Shakespeare’s Genius Is Nonsense

Just as comedians generally don’t laugh at their own jokes, Shakespeare doesn’t call too much attention to his own linguistic cleverness, which is one reason his work rewards close scrutiny. It’s not that he was being deliberately obscure or flowery — though some of his obsequious characters definitely exhibit such speech patterns. One line of inquiry into Shakespeare’s language explores how the brain processes sequences of images. As a playwright…

The Religious Origins of Fake News and “Alternative Facts”

A good exploration, in the light of current interest in “fake news,” of the troubled relationship between conservative Christianity’s understanding of truth and secular experts’ understanding of facts. (Mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism have negotiated this difference much more smoothly.) But it wasn’t Christianity, or religious faith itself in general, that helped make Republican voters more likely to be duped by fake news than their Democratic compatriots. (There were, and continue to…

Captain, the Fake News Detectors are Offline!

Slate has a good article about William “Captain Kirk” Shatner’s involvement with a Twitter incident that involved Autism Speaks, the alleged connection between vaccines and autism, and the ready availability of easily Googled but unreliable “information.” Shatner is a celebrity, which means that he has outsized influence. That he would use his platform to lend credibility to such sites, spreading them to 2.5 million followers, could have terrible consequences. Shatner…

Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old

Fairy tales are transmitted through language, and the shoots and branches of the Indo-European language tree are well-defined, so the scientists could trace a tale’s history back up the tree—and thus back in time. If both Slavic languages and Celtic languages had a version of Jack and the Beanstalk (and the analysis revealed they might), for example, chances are the story can be traced back to the “last common ancestor.”…

1

The Last Soviet Citizen

Interesting reflection on the collapse of the USSR, from the vantage point of a cosmonaut who returned to a completely different world. After blasting off from Baikonur, Krikalev wouldn’t inhale earthly air for 312 days. In that time, the soft-spoken cosmonaut would watch his country crumble from 200 miles up. Presidents would change. His hometown of Leningrad would become St. Petersburg. And one communist superpower would splinter into 15 nations.…

1

English Is the Language of Science. That Isn’t Always a Good Thing

English speakers tend to assume that all the important research is published in English. More than half of the non-English papers observed in this study had no English title, abstract or keywords, making them all but invisible to most scientists doing database searches in English. […] This problem is a two-way street Not only does the larger scientific community miss out on research published in non-English languages. But the dominance of…