Tag Archives: confirmation bias

SPOT and the cloak of invisibility: cognitive biases

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For the observer: a cloak of invisibility?

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) With a laugh, I pass on to you today a couple more cognitive biases, ones that students are likely to enjoy. We could, of course, despair over how deep our biases seem to go and what a challenge it is to achieve an open mind, but I find it curiously entertaining to learn about the quirky biases of our human minds. Maybe it even creates some patience with other people – those others who are so stubbornly wrong! – if we recognize that we are also naively wrong ourselves.

When considering reason as a way of knowing, we Theory of Knowledge teachers have long treated fallacies that derail clear thinking. When considering intuition as a way of knowing, we have a wealth of material in all the biases that kick in before we’re even consciously thinking. At moments, I’ve idly wondered whether we could teach the entire TOK course centred on confirmation bias, our tendency to notice and accept only information that reinforces what we believe already.   Continue reading

Is knowing harder than dieting?

170605 chocolate bar(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Oh no! More suggestion, in an article I’m reading, that gaining reliable knowledge from the media might be even harder than sticking to a diet! Just as we’re assaulted with tempting displays of candy and chocolate as we head for the supermarket check-out, we’re faced with screaming headlines, awful photos, and our own fear and excitement as we open the news. Alas! I’ve never been a fan of that smug term “delayed gratification”, and I’ve long felt morose about advice – getting it or giving it – to pause, and think… to counter first intuitions and impulses with the slower responses of reason. Nevertheless, a current analysis of “the terror news cycle” confronts me, yet again, with the importance of not grabbing on impulse but paying attention to what I take in. Resolution for the week: not to go instantly for the tasty or flashy. TOK teachers, beware: this is a spoiler alert! Continue reading

Thinking beyond the knowledge bubbles

soap-bubbles-01(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) I’m taking a little holiday from watching the news. I do this sometimes. I turn off the volume to watch all those mouths move, then let all of the frustrated and angry people float away, sealed in their lovely bubbles. Escapism? Yes – and no. Sometimes it’s the only way to imagine myself outside my own bubble of news and views, to try to see how people get sealed off from each other in their internally coherent mini-worlds. If I quiet my own rage at the world and stop myself from yelling about “truth”, I think I can see that the people inside all the bubbles are a lot alike, and are using similar ways to create their different versions of the world. It’s those ways that grab my attention for Theory of Knowledge. The following story is likely to grab your attention as well. 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

Conspiracy theories, intuitions and critical thinking: Part 1

160321 spooky hood(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Did you know that the Charlie Hebdou attack was not, as the media tell us, an attack by terrorists offended by the satiric magazines’ portrayal of Muhammed, the Prophet? Did you know, rather, that it was orchestrated by the U.S. in order to punish France for its foreign policy decisions? Did you know that pop star Kate Perry is, in fact, a member of the Illuminati, bent on world domination? Both of these are carefully hidden facts, of course. And if you need any proof of the effectiveness of the cover-up of either and, therefore, the terrible power wielded by those running the world, what better proof than the fact that you cannot find a single shred of evidence for either claim? These are but two of literally hundreds of “conspiracy theories” reported in many media, but most widely on the internet. Continue reading

Perspectives and manipulation: 6 photographers and a single subject

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) At first glance, this three-minute video (6 Photographers Capture Same Person But Results Vary Widely Because of a Twist) provides a visually engaging, if rather obvious, illustration of differing perspectives at work as 6 photographers take distinctly unlike pictures of the same subject. Taken at face value, it’s an appealing resource for a TOK class on the effect of what we think (perspectives, WOK intuition/reason) on what we see (WOK sense perception) and how we represent the world (WOK language). It’s when we question the methods of the film makers, though, and the reach of their conclusions, that the video becomes richer in questions that we want to raise in Theory of Knowledge.

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Refugees and risk: Can TOK encourage a more thoughtful approach?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) In the Theory of Knowledge classroom, we can’t solve the problems of climate change, war, and terrorism. However, what we CAN do is much needed in this historical moment in the west: we can give our students a calm space to stand back from the high emotion and knee-jerk opinionating that surrounds many of them. We can encourage them to apply a more thoughtful and critical approach to how knowledge claims are made and justified, and in the process develop their thinking further for the messy world they are about to inherit. The past week in the world has given far too many examples for TOK topics, but I’ll just suggest a few that stand out for me – and then I’ll link you to an article on refugees that you’re bound to find interesting. 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

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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“Knowledge-Based Trust” (KBT): Google aims to give us the facts.

google-76517_640(by Eileen Dombrowski) Who needs critical thinking when we have Google? A team of computer scientists working for Google has proposed an improvement on what comes up when we enter our terms in its search window. They suggest a method of calculating a “trustworthiness score” for webpages based on their factual content: “We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT).” An avid Googler myself, I am awash with both admiration and amusement. What would our students, many of them also consummate Googlers in face of essay assignments, make of the knowledge questions that instantly arise about the nature of facts, truth, and reliable sources? Continue reading