Friday, June 21, 2013

Weekend Reading: The Hodge-Podge Edition

I've got a hodge-podge of links for you this weekend, and a lingering cold that has me coughing and complaining a lot. So I'll spare you the chit chat and get straight to the links!

First, Boing Boing led me to this really nice essay by Hillary Rosner about the overwhelming effects of all the advice people give pregnant women. Rosner is a science journalist, and was surprised by how overwhelmed she felt... but it also gave her some new insights:

"Pregnancy has allowed me for the first time to understand how hard it is to tell good information from bad. As a science journalist, I make my living by being able to decipher the two, but all these warnings bewilder me. As a result, I feel like I can see a bit more clearly how misinformation can become epidemic, leading to collective panic and seriously bad policy making."

Next, staying on the parenting theme, I found a good article via @ScienceofMom, with ideas for how to ask whether their are guns in the home when your kid is heading off for a play date. Pumpkin is just now reaching the age of "drop off" play dates, so we'll need to start asking about this. I also liked @DrRachelF''s suggestion for how to ask the question:

 I have no idea how I came across this book review that hints at why education research doesn't have more influence on education policy, but it is interesting.

The Harvard Business Review had a good but rather depressing article about how companies really aren't equal opportunity employers.

Reading that reminded me of this excellent Ta-Nehisi Coates post about why we can't ignore race and just look at socioeconomic class.

"When you hear people claiming that "class" can somehow account for the damage of white supremacy, or making spurious comparisons between Appalachia and Harlem,  you should be skeptical. I have made those comparisons. But learning is the entire point of researching, writing, and reporting. I am learning that you can not simply wish the past away."

He cites a lot of research explaining why you should be skeptical. It is a good read.

I always like to end on a happy note, so- say hello to Single Mom Postdoc, a new scientist and mother who blogs! If you go and say hello you will be one up on me- the cold and pile up of deadlines at work have seriously cut into my blog commenting- but you should do it, anyway. Her first post is about being a single mom in academia, and is very good.

Happy weekend, everyone!


  1. Anonymous4:12 AM

    Huh, I thought the reason a lot of education research was ignored is because it's just BAD. Uses ginormous words to say smaller things, confuses correlation with causation, and comes to exactly the opposite conclusion every 10-20 years on any topic. When my students are assigned to bring in examples of article doing things badly for my stats classes a good portion of these articles are education. (The remainder are health.)

    On top of that, I was under the impression that schools did use the bad research and did follow trends.

    1. Anonymous5:26 AM

      Also: in a year or two or more we'll have to think about guns. I think we'll ask, "if you have any guns, are they locked in a safe?"

      One of our secretaries just had her house robbed and the thieves took a whole bunch of guns.

    2. I like your gun question formulation.

      I haven't gone searching for education research, but I wonder if there are some really good researchers who are disgusted by the fluff that passes as research from some people?

      I also wonder if it is a bit like office design- there are external pressures (usually money related) that people have to satisfy so they find rationalizations for what they do to satisfy them. It has become accepted wisdom that open plan offices increase collaboration. But I can find no research to support that. Susan Cain's "Quiet" has a pretty good take down of the idea.

    3. Anonymous9:05 AM

      Interestingly, the open plan school was very popular in the 1970s, adopted wholesale. Didn't work. Very expensive to renovate (we went to school in buildings that had all sorts of bizarre baffles and separators because putting in walls is expensive).

      Yes, there are really good researchers of education. Most of them don't have education degrees. Some of them are in female-dominated fields like Psychology or Sociology. Some are Economists. And yes, (of the ones I know) they're disgusted by the education field and what passes as research.

    4. Ah yes, the open plan schools. One of the schools we looked at when we were checking out kindergartens was open plan. Silly. I was happy that the ones we ended up considering were all built in the 50s! They still group kids' desks in little pods facing each other. Pumpkin found that so distracting that she eventually asked if she could sit at a table in the back. Luckily, her teacher agreed.

  2. I liked Rosner's article, but wish it had delved in a little deeper. She raises an intriguing point, and I think we would all do well to examine more thoughtfully people we castigate as "science deniers," and where our reactions come from, how to look at the issues from new perspectives, and provide solutions. I'm thinking of climate denying and resistance to vaccination because they are often conflated. Rosner doesn't mention a lot of the advice given to pregnant women that is based on very little evidence, even though your doctor repeats it (take prenatal vitamins or else something dire will happen! except no one in Europe takes a prenatal and everyone is fine. Don't have even one drink! Or Caffeine! etc). Sometimes people stop listening to warnings in part because they are overwhelmed by advice that is either insufficiently supported by scientific evidence (though it is presented as though it is) or completely unsupported by it. "Science" can be just as magical as magic in our society (I mean, the way it is discussed/implemented in popular culture). Realizing that can also result in greater understanding of those who deny it.

    1. I have somewhere, buried on my desk, a Nature short review of research on how group identity influences beliefs, and how people will adopt new beliefs from people they consider in their group, but reject those same beliefs from people they consider as opposed to them on other issues. It was interesting. Too bad I can't find it right now....


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