Qualified win

“Free” Schools won’t get public money to teach creationism. A rare bit of good news in UK politics, which seems determined to outdo its own Worst News record on a daily basis.

“Free” schools are a rubbish idea for so many reasons that adding creationism into the mix was almost superfluous. But, nevertheless, it was in there:

Several creationist groups have expressed an interest in opening schools in towns and cities across England, including Bedford, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham. Critics say they seek to promote creationism, or the doctrine of “intelligent design”, as a scientific theory rather than as a myth or metaphor.(from the Guardian)

I’m not too sure about the wording of the exclusion, though:

Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are “evidence-based views or theories” that run “contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations”.

This seems to spread the banned-ideas disturbingly wider than stopping science lessons becoming an outpost of bible study. It implies that “non-evidence-based” religious nonsense is fine – but, as “non-evidence-based” pretty well defines creationism, surely it will be allowed.

Maybe I’m being too bloody literal, assuming that words are supposed to have a meaning. Charitably, maybe it’s just that officials at the DofE aren’t allowed to release any document that doesn’t have the words “evidence-based” in it, even if they have only the vaguest idea what it means.

I’ll err on the side of optimism and assume that it won’t mean that schools can’t debate ideas that challenge “established” ideas about history and science, as, surely, that process would define a real education….

Classroom CCTV

An interesting Guardian post by school students who found their classroom was covered by 4 cameras and sound recording equipment.

Fishoil Scam hits news eventually

Well, you almost heard it here first. In an unusual turn of events, the always educational Ben Goldacre has managed to scoop the BBC with the ridicule of the fish oil “trial” in Durham.

On the BBC news website, there is an article titled “Fish oil brain study laughable” (yeah, great headline…) that sort of breaks the story. Interestingly, in typical BBC fashion, they are very reluctant to actually say anything really negative. As a result we get things like:

Durham County Council said children who took the Omega-3 supplements during the school year performed better in exams.
It claimed out of 3,000 students who took part, almost a third showed significant improvements in GCSEs.
Dr Ben Goldacre said it was bad science because there was no separate study of pupils not taking fish oil. The council admits the trial was not definitive.

Now that is so wet as to be almost pointless. It barely qualifies for news when you see the real idiocy that has taken place in the Durham County Council offices.

Keen to show both sides of an argument, the BBC further waters down its news with:

However Dr Goldacre added that just because the study was poorly conducted, that did not mean there was no benefit to taking fish oil supplements.
“I do think it’s possible that fish oils might be helpful to improve school performance in children.”

What? Seriously? I would love to find the citation for that but in my short search now, I have failed. If you find it please let me know.

As the BBC seems so reluctant, I will give you some of Ben Goldacre’s quotes:

Dave Ford [promoter] said he knew the results would be positive before it even began. I’m not surprised: this “trial” was flawed by design from the outset.

Obviously the BBC dont want to know about this bit of bad PR for Durham. How about this even more relevant one:

This is appalling. 2,168 of their subjects dropped out [leaving 832] of the trial. They must count these people in the results. It is incompetent not to do so. This makes the rest of their claimed results even more meaningless.

Of the remaining 832, 80% are claimed to have done better than some unknown benchmark and this is heralded as a success…  Why on earth did the BBC decide to ignore that blinder?

Worse still, the BBC tries to explain the study off as if it was legitimate after all with this: [emphasis mine]

Dave Ford, from the council’s children and young people’s services department, carried out the initiative with the help of an educational psychologist.
They matched students who showed improved results to those, of similar abilities and backgrounds, who did not take the tablets.
However, the council explained that there was no controlled study of those children who were not given supplements as part of the study, which took place in the school year ending in summer 2007.
Mr Ford said: “This study has produced some interesting and possibly exciting issues that could be the basis for future scientific trials.
“There seem to be some very clear indications that pupils taking the supplement do significantly better.”

Mr Ford added that the council made no claim the results of its GCSE study could be attributed to Omega-3 supplements alone.

By Odin that is infuriating. It is complete nonsense. The BBC are not doing a service by showing both sides of an argument (sound familiar?). They are not providing the UK public with news by minimising Ben Goldacre’s quotes and emphasisng the woo.

This is a hideous combination of poor journalism and very bad science.

BBC – Shame on you.

Down Wiv Da Kidz Part 2

Previously I have commented on how the “youth” of today are pretty much down trodden by adults and today there has been another screaming example of it.

Today is the day school children learn their “A” level results (final school exams) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The A level exam is the culmination of 13 years schooling and decides what (if any) university education the person can begin. The exams are taken in around 3 subjects and follow two years of dedicated study. In a nutshell, they are very important for the children who sit them.

Set against this, is the news headline “A level pass and A grades up” in which the BBC leads with:

There has been another increase in the A-level pass rate and the proportion of entries awarded the top A grade.

This has set the talking heads on various news outlets raging. There is, weirdly, outrage that a higher percentage of people who have sat A levels have passed this year than last year, and this pattern has (apparently) been the case for the last two decades. If you listened to some of the radio news programmes today you would think this was the end of the world, but for context we can go back to the BBC:

Figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications show 97.2% of entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland passed, up from 96.9%.

Yes, the increase is actually only 0.3% – not exactly head line news… Interestingly, these figures are broken down as follows: (source BBC)

  • UK: 97.2%
  • Northern Ireland: 98.2%
  • England: 97.2%
  • Wales: 97.6%

(Call me old fashioned but that appears to be an average of 97.67% but obviously Wales and Northern Ireland dont count as much. 🙂 )

In a normal world, you would think that there was much to celebrate in this numbers – our children are studying harder, our teachers are working harder, our schools are better, access to things like the internet are improving education and so on.

