Photo of the day

Really, really love this Big Picture gallery of animal photos featuring cool textures and patterns.  If you like animals and/or awesome photos, it is definitely worth checking out the whole gallery.

Snow falls on the back of the horse, Fred, at the Nevins Farm in Metheun. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)

Map of the day

So, this is awesome.  And sad.  Map of gun homicides in major US cities as compared with world’s deadliest countries.

The map below compares the rate of gun murders in American cities to nations around the world. Building upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data used in that post, Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute compiled additional data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other sources collated by The Guardian. (While international crime data suffer from significant reporting and comparison issues, homicide data is more reliable. As the Urban Institute’s John Roman points out, it is the one type of crime that is “hard to fake” and also most likely to be reported.)

How to choose college courses

Really enjoyed this post in Vox by a college professor, which is titled “10 things not enough kids know before going to college.”  More than anything, though, it’s really things you should know in choosing your classes.  It’s certainly a strong recommendation for social science as he talks about   I really like how he focuses on opportunity cost– what are you not taking when you choose to take particular classes.  And the idea of maximizing exactly the knowledge and experiences that are most unique to college.

2) Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university

Your first temptation will be to fill your schedule with courses on fascinating subjects. Do this. Some of my fondest memories are of history or psychology classes that opened my mind to new places and ideas. But don’t forget to also use university to build your technical skills.

By technical skills, I mean specialized knowledge that is hard to teach yourself on your own. I put things like math, statistics, ethnography, law, or accounting in this category. These are topics where you need a knowledgeable guide plus the hard commitments of a course to get you through hard material. Often, these skills are also basic building blocks for many lines of work.

For anyone interested in law, public policy, business, economics, medicine — or really any profession — I suggest at least two semesters of statistics, if not more. Data is a bigger and bigger part of the work in these fields, and statistics is the language you need to learn to understand it. I wish I’d had more, both as a management consultant and then as a researcher.

Even if you don’t use it in your job, you’ll use statistics in life. It’s hard to fully appreciate the average New York Times (or Vox) article without knowing that language. And, frankly, when you’re 30 you might care about the research on pregnancy, or the research on diseases and drugs when you’re 60. It would be nice to have a basic understanding. Once you learn it, you’ll be surprised how much of what is written on data is wrong.

In keeping with this principle, he advocates taking the bare minimum of foreign language.  Yes!  I’ve been railing against foreign language requirements for years, but it’s not exactly a popular argument in academia.  Anyway, here’s his take:

6) Do the minimum foreign language classes

This is one of my most controversial pieces of advice. A lot of people disagree.

Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college. Maybe take an introductory course or two at university to get you started, or an advanced course or two to solidify what you already know, but only that.

Statistics are not more important than languages. But the opportunity cost of skipping a statistics course is high because it’s hard to find ways to learn statistics outside the university. Remember you only get 30 or 40 courses at university. There are a dozen other times and places you can learn a language. Arguably they’re better places to learn it too.

Of course, I think statistics are more important than languages.  At least for an American (the hegemony of English is simply a reality).  I think knowing foreign languages are great, but to me they are far more a skill (certainly at the lower levels that meet the basic college requirements) than an intellectual discipline, which is what I think college should be about.  Anyway, I think the opportunity cost point is a great one.  More stats; less Spanish.


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