Barbie's Malibu Dream Knee

Philosophical ruminations.
Sept. 22 1999 3:30 AM

Barbie's Malibu Dream Knee

News from academe.

Barbie Gives the Finger

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Jane Bahor--an anaplastologist at Duke University Medical Center--has discovered a new use for the Barbie doll. By placing one of Barbie's legs inside a hollow prosthetic finger, Bahor discovered that Barbie's transplanted knee joint gave patients greater mechanical flexibility and control over their artificial digits. "Although you could previously only move joints that were in the hand [as opposed to the fingers], the plastic in the legs of Barbie dolls allows patients to position fingers in different flexion," she told the Duke University Chronicle. Glenn Hostetter, the medical center prosthetics clinical supervisor, noted that the technique is an inexpensive way to provide articulation in a finger and that it will help prosthetic fingers become functional as well as cosmetic appendages.

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The Ascent of Darwin

A University of Kansas library has mounted a small exhibit illustrating the ideas of Charles Darwin in response to the Kansas Board of Education's decision to eliminate Darwinism from statewide science tests. The exhibit, "Is Man an Ape or an Angel?" at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, features both a first edition of On the Origin of Species and a letter from Darwin to geologist James E. Todd, who joined KU's staff in 1907. University librarian Sally Haines told the Associated Press, "Librarians, we don't censor. ... When there's a controversy, we like to bring out the books that caused the controversy." While the library staff isn't taking an official position on the board's decision, Haines did admit, "We have our personal opinions, and you can probably guess what they are."

No Ph.D., No High-Tech Laser Lab

E. Michael Campbell has resigned his post at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory after anonymous faxes revealed that he had never earned a doctoral degree. Campbell, formerly associate director for laser programs at Livermore and director of a $1.2 billion program to conduct weapons research, announced his decision to leave Aug. 27. Campbell had allowed the laboratory to believe that he had a doctorate from Princeton University, the lab said, when in fact he had only finished his Ph.D. course work. The spokesman also told the New York Times that the lab requires "all senior managers to hold a Ph.D. or its equivalent in experience." Campbell said only that he was leaving for personal reasons.

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Head of the Class

An unusual fossil skull, which may contain new clues about human evolution, was discovered in an Upper West Side curio shop. The New York Times reports that the skull arrived in the shop as part of a collection of rocks, minerals, and curios. The shop owner recognized its significance after he cleaned it and turned it over to scientists at the nearby American Museum of Natural History. Paleoanthropologists examining the skull have traced its origins to Indonesia and presume it to be that of a Homo erectus. However, they also note that the skull, which probably belonged to a man in his 20s, has a high, humanlike forehead, not the sloping kind typical of Homo erectus and other early hominids. "It's not like any other Homo erectus we know from Indonesia or anywhere else," said Dr. Eric Delson, the City College of New York paleoanthropologist directing the investigation. "Of course, it's only one individual, but it could represent a distinctive population."

Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!

A team of Canadian psychologists believes that Tourette's syndrome--the condition that leads patients to suffer muscular spasms and to blurt out obscenities--may be a psychological rather than a physical disorder. Sufferers may actually be able to control their sputterings, according to experiments led by Randy Flanagan at Queen's University in Ontario, BBC Online reports. In one experiment, a Tourette's patient was directed to hold a weighted box loaded with sensors. Anticipating the patient's regular tics, the researchers monitored how his grip on the sensor box changed as his arm twitched. They observed the subject adjusting his grip on the box just before experiencing a tic, indicating that at some level he was in control of his actions. Flanagan concluded, "[Tourette's sufferers] have motor control over these tics, and these movements look normal and have all the same sort of response we would expect to see in voluntary movement." He also suggested that his findings may point the way toward behavioral therapy for the syndrome. (Click here for a summary of the experiment.)

No More Teachers, No More Books ... No More Notes, Either!

College students, drop your pencils! StudentU.com, an Internet startup conceived by 27-year-old Oran Wolf, may make note-taking in class obsolete. Wolf is developing a professional online note-taking service to help students augment their own notes or to catch up after a sick day, he told the New York Times. Student stenographers are paid $300 per semester plus $200 for every five additional note-takers they recruit for the company. In return, they must post their jottings within 24 hours on the StudentU.com Web site, which is open to all and financed by advertising revenue. Todd Gitlin, a professor at New York University, railed against the concept in a Times op-ed: "The very act of taking notes ... is a way of engaging the material, wrestling with it, struggling to comprehend or to take issue, but in any case entering into the work. ... A download is a poor substitute."

Caltech: No. 1 With a Bullet

The California Institute of Technology stormed from ninth place to top this year's rankings of universities by U.S. News & World Report ... but how? The magazine explains that a "technical change" in its methodology accounts for the move. Writing in Slate, Bruce Gottlieb charges that "U.S. News fiddled with the rules." U.S. News editors Brian Duffy and Peter Cary responded in Slate, defending their ranking methodology as an improvement over their previous techniques.

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Bury My Heart at a Toxic Waste Dump

The most controversial academic book of the season is The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, by Brown anthropology professor Shepard Krech III. Working from firsthand reports as well as archeological and scientific data, Krech asserts that Native Americans are not the proto-environmentalists so fondly imagined by "spiritually undernourished Americans" (in the words of The New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann). Rather, they hunted species into extinction, exhausted large stretches of land, and mismanaged natural resources. Jennifer Veech, writing in the Washington Post, points out that: "[Krech paints] us a more complex portrait of Native American peoples, one that rejects mythologies, even those that both European and Native Americans might wish to embrace."

Tell It on the Cold Mountain

Katherine Beal Frazier, a tenured accounting professor who is married to Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier, has returned to North Carolina State University, where she was fired a year ago for "neglect of duty." Last year, NCSU accused Frazier of neglecting to complete paperwork and of raising her personal and professional problems in the classroom, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Frazier denied the claims, saying that she missed deadlines because she was suffering from depression, which was a result of sex discrimination she faced within her department and in the College of Management beginning in 1993. Frazier sued the school for sex discrimination and retaliation in 1998, just before the decision to dismiss her was finalized. Now she is settling with the university and will be reinstated to her full professorship, receive back pay of $100,000, benefits, and a cash payment. She will be on leave, retroactively, from the end of the 1998-99 academic year through 2002-03. Frazier told the Chronicle she would not have been able to pursue her lawsuit had it not been for the commercial success of Cold Mountain.

What Said Has Said

Literary critic, Columbia University professor, Palestinian spokesman, and public intellectual Edward Said has responded to the accusation that he has systematically distorted his life story. In the September issue of Commentary, Justus Reid Weiner, a lawyer and scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, accused Said of lying about his childhood in order to portray himself as a Palestinian refugee, when in fact he grew up in Cairo, Egypt. Said has responded in an article published in the Cairo newspaper al-Ahram, London's al-Hayat, and online at Counterpunch. Said disputes the charges and challenges Weiner's research methods. Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn have stepped up to bat for him in The Nation and the New York Press, respectively. Still, others have taken Weiner at his word: The New York Post has labeled Said the "Palestinian Tawana Brawley," and others have called for his replacement as president of the Modern Language Association.

U.K. Surf

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that Oxford University has fallen to seventh place in a survey that ranks British universities by the jobs their graduates win at top companies. When the survey was last taken three years ago, Oxford ranked third. This year it trailed No. 1 Cambridge University, as well as the universities of Leeds, Durham, and Manchester, University College London, and the University of Nottingham.

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