Stephen Downes

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What Is Objective Reality?, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Dec 21, 2020

This post summarizes  Jonathan Rauch's 2018 essay in  National Affairs, The Constitution of Knowledge. It expresses the view that what counts as a fact is determined by a process of free enquiry, dialogue and vetting. In broad strokes, that is true, but in the details, it is wrong. Or, perhaps I should say that it is changing, because what it means "to organize social decision-making about what is and is not reality based on a governance framework and a set of ... [Direct Link]

What's Wrong with Social Science and How to Fix It: Reflections After Reading 2578 Papers, Alvaro de Menard, Fantastic Anachronism, Sept 18, 2020

This article revisits the replication crisis in the social sciences. Disciplines like education, economics and demographics come out the best in a bad lot. "It is difficult to convey just how low the standards are," writes Alvaro de Menard. "The marginal researcher is a hack and the marginal paper should not exist. There's a general lack of seriousness hanging over everything.... Pusillanimous reports repeat tired clichés about "training", "transparency&... [Direct Link]

PushPin: Towards Production-Quality Peer-to-PeerCollaboration, Peter van Hardenberg, Martin Kleppmann, PaPoC '20, Aug 06, 2020

This paper (10 page PDF) describes the decisions behind the design of PushPin (see also), a "local-first collaborative corkboard app designed to collect all the information you need and synchronize it across all your computers." Warning: this is "experimental software and currently implements an extremely open and permissive sharing system!" That said, the discussion is quite interesting and even if you're not intending to build such a system, a good reading will ... [Direct Link]

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education , Michael M. Crow, Derrick Anderson, Big Think, Jul 01, 2020

The Arizona State University authors describe three features of the 'new normal' (quoted): (it) demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education ; we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so; Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income... first-generation students and students of color will ... [Direct Link]

Libra developer site, Jun 20, 2019

Libra, recall, is the new global digital currency being proposed by Facebook and others. Here you will find a link to the Libra White Paper and to rather more than you might have expected. There are also technical papers, such as The Libra Blockchain, and also Move, a new programming language, and also state replication using LibraBFT. If you want, you can clone the Libra repository, run your own 'core', and try your first transaction. For the non-technical, there's also Libra the ... [Direct Link]

Scientists rise up against statistical significance, Valentin Amrhein, Sander Greenland, Blake McShane, Nature, Mar 21, 2019

I am definitely of the same sentiment as these authors, especially when it comes to the 'proofs' of non-hypotheses (like: there's no such thing as learning styles) to which we have been subjected over the years. Here's what the authors say: "We’re frankly sick of seeing such nonsensical ‘proofs of the null’ and claims of non-association in presentations, research articles, reviews and instructional materials." Underlying this is a reaction against ... [Direct Link]

The replication crisis is killing psychologists’ theory of how the body influences the mind, Olivia Goldhill, Quartz, Jan 17, 2019

The 'replication crisis' is the phenomenon afflicting the social sciences whereby research demonstrating significant results can't seem to be replicated by others. We've covered this issue before. The psychological theory called 'embodied cognition', meanwhile, is the idea that our bodies, as well as our brains, are implicated in thought (and learning, and memory). We've covered this as well. This article suggests that the replication crisis is casting doubt on the ... [Direct Link]

Reproducibility of Scientific Results, John Wilcox, Fiona Fidler, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Dec 04, 2018

I am somewhat surprised that the issue of the replication of research results has merited its own article in the Stanford Encyclopedia, but at the same time, I consider the article to be a valuable treatment of the subject. My own interest is in part 3 - which focuses on the epistemology of replication (though I think the formalization based on Bayesian probability was a bit much). Overall, the authors conclude, "The subject of reproducibility is associated with a turbulent period in ... [Direct Link]

‘Marshmallow test’ may not pick out successful kids, after all, Jordan Bennett, Futurity, May 31, 2018

The 'marshmallow test' is a classic case of what happens when psychologist try to do educational theory. Essentially, they correlated a child's ability to defer gratification (to eat two marshmallows later rather than eat one marshmallow now) with future educational outcomes. It appears this test is a victim of the replication crisis: "the association was small and disappeared after the researchers controlled for characteristics of the child’s family and early ... [Direct Link]

Transforming the Value Proposition, Patricia McGuire, Inside Higher Ed, Dec 11, 2016

I think it's more than just American education that has "lost the narrative" and I think it was in need of a rethink well before Trump. And I've also expressed my scepticism in the past about the ability of the higher education sector to reform itself. I continue to be sceptical. Higher education as a whole, as Patricia McGuire says, "has been adrift in a devolving eddy of self-pity, whining about overregulation while obsessing about bracket placements and rankings... [Direct Link]

