Top of the Week

A selection from this week's editions of The Browser

Against Relevance In Art

Garth Greenwell | Harper's | 15th October 2020

Thoughtful counterargument to the contemporary critical insistence that a piece of good art align with the current social and political context. Something is lost by making this “a condition of our interest”. “Anytime we praise the relevance of a particular novel, we are positing, at least implicitly, the irrelevance of other novels; and often enough we make this judgment explicit” (4,443 words)

A Pox On The Poor

Steven Shapin | LRB | 28th Jauary 2021

The eradication of smallpox may have been "the greatest success story in the history of medicine", but it was a long time in coming. Almost 200 years elapsed between Edward Jenner's invention of an effective vaccination technique in 1796 and the last known smallpox fatality in Somalia in 1977 — and, in the meantime, smallpox killed half a billion people in the 20th century alone (4,474 words)

Worse Than You Can Imagine

Elizabeth Weil | ProPublica | 25th January 2021

An American scientist dedicates his life to raising public awareness of climate change. He starts at home, introducing his family to dumpster diving and composting toilets. He lectures and networks, buttonholes colleagues and nags neighbours. His success rate: Nil, perhaps negative. Even his loyal wife rebels when he starts teaching their children that the world is ending (4,500 words)

The Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Probably Not Real

Jonathan Jarry | McGill | 17th December 2020

Reassessment of the Dunning-Kruger effect. First identified in 1999, it describes a bias affecting how ability interacts with prediction of performance — or “why dumb people don’t know they’re dumb”. It's a pleasing theory, but parts of the study don't hold up. Does it still have value? “The lesson of the effect was always about how we should be humble and cautious about ourselves” (2,081 words)

Suck It, Wall Street

Matt Taibbi | TK News | 29th January 2021

In praise of the GameStop exploit as public spectacle and poetic justice — "an updated and superior version of Occupy Wall Street". Crowds can humble hedge funds because social media has solved co-ordination problems. "They’re piling on, and it’s delicious, not so much because they’re right, but because the people running for cover are so wrong, and still can’t admit it" (2,530 words)

The Browser Crossword: Cryptic #5, set by Andrew J. Ries: .pdf, .puz  
Solution to last week's cryptic: .pdf

Past puzzles and solutions at

Audio Of The Week: Opera's Romantic Nationalism | Behind The Curtain. Musicologist explores the links between 19C ideas of masculinity, Wagner's Tannhäuser, and the use of medieval symbology by contemporary political movements (45m 59s)

Video Of The Week: Dyatlov Pass | Nature. New theories about how and why nine students died horribly while hiking in the Ural Mountains in 1959 (9m 33s)

Wonder Of The Week: The Circassian language Ubykh has two vowels and 76 consonants (though its last speaker die in 1992)

Recommendations From Friends: Ory Okolloh recommends Lagos - A Pilgrimage in Notations, by Chris Abani [PDF]: "A beautiful piece of writing that captures that complex nature of the contemporary African city for its residents, former residents and nostalgic diaspora... what does place mean when you are both from and not from a place?"

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