Internet

"White Bread for the Mind"

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white bread

The latest in the "the Internet is ruining kids today" genre:

Google is "white bread for the mind", and the internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information, a professor of media studies will claim this week….

Her own students are banned from using Wikipedia or Google as research tools in their first year of study, but instead are provided with 200 extracts from peer-reviewed printed texts at the beginning of the year, supplemented by printed extracts from eight to nine texts for individual pieces of work.

Peer-reviewed papers (on paper!) have a place, of course. And in an educational environment, they probably even deserve a privileged place. But if Google is the white bread of the mind, then pass the peanut butter and jelly. Googling myself and others makes me hungry, and I suspect the 18-year-olds in this prof's classes won't really be giving up their white bread diet, either. 

Professor Brabazon's concerns echo the author Andrew Keen's criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: "To-day's media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile."

We here at reason just love and respect Andrew Keen, of course.

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  1. I think Google and Wikipedia are perfectly fine places to start an investigation, as long as the limitations are kept in mind.

    It’s sort of like anecdotes and correlations: No matter what some internet commenters say, those are perfectly fine starting points for a scientific investigation. Every hypothesis is initially unsupported, so the suggestion will have to come from somewhere. The important thing is to recognize the difference between suggestion and proof.

  2. Hrm, so the “experts” hate technology because it makes competing with them easier, who would have thought.

    Bonus points to the first of her students that shoves the stack of papers into an OCR scanner, uploads it to some webspace and indexes it with Google. I’d be damned if I’m going to shuffle through 200 extracts worth of paper to do research.

  3. You know, if we ignore this internet thing, I think it will go away.

  4. In my own field (economics) there is a bit of this debate with the so-called “watering-down” of intellectual rigor in pursuit of applications, saying how we need more “pure theorists” like Keynes… I responded that, at the same time, the applied economists are drawing more attention to the field, such that, in the future, it may only take thirty days to prove a future Keynes wrong instead of thirty or more years πŸ™‚

  5. Y’know, the good professor could save time, money and trees by placing all those extracts and stuff in a digitized format on some sort of easily-accessed, public forum. The students could probably even print it if they really wanted to.

    I’m pretty sure there’s something that would work perfectly, but the name eludes me…

  6. Oh, and “Eric is a fag!” I wanted to be the first to say it πŸ™‚

  7. Obviously, when dealing with the fact that today’s children have more information at their fingertips than ever, the best way to prepare them for the future is to make said information inaccessible rather than to teach them to critically process said information…

  8. Stage Coach Tilter Union Rails Against Horseless Carriage Industry: Praxinoscope at 11.

  9. I could not do my job without Wikipedia and Google. Whatever the faults of information acquired through either, I still suspect I know more about the sugar industry in the Caribbean of the early 1700s than this professor.

  10. shecky: that’s a good point. She’s failing to teach them how to conduct proper research using modern tools. Students need to learn the concept of research, how to identify good and bad sources. Handing someone a stack of paper and saying “the internet sucks, these are good sources” doesn’t teach them anything. In the real world you have to judge information that is given to you, and you rarely get a stack of information deemed entirely legit.

    It’s akin to an engineering prof demanding that the entire class use a sliderule just because he doesn’t like that newfangled calculators fail to take uncertainty into account.

  11. When books had to be handwritten by carefully trained monks, you knew that what you were getting had been properly vetted and peer-reviewed. But if if this newfangled “printing press” allows any Tom, Dick or Harry to get published, there will no longer be anything reliable about the printed word.

  12. ClubMedSux —

    I generally agree, but by the time college rolls around, that battle is either already won or (more likely) already lost. BS detectors are learned early or not at all.

    What primary and secondary schools really need are an education curriculum that rewards effective use of all relevant tools (including the Intarwebs!). Since we’re still working on the evolution thing, I’m not holding my breath.

  13. Professor Brabazon [of the University of Brighton] does not blame schools for students’ cut-and-paste attitude to study.

    “We need to teach our students the interpretative skills first before we teach them the technological skills. Students must be trained to be dynamic and critical thinkers rather than drifting to the first site returned through Google…”

    Maybe she should be blaming the schools. Her students were supposed to have learnt critical thinking skills in high school, if not before. People who believe everything they hear have no business in university at all.

    Of course if she just wants her students to believe everything they hear from her, taht would explain much of her grumbling.

  14. No way! Somebody thinks that internet may contain unreliable information? I think the prof has a point.

    I can’t stand that Keen character.

  15. If you haven’t read “Everything Bad is Good for You” by Steven Johnson, it’s an easily digestible read on this and similar subjects. I can also say that my own company – IBM (standard disclaimer regarding how I don’t represent them here) – did a study that showed Wikipedia is more accurate that the Encyclopedia Britannica. That may or may not be true, but it hints at the power of putting many millions of brains to work on a subject.

  16. It was only a decade ago that editorial columns were hyping some new gizmo called “the information superhighway”. Of course, that was before they had to compete with the damn thing.

  17. “”””It’s akin to an engineering prof demanding that the entire class use a sliderule just because he doesn’t like that newfangled calculators fail to take uncertainty into account.””””

    Only if calculators were not reliable would that analogy be valid. That is the claim against Wiki. But like thoreau said, it’s a good place to start.

  18. Maybe she should be blaming the schools. Her students were supposed to have learnt critical thinking skills in high school, if not before.

    Teaching critical thinking is not allowed in high school. No exaggeration.

  19. “the information superhighway”

    Shhhh. You will attract LoneWacko because it sounds like “NAFTA Superhighway”. Oh shit, now I’ve done it.

