Bob Woodruff: one among many

The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 61 reporters killed in Iraq, 13 killed by the US.

Iraq, the most dangerous place for journalists in 2005, also became the deadliest conflict for the media in CPJ’s 24-year history. A total of 60 journalists have been killed on duty in Iraq from the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 through the end of 2005. The toll surpasses the 58 journalists killed in the Algerian conflict from 1993 to 1996.

Reporters without borders lists 79 dead.

I wonder if this recent serious wounding of Bob Woodruff will finally make people notice?

Cut-rate professors, education done cheap

As is their habit, the Chronicle of Higher Ed has published another cockeyed article, this time arguing that the problem with the budgets of universities are all those expensive faculty, and suggesting that a solution would be outsourcing the instruction and turning the professorate into a collection of market-efficient middle managers. Profgrrrrl takes that whole idea apart, so I don’t have to.

The whole purpose of a university is to provide a space for the play of ideas among those faculty, in an environment where young men and women students can be participants and learn to contribute. The whole point is the people, and that’s why the number one priority of a university is (or ought to be) to fund a community of scholars who are actively involved in sharing their knowledge.

For someone to claim that the money spent on the people needs to be redirected, and that the people should become managers instead of scholars and communicators and teachers…well, they’re missing the whole point. I suppose some beancounter could analyze an automobile plant and declare, “Well, you’re spending an awful lot of money building these…whaddayacallems, car thingies…you could become much more efficient if you built fewer of them. Or at least cut corners and left out that costly ‘engine’ thingumabob.” It sure would. And universities would be much cheaper to run if we decided that all they were for is to house a few attendants to manage the parking lots.

By the way, my university, UMM, gets it. The administration here is working hard to raise faculty salaries and maintain parity with comparable institutions despite the all-too-typical hard financial times we’re all in. I think they know that the way to maintain the viability of the institution is to invest in the critical, irreplaceable resources, the faculty. Our virtue is that we’re supposed to be a place with smart, interesting professors who are directly involved with our student body—why would any student want to go to a place where they phone in assignments to harried, cookie-cutter ‘managers’ in cubicles?

Bad business at the Burke

Chris Clarke sent me some unfortunate news about my alma mater, the University of Washington. There’s a scandal brewing at the Burke Museum, involving a retired curator of vertebrate paleontology, John M. Rensberger. The Seattle Weekly has published a series on the troubles, with a professional evaluation of the collection. Basically, the Burke has a beautiful assemblage of vertebrate fossils, but their collection was very poorly documented (scribbled notes on scraps of brown paper bags?), and there are also allegations that many of the collecting trips were made without permits or permission—so ownership of at least some of the specimens is up in the air. It’s not a pretty story.

I have to hammer on a theme I’ve pounded on here before. Science is not a collection of facts. Science is not a fossil in a display case. Science is a process—it is the meticulous documentation of observation and experiment, with full transparency about how conclusions were derived, so others can evaluate them independently. This is just as true in a largely historical science like paleontology as it is for an experimental science like molecular genetics.

If the allegations against Rensberger are valid, then I do deplore the ethical lapses they represent, and also the administrative incompetence that has allowed the problem to build despite complaints over decades. Even worse to me, though, is the fact that he betrayed fundamental scientific principles, and 30 years worth of work on that collection has been undermined. Without a solid, replicable methodology and documented provenance for each specimen, it wasn’t science.

He’s usually such a pleasant fellow…

…but I guess everyone has their snapping point. Jaquandor doesn’t usually snarl at people, but he’s done a fine takedown of wingnut stupidity.

What tipped him over? Jonah Goldberg. I can’t blame him—I studiously avoid NRO’s corner because it reminds me too painfully of how idiotic some people can be. The NRO gang are just freepers with Buckleyesque pretensions.