Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cryptosporidium: Necessary facts

Today's WSJ has a nice, microbiologically accurate article about Cryptosporidium, a parasite dwelling in pools, causing diarrhea, and looking very svelte under the microscope. Facts:
  • It can survive, thanks to its protective spore, in a chlorinated pool for over a week.
  • It cannot survive UV light (which, predictably, is expensive - about $250K).
  • Flu-like symptoms last about two weeks; the parasite is transmitted through feces.
  • A famous outbreak in Wisconsin in 1993 killed 100 and sickened 400,000.
  • After one recovers, that individual can still pass the organism for two weeks.
  • Waterproof pants and swim diapers do not keep diarrhea from entering the water.
  • Shower before swimming! It's not "a public bath tub."
Tidbits:
  • A diagram of the infection cycle.
  • Spores dressed up for a ball.
  • A blog containing everything about the parasite that you never wanted to know.

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapters 2 and 3

Chapter 2: How was the Bible prepared?

Materials used
  • Writing materials: papyrus (common, perishable; oldest from 2400 B.C.); parchment (animal skins); vellum (calfskin); ostraca (potsherds); stones (written on with iron); clay tablets; wax tablets.
  • Writing instruments: chisel (for stones); metal stylus (for clay/wax); pen (for vellum, parchment, and papyrus); ink (charcoal, gum, and water).
Forms of ancient books
  • Rolls/scrolls: papyrus sheets around a stick. Average length: 20-35'.
  • Codex/book: like ours. Both sides had writing.
Types of writing
  • Uncial: "bookhand," upper-case. In Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.
  • Miniscule: more like cursive. Greek had words with no spaces - but if read by syllables, easy to understand.
Divisions
  • Books (see Hebrew canon - chapter 3).
  • Chapters: 586 B.C. Pentateuch = 154 sedarim. 630s B.C. 54 parashiyyath + 669 small sections. 250-350 A.D. Greeks made divisions. 1227 A.D. Modern chapter divisions.
  • Verses: standardized ca 900 A.D.
Chapter 3: the canon

Introduction
  • Canon = standard-length "reed/cane." List or "rule of faith." The Church recognized inspired books - not arbitrary choice.
  • Tests for a prospect (see 2 Peter 3:16): (1) authoritative ("thus says the Lord"); (2) prophetic (from one to whom God spoke); (3) authentic ("if in doubt, throw it out"); (4) dynamic (came with God's power); and (5) received/collected/read/used (accepted by God's people).
Old Testament (OT) canon
  • Factors: (1) Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. --> needed unification. (2) Christianity rose --> need to exclude the Gospels etc.
  • Hebrew canon: Torah ("law"), Prophets, Writings. 24 total.
Christ's witness to OT canon
  • Luke 24:44 - all (i.e. in all 3 divisions of the canon) was fulfilled about Christ.
  • John 10:31-36; Luke 24:44 - canon contrasted with oral traditions.
  • Luke 11:51; Matthew 23:25 - whole span of Scripture.
Extra-Biblical testimonies
  • ca 130 B.C. - Ecclesiasticus noted the 3 divisions.
  • Josephus - canon preserved, pristine.
  • Talmud: (1) Tosefta Yadaim 3:5 excludes other books. (2) Seder Olam Rabba 30 delineates prophecy and sayings. (3) Babylonian Talmud, Tractate "Sanhedrin" VII-VIII, 24 notes end of Israel's prophecy after Malachi.
  • Melito (bishop of Sardis, ca 170 A.D.): oldest dated OT canon.
  • Today's Jewish canon: from Mishnah (5th c. A.D.).
New Testament (NT) witness to OT as Scripture: Matthew 21:42; 22:29; 26:54, 56; Luke 24; John 5:39; 7:38; 10:35; Acts 17:2, 11; 18:28; Romans 1:2; 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 15:4; 16:26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Galatians 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Timothy 5:18; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:16.

Council of Jamnia: debated hard, confirmed the canon.

OT Apocrypha
  • From Greek apokruphos: "hidden or concealed." Jerome first spoke of them. Roman Catholic church added.
  • Excluded from canon because (1) inaccurate and anachronistic; (2) false/contrary doctrines/practices; (3) literary styles at odds with the purported author; (4) lack of divine character.
  • Summaries (from Ralph Earle, How We God Our Bible): * 1 Esdras (150 B.C.): post-exile legends * 2 Esdras (A.D. 100): seven confusing end-times visions * Tobit (200s B.C.): short Pharisaic novel teaching works-righteousness * Judith (150s B.C.): novel with plot like the story of Jael (Judges 4:17-22) * additions to Esther (100 B.C.): supposed prayers of Esther/Mordecai * Wisdom of Solomon (A.D. 40): like Proverbs * Ecclesiasticus (180 B.C.): same; Anglicans use it * Baruch (A.D. 100): urges Jews to submit to the emperor * Susanna (100s B.C.): fiction added to Daniel * Bel and the Dragon: Daniel 14; stories about idolatry's folly * Song of the 3 Hebrew Children: after Daniel 3:23; imitates Psalms * Prayer of Manasseh (200s B.C.): to supplement 2 Chronicles 33:19 * 1 Maccabees (100s B.C.): good source of history * 2 Maccabees: parallel, more legendary. *
  • Historical testimonies of exclusion of apocrypha from canon: * Philo (20 B.C.-A.D. 40) never quoted Apocrypha as inspired * Josephus "explicitly excludes them * Jesus and the NT writers never quote them * Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90) excluded them * Only after 500 A.D. did some recognize them as inspired * Church fathers denounced them - also Jerome (340-420), Roman Catholic Church through the Reformation period, and the Reformers * Council of Trent fought (A.D. 1546) to include them.
NT canon
  • Tests: inspiration, apostolicity (sub-test).
  • NT canonical books... * Reasons: (1) Marcion's (140 A.D.) heretical canon; (2) Eastern churches' use of doubtful books; (3) Edict of Diocletian (A.D. 303) ordered Scripture destroyed (die for the right Book!) * Athanasius (A.D. 367): earliest present-day list * Jerome/Augustine defined it more exactly * Polycarp (A.D. 115) et al. treated OT/NT canons as Scripture * Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) did likewise * Irenaeus (A.D. 180) agreed with NT canon * Ignatius (A.D. 50-115) cited Peter/Paul as apostles * Councils...
NT Apocrypha (only a partial list)
  • Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (ca A.D. 70-79)
  • Epistle to the Corinthians (ca A.D. 96)
  • 2nd Epistle of Clement (ca A.D. 120-140)
  • Shepherd of Hermas (ca A.D. 115-140)
  • Didache, Teaching of the Twelve (ca A.D. 100-120)
  • Apocalypse of Peter (ca A.D. 150)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 1

As before, make your own questions.

Ways in which the Bible is unique
  • Continuity. Over 1500 years, 40 generations, 40+ authors, diverse locations, times, moods, continents, languages, genres, etc. Unified diversity.
  • Circulation. Billions. Overall bestseller since Gutenberg.
  • Translation. Thousands of translators, hundreds of languages. One of the first major works translated.
  • Survival. More manuscript support than any 10 classical texts combined. Careful scribes who counted letters. Persecuted and criticized (e.g. rulers, scholars, Muslims).
  • Teachings. Prophecy (diverse, unique, sometimes centuries in advance), history (extremely accurate and clear), personalities (honest about human flaws, unlike Qur'an).
  • Influence on literature. Bible could be reconstructed from quotations in various literary works. See Cleland B. McAfee, The Greatest English Classic, p. 134.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Introduction

My notes follow. Write your own questions for them, if you wish.

Use of apologetics
  • "What is your hope?" (1 Peter 3:15) - because Jesus Christ rules you.
  • Not apologizing or excusing oneself for something.
  • See also Acts 22:1, 25:16; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 1:7, 16; 2 Timothy 4:16. Answers "Why are you a Christian?"
  • Christianity is an all-or-nothing religion.
Christianity as fact: historical!
  • D. E. Jenkins; Clark Pinnock. What about the logical side?
The best defense
  • A good offense (i.e. Christ's claims). See Hebrews 4:12.
Misconceptions
  • "Blind faith." But one loves what one knows. See Matthew 22:37; 2 Timothy 1:12; John 8:32. Reasonable faith.
  • "Only your belief matters." But the power is in the object of faith, i.e. Christ. See 1 Corinthians 15:14. Quantity of faith matters less.
  • "____ doctrine/event is a myth." But eyewitnesses (e.g. 2 Peter 1:16) ensure that a given event (e.g. the virgin birth) applied to an actual individual. See also 1 John 1:1-3; Luke 1:1-3; Acts 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:6-8; John 20:30-31; Acts 10:39-42; 1 Peter 5:1; Acts 1:9.
  • "Others didn't think the same way." But New Testament writers told critics (Acts 2:22, 26:24-28) that "you saw this too!"
  • Presupposition: "There can't be a God because philosophy says so." But John Warwick Montgomery says that this is a poor way to investigate history. Presuppositions "of substantive content" assume "a body of truth already" that may be faulty - vs. presuppositions "of method" that will "yield truth." History is not a closed system; facts should be relied upon more than philosophy.
  • "Blind leap into the dark." But honestly studied evidence makes it rather a "step into the light." Choose "historical probability" over "100% provable."
  • "It's anti-intellectual." But people have motives (e.g. Bertrand Russel) for choosing not to believe. Reasons: ignorance (Romans 1:18-23; Matthew 22:29), pride (John 5:40-44), or a moral problem (John 3:19-20).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Imprecatory Psalms: 137 as a prime example

The Goofy Pastor (he has a cat named Happy Bob, after all!) led the study today, so be prepared for strange references.
  • Verse 1: time frame is during Jeremiah's prophecy; Isaiah prophesied about this time. "Waters of Babylon" are probably canals. "We remembered Zion" - theological shorthand for "the presence of God."
  • Verse 2: hanging lyres on willows would have been serious indeed, for the Hebrews were a musical culture.
  • Verse 4: "land" is a symbol for the Messiah in the Old Testament.
  • Verse 5: the right hand played instruments (some think "psalm" came from the sound of a plucked lyre string - "ps-ong").
  • Verse 6: the voice accompanied, of course. True faith is demonstrated by sorrow for having lost God's presence in the Temple. The Presence is the only thing worth singing about.
  • Verse 7: see Numbers 20:14-21 and Obadiah 10-14 concerning the Edomites.
  • Verses 8-9: formal curse, not to be used against personal enemies but against the enemies of Christ as a whole.
(verbatim) Five Principles to Understanding the Imprecatory ("to curse") Psalms:
  1. Don't mess with Texas and don't mess with the Holy Spirit (as some ELCA churches and others have done) who inspired these words.
  2. This is not a defense of Zionism but of Zion. (The Jews, the Messiah having come, are not the chosen people anymore.)
  3. God allows man's sin into His Holy Word. (David and Bathsheba, Peter's denial, etc.)
  4. This imprecation can only be accepted as God's curse upon the unbelievers. (Romans 2:5ff.)
  5. This is a temporal punishment. You and I and all other believers are not immune to it.

Pentecost 11

Readings: Deuteronomy 7:6-9, Psalm 125, Romans 8:28-39 (sermon text), and Matthew 13:44-52.
Paul concludes a lengthy logical streak. Begin at verse 28, an oft-quoted and oft-misunderstood verse. God is not the author of evil - Satan and our sinful nature are. Better rendering: "God works all things together for good." Every day in Christ is blessing. God is in charge! He makes lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, strengthening our faith in trials.

Verses 29-30: begins before time (foreknew) and ends after time (glorified). Predestination, whenever mentioned in the Bible, is a message of encouragement, not of confusion. Receive it thus, as a sort of icing on the cake of salvation. Everyone who believes was predestined to do so. But the Bible NEVER says that He predestined the rest to hell. Logic fails us here. Rejoice in this teaching nonetheless.

Called - this refers to the present time. God calls people from any nation. Justified - at the point of your receiving Christ. Glorified - future.

Verse 31 - another beloved verse. God is on your side! No one - not even your sinful self - can stand against you, because Christ sacrificed Himself for you. Verse 32 is proof. But not necessarily "felt needs." Daily bread is what you actually need. One thing is important: how we stand before God. Christ will judge the world. But Christ also loves and died for you.

Verse 35 - yet another favorite verse. "Felt fears" (not having the *right* outfit, perhaps) fall far below what God has promised to protect us from. Through everything, God holds on to us, through all of time, through all of space. His love, sealed with blood, is infinite. Take comfort in your struggles with sin.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Roundup and EDV intro

These letters should make you roll your eyes. Islam murders cartoonists? Why, whatever for? Daniel P. from Evanston, IL echoes what countless of my blogging friends have been saying for years:
So do not lecture me about "sensitivity" toward Islam until its followers are willing to demonstrate tolerance toward dissent.
This op-ed confirmed my suspicions about a certain Political Alignment which Will Not Be Named that intimidates people into abandoning direct democracy.

Now to some less depressing news: the essentials of the user's guide and preface/intro to McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol. 1. I am assuming a mainly Christian audience, but if you are not a Christian, fire away. Questions you ask give me something to do.

To help the reader master all the evidence presented (all 367 pages of it), McDowell suggests, in the ancient Hebrew way of showing "knowledge of a subject by asking astute questions about it," to write questions on the left half of a piece of paper, write the answers on the right half, and quiz yourself every once in a while.
One important key to maintaining a successful witness to our subjective culture is the ability to present solid evidence to support our faith. A great quantity of that evidence is given in these volumes [1 and 2]. It must be mastered.
From the Preface, useful facts to aid in understanding the volume:
  • Evidence is not a book, but rather lecture notes.
  • The proper use of those notes "is to glorify and magnify Jesus Christ - not to win an argument." Leave that to the lawyers.
  • Answer the skeptic's questions, then shift the dialogue to Christ.
  • Format: citations in footnotes look like this: 47/21-23. The 47 is the source number in the corresponding bibliography (there is one bibliography per section); 21-23 refers to the page numbers in that source.
  • Sections in this volume: (1) Why trust the Bible? (its uniqueness, preparation, canon, and reliability); (2) The person of Christ (the historical Jesus, His divinity, C. S. Lewis's trilemma, observations by great thinkers, Messianic prophecies, and the resurrection); (3) God's work through history and individuals (historical prophecy, Christianity's uniqueness, and McDowell's personal testimony).
Each day, I will boil down a section of text to its essential points. Please join me in thinking about this book...write your questions in the comments section!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Craft of Research: The end!

Tomorrow we begin Evidence that Demands a Verdict. But you must suffer through one more day of this first...

Introductions
  • Avoid these: definitions, "____ is grand," or "This is about ____."
  • Lean toward these: interesting quotes/facts, anecdotes, or a general statement (common ground).
Conclusions
  • State your main idea in full (if your intro only hinted at it) or fuller (if your intro was explicit).
  • OR tell your readers the practical relevance (applied implications) of your research.
  • OR tell your readers the scholarly relevance (pure implications) of your research.
  • OR end with the sort of thing you used in your intro (quote/fact). Mirror your intro.
Ethics
  • Commandments: don't steal (plagiarize), don't lie (misreporting/inventing data), don't destroy (sources/data).
  • Injunctions: don't submit questionable data, don't omit unanswerable objections, don't unfairly caricature opposing views, don't deliberately muddle or oversimplify.
  • Costs of plagiarism:
    [T]he plagiarist steals some of the little...enhanced respect that a researcher spends a lifetime trying to earn. The plagiarist steals from his community of classmates by making the quality of their work seem worse by comparison and then perhaps steals again by taking one of the few good grades reserved to reward those who do good work. By choosing not to learn the skills that research can teach her, the plagiarist not only compromises her own education but steals from the larger society that devotes its resources to training students to do reliable work later.
For teachers (one of which I hope to be)
  • "The two processes, reading and writing, are mutually supporting." That was a driving idea behind the combination of my past community college's writing and reading centers.
  • Keep students from viewing research as a glorified fill-in-the-blank.
  • Features of good assignments: (1) Goals should go beyond the product. (2) Define the audience in a student-friendly/familiar way. (3) Create as much context as possible (i.e. make it relate to the students as much as possible). (4) Allow audiences for each stage (bouncing one's tentative argument off of someone else, perhaps). (5) Have a general time framework while avoiding the stage-1-stage-2-never-do-stage-1-again mentality.
Said in fewer words by ancient sages (qui docet, discet; quis scribit bis legit):
[M]aking sense of a topic for someone else is the best way to make sense of it for [the students] themselves, weeks or months later, when they discover that they have forgotten much of the information that they took for granted while they were in the midst of their reading.
What are your thoughts? Based on the types of material you, my readers, comment on, perhaps I need to relate all this blogging about research to you. Be my audience - how can I relate it to you? Speak up!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Small wonder

Read this editorial. The gist:
  • Both McCain and Obama have flip-flopped. Normal Americans know that.
  • McCain, upon being told thus, says: "Yes, I most definitely changed my position. Here is the data to explain to you why I changed."
  • Obama, on the other hand, says: "What flip-flop? I don't see any."

