Tag Archives: human sciences

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

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s good for you!

151012 thanksg turkey(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

World Refugee Day: What do our categories leave out?

refugeeUN300Today, 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

News anchor in disgrace: media, memory, and questions of knowledge

14 02 helicopter-297742_640(by Theo Dombrowski) If there’s one quality we all want in news announcers it is their truthfulness. A liar is not what we want. It’s not surprising, then, that one of the most widely covered news stories of recent weeks is the one directed at exposing famous NBC News “anchorman” Brian Williams–as a liar. So high profile is this story that if you take it to a TOK class you can expect most students to have heard it (at least in North America.)

As for the lie itself, well, according to Williams he was traveling in a helicopter in Iraq in 2003, when it was hit by enemy fire. The truth? It wasn’t. (In fact, another helicopter traveling ahead of him by more than half an hour was hit—though Williams’ helicopter did land to avoid a dangerous situation.)

Ask the same TOK class what knowledge questions related to shared knowledge emerge from this story and, no doubt, many will point out those associated with trusting news media. The fact that Williams did not present his story as a news story will hardly take away from the point. This emphasis, however, obscures an even more interesting question for TOK, one raised by psychologists commenting on the story. Is it possible that it illustrates not a failure of honesty but the normal workings of fallible memory? Continue reading

Indigenous “enoughness”: Perspectives are more complex than they seem.

(by Eileen Dombrowski) Why do I have such ambivalent reactions to this video “Enoughness”, when it is so obviously a splendid film to take to a TOK class?  Not only does it give a short, pithy summary of perspectives on the natural world and their implications for how we treat it, with graphic illustration, but it also supports a new area of knowledge in the TOK course, indigenous knowledge.  Moreover, the value it places on sustainability puts it utterly in harmony with IB education.  But….but…but for me, perhaps it’s my objections to it rather than my general endorsement that make me consider it particularly valuable for TOK.

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Doing good is good for you: Ethics and the Human Sciences, TOK and CAS

helping-others-300x195(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.

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electrocution and marriage rates: correlation or cause?

(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 VigenContinue reading

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

“Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”

09 23 climate march(by Theo Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog September 23, 2014) On September 21, more than half a million people in 166 countries (approximately 400, 000 in the New York flagship march alone) marched to demand that world leaders act to tackle climate change. Their demand was directed in large part to the leaders converging today for an emergency UN Climate Summit. Will their huge numbers have any effect on the attitudes–or beliefs–of those who have not already accepted the conclusions of 97% of the world’s climate scientists? Continue reading