Tag Archives: methodology

The Statistics of an Emotion: 2017 World Happiness Report

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Can we define and measure happiness – put statistics to an emotion? Can we rank countries of the world quantitatively for the degree to which their people are happy? The fifth annual World Happiness Report,  released by the United Nations on March 20, 2017 has subject matter likely to appeal to students.  For Theory of Knowledge teachers, the report gives an excellent focusing example for discussing ways of knowing and methods of research, particularly for the human sciences. Continue reading

Where do fresh ideas come from?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Where do new ideas come from? Is it inevitable, I wonder, that in trying to talk with students about using ways of knowing creatively I’m inclined to turn to individual stories of “getting ideas”?  Today I’d simply like to share two or three resources for raising discussion of creativity in class. Continue reading

Clever cons and TOK 2: What does storytelling do to knowledge?

160215 scam roadsign(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Stories have power. In the scams of con artists, they have the power to “get you emotionally transported enough that you stop asking questions, or at least the questions that matter.” So warns Maria Konnikova, whose recently published book The Confidence Game prompted my post last week, and this week. At the same time, however, stories have an enriching role in the creation of knowledge, not just in obvious areas such as literature and history but also in areas such as the sciences where we might not expect a narrative to carry us. What, then, is the role of storytelling in telling lies, and telling truths? Continue reading

Orange cone dress protests pollution: art engages with the world

(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog The image is striking.  A woman walks through the streets of Beijing dressed in a strange gown with a long–orange–cape trailing along the ground. But wait. What is the gown made from? Well, strange to say, what at first glance might seem like ruffles, are actually plastic cones or horns.

The woman is called Kong Ning and her creation of this orange dress provides TOK teachers with a striking current story to challenge and provoke students into considering complex–and vital–ways in which the Arts function as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

Reliability in psychological science: methodology in crisis?

151116 reprodproj
(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

151102hands_raised
(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

“— Based Medicine”: alternatives to “evidence”

1508 02 potion

potion, notion

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

“Evidence-based medicine”: a class discussion, with a caffeine lift!

1507coffeeDid 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

“Evidence Based Medicine”: WOK Language and AOK Natural Sciences

150720 doctor(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

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.

Continue reading