Freakonomics Podcast: America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up

KQs: What knowledge is worth knowing? What makes knowledge valuable?

I have four teenagers. I’ve spent a lot of time working with them on their math homework. More often than not, after helping them answer whatever questions are assigned that day, I’m left with questions of my own — questions that I can’t find good answers to. Why are we teaching kids these things? Does anyone actually use the math we are teaching in their daily life? Is there any benefit at all to learning this stuff? And are there not more interesting and useful things we could be teaching them? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-math. I use mathematical thinking, statistics, and data analysis constantly, whether I’m writing economics papers, trying to get better at golf, or hoping to pick winners at the race track. But here is the thing: the math tools I actually use, and the math tools I see people around me actually using, seem to have nothing to do with what my kids are learning in school. Which makes me think that we must be able to better for our children when it comes to teaching them math.

https://freakonomics.com/podcast/math-curriculum/

Podcast: What Our Monuments (Don’t) Teach Us About Remembering The Past

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 2.23.35 PM

Monuments don’t mean things on their own. They mean things because we make them mean things. So this Robert E. Lee statue, which I suspect most Charlottesvillians would have walked past and ignored as well, has taken on a new valence. And I think that’s an important reminder. Monuments are not static things that have a single narrative behind them. Monuments are things that we create. Monuments are objects whose meaning and significance we create daily.

 

Freakonomics Podcast: Abortion and Crime, Revisited

The authors of the book, Freakonomics, created some controversy when they laid out the case that the legalization of abortion in the United States in the 1970s was largely responsible for the dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s and beyond. In this podcast, the main author and economist behind the study discusses the fallout and criticism from that case but more importantly discusses several important concepts related to the human sciences and how people acquire knowledge generally.

Some interesting moments:

33 minutes: the challenges for a layperson to learn about social science research and the limitations of media reporting and sensationalism. Also talks about the nature of creating knowledge in economics.
47 minutes: on the challenges of explaining to people what economists do and the validity of their methods despite seeming sophisticated to the nonexpert.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 1.17.55 PM

Lexicon Valley Podcast: Does language affect thought?

This podcast thoroughly explores and discusses this important question. John McWhorter’s work here is very well researched and very current in the way he addresses more current news articles and studies about this question.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 1.20.48 PM

.

Here is another article that spells it out very well from the Linguistic Society of America.

https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/faq-does-language-i-speak-influence-way-i-think

.

Here are other resources tagged Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Should We Remove Monuments of Unpopular Historical Figures?

There has been a lot of debate recently around the presence of the confederate flag at various government buildings along with war memorials to Confederate figures. Below are a couple of recent articles on the topic. These raise issues about how we should treat the past through these memorials and whether we should remove or edit them once the figures, or the ideas they represent, become unpopular.

Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

“Confederate symbols are still celebrated despite the ugly history they symbolize. John Oliver suggests some representations of southern pride that involve less racism and more Stephen Colbert.”

Baltimore City commission recommends removal of two Confederate monuments

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-confederate-monuments-20160114-story.html

New Orleans votes to remove Confederate, Civil War monuments

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/17/us/new-orleans-confederate-monuments-vote/

Richmond mayor vows to confront tributes to Southern Civil War figures

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-the-former-capital-of-the-confederacy-a-new-path-forward-on-monuments/2017/06/22/3133e044-56c3-11e7-a204-ad706461fa4f_story.html?utm_term=.2a1d409eff8b&wpisrc=nl_draw2&wpmm=1

In England, a similar debate is happening over a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

  1. ‘Black lives are cheap at Oxford’: Furor follows decision to keep Cecil Rhodes statue

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/01/29/black-lives-are-cheap-at-oxford-furor-follows-decision-to-keep-cecil-rhodes-statue/?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  2. Over one third of Oxford students want Cecil Rhodes statue removedhttp://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/15/oxford-students-cecil-rhodes-statue-removed?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073
  3. Removing visual reminders of unsavoury history is not the best way to confront the past.http://www.historytoday.com/rupert-fitzsimmons/rhodes-must-not-fall?mc_cid=84d899c964&mc_eid=34e2887073

New York City Just Removed a Statue of Surgeon J. Marion Sims From Central Park. Here’s Why

“With Sims, the controversy is not about the merits of his medical achievements, but how he accomplished them. Though Sims founded New York’s first women’s hospital and innovated new surgical techniques, his success came at the cost of unethical medical treatment of enslaved women in the antebellum era.”

http://time.com/5243443/nyc-statue-marion-sims/

Podcast: The Falling of the Lenins

“The same protests that brought down that Lenin statue eventually brought about a new government in Ukraine, which sought to eliminate all physical reminders of communism and Russia.  But it hasn’t been easy, logistically or politically, because removing these things erases history that is still important to some Ukrainians. Furthermore, communist symbols are very pervasive in the built environment — they can be found on buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.”

http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-falling-of-the-lenins/

Other Posts on this topic

https://toktopics.com/tag/monuments/

 

Shooting Bambi To Save Mother Nature

Interesting topic that lends itself toward a discussion of different ethical approaches. There have been a lot of interesting cases of states and countries raising money for conservation through selling hunting permits. From a consequentialist perspective this seems to be a really ethical approach. Those who believe that hunting is categorically unethical would disagree, regardless of the outcome.

