New and noteworthy – 6 April 2017

Story time for social scientists; tax owed is not tax loathed; the mighty river of free-flowing curiosity; and the truth, short and sweet

April 6, 2017
tax dollars
Source: iStock

Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists 
Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels
University of Chicago Press

“Communicating is absolutely central to what we do, [but] we social scientists spend relatively little time reflecting on how to do it better, and even less time figuring out how to communicate with those outside our areas of specialization, or with non-academic publics,” say two US sociologists before providing a valuable practical guide to writing for general readers, “telling stories” (in the inevitable formulation) about one’s research, the digital turn, building an audience, the risks of going public and “making it count” in both senses (metrics and social value). A clear, cheery read worth pressing on bright-eyed early career researchers and mature curmudgeons alike.

Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes
Vanessa S. Williamson
Princeton University Press

A Tea Party expert draws on fascinating interviews with 49 Americans – white, black, Asian and Hispanic, urban and rural, Republican and Democrat – on their views on taxation, from form-filling to government waste to loopholes, and neatly upends the view of US citizens as reluctant taxpayers. Instead, most see it as a proud civic duty, but what Williamson calls the “taxpayer gap” – the belief that many shirk their duty – is toxic, with the majority stubbornly and erroneously convinced that it is the poor and working class who fail to pay their way. In fact, the least affluent bear a less visible but disproportionately high burden.

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
Abraham Flexner with Robbert Dijkgraaf
Princeton University Press

A small and hugely powerful book about what happens when “science, like the Mississippi, begins in a tiny rivulet in the distant forest”. In a new introduction to a beautifully turned 1939 essay by the founding director of Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies, its present director Dijkgraaf muses on Flexner’s “relevant and timely observations about the power of human curiosity”. Writing in “a world steeped in irrational hatreds”, Flexner was, he said, “pleading for the abolition of the word ‘use’, and for the freeing of the human spirit”. He was determined to make the IAS “a paradise for scholars who, like poets and musicians, have won the right to do as they please and who accomplish most when enabled to do so”. REF-era academics, you may now get out your hankies.

Simon Blackburn
Profile Books

The age of Trump is either the best or very worst time – for “experts” or anyone else – to be musing on truth. In a limpid hundred-odd pages, Moral Maze regular Blackburn considers both p and not-p and de gustibus non est disputandum, via Hume, deflationism and Roger Federer. Profound insights are delivered with the grace of conversational asides: “philosophers often say odd things, but nobody denies that true beliefs correspond with the facts…What philosophers do doubt is whether this is a useful thing to say.” Highly recommended.

Another Economy Is Possible: Culture and Economy in a Time of Crisis
Manuel Castells et al

In what sort of world is it an “alternative” view to prioritise “the value of life over the value of money”? One that has learned nothing from 2008 and persists in calling economics a science when “all economies are cultural forms”, as Paul Mason writes in an endorsement of this fine collection of essays by nine scholars. From barter networks to bitcoin and time banks to goods-sharing, and from blockchain to Barcelona’s alternative economic culture via alternative accounts of the crash, “Slow Cities” and “commoning against the crisis” in Syntagma Square, their open-eyed accounts offer grounds for hope in the “new economics”, despite the malevolent persistence of the bad old one.

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