A cult of science? (5×8 – 5/14/12)

The Monday Morning Rouser:


A lot of people probably watched the 60 Minutes segment on a Turkish imam behind charter schools in the country and wondered, “what’s the Islamic angle here?” I watched it and had a more common question (for me): Why do we stink at science in this country?2) OIL PATCH DISPATCHES

If an abandoned farm town in North Dakota returns to life as an Oil Patch hub, does it really exist? The Associated Press has the story of Dore, North Dakota, which went bust in the 1960s and became just another used-to-be-a-town spot on the North Dakota map. It even lost its zip code. Now, the zest for oil has revived things.

“And what’s happening now is not exactly a rebirth — all you find there is a bunch of oil tankers and a lot of people of every size, shape and color. There is nothing recognizable about Dore because Dore doesn’t exist anymore,” a former resident insists.

Meanwhile, the Fargo Forum profiles an Oregon man with no oil field experience who had trouble finding steady work after graduating from college. He figures he’ll earn a six-figure salary in North Dakota this year.

And in South Dakota, people are watching their neighbors to the north, trying to figure out how to keep the state from becoming a southern North.


David Sedaris’ work is undergoing new scrutiny, the Washington Post reports today. It steps from the botched investigation into working conditions at an Apple contractor in China by This American Life the paper says:

The immediate question is whether Sedaris’s stories are, strictly speaking, true — an important consideration for journalistic organizations such as NPR and programs such as “This American Life.” A secondary consideration is what, if any, kind of disclosure such programs owe their listeners when broadcasting Sedaris’s brand of humor.

Then there’s this: Does it matter whether a humorous writer, working on a news or nonfiction program, makes stuff up?

A Sedaris critic says he also invented parts of “SantaLand Diaries,” about his Christmastime experiences working at Macy’s. It’s become an NPR staple since it first aired on “Morning Edition” in 2004.

More NPR: The secret life of Terry Gross…


It’s been almost 4 months since Bernie the bobcat suffered a severe spinal bruise, Perfect Duluth Day says. Wild and Free vets nursed him back to health. Tammy Quist Thies and The Wildcat Sanctuary gave him a home. And on Sunday he got his reward: freedom.


Find plenty of pictures at the PDD link above.


Scott Widak, 47, has Down syndrome and is terminally ill with liver disease. He’s in a hospice program at home, helped along by his 85-year-old mother. His nephew posted on Reddit that he likes opening mail. Reddit pulled a post down four hours later because it contained a snailmail address. Too late. Mr. Widak has been getting inundated with mail from well wishers.

Bonus I: The gut-wrenching moment when you get the 404.

Bonus II: What’s it like owning a racehorse. A new blog documents a race horse who gets its first start at Canterbury soon.

Bonus III: The last quiet places.


Recent outbreaks of deadly tornadoes in other parts of the country have observers concerned that such an episode could occur here in the Twin Cities. Today’s Question: Should authorities in the Twin Cities change the way they warn people about tornadoes?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Do kids need to break up with their parents?

Second hour: The lack of diversity in the entertainment business.

Third hour: The future of psychiatry.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): The latest edition from MPR’s “Bright Ideas” series: Stephen Smith interviews Maggie Koerth Baker of Boing Boing, on America’s energy future.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: Getting tough with students when it comes to reading and retention.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Netflix figures out what movies you would like. The military learns how to predict insurgencies. And they keep getting better at these tasks because of algorithms. NPR explores how they keep improving, and how mathematical tools help with prediction.

  • Chris

    Why do we stink at science? Because this country’s anti-intellectuals consider empiricism to be a threat to their religious dogma, and science curricula take a constant beating for insufficiently conveying unscientific concepts. People with a genuine interest in science aren’t going to be enthusiastic about teaching kids when the subject matter is constantly under religious attack.

    Also, we don’t want to pay for good public education.

  • John P.

    //Does it matter whether a humorous writer, working on a news or nonfiction program, makes stuff up?

    In my mind, “This American Life” is people telling their stories, not unlike “The Moth” but more polished. It’s an entertainment program, not news. I have enjoyed the stories of Kevin Kling for a long time now. I have heard him say his stories are “true”. I think they are, but I do not think for a moment that they are strictly factual.

    The Apple story got away from that distinction.

  • Joanna

    Did anyone ever seriously think David Sedaris was a claiming to be journalist? I don’t recall that he ever made that claim. I don’t even recall that he ever claimed that his stories had really happened. I always thought he was an entertainer who used the conventions of memoir (first person, “this funny thing happened to me”) to write bitingly entertaining send-ups of family and personal neurosis. Maybe we should fact-check Woody Allen while we’re at it. The only people who have reason to complain about David’s are his family members who are often the butt of his humor, but they seem to be in on the joke. At least Amy is.

  • BenCh

    I think this country is decreasing in science for a couple reasons.

    First, the public opinion of science is that it is something that can and should be cut. Less money for grants means more money elsewhere. Do we really need to be funding people to do research? Does anyone actually see any benefits?

    Second, students are asking good questions, but I don’t think they are getting the right answers. Example- “Why do we need to learn this? I’ll never use this in ‘real life’.” I would venture that most kids don’t relate real education to real applications. Even at college level I see kids only want to learn what they can “use” for their own career, and want to just blow through the rest.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re You’re next, Sedaris: You’ve got to be kidding me.

    To paraphrase somebody wittier than I, “All fiction is autobiography, and all autobiography is fiction.”