Physicists Accepting Theories Based on Elegance Rather than Evidence

(p. 5) Do physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?
. . .
A few months ago in the journal Nature, two leading researchers, George Ellis and Joseph Silk, published a controversial piece called “Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics.” They criticized a newfound willingness among some scientists to explicitly set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today’s most ambitious cosmic theories — so long as those theories are “sufficiently elegant and explanatory.” Despite working at the cutting edge of knowledge, such scientists are, for Professors Ellis and Silk, “breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical.”
Whether or not you agree with them, the professors have identified a mounting concern in fundamental physics: Today, our most ambitious science can seem at odds with the empirical methodology that has historically given the field its credibility.

For the full commentary, see:
ADAM FRANK and MARCELO GLEISER. “Gray Matter; A Crisis at the Edge of Physics.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JUNE 7, 2015): 5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is JUNE 5, 2015, and has the title “A Crisis at the Edge of Physics.”)

The controversial Nature article, mentioned above, is:
Ellis, George, and Joe Silk. “Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics.” Nature 516, no. 7531 (Dec. 18, 2014): 321-23.

Not Clear If Net Neutrality Is Good for Consumers

(p. B2) Of course, government antitrust and communications policy is supposed to benefit consumers, not any individual company or group of companies. “It’s fair to say Netflix has gotten something of a free pass,” said Scott Hemphill, visiting professor of antitrust and intellectual property at New York University School of Law. “This open Internet principle that’s in ascendance is certainly good for Netflix. It’s harder to say it’s good for consumers.”
. . .
Despite Netflix’s arguments that it shouldn’t have to pay fees to a broadband provider, that proposition is hardly self-evident. The fees Netflix so fiercely opposes are analogous to those found in many industries, such as credit cards, where both consumers and merchants pay the credit card companies. “It’s hard to say if these fees are good or bad for consumers,” Professor Hemphill said.

For the full story, see:
JAMES B. STEWART. “Common Sense; Netflix’s Invisible Hand In Policy and Mergers.” The New York Times (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): B2-B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 28, 2015, and has the title “Her Majesty’s Jihadists” which was also the title used on the cover, but not at the start of the actual article on p. 42, which has the title “Common Sense; How Netflix Keeps Finding Itself on the Same Side as Regulators.”)

Too Many Rules Results in “Adherence Instead of Audacity”

(p. 159) . . . Wong found a distinct downside to this division of labor. “Put all the directed requirements together and the life of a company commander is spent executing somebody else’s good ideas.” Too many rules and requirements “removes all discretion” and stifles the development of flexible officers, resulting in “reactive instead of proactive thought, compliance instead of creativity, and adherence instead of audacity.” These are not the kinds of officers the army needs in unpredictable and quickly changing situations where specific orders are absent and military protocol is unclear. The army is creating cooks, says Wong, leaders who are “quite adept at carrying out a recipe,” rather than chefs who can “look at the ingredients available to them and create a meal.” Wong found a number of top brass who agreed. Retired General Wesley Clark observed that senior army leaders have “gone too far in over-planning, over-prescribing, and over-controlling.” The consequence, according to retired General Frederick Kroesen, is that “initiative is stymied, and decision making is replaced by waiting to be told…. There is no more effective way to destroy the leadership potential of young officers and noncommissioned officers than to deny them opportunities to make decisions appropriate for their assignments.”
The same thing can be said about public school teachers.

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
(Note: first ellipsis added; second in original.)

Competition between Greek City-States “Led to Specialization and Innovation”

(p. C8) Mr. Ober’s approach is theoretical, not narrative-driven. When he does discuss the specifics of classical history, in the second half of the book, he does so largely to support the theses he has developed in the first half about the key causes of Greece’s rise.
These causes, in Mr. Ober’s view, derived from the competitive world of small, self-governing city-states that emerged in Greece starting around 800 B.C. Competition between states led to specialization and innovation, as exemplified by the high-grade ceramics industry at Athens, and to a spirit of “rational cooperation” among the members of each polity (think of those ants). Within each state, self-governance created what Mr. Ober terms “rule egalitarianism”: a sense of fairness and security that “encouraged investment in human capital and lowered transaction costs.” The result was a rise not only in standards of living but also in civic pride, technological progress and refinement of artisanship.
. . .
It’s no accident that Mr. Ober’s terminology overlaps with the language of modern economics–“creative destruction” is a phrase he uses frequently. He wants to encourage comparisons between ancient Greece and the modern West. They offer two examples of “political and economic exceptionalism,” featuring both pluralistic government and the rapid growth of wealth.

For the full review, see:
James Romm. “Greeks and Their Gifts; Competition among self-governing city-states led to specialization, innovation and cooperation.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 23, 2015): C8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 22, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Ober, Josiah. The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

“You Can’t Get Married if You’re Dead”

(p. A15) On Friday my phone was blowing up with messages, asking if I’d seen the news. Some expressed disbelief at the headlines. Many said they were crying.
None of them were talking about the dozens of people gunned down in Sousse, Tunisia, by a man who, dressed as a tourist, had hidden his Kalashnikov inside a beach umbrella. Not one was crying over the beheading in a terrorist attack at a chemical factory near Lyon, France. The victim’s head was found on a pike near the factory, his body covered with Arabic inscriptions. And no Facebook friends mentioned the first suicide bombing in Kuwait in more than two decades, in which 27 people were murdered in one of the oldest Shiite mosques in the country.
They were talking about the only news that mattered: gay marriage.
. . .
The barbarians are at our gates. But inside our offices, schools, churches, synagogues and homes, we are posting photos of rainbows on Twitter. It’s easier to Photoshop images of Justice Scalia as Voldemort than it is to stare evil in the face.
You can’t get married if you’re dead.

For the full commentary, see:
BARI WEISS. “Love Among the Ruins; Hurrah for gay marriage. But why do supporters save their vitriol for its foes instead of the barbarians at our gates?” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 27, 2015): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 26, 2015.)

Youth Become Jihadists to Do Something Important in the World

(p. 42) Maher, a 33-year-old historian of medium height and medium build with a neatly trimmed beard, is an expert on Salafi jihadism.
. . .
(p. 47) “If I had been 30 years older, I probably would have become a Communist,” Maher went on. “And even now, when I meet some of my friends who also used to be in Tahrir, we all agree that, yes, if we were 10 years younger, we’d probably be off fighting in Syria or Iraq. Can you imagine, a 20-year-old kid whose peers are getting drunk, obsessed with finding a girlfriend, as opposed to doing something in Syria or Iraq that, within an hour, gets a response from the president of the United States? Obama doesn’t know what a 25-year-old manager at Primark does, but if he goes to Syria and becomes involved with the Islamic State, he goes from being the manager of a second-rate clothing store to someone giving headaches to the president of the United States.”

For the full story, see:
MARY ANNE WEAVER. “Why Do They Go?” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., APRIL 19, 2015): 42-47 & 58-60.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the date of the online version of the story is APRIL 14, 2015, and has the title “Her Majesty’s Jihadists” which was also the title used on the cover, but not at the start of the actual article on p. 42, which has the title “Why Do They Go?”)

