TED Talk: Battling Bad Science

From TED’s About This Talk:

Every day there are news reports of new health advice, but how can you know if they’re right? Doctor and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre shows us, at high speed, the ways evidence can be distorted, from the blindingly obvious nutrition claims to the very subtle tricks of the pharmaceutical industry.

If you do not see the video below, then go to Battling Bad Science. (Eric Mead’s the magic of the placebo is good too.)

RIP Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. So naturally the fanatical fans were devastated, the normal fans were sad, and the rest of us understood. Comparisons made to Martin Luther King, Jr, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, and yes even Tony Stark seemed maybe somewhat exaggerated. Though not by much.

He possessed intense curiosity, powerful intuition, great vision and the willfulness to see them happen. Much of the technological world is a knockoff of Apple’s or Pixar’s designs. Some people made liking his designs their identify. Pretty powerful for expensive toys and a great target for those of us who like to be outsiders.

At a time when the country needs young people interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Jobs was a household name and role model. America needs more celebrities who inspire us to achieve based on their STEM accomplishments and less of those who get us to mindlessly vegetate on our couches. We need more true innovation. Hopefully he was just a big tree obscuring saplings who will become big on their own.

Sad to see him go. When he stepped down from Apple a few weeks ago, my hope was he would do like Bill Gates and get into philanthropy aimed at education. I hoped to hear more inspiring speeches.

Some of his quotes

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

His how to live before your die speech to Standford is a great speech. (Transcript)

Read moreRIP Steve Jobs

Disappeared

Stats about views of my content can make me waste many, many hours. Sometimes I wonder why people viewed mine instead of anyone else’s. Well, except for Ezra Freelove as I appear to be the only one. Maybe I should create another Ezra Freelove and see which people like better? I love the stories people tell about who are the others with the same name as them.

I ran across this photo and felt so very sad. The field where these flowers grew is now a construction site for a new interchange. The actual site is at least six feet under dirt with new sod. Not nearly as pretty as it used to look when the cornflowers were in bloom. The new road will make it easier to get to nearby shopping and potentially a better movie theater. Progress! I guess. I’ll miss the cornflowers though.

Dwarf Cornflower

Cheating

In yesterday’s Underground Back Channel post, I wrote:

Because students are engaging in forbidden activity these conversations are underground. Well, the smart ones. Some are having these conversations on Twitter where one party of the conversation is not private and anyone (like a nosy DBA like myself) can see it. If they are used to quasi-cheating, does real cheating become easier? That might explain much of what I see.

I decided to write more about this.

Back in July, I ran across posts on Twitter where a student claimed another named (Twitter account) classmate provided the answers to a test. The moral was: “Students who cheat together will not repeat together.” A few days later the student bragged this activity happened the previous term as well. Then the student asked the classmate whether the next test was taken, presumably so they could cheat again. We handed the information over to the institution. I have not heard whether disciplinary action was taken against the students.

At the time, I attributed the students writing about the cheating similar to hubris in the Congressman Weiner scandal. It may also point to a lack of understanding about privacy online. Hard to know what was running through their heads at the time other than what they are willing to say or write which will be biased.

The NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again story hit the week after the initial detection. Pursuing the cheaters hurt his evaluations. The advice of plagiarism detection tools is to use them for teaching students what is correct behavior not as punitive evidence.

But then I ran across Classroom Ethics 101. The student experiment points to students being very willing to take an early look at test questions and answers (69%) even when given a notice it might be cheating (41%). Ariely does not think the actual cheating was very much as on the final exam few made 90% scores. The experiment is similar to the UCF cheating scandal where 1/3 of the 600 students were thought to have cheated.

Occasionally we, those running the LMS, get a request to look at the Mail tool messages or Chat conversations between students in a class to see who are trying to share answers. So far none have. The professors fear the students are using private communication tools to cheat. Maybe they are smart enough to use Facebook where we do not have the data.

Cheating is happening. The activity is underground except where students make a mistake. Professors have plenty of tools to help them detect it. Maybe as analytics become more widespread, they will be used to identify more cheating, though perhaps it should come from deans or academic affairs or student judiciary not the professor.

Underground Back Channels

During first couple years at my first real job post-college, a friend of a friend would IM me questions about how to solve computer problems for which he could not figure out the answers. These requests started as me doing the work for him with dubious promises of doing the same for me. (I knew he’d gotten a job over his head and making 2.3x more than me. I also knew he did not know anything about my work and could not help me.) When I did not bite to do this, he shifted to giving him the answers and settled for all that I was willing to do: point him in the right direction. Having worked in a library, pointing patrons and friends in the right direction was something I was used to doing.

This conversation was not officially sanctioned by either of our employers. Neither of us told our bosses about these conversations. Was I leaking the intellectual capital of my employer? Was this friend of a friend leaking his employer’s intellectual capital to me? In any case, it would probably be considered an underground interaction. My boss at the time encouraged my professional participation on web technology email lists as helping others with my knowledge and experience gave me access to others who could do the same. The difference was the lists were sanctioned while the friend of a friend was not no matter how similar.

The Learning Black Market suggests students today use Facebook as a private back channel to classmates for pointers in the right direction on how to work on class assignments. They also secretly use Wikipedia despite it being forbidden as a source. When I was a student, the same sort of back channel activity for pointers would happen but face-to-face in the hallway was the preferred place not Facebook. Instead of Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica was the preferred first source. (Gosh, I am old.) Just like students today are told Wikipedia is not an allowable reference and not to ever use it yet they do anyway, EB was not an allowable reference and yet I saw my classmates using it to figure out terms that would help them find allowable references. Students today sometimes use Wikipedia for the same reason.

Educators want the students to take their time and deliberately work through the assignments the hard way so they learn the most through the process. Students want to get the assignment done in the least amount of time while still making a good grade. Educators lack the oversight to force students to behave except to detect plagiarism or cheating in the produced artifacts.

Because students are engaging in forbidden activity these conversations are underground. Well, the smart ones. Some are having these conversations on Twitter where one party of the conversation is not private and anyone (like a nosy DBA like myself) can see it. If they are used to quasi-cheating, does real cheating become easier? That might explain much of what I see.

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Another I cannot believe I did not blog this. The book was really good.

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch (Oct. 23, 1960 – July 25, 2008) gave his last lecture at the university Sept. 18, 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. In his moving presentation, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals.

For more on Randy, visit: http://www.cmu.edu/randyslecture

TED Talk: Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code

From the TED’s About This Talk:

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we’re predictably irrational — and can be influenced in ways we can’t grasp.

When I ran across Dan Ariely’s Classroom Ethics 101 last month, I had forgotten about his TED Talk. Even worse, I had not blogged about it! So here it is.

My favorite quote:

It is very hard to believe your intuition is wrong… This is the situation we are all in all the time. We have very strong intuitions about all kinds of things. Our own ability. How the economy works. Ho we should pay school teachers. But unless we start testing those intuitions we are not going to do better.

If you cannot see the video below, then visit Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code.