turner details the “forgotten origins of the modern humanities,” in much greater detail in his new intellectual history, Philology. You can read a free chapter here [PDF].

Listen to the dire talk around colleges and universities, read op-eds and magazines, and you might think the humanities were in greater danger than the earth’s climate. In fact, despite the overheated rhetoric, the humanities are not at death’s door. Contemporary pressures will more likely push them into a new shape, even ultimately a healthier one.

That claim might seem bizarre. The proportion of college students majoring in the humanities has sunk to an all-time low. Students have turned their backs on art history and literature in favor of studies, like accounting and nursing, that lead directly to jobs. Governors like Florida’s Rick Scott have worked to undercut fields of study not tuned closely to employment. President Obama wants education to stress science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Funds for research in disciplines like history and linguistics are drying up. Congress has already slashed the budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and now Rep. Paul Ryan wants to kill it.

Analysts of higher education paint a more ambiguous picture. How many years ago you start counting—either majors or research dollars—determines how gloomy the humanities numbers look. And with more and more Americans going to college only to qualify themselves for work, most time-honored fields of study have taken a hit, not just the humanities. But even at a traditional, elite institution like Stanford, majors in humanities disciplines have fallen so low as to alarm faculty members into unprecedented missionary efforts.

To see how, paradoxically, a starvation diet may rejuvenate the humanities, it helps to take a long view. First of all, the humanities disciplines familiar in American higher education today did not even exist 200 years ago. Sure, in 1814 students learned the Greek and Latin languages, but no discipline called “classics” devoted itself to ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Yes, a college president in that era was likely to lecture on moral philosophy, but the broad range of topics covered by a modern philosophy department had no place in his institution.

Continue reading at The Chronicle of Higher Education web site: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2014/06/09/yes-the-humanities-are-struggling-but-they-will-endure/