Officers Used to Learn from Trial and Error in Training Their Units

(p. 156) In the army, wartime experience is considered the best possible teacher, at least for those who survive the first weeks. Wong found another good one–the practice junior officers get while training their units. The decisions these officers have to make as teachers help develop the capacity for the judgment they will need on the battlefield. But Wong discovered that in the 1980s, the army had begun to restructure training in ways that had the opposite results.
Traditionally, company commanders had the opportunity to plan, (p. 157) execute, and assess the training they gave their units. “Innovation,” Wong explained, “develops when an officer is given a minimal number of parameters (e.g., task, condition, and standards) and the requisite time to plan and execute the training. Giving the commanders time to create their own training develops confidence in operating within the boundaries of a higher commander’s intent without constant supervision.” The junior officers develop practical wisdom through their teaching of trainees, but only if their teaching allows them discretion and flexibility. Just as psychologist Karl Weick found studying firefighters, experience applying a limited number of guidelines teaches soldiers how to improvise in dangerous situations.
Wong’s research showed that the responsibility for training at the company level was being taken away from junior officers. First, the time they needed was being eaten away by “cascading requirements” placed on company commanders from above. There was, Wong explained, such a “rush by higher headquarters to incorporate every good idea into training” that “the total number of training days required by all mandatory training directives literally exceeds the number of training days available to company commanders. Company commanders somehow have to fit 297 days of mandatory requirements into 256 available training days.” On top of this, there were administrative requirements to track data on as many as 125 items, including sexual responsibility training, family care packets, community volunteer hours, and even soldiers who had vehicles with Firestone tires.
Second, headquarters increasingly dictated what would be trained and how it would be trained, essentially requiring commanders “to follow a script.” Commanders lost the opportunity to analyze their units’ weaknesses and plan the training accordingly. Worse, headquarters took away the “assessment function” from battalion commanders. Certifying units as “ready” was now done from the top.
The learning through trial and error that taught officers how to improvise, Wong found, happens when officers try to plan an action, (p. 158) then actually execute it and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Officers who did not have to adhere to strict training protocols were in an excellent position to learn because they could immediately see results, make adjustments, and assess how well their training regimens were working. And most important, it was this kind of experience that taught the commanders how to improvise, which helped them learn to be flexible, adaptive, and creative on the battlefield. Wong was concerned about changes in the training program because they squeezed out these learning experiences; they prevented officers from experiencing the wisdom-nurturing cycle of planning, executing the plan, assessing what worked and didn’t, reevaluating the original plan, and trying again.

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
(Note: italics in original.)

Video Games Tap into an Ancient Way to Process the World

(p. 30) “What looks like escapist fun is actually deep concentration,” [Greg Toppo] says of the increasingly sophisticated video games that now occupy a major role in popular culture. “What looks like a 21st-century, flashy, high-tech way to keep kids entertained is in fact a tool that taps into an ancient way to process, explore and understand the world.”
. . .
As the parent of a young child, I began “The Game Believes in You” thinking of video games as a kind of menace. I finished it believing that games are one of the most promising opportunities to liberate children from the damaging effects of schools that are hostile to fun.

For the full review, see:
KEVIN CAREY. “THE SHORTLIST; Education.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 19, 2015): 30.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed name, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 17, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Toppo, Greg. The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2015.

“Secure in the Knowledge that She Has Other Opportunities”

(p. A11) . . . , Professor Higgins notes that it is Eliza’s “curbstone English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days.” He boasts that with a few months under his instruction, she could get a job “as a lady’s maid or a shop’s assistant.”
The next morning, Eliza appears at Professor Higgins’s doorstep to hire him to teach her English because she wants to be “a lady in a flow’r shop, ‘stead of sellin’ at the corner of Tottenham Court Road.” He accepts.
Note the assumptions. Eliza didn’t place her hope in new regulations for street-side flower mongering. For Eliza, upward mobility was about acquiring the skills she needed to get ahead, in this case proper English and the manners that went with it.
. . .
In the end, the only real leverage a worker has over a boss is her ability to tell him where to get off–secure in the knowledge that she has other opportunities. Which is exactly what Eliza Doolittle does at the end, when she’s acquired the English and manners that mean she no longer has to put up with the bullying of Professor Henry Higgins.

For the full commentary, see:
WILLIAM MCGURN. “MAIN STREET; Audrey Hepburn Teaches Economics; Progressives rushing to help New York nail-salon workers should rent a copy of ‘My Fair Lady’.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 26, 2015): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 25, 2015.)