The Craft of Research: Chapter 15 + review

Review, in the form of a Quick Tip: "The Quickest Revision"

Clarity
  1. Diagnose: Underline introductory words (excluding, say, "At first") in each sentence.
  2. Diagnose: Are those sentence beginnings logically and clearly related in that sequence?
  3. Revise: Be able to tell who/what your main characters are. Make them subjects (nouns!).
  4. Revise: Change nominalizations into verbs.
Emphasis
  1. Diagnose: Underline final words in each sentence.
  2. Diagnose: Where in the sentences are new/complex information?
  3. Revise: Place those words at the ends of sentences.
Introductions: general form
  1. Common ground. Begin with a generality, anecdote, or interesting quotation. That part is optional. However, you should always have the second part, context (what your readers already know about the topic).
  2. Disruption. The context is comfortable. Your idea, at least at first, should not be. Then state the problem: conditions (a state of affairs) + costs/benefits (what will happen if the problem is/is not solved?).
  3. Resolution. Your solution goes here. Sometimes you only hint at it in the introduction (in which case it has to go in the conclusion); in most cases, it should be stated simply and explicitly here.
Introductions: miscellaneous hints
  • If this material is too complex for your taste, the authors recommend using chapters 3 and 4, at least for now.
  • Introductions can be as much as 15-20% of a paper (1.5-2 pages out of 10).
  • After the first part of the problem (conditions), you should be able to insert "So what?" and have the costs/benefits be a reasonable answer.
  • Rule of thumb for common ground: "Imagine you are writing to another person who once took the same course but does not know what happened [e.g. a discussion] in your particular class."
  • A familiar example of context-problem:
    One sunny morning, Little Red Riding Hood was skipping happily through the forest on her way to Grandmother's house [stable context], when suddenly Hungry Wolf jumped out from behind a tree [condition of problem], frightening her very much [cost of problem].
  • If you only hint at your thesis/argument/solution in your introduction, be sure to have a sentence there that roughly outlines your paper.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 14

All about revising! On first glance, it looks exhaustingly complicated. But upon breakdown into a few bulleted lists...

Styles: types and cautions
  • Scholar-to-scholar. Here is an example, blindly grabbed from the morass of Google Scholar. (Automatically downloads a PDF. That particular article isn't too bad as far as biology articles go, but you get the picture.)
  • Parent-to-child. You shall know it by its condescending quality.
  • Peer-to-peer. Clearer than scholarese yet not condescending. Aim for this.
  • An admonition to non-expert researchers (I succumbed to this and still do): do not blindly grab the dog that bit you, i.e. do not imitate the academic-journal style for the sake of imitating it. Even if you understand the writer's content, there's no guarantee that your readers will.
  • If you can manage the first and last few words of each sentence, say the authors, the rest should fall into place.
A Socratic definition of style, as far as we can define it
  • Look at the subjects of your sentences. Are they nouns (e.g. "Locke" or "rain forests"), or are they noun derivatives (e.g. "The continuous stripping of the rain forest" or "the reason for...")? Are the subjects the "main characters" in your paper?
  • Look at the actions that your main characters (yes, these may be inanimate objects) do. Are they verbs, or are they nouns ("nominalizations")? Having too many of the latter forces you to add excess prepositions, making for an unclear, wordy, awful paper. Examples: repetition (vs. "repeated"), service (vs. "serve"), and quantification (vs. "quantify").
How to diagnose and revise style
  • Who/what are your characters? It's all right to use nominalizations if your readers are familiar with them. Be judicious. Practice makes perfect.
  • Where are your abstractions? Can you reduce the complexity of your prose by replacing them with more concrete concepts?
  • Nominalizations, like passive voice, let you shift the focus from one subject (e.g. loggers who strip rain forests) to another that you may want to focus on more (e.g. the rain forests themselves). Science topics usually demand passive, except when you are describing how you discovered your research problem and what your solution is (generally at the beginning and end of journal articles).
  • Look at the first words of each of your sentences. Do these sentence beginnings flow into each other, or are they disjointed? Are they familiar to your readers? Show the old, familiar subjects before introducing new, foreign ones.
  • Are you introducing complex material and technical terms? Connect with simpler information that comes before.
  • "When you are introducing a paragraph, or even a whole section, construct the first sentence of that paragraph so that the key terms of the paragraph are the last words of that sentence" (emph. added). Example from the text: to introduce the paragraph that looks like this:
    The problems began in 1722, when Peter the Great passed a law of succession that terminated the principle of heredity and required the sovereign to appoint a successor. ... There was turmoil even when successors were appointed.
    use this sentence:
    The political situation changed, because after Peter the Great seven out of eight reigns of the Romanov line were plagued by turmoil over disputed succession to the throne.
    and not this sentence:
    The political situation changed, because disputes over succession to the throne caused some sort of palace revolt or popular revolution in seven out of eight reigns of the Romanov line after Peter the Great.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 13 + Quick Tip

This chapter, more than others, admonishes you, the researcher, to think like a reader; in this case, the text details how to revise organization and argument. Generally (I learned this first during the training sessions for being a writing tutor), the order of revision should proceed from global (structure, coherence, etc.) to sentence-level (punctuation, mechanics, spelling, etc.). Two hints from the authors: start early, and take your time.

Organization
  1. Find the "outer frame of your paper: your introduction and conclusion, and a sentence in each that states your main claim." Where does each section begin? end? Underline topic sentences and write headings (these may or may not come out, depending on format). Do your introduction and conclusion agree? Adjust the claim sentence(s) in each accordingly.
  2. Find the "major sections and their points." Set off the section introductions and conclusions; mark secondary claims; make sure the points are NEVER in the middle of a section. "If you cannot perform each of these steps quickly, you have probably uncovered a problem with the organization of your paper" (emph. added). Taken together, the resultant sentences from steps 1 and 2 should make a sentence outline. Can you read the outline as a coherent paragraph?
  3. Elucidate how the themes weave together. Try to think from the viewpoint of Google, which operates by key word searching. Do those key words recur? What about the concepts? Secondary concepts? How do the primary and secondary concepts relate? Make section headings.
  4. Does it all add up? Practice explaining your paper (by a main-point outline only) to a willing audience ("friend, relative, or roommate").
Argument
  1. What is it? Look back at the outline (end of step 2, above) and see whether it lists your claims. Ignoring the primary evidence you wrote into the paper, skim for "the expression of your analysis, your evaluation, your judgment" (emph. orig.). The ignored and the not-ignored should balance each other almost equally.
  2. How good is it? Is your evidence satisfactory? Your qualifications? Does the paper read like a conversation as opposed to a contest? Do you still need to spell out warrants?
  3. Ask an audience to skim your paper just as you skimmed your sources. Can they get the gist and argument?
Quick Tip: titles and abstracts
  • Titles: have the format "[Catchy and relevant phrase]: [key terms]." An example, from the paper I wrote for freshman composition: "Your Truth or The Truth: The Role of Tolerant Exclusivism in Interfaith Dialogue." Due for revision, perhaps, but...
  • Abstracts: either 'context + problem + main point' or 'context + problem + launching point.' Ideal length: 100-150 words. Summaries are similar. Make key words prominent.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Craft of Research: ethics, illustrations, and writing centers

Ethics etc.
  • Figures (tables, charts, graphs) appear straightforward, so you have to consider such things as truncation and scale in order to be honest with your readers.
  • When you use a figure, label it clearly (caption, suggest point, units of measurement); number the types separately (the second visual in a paper is not always #2); discuss each figure in proximity to it; and refer to each figure explicitly.

Illustrations - box in text. "To illustrate ___, use ___."

  • Process --> flow chart or decision tree
  • Logical relationship --> diagram or matrix
  • Object --> line drawing, drawing, or photo
  • Parts of a complex object --> line drawing or exploded view
  • Action/step in process --> line drawing, drawing, or photo
  • Spatial relationship --> line drawing, drawing
  • Complex detail --> photo or drawing
  • Research settings --> photo or diagram

Illustrations/headings - aid to your own organization.

  • If you can't put your linear essay (i.e. successive paragraphs) into some bulleted/list/logical-diagram form, you need to rethink your organization.
  • Temporary headings are perfectly fine, even if the format you're using discourages them.

