In an ideal world, everyone would always do everything perfectly. However, it’s not an ideal world.
So what can you do when you’re trying to make sense of a problem where there’s conflicting evidence, and you don’t have time to work through all the relevant information?
One approach is simply to decide what your conclusion is going to be, and then to ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit. This is not terribly moral or advisable.
Another is to do a meta-analysis, to assess the quality of the evidence as a whole. This sounds impressive; it also sounds like hard work, which it is, if you do a full-scale proper meta-analysis. Most academic researchers therefore use two types of meta-analysis.
The first is the quick and dirty type, which normally gives you a pretty good idea of whether the topic is worth spending your time on.
The second is the proper type, which is time-consuming, and requires sophisticated knowledge of research methods, including statistics.
This article, as the title subtly implies, is about the quick and dirty approach. It’s a flawed, imperfect approach, but it’s a good starting point in a flawed, imperfect world.
Today’s post shows a little-known Norwegian activity: Hunting the stuffed moose.
Yes, it’s a real, old, photo. Yes, that really is what the caption for the photo said. No, I don’t know the background story. Sometimes, Lovecraft was right about there being things that human minds were never meant to know…
The reasons for this answer take us through the literature on expertise, and through some little-known byways of history, including Caesar shouting “Squirrel!” and the strange case of the mesmerised trees.
Those byways should be a lot better known, because they have deep implications for education policy in theory and practice. This article unpacks the issues involved, and some of the implications.
Caesar, a squirrel, a tree, and MesmerImages from Wikipedia and Wikimedia – details at the end of this article
Just in case the earlier article about Caesar on the unicorn and Roosevelt on the moose left you hungry for more, here’s Herodotus demonstrating that his mastery of colourful travel writing is on a level that can only be matched by Jennifer Lawrence’s mastery of photobombing. And of tripping over at award ceremonies. And of devastating one-liners…
Anyway, here’s Herodotus, writing about Egyptian wildlife.
Here’s Caesar writing about wildlife again. By way of a change, this description isn’t particularly weird – there are no elks without knee joints, and no unicorns. It’s about the aurochs, a now-extinct form of wild ox.
XXVIII.-There is a third kind, consisting of those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this kind of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise. But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments.
They’re a good example of the problems that arise when someone tries to cram a new idea into an old pigeonhole. A lot of the problems in current debates, such as the debate about the future of education, arise from that type of problem.
There’s an old joke in the physical sciences, often attributed to Einstein, that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler. The converse is that a model should be as complex as necessary, but no more complex.
In this article, I’ll discuss what the most useful level of complexity might be for education theories.
Clarity emerging from the fog: Cropped image from wikimedia