News from academe

Philosophical ruminations.
Feb. 21 1998 3:30 AM

News from academe

News from academe.

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Therapy Is for the Dodo Birds

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All psychotherapies--from cognitive-behavior therapy to Freudian psychoanalysis--are equal, according to a study in a recent issue of Psychological Bulletin. After comparing more than 100 rival treatments, the study concluded, "The efficacy of bona fide treatments is roughly equivalent." This is the most ringing endorsement yet of what psychologist Saul Rosenzweig famously called the "dodo bird effect," in an allusion to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. ("At last the Dodo said, 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.' ") Anticipating a hostile reaction from clinical psychologists, some of whom are eager to prove that their therapies are as effective as drugs, the lead author of the study, University of Wisconsin at Madison Professor Bruce Wampold, says that counselors should abandon "the belief that psychotherapy treatments are analogous to medication." The key point, he says, is that troubled patients who receive any kind of therapy do better than those who get none at all.

Harvard's Shady Antiques

Once again, a museum is accused of having dealt in stolen goods. Harvard's Arthur M. Sackler Museum has been criticized for making new acquisitions, among them 182 Greek vase fragments, without sufficiently establishing their provenance. The director of Harvard's art museums, James Cuno, defended the decision, telling the Boston Globe that there was no definitive evidence that the objects had been stolen. But 80 percent of the antiquities market consists of looted objects, according to the Archaeological Institute of America, and many academics want to crack down on curators who turn a blind eye. In this spirit, Harvard fine-arts Professor Irene Winter told the Globe that "we are obligated to presume these items to be guilty until they are demonstrated to be innocent."

Leonardo Da Vinci's Bicycle

Contrary to popular belief, Leonardo da Vinci did not invent the bicycle. In 1974, an Italian lexicographer discovered a doodle for a bicycle in one of Leonardo's codices. The tiny drawing, found in a manuscript that had been partially glued shut for many years, was hailed as more evidence that the Renaissance artist was a technological prophet. (The drawing, in brown crayon, also depicted a pedal and chain.) Alas, the doodle turns out to be the handiwork of a mischievous monk who helped restore the page in the 1960s. The British magazine New Scientist reports that a German scholar, Hans Erhard Lessing, has scrutinized the crayon flaking on the manuscript and concluded that, in fact, da Vinci is responsible only for the two circles that form the bicycle's wheels.

Free Love vs. the Class Struggle

Margaret Mead's belief that Samoan youths practiced free love was the basis of her argument that monogamy was not universal. Her data were discredited in the 1980s--but she may have been onto something anyway. The anthropologist Cai Hua has just published a book in Paris claiming that the Na, a people in the remote Sichuan province of China, are equally casual about sex. In A Society Without Fathers or Husbands, the author argues that the matrilineal Na culture encourages dusk-to-dawn "furtive visits" between young men and women, and reports that most visits are not repeated and that many Na have more than 100 lovers. There is no marriage among the Na, and they don't particularly value monogamy. Apparently, the Na's sexual habits have angered Chinese authorities, who find that the lifestyle "hinders the people's awareness of the class struggle."

Heidegger at $125 a Pop

The job market for academic philosophers is as desperate as ever, but deep thinkers now have a range of alternative careers. A French outfit, Philocité, offers pricey "philosophical consulting" to companies looking to add Heideggerian heft to their marketing strategies. (Clients can subscribe to Philocité's telephone-consultation service for $2,600 per year.) In this country, the hot new field is "philosophical counseling," in which troubled souls consult with an epistemologist, say, rather than a therapist. Dr. Lou Marinoff, a philosopher of science at CUNY, has a booming New York City practice and currently is teaching a "pilot course" in the discipline at New Jersey's Felician College.

Men Who Sleep With the Monkeys

Did man first sleep in trees? An article in Current Anthropology speculates that the earliest hominids did indeed nest in trees, much like the chimps from which they had descended. The reasoning: If Australopithecus had slept on the ground, he would have been promptly gobbled up by the savanna's carnivorous beasts. According to Jordi Sabater, a researcher at the University of Barcelona, Spain, it was only the discovery of fire that allowed hunter-gatherers to snooze on the grass. (To this day, African tribesmen sleeping in the savanna keep a fire going at all times.) Sabater says the theory helps explain the "persistence of arboreal characteristics"--that is, our ability to climb trees.

Wireless Telepathy

Guglielmo Marconi, who won the Nobel Prize in 1909 for his contributions to wireless telegraphy, may have committed intellectual theft in the process. Marconi is remembered for having been the first person to decode a wireless message sent across the Atlantic Ocean, in December 1901. His achievements laid the foundation for the modern radio. Yet in the engineering journal IEEE Proceedings, historian Probir Bandhopadhyay reveals that a crucial component of Marconi's telegraph, the "self-recovering coherer," was swiped from the Indian engineer Jagdish Chandra Bose (no relation to Amar Bose, founder of the American audio-equipment company). J.C. Bose had announced the invention in an 1899 paper presented at the Royal Society in London. The coherer--an iron-and-mercury-based gizmo--allowed radio waves to be converted into audible sound. Bandhopadhyay says the Indian scholar probably realized that Marconi purloined his device, but that Bose was a dreamy sort who "shunned crass commercialization of inventions."

Saucy Bills

Where did e pluribus unum, the motto on U.S. dollar bills, come from? Classicists like to remind us that it seems to have first appeared in--of all places--an ancient Roman recipe for pesto. (Out of many flavors, one delicious sauce.) Suspecting that the founding fathers had looked elsewhere for inspiration, classicist Margaret Brucia emphasizes a more recent derivation. In an article in the ClassicalOutlook, she points out that the phrase was the motto of a popular 17th-century London periodical, Monthly Miscellany; the expression was then adopted in 1731 by another British journal, the Gentleman's Magazine. Brucia adds that this magazine was read by "literate Americans"--including, presumably, Pierre Eugëne du Simitiëre, the designer of the seal of the United States.

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Datable Hair

Some of the oldest cave paintings are in France, but who painted them? Proto-Gauls or migrating Sami? Most archaeologists have been content to leave that question a mystery. But Science reports that Oregon State University archaeologist Robson Bonnichsen recently adapted contemporary forensic methods to solve it: He excavated four caves in the Pyrenees for human hair, found several strands, and is currently dating the hairs with a new radiocarbon technique. If the hairs are old enough, Bonnichsen will scour the hairs for DNA, and quite possibly identify the pedigrees of some of the world's first artists.

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