Writing centers - with asides from my year's experience as a writing/reading coach.

  • Writing tutors are extremely useful, but only if you know what you're doing. If you don't have a plan beforehand, the session will likely be counterproductive. [Why didn't I find this Quick Tip before? So many students came to the center totally unprepared and passive.]
  • The suggested plan: (1) Make an outline of your current paper. (2) [my writing center does not do this:] Make two clean copies of the paper. The tutor will mark up one; you should mark up the other with section divisions, headings, circled key words, and a highlighted main point. (3) At the end, get a summary and plan in writing. This ensures that you remember what you did later.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Singing the Psalms

Instead of a pastor-led study of the Psalms this morning, our Cantor practiced on us his plenary address for the LCMS convention on worship, coming up soon.
  1. Today. Where are we in terms of worship? * Different styles in single churches. "Traditional" = what a church had worked out before adding new styles. Changes were adiaphora (Greek, 'middle things'). But what about new formats? Culture informs these new services; therefore, they are "contemporary"/"relevant." But culture doesn't sing the Psalms. * This practice of adding new formats correlates with lower membership. How could this be (a little tongue-in-cheek)? Do people actually want to work out their disagreements (sorting out adiaphora --> "traditional") rather than have one thing for each person?
  2. Psalms. Sing texts in their exact words and whole meaning. * "New song" = song of salvation. Different tunes, same story. * Sing about "the God who ____" - faith's response. That's why we sing them. * Liturgical correctness? Psalms only "work" if those singing them are God's people - not a tremendously good evangelism tool.
  3. Singing. How? You'll find a way. Remember, though, that words are NOT adiaphora. * Simple is good. If "increasing composition causes decreasing Psalmody," why the many choirs of the Temple in the days of the kings of Israel? * Use skill and practice, musicians! Choices include antiphon-chanting, choir, accompaniment, anthem, refrain-verses, responsive, soloist, Anglican chant, etc. Remember parallelism in Hebrew poetry - a responsive singing style brings this out. Be guided by the text and context. * Music should magnify the Word itself.

Pentecost 10

Readings: Psalm 95; Isaiah 44:6-8; Romans 8:18-22 (sermon text); Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Recall: chapter 7 - Paul probes depths of our sin; chapter 8 - forgiveness of sins, our being children/heirs of God. But how to cope with suffering? Today, see its context, the entire universe. Our present sufferings are nothing compared to future glory. Even if we suffer 24/7/365, we will spend an infinitely longer time in glory.

Paul anthropomorphizes the universe as impatient for the revealing of God's now-secret sons and daughters. That will surprise the evil (all others, Satan's children) who think that only this life matters. Why does creation wait? Answer: the universe is winding down, subjected to futility. All was cursed at the Fall. But God "subjected it in hope" - how we live (but the evil live by sight). We sin too - do we slap cheeks, or turn ours? We confess, are forgiven, and suffer in hope.

Now to the personal side of suffering. Our souls are redeemed and renewed, but our bodies are imperfect, waiting to be perfected. God, the Perfecter, puts a deposit on each of us, His Holy Spirit in our Baptism. He makes us to walk in hope, keeping joy through suffering. Be impatient for heaven!

Prayer is a wonderful tool in our possession; unfortunately, Lutherans don't use it nearly often enough. Use it in the waiting period; the Spirit Himself, in us, groans our petitions to the Father. He knows your spirit completely, also knowing Himself and interceding for us. Cope with suffering this way: know that the Holy Spirit sustains you.
While you're waiting, also sing the Psalms!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 12

Examples, advantages/disadvantages, and uses of tables, charts, and graphs follow, with links to an example of each.

Tables
  • Properties: precise, good for large amounts of data, and geared toward the readers drawing their own conclusions.
  • Types: number tables (may or may not arrange data by a particular point you want to make) and word tables (good for comparing simple concepts).
  • Principles: Keep "independent elements" (e.g. names of cities) in the leftmost column, dependent variables in their own columns. Group rows into fours or fives if your table has many rows. Always interpret the data in your paper.
Charts
  • Properties: general (vs. precise), good for comparing smaller amounts of data, and may imply a story, depending on how you arrange the variables.
  • Types: bar charts (avoid 3-D, elaborate, and divided-bar charts - if you use the latter, provide an accurate key for each variable), pie charts (good only for very simple comparisons), and volume charts in general (e.g. a 3-D barrel divided into sections).
  • Alternative: a point chart.
Graphs
  • Properties: imprecise, good for showing "rough relationships among many points" - remember that readers will extrapolate off either end.
  • Types: point, connected-line, connected-point, and area graphs.
Rhetorical impact, a.k.a. borderline lying with statistics
  • Think of all the possible ways you could arrange the data you present with a graph, stacked (area) ones in particular. By switching the order of variables or adjusting the scale (e.g. cutting off the lower 50% of a graph) you can dramatically alter the initial impression of trends in data.
  • This will be discussed in more detail in the "Ethics" section, tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Craft of Research: Quick Tip, intro to visuals

Quick Tip: how and when to quote, how and when to paraphrase.
  • Where to paraphrase: sciences.
  • Where to quote: humanities.
  • How to paraphrase: Restate in your own words and cite, mentioning the author's name in the sentence if you want to highlight him/her/them.
  • How to quote: (1) Introduce or use a colon (e.g. The authors describe how to introduce a quote: "with a colon or introductory phrase" (Booth, Colomb, and Williams 172)). (2) Integrate it, using [] and ... to make the grammar of the quote match that of the sentence. (3) Block quote, for at least three lines of source text; clearly connect your idea with the quote.
  • "Do not begin a sentence with quoted material and end it with your own words" - do it the other way around.
  • When to quote: you wish to use the source as primary data/authoritative, or when the exact words are better to use.
  • When to paraphrase: content is more important than exact words, or when you can say it better.
Introduction to using visuals in a paper
  • Tables/graphs/charts are good if the data you want to show are well-defined or show a relationship (independent to dependent variables). Examples: change in numbers of something, distribution of ages, etc.
  • Factors: Precision (charts/graphs <>
  • Principles: Arrange data for your purpose; keep it very simple; and keep your point (in the actual text of the paper) as adjacent as possible to the graphic.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 11

Finally we get to drafting! First, of course, you must plan...

Plans - things to think about before drafting
  • Recognize readiness: when you have a sense of your paper, a tentative outline, evidence to support a point (4 criteria: concise, contestable, clear, and concrete), and perhaps warrants and objections.
  • Trashable vs. polishable drafting: you will cut out quite a lot of material, so begin early.
Traps in structure
  • Slavish mimicry of a given assignment, if any. DO NOT "repeat the assignment word for word in your first paragraph"!
  • Source summary vs. synthesis and analysis. The paper must have your cogitation apparent throughout.
  • Using data to organize: this is too predictable. Practice shuffling data by different categorizations (e.g. instead of by the standard people/places/things, perhaps do it by people-thing relationships).
  • Telling what you did. "The first issue I addressed was . . . , Then I compared . . ."
Steps for drafting (but they don't have to be in this order)
  • Should your point be in your introduction or in the conclusion? The Golden Rule applies here: "In general, plan your paper so that a reader...could skim your paper and get its general gist and the gist of each section."
  • Have a temporary introduction that lays out the plan for yourself. Open with some context; if you are stuck, refer to the tripartite question of Chapter 4 (I am studying ____ because I want to find out whether ____ in order to understand how ____).
  • Necessary context: give just enough; keep summaries short; if it ends up awkwardly long, end that summary with the absolutely vital points.
  • Revise the outline. Put your audience first. Readers generally prefer old (vs. new), short/simple (vs. long/complex), and uncontested (vs. controversial). However, these three may conflict, so judge the relative importance of each. Other ways to organize include chronologically, logically (e.g. evidence --> claim), or concessions/conditions --> objection --> rebuttal --> "your own affirmative evidence."
  • Judiciously select data. You will discard much.
    Ernest Hemingway once said that you know you're writing well when you discard stuff you know is good. You know you have constructed a convincing argument when you find yourself discarding material that looks good - but not as good as what you keep.
Producing a draft that's a draft - one you can revise
  • Ways to draft: get-raw-ideas-out (turning off the computer monitor!), which leaves room for drastic rearrangements; or perfectionist, which makes global revision difficult. To do the latter, say the authors, "you must have a detailed outline." I tend toward the latter and, fortunately, enjoy outlines somewhat.
  • Habit. "Ritualistically straighten up your desk, sit down, sharpen your pencils or boot up your computer, get the light just right, knowing that you will sit there for an absolutely irreducible period of time." Try to prime the pump.
The High Crime, Plagiarism, and its Prevention
  • Definition: taking someone else's words or ideas, directly or indirectly, intentionally or inadvertently, and using them as your own (i.e. without citations).
  • Direct-quote stealing: to prevent, make a block quote (Quick Tip, tomorrow) or put in quotation marks; record words verbatim (use [] and ... to show changes); cite.
  • Direct-idea stealing: using ideas while changing terms and not crediting the authors. Common knowledge may need no citation. If you can cite a source for an idea, do so.
  • Indirect quote-stealing: summaries and paraphrases. "[I]n fields that use a lot of direct quotation, such as history and English, close paraphrases [used in law, for example] are risky." May be tricky to recognize. To detect, read your paper along with the source.
  • Test: "Be conscious of where your eyes are as you put words on paper or on a screen."
Final hints
  • Clean up the draft if you are the get-raw-ideas-out type of drafter.
  • Make sure you have notes, quotes, etc.
  • Skim to discern your logical flow. Mark odd-sounding passages.
  • Remember your readers! How will they read your paper?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Craft of Research: Quick Tip sandwich

