There is always time for another bubble

by reestheskin on 20/07/2018

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If universities are now financialised operations, they are subject to financial disruptions of their own.

FT

Nature Cannot Be Fooled

by reestheskin on 19/07/2018

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Education is probably the field in which we deceive ourselves the most, because the damage only appears decades later. We pretend that all children learn at the same rate and in the same way. Every teacher and parent knows this to be untrue, and to deny it is folly. But deny it we do.

Jonathan Katz.

The fatal attraction of meaningless metrics

by reestheskin on 18/07/2018

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The Scylla and Charybdis of the subject level TEF is that the aggregation of students into groups large enough to make meaningful statistical analysis possible debases the validity of the analysis by treating disparate groups of students with a variety of educational experiences, studying different subjects, located in disparate units of university governance, as if they were in fact homogeneous. Randomness is not something the Office for Students or the Department for Education can change. Without a robust account of how they intend to deal with it, the prospects for a viable subject level TEF look poor.

Link

No time for sex at home, please

by reestheskin on 17/07/2018

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This article from the Economist is much more nuanced than you might think — especially about all the benefits of attending school that are unrelated to what specifically goes on in the classroom. But if you couple it with a close reading of Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case Against Education’ then it is hard not to feel that the academy has been guilty of failing to check out their own entrails before passing judgement on everybody else’s.

It sounds like a counsel of despair. If every child went to school, millions more would sit in woeful, boring classrooms. But while this sounds awful, it would probably still be good for them, their families and broader society. For, as Justin Sandefur of CGD points out, there is plenty of evidence that even when children do not learn much at school, they still do better for having gone.

Some benefits are economic. Attending school for longer is associated with earning more in later life, in part because those with additional schooling are more likely to get non-agricultural jobs and move to cities. This may indicate that young people are in fact learning something useful at school that is not being picked up by researchers. But it could also be a signalling effect: a shopkeeper may prefer workers who stayed at school for at least five years.

One is simply that if girls are at school they are not having sex at home

Exams and the internet

by reestheskin on 16/07/2018

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Algeria Shut Down the Internet to Prevent Students from Cheating on Exams

Via Bruce Schneier. The solution in New South Wales, Australia was to ban smartphones.

Fifty years on

by reestheskin on 12/07/2018

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There are some interesting memes for our time in this FT podcast: 1968: The Year that Music Changed. Fifty years ago. What moved me most was the link (27:30 in) to the YouTube speech from Bobby Kennedy, where he told an audience — who were still unaware — that Martin Luther King has just been assassinated, making use of the following lines of Aeschylus.

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

I am not certain what other people of my age say in answer to the question, “Where were you when JFK died?” I have no memory for Dallas. But I do remember where I was in Cardiff, when my Irish mother picking me up to drive me somewhere, told me that Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated. And I was expected to know why this was important, and why it was important to her. And just go compare with what we see now across the pond, drifting.

A theory of everything

by reestheskin on 11/07/2018

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the problem is that education has become the default solution to everything.

Andrew Keen, in How to Fix the Future. A speaker at last year’s OEB meeting. Worth a read.

Well, not entirely a politics free zone

by reestheskin on 10/07/2018

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Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times writes

what you are left with is just this – a country that has gone to enormous trouble to humiliate itself.

You can guess the context. (Via he who swims off Penglas in West Cork)

MOOCs revisited

by reestheskin on 09/07/2018

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One selling point of MOOCs (massive online open courses) has been that students can access courses from the world’s most famous universities. The assumption—especially in the marketing messages from major providers like Coursera and edX—is that the winners of traditional higher education will also end up the winners in the world of online courses.

But that isn’t always happening.

In fact, three of the 10 most popular courses on Coursera aren’t produced by a college or university at all, but by a company. That company—called Deeplearning.ai—is a unique provider of higher education. It is essentially built on the reputation of its founder, Andrew Ng, who teaches all five of the courses it offers so far. Link

The MOOC story is like so much of tech — or drug discovery for that matter. Finding a use for a drug invented for another reason often offers the biggest payback. This story has barely begun.

