Tag Archives: analysis

Red lines and “complex moral duality”: TOK and ethics of witnessing

(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Civilians Attacked by Chemical Weapons!” Few headlines spark as much outrage. If a TOK class engages students in the questions of knowledge connected with this kind of horrendous event, it can help them feel the importance of the intellectual tools that the course provides for probing into – and reacting to – such events.

A reflective piece in the current edition of Dispatches, a journal of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, provides an articulate, subtle, and thoughtful focus for many such questions. (Stephen Cornish, “Red Lines”) Easily viewed online, the article is short enough to be used as the basis of a rich and far-reaching discussion. What makes the article particularly effective, too, is that it appeared shortly before the most recent use of chemical weapons in Syria, and thus concerns a whole array of questions perhaps not fully apparent in the most recent news flashes. Continue reading

TOK and “fake news”: 3 tips, 2 downloads, and 3 resources

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Well, we’ve done it at last. We’ve hit the Big Time. Suddenly the topics that we chat about every day in class – such as concepts of truth and reliability, the nature of “facts”, methods of validating or rejecting knowledge claims, and the dynamic and formative role of perspectives – have come into the glaring public spotlight. Headlines blare out claims about “fake news” or “the war on truth” over British and American politics most specifically, but with fallout that rains down on us all. It’s time for us Theory of Knowledge teachers to take a bow – and then eagerly scoop up for future classes all the new and relevant resources that are being churned out so energetically in the media-sphere that surrounds us. Continue reading

Burkini controversy: TOK activity in analyzing perspectives


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A storm of controversy over a swimming suit? Astonishingly, it’s not even a risqué one! Women have recently been fined in France for keeping too much of their bodies covered on the beach – and towns have passed regional laws to ban the “burkini”.  The ban on this bathing costume, however, has met extensive protest. The top French administrative court has now overturned it. A cultural flashpoint hotly contested, the burkini offers an ideal class activity – not because the TOK course cares about beachwear but because the controversy provides material for students to consider the nature of symbolism and to practise their skills of analyzing perspectives in application to issues very alive in the world. Continue reading

Conspiracy theories, intuitions and critical thinking: Part 2

cognitive biases(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Our intuitions can take us in leaps to some crazy places. And yet, if we’re going to consider how we really build what we claim is knowledge – in real life rather than in some tidied and rational abstraction – we do have to look at some of those crazy places and the pre-rational cognitive biases that take us there.

My last post dealt with conspiracy theories as a significant but frequently entertaining entry point for recognizing some of the flaws of intuition as a way of knowing – that is, if it is not supplemented by awareness and the more rational processes of critical thinking. This week’s post picks up that background and applies it in a series of classroom exercises to get students to engage their minds. After all, we can’t teach critical thinking by telling students about it. They have to do it themselves. Continue reading

Reliability in psychological science: methodology in crisis?

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(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP IB blog) “Scientific truth is a moving target,” wrote the editors of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) a decade ago. “But is it inevitable, as John Ioannidis argues…that the majority of findings are actually false?” In the decade since the editors posed this question, the psychological sciences have been shaken by further challenges to their credibility, including some widely reported controversies. It was August of this year, however, that brought the most significant shock waves, when the Reproducibility Project of the Open Science Collaboration announced its conclusions – that most of the articles published in leading psychological journals were unreliable. Most! This crisis in knowledge – in both its nature and its interpretations — is acutely relevant to us as teachers of Theory of Knowledge, aiming as we do to treat the human sciences with contemporary understanding. Continue reading

Guessing, Probability and Prediction: a TOK lesson on election polls

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(guest post by TOK Course Book co-author, Mimi Bick. OUP IB blog) Do you live in a democratic country? If you do, you’ll have noticed that leading up to major elections, the media is filled with what experts think will happen when the real day arrives. Sometimes they hit the nail on the head. Sometimes they don’t. Is it reasonable for us to expect pollsters to get it right — and what does that mean? How similar and different are election polls to other areas of data gathering and analysis and their uses? These are questions you might usefully explore from different angles and perspectives in the context of TOK. Continue reading

Mathematics and Scientific Methodology: example Malaria

insect-158565_640(by Theo Dombrowski) The statistics are horrifying.

 Every minute, a child dies from malaria.

In 2013, 90% of the world’s malaria deaths occurred in Africa and over 430,000 African children died before their fifth birthdays.

And there are plenty more statistics where these came from:

In 2013, there were about 198 million malaria cases (with an uncertainty range of 124 million to 283 million) and an estimated 584 000 malaria deaths (with an uncertainty range of 367 000 to 755 000).

According to yet further statistics, this horrifying number is not as bad as it was just a few years earlier. Why the improvement? Mostly, it seems, from two causes: increased availability and use of both insecticides and mosquito nets over sleeping areas.   Medical research still has not led to a vaccination.

Malaria research as an example for TOK class

The research and experiences of IB graduate Dr. Miles Davenport provide excellent insight into the methods currently being employed in the biological sciences to combat this huge health issue faced principally by the world’s poor.

Two aspects of current malaria research are most helpful to bring to a TOK class. The first concerns those elements absolutely basic to gaining scientific knowledge–making observations, collecting data, making assumptions, and formulating hypotheses. The second, Dr. Davenport’s specialty, is less obviously fundamental–applying mathematics.

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Germany’s Pegida: “groping in the dark of logic”

(by Theo Dombrowski) “As a default, we humans are notoriously irrational,” writes Adam Fletcher. “Many of us suffer from something called dysrationalia which is being unable to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence. Dysrationalia explains why otherwise smart people might believe in horoscopes, Yeti, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Xenu, the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy.”

PEGIDA_Demo_DRESDEN_25_Jan_2015_116139835The failure to separate genuine knowledge from spurious claims can, of course, be dangerous. The contemporary world, in spite of increased education and awareness, is bristling with politically painful examples of widespread social problems arising from “dysrationalia”. In fact, the opening quotation is from a satiric article  focusing on the particular issue of knowledge-claims-gone-horribly-wrong — yet flourishing — in a protest group in Germany called Pegida.

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White men and climate change: statistics and reliable correlations

14 11 23 graph(by Theo Dombrowski) When we hear the much quoted claim, “There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics,” many of us smile ruefully, suspecting that we have been duped by statistics at some points in our lives. How should we react, therefore, when we read a detailed report, accompanied by graphs and numbers, that, in the U.S., non-whites are more concerned about global warming than whites? After all, though we’ve known for a long time that statistics can be manipulated, we also know that statistics are much more effective and precise than words for communicating relationships such as proportions or correlations. Can we trust this report correlating race and attitudes to global warming? With the increase in “data journalism” the need for critical thinking is probably more acute now than ever before. Continue reading

Shroud of Turin follow-up: new material for AOK History

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The image of the shroud pictured above is a poster from 1898. By then the images on the shroud were faint.

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) This topic of the Shroud of Turin just keeps getting better and better for TOK. In my last post, I outlined TOK lessons based on it. But now – even better materials for launching a class! A podcast interview with historian Charles Freeman (25 minutes), linked from the website of History Today,  readily sets up a leaner lesson on the methods of research of an historian. The interviewer applauds Freeman’s research as “historical detective work” on an “unsolved mystery” and invites him to explain his methods of investigation. Continue reading