Some days you need snarky animals

Over the summer, I recommended some long-form narrative webcomics. However, my greatest comics love has always been stand-alone funny comics.

Reza Farazmand’s Poorly Drawn Lines regularly makes me laugh out loud.1 There are some recurring characters, but no plot to speak of. There aren’t punch lines so much as perverse situations that escalate into absurdity.

Continue reading “Some days you need snarky animals”

Science journalism and the experimenter’s regress

The dialectic of science journalism, especially as refracted through social media, is to begin with the overenthusiastic claim “Study proves P.” Within a couple of days, the antithesis: “Study shows nothing of the kind, and anyway not-P.” Then there’s a storm, a cute puppy, or racism, and the matter is never resolved in a progressive synthesis.

Take the recent specimen of a study on the effectiveness of various kinds of face mask. Coverage popped up in my feeds from numerous friends.1 Most people took away the lesson that gaiters were worse than no face mask at all.

Yesterday, Slate ran the antithesis under the headline For All We Know, Gaiter Masks Are Fine.

Continue reading “Science journalism and the experimenter’s regress”

Mousetraps and kinds

In a recent paper, Nicholas Smith responds to Michael Bruno and J.M. Fritzman’s response to him about group belief. Smith, contra his critics, argues that two things’ performing the same function might be no reason at all to think that they’re the same kind of thing.1 This is a post about the work that kinds are doing in his argument.

Continue reading “Mousetraps and kinds”

Justice for goblins

Over at Aesthetics for Birds, Rebecca Scott posts about using D&D for teaching ethics. The activity sounds awesome. What struck me as relevant to my teaching, though, was something Scott writes about course design.

Typically when instructors plan courses, they are taught to use what’s called “backwards design.” You start with the learning outcomes (what you want students to know or be able to do by the end of the class) and then work backwards to design the activities and pick the readings that are most likely to help students achieve those outcomes. And while backwards design is an important element of good course design, if it becomes too all-encompassing as a pedagogical frame, it can close off generative possibilities in the classroom. Backwards design puts the instructor in the position of determining from the outset what the goals of the class are as well as how students will get there.

Continue reading “Justice for goblins”

Ongoing, young, odd

Here’s another post of webcomic recommendations. The loose thread connecting these is that they are ongoing comics about young people in odd situations, for some values of ongoing, young, and odd.

  • Questionable Content started back in 2003 as a slice-of-life comic with some science fiction elements. I didn’t start reading it until much later, when there were 1000s of comics in the archive. It manages to simultaneously deliver goofy, fun characters and real emotional engagement.
  • Dumbing of Age has been running since 2010, but David Willis had a number of earlier comics that covered similar ground. This started out as a reboot of his series of comics which began as a college slice-of-life comic, turned into an interdimensional government conspiracy comic, and then turned into a comic about working at a toy store. The current run began with students starting at college and hasn’t added any of the science fiction elements. The characters take on a new life, so appreciating it doesn’t require looking back at any of Willis’ earlier work.1
  • Monster Pulse by Magnolia Porter is about kids who have bodily organs turned into magical monsters. It’s a comic with heart.2 The story is drawing to a close, so it’s close to belonging in the completed epics post.

Mad science comic serials

As a followup to my previous post, I’ve decided to share some webcomic recommendations.

In the early days of the pandemic, I reread two fantastic science fiction comics that were written from the beginning to tell a specific story.1 Both of these manage to pull off the trick of presenting extraordinary characters in a universe that is nothing like mine while still getting me emotionally invested in them.

I originally read them as were coming out, waiting for the each new page. This time, each story wiled away a shelter-in-place afternoon. Afternoons well spent.

"A Miracle of Science" and a picture of a lady's head
  • A Miracle of Science, by Jon Kilgannon and Mark Sachs, is set in a solar system overrun by mad scientists. It follows the adventure of Benjamin Prester, agent of the Vorstellen Police.
  • Alice Grove, by Jeph Jacques, is about life in a fragile Eden. I can’t think of anything to say Alice herself that wouldn’t be misleading or a spoiler.

On the end of webcomics

I’ve been reading web comics for almost 25 years. For most of that time, one of my daily reads has been Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary. Many years ago, when everybody’s homepage had a page of links, I described it this way: “Schlock Mercenary is a space opera named for an amorphous blob who wanders the galaxy and shoots things. Jocularity abounds. It seems reminiscent of the Star Frontiers games I used to play, so it merits a nostalgia bonus.”

Tayler is an anomaly in several ways. He updated on a regular schedule for more than two decades, whereas most independent creators miss updates or go on hiatus at least sometimes. And he actually finished his grand narrative, rather than leaving it unfinished. Recently, the story came to a close with the eponymous hero’s dark matter apotheosis.1

The title of this post also points to the fact that webcomics really aren’t a thing anymore. I’ve had a half-written post about this in my drafts for over a year.

Continue reading “On the end of webcomics”

Non sequitur references and possible paper mills

Via Kevin Zollman, I recently learned about the work Elisabeth Bik and her team have done to identify what they call the Tadpole paper mill, an operation responsible for “over 400 [papers] from different authors and affiliations that all appear to have been generated by the same source.” The image forensic techniques that Bik and colleagues use have no ready application in philosophy. Still, there are dubious publications.

Continue reading “Non sequitur references and possible paper mills”