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You know that thing you do when a professor asks you a question in class about a reading you never did? For those of you who don’t know, it’s called bullshitting. That’s a technical term. You put on a brave face and spew out any of your presumptions about the topic. And 99% of the time, what you come up with is pretty terrible. When it’s over, you recognize that what you’ve said is embarrassing, and you vow to do the reading next time so you don’t look like an idiot in front of the class again.

So, general consensus? Bullshitting is bad. But if bullshitting is so frowned upon in the classroom, why is it so popular on the Internet?

I’m specifically talking about people who comment on links and articles without actually reading them. You know the type. These people have usually made up their mind​s about some issue in advance, and their preconceived notions about the topic partnered with their refusal to consider the article you’ve posted are a truly dangerous pair.

I understand that this sometimes happens by accident in class. You had too much other work to do or another exam to study for. And when you’re on the spot, you freeze. It’s happened to the best of us. Even in day-to-day conversation we do this. A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times examined how we tend to offer opinions on books, movies, current events (the list goes on) that we don’t know much about just to give off a notion that we are “culturally literate.” But even this phenomenon is excusable in everyday conversation; it’s impossible to know every last detail about every piece of data at the drop of a hat, especially when the only search engine available at the time is your own memory.

But when commenting on a Facebook post? Bullshitting is unacceptable.

Bullshitting your Facebook comments is unacceptable for a variety of reasons. First of all, the article or the video or the graphic is literally right there. You’d have to extend your mouse approximately two centimeters and exert one click to access the information, plus or minus some scrolling.

Also, you have the entire Internet and unlimited time at your disposal. So take some of that time (probably less than five minutes) and use that Internet (JUST A CLICK!) to actually read the post before you comment on it. Or at least attempt to read the post before you comment on it. At the bare minimum, just click on the link of the post before you comment on it (many people don’t, as we learned this April Fool’s Day thanks to NPR).

But your internet rule of thumb should really be this: always read the article before you comment. Why? Because taking the time to try and understand both sides of an issue is part of what we call “being respectful towards others’ opinions” and, hey, you might even learn something.

I will admit that, sometimes, it’s really hard to read the article before commenting. When I read the headline “Todd Akin On Abortion: ‘Legitimate Rape’ Victims Have ‘Ways To Try To Shut That Whole Thing Down,’” I really didn’t think it was necessary to read the whole article to write an effective comment. But I read the article with teeth clenched and fists balled, and after reading the article in its entirety, I was able to make a more educated comment because I actually understood the (horrible, terrible) context. Sometimes there are unchecked facts and misused “theirs” and misogynistic Congressmen. But you have to keep an open mind (and you have to keep reading the article) so you don’t end up looking foolish when you comment on something you don’t fully understand.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to dissuade people from commenting on a link they disagree with. And I’m not trying to say that disagreeing with someone’s views means that you must not understand the issue. Social media is such a great information-sharing tool because it can open up much-needed dialogue between people who disagree (or people who had no idea an issue even existed). And a lot of the time, social media does open up these kinds of discussions.

But sometimes, the conversation devolves. And the devolution usually has an epicenter: people who have already made up their mind about the issue and refuse to take any new information into consideration. (Or trolls. But, big picture: couldn’t we classify these people as trolls anyways?)

So, people who comment argumentatively on Facebook links and shared articles without actually reading them, I implore you to STOP. Cease all uninformed commenting. Take time to understand an issue before you start typing. It’s beneficial to the both of us. You’ll stop looking ignorant online, and I’ll stop having stress headaches.

If you read the article and still don’t understand the issue, you have options. Google it (or Bing it if you’re indie). If the issue still puzzles you, leave a respectful question. Consider messaging the poster personally.

If you haven’t read the article and don’t understand the issue, you also have options: READ THE ARTICLE.

Or, and I know this is pretty radical, you could simply not comment on something you didn’t take the time to read.

It’s a crazy idea, I know.

- By Jenna Kingsley

Photo courtesy of Flickr/dhmeiser1

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As pro-Russian secessionist movements in Ukraine dominate global headlines, a number of other secessionist movements have been growing in the wealthy democracies of Europe and North America without outside provocation. The Crimean peninsula successfully seceded from Ukraine and promptly joined Russia in March. Now, more pro-Russian separatist groups have seized regional administrative buildings in Eastern Ukraine in the hopes of seceding as well with the possibility of being annexed by Russia like Crimea. Separatists in the Russia-adjacent region of Donetsk have declared the region “The Donetsk People’s Republic,” an independent state from Ukraine. This conflict is ongoing and it is yet to be seen what will come of the Eastern Ukraine secessionist movement. Meanwhile, in Western Europe and Canada, more civil secessionist movements are developing and growing in prominence.

