Talking 22nd Century Skills: All Steamed Up.

by reestheskin on 17/01/2019

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Talking 22nd Century Skills with @realpbanksley – Rick Hess Straight Up – Education Week

I noted that he seems to be one of the leading thinkers in the push to rebrand STEM as STEAMED (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Everything Delightful).

Annual Review of the ‘business’ that is ed-tech  by Audrey Watters.

Getting too deeply into statistics is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water. The angst of facing mortality has no remedy in probability. Paul Kalanithi, ‘When Breath Becomes Air’

The abusive debt

by reestheskin on 09/01/2019

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A beginner’s guide to student loans in the public accounts | Wonkhe | Analysis 

Bluntly, the main motive for replacing the teaching grant by loans is an accounting trick. There is an apparent decline in public spending, but at the cost of distorting higher education policy … Thus the changes look like a dodgy [Private] Finance Initiative” – Barr, 2012

Well written piece on the loan scandal in Wonkhe by Nicholas Barr. In the language of the laymen, the government is fiddling the books, and dumping the costs on future taxpayers. It fiddles because it wants to mislead, for gain.

He goes on:

higher education finance has elements of a bubble. If I were a Vice-Chancellor, this aspect would give me sleepless nights.

Guarded language — fair enough — but it is not just a financial bubble. Let us just see how this year pans out.

“as long as they keep asking the wrong questions, the answers really don’t matter”.

Thomas Pynchon

A well argued and evidence based article like this will get you nowhere. This is Britain. Better to put some bollox on a bus.

A comment from theSwedish Chef’ on the FT.

The last desperate stand of virility….

by reestheskin on 06/01/2019

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She crossed to his desk and shook his hand. Noticed the telltale transplant plugs dotting his scalp, sprouting hair like little tufts of yellow grass in a last desperate stand of virility. That’s what you deserved for marrying a trophy wife.

[from Body Double; Tess Gerritsen]

“In 1968, each candidate could be heard without interruption on network news for 42.3 seconds. By 2000, the length of a sound bite was 7 seconds.” Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: a history. (via John Naughton)

Talk with the students:whatever next?

by reestheskin on 04/01/2019

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Mary Midgley a Newcastle based philosopher died a fews ago. An obituary in the FT is here. I remember once attending a debate between her and Sam Shuster on the use of animals in medical research. I thought her both strange, and awe inspiring. I am probably now more sympathetic to her views expressed then, than I was at the time,

I then found a “Lunch with the FT” with her, which referred to her husband academic philosopher, Geoffrey Midgley.

While at Oxford, she met her husband Geoffrey, who also lectured in philosophy, and she followed him to Newcastle in 1950. She has lived there since. (Geoffrey Midgley died in 1997.) “I know academics are supposed to be buzzing off to America and all that sort of thing but Geoffrey wasn’t at all interested in that. He just wanted to sit in the common room and talk to his students. It’s so important to do that, colossally educational.”

’Once you have a shiny building, decline follows’

by reestheskin on 03/01/2019

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The quotes below are from an article in the FT (awhile back). They echo one of my rules, a rule that is more of the exception that proves the rule. Just as “no good lab has space” (because the bench space will always be taken up because many will want to work there), so when the grand new building arrives, the quality of work will already be past its peak (because how else would you have justified your future except by looking back). It is all about edge people, and just as social change usually starts at the edge, so do good ideas.

The principle of benign neglect may well operate on a larger scale. Consider Building 20, one of the most celebrated structures at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The product of wartime urgency, it was designed one afternoon in the spring of 1943, then hurriedly assembled out of plywood, breeze-blocks and asbestos. Fire regulations were waived in exchange for a promise that it would be pulled down within six months of the war’s end; in fact the building endured, dusty and uncomfortable, until 1998.

During that time, it played host not only to the radar researchers of Rad Lab (nine of whom won Nobel Prizes) but one of the first atomic clocks, one of the first particle accelerators, and one of the first anechoic chambers — possibly the one in which composer John Cage conceived 4’33. Noam Chomsky revolutionised linguistics there. Harold Edgerton took his high-speed photographs of bullets hitting apples. The Bose Corporation emerged from Building 20; so did computing powerhouse DEC; so did the hacker movement, via the Tech Model Railroad Club.

Building 20 was a success because it was cheap, ugly and confusing. Researchers and departments with status would be placed in sparkling new buildings or grand old ones — places where people would protest if you nailed something to a door. In Building 20, all the grimy start-ups were thrown in to jostle each other, and they didn’t think twice about nailing something to a door — or, for that matter, for taking out a couple of floors, as Jerrold Zacharias did when installing the atomic clock.

Somewhat reminiscent of Stewart Brand’s ‘How Buildings Learn

[FT Link]

The not so quiet revolution

by reestheskin on 02/01/2019

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General practice has been undergoing a quiet revolution in recent years that has had little fanfare: it is now an overwhelmingly part-time profession.

Official figures suggest almost 70% of the workforce work less than full time in general practice – the highest proportion ever.

[Link]

New Year’s Day with attitude

by reestheskin on 01/01/2019

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Yes, Carrot weather continues to insult me. Or does it know something I don’t ?

Words for a New Year

by reestheskin on 01/01/2019

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The likes of Barry John, Phil Bennett and Tony Ward, impish 10s dowsed in devilry, were considered obsolete as Jonny Wilkinson, all structure and sinew, pocketed the keys to No10. The romantic age was over, faded into black and white. There was no space to drift into and fly-halves became the executors of someone else’s will.

Barrett and George Ford are hardly throwbacks to John and Bennett, but neither are they Jonny-come-latelys. They are, in the grand traditions of fly-halves, the masters of opportunity.

Paul Rees

As one Oxford university scholar and administrator courted by the Gulf, who is against satellite campuses, puts it: “We have open doors, but they are our doors.”

[Link]

On relaxing and distressing

by reestheskin on 28/12/2018

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Yep, that time of year. This is how Irvine Welsh puts it. Remember: art is not a mirror; art is a hammer.

I’m generally pretty relaxed and very rarely suffer from stress. I see my role as more of a “stress enabler” in others. The last thing I would do if I was stressed would be to read a book. I’d rather write one.

[Link]

Skills which allow the art”

by reestheskin on 27/12/2018

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Alan Kay: The Computer Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet, OOPSLA 1997

Of course, children can learn many things without special mentoring just by experimentation, and by sharing knowledge amongst themselves. But we don’t know of any examples where this includes the great inventions of humanity such as deductive mathematics and mathematically based empirical sciences. To use an analogy: what if we were to make an inexpensive piano and put it in every classroom? The children would certainly learn to do something with it by themselves – it could be fun, it could have really expressive elements, it would certainly be a kind of music. But it would quite miss what has been invented in music over centuries by great musicians. This would be a shame with regard to music – but for science and mathematics it would be a disaster. The special processes and outlook in the latter (particularly in science) are so critical and so hidden that it is crippling not to be taught them as “skills which allow the art”. As Ed Wilson has pointed out, our genetic makeup for social interests, motivations, communication, and invention, is essentially what humans were in the Pleistocene. Much of what we call modern civilization is made from inventions such as agriculture, writing and reading, math and science, governance based on equal rights, etc. These were hard to invent, and are best learned via guides.

Wheelchairs not suitable for family viewing

by reestheskin on 26/12/2018

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I have forgotten which search rabbit hole I was down, but ended up at Robert Wyatt’s Wikipedia page. I know this story, or at least I knew the tale, but was uncertain about the veracity. The older I get the more I think social change happens ever faster. Yes, there is another more mundane explanation.

Robert Wyatt – Wikipedia

Two months later Wyatt put out a single, a cover version of “I’m a Believer”, which hit number 29 in the UK chart. Both were produced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. There were strong arguments with the producer of Top of the Pops surrounding Wyatt’s performance of “I’m a Believer”, on the grounds that his use of a wheelchair “was not suitable for family viewing”, the producer wanting Wyatt to appear on a normal chair. Wyatt won the day and “lost his rag but not the wheelchair”.

