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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Books by the Numbers

By Dennis Baron

People judge you by the words you use. This warning, once the slogan of a vocabulary building course, is now the mantra of the new science of culturomics.

In “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books” (Michel, et al., Science, Dec. 17, 2010), a Harvard-led research team introduces “culturomics” as “the application of high throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture.” In plain English, they crunched a database of 500 billion words contained in 5 million books published between 1500 and 2008 in English and several other languages and digitized by Google. The resulting analysis provides insight into the state of these languages, how they change, and how they reflect culture at any given point in time.

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Clarifying the Climate Conundrum

By F. W. Taylor
There are few more important issues at the present time than that of climate change – whether it is real, what we can expect to happen, when and what if anything we can do to prevent or at least ameliorate it. Climate is a ‘crossover’ topic: the facts are mostly in the domain of the scientist, and need special training before they can be understood. However, everyone faces the consequences, perhaps especially people in poor, relatively illiterate counties who already survive on the ragged edge of sustainable agriculture. Finally, if the scientists are to be believed, the politicians must act, and not just by fiddling around the edges of the problem: the changes required are almost unbelievably extensive, expensive, and disruptive. George W. Bush came across as a climate skeptic not because he didn’t believe the science (he wasn’t sure, one way or the other) but mainly because he didn’t want to stifle his nation’s competitiveness by curbing its carbon emissions on the draconian scale the green activists were calling for.

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Linked Up: William Carlos Williams, Goats, NASA

Yesterday, I tried to start a #mathbattle on Twitter, but it proved too geeky to take. (Go figure.) I was having a nostalgic moment, remembering back in middle school when we had to write date equations. Everyday. Because each day, my friends, is different. A new day, full of new possibilities, opportunities, and numbers. Today is 7/30/2010. That means two things:

1) It will be August very, very soon.
2) We have the numbers 7, 3, 0, 2, 0, 1, 0 to work with. (Or, you can leave out a 2 and a 0. That is the cheater’s way.)

LET’S DO IT! —> 7 – ((3+0)(2 + 0)) = (1 + 0)

Yessssss. Math is awesome. Got a better equation? Prove it. Until then, here are some interesting things.

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