Friday, January 02, 2009

The Chronicle: 5/4/2001: Telling the Truth About Damned Lies and Statistics--An Annotated Post

This diagram displays a geometric progression ...Image via Wikipedia

The Chronicle: 5/4/2001: Telling the Truth About Damned Lies and Statistics

  • From the issue dated May 4, 2001
    • Dr. Sidle's questions for us.Do you agree? Do you disagree? Why? Do you have any issues or anxieties with statistics?Also, Dr. Best claims that the solution is to "become better judges of the numbers we encounter." How can this course help you to do this? comment by Terry Elliott
  • Damned Lies and Statistics
    • According to William Faulkner, "Facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other." Could the same be held about stats and truth? comment by Terry Elliott
    •,M1 comment by Terry Elliott
  • the student
  • the student
    • "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts - for support rather than illumination". comment by Terry Elliott
    • Andrew Lang comment by Terry Elliott

  • the student
  • it may be the worst -- that is, the most inaccurate -- social statistic ever.
    • Similar to the story of the inventor and the king for whom he invented it. The king asked how much he wanted for his invention. The inventor said to put a grain of wheat on the first square and then double for each new square. A geometric progression that would have bankrupted the king. Instead the king gave the inventor his just reward--a beheading. Not smart enough by half. comment by Terry Elliott
    • Geometric Progression: a=1, r=2, n=64 Tn = ar^(n-1) T64 = 1[2^(64-1)] T64 = 2^63 T64 = 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains of wheat. comment by Terry Elliott

  • What makes this statistic so bad?
    • Here is a great blog on the issue of "bad statistical behavior". comment by Terry Elliott
  • If anyone spots a more inaccurate social statistic, I'd love to hear
    • Any stat that asserts that correlation implies causation. comment by Terry Elliott
  • But people rarely ask questions of this sort when they encounter statistics. Most of the time, most people simply accept statistics without question.
    • It is the same with polling information. Most people don't know what questions were asked, how they were asked, and whether the questions contained bias. comment by Terry Elliott
  • a mutant statistic
    • Nice! The author is actually looking at the stats genetics, its pedigree. How in the world can we check everything we read or hear? What is the role of authority and should it have a role in scientific literature? comment by Terry Elliott
  • the author's article for publication did not bother to consider the implications of child victims doubling each year.
    • Yes, why didn't the peer review process catch this? We read overmuch and badly and passively. An active reader probably would have caught this. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Bad statistics live on; they take on lives of their own.
    • Is their genesis similar to that of urban myths? In other words is there something in our evolutionary/cognitive heritage that enables heart over head 'analysis". comment by Terry Elliott
  • dubious data.
    • Faulty data is not the same as bad stats. The former is further down the observational chain and more foundational. comment by Terry Elliott
  • stir up public outrage or fear
    • Fear trumps reason. And politicians are now using stats to regularly gin up fear. comment by Terry Elliott
    • Am reminded of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine--the end justifies the means, statistics are a tool for whatever will advance agendas. comment by Terry Elliott
  • How to Lie With Statistics.
    • I remember reading this in high school when it was still pretty news. Dates me doesn't it. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Statistics, then, have a bad reputation.
    • comment by Terry Elliott
  • Yet, at the same time, we need statistics; we depend upon them to summarize and clarify the nature of our complex society.
    • Statistics are just a way of philosophizing about the world. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Convincing answers to such questions demand evidence, and that usually means numbers, measurements, statistics.
    • The big problem is that we are like high school debaters playing in a rarified rule set who expect the numbers top be dispositive. They are not anymore than argument is. Scary, yes? comment by Terry Elliott
  • "prove"
  • Some statistics are bad, but others are pretty good, and we need statistics -- good statistics -- to talk sensibly about social problems.
    • N, Taleb has some interesting things to say about the ability to write/speak sensibly about the probablistic world with statistics. Before the discovery of black swans in Australia it was statistically certain (p=1) that all swans are white. All it took was the observation that there is one black swan to nullify that probability. comment by Terry Elliott

