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Posts Tagged ‘literacy

News sites should not just inform, they have a responsibility to educate.

One major news provider tried to inform with this:

Another tweeted this of the same news: 

While spit and saliva are the same thing to most people, saliva is scientifically more accurate. Spit might give the cartoonish impression that the animals somehow forcefully project their saliva.

Both news sources get a reference wrong. The animal is not a worm — it is the larva of a math. It might look like a worm, but that does not make it one. There is no reason to perpetuate a misconception or amplify ignorance. 

If you call me pedantic, then I say you use a wrong label. I am not just concerned about a minor detail. I am concerned about accuracy (it is a larva, not a worm) and precision (it is saliva, not spit). The little things matter because they add up to larger ones.

I reject the simplistic notion that we suffer from “information overload”. What ails us might be a deficit of healthy skepticism nurtured by modern literacy and critical thinking. I arrived at that conclusion as I read this tweeted report by STonline.

I am not denying that we have more information now that we have ever had before. This is merely a function of time and evolution. We will have more information tomorrow than we have today. This does not mean that we have an overload of information.

Instead, I would wager that most people operate in their bubbles. This means that they already filter information based on biases and beliefs. They are not overloaded with it; they are consuming it with glee.

But I also acknowledge that people might wonder what to do with new sets of information that seem contradictory. Take, for example, the information, misinformation, and disinformation around COVID-19 and its vaccines over the last two years.

That is not because there was an overload of information. There was a lack of scientific and modern literacy, i.e., an ignorance about how scientific discoveries are made and evaluated, and the inability to read laterally and critically. To those ends I agree wholeheartedly with the call to prepare teachers to educate differently and better.

But I worry about the buzzwords in the article that negate this well-intentioned call. For example, it referred to implementing “best teaching practices” as if there was a set that you could use among diverse contexts like ITEs, polytechnics, and universities. You need only consider one faculty member teaching two classes of students taking the same course to realise that you cannot teach both exactly the same way.

The article also name dropped “e-pedagogy” as if it was a new thing. I think that it is NOT new and more to do with mindset than skillset. You cannot rely only on courses and professional development to nurture such mindsets.

Is that a cognitive overload? Think again. It is cognitive dissonance and the start of learning something new if you choose to take that journey.

What was reason for mrbrown’s tweeted response? Some keyboard conspiracists had suggested that the SARS-CoV2 vaccines were ineffective because there were several vaccinated folk in ICU.

Those that started and spread the misleading WhatsApp message were practicing selective mathematics. They wanted show how many vaccinated were still susceptible to COVID-19.

They conveniently forgot about the proportion of vaccinated people over the unvaccinated. The latest statistic is that 84% of eligible persons here have been fully vaccinated. 

The SARS-CoV2 vaccine is not perfect, so a few who are fully dosed will exhibit severe COVID-19 symptoms. But since there are so many vaccinated here, the absolute number of those that are vaccinated but symptomatic might seem high. 

Assuming mrbrown’s numbers to be accurate based on when he accessed the figures, his calculations showed that the proportion of the unvaccinated in the ICU was much higher than those vaccinated.

Knowing what and how to do math is not enough. The WhatsApp warriors know math but are blind to logic and literacy. mrbrown is math literate. He knows when and why to use a method and this helps him detect BS and call it out.

Thankfully we do not need to be math geniuses to be math literate. We need to seek nuance, depth, and/or detail. We need to ask good questions before jumping to conclusions.

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Here is what I read into Hank Green’s rant about people either not trusting science or trusting science too much.

Being scientifically literate is not just knowing scientific information. Nor is it only about being able to read and understand published science.

Being scientifically literate is about the processes of thinking and iterating so that preliminary and testable facts emerge. It is about being comfortable that such facts can change over time as a result of such processes.

Science is not just about knowing what, it is also about knowing how. Being scientifically literate is about knowing why we need to think and act in ways that move us forward.

Video source

If there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and they watch YouTube, they might mistake this serious news piece for a comedy show.

What seemed like a ruse by a politician to the journalist turned out be fundamental and easily avoidable mistakes by “educated” people.

The figure on the poster was misrepresented because someone did not realise that “140” was the 140th footnote. The politician was also using a ten-year-old publication to highlight a study that no longer exists.

You cannot claim to be educated today if you cannot smell something fishy. What looks like an attempt to turn a six-figure amount into a nine-figure sum was down to poor information literacy (specifically, citing footnotes). 

What looks like a legitimate claim of wasted money is empty because 1) the study concluded in 2016, and 2) it has legitimate purpose and design [Scientific American]. The basic information literacy skills here: Finding out if the study is still valid and why it was funded in the first place.

Sidenote: The politician also used a sensational image of a quail fed a small mountain of cocaine. Even a person without a science background might realise that is not how doses are given. This was not a frivolous coke party for birds but a study to “look at underlying hormonal and neurobiological changes which may underlie that behavior following cocaine exposure”.

If something smells fishy, follow your nose. But first make sure that your nose has been trained to figure out what the different smells might mean.

I agree with the tweeted thought above. Knowing how to use Twitter and being literate in the Twitterverse matter if you are to make it work for you.

But there is a difference between being literate and being fluent. The latter is a a leap ahead. It is the like the difference between being able to read, write, and speak a language, and being skilled at all three.

