Quote

Tim Wu: ‘The internet is like the classic story of the party that went sour’

“Four decades ago The City University of New York charged no tuition fees, and all its students were taught by full-time staff. Today, fees cover half of all teaching costs and half of professors are part-timers.”

Danny Dorling in the THE, reviewing Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education By Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier

Physics works!

by reestheskin on 04/01/2017

Comments are disabled

“Throughout her career, Gonzalez has done “a bit of everything” at LIGO, she says. For a while, she took on the crucial task of diagnosing the performance of the interferometers to make sure that they achieved unparalleled sensitivity — which is now enough to detect length changes in the 4-kilometre-long arms of the interferometers to within one part in 1021, roughly equivalent to the width of DNA compared with the orbit of Saturn. “

It ain’t biology, then. Nature

Like bank robbers of old, investors turn to students “because that is where the money is”.

Danny Dorling in the THE, reviewing Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education By Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier

A New Year’s resolution (to avoid)

by reestheskin on 02/01/2017

Comments are disabled

“…professors fixated on crawling alone the frontiers of knowledge with a magnifying glass.”

Quoted in the Economist 10/12/2011

2017: the importance of being harmless and irrelevant

by reestheskin on 01/01/2017

Comments are disabled

Geoffrey Boulton (University of Edinburgh) in, “What are Universities for?”

A university that moulds itself only to present demands is one that is not listening to its historians. Today’s preoccupations are inevitably myopic, often ephemeral, giving little thought for tomorrow. History is at its most illuminating when written with the full consciousness of what people wrongly expected to happen. Even in the domain of technology, future developments only a few years away have been shrouded from contemporary eyes. Many, possibly most, have arisen unexpectedly from research with other objectives, and assessments of technological potential have invariably missed the mark.

Thirty years ago, scientists who studied climate change, and I am one of them, tended to have long hair and very colourful socks. We were regarded as harmless but irrelevant. But the serendipitous investment in their work revealed processes that we now recognise as threatening the future of human society, and the successors to those scientists are playing a crucial role in assessing how we need to adapt.

A sensible way to start the year.

(The ever insightful) Gregory Clark, an economist at the University of California, Davis, finds that students with Norman surnames from Domesday are still over-represented at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Economist.

“I think the dilemma Brexit poses for Scotland is pretty intolerable,” he says. “If Scotland has to clean out all its universities of European citizens there are really horrible things that are going to happen.”

The economist, Angus Deaton, in the FT

Nice turn of phrase that seems apt way beyond its intended target, attributed to the physicist, John Stewart Bell (NYRB 10/11/2016).

” I hesitated to think it might be wrong, but I knew it was rotten”

Yesterday’s ideas

by reestheskin on 16/11/2016

Comments are disabled

There are lots of downsides to technology making it harder for some things to be forgotten. But lots of advantages too. I use a simple diarying App that is available on mobile and Mac, Day One.

One of its nice features is that gives you the option to see comments you have made on the same date in previous years. Now, like many people I tend to often agree with myself — at least over the short term— but it is fun to read earlier musings and wonder if the nuance needs changing, but also to see the same underlying memes appearing again and again. Often, I am still in agreement, with my earlier comments. Sometimes not. Here is one from three years ago.

On the usually sound principle that there is nothing in UK medicine that can’t be made worse by the involvement of the General Medical Council

Nigel Hawkes in BMJ,10 November 2012

A guide for our times

by reestheskin on 03/11/2016

Comments are disabled

“It is a variant of the (at present unfashionable) historical method. It consists, simply, in trying to find out what other people have thought and said about the problem in hand: why they had to face it: how they formulated it: how they tried to solve it. This seems to me important because it is part of the general method of rational discussion. If we ignore what other people are thinking, or have thought in the past, then rational discussion must come to an end, though each of us may go on happily talking to himself.” from “The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)” by Karl Popper

In your final year, you get to crack eggs

by reestheskin on 31/10/2016

Comments are disabled

“Imagine if we taught baseball the way we teach science. Until they were twelve, children would read about baseball technique and history, and occasionally hear inspirational stories of the great baseball players. They would fill out quizzes about baseball rules. College undergraduates might be allowed, under strict supervision, to reproduce famous historic baseball plays. But only in the second or third year of graduate school, would they, at last, actually get to play a game. If we taught baseball this way, we might expect about the same degree of success in the Little League World Series that we currently see in our children’s science scores.”

Alison Gopnik

‘You Americans have the best high school education in the world. What a pity you have to go to college to get it.’ In Alan Kay

We don’t need no teachers

by reestheskin on 24/10/2016

Comments are disabled

‘People pay a lot for a great education now, but you can become expert level on most things by looking at your phone.’

Sam Altman quoted in the New Yorker

It is just nice to see it in black and white. So simple. BTW, the quote came via the wiser (not ‘smarter’) Nick Carr, who commented: ‘By “a really good life,” Altman means a virtual reality headset and an opioid prescription’.

“The immune system is unknowable, dynamic, complicated, and it always surprises you.” Stephen Deeks quoted in Science. And yet, useful discoveries are made, and have been made for a long time.

“If we want our health care practitioners to be more humanistic, perhaps we should begin by treating them as human beings.” Sarab Sodhi Academic Medicine

Marvin Minsky once quipped “Every educational reform is doomed to succeed”. He meant “with some students”.

Alan Kay

Failing again. Improved possibilities.

by reestheskin on 04/10/2016

Comments are disabled

I have always thought two Irish writers great guides to life: Samuel Becket, and Brian O’Nolan (aka Brian Ó Nualláin, Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen ). Becket’s line, in a postcard of the lithograph by Tom Phillips of him, hangs on my wall: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” But now I have come across something more fitting for my state, and with optimism:

“I work on, with failing mind, in other words, improved possibilities.”

Review of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume IV, in the FT.

‘Innovative’ educational practice is more fashion-driven than those who attend the catwalks are.

The NHS could then become a threadbare charity, available to avoid the embarrassment of visible untreated illness. Julian Tudor Hart  BMJ 2016:354;i4934

Use of the term world-class. Usually means one of the following: you are lazy, corrupt, or deluded. Rarely, it means something else that in almost all instances does not need saying. 

“Physicists studying sport have established that many fieldsmen are very good at catching balls, but bad at answering the question: “Where in the park will the ball land?” Good players don’t forecast the future, but adapt to it. That is the origin of the saying “keep your eye on the ball”.
As complex systems go, the interaction between the ball in flight and the moving fieldsman is still relatively simple. In principle, most of the knowledge needed to compute trajectories and devise an optimal strategy is available: we just don’t have the instruments or the time for analysis and computation. More often, the relevant information is not even potentially knowable. The skill of the sports player is not the result of superior knowledge of the future, but of an ability to employ and execute good strategies for making decisions in a complex and changing world. The same qualities are characteristic of the successful executive. Managers who know the future are more often dangerous fools than great visionaries.”

I think you could say the same about education and medicine: you can say less than you know.

John Kay

A sceptic’s weekend read

by reestheskin on 20/08/2016

Comments are disabled

A nice dose of uncommon  common sense:

“The world of learning is a failure factory, not in the positive sense of learning from failure, second chances and progress but one of selection, road blocks, disappointment, discouragement and real failure. As professionals, we seem to have lost our critical faculties, stuck in a time warp of old theory and models that were never verified in the first place; lectures, hands-up anyone, MaslowMyers-BriggsLearning StylesPiagetNLP, Kirkpatrick. This is not good enough. It introduces certainty where there is nothing but ideological belief and unverified theory and practice. We need to think critically and see failure as part of what it is to learn.”

Donald Clark Plan B

“It’s no accident that only 11% of the US workforce is passionate about their work. This is a sign of great success. This is exactly what these institutions were designed to do – suppress passion. It starts with our schools that seek to prepare us for all the other institutional environments seeking people who can reliably follow instructions and execute in a predictable manner. Think of our current institutions as powerful chisels, relentlessly chipping away at our edges until we fit neatly into the tightly defined roles that our institutions have create.

John Hagel

Somebody’s going to get paid less.

by reestheskin on 13/08/2016

Comments are disabled

“If we’re really going to save money in health care, it means that somebody’s going to get paid less,”

Of course, this is not always true, but just in the same way that you should never say never in medicine.
Austin Frakt, quoted in the Boston Globe

The most important thing in learning is copying how other people think. I don’t think learning by doing really gets one to emulate how other people think. Marvin Minksy

‘The Socratic slogan: “If you understand it, you can explain it’, should be reversed: Anyone who thinks he can fully explain his skill, does not have expert understanding’. Hubert Dreyfus.

 

Kissengeritis

by reestheskin on 23/07/2016

Comments are disabled

Kevin O’Rourke refers to the “cocooned elites in Brussels”, which gets to the heart of the matter. The dignity of office can be a terrible thing for intellectual clarity: you can spend years standing behind a lectern or sitting around a conference table drinking bottled water, delivering the same sententious remarks again and again, and never have anyone point out how utterly wrong you have been at every stage of the game. Those of us on the outside need to do whatever we can to break through that cocoon — and ridicule is surely one useful technique.”

This is not confined to Brussels. I seemed to remember some comment about the dangers of academics suffering ‘Kissengeritis’ — they end up a hopeless amalgam of academic and politician. The antithesis of science is not art, but politics. Just look at all these ‘professors’ peddling NHS nonsense and defending the indefensible.

Paul Krugman: Of cockroaches and commissioners

‘This makes clear that one consequence (and one suspects one purpose) of TEF is to facilitate the division into institutional sheep and goats, followed by starvation of the goats.’

Dorothy Bishop

Minute particulars

by reestheskin on 15/07/2016

Comments are disabled

“I have never kept count of the many inventions I made but it must run into the hundreds. Most of them were trivial, such as a wax pencil that would write clearly on cold wet glassware straight from a refrigerator. It was published as one of my first letters to Nature in 1945.”

A Rough Ride to the Future” by James Lovelock.  Blake said it: it is all about ‘minute particulars’. Of a piece.