  • We need to think critically about statistics -- at least critically enough to suspect that the number of children gunned down hasn't been doubling each year since 1950.
    • So....we need to know enough to be able to say, "Now wait a minute, that doesn't sound quite right." comment by Terry Elliott
  • Innumeracy
    • Great book. comment by Terry Elliott
    • comment by Terry Elliott
  • Too few people, he argued, are comfortable with basic mathematical principles, and this makes them poor judges of the numbers they encounter
    • This is, of course, not because people are stupid, right? Innumeracy especially when combined with fear or other strong emotions simply points to a human characteristic--we are not probablistic or even numeric thinkers. At times we are little better than crows counting hunters in a field. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Social statistics describe society
    • Really? Do quantities qualify? Big philosophical debate here. comment by Terry Elliott
  • The people who bring social statistics to our attention have reasons for doing so; they inevitably want something, just as reporters and the other media figures who repeat and publicize statistics have their own goals.
    • Bias is profound. In fact it is the one certainty in research--the observer is the observed, but who cares watches the watchers. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Bad statistics come from conservatives on the political right and liberals on the left, from wealthy corporations and powerful government agencies, and from advocates of the poor and the powerless.
    • Are we predisposed to be bad statisticians? Yes, evolutionarily so. Which doesn't mean we can get better, but rather that at base we are creatures who do not decide anything important personally based upon the rationality of statistics. comment by Terry Elliott
  • We need a general approach, an orientation, a mind-set that we can use to think about new statistics that we encounter. We ought to approach statistics thoughtfully.
    • A general theory of statistical interpretation? A statistical orientation? A statistical mind-set? A thoughtful statistics? Oy, how about a generic statistics for dummies? How about some rules of thumb statistics? I fear we are not probablists at heart or at genes. comment by Terry Elliott
  • One choice is to approach statistics critically.
    • To be critical is to have a set of standards and to mark others' use of statistic based upon that standard. comment by Terry Elliott
  • The critical recognize that this is an inevitable limitation of statistics.
    • In other words, don't take statistics too seriously as reality. The grain of salt of theory of statistics. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Moreover, they realize that every statistic is the product of choices -- the choice between defining a category broadly or narrowly, the choice of one measurement over another, the choice of a sample. People choose definitions, measurements, and samples for all sorts of reasons: Perhaps they want to emphasize some aspect of a problem; perhaps it is easier or cheaper to gather data in a particular way -- many considerations can come into play. Every statistic is a compromise among choices. This means that every definition -- and every measurement and every sample -- probably has limitations and can be criticized.
    • This is really a brilliant exposition of the limits of the expertise of statistics. It really is no different than the common sense understanding that all tools are limited--language most of all. Stats are just another form of language. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Being critical means more than simply pointing to the flaws in a statistic. Again, every statistic has flaws. The issue is whether a particular statistic's flaws are severe enough to damage its usefulness. Is the definition so broad that it encompasses too many false positives (or so narrow that it excludes too many false negatives)? How would changing the definition alter the statistic? Similarly, how do the choices of measurements and samples affect the statistic? What would happen if different measures or samples were chosen? And how is the statistic used? Is it being interpreted appropriately, or has its meaning been mangled to create a mutant statistic? Are the comparisons that are being made appropriate, or are apples being confused with oranges? How do different choices produce the conflicting numbers found in stat wars? These are the sorts of questions the critical ask.
    • Again, this is a set of questions we should all carry around in our mental wallets. This is the 'don't throw the baby out with the bathwater' school of statistical analysis. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Statistics are one of the standard types of evidence used by people in our society.
    • Are stats just another rhetorical tool then? I don't think that they are, but they can be used that way. And I don't mean rherorical in a pejorative sense here. Language and statistics are by there very existence a part of a sociable world. As such they are part of every persuasive toolbox that begins with passion and moves from that toward politics. We all want what we want. Statistics is part of the language that helps us get that. THAT is what we need to be critical about. Are we being fair in their use? comment by Terry Elliott
  • Without statistics, we limit our ability to think thoughtfully about our society; without statistics, we have no accurate ways of judging how big a problem may be, whether it is getting worse, or how well the policies designed to address that problem actually work.
    • Judging by the complexity of our world (financial instruments leading to collapse/human generated climate change) we don't seem to be able to use statistics to be meaningfully thoughtful about the world comment by Terry Elliott
  • The goal is not to memorize a list, but to develop a thoughtful approach.
    • What Best is arguing for is the internalization of statistical habits, of a statistical stance. But what makes this potential stance any more worth adopting than a meditative approach or an empathic approach or a kinesthetic approach or even a punk approach. Literary criticism comes in for a world of legitimate criticism, but one of its strengths is in recognizing that the ability to adopt multiple critical stances allows us to be like the blind men who are trying to identify the elephant. Statistics is just one more hand to make the task more enlightened. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Being critical, it seems, involves an impossible amount of work.
    • I worry about the practicality of adopting little more than rules of thumb, as well. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Rather, being critical means appreciating the inevitable limitations that affect all statistics,
    • I am increasingly worried about the abuse of statistical tools in the service of those who seek to control--opinion polling, high-stakes testing (SAT/IQ/GRE/NCLB), focus groups. comment by Terry Elliott
    • We are very deluded if we think that the stat is the thing itself. Very deeply deluded. comment by Terry Elliott
  • Claims about social problems often feature dramatic, compelling examples; the critical might ask whether an example is likely to be a typical case or an extreme, exceptional instance. Claims about social problems often include quotations from different sources, and the critical might wonder why those sources have spoken and why they have been quoted: Do they have particular expertise? Do they stand to benefit if they influence others? Claims about social problems usually involve arguments about the problem's causes and potential solutions. The critical might ask whether these arguments are convincing. Are they logical? Does the proposed solution seem feasible and appropriate? And so on. Being critical -- adopting a skeptical, analytical stance when confronted with claims -- is an approach that goes far beyond simply dealing with statistics.
    • Statistics is part of a larger realm known as 'the critical approach'. The assumptions behind this are running powerfully against other approaches--notably the perennial approach, one where belief trumps observation or as some have put it, the belief-based realiy (oxymoronic, yes?). comment by Terry Elliott
  • Statistics are not magical. Nor are they always true -- or always false. Nor need they be incomprehensible.
  • When we fail to think critically, the statistics we hear might just as well be magical.
    • Well, statistics are at least, as Karl Popper would ascribe, falsifiable. That is worth much in this world. comment by Terry Elliott
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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Link Leecher - Link Validator

