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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

It's Time To Get Rid of Formatting Guidelines for Academic Journals

This morning, I was reading an engaging and superbly well-written book that I've been asked to review for philoSOPHIA and found myself, in spite of its merits, grumbling aloud about the very experience of reading it.  Why? One word:

Endnotes.

I truly hate the maddening inconvenience of endnotes. All those unnecessary interruptions, all that flipping back and forth... who ever thought this was a good way to arrange a text? Endnotes are like the brussel sprouts of formatting. I'm sure there are people out there who like them, but those people are in the minority, and the reasons for their affection are as mysterious to me as endnotes are irritating.

There are plenty of things to complain about in academic writing-- obscurantism, clunky prose, solipsistic indulgence, the internment of otherwise meaningful insights in maximum-security jargon camps--  but none of them, to my mind, are as exasperating as our continued fealty to outdated, impractical and obstructionist formatting guidelines. The differences between citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, IEEE) are at once massive and insignificant.  Given that they all aim at accomplishing the same basic function, i.e., providing a map for the reader to travel from reference to source, one would think that allegiance to any particular citation route is a waste of time. The point is-- should be-- that the reader can get where she needs to go, no more, no less. Many paths to the same summit and all that.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lone Wolves, Together: On Trump's Curious Farrago

Like many people, I've found myself referring to "Trump supporters" in the last several weeks as a conceptually coherent, identifiable category of voters/citizens and, correspondingly, referring to the things "they" do as the actions of that collective. And every single time, I feel the words slipping, grinding, and catching, as if the very transmission system of my thought were breaking down.

What we know of the tens of thousands who are attending Trump's campaign rallies, not to mention the millions who have already made their way to the polls to cast a primary vote for him, is a lot less than we think we do. In the left-leaning echo-chamber that is my world, people speak of Trump supporters as a homogenous mass of white (read: racist), conservative (read: hawkish and angry), provincial (read: xenophobic), working class (read: poorly educated) men (read: sexist).  But that is a reductive, cartoonish rendering of what is, in reality, a far more disparate and sundry group of citizens. As Trump himself noted after his landslide win in the Nevada caucuses, "We won the evangelicals.  We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated." (He loves the poorly educated!) And that wasn't even close to an exhaustive list of the sorts of people for whom his rhetoric, his personality, if not also his platform resonate deeply. Even those for whom Trump's trumpeting has no meaningful resonance, there are other draws. A recent study by Mercury Analytics research firm found that nearly 20% of Democrats would switch parties and vote for Trump if he ran against Secretary Clinton in the general election.

"Trump supporters" is not a conceptually coherent category. It's a farrago.