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About Spartan Ideas

Spartan Ideas is a collection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions independently written by members of the MSU community and curated by MSU Libraries


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Creative Democracy: The Task Before Us

This is the title of a talk written by John Dewey given at the celebration of his 80th birthday held in New York on October 20, 1939. The context of course was America climbing out of the Great Depression and on the edge of entering a war unraveling in Europe. As I am coming to the end …


Favorite Examples of Evolution

When the cold bites, When the review stings, When the news is sad, I simply remember these evolving things, And then I don’t feel so bad! — with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein Over on Twitter, the biology students from George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Florida, asked me and many others: “What’s your favorite example of evolution?” …



Well, I spent a few hours reading Aristotle this week, and you know that spells trouble for both readers of the Thornapple blog. I just couldn’t resist Googling ‘incontinence’. It turns out that Wikipedia has a disambiguation page for ‘incontinence’. Who knew? One link refers to a 1981 album by Fad Gadget. I’m sorry, but …


Educational background of US elites

Jonathan Wai writes in Quartz about returns to elite education in the US. Wai also notes that more than ten percent of all Senators, billionaires, Federal judges, and Fortune 500 CEOs hold Harvard degrees of some kind. See also Credentialism and elite performance, and further links therein. Blue = attended elite undergraduate college or graduate school (no …


Change is Not Only Possible, It’s Inevitable

Extending the idea of what’s possible –  a rebuttal to Margaret Thatcher’s  “There is no alternative”. As the tag line on this blog of nearly two and a half years and 170 posts later maintains, There Are Alternatives to the dominant paradigm. Our political, economic, education, and social systems are human designed and can be …


An SSH Glitch

Something weird happened with SSH today, and I’m documenting it here in case it happens again. I was minding my own business, doing some coding, on a project that is under version control using Git. After committing some changes, I was ready to push them up to the remote (a GitLab server here at Michigan …


Après nous le déluge

You can always blame the Chinese. See also A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification (Baltimore et al.) and Germ line editing and human evolution. Science: Embryo engineering alarm … In 1975, the Asilomar conference center hosted a meeting where molecular biologists, physicians, and lawyers crafted guidelines for research that altered …


Pure Michigan road trip, optimized

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been computing optimal road trips across the U.S. and Europe. This time, as a shout-out to my current home state, I made a road trip around Michigan. With the snow melting and a warm summer right around the corner, it’s about time we start planning our summer fun. If …


LOCUS: Centering DH Research & Pedagogy

Over the past year, a group of Digital Humanists from the Libraries, College of Arts and Letters, and LEADR have banded together to ramp up Digital Humanities programming on campus. A core component of this effort has consisted of a Digital Humanities Workshop Series that has covered a wide range of topics like geographic information …


Formulating Optimization Models

Periodically, on OR Exchange and other forums, I encounter what are surely homework problems involving the construction of optimization models. “The Acme Anvil Corporation makes two types of anvils, blue ones and red ones. Blue anvil use 185 kg. of steel and have a gross revenue of $325 each; red anvils …” Really? Does anyone …


Climate Change and the Chinchorro Mummies

The Chinchorro mummies are quite different from the traditional linen-wrapped mummies of Egypt that we often equate this the term ‘mummy’. Recently, these mummies from Chile and Peru have become the new poster children warning about the effects of global warming. These mummies that have been preserved and protected for 1,000s of years are beginning …


Finding the Digital Humanities

While popular retelling likes to place the origins of the “digital humanities” with John Unsworth and the entitling of the volume, A Companion to Digital Humanities, the term has earlier origins and DH first began appearing in 1998.  The term is often associated appropriately with one of the pioneers in digital projects, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In November of …


TEDxMSU: Hot or Not? Just Try.

Shouting “Sex!” in front of nearly 2,000 people can be scary, but it proved to be a pretty effective way to grab an audience’s attention. On March 4th, 2015, I delivered a TED talk on my evolution research at TEDxMSU, an independently organized TED event held at Michigan State University. The process to getting selected …


High Tunnel Time

After a full week of when daytime highs rose well above forty degrees and nighttime lows remained above freezing there is quite a bit of muddy green showing in the Michigan landscape this morning. There is also still a fair amount of snow in my yard. I doubt that the areas along the curb where …


Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe

The latest from the Reich lab at Harvard. The availability of ancient DNA allows for direct comparisons between ancestral and descendant populations. These methods will only become more powerful as technology and access to samples improve. Note the evidence for polygenic selection on height, over timescales of less than 10k years. (Fig. 3 from paper …


How Do You Feel When Something Fails To Replicate?

Short Answer: I don’t know, I don’t care. There is an ongoing discussion about the health of psychological science and the relative merits of different research practices that could improve research. This productive discussion occasionally spawns a parallel conversation about the “psychology of the replicators” or an extended mediation about their motives, emotions, and intentions. …


African Enough To Play But Too African To Coach?

Foreign white coaches’ involvement in African football dates back to the earliest days of colonialism. Beginning in the 1960s, independent African states continued to hire many Europeans (especially from the Eastern bloc and West Germany) and South Americans to manage national teams and player development programs. This funny BBC video raises serious questions about this …


The Free Memoir: A License to Thrill

 Principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask, “What is it in itself? What is its essence?” —The Silence of the Lambs Vivian Gornick says that memoir is “a genre still in need of an informed readership.” I agree. A first step to better reading would be recognition of the different types …


Rigorous inequalities

  The Effects of an Anti-grade-Inflation Policy at Wellesley College Journal of Economic Perspectives, 28(3): 189-204 (2014) DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.3.189 Average grades in colleges and universities have risen markedly since the 1960s. Critics express concern that grade inflation erodes incentives for students to learn; gives students, employers, and graduate schools poor information on absolute and relative …