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.

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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.

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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.

Pandemic and epistemic humility

I was asked by a colleague recently what I think is going to happen in the Fall. My answer was that I don’t even pretend to know.

There’s not too much overlap between my professional expertise and my opinions on our current situation, but there’s this: There is more uncertainty than you’d like to admit, but that doesn’t mean that you can say whatever you want. This holds both in general and in the present specifics.

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Sacrobosco via Morgan Mar

I recently discovered David Morgan Mar’s fun blog 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe. He’s adding things over time, so he’s only up to 42 proofs so far.

I browsed the site looking for a proof that I know from Copernicus. It figures in debates about underdetermination, and it’s a stock example I give to students to illustrate the Duhem-Quine problem.1

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Bentham’s philosophical remains

Back in the 90s, when I wanted to move my website off university servers, I brainstormed possible domain names. I settled on fecundity partly just because it sounds good, but also because I learned the word from reading Jeremy Bentham. A webcam pointed at Bentham’s dressed-up remains was a highlight of the internet back then, and the association amused me.

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Kantian hustle

Reading an interview with Mark Johnston, I learned a fact that I can’t believe I didn’t know before: As a student, Immanuel Kant made money as a pool shark. Johnston gives this extended quote from one of Kant’s university friends:

Kant’s only recreation was playing billiards… [He] had nearly perfected [his] game, and rarely returned home without some winnings. As a consequence, persons refused to play with [him], and [he] abandoned this source of income, and chose instead L’Hombre, which he played well.

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The mysterious island

Deep within these grooves of Academe,
In quiet cubicles, white and bare,
Hunched homunculi strain and labor
(Like monks of old in cloistered cells
Balancing angels on needles’ points)
At tasks bizarre with tools outrageous
Through days and nights of anguish unrelenting.

Edith Eliot1
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Measuring influence

At The Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel gives what he describes as “a rough measure of current influence in … ‘mainstream Anglophone philosophy’.” His method starts with citations in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Considering only authors born after 1900, he tallies up the number of distinct articles in which they are cited.

The highly-influential Hilary Putnam is cited in 168 articles. Using that to ostensively define a unit, identify that as 1 Putnam of influence.

Putnam is in third place on the list, behind WVO Quine (1.14 Putnams of influence) and David Lewis (1.59 Putnams).

The inevitable vanity search and a little math reveals that I have 77.4 milliPutnams of influence.1 Should I be chuffed about that? Can I put it on my CV?