Digital Reality, Neil Gershenfeld, Edge, Jul 07, 2016

There are some really interesting and important bits in this article, mostly near the beginning (it rambles quite a bit). Let me highlight them: - first is that with a few small pieces you can make almost anything. "There are twenty amino acids. With those twenty amino acids you make the motors in the molecular muscles in my arm, you make the light sensors in my eye, you make my neural synapses." - second, you're not designing for the outcome. "The twenty amino acids don't ... [Direct Link]

Everything Is Crumbling, Daniel Engber, Mar 12, 2016

We see an awful lot in our field about what "the research tells us", typically stated in such a way as to suggest we are charlatans if we don't go along with it. I see this a lot, on a daily basis. "The research" is the basis of enterprises like the Campbell Collaboration, the promotion of various educational theories, and the authoring of well-meaning blog posts. But there is substantial reason to be sceptical. "All the old methods are in doubt. Even meta-analyses, which once were ... [Direct Link]

New Learning Design book is out!, Grainne Conole,, Jan 26, 2016

This is the sort of thing that might become a landmark in the field. As a collaboration among a number of different groups of proponents of learning design, it stands as a sort of marker or statement of the core values of the field. The aim of this work is to define and extend the Larnaca Declaration of learning design, first formulated a couple of years ago, which seeks to create a 'notation' to educators can use to describe and share successful strategies. The declaration ... [Direct Link]

Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science, Brian A. Nosek, Science, Aug 31, 2015

I would not be surprised to see similar results in educational research as well. As the abstract of this study states, "Ninety-seven percent of original studies had statistically significant results. Thirty-six percent of replications had statistically significant results." Of course the reason for this is a mixture of small sample sizes, disproportional representation, and statistical variability. It shows again that we can't rely on (nor cite) individual studies as proof of anything. ... [Direct Link]

The Learning Machine, pecking pigeons and the Sending of Being, nick shackleton-jones, Research, Sept 28, 2014

When people interact with each other, the social learning produced is not the replication of content from one mind to the next to the next. It's not even contained in any individual mind at all. Rather, society as a whole develops new learning. This is the meaning of "We think, therefore we am." Nick Shackleton-Jones captures the effect of this nicely. "Although we frequently stumble upon these bigger, emergent, purposes - evolution, religion, capital, technology – we don’t ... [Direct Link]

Why Psychologists’ Food Fight Matters, Michelle N. Meyer, Christopher Chabris, Sept 02, 2014

"Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions." Oh Noes! But it says so in a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Should we even take note of this? Probably not. I'm sympathetic with John Ioannidis, who argued "Most research findings are false for most research designs and for most fields." Moreover, there is a significant bias in favour of positive findings, which influences not ... [Direct Link]

Anti-RDBMS: A List of Distributed Key-Value Stores, Richard Jones, Weblog, Jan 20, 2009

This is one of those things that's way out there, difficult to wrap your mind around but too cool to ignore. The idea here is to replicate the basic functionality of a database - specifically, the capacity to store data by some sort of identifier (a 'key') - but distributed across a large number of networked computers. The advantages are that it's scalable - as you grow, simply add more computers - and it's fault tolerant - even if some computers go down, data replication ... [Direct Link]

Comments On Proving the Potential of Virtual Worlds, Alan Levine, anonymous others, Stephen's Web, Jul 04, 2008

My negative comments on Second Life in my July 2nd post inspired several replies which rightly chastised me for being too one sided. Given that readers of the e-mail version of this newsletter don't automatically get the comments, I am reproducing them here. -GW Re: Proving the Potential of Virtual Worlds Alan Levine, July 2, 2008 The experiences you describe of "boring" replication are not a function of the potential of Second Life, but what people so far have used it ... [Direct Link]

KM Europe, Lilia Efimova, Mathemagenic, Nov 20, 2003

Outstanding coverage is available online of Knowledge Management Europe. This link points to Mathemagenic's November 15 coverage, which provides numerous links, outlines, and commentary. Readers will also want to scan Headshift's summary with commentary and even more links. It's hard to capture the wide range of discussion in a single post, but what I've seen leads me to suggest that, if there is a trend, it is away from explicit characterization of knowledge structures. David Snowden's ... [Direct Link]

Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, Various authors, Reysen Group, Jul 05, 2002

The cynic would say that the journals on this site mean that honesty has finally come to science. I'm not so extreme, but I do recognize the need for more balance in the literature and thus welcome the launch of Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis and its sister publication, the Index of Null Effects and Replication Failures. Finally, a place to publish your experimental results even when they don't show anything. [Direct Link]

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jan 19, 2021 3:45 p.m.