Archive for Peter Gould

Beware the Blob

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, HIV, Revolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by Rob Wallace

Gay Aids Protest Shame on ObamaFor World AIDS Day 2012 I post an edited excerpt of a speech I gave a decade ago to the Second Scholarly Conference on Women and Work: Health and Wellness held at the Center for Worker Education in New York City. I ask whether HIV can search for the most vulnerable populations.

Identifying trends in health and disease doesn’t mean we know how these patterns came about.

Why, for instance, is HIV/AIDS so prevalent in Africa? It’s where the virus first emerged, of course. Cases have had more time there to accumulate. But at 22 million HIV cases, initial conditions are hardly explanation enough. An array of interacting socioeconomic circumstances and cultural happenstance locks millions of people to precarious fates (and, in this case, greater risk of infection). Many of Africa’s countries are the poorest in the world and the workaday people live in are channeled in such a way that the term ‘choice’, at the heart of much public health commentary, loses its connotation of free will.

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Occupy Mathematics

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza, Revolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by Rob Wallace

I gave the following talk at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City October 17 as part of a Festschrift for my father, and collaborator, Rodrick Wallace. A Festschrift is a symposium held–and a book published–in honor of a scholar, often on his or her 70th birthday. As opposed to a Gedenkschrft, held in memoriam (though there are some scholars who deserve the latter long before they’ve left for the great e-journal server in the sky).

I’ll start off with an old joke about Rod, in the de rigueur Boston accent. The joke runs like this: Equation 1. Equation 2. Equation 3. “We can see here an apartheid state entrains both oppressor and oppressed into a synergy of plagues.”

Equation 4. Equation 5. Equation 6. “It follows then that public health can be saved from a catastrophic vortex if and only if we smash the apartheid state.”

All kidding aside, we would make a mistake assuming Rod’s conclusions arise from his formalisms alone or—winky wink—vice versa. Instead, we should say they arise “and vice versa” and honestly so. Or better yet, inextricably so.

That’d be shocking if only because it would imply cultural and political precepts underlie mathematical mechanics. That the field’s formalisms are as much historical objects as many of the phenomena they address, as a number of commentators, including Wittgenstein and the ethnomathematicians, have ventured.

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