Being literate in Twitter could mean being aware of technological affordances of Twitter as they are and as they emerge, and being able to use them all. It could mean knowing who to follow and who not to.

Being fluent could mean embracing and taking advantage of nuance and subtlety. This could mean knowing who to unfollow, mute, or block, and sending messages with these actions. It could also mean knowing when a long thread is appropriate vs when to link to a blog post. It could mean knowing whether to reply or not.

Video source

I enjoy these comedic videos on two levels. The first is as a person who enjoys smart comedy. The second is as an educator with a background in science.

The purpose of comedy is to make people laugh. If comedians fail to do this consistently, they are just commentators or pundits. The problem with some of these comedic comments is that they are based on ignorance and the perpetuating of such ignorance.

For example, take the comparison of the 95% likelihood that humans are responsible for climate change to the 99% effectiveness of a condom. A comedian remarked that he should be wary about having protected sex 100 times. His implication and intended comedic comment was that there was an assured one time that the condom would fail. This is not what 99% effectiveness means. It means that a condom is effective 99% each time it used.

There are other remarks about rising sea levels and mirrors in space that could be deconstructed and reconstructed with a scientific eye while still appreciating the humour of the exchanges.

My worry is that the audiences have not heard the scientific information previously and the comedy is their source of news. This is not the fault of the show because it is not their role — it is for entertainment, not education.

Ideally educators might use such videos as a relatable way to start lessons about scientific misconceptions. These are invaluable lessons to nurture critical and curious thinkers. Part of such thinking is investigating. When I watched this video yesterday, I looked for the source of the 95% statistic. It was from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its reports are available online.

The next investigative issue was when this video was first aired. A commenter indicated that it was from Season 12 and episode 11 of Mock the Week and first aired on 3 October 2013. One other person’s reply to that comment: “I wish they would post this themselves so I don’t have to look up the episode list”. This information makes it easier to find the actual report.

YouTube comments about the show's episode date.

The show’s YouTube channel does not operate like SciShow, so it does not list its resources to back up what it says. Its audiences then take what panellists say at face value, and if such a practice happens often enough, the information becomes fact and the practice becomes acceptable.

If we are to raise the baseline of scientifically literate people, educators need to realise that this is no laughing matter. They could take the laughing matter (funny videos) to turn ignorance into information into knowledge into mindsets.

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The first five minutes of this news video was a critique of Trump’s attempt to mislead with disinformation.

Twitter and Facebook blocked Trump’s attempt to share a clip in which he reportedly said that “children are almost – and I would almost say definitely – almost immune from this disease”. The news folk pushed back with corrections, but slipped as they did so.

The news anchor said that Twitter and Facebook had blocked Trump’s misinformation. The claim that children are “almost immune from the disease” is disinformation, not misinformation. It was a deliberate attempt to convince parents that it is safe to send their kids to school so that the parents can get back to work.

Misinformation might be a result of early and incomplete fact-finding. It could also be a result of unclear or ambiguous phrasing. Disinformation flies in the face of facts. Being immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus means your body can fight it off. It does not mean that you cannot transmit it. Immune persons can still transmit the virus they are not hygienic and do not maintain physical distance.

The reporter on the ground said that “precision is so important when you are talking about peoples’ health”. Being precise is not the same as being accurate.

Accuracy is about hitting the target, i.e., getting the facts right. Precision is about being consistent. It is important to be accurate first and then precise with explanations and elaborations. If you are not accurate first, it is still possible to be precisely wrong.

This is not a game of semantics. This is about being scientifically literate. This means getting information from reputable and reliable sources, and using accurate and precise language to communicate these findings.

News agencies can be a good source of information, but they are not necessarily halls of information and scientific literacy. It is up to teachers and educators to first develop these skill and mind sets, and then model and teach these to students.

What is lateral reading? This video provides the basics.

It first points out that “information literacy” or “cyber wellness” lessons might teach students how to spot relatively superficial markers, e.g., author’s expertise, citations, type of website.

It cited the example of how a .org but right-leaning site could actually be more biased than a reputable news-reporting .com site.

Lateral Reading screenshot.

Then it described lateral reading simply — not just reading up and down a single website source but also opening up searches and other other sources in parallel browser tabs to check for credibility.

Lateral reading was something that Crash Course (CC) visited in 2019 as part of a series on information literacy. You can practice lateral reading (and watching) by clicking on the Stanford abstract or on my quick review of the CC video.

My RSS feed showed me this graphic on media literacy in European countries. No surprises — the Scandinavian countries lead the pack.

I wondered if there was anything similar for this part of the world. So I searched for NGOs that researched it starting with the one credited in the graphic.

I could not find anything from such organisations so I widened my search for “media literacy in southeast asia”. Except for a few old articles like this one in 2008, I could not find comparison or rank tables.

It is not that the rankings are important. I want to know WHAT we are doing compared to elsewhere. An initial comparison of HOW we are doing might have opened doors to the WHAT.

But since media literacy across curricula and goes beyond formal schooling, it must be difficult to collect and make sense of such data. So now I wonder how that credited organisation actually ranked those countries.

Methodology of

I downloaded the PDF of the report which had a one-page description of its methodology. It turns out that that the “measurement” was not about media literacy. It was about predicting media literacy with components like PISA scores. What? My question exactly.

So my tweet is not an endorsement of the graphic. It is an example of not taking data presentation at face value.


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