the johnnie chair

{a student-run blog about life at st. john's college, santa fe}

Academic Journals Publish Over 100 Nonsensical Papers

Posted on May 12, 2014

Oh my, does it get any better than this?

In 2005, three MIT Students developed software that could churn out nonsense disguised as academic papers. According to The Guardian, they wanted to expose how academic conferences charge substantial entry fees but have (laughably) low standards for the papers they accept. Their gibberish paper was accepted.

Since then, the software they used to create the paper has been released online, and is apparently responsible for over 100 papers that have been published by the U.S. Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Another 16 were printed by a German publisher, Springer.

Here’s a snippet from one of the original papers, courtesy of MIT News:

Many physicists would agree that, had it not been for congestion control, the evaluation of web browsers might never have occurred. In fact, few hackers worldwide would disagree with the essential unification of voice-over-IP and public-private key pair. In order to solve this riddle, we confirm that SMPs can be made stochastic, cacheable, and interposable.

Of course, there’s a side to all this humor that’s not so innocent or inconsequential. What does it say about the publish or perish academic environment, where researchers are pressured to release papers that no one will read, just to claim the achievement on their résumé? As Slate sums up:

Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, two things took place. First, academic publishing became an enormously lucrative business. And second, because administrators erroneously believed it to be a means of objective measurement, the advancement of academic careers became conditional on contributions to the business of academic publishing.

As Peter Higgs said after he won last year’s Nobel Prize in physics, “Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.” Jens Skou, a 1997 Nobel Laureate, put it this way in his Nobel biographical statement: today’s system puts pressure on scientists for, “too fast publication, and to publish too short papers, and the evaluation process use[s] a lot of manpower. It does not give time to become absorbed in a problem as the previous system [did].”

Leave your thoughts in the comments: what’s a better way to evaluate and provide funding for meaningful research?

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No Questions at this Time

Posted on May 4, 2014

At. St. John’s we ask a lot of questions, about everything and then some.  What does it mean? How did you interpret that passage? What is God? Does time exist? Can you flesh that out? You get the point. We think constantly, pushing our minds to intellectuals limits and to the point of temporary(?) insanity.

Why do we do it? Well, that question seems to explain, if not answer, itself. We ask because, why not? We ask because we cannot think of a reason not to pursue knowledge and understanding to its or our limits. We push when it seems like there’s nothing left, and we always find more. It’s a goddamn thrilling and totally exhausting experience. At the end of the week the mental drain becomes so ultimate that nothing in the cosmos sounds better than a cosmo and some mindless chatter with your ladies. (This may be specific to me, but you get the picture.)

Yesterday I went out with my aforementioned ladies, to a few galleries and a light show at Santa Fe Institute of Art and Design. It was a stunning occasion, and just the break I needed. At one point, while waiting for the show to begin, we stopped into Eggshell and Walrus, a hipster-like gallery in the plaza, for the opening of a photographer’s latest work. She was fabulous, and some of her nudes really moved me. We made our way through the showing, and then towards the door. As we left, the proprietor turned towards us and asked ,

“Any questions?”

I couldn’t help smiling as I responded.

“Not at this time, but I’ll let you know if anything comes to mind.”

As we walked down the stairs, laughing and loving the beauty that surrounds us, I had a revelation. Nothing is more rewarding then having pushed your mind, your intellectual capacities,  and your ability to question to the point that you truly don’t have any questions. 

 

At least not at this time.

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The First Sentence

Posted on April 30, 2014

All you aspiring writers out there will know what I mean—you will perhaps have had something of the same moment yourself. Having just opened a new book, smelled its delicious pages, and run a finger over the font…you read the first sentence. It hits you suddenly, like an electric shock, or a plunge into cold water. That first sentence holds so much power, so much potential. It has at once the promise of a story unfolding and a story all its own. I began the novel Tinkers yesterday evening and after my usual moment of delightful, shivery awe at the first line: “George Washington Crosby began hallucinating eight days before he died.” I was struck by something else entirely.

