Occasionally we find ourselves humanists on the moon here at the Chicago Blog, though not without sensitivity towards our more rarefied friends who yield to Aristotle and the laws of nature. Scientists: those chroniclers of phenomena and behavior with interesting Kepler tattoos and jokes about Karl Popper and inductivism. We kid? But we do wish to point out the interesting—and complicated—space that emerges when works in the history and philosophy of science meet the much-charted forms of the contemporary book review and author interview. Perhaps exemplified no better than in the call-in public radio talk-show (cited below!), this realm of scientia curiosa abets a natural TOP FIVE OR TEN list of highlights and lowlights in reviews and ‘views, recently registered. Onward!


"It sounded a bit like Maria was on the line from Mars."


From a live, call-in interview on Newstalk Ireland with Maria D. Lane, author of Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet (full podcast available here)


"Are you of the opinion that one of earth’s magnetic poles might have been tidally locked to THE MOON many, many years ago?"


From Ronald T. Merrill’s recent appearance on Science Friday’s (with Ira Flatow!) “The Poles, They Are A Changin’” discussing Our Magnetic Earth: The Science of Geomagnetism


"One of the defining books (though this is the revised edition to the first version) in the history and sociology of science. Probably can read this in relation to some follow-up articles in ‘Essential Tension.’"


From the blog Unquiet Mind of an Academic Libertine, in which a PhD student preps (annotations!) for her field list in science studies with Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


“Such provocative findings, and Winsberg’s exceptionally readable account of the reasoning that led him to them, will interest many general readers as well as scientists and philosophers of science.”


From Richard C. J. Somerville’s Science review of Eric B. Winsberg’s Science in the Age of Computer Simulation (a great von Neumann microhistory, to boot!)


“Readers of this pluralistic narrative are left with a revitalized appreciation for scientific virtues: why they mattered in late modern technoscience and why they continue to matter in the world to come.”


From a review of Steven Shapin’s The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation on the aptly named blog The Bubble Chamber (“Where history and philosophy of science meet society and public policy”)

Additional interviews with Shapin about the book are available here and here


And one more, perhaps unrelatedly? A grain of salt (unscientifically) tossed over the shoulder:

"Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own."—Bertrand Russell


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Sometimes information clicks. Like the success of pink dresses on the red carpet outside of the Golden Globes (allow us—chagrin, we know—that cultural comparison), you can’t anticipate how new scholarship, when produced, might take off and traffic through the usual spheres of commerce and the circuitry of Web 3.0. With that in mind, we couldn’t be more fascinated by the explosive debut today (surprising findings in tow) of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.

The Chronicle of Higher Education places the book in profile in a four-part (I II III IV) series ranging from commentary and news analysis to a more targeted study, including an excerpt from the book itself.

As the Chronicle summarizes:

In the new book, Mr. Arum and his coauthor—Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia—report on a study that has tracked a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students who entered 24 four-year colleges in the fall of 2005.

Three times in their college careers—in the fall of 2005, the spring of 2007, and the spring of 2009—the students were asked to take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA, a widely-used essay test that measures reasoning and writing skills. Thirty-six percent of the students saw no statistically significant gains in their CLA scores between their freshman and senior years.

And that is just the beginning of the book’s bad news.

At the NYT's blog “The Choice,” Jacques Steinberg’s post, which synthesizes Arum and Roksa’s research in light of findings from the National Survey of Student Engagement, has already received over 70 comments in just a few hours. In addition, USA Today opened their Education section with commentary on the book, offering the following lede:

Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority, a new report shows. Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.

In a much trafficked post, Inside Higher Ed hones in on one of the book’s key points: "The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor." The Huffington Post continues in this vein:

The study, an unusually large-scale effort to track student learning over time, comes as the federal government, reformers and others argue that the US must produce more college graduates to remain competitive globally. But if students aren’t learning much, that calls into question whether boosting graduation rates will provide that edge.

"It’s not the case that giving out more credentials is going to make the US more economically competitive," Arum said in an interview. "It requires academic rigor… . You can’t just get it through osmosis at these institutions."

But how do you know when a scholarly book has really gone viral? Two recent reviews from Vanity Fair and Gawker (respectively) place Academically Adrift's findings in a bit more vernacular light:


In a crushing exposé of the heretofore secret society known as “college,” a recent book by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa reveals precisely what parents, grandparents, and anti-intellectual naysayers have long feared: university students spend nearly five times as much of their day in bed, playing Frisbee golf, and updating their Facebook statuses as they do attending class and studying.


To succeed in America, you must get a college degree. To get a college degree, you must go into a soul-crushing amount of debt. And what do you get for all that money? Not learning. College kids don’t learn stuff.


No matter your thoughts on the particularities of what Arum and Roksa’s findings truly reveal—who to blame, how to adjust, and what next to to further our core understanding—even the book’s index presents a faceted take on the dynamics of undergraduate education (“e-mail correspondence, time spent on” and “student culture; and disengagement compact between faculty and students”). For more information on the book, check out its UCP page here.

For Rodney Dangerfield’s anticipatory performance (1986!) as a business CEO and newly minted undergraduate student (easily distracted by Oingo Boingo performances [Danny Elfman soundtrack, zing] and poetess Sally Kellerman) in Back to School, check out the clip below: