Here at the library we think a lot about research and information literacy. In short, we think about helping students to develop the skills which will empower them to understand an information need, to be able to identify the best sources, and to be able to critically evaluate that information for credibility, reliability, veracity, and to follow where the evidence leads. All of these skills are essential for writing good papers but are equally important to being savvy information consumers as professionals, citizens, and individuals who operate in a world of often dubious if not outright misleading claims.
One could call this skill set and the ability to employ it in your own writing critical thinking ability. But, I prefer to call it a “Baloney Detection Kit.” The late great Carl Sagan coined this phrase to denote:
“…the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and—especially important—to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.”
To build your “Baloney Detection Kit” with the tools for skeptical (or critical) thinking proposed by Dr. Sagan check out The Demon Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark from the library.
The story of workers, increasingly comprised of immigrant laborers, paid low wages toiling long hours in extraordinarily dangerous and often unsanitary conditions with little to no protection or recourse. The story of the American meatpacking industry, where behind the walls of packaging plants the realities of slaughtering and processing animals into meat is anything but appetizing. I could easily be describing a news story or any number of books and documentaries chronicling the current state of American food, in particular meat, but this story is from the book The Jungle which is now 107 years old.
Upton Sinclair wrote the 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle to expose the deplorable working conditions experienced by Eastern European immigrants toiling in dangerous and unsanitary slaughterhouses in the Packingtown District of Chicago. The general public however seized upon the books descriptions of contaminated and rotten meat and consumer demand quickly led to the passage of The Federal Meat Inspection Act and The Federal Food and Drug Act, which in effect established the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
Not so different than the one Sinclair told, the story of today’s meat industry involves working in a job with one of the highest rates of injury and illness (see, Safety and Health Guide for the Meatpacking Industry and Poultry Processing Industry eTool) , low wages (mean hourly wage of $11.99), and an increasingly immigrant workforce drawn primarily from Latin America who are disproportionately vulnerable to exploitation (Artz, Jackson, & Orazem, 2010). It is the story of the cost of cheap meat involving regular outbreaks of foodborne illness, concerns over antibiotic use in livestock, abuse of animals, and pollution from factory farms. Today it is also the story of the public’s right to know how we get our meat when Ag-Gag laws limit the ability of muckrakers like Sinclair to inform the public to just what is going on behind those factory walls.
Artz, G., Jackson, R., & Orazem, P. F. (2010). Is it a jungle out there? Meat packing, immigrants, and rural communities. Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 35(2), 299-315.
Check out these other books from the library to learn more about the modern food system.
Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, Morgan Le Fay, the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot, The Holy Grail…the stuff of medieval legend to be sure but each of those words still has the power to elicit a response (if only of superficial recognition) among even the most thoroughly modern audience. Very few of us have probably read Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur or could be considered scholars on the intricacies of Arthurian legend but most of us could sketch the basic story, relationships, and intrigues. Perhaps this is because the legend of Camelot is seemingly inescapably all around us. In King Arthur in Popular Culture, a collection of 18 essays, the presence of Arthurian legend in our everyday lives is explored in interesting ways. From King Arthur Flour, to television shows like Babylon 5 and Dr. Who, tarot cards, video games, and comics it appears the lure of Camelot remains.
From the publisher’s description:
“The legend of King Arthur is embedded in British and American culture. Contemporary America, in particular, is a rich breeding ground for the Arthurian mythos, not only in films, novels, short stories, and fantasy and science fiction, but in other areas of popular and mass culture as well.
“This work is a collection of 18 previously unpublished essays that demonstrate the impressive extent to which the Arthurian legend continues to permeate contemporary culture beyond film and literature. The essays cover the Arthurian legend in economics, ethics, education, entertainment, music, fun and games, the Internet, and esoterica.”
Take the ACLU quiz and find out. Choose from, “…a list of some of the most challenged books from the past 5 years. Check the box next to every book you’ve read to find out if you’re a literary lightweight or a rebellious reader.”
September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of open access to information and the unfettered freedom to read. According to the ALA and the Office for Intellectual Freedom, which tracks reported challenges or requests to remove books at libraries and schools nationwide, there were 464 official complaints in 2012. Offensive language or sexual content are the most commonly cited reasons given and challenges predominantly occur in school and public libraries. However, from 2000-2009 there were 30 reported requests to remove materials made in college libraries and 114 objections to materials used in college classrooms. Exercise your freedom to read and check out one of these books which made the top 10 challenged list for 2012:
For more information check out these posts about web filtering in schools and the freedom to read.
I recently read an opinion piece by Notre Dame Philosophy Professor Gary Gutting in The New York Times philosophy forum, The Stone, entitled “Why Do I Teach.” The following quote is particularly intriguing:
“The fruits of college teaching should be measured not by tests but by the popularity of museums, classical concerts, art film houses, book discussion, groups, and publications like Scientific American, the New York Review of Books, The Economist, and The Atlantic, to cite just a few. These are the places where our students reap the benefits of their education.”
Dr. Gutting makes an interesting point about the potential of higher education to not just instill knowledge or prepare students for employment but to excite passion and creativity, pique curiosity, develop critical thinking, cultivate aesthetic appreciation; in short, to open us to greater possibilities intellectually and emotionally.
This gave me pause to consider how the library figures in the lives of students. It goes, or should go, without saying that the library is integral to the scholarly academic experience of university students. But the library is also full of books and films which may bear little relation to a particular students coursework or major (at least explicitly) but nevertheless have the potential to inspire, bring pleasure, engender new interests, lead to reflection, or raise new questions.
For example, just a short walk from UT over the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts are currently two exhibits, Exposing the Self: Photography and Surrealism and Frida and Friends: The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo. The library also has many wonderful books and films available for those curious to learn more or who merely seek the pleasure of engaging in the works of artists and writers associated with Surrealism and Mexican Art (just search the Online Catalog) because, as Dr. Gutting puts it, even though you may never become an expert in the subject there is value in such encounters, “they make students vividly aware of new possibilities for intellectual and aesthetic fulfillment.”
Those who have been following the news of late have probably heard about the infamous 2010 paper “Growth in a Time of Debt” by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. Their research indicated positively for austerity measures and has figured prominently in recent debates about deficit spending. The paper was never subjected to the peer review process and a new study, “Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff”, out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst by graduate student Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin, which replicated the Reinhart and Rogoff study found that:
Coding errors, selective exclusion of available data, and unconventional weighting of summary statistics lead to serious errors that inaccurately represent the relationship between public debt and GDP growth among 20 advanced economies in the post-war period. (p.1)
Check out the Austerity’s Spreadsheet Error segment and an interview with Thomas Herndon from the ‘Colbert Report’ which aired on April 23rd.
Although fairy tales remain an enduring part of human culture they are currently experiencing a resurgence. Many of the most familiar fairy stories and characters are being resurrected, re-imagined, and retold on television (Once Upon a Time, Grimm) and in film (Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Bean Stalk). Just as vampires, witches, or zombies emerge periodically in popular culture to capture the collective imagination, fairy tales continue to hold sway with no indication that they will lose their relevance.
University of Minnesota professor emeritus Jack Zipes has published extensive scholarship on folklore and fairy tales. Zipes’ research reveals much about the fairy tales role in human culture and his newest book The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre is no exception. According to the publisher’s description:
“If there is one genre that has captured the imagination of people in all walks of life throughout the world, it is the fairy tale. Yet we still have great difficulty understanding how it originated, evolved, and spread–or why so many people cannot resist its appeal, no matter how it changes or what form it takes. In this book, renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes presents a provocative new theory about why fairy tales were created and retold–and why they became such an indelible and infinitely adaptable part of cultures around the world.
Drawing on cognitive science, evolutionary theory, anthropology, psychology, literary theory, and other fields, Zipes presents a nuanced argument about how fairy tales originated in ancient oral cultures, how they evolved through the rise of literary culture and print, and how, in our own time, they continue to change through their adaptation in an ever-growing variety of media. In making his case, Zipes considers a wide range of fascinating examples, including fairy tales told, collected, and written by women in the nineteenth century; Catherine Breillat’s film adaptation of Perrault’s “Bluebeard”; and contemporary fairy-tale drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs that critique canonical print versions.
While we may never be able to fully explain fairy tales, The Irresistible Fairy Tale provides a powerful theory of how and why they evolved–and why we still use them to make meaning of our lives.”
April is Jazz Appreciation Month!
Along with the many books about jazz music that feature criticisms, histories, and biographies in the library’s collection (which you can find by searching the Online Catalog) did you know that the library also has sound recordings and DVDs available for check out? Whether you’re a music lover or a jazz neophyte learn more about this uniquely American musical style with documentaries, live footage collections, and audio by and about many of the great jazz musicians of the twentieth century.
Check out Ken Burns 2001 PBS documentary Jazz, companion book Jazz: A History of America’s Music, and CD Ken Burn’s Jazz: The Story of America’s Music.
You can also watch Ken Burns PBS Documentary Jazz through the Films on Demand Database. Remember to log in to Esearch first.
Check out this multivolume set of live video footage of jazz greats including John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone, Dizzie Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and more by Reelin’ In The Years Productions.
Check out Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology, a 6 disc set featuring 111 tracks.
Listen to streaming music online. The Alexander Street Music Online database has an extensive collection of Jazz recordings including 39 sub-genres. The Naxos Music Library database also has a Jazz section.Log in to Esearch for access.
I recently saw Annie Hall for the first time and am now completely obsessed with the films of Woody Allen. Annie Hall is emblematic of Allen’s singular perspective and artistic style and was the 1978 Academy Award winner for Best Film, Director (Allen), Actress (Diane Keaton), and Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman). Luckily for me and anyone else interested in becoming better acquainted with the work of Woody Allen the library has several of his films in the DVD collection available for check out. To find a movie search the Online Catalog using the exact title or by author using author last name first name (Allen Woody) and selecting Author Browse.
The library also has a number of books by Woody Allen and books of criticism about the iconic writer/director and his films. Below are a few recommendations but to find more check the Online Catalog.
Lax, E., & Allen, W. (2009). Conversations with Woody Allen: His films, the movies, and moviemaking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Allen, W. (1975). Without feathers. New York: Random House.
Silet, C. L. P. (2006). The films of Woody Allen: Critical essays. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press.