How exactly does one produce such a sentence? The first sentence of any novel is the most important one, in that it is the make-or-break of whether or not the reader chooses to continue. How does one get there? Is it a moment of brilliance, striking like lightning, suddenly there in your mind’s eye? Does it perhaps come at the end, after the novel is finished, for only then can you know how to begin it? I’ve been trying to write a book since I was 9-years-old, without success, and I want answers to these literary secrets—the method behind the heart-clenching genius of the first sentence.

Help me out in the comments.

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“I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”.

Posted on April 17, 2014

Amidst the massive cloud of seminar papers that has been circulating throughout the student body, a certain Lebowski found his way onto campus. The classic white-russian drinking and robe-wearing Dude entered our lives with the ever-important reminder that “That rug really tied that room together!”. This cleverly titled, Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, production was a sentiment to the many hats that Johnnies wear. Being completely student run, the adaptation was able to capture the essence of the film and echo its humorous qualities in a manner that appeared to be effortless. It was truly an ensemble act with all the actors working together towards the common goal of conveying the Coen Brother’s original. The skillful portrayal of the Dude’s classic nonchalant manner partnered Walter’s disruptive superfluity, while Sir Lebowski’s air of arrogant dominance acted as a foil to his wife’s careless promiscuity, all being topped off with Donald’s innocent confusion which accentuated the extreme absurdities of all the events that took place (Maude’s exotic peculiarities and Brandt’s exuberant nature being just some of them). The production will culminate in a final showing at the Tricklock Theater in Albuquerque (110 Gold Ave SW) this Sunday, the 20th, at 8PM for the general public. It is a joy that this gift of laughter will be allowed to exceed beyond the walls of our Great Hall. For any of ya’ll that are fans of getting your funny bone tickled, it is highly recommended that you make your way there!

And now for the evidence:

All photographs by Grace Wilson and Mike Donaldson.

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2048 meets Great Books authors

Posted on April 14, 2014

Screen Shot 2014 04 14 at 5.10.26 PM 2048 meets Great Books authors
If you’re like most of campus, the wildly popular game 2048 is your favorite procrastination time-suck at the moment. Something about all those accumulating numbers, it’s just so very, very satisfying. But the novelty of it is beginning to wear off… getting a little bit two thousand forty-LATE, you might say. Well, as we know, the Great Books aren’t ever going out of fashion, so today the Johnnie Chair is proud to present to you the Johnnie version of 2048. Start off with the Illiad, get to Socrates… see if you can make it all the way up the Program to Heidegger.

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Bookshelves

Posted on April 14, 2014

I just convinced Sarah and Aidan to let me interview them about their bookshelves and experience at St. John’s for an email to prospective students. I’ve got some pretty awesome friends.

Aidan Bookshelves

What’s the difference between attending St. John’s College and just reading the books on your own?

I actually can’t tell if St. John’s is more about the conversations we have about the books we read, or the books we read themselves. The way a class goes can totally change the way I feel about a reading, and that’s something that I wouldn’t get anywhere else. On the other hand, it can be nice to be able to have your own private and naive opinions on a book you really like. At St. John’s you kind of get forced to lay all those cards on the table.

Have you done any cool study groups at St. John’s? What do you like to read when you’re not reading for class?

I did a study group on William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, which is probably the single hardest thing I’ve ever read. I made it through the whole book with the group, but understood maybe 5% of what happened. I like to keep Wallace Stevens, Monica Ferrell, and Michael Palmer by my bed most of the time. Ursula K. LeGuin, as well.

Aidan Bookshelf Bookshelves

What are some of the books you look back on the most—whether to reference in a paper or just to revisit for pleasure?

Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, Augustine’s Confessions, and Huckleberry Finn.

