Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Names and Success

The always-interesting Eric Barker has a post claiming that your name certainly influences your success. I want to throw a bit of anecdotal support behind the claim, dating back to my time in elementary school. With a last name beginning with A-B-B-A, I have literally been alphabetically at the top of every class I have ever taken. Classes in public schools are generally seated alphabetically, at least initially, and teachers would often call on presenters, etc., in alphabetical order. Get chosen first enough times for presentations and eventually you get used to being prepared to go first - by about fourth grade, I found myself expecting to turn things in or present projects at the earliest opportunity.

One other note: I believe there are plenty of studies indicating that an A-B-C name helps you advance in academia, because your name is more likely to be cited in group works. A last name like Wilson will generally come at the end and may end up stuck under an "et al" label. Credit can often be distributed unequally alphabetically, and if/when I end up teaching a class I plan to use reverse alphabetical order as much as possible to give everyone a taste of the opposite situations.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Very Good Sentence-Paragraphs

From John Nye:
In a sense, Western markets are like Western medicine: Just as an outbreak of incurable plague would lead to both a renewed search for sound cures and an atavistic appeal to folk remedies, so the Depression stimulated both productive thinking about the sources of business instability as well as destructive appeals to extreme nationalism, protectionism and military aggression.

The whole article is excellent. I'm still pondering this passage. In a plague, medicine drives people to one extreme or the other out of fear: both those who are thinking progressively and those who are appealing to folk remedies do so because they want to stem the plague. Do markets drive people to similar extremes because of fear, or is there a confounding variable in the comparison?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Global Warming & Evolution on the Same Ticket

Apparently, lawmakers in various Midwestern states, such as Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, are trying to link the issues of evolution and climate change together, according to the New York Times. What could these two issues possibly have in common? In this case, a group of people feels that these theories may or may not have factual evidence, and children need to be taught that in public schools.

My initial reaction was, "whatever brings the science of climate change into the classroom is probably a good thing. Making young people aware of the issue can only help, especially since they are overwhelmingly accepting that humans are changing the Earth's climate." But upon further consideration, maybe the best thing we can do is keep these issues out of the classroom. After all, kids can't remain insulated from these issues forever. Once they become curious, they'll seek out information, and honestly that might be better than learning from a teacher who is legally required to give climate change skepticism and intelligent design theories equal justification.

If these lawmakers want to teach more critical thinking and evaluative skills, I'm all for it. But they are openly admitting that they are trying to get a religious agenda exempt from separation of church and state. Students don't need anti-science to be taught alongside science, and trying to teach critical thinking by sanctioning intelligent design and climate change skepticism in the classroom sounds to me like a proposal that requires some critical analysis of its own.

Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty