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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Crisis in Knowledge

Knowledge is under attack from several fronts at once. In science itself, it is due to corporate corruption and the inherent bias toward interesting but possibly false results. There was that paper about how most scientific findings are false. 

In social science, there is a replicability crisis in social psychology and various forms of p-hacking and statistical overstatements. Then there are entire fields that just don't seem that rigorous in the first place, the typical things people look down on like management studies and education. Economics is corrupt because of its upholding of the economic status quo.  The humanities have their own well-known problems.

What all these things have in common is that institutions are self-perpetuating, and that there are greater incentives for various stake-holders in having the system we have than in having a system guaranteed to produce a better variety of knowledge. Sturgeon's Law would say that only 10% of everything is going to be of value, so in order to have the 10%, we need to reconcile ourselves to the 90% of crap.  We can't just cut out the 90% because then we wouldn't have enough critical mass to even keep going institutionally.


Leslie B. said...

OK, here is something I would be interested in seeing you comment on.

I have students who cannot read. I mean really cannot read. Cannot read, after a full year of coursework on reading in Spanish, a two-page story by Mario Benedetti. Cannot read Catherine Davies' introduction, in English, to Sab. Cannot read Sab.

I have THREE colleagues in English, at 2 institutions of which one is an R1, and the other grants the PhD in English, who say this is OK. They say it is fine, in English, only to be able to read young adult literature. That not to say this is fine is to insult young adult literature, which is sophisticated. That casual reading and writing on your phone is a viable substitute for being able to read, say, a crónica by Larra. College is no longer the place to learn this last, but to learn how to make videos and things. From my Facebook page:

"I don't think that reading or writing are in danger at all. Quite the opposite It's just moved to other media in many circumstances, with real consequences for rhetorical skill, communicative competence, capital accumulation, employment and so forth. I personally read literature, watch traditional cinema and quality narrative television almost daily. So do my kids. But I don't see myself as a crusader for the good old days, and I am not suggesting you are either. My son read at 12 months because we bought a very expensive, 10 years ago, HP touch screen. Today he reads at a college level. But it is far from his only media making ambition. He wants to script, storyboard and direct a film of some kind next, using digital assisted creativity. I am more than cool about this shift. I am thrilled about it. That has made me the target of many vicious, poorly informed dullards who resent the movement of media practice from close reading as sufficient, to reading as a component of making."

I think that is sophistry and that it begs the question. Fine, the kid wants to make a film. But whoever said no, don't make films, only ever do close readings of text ? ? ?

I don't get it and don't know what is going on, unless it is that English has gone nuts. In any case I appear to be reactionary.


Jonathan said...

We are all reactionary then. The fear of being elitist is so strong that you will have people say this is ok. My students read a Cortázar story in English first and then Spanish. I was about to get mad at them but this was a one of the better students and I thought, why not? She is reading him in English which is more than a lot of people do. And then returning to the Spanish she is going to get a good idea of what the story is.

Leslie B. said...

Fear of being elitist, right. They're also the ones who say their students have no difficulty reading, but if they're not assigning reading, then...

Leslie B. said...

Also, the people in the sciences and social sciences, and the professional schools, advocate non-reading. I went to a workshop for the students where they were told to read the abstract, and then read a section of the article to get certain facts or quotations, but NOT to read every word or think about it as an argument or as a whole. This is a for an article in field, which they expect not to be written well. They say that when you read a whole book, reading every word, it is while you lie on the couch sipping tea and taking the story in passively. In "active reading" you do not really read, but mine the text for answers.

Since literature and related kinds of reading are no longer assigned in English or even History, apparently, there is nobody advocating reading except people in FL and we are dealing with a foreign language. This is a bit apocalyptic and I am not sure it is true everywhere BUT -- .

Jonathan said...

I know about that "mining" method because I have to use it when reading something written without much information or thought on each page. I have to skip over things because it would be horrible to have to read every word of it.

I've also heard of something called the "poster" presentation, when at a conference instead of giving a presentation you stand by a poster version of your research and explain it briefly to passers-by. Could there be a worse abomination?

Jonathan said...

I read that comment on facebook. It was Bousquet. It's all very good that I and my family can read or write, but it's not necessary for other people, etc... I don't like that argument. Now I'm realizing what I've been missing by not being able to teach smart, readerly English majors my whole career. When you get one of them you say yes, that's how students should be.