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Posts Tagged ‘Columbia University

I choose… me!

People in Western countries drown in choice. Want a T-shirt? Thousands of alternatives await you. Want some toothpaste? Sit down, we could be here a while. Many people see these options as a good thing – they’re a sign of our independence, our freedom, our mastery over our own destinies. But these apparent positives have a dark side.

Krishna Savani from Columbia University has found that when Americans think about the concept of choice, they’re less concerned about the public good and less empathic towards disadvantaged people. His work supports the idea that endless arrays of choice focus our attention on individual control and, by doing so, they send a message that people’s fates are their own concerns. Their lives are not the business of the state or public institutions, and if they fail, it is their own fault. With choices at hand, Americans are more likely to choose themselves.

Savani’s experiments and their results make for pretty bracing reading.  Still, he notes, not all cultures react the same way.  And as for Americans,

… Savani points out that the US is one of the world’s most charitable countries. He writes, “If Americans believe that they are choosing to help other people out of their free will, or if they can affirm their selves through making choices for other people, they may be even more charitable.” The problem lies more with “choice for choice’s sake.”

Read the whole story in Discover.

As we resolve to simplify, we might recall that it was on this date in 1718 that London lawyer, writer, and inventor, James Puckle patented  a multi-shot gun mounted on a stand capable of firing up to nine rounds per minute– the first machine gun.

Puckle’s innovation was as formative in the realm of intellectual property as it was in the martial arena:  Quoth to the Patent Office of the United Kingdom,”In the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain, the law officers of the Crown established as a condition of patent that the inventor must in writing describe the invention and the manner in which it works.” Puckle’s machine gun patent was among the first to provide such a description.

source and larger view, with transcription

Shine on…

click on the image above, or here, for larger version (well worth doing)

Amateur astronomer Alan Friedman captured this photo of the surface of the sun.  As Discover‘s Bad Astronomy reports:

The scene-stealer is that detached prominence [that appears to be a cloud] off to the left. That’s the leftover material ejected from the Sun by an erupting sunspot (you can see other sunspots in the picture as well). The gas is ionized — a plasma — and so it’s affected by magnetic fields. The material follows the magnetic field of the Sun in the explosion, lifting it off the surface and into space. Sometimes it falls back, and sometimes it leaves the Sun entirely. In this case, Alan caught some of the material at what looks like the top of its trajectory.

The beauty of this picture belies its violence and sheer magnitude: the mass of material in a prominence can easily top 10 billion tons! As for size, see that dark elongated sunspot near the base of the prominence, just to the right of the bigger, speckly one? That spot is roughly twice the size of the Earth.

We’ve come a long way since the discovery of sun spots in 1611… but that too was the work of a gifted and dedicated amateur.

As we raise our SPFs, we might recall that on this date in 1957, a star of a different sort fell when Charles van Doren’s winning streak on the television game show Twenty One came to an end.  Van Doren was a young Columbia professor at the time, the scion of a storied family: son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and literary critic/teacher Mark Van Doren and novelist and writer Dorothy Van Doren, and nephew of critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Carl Van Doren.  This pedigree, along with an academic resume that included St. Johns, Cambridge, and Columbia and advanced degrees in both astrophysics and English, made him a natural for the broad general knowledge challenge of the quiz show.

And indeed, in January of 1957, Van Doren started a winning run that ultimately earned him more than $129,000 (more than $1 million in 2009 dollars) and made him famous (he graced the the cover of Time on February 11, 1957). His reign ended when he lost to Vivienne Nearing (a lawyer whose husband Van Doren had previously beaten).

Subsequently, allegations were made that Van Doren has cheated; and in 1959, he testified before a House investigatory committee that he had been given questions and answers in advance of the show:

I was involved, deeply involved, in a deception… I asked (co-producer Albert Freedman) to let me go on (Twenty One) honestly, without receiving help. He said that was impossible. He told me that I would not have a chance to defeat Stempel [the long-running champ before Van Doren knocked him off] because he was too knowledgeable. He also told me that the show was merely entertainment and that giving help to quiz contests was a common practice and merely a part of show business. This of course was not true, but perhaps I wanted to believe him. He also stressed the fact that by appearing on a nationally televised program I would be doing a great service to the intellectual life, to teachers and to education in general, by increasing public respect for the work of the mind through my performances. In fact, I think I have done a disservice to all of them. I deeply regret this, since I believe nothing is of more vital importance to our civilization than education.

Vivienne Nearing, host Jack Barry, and Charles Van Doren (source)

 

I’m looking through you…

It is perhaps a sign of the times?  In any case, Eizo (more specifically, the German medical imaging subsidiary of the Japanese company) has issued a pin-up calendar that cuts right to the bone:

Miss September

See them all at Advertolog.  (TotH to UFUNK)

As we think again about responding to the X-Ray Specs ad in the back of that comic book, we might recall that on this date in 1768, the first commencement of a U.S. medical college was held at the College of Philadelphia (now, The University of Pennsylvania.)  With the establishment of a the Department of Medicine in 1765, CoP had become the first medical school in the U.S.

The institution granted ten Bachelor of Medicine degrees at this first commencement. Being alphabetically at the head of the list, John Archer became the  first doctor in the U.S. to receive such a degree. Four of these ten also received a Doctor of Medicine degree from the college three years later, in 1771. (The first Doctor of Medicine degree was granted in 1770 at King’s College– now Columbia University– in New York.)

The University of Pennsylvania Medical School (Originally, instruction took place in a wooden building, Surgeon’s Hall)

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