17 May 2011

Googling around and finding the internet is fueled by stupidity.

I spent a little time this morning following the google links from one place to the next. I eventually ended up on a relatively poorly thought out blog named "Western Hero" or something like that. Like most right-wing blogs (and right-wing pundits on mainstream outlets), critical methodology isn't WH's strong point, including such risible jems as describing links to stories in such ways as the descriptions bear little resemblance to the story itself. A good example of this mistake can be seen if you want to search for "debunk Iraq death count Lancet" + "Western Hero" -- you'll get a piece from 2009 (don't ask me how I got there...I was looking for information on Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's Academically Adrift) linking to a BBC article that, WH claims, "debunks" the Lancet report.

Unfortunately for WH, the article does no such thing. What it does do is discuss how the lead researcher refused to give research information to the American Association for Public Opinion Research, leading that body to censure him. It says nothing about the validity of the claims made in the Lancet, and in fact makes a point of noting that AAPOR doesn't comment on the accuracy of the research...only that the researcher has not been forthcoming in providing material. The BBC article, by the way, is here. There are plenty of other examples on the site, if you care to dredge through some of the most poorly supported writing and self-congratulatory echo-chamber comments you can find concentrated in one place.

In a way, the results of that search did connect to Arum and Roksa's work, because it's clear -- or perhaps more accurately I should say that it appears from anecdotal evidence of googling serious issues -- that colleges and universities are producing a large amount of fools who can't evaluate evidence or engage in much critical thinking. If a student of mine had linked that BBC article as an attempt to prove anything about the Lancet's Iraq War civilian deaths, he or she would get a nice note about support needing to do what you claim it does. If the paper were about questions raised concerning research methodology and transparency in statistics gathering, the article has relevance; as a debunking of the research, it is silent.

Later today, I'll be listening to Arum at a luncheon keynote. It'll be interesting to hear what he has to say, but I haven't read through the book -- I've only digested the digested version available on the Chronicle of Higher Education site. I have questions about what's being measured as learning -- questions I'm willing to bet the book (which is as of this morning sitting on my desk) goes some way to answer -- and more importantly how do we quantify something I find to be inherently unquantifiable: the co-curricular and extra-curricular (intentional and more often unintentional by the way) components of those four years spent in college? As a recent Pew survey has found, 84% of college graduates are satisfied with the cost of their education relative to the benefits. While that survey question doesn't speak to learning (I can be plenty satisfied without having learned anything if I achieve a favorable outcome like getting a good job), the survey as a whole seems to ask about some of those "unquantifiables."

No comments: