About this site

This is a site where I post articles, videos, and various resources relevant to a Theory of Knowledge teacher or student. You can find handouts, activities, and day to day plans on the resources for the TOK class page.

The folder linked above lists the daily lessons chronologically. For the individual articles and resources linked below, there is no particular order but you can search by relevant Area of Knowledge or Way of Knowing by navigating the tabs above.

This site is currently configured for the “old” TOK course whose last assessment is 2021. Here is what I have gathered about the new course.

Please contact me by email if you have any questions.

TOKTopics[at]gmail.com

Against Scientific Gatekeeping

Science should be a profession, not a priesthood.

Most people prefer experts, of course, especially when it comes to health care. As a surgeon myself, I can hardly object to that tendency. But a problem arises when some of those experts exert outsized influence over the opinions of other experts and thereby establish an orthodoxy enforced by a priesthood. If anyone, expert or otherwise, questions the orthodoxy, they commit heresy. The result is groupthink, which undermines the scientific process.

https://reason.com/2022/04/03/against-scientific-gatekeeping/

Online activists are doxxing Ottawa’s anti-vax protesters

Experts warn this is blurring the line between activism and vigilantism.

This new form of online activism is making some people do things they wouldn’t normally do, she adds, and many of those involved may not realize in the moment of their anger that this behavior is not only unethical but illegal.

“What is the difference between public shaming and vigilantism?” she asks. “And what’s the difference between ‘good’ vigilantism and ‘bad’ vigilantism?”

https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/11/1045281/ottawa-antivax-protests-doxxing

Seeing the Whole Earth from Space Changed Everything

Fascinating reflections on the power of imagery to change our consciousness about ourselves.

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available…a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.“ — Astronomer Fred Hoyle, 01948

“A photograph would do it — a color photograph from space of the earth,” Brand said. “There it would be for all to see, the earth complete, tiny, adrift, and no one would ever perceive things the same way.” -Stewart Brand

“Here we came all this way to the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth. “— Astronaut Bill Anders

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’” — Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

Seeing the Whole Earth from Space Changed Everything

Prenatal Test False Positives: Bayes’ rule is still very, very important

Posted here are a NYT Article about genetic testing companies and the value of the results they provide along with an additional explanation of the math behind the issues.

Altogether, there are 415 positive tests: the 15 true positives, and 400 false positives. So if you get a positive test result, the chance that the fetus is actually affected is about 3.6%.

On its face, this sounds like a really good test! It detects 75% of cases, with only a 0.5% false positive rate. That seems like it should be helpful. 

https://emilyoster.substack.com/p/prenatal-test-false-positives

Further discussion from this author about Bayes rule

https://emilyoster.substack.com/p/bayes-rule-is-my-faves-rule

‘An American Tradition’: Lessons from a year covering conspiracy theories

“Our brains are not built for the truth,” David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told me earlier this year. “Our brains weren’t even built to read. Our brains weren’t. Evolution is a very slow process. It takes many, many, many, many, many generations. And the change in technology and particularly in information is so rapid that there’s no way for evolution to keep up.”…

We choose who to believe, we choose who to trust, often before we realize we are doing it. It is no wonder our disinformation battles can feel so personal, especially within families.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/12/29/american-conspiracy-theories-essay/

In a Nonbinary Pronoun, France Sees a U.S. Attack on the Republic

When a French dictionary included the gender-nonspecific “iel” for the first time, a virulent reaction erupted over “wokisme” exported from American universities.

Charles Bimbenet, its director-general, posted a statement rejecting the minister’s charge of militancy. “The mission of the Robert is to observe the evolution of a French language that is in motion and diverse, and take account of that,” he wrote. “To define the words that describe the world is to aid better comprehension of it.”

France, a country where it is illegal for the state to compile racial statistics, is particularly on edge over the rise of American gender and race politics. President Emmanuel Macron has warned that “certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States” may be a threat. Mr. Blanquer has identified “an intellectual matrix” in American universities bent on undermining a supposedly colorblind French society of equal men and women through the promotion of identity-based victimhood.

Partisan Science in America

Scientists corrode public trust when they pretend to have authority on social and political matters.

Science operates by a process of criticism. Scientists don’t experience divine revelations, they propose hypotheses that they and others test. This rigorous process of testing gives science the persuasiveness that mere journalism lacks. If a scientific periodical expels editors or peer reviewers because they don’t accept some prevailing theory, that process has been short-circuited. Those who call for such expulsions have missed the whole point of how science works. They are the true deniers, far more dangerous to science than a religious fundamentalist who believes the world is 6,000 years old.

To doubt a scientist is not to doubt science. Quite the contrary, personal authority is precisely what science dispenses with, as much as possible…

https://www.wsj.com/articles/partisan-science-antiscience-facts-misrepresentation-fauci-lancet-lab-leak-11633960740?mod=opinion_lead_pos6

‘Just Trust the Experts,’ We’re Told. We Shouldn’t.

What Afghanistan shows is that we need a new definition of expertise, one that relies more on proven track records and healthy cognitive habits, and less on credentials and the narrow forms of knowledge that are too often rewarded. In an era of populism and declining trust in institutions, such a project is necessary to put expertise on a stronger footing.

Tetlock and the Taliban


How a humiliating military loss proves that so much of our so-called “expertise” is fake, and the case against specialization and intellectual diversity

The American-led coalition had countless experts with backgrounds pertaining to every part of the mission on their side: people who had done their dissertations on topics like state building, terrorism, military-civilian relations, and gender in the military…Meanwhile, the Taliban did not have a Western PhD among them.

https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/tetlock-and-the-taliban

How to Fix Our Broken Relationship With COVID Math

Four rules to improve reporting about risk.

Throughout the pandemic, Americans have grappled with, and largely failed to make sense of, COVID-19 statistics. One major reason for this failure is that the public has found itself at the mercy of commentators who simultaneously report and interpret the math for them. Too often, these interpretations are skewed to support a narrative that resonates with their audiences, either painting a drastic scenario about the risks (school is dangerous for children!) or one that minimizes these same risks (COVID-19 is just another flu!).

It is essential that we use better, more thoughtful COVID-19 math so we can get an accurate idea of the real risks of COVID-19, and of the potential downsides of interventions. 

https://www.persuasion.community/p/how-to-fix-our-broken-relationship?

A Visual Introduction to the Dwarf Planets in our Solar System

These qualities have challenged the scientific view of Pluto’s status as a planet for years. It wasn’t until the discovery of Eris in 2005, one of many increasingly identified trans-Neptunian objects (objects beyond the planet Neptune), that the International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined criteria for classifying planets.

With Eris and other trans-Neptunian objects sharing similar characteristics with Pluto, the definition for dwarf planets was created, and Pluto got downgraded in 2006.

So what are dwarf planets, how do they differ from “true” planets and what are their characteristics?