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
(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.
Newton, here it comes!
“The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.” So writes Leonard Mlodinowmay in an article in the New York Times forwarded to me by my co-author and friend Lena Rotenberg. It’s a good article for any TOK reading list, taking aim at myths of scientific discovery and their implications for understanding any complex field: Continue reading
— “I’ve never even taken a course like IB Theory of Knowledge, and I’m not sure at all how to teach it.”
— “I’m just planning the course for the first time, and I have some ideas…”
Voices and faces linger with me as I return from a gathering of teachers (a flocking of my own kind!). Among them were many teachers new to TOK — still taking it in, connecting it with their own backgrounds, and beginning to plan. It’s to these new teachers – with their ideas, energy, and uncertainties — that I’d like to speak in today’s blog post. May I offer you some suggestions for enjoying to the full your teaching of IB Theory of Knowledge?
My last question, note, was purely rhetorical — and disingenuous. I really want to offer some suggestions and simply hope that what I prize from my own experience will find some place in your own shaping of a course that I consider central to education. I’m not at all detached, and not at all neutral: in my opinion, the whole way of thinking of TOK is crucial to the knowledge that our students should take with them as they graduate. Continue reading
(by Eileen Dombrowski) How do scientists know so much (and so little) about galaxies far, far away? As we fly at high levels of general overview, surveying and comparing the methodologies of the areas of knowledge, we need stories to bring our discussions to life — stories of people on the ground actively engaged in the process of building knowledge and news releases of research breakthroughs or shifts of interpretation. For a news release that illustrates general points about technology and methodology but may also bring a moment of amazement and wonder, I recommend the latest image of the faraway Andromeda galaxy. Continue reading
(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
The image of the shroud pictured above is a poster from 1898. By then the images on the shroud were faint.
(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) This topic of the Shroud of Turin just keeps getting better and better for TOK. In my last post, I outlined TOK lessons based on it. But now – even better materials for launching a class! A podcast interview with historian Charles Freeman (25 minutes), linked from the website of History Today, readily sets up a leaner lesson on the methods of research of an historian. The interviewer applauds Freeman’s research as “historical detective work” on an “unsolved mystery” and invites him to explain his methods of investigation. Continue reading
Posted in IB Theory of Knowledge
Tagged analysis, cause, critical thinking, evidence, history, knowledge questions, literature, methodology, reason, shared knowledge, symbolic representation