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

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?

Meet Josiah Zayner, America’s Most Censored Person

Scientist Josiah Zayner is brilliant, daring, and may have incurred the wrath of more internet platforms than any person alive. Is America’s most interesting person also its most censored?

A larger question has to do with an issue increasingly on the minds of people of all political persuasions in America. Who should have access to knowledge? Should things that are true be withheld from people for their own good? A growing movement of what ABC correspondent Jon Karl described as “serious people” has decided that, yes, Americans are generally too stupid to be trusted with knowledge about everything from politics to science, that the dangers of allowing the moron hordes access to the fire of Prometheus are too great.

https://taibbi.substack.com/p/meet-josiah-zayner-americas-most

What Science Is, and How and Why It Works

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy.

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E = mc²; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.

Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions.

https://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/commentary/2016-01-23-what-science-is.php

The Value of Truth

At a time of anxiety about fake news and conspiracy theories, philosophy can contribute to our most urgent cultural and political questions about how we come to believe what we think we know.

Democracies are especially vulnerable to epistemic threats because in needing the deliberative participation of their citizens, they must place a special value on truth….Indeed, a striking feature of our current political landscape is that we disagree not just over values (which is healthy in a democracy), and not just over facts (which is inevitable), but over our very standards for determining what the facts are. Call this knowledge polarization, or polarization over who knows—which experts to trust, and what is rational and what isn’t.

https://bostonreview.net/philosophy-religion/michael-patrick-lynch-value-truth