What I Read This Week - 27th May

A short list this week; the sudden onset of summer has made me disinclined, in my free time, to stay indoors with my screens. I have plenty of procrastinating to do, of course, but sitting in the garden re-reading Geoff Dyer on procrastination has seemed much more appealing than trawling through Instapaper. - A Year After the Non-Apocalypse: Where Are They Now? (Tom Bartlett)

If you’re absolutely sure the world is going to end on a specific day, and it doesn’t, what do you do? How do you explain it to yourself? What happens to your faith in God? Can you just scrape the bumper stickers off your car, throw away the t-shirts, and move on?

- How Bad Is It? (George Scialabba at The New Inquiry)

Here is a sample of factlets from surveys and studies conducted in the past twenty years. Seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels. Fifty percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs; in another poll, 70 percent believed that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on earth. Forty percent did not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II. Forty percent could not locate Japan on a world map. Fifteen percent could not locate the United States on a world map.

- The Future of Scholarship: Easier, Harder, and With More Charlatans (Alan Jacobs at The Atlantic)

So how do these changes matter? How do they affect the work of writing, and how we think about the work of writing? I think there are three major ways.

1) They make research -- and getting the research into my documents -- much easier and faster. Obviously.

2) They make it less defensible to cut corners. If I read in a modern book or article a quotation from an old book or article, chances are I can find that original source online: if it's a book, it's likely to be in Google Books or some other site, and if it's an article, the digital archives of periodicals are increasingly complete. There's really no good excuse for failing to track down that original source to make sure it hasn't been quoted inaccurately or out of context, and to see if it contains other useful material.

3) They make it easier to fake erudition. It has never been nearly so easy to give yourself the appearance of learning you do not really have.