Tag Archives: truth

Conspiracy theories, intuitions and critical thinking: Part 1

160321 spooky hood(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Did you know that the Charlie Hebdou attack was not, as the media tell us, an attack by terrorists offended by the satiric magazines’ portrayal of Muhammed, the Prophet? Did you know, rather, that it was orchestrated by the U.S. in order to punish France for its foreign policy decisions? Did you know that pop star Kate Perry is, in fact, a member of the Illuminati, bent on world domination? Both of these are carefully hidden facts, of course. And if you need any proof of the effectiveness of the cover-up of either and, therefore, the terrible power wielded by those running the world, what better proof than the fact that you cannot find a single shred of evidence for either claim? These are but two of literally hundreds of “conspiracy theories” reported in many media, but most widely on the internet. Continue reading

Clever cons and TOK 3: Is critical thinking utterly futile?

160222 mirror(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Does everyone really fall for con artists? Everyone, always? That’s the subtitle of Maria Konnikova’s book: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time. No, I’m not going to fall for taking a catchy title literally! But if potential victims are so very vulnerable, is it utterly futile to try to develop skills of critical thinking in our own defense? 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

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

Small picture, big picture: a photography resource for TOK

15 09 camera(first published in my Oxford University Press blog) Images and stories – singular tales have power to grip our imaginations and, in vividly capturing individual moments, to evoke a far more general experience. We’ve certainly witnessed the impact on political discussion of the single photo of a drowned child that I blogged on – and so did everyone else! – just recently. (“How does a single photo of a single drowned child affect our shared knowledge?”, Sept 9) Yet what is the role of images in the knowledge we share?

This question is huge: it takes us into photos and films, maps and models, all of them compared with language for symbolic representation of the world; it takes us into forms of evidence and issues of reliability; it takes us into the particularizing methods of photography and literature compared with the generalizing methods of the sciences. For today, though, I’d like to narrow down to the relationship between images, representation, and knowledge claims — and share with you an exciting resource. 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

“Knowledge-Based Trust” (KBT): Google aims to give us the facts.

google-76517_640(by Eileen Dombrowski) Who needs critical thinking when we have Google? A team of computer scientists working for Google has proposed an improvement on what comes up when we enter our terms in its search window. They suggest a method of calculating a “trustworthiness score” for webpages based on their factual content: “We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT).” An avid Googler myself, I am awash with both admiration and amusement. What would our students, many of them also consummate Googlers in face of essay assignments, make of the knowledge questions that instantly arise about the nature of facts, truth, and reliable sources? 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

Misinformation, implications, and responsibility: fact-checking on Africa

“What do these statements about Africa have in common? A white farmer is killed every five days in South Africa. Earlier this year Nigerian Islamists Boko Haram burnt 375 Christians alive. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the rape capital of the world. Johannesburg is the world’s biggest man-made forest. Answer: despite being widely accepted, none of them are true.” (“Get your Africa facts right”)

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