(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A numbers expert declares he’ll sum up everything he knows about analyzing statistics on the back of a postcard. Could any TOK teacher NOT instantly spring to the alert? He’s inspired me to attempt my own lean summary: a single page mini-guide on (dis)trusting statistics, useful in our own educational context of Theory of Knowledge. Continue reading
(originally published on my Oxford University Press education blog) In my part of the world, there’s an entire public holiday built around a particular emotion: gratitude. In 2015, Thanksgiving Day falls on October 12 for us Canadians and November 26 for our American neighbours. Although this year I’m not home cooking a traditional turkey (I’m off travelling in Romania!), I wanted to wish all of you the best for this day, and to send you my hopes that you have plenty in your lives to feel happy about. And (no surprise here!) I can’t resist linking the emotion of gratitude to TOK class discussions. Continue reading
Did you know that green coffee bean extract can help you lose weight? No? Me neither! Today, I’d like to propose a class discussion on thinking critically about media knowledge claims for products that yield fabulous (literally) medical benefits. The discussion is given a caffeine lift by a bite-sized example from a year ago – a story of fabulous claims and the corrective process of science. Continue reading
Posted in IB Theory of Knowledge
Tagged cause, critical thinking, evidence, knowledge claims, knowledge questions, methodology, natural sciences, reason, shared knowledge, truth, ways of knowing
(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.
Today, a PS to this past week’s posts on classifying human beings. What do our categories highlight, and what do they exclude? My past two posts have used current examples from the media to raise knowledge questions about “race” and the contentious balance between biological heritage and culture or ethnicity (a balance that carries varies labeling in various contexts). Today I’d like to comment, just briefly, on another classification of human beings, one that carries enormous significance for how we live in the world Continue reading
Posted in IB Theory of Knowledge
Tagged cause, classification, concepts/language, definitions, evidence, human sciences, imagination, implications, knowledge questions, language, literature, reason
(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.”
The 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.
(by Eileen Dombrowski. re-post from December 16, 2013 OSC blog. It’s so appropriate for this time of year!) Is there really anything newsworthy about the value of doing good to others? So much has been said over so many centuries that surely current psychological research cannot add tremendously to our understanding! And surely doing good falls within the scope of ethics — and not within the scope of the human sciences! Yet, quite the contrary: recent studies in the human sciences do contribute knowledge — and knowledge that is particularly welcome at a time of year when in many parts of the world religious and secular traditions celebrate caring for others and giving generously.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from TOK OSC blog) The comic charts on the website Spurious Correlations are already familiar to many TOK teachers. But if you’ve missed this resource till now, you won’t want to miss it any longer. Did you know that the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets correlates with the total revenue generated by skiing facilities in the US – or that the number who were electrocuted by power lines correlates with the marriage rate in Alabama? Would you infer that one causes the other? “I created this website as a fun way to look at correlations and think about data,” says Tyler Vigen. Continue reading
(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