Emory Report
November 2, 2009
Volume 62, Number 9


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November 2, 2009

Dramatizing terror can blur fact, fiction
Veena Das, professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, spoke in a Luminaries lecture about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year.

She warned that one must hesitate before attempting to fit these attacks into a “story that requires a framework of causes and consequences.”

Such spectacular acts of violence, Das said, unhinge the relation between outward expression and emotion.
“There was something unreal, simulated, not quite believable about these events,” she said — an effect enhanced by the crowds gathering around the burning hotel, talking on cell phones and cheering on the commandos.

The result, she said, was that the attacks seemed both “news and melodrama, a blurring of fact and fiction.”
—Mary Loftus

New twist to ancient tale
“Evolution is a theory that we have more experimental evidence for than any other theory, and yet 50 percent of the population of the United States doesn’t accept it,” said Chair of Chemistry David Lynn, during a Creativity Conversation with choreographer David Neumann. “Maybe we’ve taken the wrong path in talking about evolution. In science we do a good job of conveying facts, but not a good job of telling the stories.”

Lynn’s desire to find new ways to explain science inspired him to serve as an adviser to Neumann as he created a dance about evolution.

“I was deeply influenced by the manner in which evolution operates and using those structures — contingencies and chance operations — in the structure of the dance,” Neumann said. “Sometimes when you utilize chance there’s a fantastic discovery.” —Carol Clark

Giving context to lynching statistics
Statistical studies of lynchings in the South have been done, including one that showed they were more frequent when the cost of cotton was declining, said professor of sociology Roberto Franzosi. “The problem with statistical explanations is that both the victims and the mob disappear.”

As a guest speaker in anthropology, Franzosi described how he is applying “story grammar” methods to analyze the characteristics of lynchings from 1875–1930. He is using thousands of newspaper accounts as his source material. “They are truly gruesome stories,” said Franzosi. “When I first started reading them, I was crying most of the time.”

Franzosi is the author of “From Words to Numbers: Narrative, Data and Social Science.” —Carol Clark