Be on your guard: scammers are everywhere!

BBC Panorama exposing the fraudsters (in just six minutes)

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine was lured into parting with US$9,500. This is not something I would normally reveal; but the victim himself quite openly admitted it, in an admirable attempt to alert others to the dangers posed by these fraudsters.

These criminals, many of whom are based in India, are extremely well organised. They steal billions of dollars every year by preying on the unwary, using psychological techniques to fool regular people all over the world into parting with their money.

And the threat is on the rise, as more of these unscrupulous, soulless crooks are taking advantage of the inability of national crime prevention organisations to co-ordinate a response. Authorities in India, the UK, the US, Australia and elsewhere claim that it’s too difficult to identify such crimes, and pin down those who perpetrate them, because these actions cross international borders. (It’s yet another example of how national governments are failing to come to terms with how globalization has affected society; among other things, more effective regulation of banks, and other corporations that have grown too big for their boots, is clearly called for, in my view.)

Currently, the strongest line of defence is to ensure that we all educate ourselves about the risks. If you want to find out more — and I strongly suggest that you do — a superb starting point is Jim Browning’s YouTube channel, which I recommend wholeheartedly. I’ve included below one of Jim’s more serious offerings which demonstrates his activities. Jim’s videos are informative, educational and entertaining; they’re an excellent way to innoculate yourself against being taken for a ride — and perhaps losing your shirt.

Jim Browning: a modern-day hero, caught in the act (of unmasking villains)

After all that sobering stuff, here’s a change of pace:

Jim Browning presents: Tech Support Scammer vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Computers and Internet, Education, People, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

Diving deep into the blogosphere

‘Blogging’ has been with us since the mid-1990s. At the start of the 21st Century, WordPress blogging began. Currently, about 7.5 million blog posts are written every single day — and the trend is upward.

The ‘official’ view of the blogosphere is as a network. I prefer to picture it as a continuously expanding sphere in which the exterior shell is made up of current posts, while the interior consists of all the previous ones.

Most of us only get to see the outer edge of this sphere, through our ‘follower’ connections and tools such as the WordPress.com Reader, which only ever presents us with the most recent posts. A staggering quantity of content lurks within; many are articles which, it’s true, have disappeared from view (though they might still be found on the Wayback Machine), while other posts are, perhaps, outdated. But the vast majority are still worthy.

Attempting to approximate the inestimable

Actually figuring out the volume of the blogosphere is, I’ve discovered, incredibly difficult. New blogs appear all the time; while others are abandoned. I’ve not been able to find much hard data on the numbers; for one thing, there’s confusion between ‘blogs’ (websites) and ‘blog posts’ (individual articles). As far as I can make out, roughly three billion blog posts are published every year, on a rising trend, as shown by this chart of posts on WordPress.com sites since its inception in 2006:

After doing some (very rough) crunching on the data I could find, I arrived at a value of 21 billion§. That’s my best stab at the total number of blog posts that have been created so far since the inception of blogging, around a quarter of a century ago.

And that means that the blogosphere contains about six times as much content in its interior than exists on the surface. My own travels with the blog-driven time machine into the blogosphere’s depths have proven to me that there are hidden gems down there, just waiting to be (re)discovered.

An invitation to explore (and help improve) the curate’s egg

I set up a new site recently. It’s just one page; but it’s a gateway to a larger place, a portal into the blogosphere’s interior. Please visit https://randomraiders.wordpress.com/.

?Random Raiders! logo

Postscript

§ I’m pretty sure ’21 billion’ must be an underestimate. I really have no idea what the actual volume of the blogosphere is — if you have any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them!

Header image adapted from
a good starting point
by Pandry on Unsplash

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, History, Strategy | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

It’s a mistake to anthropomorphise machines

(AKA ‘Feedback for NatWest: a rant’)

I read in a book somewhere, long ago, that ‘computers were going to make our lives easier’. I realize now that the ‘our’ in that promise didn’t include folks like me; it was addressed to the wealthy ones whose lives would be made easier (on yachts, probably) because they could save so much money by putting in place bloody useless telephone answering and online artificial stupidity systems instead of employing real people to, you know, actually talk to their customers.