First Quick Tip: two frequent causes of failed arguments.
  • Evidence is not the right type for the field in which you are writing - e.g. direct quotations (often used in humanities papers) are usually a bad idea for an engineering essay (which would be much more likely to use quantitative data).
  • You oversimplify. Remember to include alternate possible explanations - at least consider them. No argument is as simple as it sounds.
Prologue to Part 4 (drafting!) is, as usual, about planning. Characteristics that should be reflected in that plan:
  • Audience! How much do you know about them? Work that information in.
  • Character: Are you "passionately committed," or are you "dispassionate"?
  • Question! Read chapter 4 for details.
  • Main point/claim/thesis + some sub-points. These don't have to be complete, but have an idea of them.
  • Order of parts in your paper: either for a standard form (for a particular discipline or genre) or another logical sequence.
Recommendations for drafting in general:
  • Allow for non-linear progress. Nobody sits down and spits out a whole first draft.
  • Start early! This leaves "time for dead ends, restarts, new ideas, further research, and revision - especially revision..."
  • Once drafting, get your ideas out rapidly. If you, like me, are a perfectionist about matters such as spelling and forms of sentences, turn off the monitor or write with your eyes closed.
  • Test your argument and organization, and whatever else you think of, on potential, informed audience members.
  • Write as you go.
Quick Tip 2: Outlining. Two main types: topical (subject phrases - good for early stages) and point-based (explains your arguments and sub-arguments more thoroughly). The authors recommend as a useful outline (to be done after drafting) a combination of point and topical.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 10

The authors, as usual, explain qualifications better than I do, so here's an outline.

Review
  1. Claims and evidence. Claim = concrete + debatable. Evidence = reliable + relevant. Break into sub-claims for your readers.
  2. Warrants = valid connections between claims and evidence. Test your major warrants before writing.
Qualifications - beginners are usually ignorant of nuances of argument and generally "do not recognize their own limitations." This usually leads to a boring, unintelligent argument. Realize that you can almost never "propose an argument whose truth is 100% certain 100% of the time." Why? Writers are not God. Four ways to qualify your argument:
  1. Think of possible objections, then answer them. Types of objections: (a) ones you entertained (not all blind alleys, of course, but the major ones); (b) anticipated objections of readers (think from their background); (c) other possible explanations for a phenomenon you explain in a certain way; (d) critical-reader objections (very hard to think of ahead of time, but well worth thinking about). Grounds for reader rejection of your argument: (a) wrong definitions of key terms (try to think from multiple sides); (b) cause-effect oversimplifications; (c) using too little evidence to overgeneralize (extrapolating millions of years of biological existence based on hypotheses and a few hundred years of collective experience, anyone?); (d) ignoring exceptions to the rules you lay out.
  2. Be honest and "concede what you cannot rebut." This makes you more thoughtful in the eyes of your readers.
  3. Lay out limiters - take into account the possibility of changes of circumstances that usually don't change. Example: "We can conclude the earthquake occurred in central Costa Rica, so long as the instrumentation had been accurately calibrated" (emph. orig.).
  4. Narrow the scope of your claim, but don't do it too much!
Argument building and use as a guide
  • Try rearranging claims, evidence, warrant, and qualifications to see various effects.
  • Think about the structure of the arguments of your sources. This helps your understanding and organization.
  • The three rhetorical appeals of any argument: logos (logic), pathos (inspiring feelings in your readers), and ethos (your own credibility, enhanced by the List of Four, above).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Update and thank you!

In May I asked the Christians among you readers to pray for several items. Updates:
  • S (aunt) has completed the radiation and is presumably improving. Unfortunately, a member of a chat room took liberties in spreading the blog's location, so S's daughter J decided to limit readership to invited family members. I have yet to obtain her email.
  • P has now graduated from a small plane (up to 200mph) to a 3-seat 400mph plane!
  • Darth Kelvin finally completed his checkride and is now an instrument-rated private pilot. His next goal is a single-engine commercial plane.
  • My bunion? Gone. Pain? Gone. Swelling? Only when I stand for several minutes. The next checkup is on the 25th. Dr. B says it has been healing abnormally quickly, something I attribute directly to the prayers of all of you.
Thank you. God is good.

The Craft of Research: Quick Tip (challenging warrants)

Rule of thumb: Unpack them first. Ask a writer for his/her warrant for a claim, then ask for the evidence s/he used. The text offers divisions of various kinds of warrants:
  • Data-based: to challenge the statistics, get better ones (in other words, challenge the quality of the writer's data).
  • Authority-based: challenge the authority on whatever grounds are reasonable - the matter might be "beyond the reach of the authority's expertise" or the evidence you found may have been unknown to the authority.
  • Belief-system-based: since "facts" are made less relevant by the usage of belief, the easier way to challenge is to "show that the instance [cited] does not fall under the warrant." In other words, show that it is in a different category than the one to which the warrant applies.
  • Culture-based: very difficult to challenge. (How do you say that someone's culture is wrong?)
  • Methodology-based: these warrants must be applied to concrete data to have content. Important ones include generalization, analogy, cause-effect, sign, and categorization. How to challenge: look hard at the application in question or "point out limiting conditions."
  • Faith-based: this is in the general sense of anything believed. It cannot be challenged.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Selected Psalms: 103, 107

We ran out of time on Psalm 107, so it might be continued next week. Bullets:

Psalm 103 - praise plus deep theological truth. Begins and ends with "Bless the Lord, O my soul." May be read after receiving the Lord's body and blood (while Psalm 51 may be read before).
  • 1-2: parallel. Verse 1 is chiasmic (ABBA), as is John 1:1-14. Blessing God's name (e.g. in the Trinitarian invocation at beginning of service) = blessing God Himself. Verse 2 uses the negative statement instead of parallelism.
  • 3-5: often misused by faith healers (works-healing and heaven on earth, which would make the real heaven not God's best). Rather, the verses point to heaven, where God will wipe all tears from the eyes of the saved.
  • 6-12: gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness of sins, and steadfast love! Verse 8 - compare Joel 2:13.
  • 13-22: God's compassion. See "Ozymandias" (Shelley; first poem on page). Verses 20-22 - compare 1 Corinthians 6:3.
Psalm 107 begins book V yet is associated with 105 and 106.
  • Refrain (with variations): 6-9, 13-16, 19-22, and 28-32. Chesed = "mercy."
  • Groups of people: wanderers, prisoners, fools (God-deniers), and sailors.
  • Final group (33-43): The Lord curses, the Lord blesses.