Oh no. In this world all this means is our exams are “too easy.” The notoriously literate tabloid press is calling for an “overhaul” of the exam system because obviously it is not testing enough if after two solid years of study, backed up by a further 11 years of general education, nearly every one passes. Ironically, I have been on a seven day professional course which had an exam (and awarded a qualification deemed to be at a higher level than an A level) and it was assumed that after SEVEN days study EVERYONE would pass the exam. Does that make the qualification “worthless?”

For some reason we live in a world where no matter what children do it is never enough. If they play outdoors they are accused of being “hoodies,” if they play indoors they are anti-social fatties, if they fail at school they are unemployable retards and if they do well then, obviously, exams are too easy.

Is it any wonder they seem to be unwilling to get involved in our society? Shame on us all.

For any one reading this who got their results today and passed – well done, the exams are hard and you have done well to pass.

(and my heart goes out doubly to the poor teachers – they work harder now than when I was at school yet any sign they are producing better standards of education and obviously it just means the exams are too easy…”)

Teaching Bad Science

The levels at which bad science has penetrated our society are breath taking. Even teachers, who you would hope were able to teach the principles of good science to our kids, are falling foul of the woo and nonsense. Almost makes you despair for the human race.

Today, the BBC have reported that the Professional Association of Teachers are…

seeking an inquiry into safety concerns surrounding new wireless technology.

Shockingly, there have already been studies, inquiries and the like. Is the PAT unable to read the studies? Were there no science teachers available to explain the nature of scientific research? The mind truly boggles.

The BBC mention that the former Education Secretary pointed out the Health Protection Agency guidance was that there is no threat. Like all good woo-ist scaremongers, the PAT General Secretary replied with:

Mr Parkin said: “There is a view out there that you have no right to express concerns on such issues and that if you do, you are scaremongering or promoting so-called bad science.”

But he said that because some scientists were concerned about the risks, an inquiry was necessary.

Blimey – he may not know any science, but he is certainly an expert in woo, nonsense and debating skills.

Lots of people will start a sentence saying “I dont want to cause offence” then say something very offensive, “I dont mean to be rude” then say something rude and so on. Here Mr Parkin has started off saying “I dont want to scare monger with bad science” then scaremongered with bad science.

The first sentence is simply not true. People always have the “right” to be concerned about issues. Just because they are concerned does not mean it is not scaremongering or it is not bad science. Mr Parkin can express all the concerns in the world for all I care. For example, there is greater reason to worry about teachers abusing their pupils than the dangers of WiFi. Which concern should get priority?

As for the second sentence. Well… Because “some” scientists are concerned is not justification. This just shows Mr Parkin does not understand science. I could probably search through journals and find scientists concern about any topic, subject or technology he chose to mention. I am sure Mr Parkin is happy for children to be driven to schools – yet some scientists are concerned this is bad for their health. Some scientists are concerned that mixed sex schools inhibit children’s developments, conversely some scientists think the opposite.

Research has been carried out on the dangers of WiFi. It is valid research and presents little evidence of any risks for children. If future research shows differently, then the situation can be revised. Forming an inquiry every single time “some” scientists had a concern over things would be ludicrous in the extreme. If they are so concerned, the PAT can fund the necessary research… Unless they just want the government to reduce the education budget to carry out pointless inquiries…

This wonderful line from Mr Parkin really messed with my mind:

I have heard and read enough to make me concerned and I had been made aware of an accumulation of evidence which suggests that the non-thermal, pulsing effects of electromagnetic radiation could have a damaging effect upon the developing nervous systems of children.

The frequently-quoted current safety limits in operation refer to the thermal effects of such radiation and not the non-thermal effects.

Blimey.

Oddly, I am not sure if this is a result of the BBC’s editing or the way things were talked about at the conference, but it seems like the dangers from WiFi have been conflated with the risk of asbestos… Now that would be bad science.

[tags]Science, Bad Science, Scare, Woo, Nonsense, Teachers, School,Education,Health, Wifi, Electromagnetism, EM, Radiation, Asbestos[/tags]

Will the shame ever end?

To my eternal, lasting, shame I followed a link from Nullifidian’s tumblelog today to a site where you can take an “8th Grade Science Test” and I only managed to scrape a A-. Shocking.

Mingle2 Free Online Dating - Science Quiz

In my pathetic defence though, I did rush the early questions and I am fairly sure I know exactly what I got wrong (Damn those chemistry questions). It is still more than a little embarrassing though. I blame the wording of the questions…

[tags]Science, Nullifidian, Tumblr, School, School Tests, Tests, General Science[/tags]

Ancient History is becoming history

TV programmes on archeaology and ancient history are extremely popular. The history that engages most of us is usually in the distant past. It expands our understanding of what it is to be human. However, Ancient History is about to disappear as an A level subject, according to an article by Tom Holland in Saturday’s Guardian.

Tom Holland says “In modern schools, of course, history tends to mean Hitler”. There is mountains of material on 20th century history, not just original papers but film, sound recordings and interviews with living people. This reminds me of a Guardian TV critic’s comment I read a few years ago to the effect that, having a cable TV connection, the critic could now pick out individual faces at the Nuremberg rallies. Continue reading