Data and statistics can be so hard and yet so… flimsy.

One of the problems that Dr. Ben Goldacre highlighted in his talk that we watched last week was the use of studies that don’t seem to tell all the whole truth when it comes to getting drugs approved for use. It certainly can be a problem for doctors who need to understand the effect of the drug on their patients. We can also read about this problem here, I’m not sure how much I want to trust my health to a sense of ‘randumbness.’

The question however is what about us, the non-doctors, what about when we try and understand studies and statistics, most of which have important implications for us, but yet seem slightly incomprehensible. To begin with read this story about trying to estimate numbers for a crowd, these are numbers that are often thrown out by media and other organizations as fact, yet are they really?  Then there is this short blog entry about the way basic income statistics can be made to look very different, even when dealing with the same data.

On the other hand here is a different look at the world than what we normally hear about. Are there any questions that this raises in as you watch?

Think those statistics are interesting – check out this website and start playing with some. It will take a few minutes to get used to it, but it’s fairly workable. Find one that interests you and be prepared to discuss it in class.

What can belief do? Well…

Would you take a sugar pill to treat a headache? Why or why not? Think about it before you answer…

Now watch this short video

Does the information in here surprise you? What does it tell us about the abilities of our brain? The role of emotion in what we believe? In what ways is this potentially dangerous?

Now knowing what we know about placebos. let’s look at a much larger issue. How might that impact the information that we have on medical issues. Here’s Ben Goldacre’s take on what problems we have. Look at the limitations that we have identified in ToK (assumptions, biases, values and problems) that he identifies as being part of the process that gets drugs approved and accepted in the general population.

Biohacking?!?

You might have heard of hacking in the context of computers. Essentially the ability to dig around within computer applications and hardware to make alterations and changes. Of course we are all aware that this can have both beneficial and harmful effects. So what about hacking biology? Or biohacking as it’s called?

I have to admit that I had never heard of this before I was listening to the radio when the CBC show Spark happened to come to this discussion. It’s fascinating and apparently there are people all around the world developing a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) hobby of biohacking. Apparently it all begins with the extraction of DNA. Here’s a video to show you how!

You should listen to the to the recording of the interview which is located part way down this web page. Once you have listened to it, think about what this might mean for knowledge and innovation itself? Does it have any potential?

What limits science?

Let’s take a look at this video.  What does this say about the way that science is practiced?  What should we keep in mind as we listen to what science is doing? What about the potential to go down the wrong road over a period of time?

Now read this article.  Here are some questions to consider as you read through the article.

  1. Why do you think this article was so hard to publish?
  2. Have you heard any of the claim that 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed? Is this a problem with science or with society?
  3. Think about the fact that so many medical claims are refuted in the context of the video that you saw, in what ways are they saying the same things, in what way are they saying different things?
  4. Have you ever thought of bias as problem in science? How do we normally perceive science?
  5. Are some of the problems listed in here unique to medical science?

Lastly take a look at this article.  Do you feel that we do enough of teaching students (and anybody for that matter) to decipher bad science? Why or why not?

Reflections on the Truman Show

Who's looking at whom?

Today you watched (although some of you watched at a separate time) the Truman Show, one of the most interesting movies that deals with the material important to our class. Truman lives in a world that is controlled to by the media world. His actions reflect how someone wants him to reflect, until one day, he begins to see things that don’t seem to match his preconceived notions of the way life should be. The questions for us to consider are:

  • To what extent is this true in our lives?
  • Are we blind to certain things, how important is it to understand that blindness to truly understand something?
  • To what extent are we limited by our own limited abilities to perceive things?
  • If we are able to only perceive a limited amount, metaphorically what Truman might have been able to see, what can we do uncover more details?

Truman stepping into a new reality

These are important questions to think about anytime we begin to examine or study something. Truman certainly found the answers to his questions wanting, do you think you might find the same thing?

 

What affects how we perceive?

I like to watch 60 Minutes, and last night I was enthralled by this two part segment on ‘Face-blindness’. An actual affliction that impacts a lot more people than I thought and I was fascinated by what this means for our ability to perceive things. Can a very small change in our brain function, brain chemistry or makeup totally change the way we can perceive something so simple? How do we as humans cover up for our own shortcomings? As a teacher I could not imagine having this problem, but yet they interview somebody who was a teacher and was afflicted by this disorder. I would imagine that the one thing that she had to do was to set up a seating plan for every class and stick to it. Still a very challenging disorder to have in, what can only be described as, a super social career. Without further ado here are the videos from last night’s episode. Hope you enjoy and find them troubling at the same time.

I also happen to be a fan of Dr. Oliver Sacks, as one of the most fascinating and interesting neurologists I have ever heard speak. I encourage you to check out his website and challenge your preconceived notions about how we perceive. It is so complex but yet so essential to what we are as human beings.

There’s even a test that you can do in this video here. I don’t know if all the people used in here will necessarily ‘click’ in your mind because they sure didn’t in mind. I attribute that more to ‘pop-culture blindness’ than anything.

Something to ponder…

Just in the process of reading my blogs tonight I came across this nice, short and inspiring video about humans and knowledge. I encourage you to watch it, and ponder what it means for any of our knowledge, not just the knowledge of extra-terrestrial being.

  • Will we ever truly know?
  • Are we looking in the wrong places?
  • Is it ever possible to know too much about a particular subject?

Altruism – Do you believe in helping others?

Before beginning this exploration, think about the following questions and be prepared to discuss them.

  • How important is it to help others?
  • Do you think that most people think it is important to help others?
  • What value does our society place on helping others?

Watch this video which looks at the nature human altruism?

Please contribute to the conversation by answering the following questions.

  1. Did anything stand-out about the nature of human beings helping one another?
  2. Do  you agree with the main point of this video?
  3. What are some counter-claims that might be made to the position taken in the video?

Would you cheat

So I found the last video of Dan Ariely that I put up to be very interesting. The science of choice is of course a marketer’s dream, and it made me look completely differently at the way things were placed in the grocery store, an interesting side effect of that little video.

Having found a second video from Dan Ariely, the next question is what would cause you to cheat. Are your ethics impermeable to peer pressure, to our instincts? Watch this video and think about how you might have seen this play out in your own life. Would you, could you be swayed by some of the examples that are laid out here? It’s interesting to postulate our answers.

Are we in control of our own actions?

I found this wonderful video that really speaks for itself. How much are we in control of our own actions? How much can we be manipulated by others who know what choices to provide to us? What can this mean for the way that we learn things? Our ability to control our own actions is not quite as clear cut as we would like to think.