Pentecost 9

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65; Romans 8:12-17 (sermon text); and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Thank God the Holy Spirit more often for giving us the Scriptures! Today's Romans text is an excellent example. Paul makes three points:
  1. "Brothers" - fellow Christians - "we are debtors." What? Didn't Jesus remove our debt? Yes, but ours is a different debt. We owe none to Satan - for "if you live according to the flesh, you will die." Rather, our debt is to the rescuing Spirit of life.
  2. Verse 14 says that we are unique debtors. We are children of God - not of Satan, a taskmaster who is never satisfied - and so we are debtors to our Father. Think of our work not as a job (always working) but as joyful living for God (most decidedly NOT a taskmaster!).
  3. We, adopted by God, call Him "Abba" ("Daddy!") and, being thus children of God, under His care, are heirs. But debtors and heirs? Our inheritance shows up in two ways: suffering (a necessary part of our lives) and our eventual permanent life with Him (after all, He has promised to prepare a room for each of us).
"Bearing witness" - the Spirit doesn't use our fickle emotions as a foundation to do so. How, then? He uses God's infallible Word: the Father has given His only begotten Son for us!
Thank God that it all depends on Him!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 9

This chapter is about warrants, which show "why [your] data is not just reliable but relevant" (emph. orig.). Of course, your readers first have to accept your evidence as reliable (but that's why you use reputable sources!). In formal logic, a warrant is similar to both the major premise in a conditional syllogism (p --> q; p, therefore q) and a categorical syllogism (B = C; A = B; therefore A = C).The definition:
A warrant is a general principle that creates a logical bridge between
particular evidence and a particular claim.

Three criteria a warrant must satisfy:
  • Type of evidence in general;
  • Type of claim (again, in general) resultant from evidence; and
  • Stated/implied connection - cause/effect, one-portends-another, or many-times-allows-generalization.

Four undesirable qualities of a warrant that justify refusal:

  1. Falsehood. A too-general claim makes counterexamples easy. A too-narrow claim begs the question. Aim for the middle and don't use absolutes (always, none, etc.) if you can avoid it.
  2. Lack of clarity. Academic-field-specific warrants are usually unstated between researchers, but the outsider probably won't see the connection. State intermediate steps in reasoning.
  3. Inappropriateness. A literature-type warrant (e.g. "When the sound of one word occurs inside another, readers associate the meaning of the inside word with the outside word") would make less than no sense to, say, a historian (who, in the text, is studying the reasons Eisenhower - a man with a comforting voice and a good slogan - won).
  4. Inapplicability. The authors recommend decomposing the argument to test it, thus: (a) State the warrant as evidence-claim. (b) State argument as evidence-claim. (c) Do the major terms in each, match?

Always remember your audience and how they will view your paper. Conclusions that jump out at you will probably not jump out at them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 8 and a Quick Tip

Having previously surveyed the components of a good argument, the core of any research, the authors discuss claims and evidence in detail. These two elements of an argument should always be stated plainly.

Characteristics of a good claim:
  • substantive (not "what I did"; not "what this paper will do"; but saying something that matters about a topic;
  • contestable (not historical fact alone, but taking a side of an issue that can have many sides. See Quick Tip, below); and
  • specific. Example: Thus the emancipation of the Russian peasants was only symbolic, because while they gained control over their daily affairs, their economic condition deteriorated so sharply that their new social status did not affect the material quality of their existence.
Claims like the one above can be used to guide research and sort evidence. Phrases such as (for example) "material lives," "low," "control," "rose," and "deteriorated" can be used as categories.

Six tests for evidence: it must be
  1. Accurate. Get the authors' context right and aim for factual perfection.
  2. Precise. Don't use vague, fudgy words (great deal, a high probability, large, etc.).
  3. Sufficient. Get more than you think is necessary. Never settle for just one bit of data.
  4. Representative. Take a proper sampling of the population/research/etc.
  5. Authoritative. Good criteria include a source being cited often and current. Don't settle for oversimplification or "uninformed cynicism" (i.e. views of "authorities"). Know the material before trusting a source.
  6. Perspicuous. Show the relevance of your evidence and unpack data and quotations to show readers your train of thought in using that evidence to reach a conclusion.
Your main claim, backed up by various categories of evidence, will spawn sub-claims for each of those categories. Each sub-claim will have its own evidence as well.

Quick Tip: a sampling of idea categories in which to look for possible contradictions to make (which could make up the argument of your paper).
  • Substantive: new data, wrong data, bad logic.
  • Feature: category (the evidence can be sorted otherwise), part-whole ("Though X seems to be an integral part of Y, it is not"), internal development ("Though both X and Y may seem to have come from Z, X didn't"), external cause-effect ("Though X and Y seem to correlate, they do not"), and value ("Though X seems to be good, it is not")...
  • Perspectival: thinking outside the box that the author used can lead to different conclusions.
If you find contradictions of or like these, the authors recommend keeping a record for later use in your introduction (chapter 15).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Craft of Research: intro to part 3; chapter 7

Part 3 deals with the relationships between drafting (the first draft! which they recommend you do only when you have a pile of information, sufficiently sorted), arguments, and conversations. That sorting of data, however, is weakest in a linear order, one with only "a plausible sequence." You must have a stronger organizational plan in mind - "not from the categories of your data but from your own questions and their answers." That organizing principle will be your central claim, a.k.a. argument, a.k.a. conversation with readers.

So how to make a good argument? That's what chapter 7 is about, a survey of the parts of argument. Here they are; the first two must always be stated plainly; the third, often.
  • Claim: what you are asking your readers to believe.
  • Evidence: data or logic that backs up your claim.
  • Warrant: answers "How is the evidence relevant to the claim?"
  • Qualifications: limiting, accuracy-increasing factors to the claim. This isn't waffling.
An example of all four parts (emphasis in orig.):
Your [blood sugar] reading is 200 {evidence}, so you should be checked {claim}, because that much glucose in the blood is a good {qualification} sign that you may {qualification} have diabetes {warrant}, unless, of course, you just ate something sugary {qualification}.
As your argument becomes more complicated (and therefore interesting!), you'll need more of the above types of qualification.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Organic chemistry proverbs

Based on Proverbs 6:6-11 and on today's study session with this book (of whose solutions manual I am desirous):
Go to the small ant, the aphid, the fly, and the small hopping spider, you academic sluggard!
Consider their ways and be wise,
Who, having no large brain, large eyes, or complex intellect,
Crawl over my book in summer,
And strive to gather knowledge thereby.
How long will you refuse to study, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your poor grades and lack of industriousness?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep--
So shall your failing come on you like a prowler,
And your expulsion like an armed man.
Why am I studying that horror of subjects, organic chemistry, now? Answer: I'd rather not be seeing that material for the first time come autumn.

The Craft of Research: Chapter 6 and a Quick Tip

Once you gather your sources (yesterday's post), or are still in the process of doing so, you should be evaluating them - which ones are valuable, which ones have weak arguments, and how to cite them accurately and fairly, avoiding plagiarism and yanking-out-of-context.

Two principles for sources, especially secondary (those based on a primary, or eyewitness, source): (1) "One good source is worth more than a score of mediocre ones"; (2) "One accurate summary of a good source is sometimes worth more than the source itself" (emphasis orig.). Sadly, much research is not reported accurately, even by other scholars themselves. Here's how to go about good reading and using (not a sequence of steps, but rather a group):

  1. Evaluate sources. (1) Skim books/articles (see Quick Tip at end). (2) When skimming tells you that a source is important, read it slowly and with awareness as to the total context of any statements you might use. If you see "quoted in" after information, trace that back and see how (in)accurately researchers have quoted the original material from its original context.
  2. Take full notes. Make notecards with complete bibliographical information (i.e. author/editor, title, volume, publisher, edition, place published, date, page number, keywords, summary of source, direct quotation, your own thoughts about connections, and library call numbers for books). Use a text document or 5x8 cards - 3x5 are impractical unless you naturally write in a 6-point font. After making notes, check the source again. Be careful not to rephrase too closely to the original. If it's a direct quote, make LARGE quote marks around the quoted text, word for word.
  3. Get the context right. Look at the author's line of reasoning, relative importance of points in the original source, the author's level of confidence ("seems to ___"), author's views vs. author's summary of someone else (this can be tricky!), roots of disagreement in two different sources, etc. Triple-check.
  4. Get help from others! Form a study group, explain your thinking at a given point to laymen, and ask for others' critical opinions.
Quick Tip: steps for speedy, accurate reading. Take notes during all of them! The fifth is optional.

  1. Know the source's geography - things to read include the abstract (articles), headings, chapter titles, oft-cited sources, table of contents, sections of chapters, etc.
  2. Find the point of the argument - this should be in the introduction (particularly the last part thereof) or the conclusion. Note types of evidence used.
  3. Find important sub-points. Look for transition words (first...second..., finally..., etc.) and read the first and last parts of each transitioned chunk.
  4. Find key themes. Write these with the source's bibliographical information. These aid in later sifting of sources.
  5. Skim paragraphs - first sentence + last sentence. Do this if steps 1-4 give iffy answers.
Also do these for your own writing. If it's difficult, the organization needs reworking.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 5...plus two non-surprises

Non-surprises first: China is intolerant. The U.S. is more honorable than its naysayers. Both good reads.

