There is an endless fascination with Johannes Gutenberg, the impact of the printing press, and the town of Mainz, Germany where he grew up and began the world’s first major printing operation in the 1450s. You see it in the crowds making something of a pilgrimage to the Gutenberg Museum there, and you see it in the thriving city itself — the flower stalls, the cathedral, the students singing as they pedal the bicycle-powered beer wagons. Madhvi Ramani of the BBC captures this in a May 8, 2018 article, How a German City Changed How We Read, and quotes from my book Revolutions in Communication. 
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Welcome – Prof. Kovarik

Klaatu barada nikto

These pages are for students and anyone else who might be interested in my historical work or  links to publishing projects.

By way of introduction, here’s a photo taken by Linda Burton at the Seattle museum of science fiction.  Gort was the robot from a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still. Despite the uncanny resemblance, I’m the handsome one on your right. The museum is  extremely cool, and if you don’t see it next time you’re in Seattle, Gort will know where to find you.

So — Why do historians  like science fiction?  It has something to do with what history is and what it ought to be.

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Soft soap and fracking

Things can go pretty far off track when science meets the press. When we read shallow generalizations and inaccurate interpretations of studies, we wonder how it could have happened.

So here’s a case in point:  Some day soon, an oil & gas industry representative will probably tell a journalist, or a politician, or a concerned parent: “Fracking water is as safe as dish soap. Check out the 2014 University of Colorado study.”

And of course that will be very much at odds with other studies.  So then, at best, people will chalk the difference up to the old adage:  For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD.  Or, more likely, they will just take the study at face value.

The 2014 Colorado fracking story is an example of one of many chains of errors in the science reporting system.  It started with a scientific paper about
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Free speech and international law

Konrad Lorenz and his dog.

(Reposting a 2o12 article following events in Paris, Jan. 7, 2015).

Austrian psychology professor Konrad Lorenz used to tell a story about his dog.  On their regular walks, his dog would always run along a neighborhood wall and bark at another dog that was on the inside of the wall.

The two dogs continued this  behavior for years, barking and snarling at each other every day,  until — one day — an accident took out part of the wall.   That day, the two dogs raced along the wall as usual but then came to the broken spot. And  the two dogs faced each other for the first time. After a moment of confusion, they quickly returned to their respective sides of the wall  and started barking across the wall again.

So the lesson, Lorenz said in his 1955 book Man Meets Dog, is that this ability to moderate aggression is a survival skill that animals seem to have.  Could we learn something from their example that applies to our communication problems today?   Continue reading

In solidarity

I-Am-Charlie_Graphic

Folding up the Confederate flag

By Bill Kovarik 

They say that American Southerners are a lot like Japanese people – they drink a lot of tea, they eat a lot of rice, and they worship their ancestors.

Maybe that’s why the Confederate defenders today remind me of  Hiroo Onoda, who died last year in Tokyo.   Onoda was the Japanese Army officer who refused to surrender in 1945, at the end of World War II, and fought on in the remote jungles of the Philippines until 1974.

Links to Dan Smith's blog.

Confederate marchers. Roanoke. Dec. 12, 2014. Photo by Dan Smith.

The way they finally got Hiroo Onoda to surrender was to send his former commanding officer to the Philippines with a formal order telling him to cease all military activities.

Would that work, here in the former Confederate States of America?

Well, OK, here goes:

As a descendant of a Confederate colonel who perished in the Civil War, also known as the Recent Unpleasantness and the War of Northern Aggression,  I hereby order all descendants of Confederate veterans to cease all military and civic hostilities after the 150th anniversary of the surrender:  April 12, 2015.

There. That should do it.

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Thoreau’s commute

ThoreausCommuteTwo weeks in the Maine woods, and  my morning commute is remarkable: I walk down a short gravel road to a pathway, then amble a mile to work through tall hemlocks and oaks. Mid-way, I mosey slowly across a long wooden bridge — the product of 20 years effort, I’m told.  I have to stop and watch Sandy Stream as it meanders down to the great green Atlantic, reflecting my world like lady with a liquid mirror.

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Happy Teapot Dome day!

On this day in 1924, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall is indicted for taking bribes from the oil industry to lease government owned oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming.   Before Watergate (1972-74), the Teapot Dome oil scandal was considered the most sensational in American politics, although many previous scandals had involved oil and politics.

MOOC content is a faculty concern

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Endangered species: Virginia college faculty.

By Bill Kovarik

The advent of what the Roanoke Times calls “Higher Education for the Masses” through  Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)  might be a hopeful sign for  colleges, as noted in this June 6th, 2003 editorial.

But there is a problem.

According to the Times, paraphrasing Larry Sabato, “universities must come up with a business model that ensures they don’t give away their intellectual [property] …”

(Ahem).   Whose  intellectual property?

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Oil ‘scarcity’: We should have known better

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World oil reserve comparison USGS vs US DOE proven reserves.

By Bill Kovarik

One of the more painful lessons of recent  history involves the way money and  politics can slant  scientific information.

Take the curiously sudden abundance of fossil fuels.  Not long ago we had looming shortages, certain oil scarcity, and the supposed need to go to war to protect the lifeblood of the world’s economy.

But now, seemingly out of the blue, we have an abundance of natural gas from fracking, heavy oil from Venezuela and unconventional oil from Canada’s tar sands. And much more conventional to come from the Dakotas, the Arctic, Latin America and the coasts of Africa.

How do we explain the “sudden” abundance of fossil fuels?

  • “We were wrong on peak oil,” said  George Monbiot of the Guardian in July, 2012.  “There’s enough to fry us all.”   Environmental strategies must change now because “the facts have changed,” he said.
  • The Washington Post reported that the “center of gravity” for  world oil resources has shifted to the Americas. It’s  “quickly changing the dynamics of energy geopolitics in a way that had been unforeseen just a few years ago.”
  • USA Today noted that Venezuela had become No. 1 in the world for proven oil reserves.  “Exploration of Venezuela’s 21,000-square-mile Orinoco belt shows that its oil deposits exceed the proven reserves of even Saudi Arabia.”
  • Foreign Policy published an analysis about the “new” petroleum abundance and impacts on climate change. The new golden age may indeed shake up the currently rich and powerful and create new regional forces, Steve Levine said.

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