I got another reminder today of the failure of that particular techno-promise.

I’ve banked with NatWest for donkeys’ years. You’d think that this would engender some sense of loyalty, and fairness, on their part towards me… but that’s clearly not the case.

I logged into my online banking account this morning, did what I needed to do, and then, on logging out, I was presented with a page that appeared to offer me a chance to win £1000.

No link here on the text ‘Prize draw T&Cs’….

Now, I’m most decidedly not a sucker for such offers; there’s almost always a catch. But in this case, my attention was drawn to the nature of the product they were pushing. It was a ‘Digital Regular Saver’ account. “Ah!” I thought, “I have one of those”. I opened it back in February, months before ‘5.30pm on 31st August’ — so that should mean I would be eligible for the prize draw… right? Even at this point I was willing to bet that the small print (if I could actually find that, which, initially, I couldn’t) would say ‘current holders of the DRS account are ineligible for the prize draw’, or some such weasel wording.

Having become a little intrigued (not to mention a tad irritated by the distinct possibility that they might deliberately exclude existing customers from the offer, as companies so often do) I thought I’d dig a little deeper, and determine whether I did qualify, or not.

And so I embarked upon what, for me, has become an all-too-familiar Quixotic endeavour: doing battle with another kludge of computer widgetry that has all the earmarks of being thrown together by monkeys (who are themselves probably paid only peanuts).

Actually getting help is ludicrously difficult

I went hunting for an answer to the question in my mind, which was, “I already have a ‘Digital Regular Saver’ account; do I get entered into the prize draw?” I found a box that was headed ‘Type your question here’. So I typed in that very question, and, naturally, hit enter when I’d finished.

Oh, look: the clueless “it’s” has reared its ugly head, too.

Well, that’s rude (and grammatically incorrect, to boot). I backtracked, and realised that I couldn’t simply ask my question directly, oh, no: once I’d put some text in, I was then offered a set of choices. And, naturally, none of those were in any way relevant.

NatWest’s ‘Support’ page encouraged me to ‘Ask Cora’, which is, apparently, a ‘digital assistant,’ available (so they say) ’24/7′, and I can find ‘her§,’ allegedly, ‘on the bottom right of my screen’ when on the NatWest website. Uh, no, actually, I can’t find ‘her’ like that at all (it’s probably a browser issue). The ‘Support’ page also suggests I can ‘talk to her’ by clicking on ‘Chat Now’ on my ‘home screen’ when I log into online banking.

I logged into online banking: the default landing page had no ‘Chat Now’ option. Go figure.

While logged in, I also looked for an option to send a message to the bank; other online banking systems I use have ‘secure messaging’ systems, so I expected to be able to find one here, too. But, nope, no ‘messaging’ option.

Returning to the main NatWest website, I looked for an email address: and found (eventually) the statement, ‘We don’t have an email address’. Wait, what: seriously?

So, I resorted at last to the telephone — and was forced to wade through the usual moronic multi-layered menuing system, until it finally presented me with an option to talk to someone. Whereupon I was presented with the now ‘normal’ notice, “We’re currently experiencing an extremely high number of calls” — and so, I was obliged to wait.

I did, eventually, get through to a human being (or reasonable facsimile) who listened to me, patiently and politely. After ascertaining that I would only be eligible for an entry in the prize draw if I were to open a new ‘Digital Regular Saver’ account, I asked whether I would be eligible if I were to cancel my existing account and open a new one. She then said that she would be happy to assist me with that; but, as she was speaking, I realized that I really didn’t want to be bothered with jumping through the necessary hoops. So, I asked her to simply feed the message up the chain that she had a disgruntled customer on the phone who objected to loyal customers being excluded from rewards being offered to others.

She asked me to hold the line so that she could see what she could do for me.

I said I would, and waited patiently.

And some minutes later, an hour and a quarter after the call had started, the line went dead.

I did eventually stumble, more by luck than judgement, on a link to the terms and conditions for this offer. They begin, confirming my suspicion that this ‘offer’ was only aimed at new customers, with:

a. Prize draw open to all customers aged 18 or over who are UK residents (excluding Northern Ireland) who open a Digital Regular Saver between 1 and 31 August 2021.

Near the end, it also says:

i. The promoter reserves the right to alter, amend or foreclose the promotion without prior notice.

I wouldn’t put it past them to ‘alter the promotion’ to specifically exclude those who might close existing accounts and open new ones just to get into the prize draw (justifying that action, probably, on the grounds that the whole purpose of the promotion was to gain new business). Nor, for that matter, would I be at all suprised were they to quietly flag any such accounts as ‘ineligible for prize draw’ — you know, because they could, and nobody would ever be any the wiser.

OK, so, now to hunt down their complaints department — Ah! Here we go….


§ On anthropomorphising machines

It really is a mistake to anthropomorphise computer systems. Referring to them as though they are real people, especially when the AI is as thick as two short planks and twice as useless, is a serious mistake. I learnt that, possibly from a book, many decades ago.

(Oh, and there’s another excellent reason not to attribute human traits to machines: they don’t like it.)

Footnote

On the fact that I ripped off the NatWest logo for the header for this post:

The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit… the people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff… any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you, its yours to take, rearrange and reuse. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

Banksy
Posted in ... wait, what?, Business, Communication, Computers and Internet, Critiques, Phlyarology | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

There is no ‘planet B’ – yet we’re using it already

Happy§ Earth Overshoot Day! Time to celebrate: we’re now using almost three-quarters of ‘planet B’.

Shame it doesn’t exist.

Back in 2014, I wrote a set of edicts I would apply ‘If I ruled the world‘. One of those (#4) was:

If it should ever happen that Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) in any year is determined to occur later in the year than the previous year’s EOD, a global day of rejoicing shall be proclaimed on that day.

Source: earthovershootday.org (used with permission)

*The calculation of Earth Overshoot Day 2020 reflects the initial drop in resource use in the first half of the year due to pandemic-induced lockdowns. All other years assume a constant rate of resource use throughout the year.

Source: earthovershootday.org

Well, it looks like we should have had a party last year. Only we couldn’t, of course, due to the very pandemic-induced lockdowns that reduced the global resource use. Ironic.

This year, it looks like we’re back on track, ravaging the planet like never before. Yay, us.


§ Everything’s relative.

Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Biodiversity, Communication, Core thought, Education, Energy, Environment, History, News and politics, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Experience the numinous total solar eclipse

Veritasium experiences the Great American Eclipse of 21Aug2017

The Sun is 400 times the size of the Moon.

It is also 400 times farther away — so both Sun and Moon appear to be the same size.

It hasn’t always been this way; the Moon is moving away from the Earth.

About as fast as your fingernails grow.

When the Moon eclipsed the Sun aeons ago it did so with far less spectacle.

We happen to exist at just the right time to experience these numinous events.

Coincidence? I think: maybe not.

I wonder whether total solar eclipses may have been the sparks that ignited thought.

The flashes that inspired intelligence. That gave rise to us.

I’m no astrophysicist. I’ve reached out to some — to resounding silence.

I guess they probably think I’m nuts (understandably; there are a lot of nuts around).

I did get encouragement from Dr David Brin, who offered me some links.

Those led me to the Rare Earth hypothesis.

My own hypothesis goes beyond, suggesting that intelligent life is very rare.

And therefore all the more precious.

What do you think?

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Donate to fund dogs in the Serengeti

Learning from Dogs

This plea came in from Mr. Pedantry!

This came in yesterday and I thought for some time that I wouldn’t be able to publish it quickly owing to me getting my knickers in a twist.

But all was resolved and therefore I am delighted to republish it.

ooOOoo

Donate to fund the dogs saving elephants

Ever heard of dogs saving elephants?