There is a Scottish movement to secede from the United Kingdom. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707, and for almost all of the past 300 years has maintained peaceful relations with the English to the south. The current separatists contend that the Scottish cultural identity is different enough from that of the rest of the United Kingdom to merit independence. A referendum is planned to take place on Sept. 18. ​The prospects of the secessionists winning the referendum seem slim because Scotland is economically dependent on the rest of the United Kingdom, receiving money from the central government in London. The British government has also announced that Scotland will not be able to continue using the British pound as currency if it secedes. Currently, there is no infrastructure for an independent Scottish monetary system, making secession a major economic risk. Despite the numerous negative consequences of secession, current polls show that 43 percent of Scots support independence.

Unlike Scotland, Catalonia, a north eastern region of Spain, has both cultural and economic interests in secession. Catalonia joined Spain in the early 18th century, just as Scotland did with the United Kingdom. Catalonia retains its own language, Catalan. The region, helmed by the economic center of Barcelona, contributes more money to the Spanish national government than it receives, giving Catalonians an economic incentive to secede from Spain that the Scottish do not have. Accordingly, current polls show that 56 percent of Catalonians support independence. The Spanish government is vehemently opposed to any attempt of Catalan secession.

Veneto, a region in northern Italy, has similar reasons for secession as Catalonia. For hundreds of years, Veneto was seat to the Venetian Empire, an extremely wealthy trading power on the Mediterranean. Like Catalonia, Veneto gives a far greater net contribution to the Italian central government than it receives. In a recent unofficial digital plebiscite regarding independence, 89 percent of voters opted for independence. While this vote held no legal significance, it demonstrates a strong secessionist sentiment. There are plans for an official regional vote in the near future.

Across the Atlantic in Canada, there is a prominent secessionist movement in the province of Quebec. Québécois secessionists, politically represented by the Parti Québécois (PQ), cite Quebec’s distinct francophone culture as grounds for secession. Twice before, in 1980 and 1995, Quebec held referendums about independence. Both times the voters chose to remain part of Canada. The 1995 vote was particularity close, with 49.5 percent of voters favoring independence.

The PQ just lost the Québécois’ regional parliamentary election in early April to the federalist Liberal Party. It is not likely that a secessionist vote will pass any time soon, but the PQ and secessionists are poised to remain important players in Québécois politics. All of these secessionist movements have risen to prominence in the wake of the Cold War, as globalization has swept across the world. A study by Jason Sorens titled “Globalization, Secession, and Autonomy,” provides a link between the recent rise of secessionist movements in developed countries and globalization. Globalization promotes regional trade agreements, which encourages greater economic independence between countries. In turn, these secessionist regions no longer need to be tied to a larger state to remain economically functional.

In accordance with this paradoxical observation that the increased centripetal forces of globalization have increased the centrifugal desire for secession, all of the regional secessionist movements mentioned above continue to advocate remaining part of the international trade agreements that the states they are trying to secede from are part of. Secessionists in Catalonia, Veneto and Scotland all would like to remain part of the European Union’s single economic market. The PQ would like to remain part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — a free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico — if they secede from Canada. The persistent economic downturn in the developed world since the 2007-2008 financial crisis has further increased secessionist sentiment. Secessionists think that their region can better provide for their economic recovery on its own than the central government has been able to do. This is particularly true in Catalonia and Veneto because the Spanish and Italian governments, respectively, have been unable to recover their economic welfare to pre-recession levels.

It is hard to assess whether these secessionist movements will be best for their lands in the long term. Regional political and trade agreements, including the European Union and NAFTA, have stated that any secessionist states that are currently part of member states will have to reapply to join in a lengthy process. While other states in the regional trade agreement may not care much about a new member, the states that secessionists would like to leave have pushed the organization to de-incentivize partition. The prospects of any of these regions seceding from their countries in the near-term future is relatively dim, particularly for Quebec and Scotland, but if the economic Eurozone crisis continues, the chance of Catalonia and Veneto seceding grows more likely. The future map of Europe may indeed come to look like the region’s map in the Middle Ages.

— By Ben Perlmutter

kellyIn a little less than three weeks from now, I will try not to trip on my flowing black robe as I walk across the stage in front of my peers, my family and my peers’ families. I will not, however, be wearing the new plastic gowns that made so much buzz a few months ago when the University announced their new eco-friendly graduation regalia. I will instead be sweating under the old-school polyester black robes that I wore two years ago, when I walked across a smaller stage 50 miles away at the 2012 Oxford Commencement ceremony.

