All entries for December 2008

December 23, 2008

Bad science or bad journalism

Writing about web page

I found this through an RSS feed from a colleague’s blog .. headline “Would you Adam and Eve it? Quarter of science teachers would teach creationism” with the tagline
• 29% say science classes should include theory
• Poll supports views of former education head

That’s then generated responses from Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins such as “I find this very depressing” and “If 29% of science teachers really think creationism should be taught as a valid alternative to evolution, we have a national disgrace on our hands.”

Too right, education is about lifting up people’s minds, not filling them with crap. However, reading further on in the piece, the Grauniad supplies this additional piece of information …

“that only 26% of all teachers and 46% of science specialists agree with Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of the University of Durham, who is quoted as saying “the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense”.”

in other words (doing the maths) that only leaves 3% treating it as a valid alternative.

Even the statements that Reiss made (the former education head) that they’re said to support aren’t controversial – those were that while creationism had no scientific basis, science teachers risked alienating pupils who believed in the idea by dismissing it out of hand. “They should take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis,” – in other words treating the believers with respect (but not the belief). How else are you going to deprogramme them?

The reporter James Randerson is the Grauniad’s Science Correspondent and makes the mistake of referring to creationism as a theory – as opposed to something someone made up off the top of their head. He should really know the difference. But then he doesn’t seem to know the difference between news and something he just made up off the top of his head.

December 09, 2008

I see no purple light crashing out of you

Writing about web page

Saw this:

Rather than using avatars, virtual London is turning to shards of coloured light.

“If you give people a physical presence in a world, you are asking them to make some very big statements on day one. I don’t really want to do that. I don’t really want to dress up to go to the shops.

“I want to feel I’m there, not that’s I’m creating an alternative persona to inhabit there,” said Mr Wrottesley.

Interesting — demonstrates perfectly the difference between presence and embodiment in virtual worlds – and also how wrong some people can get it. Yes – you have to make some very big statements (although you can change them later) that’s exactly what people want to do. There’s no point making a virtual London that lots of people can access at the same time, if you can’t meet other people there and represent yourself there. You might as well just have a large 3D model to look round.

December 05, 2008

"Thought" for the day 4.12.08

Frequently when listening to the Today programme’s thought for the day, I’m struck by how rarely the item actually contains anything resembling thought – it usually just contains the re-hash of some half-baked ramblings, and an enormous mismatch between the speaker’s statements, their understanding of themselves and any sort of self-awareness.

Yesterday’s was one. Mona Siddiqui on Second Life. Now I’m not going to construct any knee-jerk defence of Second Life, it has its faults, and has been prone to hype, and a lot of weird activity does take place in there. However, in her item Mona makes some statements that indicate she hasnt understood what’s going on there very well. “For me these sites can never replace the highs and lows of real human relationships”. OK brownie points for starting the sentence with “for me” but what she’s forgetting is that the relationships people have virtually are real human relationships, even if they’re taking place in a virtual world. Again “escapism flourishes by taking us away from what is important, from the needs and desires of those on whom we depend and who depend on us”. Well sure, too much escapism might be a problem, but spending time online is spending time with the needs and desires of those on whom we depend and who depend on us. Just because they’re not in the same room doesn’t mean that those people aren’t forming a real connection with us. Sure, I feel there might be a problem with someone who has a partner in the real world, and yet spends hours playing WoW or in SL, but then, it would be just as problematic if they were watching TV or reading a book rather than connecting with the people (we assume) they’ve made some sort of commitment to. For anyone living on their own though, what’s the problem.

And of course, MS believes in God, (otherwise she wouldn’t get a slot on Thought for the Day) and what can be more escapist than that? I don’t have a problem with people having a religion (I’m not a fundamentalist atheist) but it is hypocritical for someone to criticise others for not living in the real world if they’re living in a fantasy world where they like to pretend there’s a big beardy bloke in the sky making things happen. At least the people who spend 40 hours a month online (which is pretty much everyone I know) spend the rest of their time with reality. When can Mona Siddiqui ever say that she’s engaging with the here and now, not losing her senses into a virtual existence? Which really is more of a fantasy existence?

Again, no criticism of anyone who wants to escape into religious belief if that’s what you want to do, but it then means you’re not in a position to criticise someone else for being escapist if they live in a virtual world for some of their time.

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