In the Serengeti, a small,specially trained team of rescue dogs sniff out poachersand sound the alarm. Just 4 dogs have helped arrest hundreds of poachers,saving countless elephants being murdered for their ivory.

Almost a quarter of the elephants in the park now live in the tiny area they protect — but poaching is on the rise everywhere else and there are thousands more elephants that still need protection.

That’s whythe team behind this amazing project are asking for your help to train up more of…

View original post 55 more words

Posted in balance, Biodiversity, crowdsourcing, Environment, Reblogs, Strategy | Tagged , | 2 Comments

‘The climate is always changing’: true, but not helpful

“When we already believe the world to be a certain way, then we interpret new experiences to fit with those beliefs, whether they actually do or not.”

Thus spake Veritasium

I had another post scheduled for today, but this one is far more timely.

My post last week highlighted an example of a meme (‘learning styles’) that’s been around since the 1970s. Despite it being strongly contested and having little evidence to back it up, it clearly strikes a chord that many find hard to resist.

The UK Met Office's 'warning impact matrix', showing 'amber' ticked

Yesterday, the UK Met Office issued its first ever ‘amber extreme heat warning‘ for the UK. I’ve not been able to determine when they began issuing these warnings, but even so, this should suffice to underscore the reality of climate change.

However, one clear effect this alert has had is to bring out the climate science deniers, spouting their dismissive and misleading memes such as, “I remember the UK heatwave in 1976”. (I saw a half dozen of those in just one comment thread I read this morning.)

That was then, this is now (take 1)

Yes, I remember the UK heatwave of 1976, too. It was exceptional, it’s true. But it’s not at all relevant, and the very fact that it’s raised in knee-jerk response to (yet another) heatwave warning says to me that those bringing it up believe that it’s somehow evidence that human-caused climate change isn’t happening, which is utter nonsense, as demonstrated by the following thirty second video clip:

Watching the Land Temperature Bell Curve Heat Up (1950-2020) (NASA)
(Hat tip to Peter Sinclair for finding this!)

Just in case you don’t have time to watch that right now, I’ve grabbed two screenshots from it: one from 1976, and the other from 2020.

That was then, this is now (take 2)

“Ah,” says the typical climate science denier, “but, the climate is always changing”. This is true. But it’s also a truism — and extremely misleading; it’s about as relevant as stating that the Sun will rise tomorrow. The point that it misses is that at no time in the geological record have global temperatures risen as fast as they are doing right now.

Here’s another short clip. This one’s just under three minutes long, and I urge you to watch it to the end — when it takes us back, through several ice ages, to the time when our species first appeared on Earth.

History of atmospheric CO2, from 800,000 years ago until January 2019 (CarbonTracker)

That was then, this is now (take 3)

“But carbon dioxide is just a trace gas!” splurts the average clueless denier, seemingly oblivious of the reality that even a ‘trace’ amount of any one of several poisons in their body would render them stone dead. Just as dead, in fact, as if there were no carbon dioxide at all in our atmosphere (because Earth would be a snowball planet).

Svante Arrhenius, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903, was the first to use basic principles of physical chemistry to estimate the extent to which increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increase Earth’s surface temperature through the greenhouse effect. He did this in 1896. We’ve been twiddling our thumbs, and ‘debating’ the idea (even those who aren’t chemists, physicists, or climate scientists), for one and a quarter centuries. If we’ve learned one thing in all that time, it’s that you can lead someone to knowledge, but you can’t help them think.

Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Climate, Communication, Core thought, Education, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, Health, perception, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

Veritasium on the biggest myth in education

“When we already believe the world to be a certain way, then we interpret new experiences to fit with those beliefs, whether they actually do or not.”

Thus spake Veritasium

Veritasium: This video is about learning styles. What kind of learner are you?

Audience: [Various interactions with people on the street.]

