A Happy Marriage Between Magic and Science

Occasionally, something interesting happens in an eastern city that is not NYC. Very occasionally. But I caught wind of a new scheme thought up by the curators at Harvard’s Natural History Museum to capitalize on Harry Potter mania and to teach kids about the natural world. The Harry Potter Scavenger Hunt is a clever way to [...]

Let’s see what we can do with this internet

What do you write on the Critical Thinking chalkboard?

Driving back from the debate on Friday, Steve and I got into talking about critical thinking.  I don’t remember how it happened.  Talk about the debate moved to discussing what I wished I’d been able to say in the debate, to “here’s what I think skeptics believe [...]

Instrument Validity: The GRE as a Gatekeeper?

About a month and a half ago The Quixotic Man posted an article criticizing the use of the GRE in admissions decisions to graduate degree programs. I left a comment there, but recent conversations with fellow faculty members at an institution where I teach, as well as one with a NYCS board member at the Graham Priest lecture on Saturday September 11th, have spurred me to develop the comments I posted on TQM’s piece more comprehensively into my own post.

I want to start by first disclosing the following: 1) I took the GRE [the general test twice, and the psychology subject test once], 2) I have been both denied admission to graduate programs (master’s level and doctoral level) and admitted to graduate programs (master’s and doctoral level), all from roughly the same ‘caliber’ of institutions, 3) I am a graduate student of quantitative methods in education and psychology, and 4) I have taught courses in measurement and assessment in these areas (u-grad/intro level). I say all of this not to add or subtract credibility from my views, but to express that, while this article is my opinion, it is an opinion based on personal, professional and academic experience. … continue reading this entry.

I want to get involved in this education question!

Is it okay if I keep writing for the Gotham Skeptic, even if I can't find a picture of me in one of these hats?

A couple weeks back, there was a flurry on this blog about education and the degrees gained in the annals of higher learning.  I wrote something about testing, Lisa and Page each wrote articles about confident people with degrees and then why that didn’t in fact make getting a degree unimportant, we had commentators on either side, it was all very fun to be a fly on the wall for.  I think one of the reasons this particular debate hit hard was because as skeptics, we have a bit of a divide between the professionally academic and those of us with… non-traditional education.  It is reflected clearly in our skeptical super-stars.  On the one hand, we have guys like Phil Plait and doubly doctoral Massimo Pigliucci (is he actually at three now?).  On the other hand, we adore Adam Savage and have practically nominated James Randi for skeptical sainthood.

There has been some sniping coming from both sides.   Randi has at times stated a certain disdain for those classically trained.  I get the impression that he was told to get out of the field a few times and this is his “FU” back.  That could just be me.  I’m a writer who specializes in drama and I like trying to deduce motivations.  On the other end, often I will listen to those from Academia and it can sound like I’m being told that those without degrees should automatically conform to the beliefs of those that do.  I am not the only one who has felt this way, I still distinctly remember a year ago at our first SkepticampNYC the question of a man who saw himself as a working-class skeptic who felt he was being kept out of the conversation (go to about two and a half minutes into the video from Skepticamp to be reminded of the question). … continue reading this entry.

An Action Every Skeptic Can Take Today

Don't you think this man would be more comfortable with a flu shot?

I got into an argument with a co-worker today about the flu shot.  It started out when he said that all you needed to keep from getting the flu was to eat right and exercise and quickly sped to “what’s the other flu they’re protecting you from?  See?   It’s all about the money!”  This particular co-worker is a guy I like rather a lot, but he sort of gets these conspiracy-esq narratives on a bunch of different issues, and then it’s just not possible to get any information through to him.  But the argument got me thinking and I realized that there was something that each and everyone of us could do. … continue reading this entry.

Teaching the Controversy: Let’s not and say we didn’t

You say sniffing this kills brain cells, but I say it smells terrific. Let's teach kids the controversy!

Our old friends, the creationists, appear to no longer be content to spread their sadly not so unique garbage around just our country any longer.  Recently a new “educational” attraction in Bristol England was awarded a “quality badge” by the British Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.  The attraction’s name?  “Noah’s Ark Zoo.”  Of course, we shouldn’t just assume that they’re religious because a) The Guardian says so or b) the name.  So let’s take a look at their website where they talk all about how Noah’s Ark Zoo is a working farm.  Oh what’s this?  A section on their website devoted to “Evolution & Creation.”  Hmmmm… … continue reading this entry.

The Oz Fallacy Fallacy

Lisa earning multiple "educations"

A few weeks back I posted an article in which I described observations I had made regarding the attitudes of undergraduate students towards their education. Page later posted a follow up in response to some of the comments the article had received. I too noted an apparent misunderstanding of what I was proposing in the comment content, and offer the following; The Oz Fallacy Fallacy; the perception that my article on the Oz Fallacy was a suggestion that an education is a valueless or futile exercise.

My original intent was to express my concern that people were confusing the aim of higher education to be the acquisition of a degree. Yes, many probably do hope to earn a degree. I myself have collected a few thus far, and I am nowhere near ‘done’. But the aim of higher education is the acquisition of an education; a degree merely symbolically represents that some standard level of an education has been achieved. … continue reading this entry.

A new online resource for science… well, actually Nature

The Nature Publishing Group has a new online initiative called SCITABLE. Trying not to hold the name against them, I checked out the bells and whistles of the site. Their mission is that:

SCITABLE brings together a library of scientific overviews with a worldwide community of scientists, researchers, teachers, and students. Use SCITABLE  to:

  • Learn about a range of scientific subjects
  • Collaborate online with other students and teachers
  • Publish your activities and portfolio to the worldwide science community … continue reading this entry.

To degree or not to degree?

On Tuesday, Lisa Bauer introduced us to the “Oz Fallacy,” the belief that the simple possession of a symbol of a skill or talent equates with the possession of that skill or talent. Using the petitioners of the Great and Powerful Oz to illustrate this point, Lisa pointed out that the tokens bestowed on the story’s heroes by the Wizard merely symbolized their gifts, not unlike how a diploma is a symbol of formal education. She went on to make the point that possession of a diploma, of any sort, is not a guarantee that the holder also possesses intelligence.

It is an illustrative analogy and an absolutely valid point. However, I was left feeling somewhat uncomfortable by the tone of the comments that the post produced on the Gotham Skeptic and on the Facebook site for NYCS. And thought it was worth developing my response in a post rather than as an additional comment (‘cause I can).

Many of the comments reduced Lisa’s argument to something along the lines of:

[Diplomas]… are supposed to be “proof I know what I am talking about”. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. To often, this just means, “I was well off enough to get myself into a good school.” … continue reading this entry.

The Fallacy of Oz

The Scarecrow, Doctor of Thinkology

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the scarecrow, the lion and the tin man all seek something of particular value and importance from the wizard. Dorothy wishes to go home, the tin man wishes for a heart, the lion wants to be courageous and the scarecrow would like to have a brain. In the end, [and for those who haven't seen this iconic film, spoiler alert] the wizard “grants” these requests. However, in a rather dissatisfying fashion, he bestows upon everyone but Dorothy mere symbols of the virtues they desire. … continue reading this entry.

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