In appearance, Kwame Nkrumah is a slender man in his early forties, of middle height, with a mop of frizzy hair, big soulful eyes, a sultry, sensual expression and a trace of petulance, of prima donna touchiness, in his manner. He is, I am sure, a born actor, with all the magnetism, emotional sensitivity and panache of a good players. To say this is not to suggest insincerity. A true actor believes entirely in the reality of his characters. Nkrumah’s part is that of the savior of this people from foreign oppression. To give point to the part he has had to invent the oppression, but that was not difficult, nor in his eyes wrong. Nationalism is a passion, not an exercise in logic, and to passion’s servant all means are justified.
British chancellor George Osborne announced yesterday that the government of the United Kingdom will found an Alan Turing Institute dedicated to research on big data. Universities and other organizations can bid for the £42 million, 5-year grant to establish the Institute. A public gesture which is nonetheless small compensation for the government’s persecution of a man who played a central role in the Allied victory in World War II. Continue reading The legacy of Alan Turing
It has been more than a year and a half since I received my Ph.D. after writing and defending a lengthy dissertation that I liked to think of as “policy-relevant social science”. Thirteen months into my current job, researching and networking with the same aid organizations and actors that populated my dissertation, I have come to realize that social science and development policy are two entirely different beasts, and that reconciling them in any meaningful way is a challenge far beyond the skills of even the most imaginative Ph.D. candidate. Continue reading What development research can learn from Asimov’s psychohistory
I recently borrowed Umberto Eco‘s classic Foucault’s Pendulum from the University of Manchester central library. It’s a 2001 hard-bound copy in pretty good shape; the stamp sheet only registers 7 loans between 2005 and 2007 (who knows how many times the book has been loaned since the library went digital). But what’s interesting about this book is that one of the few past readers made a handful of pencil annotations on the margins. The first one, on page 60, is a statement of stylistic frustration: Eco writes “My uncle and aunt from *** arrived that evening”, and the reader has drawn an arrow pointing at the asterisks and written a question oozing frustration next to it: “Why do they do this?” This tells me that the previous reader of Foucault’s Pendulum was an introspective person, perhaps a truth seeker with little patience for literary flare. But it is the second annotation that really struck me. Continue reading A story in the margins of a library book
Via BoingBoing I have come across this little gem in OpenCulture: “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction“. Given that the mediocre-to-appalling quality of academic writing seems to be a neverending concern, I think that it may be useful to consider Hemingway’s tips are actually applicable to how we write in the social sciences. Continue reading 7 tips from Hemingway on how to write social science