Chapter 5 is about finding sources based on the possible research questions you come up with. List:

Library
  • Reference librarians - their job is to be asked questions (but do have specific ones)!
  • Encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographical guides, card catalogs, and research guides.
People
  • Experts - explain your project, then listen for source ideas.
  • Interviews - these make good primary sources, but plan beforehand.
Bibliographical trails
  • Look for possible sources in a book's preface, bibliography and index. Write good-looking ones down.
  • Next, sift out the most relevant literature, allowing for interesting/exotic sources too.
Next...how to use those sources!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 4

Wherein the authors detail how to get from questions (last chapter) to problems.

What is a problem not? A topic, for one. Why the confusion? "Experienced researchers often talk about their research problem in a shorthand way that seems to describe it just as a topic: I'm working on adult measles, or on early Aztec pots, or on the mating calls of Wyoming elk" (emphasis in orig.).

What is a problem in the research sense of the word? According to the book, it has two parts: a condition/situation and costs. In research (versus life), conditions relate to a lack of knowledge about something, e.g. "How did Latin epics influence Old English poetry?" Costs, in the same vein, are trickier to understand: "If we do not understand _____, we will not understand something yet more significant" (emph. orig.).

This leads to a discussion of pure vs. applied research. The difference lies in the rationale (the third, indirect question in yesterday's post): if it is "in order to understand" or a related word, it counts as pure, whereas if it is "in order to measure" or a related word, it is applied. A common mistake of beginners, say the authors, is to "cobble the solution of a research problem onto the solution of a practical problem." This leads to a weak connection of the question (second question) and rationale (third question). If you want to add the applications of your research to the pure-research results, add a fourth question, significance (e.g. "so that we will know more about doing something...").

Finally, how do practical problems relate to research? The book has a circular diagram, which you can approximate if you twist the following lines text into meeting end-to-end:

Practical problem motivates Research question defines Research problem finds Research answer helps to solve Practical problem...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pentecost 8

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalm 145, Romans 7:14-25a (tough Scripture; sermon text), and Matthew 11:25-30.
Paul: I want to do God's will but fail miserably. I don't want to do evil but I do plenty anyway. But he is NOT talking about the life of a non-Christian! On the contrary, there's no such thing as a "victorious Christian life" except in heaven. Don't expect perfection from working on "bad habits" on your own.

On the flip side, don't fall into despair, fatalism, a life of "sin so that grace may abound." Take the chapter as neither of these extremes; Paul talks to sinners who are also saved. God's will is good - we delight in it in our inner, new self. Our old self rears its head at the same time. Sin is more than isolated bad deeds (as Islam teaches). It's anything contrary to God's will - our whole life spend under the old Adam - "we are by nature sinful and unclean."

So what are we to do? See the text! Salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Good deeds are necessary in our lives, but they do not make or increase salvation. Rather, they flow from faith given by God. When we sin, we cling more tightly to Christ's cross. There is a war in our two selves - but we have a valiant Warrior who promises to "deliver me from this body of death." God will guard and keep us from unbelief. Pray to overcome it through our Savior. We fail; Christ avails.
We have freedom to reject this gift. Why wouldn't we rather be enslaved to God?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Craft of Research: chapter 3

This chapter shows how to get from interests to topics to narrower topics to generated questions. At the end is the beginning of that process applied to an interest of mine.

To get from an interest to a topic: what do you most deeply care about? Use a bibliographical resource (e.g. the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature). Do a general search to see whether there's enough material to cover your topic, which will be much more specific.

To get from a broad topic ("too broad if you can state it in fewer than four or five words") to a narrower one: good words to use are conflict, describe, contribute, and develop, and the corresponding nouns where applicable. Then make a sentence out of your narrower topic; doing so helps you to see gaps and issues more easily, aiding in generation of questions. An example (from the book) of this progression...
  • Broad topic: Free will and historical inevitability in Tolstoy's War and Peace.
  • Narrower topic: The conflict of free will and historical inevitability in Tolstoy's description of three battles in War and Peace.
  • Sentence: Tolstoy describes three battles in a way that makes free will conflict with historical inevitability [emphasis in orig.].
Example of a too-narrow topic:
The decision to lengthen the wing tips on the DC-3 prototype as a result of the military desire to use the DC-3 as a cargo carrier.
How to generate questions? In other words, how to make the paper more interesting than an encyclopedia article? How to make the paper matter? "Start by barraging your topic with question after question, first with the obvious..." Ask who, what, when, and where, recording those questions for later investigation. Categories:
  • Parts and wholes - what are its parts? and to what wholes does it belong?
  • History and changes - how is it a dynamic entity? and of what larger trend is it an episode?
  • Categories and characteristics - what is its range of variation? and in what larger categories does it belong?
  • Value - how is it used? and of what value are its parts?
Then mix and match; as you may have done as a youngster with a jar of buttons, try sorting the answers in different ways. Now concentrate on how and why, i.e. questions that need detailed answers. That will be helpful in the next stage, judging a question's significance (a.k.a. developing a research question...

So what? Why should others care about your topic, and why should you? The book offers three steps, the second and third being indirect questions.

1. Name the topic: "I am learning about/working on/studying ______."
2. Imply the question: "I am studying X because I want to find out who/ what/ when/ where/ whether/ why/ how ______."
3. Motivate the question: "I am studying X ... in order to understand how/why _______."

The authors liken this to the audience checklist; you probably cannot fill it out completely at the start. "You will know that you have an advanced research project when what follows the in order to understand is important not just to you but to your readers as well" (emphasis in orig.).

Quick Tips: How in the world to find a topic? Some places to look:
  • A more advanced textbook in the field of interest (for me, one such course is Cosmogony)
  • A public lecture
  • Abstracts (esp. in databases - check library)
  • General reference (library search, encyclopedia, etc.)
  • Hot topics
  • Museums
  • Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
  • Popular opinion that may not be right - find out what is
  • Brainstorm with friends!
* * * * * * *

One interest of mine is the debate between scientific theories, namely creationism (which is not equivalent to ID) versus macroevolutionism. This debate is framed another way in the discipline of cosmogony, the study of origins and the models proposed. First, a general search of "cosmogony" in several places:
  • Google Scholar: about 19,600 hits.
  • Academic Search Premier (college-purchased database): 102 papers.
  • A community college library subject search: 16 items (if most are books, that's a good number, especially if I choose later to rely more on papers).
  • Expanded Academic ASAP (another database): 90 papers. Subdivisions given are analysis; beliefs, opinions and attitudes; cases; comparative analysis; conferences, meetings and seminars; criticism and interpretation; evaluation; history; influence; laws, regulations and rules; models; myths and legends; observations; origin; portrayals; public opinion; religious aspects; research; services; social aspects; social policy; and study and teaching.
The subdivisions suggest narrower topics. But that is for another day.

Update 7/7/08: I had time to brainstorm questions. Got any better ones? Below, they're sorted (topic: cosmogony - not a very good article; sorry) by the who/what/where/when/why/how system.

Who
  • Who were the first discrete (as opposed to mingling it with other fields) cosmogonists?
  • Who should learn about it?
  • Who studies it these days?
  • Who works (non-scholarly) with it?
  • Who influenced its change?
What
  • What is its definition?
  • What are its subdivisions?
  • What sorts of written etc. material are there about it?
  • What are important tangential/related topics?
  • What other models are there besides Creation and Evolution?
  • What jobs involve using and creating knowledge about it?
  • What causes/caused the theories/models to change over time?
  • What other fields are similar to it in characteristics?
  • What are its characteristics?
Where
  • Where was it originally begun? developed? used?
When
  • When did inklings of it (as a discrete discipline) start?
  • When did it become a discrete field of study?
Why
  • Why does studying it matter?
  • Why do people decide to study cosmogony?
  • Why was it developed?
How
  • How does one do research in cosmogony?
  • How does it influence/be influenced by related fields and topics?
  • How is research about it used?
  • How was it developed?
  • How has the study of it changed over time?
  • How have the involved models changed over time?
  • How can its subdivisions be used?

Friday, July 4, 2008

A summer salad: red, white, and blue

Bloggers worldwide have excellent posts about you-know-what-day-it-is. Here is a sampling.
If you'd like me to add a post you did for today but one I didn't include, comment and I will add your post below.

