Saturday, September 27, 2008

Science Writing

I've been nose deep into the book I mentioned earlier -- Richard Dawkins - The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing - It really is a great set of essays. I could easily imagine teaching an entire semester-long class on the philosophy of science using this book as the central text. The range of notions about the process of science covered in the volume is vast. And from these writing snippets emerges the most intricate and textured account of science that I can imagine. Personally, I find a lot of strength in the work that suggests that the struggle for building a science of human cultural change is worth all the crap that gets lobbied by the dismissive many. I highly recommend this massive tome to anyone wondering whether all the hassle of actually doing science (versus pretending, following rote and tradition, or simply not caring) is worth the effort.

Random Copying

Just came across this blog that references a paper that Jelmer and I did on cultural transmission.:

the blog is by an Estonian researcher in educational technology: Kai Pata. I love the way the web makes these kinds of world-wide, cross-disciplinary connections possible.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shoggorific and Bad Writing.

Bob O'Hara has some good pointers on bad writing and what to do about it. As an instructor, I see a lot of bad writing. Lots. Much of it comes from a lack of structure and logic to the arguments being made. The sentences themselves may be fine, but the paragraphs are a jumble of ideas that are themselves jumbled together. I've asked some of these students how they know when they have a paragraph and the answers I've gotten range from "when the text gets too long" to "I dunno." Sad. It is as though they were instructed in the mechanics of writing sentences (subject, object, verb) but not how to think and put together a set of ideas into a coherent argument. This kind of bad writing is hard to edit and to grade since the text has no point to it and gives me a blinding headache.

Well, anyways, rather than read my own bad writing on this subject, one might get some good pointers from Bob O'Hara's blog (and man, does he look like an intense dude!).

The Hierarchical Structure of Bad Writing

MONDAY, 19 MAY 2008 - 19:53 UTC
Over the past couple of months at Nature Network, there have been a variety of discussions about good writing (these discussions seems to have started shortly after I arrived. Are they trying to tell me something?). One of the early well written papers was commended for the quality of the language, which was simple and clear, and so enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, many papers have sentences that seem to be written with a different aim: to loose the reader in a whirl of syntactic complexities before finally beating them over the head with a dangling modifier, painfully.

This is not, alas, the only way a paper can be badly written. There is a whole hierarchy of levels of str [From The Hierarchical Structure of Bad Writing - Deep Thoughts and Silliness - Bob O'Hara's blog on Nature Network]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sabbatical progress

Although I've been a bit too involved in the business of the Anthropology Department due to the continued barrage of de-construction of the archaeology program by Le Chair, I've been slowly achieving some of my sabbatical goals. I'm trying to find a mix of sloth and productivity that allows me to de-rez my brain while at the same time getting some of the fun things done that I've been hankering to do. I guess Im trying to achieve the surfer scientist archetype. So far, I've:

- improved my surfing quite a bit and am finally working on turns and getting more out of the waves. My new Bruce Jones nose-riding long board is seeing much more use and is become my standard board. I still love the SurfTech softtop though.

- have become largely paperless in my office by getting a student to scan-to-pdf all my old articles and materials that used to fill 4 filing cabinets. The key to this is a productive student and the Fujitsu ScanSnap.

- completed and submitted the AD 1680 paper for publication. Also, as of yesterday, the mata'a seriaiton paper. And a paper to Pacific Science.

- finished the wood work project in the living room that I started about 2 years ago.

- am on the brink of the book proposal going out to editors of a dozen publishing houses. Wednesday could be the day.

- ripped apart my office and added a sweet leather couch and coffee table. And am replacing the desk with something less prison-industry looking. Hopefully painting as well.

- created a proposal, marketing material, assessment plan, advising guideline for a BA in Archaeology. Working on getting this passed through the labyrinth of CSULB committees.

- improved percentage of napping to work by nearly 50%

- generating OSL dates for Jelmer and my Brownware Ceramics projects.

