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How Children Learn to Break the Rules of Language

All languages have exceptions alongside overarching rules and regularities. How does a young child tease them apart within just a few years of language acquisition? In this book, drawing an economic analogy, Charles Yang argues that just as the price of goods is determined by the balance between supply and demand, the price of linguistic productivity arises from the quantitative considerations of rules and exceptions.

Uses and Abuses

The research evaluation market is booming. “Ranking,” “metrics,” “h-index,” and “impact factors” are reigning buzzwords. Government and research administrators want to evaluate everything—teachers, professors, training programs, universities—using quantitative indicators. Among the tools used to measure “research excellence,” bibliometrics—aggregate data on publications and citations—has become dominant.

Public Health and Medicine in the Twenty-First Century

The 2013–2015 outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was a public health disaster: 28,575 infections and 11,313 deaths (as of October 2015), devastating the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone; a slow and mismanaged international response; and sensationalistic media coverage, seized upon by politicians to justify wrongheaded policy.

Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism

In the fascist regimes of Mussolini’s Italy, Salazar’s Portugal, and Hitler’s Germany, the first mass mobilizations involved wheat engineered to take advantage of chemical fertilizers, potatoes resistant to late blight, and pigs that thrived on national produce. Food independence was an early goal of fascism; indeed, as Tiago Saraiva writes in Fascist Pigs, fascists were obsessed with projects to feed the national body from the national soil.

Public Conversations and Participatory Media

Internet memes—digital snippets that can make a joke, make a point, or make a connection—are now a lingua franca of online life. They are collectively created, circulated, and transformed by countless users across vast networks. Most of us have seen the cat playing the piano, Kanye interrupting, Kanye interrupting the cat playing the piano. In The World Made Meme, Ryan Milner argues that memes, and the memetic process, are shaping public conversation. It’s hard to imagine a major pop cultural or political moment that doesn’t generate a constellation of memetic texts.

On the Capitalist Mode of Prediction

As financial markets expand and continue to refashion the world in their own image, the wealth of capitalist societies no longer presents itself, as it did to Karl Marx in the nineteenth century, as a “monstrous collection of commodities.” Instead, it appears as an equally monstrous collection of financial securities, and the critique of political economy must proceed accordingly. But what would it mean to write Capital in the twenty-first century? Are we really to believe that risk, rather than labor, is now regarded as the true fount of economic value?

Camping can make us feel a powerful connection to nature and our rugged backwoods forebears. Campers once confronted the elemental facts of life, but now, the millions of Americans taking to the road on camping trips are more likely to drive to a campground, hook up service conduits, connect to WiFi, drop their awnings, and set out patio chairs. It is as if, Martin Hogue observes, each campsite functions as a stage upon which campers perform a series of ritualized activities (pitching the tent, building a fire, cooking over flames).

Robots are entering the mainstream. Technologies have advanced to the point of mass commercialization—Roomba, for example—and adoption by governments—most notably, their use of drones. Meanwhile, these devices are being received by a public whose main sources of information about robots are the fantasies of popular culture. We know a lot about C-3PO and Robocop but not much about Atlas, Motoman, Kiva, or Beam--real-life robots that are reinventing warfare, the industrial workplace, and collaboration.

Technology’s Attack on Referees and Umpires and How to Fix It

Good call or bad call, referees and umpires have always had the final say in sports. Bad calls are more visible: plays are televised backward and forward and in slow motion. New technologies—the Hawk-Eye system used in tennis and cricket, for example, and the goal-line technology used in English football—introduced to correct bad calls sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong, but always undermine the authority of referees and umpires. Bad Call looks at the technologies used to make refereeing decisions in sports, analyzes them in action, and explains the consequences.

In this book, Eric von Hippel, author of the influential Democratizing Innovation, integrates new theory and research findings into the framework of a “free innovation paradigm.” Free innovation, as he defines it, involves innovations developed by consumers who are self-rewarded for their efforts, and who give their designs away “for free.” It is an inherently simple grassroots innovation process, unencumbered by compensated transactions and intellectual property rights.

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