Cotton Mather got his news from many sources, including the Journal of the Royal Philosophical Society, of which he was one of a very few members then living in America. Those opposed to vaccination got their news from many sources as well, including conversations with wide-traveled sea captains and sailors with their tales of the devastation wrought among native Americans wherever smallpox spread on the continent. But in time, the evidence of those who survived inoculation, versus those who perished without it, overcame the opponents, and the physicians quickly added the technique to their repertoire of eighteenth-century remedies.
We still face many calamities today, and on either side are to be found those who are firmly convinced either that they know the solution, or that they at least know what is not the solution. For all the progress since the eighteenth century, however, our methods of debate are still as crude and unenlightening -- full of invective and ad hominem attacks, instead of substantive analysis and objective evaluation of evidence.
Thus in perusing one's usual stops on the Web, every now and then one should deliberately try to break out of the well-trodden path, and head down some new byways. Google's Reader, which I use, has one function that is helpful, called "Recommendations", which will point you to articles and posts on the Web of a kind which are wholly different from your usual fare. Even then, one has to resist the too familiar, or too popular: one of the criteria for a site's being "recommended" is apparently the fact that 100 or more people have already told Google's engines that they "like" it.
Nevertheless, the feature turns up some real gems from time to time, and I thought this morning that I would share some discoveries with you.
You could do worse than start with this fantastic series of photographs of caves in glaciers around the world, and read the commentary of the brave photographer who dared to venture inside them. Here is a sample:
Next, the folks at National Geographic appear to have sponsored a team who replicated the feat in the animated film Up!, and launched a house into the air with helium-filled balloons:
There is a video report of the whimsical project here.
Some of us, especially the ones who love mathematics and literature, will appreciate the droll reviews of a book called One Million Random Numbers on Amazon's site, as discussed here on Freakonomics. Once more, here is a sample:
And finally, here is a fascinating link to a site dedicated to the quiet, important things in life, such as looking into the flickering flames of the hearth on a winter's evening, or contemplative conversation with close friends. What unifies it all is the simple, but beautifully constructed little house (12 feet by 12 feet) in the mountains where it all takes place:
Take a minute to explore these sites, and follow links from there to some more random places. Your day will be the better for it, I promise.