Veritasium: There is this idea in education that everyone has their own preferred way of learning, their so-called ‘learning style’; if information is presented in accordance with the learning style, then they’ll learn better. Now, there are dozens of different learning style theories, but the most common one identifies four main learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic, or ‘VARK’ for short. Visual learners learn best from images, demonstrations and pictures. […] Auditory learners learn best from listening to an explanation. […] Reading/writing learners learn best from reading and writing. […] And kinesthetic learners learn best by doing; physically interacting with the world. […]

Now, learning styles make intuitive sense because we know everyone is different. Some people have better spatial reasoning; others have better listening comprehension. We know some people are better readers, while others are good with their hands.

Daniel Willingham: It sort of very much fits with a broad strain of thought. And the recent Western tradition is like we’re all unique, we’re all different. And so you don’t want to say, like, “everybody learns the same way”; that sort of conflicts with our feelings about what it means to be human.

Veritasium: So, doesn’t it make sense that people should learn better in their own preferred learning style? Well, teachers certainly seem to think so. A survey of nearly 400 teachers from the UK and the Netherlands found that over 90% believed that individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.

The misconception: Just like every professor has a different of style of teaching, you have a different style of learning. But when his teacher starts using visuals, Jonathan finds it easier to focus and understand the material, so he might be a visual learner.

Veritasium: Can you tell me what that means to you? What does it mean to be a visual learner?

Guy in black jacket: To me, it means that for me to learn something, sometimes I need to draw it, or I need to write it down, or I need to see a picture or a movie.

‘Honey’: For example, science classes: I get bored easily just listening, and I think it’s more interesting for me to actually be able to do it.

Veritasium: How do you know that you’re a visual learner?

Smart guy!: I don’t. I just assume.

Veritasium: To take advantage of learning styles, then, teachers need to do two things. First, identify the learning style of each of their students, and second, teach each student in accordance with their learning style. On the VARK website, it says: “Once you know about VARK, its power to explain things will be a revelation”. But, before you take an online learning styles quiz, it’s a good idea to ask, “do learning styles even exist?” I mean, do you have one? And if you’re taught in accordance with it, would you learn better?

Well, you could test this by running a randomized control trial, where first you would identify learners with at least two different learning styles, say, visual and auditory; and then randomly assign the learners to one of two educational presentations: one visual, one auditory. So, for half of the students the experience will match their learning style, and, for the other half, it won’t. And then you give everyone the same test. If the learning style hypothesis is correct, the results should show better performance when the presentation matches the learning style than when they’re mismatched.

I tried a very unscientific version of this experiment on the street. For some people, I matched their learning style, so I showed visual learners pictures of 10 items. But for other visual learners, I read out the items instead.

Veritasium: Bell, penguin, Sun…

Audience: [Interviewees on the street trying to remember the list of things.]

Veritasium: Most people could remember only about five or six things. […] But a few could remember substantially more, say, eight or nine items. […] But the reason didn’t seem to be because the presentation matched their preferred learning style, but because they employed a memory strategy.

‘Honey’: So, like, as you were showing, I was like making an order in my head, so, as I saw more, I would just add it to the list, and I was repeating the list as I was looking at them so I could just say it out loud.

Veritasium: Did you try a strategy while you were looking at those pictures?

‘Story guy’: Yeah. So I guess I tried, like, creating a story because it’s easier to remember a story than just individual objects. So I try to, like, tie it all into one story.

Veritasium: This is obviously anecdotal evidence, but rigorous studies like the one I outlined have been conducted. For example, one looked at visualizers versus verbalizers instead of visual versus auditory learners. The study was computer based. So, first, students’ learning styles were assessed using questions like, “would you rather read a paragraph or see a diagram describing an atom?” The researchers also provided some challenging explanations with two buttons: ‘Visual Help’ or ‘Verbal Help’. The visual one played a short animation, whereas the verbal help gave a written explanation. From these measures combined, the researchers categorized the students as either visualizers or verbalizers, and then the students were randomly assigned to go through a text-based or picture-based lesson on electronics. When a student hovered their mouse over keywords in the lesson in the text-based group, a definition and clarification came up; but in the picture group, an annotated diagram was shown instead. And, after the lesson, the students did a test to assess their learning. The students whose preferred learning style matched their instruction performed no better on the test than those whose instruction was mismatched. The researchers ran the test again with 61 non-college-educated adults and found exactly the same result.

