May. 8th, 2012

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I am an intellectual snob in many ways. I've noticed this about myself: when I read the newspaper in which the results of data-driven studies are reported, my first thought is not, "Oh, how interesting to observe this connection between X and Y," but rather, "Did they control for Z? Are they aware that there could be a selection bias? They know it's just correlation, not causation, right?" Sometimes this sort of skepticism is justified. I remember in particular an article in which some breakthrough in cancer research is supposed to be able to provide a cure, according to the headline and journalist, but in the interview with the actual researcher they print unabashedly a direct quote in which the researcher says that, in fact, the research is beginning to show that there might be a connection that, in five years or so, if it holds through further research, might allow researchers to exploit it to improve treatment outcomes.

Most of the time, my reaction to these news stories does not necessarily reflect any disbelief in the findings, but arises from pure cussedness. My mother has often quoted me announcing, at the age of nine or so, that I loved correcting people, and it seems that this personality trait has not faded with age. Whenever I hear about new research, my first instinct is to pick holes in it, even when it's in a field (like cancer research) that I know very, very little about. I've taken about a semester and a half of fairly shallow statistical training, and from that I tend to think that I know more about statistical analysis than the researchers whose work is being reported. (I may know more than the journalists reporting it, but I doubt the experimenters themselves failed to control for all those nuisance variables*.) I try to fight against it, but sometimes I run up against the sort of thing that makes my intellectually elitist sensibilities crawl, and for that, I turn here. Please be warned: this is an extremely snotty post about people whom I consider less able than myself, and it will probably be disagreeable to read if you have any amount of empathy for your fellow man or any reasonable amount of healthy aversion to self-satisfied entitled snobs. I am aware that people who participate in the sorts of crimes against academia (or simply against my own preferences) described below are good, honest people who have the same goals in mind that I have, but what I've written below expresses none of this empathy; rather, it is an outpouring of disdain at how these people go about their goals in ways that I disapprove of.

Hey, kids! Get off my Ivory Lawn! )

Sometimes, however, I do step out from the Ivory Tower, and often I am charmed by what I find. Most recently the thing that charmed me was seeing The Avengers with [personal profile] summercomfort. I thought it was great. I don't think I'm invested enough in the series to write a long reaction to it as [personal profile] newredshoes did, but I will make one comment. A number of people on the internet have commented that it was disappointing how evil Loki became, and how the sense of tortured uncertainty about his own identity and the indignation at the people who kept his true nature from him that so characterized Thor are entirely missing from The Avengers. He turned from a terrific, ambiguous, human antagonist to a fairly standard villain. I agree that this is disappointing given Tom Hiddleston's wonderful portrayal of the more complex Loki from Thor, but I actually think that the entirely evil one worked well. Most importantly, it worked well because it was based on the fact that this Loki fellow isn't human. Human emotion, human mercy mean nothing to him. The whole metaphor of him being a boot and humans being ants is good for making him seem callously evil, but it's also good for emphasizing the otherness of this kind of villain, and if it's done well an entirely other villain is just as good as a complex, conflicted human villain. Indeed, this is one reason I so like the portrayals of Faerie that we find in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. They aren't good or evil; they're just strange in a way we can't comprehend, and I for one would be very interested in seeing this side of Loki being exploited more. (It would be even more interesting to see it come out a bit in Thor as well, who is no more human than Loki, but I doubt that will happen.)

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philena

July 2014

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