I was already a college graduate by the time I entered my first class at the Emory College of Arts and Sciences in Atlanta. Although I have learned so much from Emory College — both inside and outside of the classroom — I experienced my stereotypical “Animal House,” character-building, YOLO-ing college years at Oxford College, that little grassy quadrangular campus nestled in the forests of Covington, Georgia.

Oxford was at once loveable and annoying, cliquish and welcoming, stifling and encouraging. By the end of my sophomore year, I felt caged by the Oxford experience; I was tired of everyday seeing the same faces, hearing the toll of Seney tower every fifteen minutes, smelling the smog from Lils cafeteria blowing into my Haygood window and tasting the same damn pasta marinara every day. I was eager for more opportunities, both sensory and educational.

But in a sense, Oxford was where I grew up and gelled into almost-adulthood. I remember at the end of freshmen orientation week remarking to a friend how so far college had been more like summer camp than an educational grind. Of course, I knew at the time that I had only experienced one week of orientation without any classes, but Oxford kind of always felt like a summer camp for fledgling adults. There, I feel like I learned how to make friends, how to lose friends and how to be a friend.  That little blight of green straddling the border of metro-Atlanta and rural Georgia holds countless memories for me and for hundreds of other students who will join me in the Emory Commencement ceremony.

My Oxford years were formative for me as a person, but my time at the Emory College campus in Atlanta shaped me as an adult. Here, I discovered my passion and drive for journalism. I also received a healthy smack of reality after the Emory Cuts, when I realized how much I would have to fight for, and promote change in, my newly chosen field. The journalism program nurtured my growing professional skills while strengthening my core values of the freedoms of speech, expression and opportunity. My senior honors thesis in journalism, about the civil rights history of a rural Georgia county, has led me to realize that I want to use my professional abilities to promote those freedoms.

When I went to the bookstore a few months ago to look at graduation announcements, I bristled when the regalia salesperson hinted that I may want to purchase new graduation robes since my Oxford ones would look a little bit different from most everyone else’s.

Although part of my indignation was about the price of an article of clothing I may never wear again, I was mostly astounded at the idea that I would not wear my Oxford College Associate of Arts degree with pride. I am an Oxford graduate, and will be an Emory University graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and history.

Living in Atlanta the past two years has, for me, meant living close to family since I grew up twenty miles away from Emory. While I still feel the same urge to escape that I felt at Oxford, I now understand the importance of home and stability. I don’t know whether I’m going to stay in Atlanta or move far away. I have no idea of what my future holds, and I’m scared but also thrilled about the prospect. I will be studying abroad this summer, but thinking about anything past that is like looking at the edge of a cliff for me.

But I am deeply thankful that, with the friends I’ve made at Oxford and in Atlanta and with a family that will always have my back, I know I will make that jump with a pretty fat parachute to soften the fall.

Mary Claire Kelly is from Tucker, Ga. She is graduating with a BA in Journalism and History.

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I’ll cut to the chase and not bombard you with clichés such as “where has the time gone?” When I arrived at Oxford, I was a “black and white” individual. I had opinions, and I strongly stood by them. Because of the nature of academia, I had to quickly adjust this approach. I went from one who debates to one who discusses. I desired to know the “truth” about the world, and so I forced myself to listen. I made my project genuine, only concealing my efforts in social situations. In this manner my studies became lived, my studies never were directed towards a particular occupation. Rather, I viewed them as an attempt to better orient myself within the world.

While this attribute of my studies may be considered admirable, I assure you that the impetus behind my decision to do so was far from what is traditionally considered admirable. In truth, I wanted to learn the world so that I could manipulate it. Somewhat ironically, my position was akin to a sophist genuinely pursuing philosophy for the sake of better perfecting his sophistry. I naively equated knowledge with power, believing that with a strong understanding of the fundamental basis of all knowledge, I would be able to overthrow any opponent. However, I failed to consider how this knowledge would affect me.

In continuing my education at Emory, I found myself in a particularly advantageous position to implement my knowledge. None of the professors knew who I was, and so I actively attempted to shape myself in a manner that I thought they would like. Almost immediately thereafter, my grades rose exponentially. It was not until this year that I realized that I was considered a good student. I was surprised that others in my major looked to me as an authoritative figure (or at least someone who received excellent grades). I was surprised because I did not consider myself an intelligent person, and yet others who were genuinely intelligent assumed so and treated me as such. It was this surprise that served as my most important period of growth because it forced me to reflect upon who I had become as well as the nature of this transition. At first I enjoyed this solely because it displayed that I was progressing towards my goal, but when I pressed myself further I realized that in attempting to emulate an intellectual I had in fact become one. In making my studies my life, I had compromised my “black and white” nature. My “opinions” are more accurately described as “thoughts with long lists of qualifiers.”  As such, I abandoned my initial project. In doing so I believe I became a more genuine person, not to mention a generally happier one.

