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.

Can science go too far?

Today while I was reading the newspaper I across this story about the scientists who have created a deadly form of avian flu in the lab. In the article it describes how a debate has been sparked about whether or not the scientists who developed this potentially lethal variant should keep their information secret or whether it should be published in order to aid in finding a potential solution to this disease. The article succinctly describes this question as: ‘At what point does potentially life-saving data become reckless bait for would-be bioterrorists?

Ultimately this is a great debate in scientist one that emerges often in world that deals with national security and patents among other reasons that prevent the free flow of information.

Famously J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb for his role in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in WWII, came to feel that his actions in developing the super weapon, that the world was not ready for an arms race which, ironically, he helped initiate. He hoped a world body that would help ‘stifle the arms race.’ Yet despite the incredible destructive power of the Atom bomb many other developments that have furthered scientific development have been linked to the work initiated by Dr. Oppenheimer and his colleagues.

  • So what do you think, how should scientific developments that are potentially harmful to human beings be treated. Should they be shrouded in secrecy, or should the light of day shine on them?

Here’s what some scientists think about the concept of ‘Open Science’, do their arguments make a difference?

Another look at the way statistics are gathered

And now for some good news, well not entirely, but a lot of it!  In the world of development, hope and statistics!

Now take a look at this YouTube video, what thoughts do you get after watching it?

Now go to this website and pick a few different sets of data and find one that has an interesting correlation.  Something which you might never have thought of before. You will need to click the ‘visualize’ icon so that the data is shown in the same way as in the video. Grab the link for your graph from the ‘share’ tab at the top of the graph and answer the following questions.

  1. Did you discover some data that seemed incomplete?
  2. What did you discover why do you think it’s interesting?
  3. Why do you think seeing data in this fashion is better than just looking at statistics (because that is, in fact, what they are based on)?

What did you base that claim on?

“There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”

Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1874-1880

People often make claims and support their ideas using statistics.  Statistics seem like such a safe and realiable way to do so.  As we say in our reading last class, not all studies can be considered equal, and it turns out, neither can the statistics on which they base their claims.  Today I would like to look at three different elements of statistics and the problems that surround their use.

  1. To start with let’s look some examples of statistical abuse, they are very heavily centred on the United States, but you will still understand them.  Why do you think the statistics are often shown in a manner that distorts them?
  2. What, in  your mind, do you think is a commonly misused statistic?  This web page asked that question and received a couple very interesting responses.  What do you think?
  3. Now let’s look at some of the common ways in which statistics are abused.  Can you think of any examples where you have seen this take place?
  4. Lastly I would like you to turn to a major newspaper, like the Toronto Globe and Mail, the New York Times, the Ottawa Citizen, the Manchester Guardian.  Or go to a News TV piece from any news source (CBC, NBC, CNN, etc.), watch it and listen to the statistics that are being used.  Can you find any examples where statistics are being used in a questionable fashion?  Comment on these below and think about why these statistics are shown this way.

An interesting look at … ‘Bad Science’

Ben Goldacre is one of the more thought provoking writers/bloggers that I’ve recently discovered.  To be sure it was because he was flogging his book, but having said that I have found what he has written in his posts for the Guardian newspaper in the UK and cross-posted on his blog to be interesting and eye-opening (and I’ve only read a few).

I challenge you to look into his blog and find a posting or two that interests you and then respond to it, either positively, negatively or however you feel after reading it using your blog.

This is his TEDTalk where he challenges all of us to critically appraise the information that often comes across our radar. He very importantly analyzes the different types of way that science information is presented to us. Challenge yourself to think of these problems when you are presented with information through popular media, social media, or in your classroom (especially from Social Studies teachers – they’re the dodgiest of all!)

While you certainly don’t have to watch another of his talks, there is one, and it has some more and very specific cases (some of which are the same) that where he challenges perceived wisdom.

What does it all mean?

Please read the following

How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that — and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as “Quantitative Reasoning” improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This “nation at risk” has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner.

-G. V. Ramanathan

  1. Do you agree with the sentiments stated in the excerpt?
  2. Did you ask the people in your circle about their need for mathematics?
  3. So what problems does this present for mathematics?
  4. Do you agree with the sentiments expressed in here?

To what extent should we trust others?

I came across this very interesting YouTube video today while I was surfing around the Internet today. It speaks to what the nature of people is. This is a brief clip from a talk by Viktor Frankl who survived 3 years in concentration camps in World War II and yet still has a remarkably positive outlook on humans as individuals.

I ask you to consider this simple question as you watch him: Is he right?

Infallible – I think not!

One of the great discoveries of the last half century was that of DNA. It certainly opened up all sorts of avenues for investigating human (and other species) backgrounds and activities. One place where DNA has begun to play a very important role is in the field of criminal prosecution. It is fairly easy in any brief period to find news stories discussing how DNA was used to assist in prosecution as in this one where DNA is seen as the key to solving more crimes. Conversely you can also find stories like this one about how DNA might be used to assist in determining someone’s innocence. We often seem to accept DNA evidence without question.

But what if that shouldn’t be so. According to this article from the Economist it’s possible that in up to 25% of cases the way the evidence is collected, and importantly the way it’s presented to the humans who have to analyze it. This raises important questions about the way we interpret information. A couple of questions that I had after reading the article:

  • Do we trust the ‘science’ too much?
  • How important is the human element in determining science?


The Truth? You can’t handle the truth!!!

Happy New Year! Things were definitely slow in December so to being with let’s look at some fun facts. Here are some interesting stories from the ether, and they things that we often see, but do we really think about what we’re seeing? Are we really conscious of the details. As you read these stories think about the truth that lie behind them.

Please read the following (sometimes fun news stories):

Answer the following by creating a list for each of the stories:

  • Identify which facts are likely true
  • Identify which facts could be true, but there is reason to doubt
  • Identify which facts are likely untrue – those doubted out of hand

Write about these in your blog and defend your choices. When you are done with everything find your own news story (whether video, print or other) and consider the answers to the questions here (if you want this could easily be split into two blog entries).

You might be very interested in watching this as well. Consider the following – are we really interested in the truth – or only what we want to know? Do we create our own bubble and take the knowledge that we find and fit it into what we already know for fear that it might really cause us to rethink what we are doing (think of our society’s approach to environmental issues for instance).