Tag Archives: statistics

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

Thank you, Hans Rosling: numbers, facts, and the world


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Hans Rosling, who passed away earlier this month, made numbers tell significant stories about the world.  A self-proclaimed “edutainer” — educator and entertainer — Professor Rosling championed a worldview based on facts. He had a genius for revealing large patterns in human development by making people see the data on population, inequality, and global education and health. He leaves to teachers resources on numbers, facts, and large patterns that can continue to help us in our classrooms — and also leaves us, in less practical terms, the inspiration of his love of knowledge. 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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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