The knowledge I thought would aid me in manipulating my situation ended up compromising my project. The pursuit of my goals changed the nature of these goals. I do not fear my future after Emory, mainly because I feel ready to leave.

Elliott Morris is from Herndon, Va. He is graduating with a BA in Philosophy.

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In twenty days, I will be saying goodbye to my undergraduate career. I will be graduating college at the end of my third year. Despite my early graduation, I assure you that college was everything I could have ever wanted and more.

College was the best three years of my life. In my time here at Emory, I studied political science, pursued my intellectual curiosity in philosophy, took graduate classes across diverse disciplines and audited classes for the love of learning. Outside of class, I sang in a co-ed a capella group, worked as a teacher assistant, was a translator for the Carter Center and started a grassroots education organization questioning how intelligence and achievement is understood in public schools. On a more meaningful level, here at Emory I met a network of people I call my family. I grew, faltered, made memories of laughter, shared moments of tears, and fostered a love for service. All of such has made for a fruitful college experience that is immeasurable in its worth.

But here I am, proposing a thesis for why a shortened (or lengthened) college career does not take away from a proper college experience. I argue that learning does not begin or end with our involvement in an education institution — it’s a conscious choice we are making, everyday, when we expose ourselves to something new or discover meaning in our lives. While college is typically a four-year process, the length of our college experience is not nearly as important as what we do, how we do it and the people we experience it with. While I chose to graduate early, I have friends who have stayed at Emory for a fifth year to continue their pursuit of more knowledge. To me, that choice is admirable and no different than mine, for the indefinite depth of our experience simply cannot be defined by an interval of time.

On a broader scope, I believe Time is a relative phenomenon. While our society divides our lives into certain “meaningful” intervals (i.e. schooling k-12, marriage in your 20s, financial stability and babies in your 30s), we miss the point that we – not anyone else – control the rhythm of our own life. Time is just a bench marker. It does not account for the means of our experience and certain should not compel us to live our life in a particular, rigid pattern. Three years, four years, five years? There is no “right” way to do college; in fact, the only “right” way is to spend it well.

Lastly, I am a firm believer that the best days have yet to come. College is an excellent place to root your dreams; however, it is only the beginning. As we recall the fond memories of our college days, we must not forget to continuously live and create new experiences with the same openness and excitement of our adolescent years. College will never become a part of my past, just a part of me. Frankly, the series of colorful, meaningful memories that have given me fulfillment, insight and love will travel with me wherever I go.

So, I am saying goodbye to “the best four years of my life” a bit early, because three years of college has left me feeling loved, satisfied and — most of all — complete. I am off to tackle another adventure, but college doesn’t end here.

Helena Gu is from Boston, Mass. She is graduating with a BA in Political Science.

Editors Notes (May 7th 7:18 p.m.): The content and headline in this editorial were changed to better reflect the intent of the author.

