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My other weird hobby - Which is not unduly obvious, as I am about to explain
My other weird hobby

If you don't know about Piltdown Man, consider yourself lucky to have not been exposed to my blathering on previous occasions. :)

The University of Toronto used to allow alumni to log in to their library's electronic databases remotely, but have discontinued this practice (unless I want to pay them something like $120 a year) - in fact alumni can't use most of their library computer terminals on campus without forking over a hefty subscription, although they do leave a small number of free access machines tucked away, if you can find them. How they expect alumni to search the regular catalogue of books while on campus is beyond me. I used to be able to log into the UMI Proquest Direct database and find newspaper articles from all over, but no more. I still have access to a couple of databases through my father's account at York University, but their library has a much smaller budget and far less useful databases.

So it's quite a surprise when I discover two things in one day. First is that a 64-page book came out earlier this year. It looks like it's from a publisher of classroom materials, and let me tell you, from working at a teacher's college and then becoming a librarian, educational publishers churn this stuff out like there's no tomorrow. Frankly I suspect that a lot of it is of questionable quality, mainly because there's so much of it. They flood the market with this stuff and there's so much material, no one could review it all. I do a search for the books and often no library has bought it, suggesting the supply is greater than the demand. Sometimes I get a collection of books at my desk where it's obvious the same chapters have been completely re-hashed under different covers, yet the titles suggest the material has been specially chosen for various disciplines. And then other times I get textbooks with lots of details, excellent diagrams, a bibliography, instructions for teachers -- so there is good stuff out there. Anyway. I'm cynical, so I'm suspicious in advance of the quality of this book and what it might be saying for 9-to-12-year-olds. I'm going to order it anyway, of course. :) 17 bucks Canadian though... eech. I could order more stuff from Amazon and thus avoid the shipping charges, except I have no idea what else to order from them.

The second discovery is that there's a episode of NOVA coming out on PBS around January 8-16 called "The boldest hoax." Woohoo! Strangely, it's listed as an upcoming show on PBS affiliate stations, but if you go to NOVA's website they don't mention it at all. I hope I can pick it up in my area. I receive two PBS stations on cable TV; one from North Dakota (which makes sense) and one from Detroit (which makes less sense). I am even more cynical about TV documentaries on the subject, because they focus 90% on who could have come up with the hoax, and cover the more sensationalist and stupid suspects. Granted, I understand that this is more attractive to audiences than the history of paleoanthropological theory, but I'm of the opinion that anything egg-headed can be taught if it's written well. It's also disappointing that documentaries spend too much time on the wrong Piltdown suspects because of available documentary material. The theory that Arthur Conan Doyle was behind it is ludicrous, but I have seen documentaries where they devote most of the attention on him because there's lots of photos from his life to show on the screen, while the most likely suspect has very few photos that have survived.

I've also been looking through my "what articles am I looking for" list, since going to Toronto gives me the opportunity to hit the libraries for a day. It's a short list. Three of the articles will have to be acquired through inter-library loan. Two of those are very short things that appeared in popular press magazines in France. One is by an author who's written a good book on the subject, and the other is by someone named Claudine Cohen, who looks like she's trying to become one of those scientists who makes a signicant part of their living writing for the popular press. I'm interested in seeing how she writes; although I've read some of her other articles and she's big on Philosophy.

I'm o.k. with philosophy until it starts getting too dense for educating the layman (hearkening back to my earlier complaint about postmodernist literature criticism). Like her article where she discusses the concept of proof and validity in archaeology (a worthy subject) and suddenly starts talking about the application of the "Method of Zadig" from Voltaire as if everyone knows about it, without any explanation of what it is. Bad, bad writing.

This is prejudicial of me, but I think the French have a lot more respect for philosophers than North Americans. Not just from all the French books I see at my desk, but when I was in France, a philosopher was being interviewed on the radio over his new book in which he had analyzed the speeches of President Jacques Chirac. And philosopher references were cropping up all over the place. When I was in the science museum, there was a blurb on the wall about the philosophy of the Collage of Pataphysics on the concept of time and calendars. Pataphysics was an absurdist art/literary movement parody on metaphysics! (And was incidentally the word search that made me discover Wikipedia for the first time.) I have a suspicion that the prevalence probably stems from graduate-level curricula... a lot of philosophy in school will lead to a lot of philosophical academics which will lead to a bias when you ask academics to write for the public. There's a throwaway gag in HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where philosophers are protesting the activation of the computer "Deep Thought" who is meant to compute the answer to everything, and the philosophers don't want to be put out of work. "We'll go on strike! That's right - you'll have a national philosopher's strike on your hands!" Deep Thought says, "Who will that inconvenience?"

Okay, I'll stop beating philosophy. There's good philosophy, and I took a half-year course on science and philosophy and read a bunch of neat articles about game theory and things. But sometimes I'm mystified when it crops up.

Inter-library loan article number three, as I've discovered, is by a creationist who writes under different variations of his name and the occasional pseudonym. One of those creationists who writes tons of articles so that other creationists have someone on their side they can quote in articles. Interesting fellow. With all those degrees, I wonder if he's trying to prove something - most established scientists don't have that many. Apparently two degress he's listed in the past (not shown) have been ones from unrecognized institutions. He also took his previous institution to court over being denied tenure. When I found out about the fallout my eyes glazed over and I didn't want to know any more about him. I'm interested in seeing what he's written nonetheless, if only for the head-shaking factor.

My remaining articles include one which I was given a partial photocopy of by previous inter-library loan librarians (grrr), without page references. I must cross my fingers and hope to locate a microfilm copy at the Metro Reference library, or in physical form at the Northern District branch, where I went as a kid.

The other article I'm looking for has been very difficult to find indeed. It's published in a British archaeology magazine called... British Archaeology. Chris Stringer, the author, e-mailed me personally to tell me of its existence. This man is the head of paleoanthropology at the British Museum of Natural History, and the main academic in England who gets interviewed on all things having to do with human evolution. So I started watching the BA website, because they've archived online copies of previous issues - at which point they stopped updating the back issues just before the one I wanted to read. Figures. So when I was in England and visiting the museums, I went into their shops. Do they carry it? Nope! In fact, one of them had discontinued its magazine section altogether! So what's left? Why, the library hidden away at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto! It's part of the University of Toronto campus libraries, actually. Except they're open maybe three days a week and are, of course, entirely closed while I'm in the city. Drat.

But then, if it wasn't a challenge, it would lose so much of the entertainment value as a hobby!

Current Mood: determined

3 comments or Leave a comment
plonq From: plonq Date: December 13th, 2004 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
He was real, I tell you! Let's stop all this silly talk of hoaxes.
l337_0n1 From: l337_0n1 Date: December 13th, 2004 10:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
*chuckles* I shouldn't have read that Bergman stuff. Well, ok it was amusing.
dakhun From: dakhun Date: December 13th, 2004 10:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
The irony of Deep Thought's joke is that there are always a lot of philosophers out of work anyway, because too many try to get into the field. A third year metaphysics course that I stumbled upon once was much bigger than any third year physics course I was taking at the time, and with phewer philosophy-related jobs to greet the phledgling philosophers when they graduate!

ph..ph...f. Sorry, I had something stuck in my teeth.
3 comments or Leave a comment