Okay, how about a haiku that describes St. John’s:

How many Johnnies
does it take to screw in a
lightbulb? ∞ = 1 = 0.

Are you counting ∞ = 1 = 0 as three syllables? 

Fine, how about this one:
Set the alarm for
eight twelve: I’ll let this one
seep in while I dream.

Sarah Bookshelves

What was your first Aha! moment at St. John’s?

It is all one long Aha! moment. I know that is not a satisfying answer but it is true. In freshman year it was amazing to me how connected all the subjects seemed. Everything is intrinsically linked, nothing is disjointed. That is satisfying.

How did you know St. John’s was the place for you?

I knew that I wanted to study the history of Western thought and I wanted to study it rigorously. I had attended another liberal arts college before St. John’s and it felt like a big joke to me—it was all looks and very little substance. I wanted to  be able to laugh and learn, take the program seriously but not take myself too seriously, work hard and feel like I was getting somewhere intellectually. I didn’t want to be pigeon holed as a certain type of thinker. I wanted a place with structure because I think it is very hard, if not impossible, to really get far intellectually without it. St. John’s was a place that I felt could offer me the opportunity to realize these goals. I was right.

Sarah Bookshelf Bookshelves

What’s the deal with some of your non-program books, like Shop Theory or Wonders of the Human Body?

My partner and I are interested in the way things work, by the intersection of craft and philosophy. He is a blacksmith and so we have many blacksmithing books on our shelves, like Shop Theory. We both come from “maker” families: my dad is a boat builder, mom a baker; his dad is a graphic designer, mom a painter, but trained as a typesetter. Our lives are very influenced by them. In many ways, our bookshelves seem to reflect that influence.

What types of books have you read at St. John’s that you wouldn’t have chosen to read on your own?

Oh so many! But the one that immediately comes to mind is the Bible. It was such a challenge for me. Reading the Old Testament for so long, yet not having the time to really synthesize and digest all the information in it felt a little like getting beat up. It was exhausting. But I ended up writing my enabling essay on two Psalms, 90 and 91. I felt like I owed it to myself to attempt to understand something from the Bible, if only thirty short lines. It was a very gratifying process. It made me feel much more at ease and made me want to re-examine what we had read in first semester sophomore seminar.

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Inspiring words from a Johnnie-to-be

Posted on April 10, 2014

A friend of mine who I was lucky to meet during his visit to SJC as a prospie just decided to enroll here. He’s pretty chuffed about the decision (as we think he should be), so I’ll let him tell you about it in his own words. This is his facebook status from earlier today:

After careful deliberation, it is with great excitement and joy on my part to announce that I will be attending St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the fall. How could I realistically turn down four years of thorough primary source study within the liberal arts and Western Philosophical canon? I’m more than ready, quite eager, to embark on four years of intensive conversation, dialogue, and thought. I have never been to a more organic or intellectual environment in my life, and I am proud to say that I have the privilege of attending St. John’s.

Aww, stop it. We’re blushing. Glad you had such a great time visiting, and super pumped to welcome you and all the new freshmen this autumn.

If you’re still deciding whether the Program that teaches you how to think rather than what to think is right for you, remember that you may make your deposit at any time!

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Ooooh, shiny…

Posted on April 10, 2014

If you’ve searched for St. John’s within the past week or so, you probably noticed our new website. It’s been launched after a large-scale redesign as part of the continuing question of how St. John’s should be spreading the word about what we do here. Of course, we at thejohnniechair think that the internet should be a big part of that, and students, tutors and the wider college community gave valuable input over many, many months as to what it should look like. It’s not perfect yet, and there’ll be many changes gradually implemented to get everything just right.

My favorite part of the new website is the Intellectual Explorers microsite. Check out that link to see videos of students talking about what they’re most passionate about, in there own words. Check out Zoe’s chalk-talks of the program by year, then see what other videos interest you. (You might even find a few videos featuring some of this blog’s contributors….)

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