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The Week in Ideas 9/2

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  September 2, 2013 09:00 AM

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Rise of the mayors: Leon Neyfakh on how, in a time of national political gridlock, mayors have become a source of some of our most exciting new policy ideas. Historically we’ve looked at mayors as figureheads who fix potholes. But, scholars in political science, law, and economics, point out that increasingly mayors from cities around the world are banding together to address our most pressing issues, like immigration, gun control, and climate change.

Drinking with China’s lonely tycoons: Jenn Abelson interviews John Osburg, author of the new book, “Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich.” Osburg spent three years living in China, where he insinuated himself into the nightclub scene where many of China’s elite go to transact power. Osburg explains how social connections, drinking, and prostitution, are a main feature of how things get done in China—and also a drag on the country’s future.

Why cursive is hard to read: Charles Zanor on the unique (and understudied) cognitive skills that allow us to read cursive. Most studies of how people read are based on printed words, but new evidence shows that our brains work very differently (in the rare occasions these days) when we’re confronted with script.

The trouble with grade inflation: It works: Keith O’Brien on how college students who receive inflated grades fair better on the graduate school market than students who attend colleges with tougher standards. Grade inflation in colleges is a well-documented phenomenon and you’d hope graduate school admissions officers would be able to control for the fact that an A doesn’t mean the same from every institution. But, a new study out of the University of California, Berkeley shows that students with higher GPAs—even if solely due to inflation—end up getting into competitive graduate programs more frequently than equally able peers who went to colleges with less grade inflation.

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how visual cues may play a bigger role than audio quality in determining who wins classical music competitions; how a fear of death prompts people to drink alcohol; how physicians with false beliefs about what constitutes effective treatment are driving up healthcare costs; and more.

Image by Wesley Bedrosian for the Boston Globe.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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