But learning styles are a preference. So, how strongly do learners stick to their preference? Well, in a 2018 study, during the first week of semester, over 400 students at a university in Indiana completed the VARK questionnaire and they were classified according to their learning style. Then, at the end of the semester, the same students completed a study strategy questionnaire. So, how did they actually study during the term? Well, an overwhelming majority of students used study strategies which were supposedly incompatible with their learning style; and the minority of students who did, did not perform significantly differently on the assessments in the course.

The visual, auditory, reading/writing, kinesthetic — or ‘VARK’ model — came about from Neil Fleming, a school inspector in New Zealand. Describing the origins of VARK, he says, “I was puzzled when I observed excellent teachers who did not reach some learners, and poor teachers who did. I decided to try to solve this puzzle. There are, of course, many reasons for what I observed. But one topic that seemed to hold some magic, some explanatory power, was preferred modes of learning; ‘modal preferences'”. And thus VARK was born. There was no study that revealed students naturally cluster into four distinct groups, just some magic that might explain why some teachers can reach students while others can’t.

But how can this be? If we accept that some people are more skilled at interpreting and remembering certain kinds of stimuli than others, like visual or auditory, then why don’t we see differences in learning or recall with different presentations? Well, it’s because what we actually want people to recall is not the precise nature of the images or the pitch or quality of the sound; it’s the meaning behind the presentations.

There are some tasks that obviously require the use of a particular modality. Learning about music, for example, should have an auditory component. Similarly, learning about geography will involve looking at maps. And some people will have greater aptitude to learn one task over another. Someone with perfect pitch, for example, will be better able to recall certain tones in music. Someone with excellent visual-spatial reasoning will be better at learning the locations of countries on a map. But the claim of learning style theories is that these preferences will be consistent across learning domains. The person with perfect pitch should learn everything better auditorially; but that is clearly not the case. Most people will learn geography better with a map.

Review articles of learning styles consistently conclude there is no credible evidence that learning styles exist. In a 2009 review the researchers note, “the contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing. If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated”.

Daniel Willingham: What we’re expecting is, if your style was honoured, you’re going to perform better than if you had some experience that conflicted with your style. And this is where we don’t see any support for the learning styles theory.

Veritasium: One of the reasons many people find learning styles so convincing is because they already believe it to be true. For example, they might already think that they’re a visual learner, and then when a teacher shows them a diagram of, say, a bike pump and suddenly the concept clicks, well, they interpret this as evidence for their visual learning style.

Daniel Willingham: You already believe that learning styles is right. When you have an experience, the first thing you think is, “is that in some way consistent with learning styles?” And if it is, you don’t think further.

Veritasium: … when in reality that diagram might just be a great diagram that would have helped anyone learn. When we already believe the world to be a certain way, then we interpret new experiences to fit with those beliefs, whether they actually do or not.

So, if learning styles don’t improve learning, then what does? Well, there’s a large body of literature that supports the claim that everyone learns better with multimodal approaches, where words and pictures are presented together rather than either words or pictures alone. […] And this is known as the multimedia effect. And it explains, in part, at least, why videos can be such powerful tools for learning when the narration complements the visuals. […] In my PhD research, I found explicit discussion of misconceptions was essential in multimedia teaching for introductory physics. […]

Ultimately, the most important thing for learning is not the way the information is presented, but what is happening inside the learner’s head. People learn best when they’re actively thinking about the material, solving problems or imagining what happens if different variables change. I talked about how and why we learn best in my video ‘The Science of Thinking‘, so check that out.

Now, the truth is, there are many evidence-based teaching methods that improve learning; ‘learning styles’ is just not one of them. And it is likely, given the prevalence of the learning styles misconception, that it actually makes learning worse. I mean, learning styles give teachers unnecessary things to worry about, and they may make some students reluctant to engage with certain types of instruction. And all the time and money spent on learning styles and related training could be better spent on interventions that actually improve learning. You are not a visual learner, nor an auditory learner, nor a kinesthetic learner; or, more accurately, you are all these kinds of learner in one. The best learning experiences are those that involve multiple different ways of understanding the same thing. And best of all, this strategy works not just for one subset of people, but for everyone.

This part of the video was sponsored by Google Search. Now, there are lots of topics out there that are controversial, like learning styles, for example. Most people believe learning styles are a thing, whereas educational researchers find no robust evidence for them. And if you search for ‘learning styles’, you’ll get lots of sites with resources and quizzes. But if you search for ‘learning styles debunked’, well, then you’ll find articles about how there is very little evidence for the learning styles hypothesis.

I think one of the most common traps people fall into is only searching for information that confirms what they already believe. A common mistake is putting the answer you’re looking for right in the search query. A better idea is to try another search, adding ‘debunked’ or ‘false’ at the end and see what comes up. And Google makes it easy to get more detail about the source of the information. Just click the three dots next to any search result and then you can judge for yourself whether the information is trustworthy and if you want to visit the site. A Google search is meant to surface the most relevant information for your query, but it’s up to you to formulate that query; try a few different searches and assess whether the information is reliable. And the whole point of Veritasium is to get to the truth. So, I’m excited to encourage everyone to think more critically about how we get information. I want to thank Google for sponsoring this part of the video, and I want to thank you for watching.

The transcript above was was made with the help of Sonix, which did most of the donkey work for a tiny fee (I did have to spend some time tidying it up). Note that I do not have the copyright owner’s permission to publish this transcript here. I’ve investigated the copyright rules regarding transcriptions (more about that here), and one thing I’ve learned is that it’s no defence to make a disclaimer like “these aren’t my words, no copyright infringement intended.” However, I offer the transcription here as a service to society (especially the deaf community). I do hope the copyright owner won’t object. And I hope that you find this video as interesting as I did.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Core thought, Education, perception, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures

It may (or may not) have been Carl Linnaeus who classified our species as ‘homo sapiens sapiens‘ in the late 18th Century. As you probably know, that label derives from Latin: ‘homo’ means ‘man’, while ‘sapiens’ can be translated as a number of almost-synonyms; the double-barrelled use here might be read as ‘the wise, thinking man’.

I’ve experienced several decades of life as a member of this species, being a spectator (thankfully, on the sidelines) to the various nonsensical and outrageous behaviours our kind exhibits. I’m sure you know of what I speak: miscellaneous evils and injustices of all sorts, such as installing building cladding that’s not fire-resistant (Grenfell), building clusters of massive condominium complexes on reclaimed land (Champlain Towers), launching ships deemed ‘unsinkable’ (Titanic), warring against others of our own kind (often perpetrated by fanatics whose mantras include “love thy neighbour” and “kill the infidel”) — those kinds of things.

An utterly barmy crusade

I believe that Linnaeus (if it was him) made a poor choice. Particularly in the light of our species’ inherent inability to acknowledge threats that aren’t imminent (climate change being the obvious example), it became clear to me that far from being ‘the wise, thinking man’, we ought to have a moniker that’s more honest, and a whole lot less pretentious.

And so, almost exactly a decade ago, I found myself pondering the question, “what would be a more appropriate name for our species?” ‘Homo sapiens sapiens’ was clearly a misnomer. I settled on ‘homo fatuus brutus‘, which translates as ‘the foolish, stupid man’. And thus, I embarked upon a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) campaign to try to get our name changed.

Why would I even try such a thing? One lone nutcase on a blog trying to persuade others to join a lunatic crusade is going to only elicit ridicule, right?

It’s just a crazy thought experiment, but imagine if enough people were to think it a Good Idea, and the name were to actually be changed… it could have far-reaching effects.

Unsurprisingly, my campaign, such as it is, hasn’t been all that successful to date. It’s got some laughs along the way, and some funny looks, but that’s about it. I didn’t really expect much more.

