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HLG Notebook | September 2014

The Consequences of Bad Academic Writing

Steven Pinker’s perfectly pitched “Why Academics Stink at Writing” opens by asking an essential question:

Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand?


His answer is a careful, nuanced study that explains why professors long ago stopped relating to their readers. He ends with a spectacular haymaker directed at his university colleagues:

Our indifference to how we share the fruits of our intellectual labors is a betrayal of our calling to enhance the spread of knowledge. In writing badly, we are wasting each other’s time, sowing confusion and error, and turning our profession into a laughingstock.

Is BuzzFeed Destroying Young Minds?

Frederic Filloux of Monday Note dashes off a memorable screed in the form of an “open letter” to VC honcho and management author Ben Horowitz. Filloux laments the $50 million investment that Andreesen Horowitz made in the always-puerile BuzzFeed. Filloux’s complaint is all the more powerful because it is true:

BuzzFeed is to journalism what Geraldo is to Walter Cronkite. It sucks. It is built on meanest of readers’ instincts. These endless stream of crass listicles are an insult to the human intelligence. Even Business Insider, a champion practitioner of cheap click-bait schemes, looks like The New York Review of Books compared to BuzzFeed…Ben, don’t tell me you’re proud of [your] investment in BuzzFeed. By funding it, you are contributing to the intellectual decrepitude of readers, the youngest ones especially – already severely damaged by Facebook and Snapchat sub-cultures. Did it ever cross your mind that these people are going to vote some day?

The Digital Workplace – As Seen in 1967

This month, The McKinsey Quarterly has published a study on what the rise of artificial intelligence will mean for management. In a shrewd editorial move, they have also re-published a 1967 essay by Peter Drucker that is filled with remarkably prescient predictions about how the computer age will change the way we work. A few excerpts:

We are beginning to realize that the computer makes no decisions; it only carries out orders. It’s a total moron, and therein lies its strength. It forces us to think, to set the criteria. The stupider the tool, the brighter the master has to be – and this is the dumbest tool we have ever had.

The new generation of managers, those now aged 35 or under, is the first generation that thinks in terms of putting knowledge to work before one has accumulated a decade or two of experience.


Any business that wants to stay ahead will have to put very young people into very big jobs – and fast…Like it or not, we are going to have to promote people we wouldn’t have thought old enough, a few years ago, to find their way to the water cooler. Companies must learn to stop replacing the 65-year-old man with the 59-year-old. They must seek out their good 35-year-olds.


One footnote: Next April will be the 50th anniversary of Gordon Moore’s seminal article about the advancement of the semiconductor industry. This first formulation of Moore’s Law contains many of the same predictions about the role computers, long before most people had ever laid eyes on one.

Will Women Stop Watching Pro Football?

The NFL “should be positively freaked out by the domestic abuse scandals of the past month,” according to Derek Thompson of The Atlantic. Examining football’s surging television popularity, Thompson finds that “women have accounted for 76 percent of the increase in overall football viewership since 2009.” But the Neilson ratings dominance is “fragile”:

In 2000, there were 16 shows with more than 10 million households tuning in weekly. They included Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Temptation Island, two shows that once seemed like the future of television – money games and reality sex shows! – and now seem like mild cultural embarrassments. Although it seems inconceivable that somebody 14 years from now will be writing an article that begins, “Remember when millions of morally conflicted Americans still tuned into Sunday Night Football?” the past two weeks have made such a future nearly conceivable.

Bigger Cities, Fewer Children

The United States has not become a “nation of cities,” according to this study in New Geography. In fact, families with children are fleeing urban centers on both coasts:

There’s a steady drumbeat in the media proclaiming that families with children are returning to dense cities and expensive regions. In reality, the numbers don’t add up. Among the 10 large metro areas with the lowest percentage of children are New York, Boston and San Francisco-Oakland, where the percentage of 5- to 14-year-olds is 11.5%, the lowest in the nation except for Pittsburgh (10.8%).

Apple Is Ripe for Parody

In what is likely to signal a new corporate marketing trend, Ikea promotes its 2015 furniture catalogue with this parody of the typical Apple product video . The Swedish narrator explains how the print catalogue works by mocking the way Apple touts its highly-polished gadgetry: “The navigation is based on tactile touch technology. Content comes pre-installed via 328 hi-definition pages of inspiring home furnishing ideas.” Two-and-a-half minutes of delightful smugness.

The post appeared first on High Lantern Group.