The Craft of Research: 2 quick tips and Part 2 prologue

Quick Tips 1: audience analysis checklist. (The book advises periodic updates of each researcher's answers to this list's questions.)
  • Who is your audience? Professionals in your field? General readers who know as much about the topic as you do? a different amount?
  • What do they expect? Entertainment? Problem solving? Understanding?
  • How much do they know? What is their level of background knowledge compared to you? What is their level of knowledge about the specific topic compared to you? What special interest do they have? What do they expect you to discuss about the topic?
  • Do they already understand the question? Do they recognize the question of the paper? Do they not? Is it their problem at all? How much persuasion that it's important do you have to do? Is the problem more pragmatic/tangible or scholarly/conceptual?
  • How will they react to your answer? What do you want your readers to do after reading? Will the solution be at odds with their beliefs? Will they know standard refutations? Will the readers want to see the process leading up to the solution?
  • In what context will they read the paper? Did they ask for it? Will it be in a publication? Are there approval procedures you must pass through? What format do the readers expect of the paper?
Quick Tips 2: writing in groups.
  • Three keys: (1) Talk a lot - make a flexible plan, make goals, use checklists, maintain an outline (topic first, then argument later), keep to some schedule, make an annotated bibliography, etc. (2) "Agree to disagree, and then to agree" - don't let minor issues sidetrack the group, but rather keep conflicts in perspective. (3) Have a leader and a team - the leader can be a transitive position (everyone takes a turn) or permanent.
  • Three strategies: (1) "Divide, delegate, and conquer" - tailor skills to tasks; do not have each person write a separate section of the paper by themselves alone, for this will make the final product more like a patchwork quilt. (2) "Write side-by-side" - especially when the group is small and can devote many meetings together. Ideas will probably be half-formed for much of the time, which makes some uncomfortable. (3) Take turns - there are many ways to do it. Keep flexible.
Part 2 prologue: practical tips for planning.
  • First steps: specify the topic (e.g. from a history of geology to a history of non-dinosaur fossil excavation in America between 1800 and 1950), develop questions based on that topic (these will guide your research), and gather data pertinent to those questions. After these steps, you will generally shape your argument (part 4 of the book).
  • Write along the way! Brainstorm, mull connections between facts, summarize positions, make notes on sources, outline, make lists, consider alternate viewpoints, etc.
  • Remember that the research process is almost never linear: you will repeat stages in parts, take stages out of order, and sometimes end up in a dead end.
Tomorrow we get into more 'meat.'

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 2

...aka the Audience Chapter. Included in any plan for research (see previous post) should be a consideration of your intended audience(s). Are they teachers? Fellow researchers? Laymen? How much background do they need? How much credibility (ethos) do you need to establish?
  • What form you want your writing to take (e.g. a lab report) will influence your research and how you go about it. Include form in your plan before starting to research.
  • What roles do you see your audience taking? Do they want to be entertained? enriched pragmatically? enriched in comprehension of a topic?
  • Your goal in any research: to give a good road map for your readers while removing all conceivable stumbling blocks. Make the issue relevant to them if it is not already. Strength of argument counts very much. If your audience is the small subset of fully closed minds (who brush off any contrary argument as "bad" or "irrelevant"), give up.
  • Is your goal to change the beliefs of your readers? That's easier for experienced researchers. "If you are a beginning researcher, do not think that you have to meet an expectation that high."
  • Is your goal to inspire action? Make sure it changes beliefs first. (Analogy from theology: Works count for nothing without faith. Faith, and nothing else, produces works that count.)
  • Are you overwhelmed with the idea of beginning such an ambitious project? The authors offer three hints: (1) Know about the difficulties beforehand. (2) Write about your topic from the beginning of the process - the first draft and final report are most definitely not the only writing you'll be doing. (3) Get the first steps (incl. finding a topic) down pat; manage how complex you envision the total project to be.
Why not start a short project this summer, even if just for practice?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Craft of Research: Preface and Chapter 1

While my copy is the first edition (which is why it got discarded from the local library's shelves, which was why it was on sale for a quarter a few months ago), Google Books features the third. Some notes from the preface:
  • Purposes: acquaint "beginning researchers" to the general topic of research, help those same students (in the old sense of the word) with a well-argued research project, and give tips for reading your writing like a reader.
  • Rather than "[moving] sequentially from finding a topic to stating a thesis to filling in note cards to drafting and revision" - the typical given sequence that almost never works precisely that way, the authors show the loop nature of research: repeating parts of processes, jumping around between steps, etc.
  • "That means, of course, that you must read this book twice, because we will describe not only how earlier stages anticipate later ones, but how later stages motivate earlier ones." There goes the rest of my summer. :-)
  • They explain the otherwise "mysterious creative process"; this should prove helpful to all the non-omniscient among us, including me.
Part 1 of the book (which we should get through a bit before the weekend): "Research, Researchers, and Readers." The Prologue lays a scaffold, viz:
  • A plan for research should be rough, general, not half-cocked ("don't just start writing"!), flexible, yet have a form. Two analogies for the flexible-vs-form criteria are a sonnet (rigid design - 14 lines, arranged in such and such a way, rhyme scheme, etc. - yet freedom within that design to write about anything) and DNA (the genes for muscle quality give a range of strength that a given person may develop).
  • Practical benefits of research include your own comprehension of the material, skills for later research, persistence, and, of course, critical thinking, without which society falls.
  • How to use the book: Part 1 is for new researchers; part 2 describes the process; part 3 details argument-making; part 4 is the final-report guide; "Quick Tips" are lists or flashes of insight.
Chapter 1 deals with the whys of research: why do it, why write it, and why write it formally. Tidbits:
  • Why do research? To answer a question for yourself or for others. We do it informally all the time, but few of us like to write it down in "research-y" ways. But [emphasis in original]...
    In fact, without reliable published research, we would be prisoners to what we alone see and hear, locked in the opinions of the moment.
    And we all know how bad that would be! Our choices are: do research, or else miss out on standing on giants' shoulders.
  • Why write it up? To remember what we learn ("What you don't write down, you are likely to forget, or worse, misremember"), to understand ("Writing induces thinking"), and to gain perspective ("we see [our ideas] in a clearer light, one that is always brighter and usually less flattering").
  • Why write the research paper? The authors' reasons are very similar to those in the above bullet. To quote an ancient sage: Qui docet, discet (He who teaches, learns). A word on education from page 9:
    It would be a feeble education that did not affect who and what you are . The deeper your education, the more it will change you. (That's why it is so important to choose carefully what you study and with whom.)
Isn't this tantalizing?

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 18 (the final chapter!)

Wingerson saved the best for last, discussing ideas swirling around the concept of human evolution. Quotes and bold comments:
  • "[Darwin] asserted [that] we have 'risen...to the very summit of the organic scale.' That we have risen so far through evolution (rather than being created through divine power), he added, may give us 'hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future.'" Why do these scientists take {macro+micro}evolution as fact? See quotes, below.
  • "Actually, the initial premise contains several flaws. For a start, we are not necessarily tending 'upward.' ... That assumption still underlies popular opinion about evolution, although mainstream biologists have abandoned it." Perhaps biology instruction has been infiltrated since the beginning by those nasty creationists!
  • [The] genes involved in diabetes are not inherently 'good' or 'bad.' Their value depends on the context. Whether people with diabetes would be more likely to survive a worldwide famine we cannot now know, and we don't want to find out either." But remember, as with genes, but not with morals.
  • "A variant [of a gene] is 'normal' only if it is 'functional' (and abnormal only if it is dysfunctional), but in many cases it is the situation that defines the function." See above.
  • "By the year 2020 the population should reach about 8 billion." A current estimate hasn't changed.
  • "It's an old argument and one not often heard from an eminent geneticist: let's not mess with nature until we understand it better." Please repeat that! Many times!
  • "An hour of exercise a day and avoiding obesity will eliminate 60 percent of diabetes, [James] Neel said, far more effectively than gene therapy." I said this a few days ago.
  • "The genome project 'is going to totally disrupt some concepts we have,' [Georgia] Dunston predicts. 'Do you want to understand biology, or do you want to hold on to your concepts?'" Speak for yourselves, certain closed-minded anti-creationists, shall we say.
  • "[Said Eric Juengst,] There's nothing wrong with families making private reproductive decisions...'The error,' he said, 'comes when we shift to making it public policy.'" Read: nanny state.
What do you readers think of the book as a whole, now that you've read each of its chapters through my eyes?