Reinventing the personal physician

by reestheskin on 06/07/2018

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From JAMA

Davidson had had enough. “I wasn’t even making 6 figures, and I was killing myself,” she recalled.

“Frustrated, she googled “ideal practice” one sleepless night and came across Atlas MD in Wichita, Kansas. That practice does not accept insurance, although patients still need to have insurance to cover health care beyond the scope of primary care. Instead of co-payments and deductibles, Atlas MD patients pay a monthly “membership fee” that covers all of the primary care their physician provides. But more importantly, this retainer guarantees unhurried, same-day appointments and round-the-clock accessibility to their physician, who would get to know their story “inside and out,” thanks to having to care for only around 500 patients.”

The most interesting thing in this article is the lengths the opponents go to to oppose such a change:

“For now, said Weisbart, chair of the Missouri chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, there’s no evidence to support the argument that DPC [the model describe here], by allowing physicians to spend more time with patients, can prevent expensive downstream medical problems. “If they could prove it, I’d be one of their advocates,” he said, adding that he understands the attraction of DPC for physicians. “They can see a third or a quarter of the number of patients (as fee-for-service practices) and preserve their income.”

“Weisbart remains skeptical, though. Direct primary care practices might attract a different population of patients. The only way to compare how well the 2 models improve health and cut costs would be to conduct a trial that randomly assigned patients to DPC or fee-for-service practices. But, Weisbart added, such a trial would be difficult if not impossible to conduct. For one, it’s unlikely that a representative sample of US patients would agree to enroll in a study in which they were randomly assigned to a primary care physician. “And,” he added, “it would have to be large to show meaningful impact, which means the study would be expensive.”

Nobody cares anymore

by reestheskin on 04/07/2018

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Polling undertaken for the NHS recruitment campaign found that many people had an outdated view of nursing. It suggested most saw nurses primarily as “caring”, with far fewer regarding them as “leaders” or “innovators”.

Apparently this is not approved of. My mother would be turning over in her grave.

Link

skincancer909 usage

by reestheskin on 03/07/2018

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Just saying….

Here are the figures for skincancer909 my online textbook of skin cancer for medical students. The site was rewritten and updated in the final quarter of last year (with videos).  Usage is 80% from search, with the rest from direct links. In June about 4,600 sessions. Local usage (Edinburgh) is around 5%. I am pleased, but financially poorer.

 

People in glasshouses

by reestheskin on 03/07/2018

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‘True science thrives best in glass houses where everyone can look in. When the windows are blacked out, as in war, the weeds take over; when secrecy muffles criticism, charlatans and cranks flourish’.

Max Perutz (1914-), Austrian born biochemist. Shared 1962 Nobel Prize for X-ray crystallography of haemoglobin.

Link

Reflect on!

by reestheskin on 29/06/2018

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A revered teacher, Seldin was known for his pithy expressions, including: “A good medical education leaves much to be desired”; “One of the dangers of a medical education is that it leads to graduation from medical school”; and “The greatest crime is to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

An obit of Donald W Seldin – The Lancet.  I do not know the source of my favourite cognate aphorism:

most students turn into good doctors despite the earnest attempts of medical educationalists

The educational singularity — just went by.

by reestheskin on 28/06/2018

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This article (Can vocational education make a comeback?) is about vocational training and higher ed in Australia. It contains some nice examples of dishonesty driven by financial gain. For example:

Regulators didn’t blink when a private college suddenly started charging A$22,000 (£12,350) for a web design diploma that cost about A$4,500 elsewhere, or when a competitor’s student population snowballed from about 300 one year to almost 12,000 the next.

Or how about these examples:

The light regulatory touch encouraged scores of scams, known in Australian parlance as “rorts”, as unscrupulous colleges pushed the rules to the fringes of criminality. In one infamous case, a Melbourne college awarded football club members certificates in outdoor recreation for a few nights of “learning” on their own premises. It gave participants and their clubs A$1,500 kickbacks, bankrolled from state government subsidies worth up to A$5,000 per student, and called them “scholarships”.

In another case, the directors of a soon-to-be-bankrupt college paid their shareholders – including themselves – A$15 million in dividends, on the same day that Australia’s consumer watchdog launched proceedings to recover tens of millions of dollars in improperly obtained student loans. The company subsequently collapsed with unpaid debts of about A$80 million, having swallowed A$222 million in loans.

Well, what do you expect? This is the higher ed equivalent of imagining that you can ‘install democracy’ everywhere overnight; or that you run a company based on legal contracts between its own employees. But what really caught my eye, was this critique of current higher ed in favour of shorter vocational courses (it is about the money, what else!).

This discourages degree-educated people from obtaining top-up training in areas such as coding and data analytics, which are now vital to many occupations. Such needs are best met through short VET courses after graduation, Gallagher says, because digital skills taught as part of three- or four-year degrees will be obsolete by the time people leave university. “The half-life of those skills is getting shorter and shorter,” he says.

I cannot think of a better definition of what higher education is not about than this. Now surely we know what degrees not to fund.

 

 

This discourages degree-educated people from obtaining top-up training in areas such as coding and data analytics, which are now vital to many occupations. Such needs are best met through short VET courses after graduation, Gallagher says, because digital skills taught as part of three- or four-year degrees will be obsolete by the time people leave university.

“The half-life of those skills is getting shorter and shorter,” he says.

Inter alia

Regulators didn’t blink when a private college suddenly started charging A$22,000 (£12,350) for a web design diploma that cost about A$4,500 elsewhere, or when a competitor’s student population snowballed from about 300 one year to almost 12,000 the next.

The light regulatory touch encouraged scores of scams, known in Australian parlance as “rorts”, as unscrupulous colleges pushed the rules to the fringes of criminality. In one infamous case, a Melbourne college awarded football club members certificates in outdoor recreation for a few nights of “learning” on their own premises. It gave participants and their clubs A$1,500 kickbacks, bankrolled from state government subsidies worth up to A$5,000 per student, and called them “scholarships”.

In another case, the directors of a soon-to-be-bankrupt college paid their shareholders – including themselves – A$15 million in dividends, on the same day that Australia’s consumer watchdog launched proceedings to recover tens of millions of dollars in improperly obtained student loans. The company subsequently collapsed with unpaid debts of about A$80 million, having swallowed A$222 million in loans.

The case against education

by reestheskin on 27/06/2018

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This is a tweet from Dylan Wiliam — who knows more about education than…..well I am too polite to go there.

“goes straight to the top of my list of studies that I trust but wish were not true. I think it is the most important book on education I have ever read.”

He is referring to Bryan Caplan’s disturbing and excellent book. (The case against education). One comment of mine: not in all possible worlds.

The affair is over

by reestheskin on 26/06/2018

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Did the NHS save your life, or did Doctors and Nurses save your life?

It’s an earnest question. A comment on an excellent FT piece: “Is Britain loving the NHS to death?”

AI winter, revisited

by reestheskin on 25/06/2018

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Hype is not fading, it is cracking.

I like the turn of phrase. It is from a post on the coming AI winter. Invest wisely.

AI winter – Addendum – Piekniewski’s blog

Pave paradise, and put up a parking lot

by reestheskin on 19/06/2018

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A Magic Shield That Lets You Be An Assh*le? – NewCo Shift

The Internet of the 1990s was about choosing your own adventure. The Internet of right now over the last 10 years is about somebody else choosing your adventure for you.

link

“They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum, and they charged the people., a dollar and a half just to see ’em…”

 

It’s (not) Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

by reestheskin on 18/06/2018

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These are a few words from the author of “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray”, but they speak to me at least of an intellectual honesty that is (as the author argues) increasingly rare in the academy.

I am not tenured and I do not have a tenure-track position, so not like someone threatened me. I presently have a temporary contract which will run out next year. What I should be doing right now is applying for faculty positions. Now imagine you work at some institution which has a group in my research area. Everyone is happily producing papers in record numbers, but I go around and say this is a waste of money. Would you give me a job? You probably wouldn’t. I probably wouldn’t give me a job either.

What typically happens when I write about my job situation is that everyone offers me advice. This is very kind, but I assure you I am not writing this because I am asking for help. I will be fine, do not worry about me. Yes, I don’t know what I’ll do next year, but something will come to my mind.

What needs help isn’t me, but academia: The current organization amplifies rather than limits the pressure to work on popular and productive topics. If you want to be part of the solution, the best starting point is to read my book.

A quote from an earlier post I particularly like”

While the book focuses on physics, my aim is much more general. The current situation in the foundations of physics is a vivid example for how science fails to self-correct. The reasons for this failure, as I lay out in the book, are unaddressed social and cognitive biases. But this isn’t a problem specific to the foundations of physics. It’s a problem that befalls all disciplines, just that in my area the prevalence of not-so-scientific thinking is particularly obvious due to the lack of data.

I would make two observations. First, I think science is self-correcting — in the long run, at least. Just not when measured in lifetimes. Second, this takes me back to John Horgan’s book, and in particular how some domains of science are more easily corruptible that others (to be less combative, I might say, ‘less robust’). If you want to understand the modern medical research complex, you have to understand this.

 

The power of genetics

by reestheskin on 17/06/2018

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And no, I wouldn’t have thought the effect was measurable. Wrong again.

From the results presented here it is clear that there has been a slow but steady decline in the frequency of certain variants in the Icelandic gene pool that are associated with educational attainment. It is also clear that education attained does not explain all of the effect. Hence, it seems that the effect is caused by a certain capacity to acquire education that is not always realized.

Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment. PNAS.

Neanderthals would have made good doctors..

by reestheskin on 13/06/2018

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I posted this awhile back, but it still makes me smile. I wrote:

Well my knowledge of Neanderthals is rather limited to the work showing that some of them would likely had red hair. But now a reviewer (Clive Gamble) in Nature of a book on Neanderthals states that

Wynn and Coolidge conclude that today, Neanderthals would be commercial fishermen or mechanics, based on their enormous strength and ability to learn the motor procedures needed. Their capacity for empathy might even have made them competent physicians, the authors say, although a lack of mathematical ability means that they would never have been able to graduate from medical school. Neanderthals would also make excellent army grunts, with their high levels of pain tolerance, and would be good tacticians in small combat units. They would never rewrite the tactical manual — although tearing it up, however thick, would not be a problem.

Link

Images aren’t everything — well, sometimes, maybe they..

by reestheskin on 12/06/2018

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“It’s quite obvious that we should stop training radiologists,” said Geoffrey Hinton, an AI luminary, in 2016. In November Andrew Ng, another superstar researcher, when discussing AI’s ability to diagnose pneumonia from chest X-rays, wondered whether “radiologists should be worried about their jobs”. Given how widely applicable machine learning seems to be, such pronouncements are bound to alarm white-collar workers, from engineers to lawyers.

Economist

The Economist’s view is (rightly) more nuanced than Hinton’s statement on this topic might suggest, but this is real. For my own branch of clinical medicine, too. The interesting thing for those concerned with medical education is whether we will see the equivalent of the Osborne effect (and I don’t mean that Osborne effect).

Profit harvesting mode, without seed.

by reestheskin on 11/06/2018

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In Britain, an Epipen — a simple device that saves lives in the case of severe allergic reactions — costs $70. In France and Germany, roughly the same. In America, it costs $600. But in 2007, it cost in America what it did in Britain, France, and Germany. What happened? A drug company called Mylan bought the rights to it — and then it didn’t just send prices soaring, it uses all kinds of shady tactics to maximize profits from insurance companies and healthcare systems both. How?

Well, what does it cost to “make” an Epipen? Not a whole lot. It’s just a device for delivering a dose of epinephrine. The dose used in it “costs” maybe $1. I put “cost” in quotes because even those numbers are mostly fictional — the marginal cost of producing a basic chemical like this is pennies. In fact, the real problem is that epinpehrine became too cheap to manufacture — so cheap that many producers stopped making it altogether. And so a company like Mylan swooped in, put two and two together: corner the supply, gain a monopoly on the demand side, and hey presto — mega profits.

That’s predatory capitalism — a drug that should cost pennies, if the economy were run a little more sanely, costs hundreds, without any regard for the human possibility that is destroyed. Mylan didn’t create any real value whatsoever, only extracted it, siphoned it off.

Yep. Wealth creators, and wealth aggregators. Profit harvesting mode.

Umair Haque.

Sausages, and ‘unprofitable activities’ (aka students).

by reestheskin on 08/06/2018

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Besides, “university league tables are like sausages: the more you know about how they are made, the less you want to [do with] them”.

“Research was structurally unprofitable even if you scored really well in the research excellence framework,” he claims. “It’s being financed by surpluses on taught master’s. I think that’s fine because part of the reason people came on the taught programmes was because the place was very highly ranked in research, and they thought they were going to be sitting at the feet of the best economists around. Academics had to understand the dynamic and deliver the teaching because that was what was paying for the research. Yet because of the history of underfunding [undergraduate] students [before the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees in 2012], a kind of mood gained ground in British universities that [all] students were an unprofitable activity.

Paris to London: Howard Davies on the finance sector and universities’ common interests | Times Higher Education (THE)

Neoteny as a business model

by reestheskin on 07/06/2018

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Vanessa Sefa, a second-year English and education student, has just completed the course. She wants to be a headteacher, and the course gives her an opportunity to learn about working with other people. “I keep telling my friends to sign up for it. Why wouldn’t you want to do it?” she says.

Ms Sefa says: “It’s almost a matter of co-parenting. Universities are the final step before we enter the real world, and as a parent they should ensure we are equipped for the future.”

Universities step up to demands for leadership training

Casual, and not just the dress code.

by reestheskin on 06/06/2018

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According to the job description for the chair of modern Greek studies posted last month, whoever fills the professorship part-funded by the Greek Laskaridis shipping family will not be paid an “official salary” from the university. Instead, they will receive an unspecified share of €20,000 (£16,730) from the Dutch Society of Modern Greek Studies to carry out numerous academic duties for, on average, one day a week.

The professorship, named after the late shipping heiress Marilena Laskaridis, lasts for five years, during which time the post-holder will be asked to teach, to supervise PhD students and to win research grants.

Despite being based in Amsterdam’s Faculty of Humanities, the professor would not be an employee of the university and would not receive any of the usual benefits enjoyed by other staff.

Link

And the converse?

by reestheskin on 05/06/2018

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It’s curious, the question that comes up without fail, when I’m asked what I do for a day job – how can you defend somebody you know is guilty? But I’ve never once been asked by anyone – how can you prosecute someone you think is innocent?”

Barrister blows whistle on ‘broken legal system brought to its knees by cuts’ | UK news | The Guardian

The cosmos from a wheelchair

by reestheskin on 04/06/2018

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Fine thoughts, with words and a life to match

The departure of scientific reality from what common sense suggests is going on (the sun going round the Earth, for example) no longer threatens political institutions, but it threatens the human psyche just as much as it did in Galileo’s day. Dr Hawking’s South Pole of time was 13.7 billion years in the past—three times as old as the Earth. His mathematics showed that the universe, though finite in time, might be infinite in space.

No philosophy that puts humanity anywhere near the centre of things can cope with facts like these. All that remains is to huddle together in the face of the overwhelmingness of reality. Yet the sight of one huddled man in a wheelchair constantly probing, boldly and even cheekily demonstrating the infinite reach of the human mind, gave people some hope to grasp, as he always wished it would.

The Economist’s obit of Stephen Hawking

The cognitive load of everyday life

by reestheskin on 01/06/2018

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As in:

The day-to-day weary battle to counteract the exaggerations and misinformation that corporations spend so much time creating. Including universities. Those seeking to subvert the intention of regulators, have more money, more time, and abuse the externalities that society has allowed them.