skibell What if I had done it differently? This is the question many graduating seniors are asking themselves. I fluctuate between thinking I’ve really maximized my Emory experience and feeling like I did not take enough advantage of the opportunities I was afforded. There are so many classes I wish I took, so many events I wish I went to. I should have seen more plays, gone to more exhibits in the Carlos Museum, participated more at Wonderful Wednesday and First Friday and even gone to more sports games (I did see one basketball game). But there were also a lot of things I did get to do. I loved many of my classes, I got to be a part of WMRE and edit their music and culture magazine, I got to work at the Green Bean with amazing people for three years, I got to produce a play with Theater Emory, I got to study theater in Oxford and Tibetan Buddhism with monks in Dharamsala. And perhaps most incredibly, I got to be a part of The Emory Wheel. The Wheel has defined my Emory career. I can’t imagine what college would have been like without it. I don’t think I would have found any other group of people on campus who consistently take multiple perspectives into account on every issue and conduct themselves in a spirit of open-minded inquiry. I truly believe that everyone that joins the Wheel and sticks with it embodies some of the best and the brightest minds at Emory. I know I’m biased, but where else do you find a group of college students so invested in the University, the politics, the history, the administrators, the arts, the culture, other student groups and even Emory sports. Almost four years ago, I was sitting in my freshman dorm room in Dobbs when I got an email from Evan Mah, who at the time I had only known as my mysterious Wheel correspondent who viciously edited my articles. Little did I know how important Evan would become in my life. The email said, “If you would like to be more involved at the Wheel, keep writing … Here are your edits.” At first I smiled and then I saw his edits. In November of my freshman year, I was asked to join the Wheel as Asst. Arts & Living Editor. I assumed I would be assistant editor until Evan graduated and then maybe by senior year I would be editor of the section, while still having plenty of time for an array of other extracurricular activities. I was woefully unaware that the better part of the next four years would be spent on the fifth floor of the DUC, arguing about headlines, cutlines, oxford commas, stacked columns and of course making ethical judgment calls. The Wheel tends to attract a diverse array of students. The paper provides an expressive outlet in the form of hard news, more creative feature pieces, humor articles and even our horoscopes. There is a place for the audiophile, the dance enthusiast, the opinionated and the sporty. We require people with knowledge of WordPress and social media campaigns, photography and copy-editing. On the business end, we need sales associates, managers and ad designers. There’s a place for every interest. The catch? We all have to come together and collaborate to create this 12 page work of art, not once, but twice a week. This means constant interfacing and working with someone who you’ve never taken a class with and probably never will. This means spending long hours in a small room with people who have completely separate social circles than you. The Wheel provides a unique opportunity for very different yet equally motivated and intellectually engaged students to work side by side to create something that is meaningful and something that serves our community in an incomparable way. Maybe I could have done things differently. But I’m so glad I didn’t. Arianna Skibell is from Atlanta, Ga. She is graduating with a BA in Psychology and Linguistics.

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Illustration by Priyanka Pai

On April 2, the Supreme Court released their decision for the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that individual campaign donors may now give money to as many candidates as they would like. The decision was justified on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to cap the number of candidates to which an individual can donate based on freedom of expression rights of the First Amendment. Many commentators have criticized the decision as further enabling the American political system to be dominated by the ultra-wealthy. The American campaign finance system need not become this way. Many countries across the world have developed finance systems that are less subject to the influences of private money. In fact, American campaign finance is growing to resemble that of countries frequently criticized for inequality and corruption.

Money always has been influential in American elections. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln funded most of his campaign out of his own pocket. In recent years, though, the amount of money spent on campaigns has grown dramatically. Setting judicial precedent for the McCutcheon decision, in 2010, the Supreme Court radically changed the nature of American campaign finance in the landmark decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court ruled, also in a 5-4 decision, that corporations, associations and labor unions can donate as much as they would like to political candidates’ campaigns. This ruling was also made on the grounds that these donations are within these groups’ First Amendment freedom of expression rights.

Citizens United has already had a dramatic effect on the American political landscape in the four short years since it was passed. The decision allowed for the creations of Super Political Action Committees (PACs), groups that may engage in unlimited political spending on behalf of politicians or parties without directly giving candidates money. Individuals can give unlimited money to Super PACs. Since Super PACs cannot give the money directly to candidates, much of this money has been spent on vicious attack ads, debasing opponents’ character. As a result, in the 2012 presidential election, wealthy political donors wielded more political power then they ever have before in American elections. For example, Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire gambling magnate, donated over $94 million to Republican candidates in 2012.

McCutcheon effects have yet to be seen since it was just decided a few weeks ago. Commentators speculate that the decision may reduce the influence of Super PACs because it allows individual donors to give more money to campaigns without the Super PAC middleman, further empowering the ultra-wealthy. More importantly, the decision could set further judicial precedent that will enable the Supreme Court to abolish all individual spending limits for future political campaigns.

While commentators are uncertain of the effects that the McCutcheon ruling will have on American politics, we can get an idea of the effects by looking abroad. Many other countries actually have campaign finance systems similar to what the American system is becoming. In Brazil, individuals and corporations can spend almost unlimited amounts of money on elections, as long as it is reported to the government. Private campaign donations constitute the vast majority of political spending. In Brazil’s 2010 presidential election, almost 98 percent of President Dilma Rouseff’s campaign funds came from private corporations.

In Nigeria, campaign spending is also unchecked. Unlike Brazil, there is no real monitoring of campaign finance, so no one is quite sure of what exactly is going on. Despite uncertain details, it is certain that money plays a large role in politics, leading to tremendous corruption. In part from this murky campaign finance system, Nigeria ranks as the one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International, a nonprofit organization that follows global corruption, ranks Nigeria as 144 out of 177 ranked countries for transparency.

