In nonfiction, the winner was Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, an ambitious, scientifically informed analysis of human history in terms of geography and ecological circumstance (rather than, say, the genetic superiority of one demographic group over another). Runners-up were Stephen Pinker's How the Mind Works and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.
The winner in history was also science-themed: Edward J. Larson's Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.
The Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded by Columbia University in New York for achievements in journalism and the arts since 1917. Recipients must be American (and in the case of the fiction prize, the work preferably deals with American life). Arts winners receive a $5,000 award. This year's complete results are here.
There was a new sighting on the TV news just the other night...just as we were checking the web for new pictures of the Mars Face.
Information Wants to Be Free
Alas, cut-and-paste and email makes it all to easy to liberate words. Handelman advises writers to becoming Internet-savvy and keep tabs on their own work: use search engines to hunt for distinctive phrases. The problem will only get worse.
How Science Really Works
Criticism, of course, need not be nasty, but it can be. In the heat of argument, claims are overstated, integrity is impugned, positions harden, fur flies. Do people go too far? All the time. As each debate matures, however, the wackos and firebrands are marginalized because being unreasonable is a bad way to convince people. In the end, reasonableness pays, even in politics (ask Newt Gingrich). And, in the end, nastiness can pay too, at least from a social point of view. The philosopher of science David L. Hull, in his indispensable book, "Science as a Process," notes that one of science's best motivators is pique, the desire to "get that son of a bitch." Time and again, he says, "the scientists whom I have been studying have told stories of confrontations with other scientists that roused them from routine work to massive effort." A critical culture's greatest genius is to channel differences of opinion into research agendas and campaign ads, instead of into creed wars and political coups. And it is no coincidence that the world's most rambunctiously critical society--America--is also far and away its most intellectually productive.
Alternate Histories, Who Needs 'Em?
In response to the New York Times coverage of this event came a letter (published April 13th) from a Hollywood filmmaker, Mark Dodson, which read in part:
My recent film, "The Landing," described as fact the tragic conclusion of a fictitious moon mission, Apollo 18. At every screening across the country my co-director and I were confronted by people who said they recalled the dreadful event -- a few even claimed to have met one of the astronauts.
The letter's heading was ''Remember Apollo 18 Mission? Sure You Do''.
All that is solid melts into air
But there's a larger and more serious problem; the fragility of the electronic infrastructure. For one thing, the physical media aren't as durable as most people think, especially magnetic tapes. More practically, technology changes so fast that formats of electronic data quickly become obsolete. If you have digital records a decade old, do you still have the software to read them? Some businesses have begun actively 'refreshing' old records by copying them into new media with new software. Archiving information on paper doesn't seem so bad after all.
|© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.|