Americans need to know all our history: the good, the bad and the complex

“An ignorance of history can prove fatal for any country. A narrow understanding that only reinforces biases and supports political factions is not much better. Americans need to know the entire story of who we have been — the good, the bad and the complex. That is how we perfect our union. That is how we make one nation from many.”

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-american-history-20170704-story.html

How the rest of the world learns about the American Revolution in school

In the US, it’s often taught as a heroic struggle for freedom against the tyrannical British Empire, which was unfairly taxing the colonists without giving them representation in government (though in some high school classes, and certainly at the college level, it’s taught with more nuance).

But how is the American Revolution taught in the UK and in other countries around the world?

https://qz.com/462264/how-the-rest-of-the-world-learns-about-the-american-revolution-in-school/

Additional Resources

  1. Facebook Experiments Had Few Limits
    “Thousands of Facebook Inc. users received an unsettling message two years ago: They were being locked out of the social network because Facebook believed they were robots or using fake names. To get back in, the users had to prove they were real.”
    Subscription Required
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-experiments-had-few-limits-1404344378
  2. Furor Erupts Over Facebook’s Experiment on Users
    “A social-network furor has erupted over news that Facebook Inc., in 2012, conducted a massive psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users.”
    Subscription Required
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/furor-erupts-over-facebook-experiment-on-users-1404085840

Additional Resources

  1. Radiolab Podcast: Outside Westgate: Originally Broadcast 11/29/2014
    This is a phenomenally well reported and well put together podcast that examines the eyewitness testimony and memory of a terrorist attack in Kenya. It is one thing to describe the academic idea that people are often mistaken about what they see and what they experience but in this podcast we here from multiple people who are absolutely certain about what they saw but more “objective” evidence does not corroborate their stories.

    “In the wake of public tragedy there is a space between the official narrative and the stories of the people who experienced it. Today, we crawl inside that space and question the role of journalists in helping us move on from a traumatic event.

    “NPR’s East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner takes us back to the 2013 terrorist attacks on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Warner reported on the attack as it happened, listening to eyewitness accounts, sorting out the facts, establishing the truth. But he’s been been wrestling with it ever since as his friends and neighbors try not only to put their lives back together, but also try to piece together what really happened that day.”

  2. Radiolab Podcast: Memory and Forgetting: Originally Broadcast August 9th, 2010

“Remembering is an unstable and profoundly unreliable process–it’s easy come, easy go as we learn how true memories can be obliterated, and false ones added. And Oliver Sacks joins us to tell the story of an amnesiac whose love for his wife and music transcend his 7-second memory.”

Additional Resources

  • Freakonomics Podcast: #181 Fixing the World, Bang-for-the-Buck Edition
    Originally Broadcast 10/2/2014
    “A team of economists has been running the numbers on the U.N.’s development goals. They have a different view of how those billions of dollars should be spent.”
  • Planet Money Podcast: #480: The Charity That Just Gives People Money
    Originally Broadcast 8/16/2013
    GiveDirectly is a charity that just gives money to poor people. The people who get the money can spend it on whatever they want. They never have to pay it back. On today’s show, we hear from someone who got money from GiveDirectly, from one of the founder’s of the group, and from a few other people in the charity world.”
  • Planet Money Podcast: #494: What Happens When You Just Give Money To Poor People?
    Originally Broadcast 11/8/2013
    “There’s a charity called GiveDirectly that gives money to poor people in Kenya — no strings attached. When we did a story about GiveDirectly earlier this year, they told us we needed to check back in. It turned out, they were in the middle of a big study designed to figure out what happens when people get money for nothing. Do they invest it? Waste it? Something in between?”
  • “Measuring the Bang of Every Donated Buck” by Alice Hohler
    “Ask enough people why they don’t donate more to charity and a common theme emerges. Many potential donors worry that charities will waste their money. Measuring the impact charities have on the problems they seek to solve—and, in some cases, deciding whether one cause is more deserving than another—has become a pressing issue for the multitrillion-dollar philanthropy industry.”
    Subscription Required
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703787304575075340954767332

The Slants on the Power of Repurposing a Slur

“The idea of reappropriation isn’t new. The process of turning negative words, symbols or ideas into positive parts of our own identity can involve repurposing a racial epithet or taking on a stereotype for sociopolitical empowerment. But reappropriation can be confusing. Sometimes people can’t figure out the nuances of why something is or isn’t offensive — government bureaucrats in particular.”

 

What makes science research valuable?

The question can further be narrowed to ask when governments should fund scientific research.

People who are critical of government spending often find government funded scientific research projects they deem wasteful and publicize them as examples of government waste. Sometimes the discussions are just political theater but the conversation does raise interesting questions. What is the government’s responsibility when it comes to funding science? What criteria should we follow when determining what is worthwhile and what isn’t?

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has on multiple occasions published lists of projects he thought were wasteful but he also published an interesting list of 20 questions he thought should guide our decisions on which projects deserved government spending.

Questions like:

  • Will this research advance science in a meaningful way?
  • Will the findings advance medicine?
  • Will it improve our national defense?

(You can find the full list here)

You can download his whole document here.

Science Magazine Responds

Analysis: Senator’s attack on ‘cheerleading’ study obscures government’s role in training scientists

Below is a link from Science magazine addressing the Senator Flake’s approach and assumptions.

“More importantly, perhaps, how NSF did spend the money illustrates an important point often lost in the sometimes highly partisan debates over government research spending: Most of those dollars go to educate the next generation of scientists. These students are trained in many disciplines and work on a wide array of projects—some of which might sound dubious to politicians. After graduation they use their knowledge to bolster the U.S. economy, improve public health, protect the nation from its enemies, and maintain U.S. global leadership in science.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/analysis-senator-s-attack-cheerleading-study-obscures-government-s-role-training

Planet Money Podcast: Shrimp Fight Club

These issues were discussed on a Planet Money Podcast which was adapted from another podcast Undiscovered.

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/06/21/533840751/episode-779-shrimp-fight-club