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.

So if we lie, what does that mean?

Last week we looked at what lying was, why we are motivated to do it and what encourages us to do it. This week I want to further extend this discussion. First by looking at some potential real-life issues that may affect our society, but instead of talking about lying, we will be looking at an extension – cheating.

Answer this question honestly – do you have downloaded material on your computer or portable devices that you are not licensed to have? Do you friends? Why?

Watch the video and think about how this underlines the importance of rationalization, emotions, language and human nature in the process of ‘cheating.’

Of course cheating has so many meaning – in sports, in relationships, in school. Listen to this story from NPR: Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat is it easy to distinguish when someone is cheating and when someone isn’t. In what way could we examine cheating in sports using at least four different areas of knowledge and two different ways of knowing. Create some questions that would work in each case.

 

Looks can deceive

Please take a look at this article.   What are two things that you found new, different or interesting?

  1. Think about how it talks about reality (truth) and our perception of it.  What does this mean for the way that we perceive our reality?  What does this mean about the way our brain’s interpret reality?
  2. Think about it in the context of the Truman Show, in what ways does it reflect how Truman saw the world versus what was his reality?

Read this article.

  1. What does this mean for our perception of reality?
  2. Before you read this article did you think that you could be manipulated into not noticing major difference like the subjects of these experiments are?

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?

Do our eyes always tell us the truth?

Yesterday we looked at the Truman Show and how it portrays the way one person is forced to re-imagine his world. For most of us the (and even for the creators of the movie) our eyes appear to be something that we almost always believe; but should we, are they really trustworthy? This really interesting article focuses on the importance of what we trust, but our seeming inability to accurately remember things that we see. Of course this can have profound implications for all of society.

On this page are five optical illusions, they are excellent and I highly recommend that you spend some time looking at them. Are our eyes being tricked? Or are they seeing what we want them to see.

When you’re done watching have a read through this article and reflect on it. To what extent have you come across things that you think would provide evidence to support the statements in the article?

Have you re-thought how much you trust your eyes?

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?

 

Little Pig, Little Pig, tell me your story.

In the last post I talked about the inability of some people to perceive something which almost everyone else can perceive and asked you to think about how that disability can significantly alter our approach to something. This week I stumbled across this fantastic video which, I think, tackles a story that many of us are familiar, but with a very interesting twist. Watch it, and then think about why you believed the story the first time, in what other parts of our world have you been told ‘fables’ without really doubting or thinking about them from the other side.

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?