News and Features

Awesome social science on the net: #TDOPicks of the week

Editor’s Note: On Fridays we bring you #TDOPicks – our picks for the best social science features we’ve found on the Internet this week. We feature a variety of content aimed at both the layman and the social science professional. Tell us what you’re reading or watching by tweeting @theDailyOpium with #TDOPicks or posting links on our Facebook page.

Commencement speech given to Princeton University’s Class of 2013, Ben Bernanke, US Federal Reserve. 

Federal Reserve Chairman and Great Depression historian Ben Bernanke gives a rousing commencement speech at Princeton University, drawing extensively upon the findings of the social sciences. Given his position in the US government, some of the insights he chooses may surprise you:

“The concept of success leads me to consider so-called meritocracies and their implications. We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate–these are the folks who reap the largest rewards.”

“Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on baby names,” John Sides, Washington Post Wonkblog

Political scientist and blogger at The Monkey Cage John Sides talks about the politics of… baby names. (In the United States.) Yes, they are political (really!):

“Oliver and colleagues argue that liberals, consciously or unconsciously, signal cultural tastes and erudition when picking their child’s name. In conversation with me, Oliver used himself as an example. He and his wife, a novelist, named their daughter Esme — a name gleaned from a story by the writer J.D. Salinger.

On the other hand, conservatives, by being more likely than liberals to pick popular or traditional names (like John, Richard, or Katherine), signal economic capital. That is, they are choosing names traditional to the dominant economic group — essentially, wealthy whites.”

“A linguistic dissection of 7 annoying teenage sounds,” James Harbeck, The Week.

A slightly tongue-in-cheek, spiritedly linguistic take on the idiosyncratic sounds of teenagers:

“The next time you find yourself wondering about the highest use of linguistics, or enduring the insulting grunts and groans of petulant adolescents and wondering how such noises could even be described, bring the two worlds together. Clearly, linguistics exists just so we can give a technical description of those hard-to-spell sounds that erupt from callow youths.”

“Darwin, the Greatest Psychologist,” Allen Frances, Project Syndicate.

Professor of psychiatry Allen Frances argues that Darwin has played a pivotal role in the birth of modern psychology, largely unbeknownst to practitioners:

“Before Darwin, philosophical speculation shaped our psychological understanding. But even great philosophers – Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others – could only describe current mental events and behaviors; they could not explain their causes.”


“Star Trek and International Relations,” Amit Gupta, e-IR; “The Politics of Star Trek,” John Dyson, The Monkey Cage

An international relations scholar and political scientist each reflect on the rich political discourse throughout the life of the Star Trek series and movie franchises. (SPOILER ALERT: Both articles contain references to Star Trek into Darkness.)

The real-life Red Wedding,” Lars Kjaer, The Independent; “How Patriarchy Screwed the Starks,” Rowan Kaiser, The American Prospect.

(SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the latest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, we advise you to skip these.)

Still not over last week’s episode of Game of Thrones? Wondering how such a horrible event could ever happen in real life? In the first article, look no further than history to discover the roots of George R.R. Martin’s Red Wedding.

For a feminist take on the episode, look to Rowan Kaiser’s essay:

“Game of Thrones’ biggest obstacle to entering the modern pantheon of classic television is that it hasn’t had an obvious, powerful theme to rest its laurels on. But Robb Stark’s betrayal makes arguably its strongest just-below-the-surface theme even more apparent: Game of Thrones is about how patriarchal systems damage men as much as they damage women.”