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Posts Tagged ‘lie

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

The quote above is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain [example]. But this three-year-old New York Times article explains how it is a misquotation at best.

Through one such process… a famous person mistakenly gets credit for a quotation merely by having their name or likeness published close to the words. In another, “ventriloquy,” a statement about an individual’s work is perceived to be so apt that it is eventually confused for their own words.

Regardless of the source of the quote, it resonates with those who value facts over fiction, particularly when the latter cause harm. Since such truths plod along slowly, they need to be pushed and pulled by those who know and those who can.

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I cringe as much as I enjoy Jimmy Kimmel’s occasional segments, Lie Witness News. In this series, an interviewer asks passers-by what they think about a blatant lie.

The latest example was the general public’s thoughts on Canada being the 51st state in the USA.


Video source

The videos are obviously edited for content and highlight people who are ignorant enough and lie because they are on camera. But the fact remains that there are enough people that do this.

What might an educator take away? Ignorance is persistent partly because that is our default state. Ignorance is also persistent because lies and superficiality are easy while unearthing facts and exploring nuance are difficult. Educators needs to be stubbornly persistent in this battle against ignorance.

The original tweet was “Science ruins *everything* in education” with the emphasis on everything.

But after reading the story in the tweet, I had a different perspective.

Viewed positively, might the tweet be “Science *ruins* everything in education” with the emphasis on ruins?

The bad thing is that the boy found out that he was adopted. The good thing is that a hidden truth came out.

Would you rather live with a lie or deal with the truth?

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If you read a headline like More People Have Cell Phones Than Toilets, you know that it was designed to pique interest and draw the reader as far down the article as possible.

According to a UN report, 6 of 7 billion people in the world have cell phones, while just 4.5 billion have access to a toilet or latrine.

I have no doubt that there is some truth in the statistics presented, but the numbers also hide other facts. The article conveniently avoids the fact that quite a few countries have mobile penetration rates that exceed 100%. This means that owners have multiple mobile devices. This also means that there are some people who do not have these devices.

Here is another headline of similar design: More New Androids Than Babies.

Every day more than 1.3 million Android devices are activated — which is way more than the 300,000 babies born daily

It is tempting to draw quick conclusions with the numbers, e.g., platform domination, four devices for every child. But what exactly does that statistic do?

If it is designed to impress, so be it. If you use it unprocessed to inform decision or policy, then far from it!

Any educational institute worth its salt will have “usage” data of its LMS. I say “usage” because such reports tend to be technical, e.g., how many courses are online, how many instructors use what tool. But this does not reveal HOW the tools are used pedagogically or if they are even used well.

I often draw an analogy to how our land and transport authorities might cite how extensive and well-connected our roads and rails are. They might provide very impressive statistics on accident rates, traffic flow, train frequency and so on.

IMG_6203 by gurms, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  gurms 

But the stories are missing.

Stories like how a father might get trapped in hour-long jams getting home from work in what should be a 15-minute journey. Every day.

Stories like how a mother-to-be has to skip a few crowded trains before finally getting on only to be denied a seat. Every day.

These stories are varied and there are many of them. More often that not these stories are not told.

The statistics are important and they can be impressive. But numbers can lie. So can photos, videos, and stories. But they should be used judiciously to paint a more complete and honest picture.

If not, we kid ourselves at best. In a worse case, we use an inaccurate picture or projection to perpetuate lies or to create bad long term policy.

It is interesting to see how often and where Singapore appears on this infographic by Online Schools (click on image for full version).

When I posed the question “Where do we lie?”, I meant two things. Where we are positioned and where the untruths are.

Let us not kid ourselves: Statistics and visuals obscure details and inconvenient truths!


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