Who’s afraid of free speech? That is the question explored in the linked Atlantic article about the state of campus protest these days – the tone, the content and often the lack of content.
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.
… 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?.
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.)
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!
As always seems to happen, then end of fall semester was a time of hard deadlines then the holidays were a time of fatigue and recovery. With that behind us, now is the time to comment on a few of the many articles we followed along the way even if there wasn’t time or energy to link to them previously.
The theme of today’s catch-up is a common one here: calling out how campus opportunities and academic freedom are threatened across the nation. While I’ve seen several great articles and commentaries on this over the last month, I flag a few representative examples below.
The Week carries a commentary about students who want to delegitimize the very institutions from which they seek credentials. This does seem odd, don’t you think? Paying money to buy the attention of experts in order to denigrate them for being wrong? Perhaps these students are not actually paying with their own money. If they were then it seems more likely that they’d care whether the resulting credentials might enjoy some legitimacy.
Not just students assail campus scholarship. Other scholars (or at least those charged with leading them) are doing their best to dismantle scholarship too. In a Washington Post opinion piece, José Cabranes, a federal appellate judge and former trustee of Colgate, Yale and Columbia universities, laments how the system is gradually narrowing the scope of speech on campus, to the detriment of our scholarly work products. To find the best results, scholars need freedom to vet all ideas; we learn even in shooting some idea down since the effort to articulate one’s rationale helps us better organize the body of knowledge. Stifling speech because it is unpopular or inconvenient – as happens even here at College Park – thus delegitimizes our results, since objective viewers won’t ever have seen them tested against competing assertions. They won’t have been shown how the results are better. As we’re fond of quoting, if everyone is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking.
We can’t note the limits of speech (as above) without linking to National Review’s roll up of 2016’s most ridiculously PC moments. (Look closely to see how many of those might well have been College Park antics.)
Finally, and with regret, we mark the final columns penned by Prof. Thomas Sowell, as the 86 year old thinker steps back from his regular on-line commentary. We have often quoted Dr. Sowell, and hold in high regard his scholarship, so we will miss him. His farewell column is titled Random Thoughts, Looking Back. But one of his best regular columns appeared just a week before, The Diversity Fraud; he may as well have been staring straight at College Park. We commend to you the tribute to Dr. Sowell published by the Foundations of Economic Education site, since it is grand. Professor Sowell: thank you.
Readers here may know I often lament the failure of campuses overall in genuinely bringing forth diversity in ideas and views, and this has been a topic shared with others as sidebar in the last week especially. One bit of writing from a good friend deserves to be more than sidebar, and with permission I reproduce it here.
I graduated from Oberlin in the late 70’s and I currently live in Portland, Oregon. I am not sure which place is causing me more embarrassment at the moment, but I have decided to blame Alanis Morissette for recent events. Her song “Ironic” has apparently confused a whole generation of snowflakes about the true meaning of the word. They therefore do not see the irony in talking about inclusion, diversity, and tolerance while proudly stating that they don’t know a single person who voted for Trump (Oberlin student) or blaming all the violence on “those anarchists” and then immediately stating that they don’t intend to follow any of Trump’s laws (Portland resident). Such complex people who are yet apparently incapable of seeing such simple inconsistencies. I have repeatedly asked a number of them why they don’t see the irony in their positions and statements, and they respond with a blank stare, all because Alanis has a whole generation believing that irony is something completely different. And that is just sad.
Robert M. Slugg PhD
The Marine Corps culture of innovation gets some great visibility in this light HuffPo article.
Knowing how to distill quality – and do it fast for cheap – is central to my message in SEAM about why software engineering is more important than ever. Most attention in the industry is on cyber, cyber, cyber, but really, no stakeholder would be much happier for his system being down due to bad design as compared with being down for some outside hack. Down is down.
Quality is a holistic thing, and security is a piece of the quality puzzle. My view: knowing how to predictably make systems of good quality – they work and are secure – is important but knowing how to do that lean will be the life blood of any economic rebirth in this country. The field is actually less able to do the predictable part today as compared some years ago, so UM’s role in this should be to lead the way.
The saying used to be “pick any two” but we need good, fast and cheap, which don’t come as a set from most crap-for-practices software development environments today. (Yes, ridiculous practices are promoted on this campus too, since Main Admin has business incentive to cash checks and move students out the door fast without regard for long term impacts. A pity we don’t do this right.)
A renaissance in quality needs more than promotion of technology, of course; contracting practices need some liberation as well, since the exclusive club of companies which might know how to do things both good and fast have very little incentive to agree to do it for cheap. That exclusive club will only become more exclusive over time if there isn’t strong leadership. The lore of evidence-based process improvement in software systems will continue to fade.
Good on USMC for promoting a culture of innovation, quality, measurement and continuous improvement; too bad for UM that our culture does not reflect the same virtues.
A nice article at Discover Magazine tells some of the many ways our data are used. None of this is particularly surprising to privacy advocates, of course, but this is an interesting perspective since the author speaks from the algorithmic point of view; we of course would have wondered why we allowed data to be available for those algorithms to be used as such in the first place.
Of course, to skeptics who lament the absence of privacy practices that put consumers in control of their own information, there is no surprise in the the following: Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking (link to ProPublica). There was just too much money to be made not to join web tracking data with Google user profiles.
User profiles like in Google Apps for Education, for example. This would mean all Maryland students, faculty and staff who use our campus-supplied, Google-implemented mail and services are not only coloring in profiles for Google to use in commercial ventures – Google does that already – but these profiles will be joined with all our web activities (on and off campus.) All as a condition of being affiliated with University of Maryland.
Can you opt out? Maybe, but at some point employees will be opting out of getting official information from their employer and students will be opting out of getting traffic from their instructors. At least this is how it looks from here.
UM leadership puts our personal information into a stream of commerce in order to obtain its technology infrastructure. Once again Wallace Loh writes checks that we must cash.