Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Semicolon Rule

History professor at American University (and so, likely someone with a terminal degree, which in history would be the PhD), just on NPR a few minutes ago, told us that fund-raising for presidential candidates has increased "asymptotically."  This is vocabulary-by-feeling, the vague memory from high school algebra that an asymptotic line is usually drawn as a steep curve.  But the actual meaning is quite different - in fact it is something opposite to what the speaker meant.

The Semicolon Rule is that if you introduce a semicolon into a sentence, you have to use it properly.  Otherwise you are just a poser (or poseur, if you want to be a poser in another way) saying "Hey! I know about semicolons."  Better to just leave them out altogether.  With vocabulary, don't bring up words or concepts you don't really understand, just to prove you are in the know and have heard of such things. 

This would be a good example, (much more Tribe's fault than Obama's, BTW).

Liberal-arts education sometimes consists of making sure that the students have at least heard of the important ideas underlying our culture, without actually knowing anything about them.  I am really good at this, BTW, and can testify how shallow such learning can be.

Of related interest.


Texan99 said...

People are always trying to tell me that Einstein overturned Newtonian mechanics, the underlying point apparently being that any brave new theory must be true. As your linked source notes, it's nonsense, and anyway the "Einstein blew up Newton" crowd hardly seems eager to apply the same skepticism and iconoclasm to its own pet theories.

I rarely run into anyone who knows the difference between force and acceleration, or between power and work. Terms like these all have vaguely misunderstood popular meanings that find their way into silly debate by would-be technocratic rulers.

Gringo said...

Comment - Hide Original Post
History professor at American University (and so, likely someone with a terminal degree, which in history would be the PhD), just on NPR a few minutes ago, told us that fund-raising for presidential candidates has increased "asymptotically."

As I have read from Carl Rove and others that the Obama election campaign is having difficulties meeting its campaign funding goals, discussion of an asymptote in funding would be accurate. But I doubt the good History professor meant asymptote as in approaching a limit.

What Texan 99 said. Those people who talk about Einstein overturning Newtonian mechanics have apparently never taken Freshman Physics, which is to a big degree a rehash of Newtonian mechanics. You don't need Einstein to design a skyscraper, but you sure do need Newton. Our workaday world doesn't run on Dunkin or Einstein, but on Newton.

In the last several months, the POTUS claimed that those who disagreed with his energy policies belonged to the "flat earth society." Which is ironic when you see that his solutions don't work, and the "flat earth" solutions do work. It is further ironic that judging from the amount of inumeracy and scientific illiteracy the POTUS has shown us, he is eminently qualified to be a member of the Flat Earth Society.

Granted, most politicians are inumerate and scientifically illiterate, but at least they do not pretend to be otherwise [very few Sununus around] in contrast to our POTUS.

Michael said...

The only lawyers I've met who know anything about science obtained science degrees prior to attending law school (and they are a small minority). Therefore, it is not surprising that a Tribe authored paper about science with assistance from BHO would have little to offer in terms of scientific credibility.

Texan99 said...

Shoot, you don't need a science degree to have a grasp of basic science, certainly at least as far as Newtonian mechanics goes. I had that in high school (largely repeated in the first semester in college), though I ended up with a humanities degree and went to law school.

As for the 1st, 2d, and 3d Laws of Thermodynamics, my father used to say they were "You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game."

Gringo said...

Micheal, while most lawyers are innumerate and scientifically illiterate, Laurence Tribe has a math degree summa cum laude.

Which makes his paper even more amazing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Additional note to Michael. Gary Hicks had a math degree from Bucknell.

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