In addition to having campaign finance systems that enable large amounts of private spending, Nigeria, Brazil and the U.S. all have a high level of income inequality. In a global comparison of family income inequality of 139 countries based on the Gini coefficient, Brazil ranks 17th, the U.S. ranks 41st, and Nigeria ranks 47th. The Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon reflects this growing inequality, institutionalizing it in our political system. If such trends continue, the American political system is at danger of becoming merely representative of the interests of rich campaign donors rather than the constituents of varying wealth whom politicians are supposed to serve.

As the role of money increases in American politics, money’s role actually seems to be decreasing across the pond in the United Kingdom (UK). In the 2010 parliamentary election, 26 percent less money was spent than in the previous election in 2005. In contrast, over one billion more dollars were spent on the 2012 American election compared with the previous election in 2008. This represents a 19 percent increase.

While the British similarly allow unlimited spending on behalf of candidates, people spend comparatively little money. This is because there are fewer outlets for donors to spend their money. In the UK, political ads are prohibited on broadcast media, such as television and radio. The vicious attack ads that dominated television commercial breaks during the 2012 American presidential election are illegal in the UK.

Norway has taken an even more egalitarian approach to campaign finance. Like the UK, political ads are banned from broadcast media. But, unlike the UK, the national government funds most of the election in Norway. The Norwegian government funds 74 percent of political party income. This system is seen as a global model.

Rather than following the path of Nigeria and Brazil by institutionalizing inequality, the U.S. should attempt to reduce the role that money plays in American politics, like our transatlantic allies, the UK and Norway. While the Supreme Court has made its decision on McCutcheon, the American political system is not sealed to the fate of an indirect, campaign finance oligarchy. With sufficient public opposition to the government’s recent campaign finance policies, leaders may be forced to relent.

Opposition can also come from the same wealthy whose exuberant spending has been criticized in the campaign finance controversy. There is nothing stopping them from creating Super PACs opposed to Super PACs themselves and the heightened role of money in campaign finance — maybe you have to play the game to change the game. Such steps do not address the inequality that pervades the U.S., but they would at least lessen the power that the ultra-wealthy have over the American political system.

 - By Ben Perlmutter

Courtesy of Marcie Casas

Courtesy of Marcie Casas

During the weekend of April 4, I had the privilege of spending my weekend with 27 undergraduates during Emory’s first ever DataFest, a weekend-long data analysis competition. DataFest originated at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2012, and has since expanded to multiple universities, including Duke and Princeton. Emory’s DataFest was sponsored by the Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods of Emory University, IBM Academic Initiative and energy conservation company GridPoint. Similar in spirit to the recent Emory Hackathon, where students competed in teams for more than 32 hours to produce a product in the form of software or an app, DataFest students competed in teams to provide insights into real and complex data. Given the new age of “big data,” the high demand in the workforce for employees with data analytic capabilities and the increasing presence of statistical analysis in all fields of academic research, this was a tremendous professional development opportunity for all students involved.

The data provided was from a real business with real questions to answer. GridPoint supplied information regarding 110 of their restaurant and retail clients from across the United States spanning 2006-2013, which was provided in five relational data sets with more than three million observations and nearly 80 variables. This real life data was rich in issues that students do not often get to explore in the traditional classroom setting — classrooms which tend to have tidy data sets with finite solutions. Different measurements were made before and after the installation of the energy management system by GridPoint, repeated measurements were made over time, there was substantial variation in energy use daily, monthly and geographically and, as expected, energy use was highly correlated to weather readings.

There were no prerequisites to enter the competition, and students came in with varying backgrounds and capabilities. Faculty and graduate student volunteers were on hand all weekend long to provide assistance, and guidance as students stumbled through uncharted data territory. Just as volunteers were represented from departments such as political science, mathematics and computer science, sociology and psychology, the student participants were also very diverse with majors in business, applied math, economics, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and behavioral biology, computer science and many more. Diverse backgrounds strengthened teams by providing different perspectives on problem solving approaches and taught students how to collaborate with others outside their area of expertise, accurately mimicking a real-world experience.

