Worth Reading - 4/15

1. Everything you know about Ty Cobb may be wrong. The transcript of a lecture given by Charles Leerhsen at Hillsdale College is a longish read, but worthwhile. He outlines his belief that the popular story of Cobb as a dirty player, racist, and overall nasty man is, in part, a myth created by a biographer. His description of his research process has explanatory power, and helps to remind us that much of what we are presented as historical fact may have been well-shaped by the mill of selective reporting.

As I proceeded I found many more stories contradicting the myth. Was he widely hated? An old newspaper clipping reported that the Chicago White Sox gave Cobb an award—remarkably, a set of books; Cobb was known as a voracious reader of history—for being Chicago’s most popular visiting player. And it turns out that when the Detroit Tigers were in town, Ring Lardner, Chicago’s smartest and best sportswriter, bought cheap seats in the outfield so he could spend the game bantering with Cobb.

Did he steal stamps from children? Letters in museums and private collections make abundantly clear that Cobb responded to his young fans, sometimes with handwritten letters that ran to five pages. And he always told them he was honored by their autograph requests.

2. What do we do when science is biased? That appears to be a growing trend. When modern trust in science becomes scientism, the falsification of contemporary scientific data can be problematic.

Many defenders of the scientific establishment will admit to this problem, then offer hymns to the self-correcting nature of the scientific method. Yes, the path is rocky, they say, but peer review, competition between researchers, and the comforting fact that there is an objective reality out there whose test every theory must withstand or fail, all conspire to mean that sloppiness, bad luck, and even fraud are exposed and swept away by the advances of the field.

So the dogma goes. But these claims are rarely treated like hypotheses to be tested. Partisans of the new scientism are fond of recounting the “Sokal hoax”—physicist Alan Sokal submitted a paper heavy on jargon but full of false and meaningless statements to the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text, which accepted and published it without quibble—but are unlikely to mention a similar experiment conducted on reviewers of the prestigious British Medical Journal. The experimenters deliberately modified a paper to include eight different major errors in study design, methodology, data analysis, and interpretation of results, and not a single one of the 221 reviewers who participated caught all of the errors. On average, they caught fewer than two—and, unbelievably, these results held up even in the subset of reviewers who had been specifically warned that they were participating in a study and that there might be something a little odd in the paper that they were reviewing. In all, only 30 percent of reviewers recommended that the intentionally flawed paper be rejected.

If peer review is good at anything, it appears to be keeping unpopular ideas from being published. Consider the finding of another (yes, another) of these replicability studies, this time from a group of cancer researchers. In addition to reaching the now unsurprising conclusion that only a dismal 11 percent of the preclinical cancer research they examined could be validated after the fact, the authors identified another horrifying pattern: The “bad” papers that failed to replicate were, on average, cited far more often than the papers that did! As the authors put it, “some non-reproducible preclinical papers had spawned an entire field, with hundreds of secondary publications that expanded on elements of the original observation, but did not actually seek to confirm or falsify its fundamental basis.”

3. A somewhat edgy post on some of the difficulties of pornography, particular that it tends to objectify women and turn sex into a performance. Though this is not written from a Christian worldview, it illustrates that the real damage of the sexual revolution is not a figment of the Christian imagination. It is a reflection of the disorder of the world.

In the survey report, entitled Don’t send me that pic, participants reported that online sexual abuse and harassment were becoming a normal part of their everyday interactions. And while the behavior seemed so common, more than 80% said it was unacceptable for boyfriends to request naked images.
Sexual bullying and harassment are part of daily life for many girls growing up as a part of this digital generation. Young girls are speaking out more and more about how these practices have links with pornography—because it’s directly affecting them.
Pornography is molding and conditioning the sexual behaviors and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with these porn-saturated boys.

4. The social media echo-chamber is a real phenomenon. It is common on both the right and the left, but seems to be more prevalent on the left. This cuts off people from understanding that there are any people, much less a large number, who see the world differently. It may explain why blatant misrepresentations of laws are allowed to propagate unchecked.

My former classmate's enthusiastic endorsement of the gun video I posted made me consider how my circle of virtual and real-life friends has expanded over the years. The people who have entered it tend to all fall on one side of the political spectrum, and my most intimate interactions are with people who share a majority of my worldview and beliefs.
This is quite common. According to Mitchell, "Nearly half (47 percent) of those with consistently conservative political views and about a third (32 percent) of consistent liberals say that the posts they see are nearly always or mostly in line with their own views." This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the "echo chamber effect."

5. As bad as the latest Superman movie appears to have been (I have not seen it), there seems to be a lesson in it about moral relativity, which gets unpacked in this Canon and Culture article.

Western society has long been the subject of a power struggle. Since the dawn of the Enlightenment, there has been a steady tide attempting to erode belief in the supernatural. More recently, the philosophical assumptions that issue from broad acceptance of an ultimate reality have come into the crosshairs, and nowhere is this more clearly on display than in terms of morality. But substituting faith in a divine or ultimate authority, in favor of naturalism and rationality is not without its consequences. Indeed, while our culture is in fact becoming more secular, such an experiment—at least in America—necessarily severs our ties to the philosophical and ethical moorings that undergird not only our laws, but our national identity. I am confident we have underestimated the cost.

6. Alan Noble offers some humorous small group icebreakers in a column at Christianity Today.

A well-designed icebreaker does just that: it disperses the smokescreen of societal politeness by tricking people into Doing Life Together. Here are just some examples of the kinds of questions you can ask to help your small group feel comfortable sharing deeply personal issues with people they have just met because they attend the other service:
  1. If you could change one thing you dislike about yourself, why haven't you done it already?
  2. If you hadn't married your spouse, who would you have married? Is their life better than yours?
  3. What hidden sin would you not like to confess tonight?