The reliability of oral histories in constructing knowledge of the past

Knowledge Questions: How do we construct knowledge about the past? How reliable are oral histories when learning about the past? To what extent do oral histories need to be independently corroborated in order to be believed?

The Underestimated Reliability of Oral Histories

As an archaeologist, if I have to dismiss the veracity of Native American oral traditions simply because they are not written down, then simple logic forces me to dismiss some of the accounts written in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which also began as oral tradition. To do anything else would be to maintain a racist double standard.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/09/dead-sea-scrolls-oral-written-history/571039/

How science and First Nations oral tradition are converging

Science is finally catching up to oral traditions passed down through generations of First Nations cultures

While the convergence of science and oral history is important, Kimberley TallBear, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Native Studies, says that it’s important that such investigations be a collaborative effort. She’s concerned that Western culture has always dominated that of First Nations and that it could do so again.

“I think it’s good, and I think it’s progress,” TallBear said. “But Western knowledge … [is] privileged over Indigenous knowledge.”

https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/science-first-nations-oral-tradition-converging-1.3853799

Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 Years

Aboriginal stories of lost islands match up with underwater finds in Australia

Without using written languages, Australian tribes passed memories of life before, and during, post-glacial shoreline inundations through hundreds of generations as high-fidelity oral history. Some tribes can still point to islands that no longer exist—and provide their original names.

“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Nicholas Reid, a linguist at Australia’s University of New England specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-sea-rise-tale-told-accurately-for-10-000-years/

Good riddance: Americans need to set aside icons like Robert E. Lee to live up to our potential.

Knowledge Questions: What is the role of historical monuments in learning history?  What is the role of history in society? How does history change over time?

screen shot 2019-01-06 at 5.33.17 pmWhen we choose how we view history, we risk mythologizing events and people, reducing them to two-dimensional stories. It takes nothing away from Abraham Lincoln’s heroic stewardship of our nation through the Civil War, for instance, to admit that he was still a creature of his era. For most of his career, he saw slaves as rival laborers for white wage-workers and thought they should go back to Africa. Frustratingly, our instinct to sanitize history ensures that we are always looking backward for our better angels, struggling to meet a standard that remains forever out of reach.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/11/21/feature/good-riddance-americans-need-to-aside-icons-like-robert-e-lee-to-live-up-to-our-potential/?utm_term=.2d7c7ab31918

How a Dubious Forensic Science Spread Like a Virus

Knowledge Questions: What separates science from pseudoscience? What are the characteristics of “good” science? To what extent can we expect scientific knowledge to be “certain”?

From his basement in upstate New York, Herbert MacDonell launched modern bloodstain-pattern analysis, persuading judge after judge of its reliability. Then he trained hundreds of others. But what if they’re getting it wrong?

Although the reliability of blood-spatter analysis was never proven or quantified, its steady admission by courts rarely wavered, even as the technique, along with other forensic sciences, began facing increasing scrutiny.

In 2009, a watershed report commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences cast doubt on the whole discipline, finding that “the uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous,” and that experts’ opinions were generally “more subjective than scientific.”

Still, judges continued allowing spatter experts to testify.

https://features.propublica.org/blood-spatter-analysis/herbert-macdonell-forensic-evidence-judges-and-courts/?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=majorinvestigations

‘They had us fooled’: Inside Payless’s elaborate prank to dupe people into paying $600 for shoes

Knowledge Questions: What role do expectations play in our sense perception? To what extent can our judgments be objective?

But the prank also points to a reality about the human mind: Consumers are not capable of discerning the quality and value of the things they buy, said Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant from Britain. Slap a fancy-sounding European label on $30 shoes, and you have an illusion of status that people will pay an exorbitant amount of money for.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/11/30/they-had-us-fooled-inside-paylesss-elaborate-prank-dupe-people-into-paying-shoes/?utm_term=.dab90144f733

 

This is similar to a prank Penn and Teller did at a restaurant telling people they were drinking fine waters but were actually drinking water from a garden hose behind the restaurant.

 

Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

A world famous violinist, Joshua Bell, set up to play in the middle of a busy train station in DC.

“Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/pearls-before-breakfast-can-one-of-the-nations-great-musicians-cut-through-the-fog-of-a-dc-rush-hour-lets-find-out/2014/09/23/8a6d46da-4331-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

Banksy Has Unannounced Art Sale with Genuine Signed Canvases in Central Park, Sells Almost Nothing

What is the value of artwork? How do we determine? Why did it matter whether people knew or didn’t know whether these were original works?

“For his 13th day in New York, Banksy pulled a fantastic prank on unsuspecting passersby in Central Park yesterday by setting up an unannounced art stall with dozens of 100% original signed canvases. In a world where copies of unlicensed Banksy works are available for a dime a dozen, it’s not inconceivable for somebody to peddle cheap knockoffs for $60 apiece. To further camouflage the artwork the booth was labeled simply “SPRAY ART” and manned by an unsuspecting old man who seemed completely uninterested in what he was doing.”

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/10/banksy-art-sale/

Planet Money Podcast: What causes what?

Knowledge Question:  What are the limitations of our abilities to reason?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/10/17/658119019/episode-453-what-causes-what

What should happen to “offensive” artwork?

Knowledge Questions: What are the ethical limitations of artwork? To what extent are artists responsible for the reactions their work receives? What is the role of the audience in deciding the meaning of artwork? To what extent do the intentions of the artist matter in the interpretation of their work? What are the responsibilities of institutions in deciding what work is appropriate for display?

This is a topic that will never quite leave us. There are countless cases of “offensive” artwork and the reactions it gets. All of these provide great opportunities for TOK.

A Los Angeles School Planned to Whitewash a Mural That Offended Korean Activists—Until Shepard Fairey Stepped in to Defend It

(Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Stanton’s work depicts the late actress Ava Gardner on a backdrop of blue and orange sun rays. It was targeted by Korean-American activists who complained that the sun-ray pattern is similar to that of the Japanese Imperial flag, which has become a symbol of the atrocities Japan committed before and during World War II, particularly in China and Korea. In response, the school district announced plans to cover it up. 

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/shepard-fairey-defends-beau-stanton-mural-1423192

Should Art That Infuriates Be Removed?

“Is the censorship, much less the destruction of art, abhorrent? Yes. Should people offended or outraged by an artwork or an exhibition mount protests? Absolutely. And might a museum have the foresight to frame a possibly controversial work of art through labels or programming? Yes, that, too. “

White Artist’s Painting of Emmett Till at Whitney Biennial Draws Protests

White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.” She added that “contemporary art is a fundamentally white supremacist institution despite all our nice friends.”

 

Met Defends Suggestive Painting of Girl After Petition Calls for Its Removal

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art will not remove a controversial painting by the French painter known as Balthus from public display.”

 

  • How do we determine whether art is “appropriate”?
  • How does context affect the meaning of art? Notice how the quote below makes mention of the “current climate.” Should the “current climate” affect what is allowed to be displayed in a museum?

“Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children,” it reads.

160803093028-australian-artist-clinton-mural-super-169Is censorship of artwork ever appropriate? If so, under what circumstances?

“A controversial mural of Hillary Clinton will be allowed to remain after the artist modified it from depicting the politician in a revealing swimsuit to one where she is wearing a burqa instead.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/02/asia/australia-clinton-mural-artist-burqa/

Photograph that has attracted controversy for more than two decades attracts protests outside New York exhibition

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/sep/28/andres-serrano-piss-christ-new-york

Baby DNA tests raise as many questions as answers

Knowledge Questions: How do we determine what is ethical? What are the ethical limitations of the applications of genetic technologies?

The tremendous potential — and concerns — over genome sequencing intensify at the beginning of life, when the genetic manual for a person’s entire life could guide their lifelong care, perhaps long before symptoms of disease even develop. But it also raises deep questions: Will the information provide clear, useful answers on what medical actions to take? Are parents sacrificing their children’s autonomy by making such a consequential decision when they are newborns? Does more information improve health and save lives, or increase unnecessary tests and parental worries and, potentially, alter the bond between parent and child?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sequencing-newborn-babies-dna-raises-more-questions-than-it-answers/2019/01/03/3a7c31c2-0ed9-11e9-84fc-d58c33d6c8c7_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.202e688212c1

Take a look at the archive of topics related to genetic engineering here.

Articles tagged “genetic engineering”