For example, in my previous employment at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identifying solutions to control the spread of a disease would often involve discussions between a biostatistician (myself), an epidemiologist, an entomologist and a medical doctor. Communicating with experts in different fields is more challenging than it may appear on the surface — while I needed to understand the disease process in order to appropriately analyze the data, I also needed to effectively explain statistical results to the team in order to create recommendations together. This collaborative and interdisciplinary process was evident in DataFest, as all teams approached the analysis from different angles and discovered unique insights in energy expenditure. No matter their skill level, all students made tremendous gains in their statistical and programming knowledge over the weekend. They also strengthened existing friendships, formed new ones and had the opportunity to interact with the volunteers and learn about how they use statistics in their research. Most importantly, everyone had fun. This was a low-pressure, low-risk environment for which the investigative process had no right answer — like assembling a jigsaw puzzle without edges where multiple pieces can fit together. An anonymous student review stated, “I loved it! I loved having the opportunity to focus on only one thing for two days and keep trying until I got it right. Our team didn’t win, but I learned a lot and was very proud of the work that we did.”

The value of this co-curricular event to the academic community was reflected in the judging panel, which consisted of myself, IBM representative Scott Pesses, Senior Lecturer in Psychology Nancy Bliwise, Chair of Political Science and Director of Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods Cliff Carrubba and Dean of Emory College Arts and Sciences Robin Forman. Despite this formidable line-up, all of the students impressively presented their findings. Because of the high quality of investigation and research presented, the judges were all quite challenged to identify a winner. But, of course, you all know the cliché which rings especially true here — all DataFest participants were winners in my mind.

On a personal note, while many professors may understandably feel the urge to hide from students over the weekend, I surprisingly found that spending my weekend with a group of students was energizing. Unfortunately, I do not often have the opportunity to engage with students on a personal level, given the large class sizes that I teach; I relish such experiences, and DataFest was incredibly refreshing. I am consistently impressed with the intelligence and dedication to academics of the Emory undergraduate student body in general, and I feel incredibly fortunate to teach at Emory and have the opportunity to introduce so many excellent students to the real world applications of statistics.

I am also nearly giddy pondering what DataFest 2020 will look like. The nation has experienced rapid growth in the number of statistics and biostatistics programs offered, and recently ‘data science’ has emerged as a formal discipline — Emory College is now too riding this wave. The newly created Quantitative Social Science major (beginning fall 2014) is uniquely on the forefront of curricular offerings at the undergraduate level as it develops quantitative skills by integrating  statistical, mathematical and computational techniques with an applied area of interest.

Given this new major and the plans to eventually offer more elective courses in the Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods, I suspect that the student body’s data analytic capabilities will be growing exponentially. But, for many students, this change has not been happening fast enough, as many have expressed frustration at the lack of general courses dedicated to applied statistical analysis. Until the university is capable of fully satisfying this demand, I am pleased that we can offer DataFest as a brief and intense (and wide-open!) window into the investigative process of exploring and analyzing complex data.

 - By Shannon McClintock

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Courtesy of BGBlogging

Writing is one of the hardest fields to break into, and rightly so. Theoretically, anybody can write. The difference is that not everybody can write professionally — it takes a solid understanding of their own writing, sufficient knowledge in the publishing world, a strong work ethic and a splash of positive attitude.

In 2012, I published my first novel, a 50,000-word young adult fantasy titled The Writer (Itoh Press). Last month, I signed my second novel, a 65,000-word middle grade fantasy titled Sort of Saving the World with Curiosity Quills Press, and it’s tentatively set to be published in winter of 2014. Excerpts of these novels won YoungArts 2013 and 2014 Merit Awards, respectively. Currently, I’m working on another middle grade fantasy novel titled Kidstincts.

People ask me what the trick is to getting published so young, and the thing is that there is no trick; the best I can do is share my publishing stories and offer advice.

First, you have to start with the novel itself. The Writer took me about four years to write, on and off. I essentially wrote it over the course of four summers throughout high school. Sort of Saving the World was written almost entirely last summer and required a more rigorous schedule — I aimed for about 1,000 words a day. The similarity between my writing process for the two novels was that I had workshopped the first few chapters of both in my creative writing classes in high school.

I can’t stress enough the importance of giving and receiving feedback in order to become a better writer. You can find an overwhelming amount of information online for specific writing, editing and proofreading advice, both in the general writing field as well as folks who would be more than happy to help you out personally. Definitely try to work on your piece on your own — or utilize free help — before hiring a professional. One of my favorite casual sources for writing advice and prompts is Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com (warning: he is a big fan of swearing). More professional sources include Writer’s Digest, and I’d encourage everyone to check out National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) if you want to hammer out that novel as quickly as possible.

