Jul 062017
 

We love tracking the unwelcome consequences of policy decisions that are made under a banner of righteousness but which bring surprises to those who weren’t listening to scholars who tried to point out what was in the fine print. This one’s a doozy.

National Review points out Discarded solar panels are piling up all over the world, and they represent a major threat to the environment. If you only measure the value of solar power from after the panels are up and before they come down, then probably there is a net plus – plus or minus those awkward moments when the sun isn’t shining of course. If you only drive forward with that in mind, the surprise waiting you is a net loss to our environment’s health, since the cost of procuring the more exotic materials needed for these panels is great (a lot more waste water, a lot of pollution) and the discarded panels pile up rather than become recycled. (Also batteries, this is not a prime consideration in the linked article.)

Scholars would want to objectively weight the lifecycle properties and make sound decisions; cherry picking your results is something you only do to justify outcomes you’ve already figured out. That may be good for your wallet if you’re in the enviro business, but it isn’t necessarily good for the environment.

 Posted by at 8:19 am on July 6, 2017
Jun 282017
 

Study finds pay for public college presidents up 5.3 percent confirms once again that it’s good to be king … err … president.

5.3 might be the mean for presidential bumps last year, but once again Maryland leads the way, as (according to the Diamondback reporting of salaries, which may be time-shifted due to how long it takes for public information to trickle out to the public) Wallace Loh jumped almost 15 percent in the last cycle ($526,590.30 to $600,314.00). The 2013 report listed him at $459,000.

Not bad for an era through which most of us have labored under wage freezes imposed by the state.

 Posted by at 8:25 am on June 28, 2017
Jun 202017
 

A Supreme Court decision this week took a little step back toward sanity in allowing people some bit of flexibility in what it is they can do with “stuff” they buy. In this case it was with ink cartridges for printers, but it will be applied in more ways we trust.

Who’d have thought you didn’t have freedom to do things with such tangible products? The companies that want to use intellectual property and contract laws to prevent you from doing things other than pay money on their products. Read up on it at New technology is eroding your right to tinker with things you own.

This still doesn’t help much on software, which today you almost never are able to buy – only to pay for license, which gives the product creator control over what you do with it. What’s important is not what you want to do but what he wants to do, they argue.

 Posted by at 7:58 pm on June 20, 2017
Jun 192017
 

Reckless Exploit: Mexican Journalists, Lawyers, and a Child Targeted with NSO Spyware is another fine bit of investigative reporting by Citizenlab.org (a group that is worth following.) Read at this link the use of spyware to target journalists and advocates of views that are inconvenient to what some might view are corrupt officials.

 Posted by at 9:01 am on June 19, 2017
Jun 152017
 

… selling us stuff.

(This is the last of this morning’s roll ups.)

We already know the internet is about revenue streams for the Googleplex. Interfaces Need To Stop Selling Us Stuff And Start Treating Us Like Human Beings.

Giving those same companies the opportunity to mine information about our fine-grain activities in the home offers them the mother lode of profiling data: Rise of the machines: who is the ‘internet of things’ good for?.

 Posted by at 10:09 am on June 15, 2017
Jun 152017
 

College education is supposed to involve more than just ‘knowing stuff’. It might be just that in the minds of bean counters who increasingly drive campus policies. After all, they want bigger revenue streams and lower overhead, so the faster they can declare delivered! on an undergrad experience, the sooner they can bring in the next customer. Get ’em up, move ’em out! Nevertheless, classically it was a lot more – and our society needs it to be a lot more.

That’s why interested scholars look cautiously at articles like Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills. And you should too. (Sorry about the pay wall, but you should be able to get that from on-campus accesses.) Same for Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of ‘Smart Fools’? We might not like the answers to that question.

Objective evidence of our collective failures on campus can be found everywhere. We see activities reported such as The Campus Inquisition at Evergreen State College, and also Those ‘Snowflakes’ Have Chilling Effects Even Beyond the Campus. (Another pay wall.) These articles report how communication skills are going down, perspective is narrowing and any sense of respect for diversity or selfless dedication to causes greater than an individual is becoming lost.

[And there are plenty of examples of how the products of today’s educational systems think that there ought not be consequences in the marketplace, which historically has served a hard but most excellent mechanism for quality improvement. Take for example: The tech world is rallying around a young developer who made a huge, embarrassing mistake.]

Utterly not a coincidence is the economic link, as mentioned in The US college debt bubble is becoming dangerous. In fact some of us have been trying to raise the alarm that higher education is in a bubble which is bursting around us. (What a shame College Park is driving itself to a place that will not allow our campus to be one of the survivors, much less to a leadership role in transforming higher education for the better.)

 Posted by at 10:01 am on June 15, 2017
Jun 152017
 

Time for another roll up of relevant links!

Yes, what follows are all quick reads that I should have posted as I saw them, but let’s admit it: keeping this pace up when there is no expectation it can be used is pretty depressing. I started this site to (in part) seed a small repository with articles my students might use as examples of topics of interest to scholars in this field. Honors seminars, leadership development classes and more are places where we offer not just content but also practices and temperaments of scholars in our field. How better to show deliver these than by sharing notes on what I follow?

What a shame that neither the CS department nor Honors College actually want seminars, leadership development classes or more variety in our courses – not unless they are taught by one of the ‘in crowd.’

Some of us may be cultural pariahs but that doesn’t mean we stop learning, thinking or critiquing, so without further ado, here are some recent examples of how to be a skeptical scholar.

The Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of is a great narrative about the discipline, objectivity and passion that scholarship demands … and the advocacy value with which it is rewarded.

Bullshit is a commodity much in supply on this campus. Exercise for the students: see if you can apply tips below to sniff out which campus programs shovel bovine scatology as compared with offering you genuine value. The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan’s Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking is timeless even if a bit lacking in specifics. Pocket Guide to Bullshit Prevention gives you another compact checklist. But in How to call bullshit on big data you can read about how scholars elsewhere teach ways to combat BS. (How interesting that that campus and ours treat the same topics so differently. One teaches methods that the other teaches must be sniffed out. Well.)

What’s the effect of sham scholarship? You publish papers like The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies. That paper is 100 percent USDA choice bullshit, and it made a splash as such on the internet when word of it recently came out. Then there is Dog of a dilemma: the rise of the predatory journal – more of the same essentially. You will see these periodically. (Save them when you do, and even think about posting them here!) The business model of scholarship is supposed to filter out material like that before it piles up and starts to smell up our fields. Yet … there they are linked. It is probably useful to ponder what equivocal assertions are populating our fields if even these blatantly silly works can appear. It is even more useful to ponder what scholarly practices will help you tell which are which.

Then there are the thorny examples. Daryl Bem Proved ESP Is Real is one. Figure that one out! There is in general a lot of valid discussion of just how well some fields conduct experiments too. Why we can’t trust academic journals to tell the scientific truth takes that up, but there are many other threads around the web too. Take for example Data, Truth and Null Results.

Let’s make sure our work will be cited in others’ blogs because it illustrates great qualities and positively influences the field … not because it is a teaching example of what other schools what students to know how to sniff out!

 Posted by at 9:11 am on June 15, 2017