(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
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Good news: counter-argument with factual support may not be doomed after all. The “backfire effect”, as widely discussed in the past few years, was a truly disheartening phenomenon for anyone who cares about critical thinking or reliable knowledge. However, recent studies illustrate how the human sciences work as they offer revised conclusions – and at the same time give us back some reasons for optimism.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, OUP blog) “Fake news” is a term that I would happily consign to the annals of 2016 and 2017. Goodbye. But as it lives on, it morphs meaning – and takes on further allure for TOK analysis. It doesn’t just face us, belligerently, with issues of truth and falsehood. It also offers an excellent current example, rooted in real life situations, of another topic central to Theory of Knowledge: the interaction between concepts and language. Further, its shifts in meaning demonstrate the care that we have to take with our tools of analysis – that is, our words and terms. Time for a TOK update! Continue reading
Is it obvious that medical conclusions ought to be based on evidence and science? What are the alternatives? For a smile along with the serious point, I recommend this satirical list by two doctors: “Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine”. Vehemence-based medicine? Eminence-based medicine? The list predates the recent book on celebrity-based medicine with the splendid title Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? Looking at what people believe in medicine and why can be very funny — and very scary.
In his book debunking the specific health advice offered to her fans by influential actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Professor Timothy Caulfield is also dealing with a more general concern, and the implications of what people accept. 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) When we depend on language to mediate scientific knowledge, the field is ripe for misunderstanding and abuse. And when life and death are involved, as they often are in medical science, getting it right is important. Hence the attempts of prominent figures who straddle both fields — medical science and communication (e.g. David Gorski, Stephen Novella, John Byrne) — to change terminology when current terminology has created problems. In fact, these medical writers/doctors have created a whole society and web site on the issue: Science Based Medicine: exploring issues and controversies in science and medicine.
The need for one particular new term, though, may seem surprising. “Evidence Based Medicine” is a term that should hardly need changing. Right? After all, evidence is exactly that–evidence. And evidence has always (in “modern medicine”) been and should always be the basis of medical science. Right?
Well, apparently, not. Continue reading
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 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 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