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“Peer review as practiced today is a form of hazing”*…

 

Digs-Iraq-Cuneiform-REVISED

Cuneiform Letter from the astrologer Marduk-šapik-zeri to the Neo-Assyrian king Esarhaddon

The advance of science depends on the communications of research and experimental findings so that they can be, first, replicated and verified or refuted; then broadly understood by the scientific community.  Historically, that communication has depended largely on scientific journals, the primary vehicles of that dissemination.  The integrity of the system has depended on the peer-review process:  the examination of scientific papers submitted for journal publication by a jury of “peers” (in practice, usually very senior practitioners of the discipline in question) who evaluate the methodology and findings being reported and pass on whether or not they are “publishable.”

With the advent of the web, this system is loosening.  Scientists are sharing “pre-prints” in sites like arXiv, reaching around the journals’ referees to reach their communities at large.  Still, the feedback that they get is a form of peer review…

While we tend to date the birth of the scientific method, and this approach, to the early 17th century and the thinking of Bacon and Descartes, archaeologists suggest that the approach might have have much deeper roots…

In some respects, the life of a Mesopotamian scholar in the seventh century B.C. was not so very different from that of a modern academic. While the former might be responsible for reporting on celestial phenomena and whether they augur well for the king’s reign, and the latter might be searching for evidence of a new subatomic particle to better understand the origins of the universe, in either case, one’s reputation among colleagues is paramount.

Let’s take, for example, the lot of an unnamed astrologer who was subjected to a vicious onslaught of peer review from some of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s top minds after claiming to have sighted Venus around 669 B.C. In a letter to the king Esarhaddon (r. 680–669 B.C.), a fellow stargazer named Nabû-ahhe-eriba, who was part of the inner circle of royal scholars, inveighed, “(He who) wrote to the king, my lord, ‘The planet Venus is visible, it is visible (in the month Ad)ar,’ is a vile man, an ignoramus, a cheat!” Slightly more charitable, though still cutting, was a scholar named Balasî, who tutored the crown prince Ashurbanipal (r. 668–627 B.C.). “(T)he man who wrote (thus) to the king, (my lord), is in ignorance,” Balasî informed Esarhaddon. “The ig(noramus)—who is he?…I repeat: He does not understand (the difference) between Mercury and Venus.”

These quotations are excerpts from just two of around 1,000 letters and reports written by scholars to Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal in cuneiform on clay tablets that were discovered during nineteenth-century excavations of the archives of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, near Mosul in Iraq, including Ashurbanipal’s library…

The perils of peer review– what was old is new again: “Ancient academia.”

* John Hawks

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As we contemplate constructive criticism, we might send repetitious birthday greetings to Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie; he was born on this date in 1857.  A pharmacist who began practicing as a psychologist, Coué opened a clinic in Nancy, and introduced a method of psychotherapy characterized by frequent repetition of the formula, je vais de mieux en mieux, “Every day, and in every way, I am becoming better and better”; he counseled his patients to repeat this 15 to 20 times, morning and evening. This method of autosuggestion came to be called Couéism, and was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. (Norman Vincent Peale’s brand of positive thinking was rooted in part in Coué’s work.)  The popular press raved about his approach, even as the medical and psychological establishment dismissed it.  And as the seemingly positive results he achieved with his patients faded– as they seemed for the most part to do– so did enthusiasm for the Coué method.  Still, one can hear its echo in approaches alive today, for instance neuro-linguistic programming.

A contemporary, Rev. Charles Inge, captured Coué’s simplistic method in a limerick (1928): “This very remarkable man / Commends a most practical plan: / You can do what you want / If you don’t think you can’t, / So don’t think you can’t think you can.”

220px-Émile_Coué_3 source

 

The Secret? Never leave home without your toothbrush…

source

From Amazon.com, a review (verbatim, but for the reviewer’s name, which he disclosed) of Rhonda Byrne’s best-seller, The Secret:

8,261 of 8,553 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars The Secret saved my life!, December 4, 2007
By     xxxxxxxxxxxxx (Kensington, CA United States) – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)

Please allow me to share with you how “The Secret” changed my life and in a very real and substantive way allowed me to overcome a severe crisis in my personal life. It is well known that the premise of “The Secret” is the science of attracting the things in life that you desire and need and in removing from your life those things that you don’t want. Before finding this book, I knew nothing of these principles, the process of positive visualization, and had actually engaged in reckless behaviors to the point of endangering my own life and wellbeing.
At age 36, I found myself in a medium security prison serving 3-5 years for destruction of government property and public intoxication. This was stiff punishment for drunkenly defecating in a mailbox but as the judge pointed out, this was my third conviction for the exact same crime. I obviously had an alcohol problem and a deep and intense disrespect for the postal system, but even more importantly I was ignoring the very fabric of our metaphysical reality and inviting destructive influences into my life.
My fourth day in prison was the first day that I was allowed in general population and while in the recreation yard I was approached by a prisoner named Marcus who calmly informed me that as a new prisoner I had been purchased by him for three packs of Winston cigarettes and 8 ounces of Pruno (prison wine). Marcus elaborated further that I could expect to be raped by him on a daily basis and that I had pretty eyes.
Needless to say, I was deeply shocked that my life had sunk to this level. Although I’ve never been homophobic I was discovering that I was very rape phobic and dismayed by my overall personal street value of roughly $15. I returned to my cell and sat very quietly, searching myself for answers on how I could improve my life and distance myself from harmful outside influences. At that point, in what I consider to be a miraculous moment, my cell mate Jim Norton informed me that he knew about the Marcus situation and that he had something that could solve my problems. He handed me a copy of “The Secret”. Normally I wouldn’t have turned to a self help book to resolve such a severe and immediate threat but I literally didn’t have any other available alternatives. I immediately opened the book and began to read.
The first few chapters deal with the essence of something called the “Law of Attraction” in which a primal universal force is available to us and can be harnessed for the betterment of our lives. The theoretical nature of the first few chapters wasn’t exactly putting me at peace. In fact, I had never meditated and had great difficulty with closing out the chaotic noises of the prison and visualizing the positive changes that I so dearly needed. It was when I reached Chapter 6 “The Secret to Relationships” that I realized how this book could help me distance myself from Marcus and his negative intentions. Starting with chapter six there was a cavity carved into the book and in that cavity was a prison shiv. This particular shiv was a toothbrush with a handle that had been repeatedly melted and ground into a razor sharp point.
The next day in the exercise yard I carried “The Secret” with me and when Marcus approached me I opened the book and stabbed him in the neck. The next eight weeks in solitary confinement provided ample time to practice positive visualization and the 16 hours per day of absolute darkness made visualization about the only thing that I actually could do. I’m not sure that everybody’s life will be changed in such a dramatic way by this book but I’m very thankful to have found it and will continue to recommend it heartily.

Finally, a self-help book that actually helps.

As we practice our exercise yard etiquette, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that George Foreman– Olympic Gold Medalist, sire of a long line of eponymously-named sons, and front man for a counter-top grilling empire– became the oldest Heavyweight boxing champion in history.

The Champ

Written by LW

November 5, 2009 at 1:01 am

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