Web showing various insects caught withinImage via WikipediaQuestion: when confronted with a mass of links on a page (as we often are this time of year with year-end blog post) I was astounded by the page on that links to the best blogs of the year. I found link leecher and it found and validated all the links on the page. I stripped them off the web page into Word and send them back for search purposes. I don't know that this is unethical. I am not claiming them for myself and I am exploring them just as wanted. Here are the links in slightly edited form:

Generated by 01.01.2009 12:42 GMT

363 link(s) found for:,0,843001.special

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Have You Made a Difference?

    • We have come to the end of 2008 and soon we will enter 2009. Now is a good time for you to reflect on how your life is going. How have your year been? Did it meet your expectation? Have you made a difference this year?

      Have you made a difference this year?To answer this question, simply look at yourself one year ago. How was your career and finance? How was you spiritually? How was your health? How was your relationships? It’s better if you have numbers that clearly show you how you were (after all, measuring your life is a good life management practice). For instance, what was your income, expenses, net worth, or weight?

      Next, compare your situation back then with your current situation. Is there any difference? Or have you let this year pass by without any significant growth on your part?

      Another way to see whether or not you have made a difference this year is to look at your habits. What bad habits did you eliminate this year? What good habits did you form?

      One more question to ask yourself is: what lessons did you learn this year? Perhaps you had some failures, but if those failures taught you valuable lessons then it was time well spent.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

educon21 » home

Fine objectives for all of my teaching every day. I should have these maxims in front of me in the morning when I get up and on a 3X5 card before each class and at a place where I can look at it at night as I go to sleep.
  • What is EduCon 2.1?
  • EduCon 2.1 is both a conversation and a conference.And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas -- from the very practical to the big dreams.
    • The Axioms

      Guiding Principles of EduCon 2.1
      1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
      2) Our schools must be about co-creating -- together with our students -- the 21st Century Citizen
      3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
      4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
      5) Learning can -- and must -- be networked.

educon21 » home

tags: conference, educon21, unconference

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others | Edutopia

I have been experimenting with using Diigo to improve my blog workflow.  Part of that improvement plan is to use worthwhile articles as touchstones for my own thoughts.  Diigo makes this plan simple although the commenting is never easy.  Today's blog is a commentary on Will Richardson's World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others | Edutopia.

Welcome to the Collaboration Age, where even the youngest among us are on the Web, tapping into what are without question some of the most transformative connecting technologies the world has ever seen. These tools are allowing us not only to mine the wisdom and experiences of the more than one billion people now online but also to connect with them to further our understanding of the global experience and do good work together. These tools are fast changing, decidedly social, and rich with powerful learning opportunities for us all, if we can figure out how to leverage their potential.
  • If this is true (that we are entering the Collaboration Age) then what are the implications for such 'non-collaborative' dudes like me. What does it mean in my life both professionally and personally? I have to say that collaboration is what is missing in my university life. In high school I worked with students in drama classes and that seemed to scratch that itch very happily, but in higher education the isolation can be even more profound, especially for non-tenured staff teaching five courses a semester. - post by tellio