Fairytale of New York

by reestheskin on 25/12/2018

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Well, the excellent FT series says this — “The Fairytale of New York”,  by the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl — is the Christmas song for people who hate Christmas songs. I dissent. I like Xmas records, but agree this is maybe the best. And cynicism is necessary at this time of year, too.

“I could have been someone.”

“Well, so could anyone.”

But cynicism only gets you so far into the human condition. If you need to laugh, check out the Christy Moore version ‘Live at the Point (‘I was looking for the Shannon..’).

Merry Xmas

Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs. (The same goes for “tech” at large.)

Audrey Watters

Fifty years ago this year

by reestheskin on 20/12/2018

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That picture that changed everything. Nice piece in Nature tells the story. (Image: NASA)

In climate science, you can check out of the lab anytime you like, but you can never leave.

How I stave off despair as a climate scientist.

Dave Reay, University of Edinburgh, quoted in Nature this week.

Gresham’s law redux

by reestheskin on 19/12/2018

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UK regulator warns on degree grade inflation | Financial Times

The OFS report on degree class awards at UK English unviersities has attracted lots of press attention today. Rightly so. But the report looks back only a decade. One commentator (bd d’Avranche)  in the FT urges us to delve a little deeper:

Please take the research back to 1980 and then prepare to be astounded.

Alison Wolff has written somewhere that the quality of what constituted a particular award was, not so long ago, fairly consistent across UK universities. No longer. Academics should hold their heads in shame, as they have shorted what many of us hold most dear about higher education.

 “criticism and optimism are the same thing. When you criticize things, it’s because you think they can be improved. It’s the complacent person or the fanatic who’s the true pessimist, because they feel they already have the answer. It’s the people who think that things are open-ended, that things can still be changed through thought, through creativity—those are the true optimists. So I worry, sure, but it’s optimistic worry.” Jaron Lanier. We Need to Have an Honest Talk About Our Data

Models of our mind and communities

by reestheskin on 18/12/2018

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Google’s AI Guru Wants Computers to Think More Like Brains | WIRED

This is from an interview with Geoffrey Hinton who — to paraphrase Peter Medawar’s comments about Jim Watson — has something to be clever about. The article is worth reading in full, but here are a few snippets.

Now if you send in a paper that has a radically new idea, there’s no chance in hell it will get accepted, because it’s going to get some junior reviewer who doesn’t understand it. Or it’s going to get a senior reviewer who’s trying to review too many papers and doesn’t understand it first time round and assumes it must be nonsense. Anything that makes the brain hurt is not going to get accepted. And I think that’s really bad…

What we should be going for, particularly in the basic science conferences, is radically new ideas. Because we know a radically new idea in the long run is going to be much more influential than a tiny improvement. That’s I think the main downside of the fact that we’ve got this inversion now, where you’ve got a few senior guys and a gazillion young guys.

I would make a few comments:

  1. First the history of neural nets is long: even people like me had heard about them in the late 1980s. The history of ideas is often like that.
  2. The academy is being sidetracked into thinking it should innovate or develop ideas that whilst important are not revolutionary. Failure should be the norm, rather than the continued treadmill of grant income and papers.
  3. Scale and genuine discovery — for functioning of peer groups — seldom go together.
  4. Whilst most of the really good ideas are still out there, it is possible to create structures that stop people looking for them.
  5. Hinton makes a very important point in the article with broad relevance. He argues that you cannot judge (or restrict the use of) AI on the basis of whether or not it can justify its behaviour in terms of rules or logic — you have to judge it on it ability to work, in general. This is the same standard we apply to humans, or at least we did, until we thought it wise or expedient to create the fiction that much of human decision making is capable of conscious scrutiny. This applies to medicine, to the extent that clinical reasoning is often a fiction that masters like to tell novices about. Just-so stories, to torment the young with. And elsewhere in the academy for the outlandish claims that are made for changing human behaviour by signing up for online (“human remains”)courses (TIJABP).

All has been said before, I know, but no apology will be forthcoming.

JLR has been seriously mismanaged in recent years.

Agreed. But this one is about the car manufacturer rather than yours truly.

Jaguar Land Rover set to cut thousands of jobs in new year | Financial Times

The importance of obsession

by reestheskin on 16/12/2018

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How a Welsh schoolgirl rewrote the rules of publishing | Financial Times by Gillian Tett

In 2011, Beth Reeks, a 15-year-old Welsh schoolgirl studying for her GCSE exams, decided to write a teenage romantic novel. So she started tapping on her laptop with the kind of obsessive creative focus – and initial secrecy – that has been familiar to writers throughout history. “My parents assumed I was on Facebook or something when I was on my laptop – or I’d call up a document or internet page so it looked like I was doing homework,” she explained at a recent writers’ convention. “I wrote a lot in secret… and at night. I was obsessed.”

But Reeks took a different route: after penning eight chapters of her boy-meets-girl novel, The Kissing Booth, she posted three of them on Wattpad, an online story-sharing platform …. As comments poured in, Reeks turned to social media for more ideas. “I started a Tumblr blog and a Twitter account for my writing. I used them to promote the book…[and] respond to anyone who said they liked the story,” she explained in a recent blog post. 

… while Reeks was at university studying physics, her work was turned into an ebook, then a paperback (she was offered a three-book deal by the mighty Random House) and, this year, Netflix released it as a film, which has become essential viewing for many teenage girls.

Statistical pitfalls of personalized medicine

by reestheskin on 14/12/2018

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This is from an article by Stephen Senn in Nature. He keeps making this point — for the very good reason that people want to pretend there is no problem. But there is.

Personalized medicine aims to match individuals with the therapy that is best suited to them and their condition. Advocates proclaim the potential of this approach to improve treatment outcomes by pointing to statistics about how most drugs — for conditions ranging from arthritis to heartburn — do not work for most people. That might or might not be true, but the statistics are being misinterpreted. There is no reason to think that a drug that shows itself to be marginally effective in a general population is simply in want of an appropriate subpopulation in which it will perform spectacularly.

When you treat patients with chronic diseases such as psoriasis, it quickly becomes clear that there is considerable within person variation is response to treatments. We do not understand what this variation is due to. What we do know however, is that assuming variation in response between people at single time points may be misleading in that we have no measure of within person variance. This is only one of the problems. But hey, precision, personalised.. whatever: it shifts units (as Frank Zappa once said of Michael Jackson).

EBM meets capitalism — prescription for carnage

by reestheskin on 13/12/2018

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This is from a book review in the FT of American Overdose. by Chris McGreal — prescription for carnage.

McGreal has written an interview-based book, with especially vivid reporting from West Virginia, the state hit hardest by the epidemic. In the little town of Williamson, or Pilliamson as people came to call it, pharmacies were dispensing opioids at a staggering rate both to locals and to out-of-state visitors, who clogged its streets with their cars but boosted some local businesses as well as city tax revenues.

When the federal authorities belatedly raided one Williamson clinic in late 2009, they found that an individual doctor had written 355,132 opioid prescriptions over the previous seven years — about 1,000 for every inhabitant of the town. Another wrote 118,443 scrips over the same period. Most were handed out for cash fees without the doctors bothering to see their patients. The investigators estimated that the clinic took in $4.6m cash during 2009 and they found banknotes stuffed into safes and cupboards in the doctors’ homes and offices.

In the beginning was the..

by reestheskin on 12/12/2018

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My  “Beginner’s Guide” to the messy world of medical education over at Wonkhe.

[Link]

Red..well any hair colour, again.

by reestheskin on 11/12/2018

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Genome-wide study of hair colour in UK Biobank explains most of the SNP heritability.

Michael D. Morgan, Erola Pairo-Castineira, Konrad Rawlik, Oriol Canela-Xandri, Jonathan Rees, David Sims, Albert Tenesa & Ian J. Jackson

[Link to Nature Comm paper]  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-07691-z

My guess is this is likely my last ‘research paper’ (although I now choose to redefine what counts as research). But not my last ‘thinking paper’. I cannot help but contrast the sheer volume of activity with that from our original papers on red hair. Things seemed so much simpler when we were young. But it is a nice coda to a career fugue.