I think, though, I still need to increase the surfing/writing percentage by quite a bit.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Publishing Archaeology: What do we mean by “urban”? Comments on definitions and standards of scholarship

If I was teaching my method and theory class fall (I'm not as I'm on sabbatical - w00t). I would have my students ready this discussion by Michael Smith about the use of terminology in archaeology. I would ask them to write a short essay which asks them to consider "Why is Smith arguing that we need definitions and standards of scholarship in archaeology? What assumptions is he making about the discipline and what it lacks? What else might be contributing to this problem? What solutions are there?." I think most of my ANTH 455/555 (Archaeological Method and Theory I: Formal Theory) students could provide a decent evaluation of what Smith is arguing.

Publishing Archaeology

Monday, September 15, 2008

What do we mean by “urban”? Comments on definitions and standards of scholarship

What do we mean by “urban”? Can archaeologists define terms like this however we please? Should journals go along with idiosyncratic definitions?

In a recent article in the journal Science, Michael Heckenberger et al (2008) use the term “urban” to describe large village settlements in the Xingu region of the Amazon from the late Pre-Columbian period. These sites conform to no published or recognized definition of “urban” that I am aware of. They are far too small to fit the demographic definition of urbanism and they do not have concentrated urban functions required by the functional definition of urbanism (for discussions of these approaches to urban definition, see Smith 1989, 2008b). I sent off a letter to the editor of Science pointing this out, but as usual, the letter was not accepted. You can see it here.

My concern here is with the issue of i [From Publishing Archaeology: What do we mean by “urban”? Comments on definitions and standards of scholarship]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Darth Vader vs. Mylos

This weekend old friends from Seattle visited - Syd and Tom with their two boys, Eamon and Mylos. Tom and I got a way in the mornings for a bit of righteous surfing at Seal Beach but most of the weekend was dedicated to the boys. I think the highlight of the whole weekend occurred at Disneyland on Saturday where Mylos battled Darth Vader in the Jedi Academy. Notice Mylos' standard issue jedi cape and green crocs. May the force be with you!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rules for Powerpoint

Many SAA presenters will probably benefit from watching this video on YouTube:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde: Tumult I: The reviewers said what?

Some interesting discussion and observations about the rather random process of manuscript reviews..

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde
I'm a postdoc in the biological sciences. I can't decide if I work too much or not enough. I'm married to Dr. Hyde, a fabulous scientist himself, and we're trying, despite some obstacles, to fulfill our Darwinian mandate by having a child or two. The title and pseudonym? One name at work, another at home.
Tumult I: The reviewers said what?
We finally found out why the official response on my manuscript was "No Editorial Decision At This Time."

Turns out, although all three reviews were quite positive, only one of the three reviewers recommended that the manuscript be published in this journal.

The other two recommended the dreaded "Appropriate for a more specialized journal."

I was rather shocked by this news. These (now totally loathed) two reviewers had written things like

" I found the results interesting and intriguing. They represent one of the first serious attempts to understand poogly-plugs at the cellular level. Thus, th [From Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde: Tumult I: The reviewers said what?]

Saturday, September 6, 2008

In Memory of...

I just received Melissa Brown's edited volume "Explaining Culture Scientifically" which was published by the University of Washington Press. The title of the book is interesting as it is either oxymoronic (given how most anthropologists treat the concept culture) or redundant (given how some of the folks in the book treat culture). Actually, the book contains discussion and examples of both interpretations.

Most interestingly, the books dedication is to the Department of Anthropological Sciences at Stanford University. This now defunct attempt at carving out an anthropology that has distinctly scientific goals, was once a bright example of the different products embedded in the quagmire that is Anthropology. Sadly, much of the engine behind the splitting of the "cultural" and "scientific" anthropology was composed of ill-fitting personalities rather than central principles. Still, for many of us, it was a bold statement. Quite fittingly, the dedication reads:

In memory of

the Department of Anthropological Sciences

at Stanford University


with hopes that what might have bloomed there

will find other soil in which to grow.

Here, here.


Friday, September 5, 2008

The Tree of Prehistory

Just for kicks - a mosaic of pointed biface photos derived from Kris Wilhelmsen's dissertation research.

mask Mosaic.JPG