Our ability to learn whatever we want, whenever we want, from whomever we want is rendering the linear, age-grouped, teacher-guided curriculum less and less relevant.
  • My question is this: is collaborative work supplanting curriculum, is it supplementing, is hybridization occurring, or is this something as yet undescribed, inchoate, and emergent? Messy, yes? I think that we can safely say that with access to larger circles and greater resources that the curriculum is turning into a many armed spiral with each student at its core. - post by tellio                                                  
Working together is becoming the norm, not the exception.
    • Somebody needs to point me to a place where this assertion is quantified. In my life I don't find this to be true except at the household and family level. At the tribal level not so much and at the organizational level, hardly at all. - post by tellio
The Collaboration Age is about learning with a decidedly different group of "others," people whom we may not know and may never meet, but who share our passions and interests and are willing to invest in exploring them together. It's about being able to form safe, effective networks and communities around those explorations, trust and be trusted in the process, and contribute to the conversations and co-creations that grow from them. It's about working together to create our own curricula, texts, and classrooms built around deep inquiry into the defining questions of the group. It's about solving problems together and sharing the knowledge we've gained with wide audiences.
    • Great a definition with criteria! Good on ya, Will. 1. We will bowl with strangers who share our passions and learning goals. 2. We will collaborate in safety. 3. These collaborations will crystallize around various threads in networks--expeditions/quests. 4. We will co-evolve as we talk and create together. 5. What we will create is the road of our own learning, a circuit that spirals out and then back around the 'deep inquiry' we are sharing. 6. These collaborations will solve problems and share results. Sounds like large scale science as it is being practiced today. Where are these models and how can we adapt them to learning lives. 4. - post by tellio

I believe their best, most memorable, and most effective teachers will be the ones they discover, not the ones they are given.
    • This is the basic idea behind 'unschooling' and has its intellectual heritage in John Holt and Ivan Illich and Paolo Freire. This was the credo I lived by when my wife and I raised our children at home. - post by tellio
More than learning content, the emphasis of these projects is on using the Web's social-networking tools to teach global collaboration and communication, allowing students to create their own networks in the process.
    • I would like to see some follow-up of these students as they take these skills into their personal and learning lives. - post by tellio
The complexities of editing information online cannot be sequestered and taught in a six-week unit. This has to be the way we do our work each day.
    • I think that the idea of role modelling may have jumped this shark. First, the suggested role here is way wider than any ever contemplated by organizational charts anywhere. In fact, most teachers would say, "This is way above my pay grade." Second, the role suggested here is more like that of a parent or an elder or a guru. None of these is democratic enough to suit the collaborative model Will suggests earlier. Third, we have to decide what is developmentally suitable for learners. Last, to do this "at every turn, in every class" is neither realistic or necessary. Part of the problem of schools is this relentless, misapplication of workflow efficiency. I say add back the interstices. We need the silent gaps, the lube of pointless conversation, and the joy of pointlessness. - post by tellio
The process of collaboration begins with our willingness to share our work and our passions publicly -- a frontier that traditional schools have rarely crossed.
    • School frontiers? That is an oxymoron. Schools are mostly interested in their own imperatives. I don't think that they are interested in pushing into any direction that ultimately threatens those institutional imperatives. Rarely crossed? Nicely understated. They are 'traditional' schools by virtue of having never crossed them. That is why I think that when conditions arise, most schools will fold like a newbie at Texas holdem. - post by tellio
Look no further than Wikipedia to see the potential; say what you will of its veracity, no one can deny that it represents the incredible potential of working with others online for a common purpose.
    • A stone has potential, too, but until someone picks it up and uses it (perhaps to throw it through the crystal palace of traditional schooling) it is pretty much useless. I know and appreciate the work some people are doing to lay down the parallel tracks for a new learning space. Will is pointing to one of these new spaces. To my mind it is no specific place, but rather anywhere people gather to learn. Our role is to go where the learners are and ask them how we can help. - post by tellio
The technologies we block in their classrooms flourish in their bedrooms
    • OK, this is the crux. Either we go where they are or we go away. If they ignore us like they do now, then the effect is the same. We are dead teachers lecturing. You say, "Class dismissed," and look up to see they are long gone and there is chalkdust on all the desks. - post by tellio
Anyone with a passion for something can connect to others with that same passion -- and begin to co-create and colearn the same way many of our students already do.
    • How can we make this as second nature as going to school for twenty years has become? There are very few societal supports for such a 'structure' but we must take advantage of those that are there and we must make sure that no one (Google and Facebook to name two) get their hands on the wheel alone. - post by tellio
I believe that is what educators must do now. We must engage with these new technologies and their potential to expand our own understanding and methods in this vastly different landscape. We must know for ourselves how to create, grow, and navigate these collaborative spaces in safe, effective, and ethical ways. And we must be able to model those shifts for our students and counsel them effectively when they run across problems with these tools.
Yes, we must prowl around this new 'Serengeti'. Yes, like Odysseus, we need to be skilled in all ways of contending in this sea of terror and delight. Yes, it must be clear to students that we are learners on a continuum and that respect is earned by not only walking the walk, but in making the road as we walk it with them. - post by tellio

Thanks, Will for being my touchstone. 

Laurel Papworth -Social Networks - powered by FeedBurner

    • Australian court serves documents via Facebook

      The big question about Facebook is does it have any valuable commercial application? Well it seems that the courts have found one.

      Today in what appears to be a first in Australia and perhaps the world, Master Harper of the ACT Supreme Court ordered that a default judgement could be served on defendants by notification on Facebook.

      (more at Sydney Morning Herald)

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