After having a novel edited and polished to the best of your ability, it’s time to start trying to get published. There are several routes to this, and each has its own perks. Self-publishing is an increasingly common form of publication — you do pay for publishing costs, but you have much more control over the process and keep all of the profit. Also, if the work is in an untraditional genre, you might have better luck self-publishing than finding an interested publisher. However, it is exceedingly difficult to become a bestseller without the help of a publisher. Check out Createspace, Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Then there’s vanity publishing, a type of publishing company that offers print-on-demand technology in return for a fee. I’d generally advise against this, as most companies offering this end up being scams, and you’d be better off self-publishing. However, they are generally non-selective, which is something to consider if you are having a lot of trouble publishing otherwise.

Most authors, however, go down the traditional publishing route, though there’s still variation here. You can query agents or query publishing houses directly. To be honest, there’s a much better chance of “making it big” if you can successfully land an agent who represents your genre. The agent helps you edit and tries to get interest for your work usually from one of the “big six publishing houses” today (Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group). However, the process is generally much more time-consuming (plus it is very difficult!) so, personally, I’ve opted to query publishing houses directly with my novel.

Before querying publishing houses, check Preditors & Editors to make sure that they are a legitimate publishing press. Either way, the process involves having a strong query letter that explains the work (a pitch that gets them interested), plus a small blurb about who you are and what your credentials are. You can find sample query letters and online writing communities that would be more than happy to help you edit one — I’d suggest resources like AgentQuery and QueryShark.

Also, knowing people and having experience goes a long way. The more experience you have in the publishing, writing and editorial world, the better you know the market, what readers are looking for and how to be a better writer. In addition, especially in publishing, contacts can sometimes mean the difference between a contract and form rejection. The main thing, however, is to keep your head high and keep writing. The professional writing world, like every other business, can be cutthroat, competitive and very disheartening. You have to remember why you write in the first place — and how it should be for yourself. And with discipline and hard work, you should be able to share it with the rest of us. Getting started is as easy as opening a Word document and beginning to type.

 - By Emily Sun Li

Bill Fox

I cannot remember the exact moment I met then-Dean of Campus Life Bill Fox, but it was very soon after I arrived on the Emory Campus as a freshman in the fall of 1979. He was just about always smiling. He was just about always available. He was always in our midst, and it was evident he loved being with us, the students of Emory University.

I was fortunate to get to know Bill very well over the years. By the time I was heading towards graduation, I counted Bill among my closest Emory friends. That might sound strange to many…how an administrator would be such a close friend with an undergrad…but all the Emory alumni who knew Bill understand. He did not set boundaries or limitations based on age or rank. He opened his heart to those around him, no matter how young.

As an undergrad, I would get together with Bill from time to time to have lunch and catch up. I had the opportunity to take a class with him my senior year, where he had us journaling about the books he assigned us to read. Although we already had a strong bond, we came to know one another even better through that class.

When I left Emory to pursue graduate school, it was hard to say goodbye to so many people I loved at Emory, such as Bill. These were the days long before the Internet, e-mail, texting and Facebook. Long distance phone calls were costly. Keeping in touch took more effort, and sometimes it’s hard to remember how we did it then, but we did. I stayed in touch with Bill Fox. We had him come to our alumni club in Philadelphia, and he remained one of the most sought after Emory speakers for alumni events. Whenever I would visit Atlanta, Bill had advance notice so we could get together and catch up.

Soon after my husband and I became engaged, I attended an alumni leadership seminar at Emory. My then-fiancé flew down to join me at the end of the conference, so I could introduce him to my beloved university and to some of the people who had made those college years so special. My husband, Bill and I had a lovely lunch together at what was then The Depot.

I was very excited for my children to meet Bill, and his wife Carol, when I took them to Emory a few years ago. They had heard me speak about him over the years, and I also was looking forward to Bill meeting my kids. Unfortunately, Bill was not feeling well, and so that meeting did not take place, but while my family dined at the Sun Dial Restaurant at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, I left the table to speak with Bill when he called, happy to know he was close by, even if we did not get to see him.

Facebook has been abuzz with the news of Bill Fox’s passing. I almost expect his name to be listed as what is “trending” right now. It is comforting to read what others are writing about this special man. He touched so many of us.

When I think of Bill, his smile is the first image that comes to mind. Then comes his slow, lovely Arkansas drawl, saying a word he exclaimed often: “Wonderful!” There is warmth in his eyes. Concern. Interest.

Bill Fox was one of a kind. The many thousands of us who were fortunate to be at Emory when he was have benefited immensely from his leadership. When I learned Bill would be retiring in 2005, I was quite sad, finding it nearly impossible to imagine an Emory without Bill there. Now I am finding it almost incomprehensible to imagine a world that no longer has our Bill Fox in it.

Tali Segal is a member of the Emory College Class of 1983. ​

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