Contemplating the receptacle’s exterior

Over time, I came to believe that this is more important than it would at first appear. In order to address an issue, it is first necessary to admit that there is an issue; only by recognising that there is a problem can one ever hope to take steps to rectify it.

Labels are important. And while we all think of ourselves as ‘wise and thinking’ (and some even expanding that to mean ‘masters of the universe’), we are less likely to consider that, perhaps, we can be capable of making mistakes. Contrariwise, any serious attempt to rename our species would, at the very least, bring heated debate, which, regardless of the success or failure of the endeavour, would shine a light on the matter.

And so, I recently considered the idea of trying to get our species name formally changed. The only avenue I can think of by which this might be achieved would be by setting up a petition, in the (admittedly foolish) hope that it might be possible to gain enough signatures to be taken seriously. After all, if millions of US citizens can follow the lead of a prevaricating moron, and (a somewhat smaller number of) millions of UK citizens can idolize a corrupt buffoon, well, the planet is one’s carpius nana.

Archaic rules prohibit reclassifying an existing species

To be effective, a petition needs to be addressed to someone (or some body) that has the power to act on it.

I did some digging. It transpires that the body responsible for ‘zoological nomenclature’ (a fancy way of saying ‘animal naming’) is the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) [not to be confused with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN)]. Huzzah! thought I, having believed I had identified to whom I should address my petition, should it ever get enough signatories to not be laughed out of court.

Founded in 1895, the ICZN (not the ICZN) is an organization dedicated to “achieving stability and sense in the scientific naming of animals”.

‘Stability’. And ‘sense’. I strongly suspect the sequence of those two words is important, and that the ICZN (entirely understandably) values the former over the latter. And I’m reasonably certain that a request to rename the human species would be dismissed out of hand as utter nonsense.

Which, of course, it is (that’s pretty much the whole point). But, on the other hand, is it any more nonsensical than perpetuating the use of a ‘wise’ label for a species that is arguably on the verge of committing suicide?

Unfortunately, some more digging has revealed that it would appear that our fate is sealed: according to the ICZN, names are locked in by the ‘Principle of Priority‘, which says, in a nutshell, that as we have already been named, we can’t be renamed.

The eternally hungry ouroboros

It seems that the phlyarological ouroboros is complete, and self-sustaining.

An illustration of the short-sightedness of homo fatuus brutus, who, having ascended to the cliff's edge, is about to step off.
Having ascended to the cliff’s edge, the short-sighted homo fatuus brutus is about to step off.

(Just out of curiosity… if I were to actually set up such a petition, would you sign it?)

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Core thought, perception, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

The Koala Conspiracy

The most recent post from Larry Oliver’s blog Echoes from a Pale Blue Dot is from 2017. (That site seems, sadly, to currently have tumbleweeds rolling through it, though Larry is still active on Twitter at @tweetingdonal.) That post is a reblog of this insightful article by Jacob A Tennessen (@JacobPhD) from the year before. Though it’s a half-decade old, it’s a great example of how just because something’s old doesn’t mean it’s not still got legs. Well worth a read.

Adaptive Diversity

koala Do marsupials even exist?

The word of the year for 2016 is officially “post-truth.” It seems a lot of folks just don’t care very much for facts. Instead, they form beliefs based on subjective feelings about what kind of experts are trustworthy and what kinds of stories fit their existing worldview. Fake news is rampant. It thrives under a secular version of Poe’s law: when politics has been fractured into extremes, any tale about the opposition sounds plausible. We are at an impasse. If showing people the data is not good enough, what is?

For science educators, this is nothing new. The most dispiriting and challenging aspect of science outreach isn’t ignorance, it’s willful denial. Folks who have heard about climate change, evolution, the effectiveness of vaccines, or the safety of GMOs, but simply refuse to believe it. It’s frustrating. How do objective scientists reach out to…

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Posted in balance, Communication, Core thought, GCD: Global climate disruption, perception, Reblogs, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments