How does criticism affect popular culture?

Popularity is slippery, and shouldn't be confused with quality, says critic A.O. Scott.

  • Popularity has a funny way of correcting or reversing itself, says journalist and film critic A.O. Scott. It's a weird and fickle index—never identical to quality, though it can coincide with it.
  • Movies like Avatar that are capitalist consumer hits can fade over time. Meanwhile works that were initially passed over can be dredged out of forgotten corners to glory many years later.
  • Moby Dick is an example of how critics can turn the tide of popularity, for better and for worse. First, critics dismissed Moby Dick and it was forgotten until a resurgence of interest by critics many years later. It's now a staple of American literature.
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Open academic culture, more crucial than ever, is in peril

Why campuses are becoming polarized — and what we can do about it.

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  • The narrowing of academic freedom is a major problem for institutions of higher education.
  • Social media, external pressures, and increasingly diverse student bodies — while providing some positives — create more opportunity for misunderstanding and miscommunication.
  • Reaffirming the value of and commitment to open debate ensures a more vibrant academic culture.
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Jeannie Gaffigan: Finding comedy in a brain tumor

Here's how a pear-sized tumor on Jeannie Gaffigan's brain stem became an unexpected comedy gold mine.

  • It was only by chance that Jeannie Gaffigan found out she had a pear-sized tumor on her brain stem. During a visit to her kid's pediatrician, the doctor noticed something off about Jeannie Gaffigan's hearing, which led to the diagnosis.
  • She needed to have immediate brain surgery. Gaffigan describes this highly stressful and uncertain time in her as traumatic—and deeply hilarious, says Gaffigan. Comedy, she says, can be used to process your traumas.
  • A comedy writer by trade, she obsessively documented the experience and asked people who visited her in hospital to make notes and lists, which she later turned into her memoir When Life Gives You Pears.
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  • 12min summarizes hundreds of best-selling books down to essential 12-minute microbooks.
  • Microbooks are downloadable in both text and audio formats.
  • You can request a 12min summary of any non-fiction book not in their vast library.
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How much does it cost to save a life?

Our personal choices can help to effectively combat poverty, says Peter Singer.

  • For the amount it costs to save one life in the United States, several hundred or a thousand lives could be saved in developing countries.
  • You can make small sacrifices to fuel your personal philanthropy. Instead of giving, "we're buying ourselves things that we don't really need," says philosopher Peter Singer. "Things that might range from expensive cars to simply buying bottled water when we can drink the water out of the tap."
  • Peter Singer is the founder of The Life You Can Save, an organization that aims to help change the culture of giving in affluent countries and increase donations to reputable and effective nonprofits.
  • A free download of the 10th anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty is available here.
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Top-down power: Hierarchies thrive on the internet

The internet was built to resist an Orwellian future. Now it's being weaponized.

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  • Research shows hierarchical groups are more likely to use the internet as a platform.
  • This might be counterintuitive, as the original rise of the internet coincided with events like the toppling of top-down structures.
  • Despite the strong belief that the internet is horizontal, these hierarchical systems achieve high levels of online participation.
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Think you're right? How to test yourself in the battle of ideas.

Our opponents' objections to our ideas often contain insight as to how we can better refine them.

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  • When we're convinced in the truth of our ideas, we often believe if we just explain it to others that others will immediately come onboard with them. However, what we see in practice is that we need some resistance from others to help refine those ideas. In doing so, we make them more marketable in the marketplace of ideas.
  • When we have debates, we have to not censor our opponents. We have to be confident enough to have discussions with them aimed at getting at the truth.
  • When we prohibit the expression of ideas, we lose the chance to prove our ideas right — we lose the chance to advance their legitimacy in the court of public opinion.
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What skills will set you apart in the age of automation?

Robots may be able to beat us at chess, but they still have trouble when it comes to soft skills — making sense of human behavior.

What skills will set you apart in the age of automation?
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  • In a rapidly changing work world it's critical to continue evolving your skills — this is especially true as automation's presence in the workforce increases.
  • Robots are good at working off of knowledge that we already know, however, they aren't that great when it comes to developing original ideas.
  • Though robots are good at jobs founded on patterns and data points, they currently don't excel when it comes to soft skills — that is, they have difficulty dealing with human behavior. On our end, soft skills help us make sense of chaotic environments where the dynamic human element is constantly in play.
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