Posted by: jonkatz | October 21, 2009

Articles/editorials in the NYT

Cleaning out my queue…several articles of interest from the NYT over the past few days:

Friedman claims that the dismal job market can be blamed in part on the poor public education system in the US. While I agree that there are several serious problems with the US public-school system, I think Friedman’s arguments are silly. (In case you’re interested, I am commenter #284.)

Fish records some depressing observations about the negative public perception (in the US, at least) of academics and academia. (Is there some relation to the state of public education at the pre-university level?) Here, too, some of Fish’s arguments are a bit silly. Read in particular his comments justifying the “bait and switch tactics” of university course offerings. But my interest here is not in his counter-arguments (some of which are indeed valid) but with the prevalence of this negative attitude in the first place.

Finally, a lighter article (with no political ramifications) about Martin Gardner. How many of us read his books when we were younger? (Actually, I’m curious whether he is as well known outside the US…)



  1. Regarding Fish’s column: How much of the hostility about academia is reserved for the humanities, versus “harder” subjects like mathematics and the sciences (including economics)? (All of Fish’s examples refer to the humanities.)

    I get the sense that popular feelings towards, for example, English professors are generally indifferent to negative. Whereas engineers, biologists, computer scientists etc. are generally appreciated for the advances they make possible. (Occasional jokes about “spending $1M to study slugs” aside…)

    Maybe it’s because science-based advances are tangible and very useful in people’s lives. Or maybe my perspective is biased because most people I know are pro-science.

  2. Chris, you are definitely right: when Fish refers to “academia” he really means “the humanities in academia”.

  3. Re Martin Gardner: About a dozen of his books were translated into Russian and were extremely popular in the USSR. Several generation of Soviet kids grew up reading him.

  4. All the math/physics books in my school library were written by Russian guys (and translated to English). Also, I remember coming across old (80s-early 90s) issues of Mathematikai Lapok ( But no Martin Gardner.

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