This is a good, brief podcast (10 minutes) which is worth a listen

(other good items related to this topic)

A lot of the funding for conservation in the U.S. has traditionally come from hunting. With the number of hunters is falling in the U.S., finding money to fund wildlife conservation is getting harder.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/01/22/687530630/shooting-bambi-to-save-mother-nature

Planet Money Podcast: What causes what?

Knowledge Question:  What are the limitations of our abilities to reason?

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly, and using a very basic method. This is how we survive. What made that noise? A bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

But sometimes, we use these simple tools to solve complex problems. And so we get things wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/10/17/658119019/episode-453-what-causes-what

What makes knowledge valuable?

Knowledge Questions: How do we determine the value of knowledge? What is the purpose of producing scientific knowledge? To what extent does scientific knowledge have to have practical application for it to be considered “valuable”?

Useless Knowledge Begets New Horizons

Fundamental discoveries don’t always have practical uses, but they have soul-saving applications.

Freedom is the license the roving mind requires to go down any path it chooses and go as far as the paths may lead. This is how fundamental discoveries — a.k.a., “useless knowledge” — are usually made: not so much by hunting for something specific, but by wandering with an interested eye amid the unknown. It’s also how countries attract and cultivate genius — by protecting a space of unlimited intellectual permission, regardless of outcome…

And yet, in being the kind of society that does this kind of thing — that is, the kind that sends probes to the edge of the solar system; underwrites the scientific establishment that knows how to design and deploy these probes; believes in the value of knowledge for its own sake; cultivates habits of truthfulness, openness, collaboration and risk-taking; enlists the public in the experience, and shares the findings with the rest of the world — we also discover the highest use for useless knowledge: Not that it may someday have some life-saving application on earth, though it might, but that it has a soul-saving application in the here and now, reminding us that the human race is not a slave to questions of utility alone.

The question can further be narrowed to ask when governments should fund scientific research.

People who are critical of government spending often find government funded scientific research projects they deem wasteful and publicize them as examples of government waste. Sometimes the discussions are just political theater but the conversation does raise interesting questions. What is the government’s responsibility when it comes to funding science? What criteria should we follow when determining what is worthwhile and what isn’t?

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has on multiple occasions published lists of projects he thought were wasteful but he also published an interesting list of 20 questions he thought should guide our decisions on which projects deserved government spending.

Questions like:

  • Will this research advance science in a meaningful way?
  • Will the findings advance medicine?
  • Will it improve our national defense?

(You can find the full list here)

You can download his whole document here.

Science Magazine Responds

Analysis: Senator’s attack on ‘cheerleading’ study obscures government’s role in training scientists

Below is a link from Science magazine addressing the Senator Flake’s approach and assumptions.

“More importantly, perhaps, how NSF did spend the money illustrates an important point often lost in the sometimes highly partisan debates over government research spending: Most of those dollars go to educate the next generation of scientists. These students are trained in many disciplines and work on a wide array of projects—some of which might sound dubious to politicians. After graduation they use their knowledge to bolster the U.S. economy, improve public health, protect the nation from its enemies, and maintain U.S. global leadership in science.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/analysis-senator-s-attack-cheerleading-study-obscures-government-s-role-training

Planet Money Podcast: Shrimp Fight Club

These issues were discussed on a Planet Money Podcast which was adapted from another podcast Undiscovered.

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/06/21/533840751/episode-779-shrimp-fight-club

 

Podcast: More Creative Historical Thinking

Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week.

You don’t have a weaker understanding by having an additional explanation, every additional explanation that you have makes the painting come more alive and stronger. That history described and explained from different perspectives is history better understood. And so, a historical pluralist like myself would say there is not one objective story to be told, there’s true stories and false stories based on correspondence theory. But we can look at any event and tell many different stories depending on what it is, that we wanna pull out there what do we wanna highlight what is important to us because history is always written from the perspective of the historian.

https://www.libertarianism.org/podcasts/liberty-chronicles/more-creative-historical-thinking

How do you communicate danger to people 10,000 years into the future?

lomberg-comic

In this 99 percent invisible podcast and accompanying article, the challenges of communicating the hazards of materials that will be radioactive for the next 10,000 years are discussed. This is an interesting exercise in thinking about how to communicate the the most “universal” way possible.

 

This WIPP site is going to be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, though this panel was only responsible for keeping this place sufficiently marked for humans for the next 10,000 years—thinking beyond that timeframe was thought to be impossible.

Though 10,000 years in the future is still fairly inconceivable. 10,000 years ago, the biggest new technology spreading across the planet was farming. Culturally, we share almost nothing with people alive back then. Who knows the world will look like 10,000 years from now?

The panel began by thinking about language. But language, like radioactive materials, has a half life. Beowulf, from only 1,000 years ago, is incomprehensible today.

The panel also considered symbols, which seemed like they might be more universal. A smiley face seems to have a global appeal. And face logos have already been used as warnings.

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/ten-thousand-years/