  20. Just a quick “second” to all those saying that this is abdicating her responsibility to help them learn that elusive quality of “judgment” and critical thinking that will enable them to distinguish the better from worse sources. The technology is just a tool. Before the Net, people still had to distinguish among better and worse sources, or to smoke out the perspectives they brought with them, peer-reviewed or not.

    As someone who has spent over a decade teaching a first-year seminar course designed precisely to teach college students how to acquire and use these research skills, banning them from Google or Wikipedia is not the solution. Getting them to understand the limitations of both places and that they can be the beginning but far from the end of good research is the way to go.

    Should we have prevented students from using a paper card catalog or Reader’s Guide back in the Good Old Days because some books or magazines they might find weren’t very reliable?

    Teach them the knowledge production process and how to sort better for worse rather than making up silly rules.

  21. TrickyVic: In scientific and engineering fields calculators aren’t 100% reliable. They are only reliable up to a certain digit. The numbers you input into your calculations determine the accuracy of the results, and you need to know how accurate (+/-) those numbers are. It’s the professor’s job to teach you how to determine accuracy because its a critical part of the field.

  22. “The information superhighway”

    Is that the conduit that will be filled with illegal aliens with unsafe machinery stealing knowledge from Americans?

  23. On Saturday I was translating obscure seventeenth-century Hungarian poetry (don’t ask) and came across a word I didn’t know. Turned out that the author I was translating is the only person who ever used the word (which referred to a kind of Turkish siege engine) and the only reason I could find the modern Hungarian equivalent was because of Google, which pointed me to some fellow who had put a glossary of this author online. Did it represent some sort of laziness to find this on Google? I don’t think it did. Without Google (or the equivalent) I never, in a thousand years, would have found this fellow’s list. Nor would his list have ever, in a million years, made its way into a peer reviewed article (I’m probably one of about three people in the world who have looked at it or would care).

    So long live Google, the best place to find information that would otherwise never be found…

  24. …yes, but if the point of a class, as was the case when I taught history, was to teach the fundamentals of sound research practice in all its various strategies, then banning the use of Google and Wikipedia is a great way to start.

    The idea is, if you make students learn how to find information creatively using all available resources, and then learn to thoughtfully vet those sources for accuracy, bias and the main dialogs of the field, once they loop back to using the Web for research they’ll be much better equipped for the task than if they Googled their paper’s sources.

    Moreover, you tell ME how many of the holdings at the American Antiquarian Society (whose goal is to have a copy of every single publication printed in the USA from Jamestown to the Jamestown massacre) are online and searchable. There’s still places in this world that require old-school methods, and there’s definitely worth in teaching students in those disciplines how to do things the old, slow way.

    So suck on that!

    πŸ˜‰

  25. That kid in the picture is holding his emoticon sideways.

  26. Episiarch,

    He’s headed here anyway. Didn’t you know that IllegalMexicans use WikiPedia to violate our NationalSovereignty by defacing the entries of patriots like him? You can read all about it at his blog.

    (Click at own risk)

  27. “”””It’s akin to an engineering prof demanding that the entire class use a sliderule just because he doesn’t like that newfangled calculators fail to take uncertainty into account.””””

    Only if calculators were not reliable would that analogy be valid. That is the claim against Wiki. But like thoreau said, it’s a good place to start.

    Better analogy would be the notebook vs. tape recorder in Journalism.

    Just sayin’

  28. I’m a working scientist (PhD and everything) and I’ve used Wikipedia to help me figure out how to do something today.

    By all means, learn to use primary sources, but banning the use of information miracles like Google and Wikipedia completely isn’t just stupid…it borders on educational malpractice.

  29. This issue reeks of “if it’s not controlled, I’m afraid of it.” It’s the same reason people increasingly can’t accept dynamic systems. If we can’t control the outcome with 100% certainty, HOLY ****!

  30. The idea is, if you make students learn how to find information creatively using all available resources, and then learn to thoughtfully vet those sources for accuracy, bias and the main dialogs of the field, once they loop back to using the Web

    Wait…you say all available resources, and then want to limit an available resource?

    Wikipedia has some awesome entries on logic.

  31. “…each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile.”

    If Professor Brabazon and Andrew Keen really can’t judge the different values between “truths” on the Internet, then they are too stupid to use the Internet.

  32. “To-day’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile.”

    Oh noes! The responsibility…I can’t handle it. Please experts, save me from discovering what life is about on my own!

    On a serious note, as if the old method of “There’s One Truth but there are a billion different ways to get there” is any more comprehensible or rational. Pfft.

  33. If you take the internet with a healthy dose of cynicism, a dollop of skepticism, and the judicious use of the aforementioned BS detector, you will sometimes get fooled. Not often, but sometimes. Conventional research methods also can occasionally lead you astry. Just because it’s printed and bound doesn’t make it automatically authorative.

    Discriminating users of this convenient and powerful tool are at an advantage relative to those that can’t use it properly. Yeah there’s a lot of disinformation on the internet. There’s a lot at the university library as well.

  34. Rimfax –
    I know, it struck me as a dumb statement as well. If they really think their students are that gullible, maybe they’re teaching students who shouldn’t be in college in the first place?
    It sounds to me like “but pills look like candy,” only they’re talking about 18-year olds.

  35. Piltdown man, anybody? How long till that was purged, including derivative work?

  36. I think Google and Wikipedia are perfectly fine places to start an investigation, as long as the limitations are kept in mind.

    the issue seems to be, at least in part, is how do you teach people to build a good bullshit detector?

    (this is more of a concrete problem for my wife, who has had to explain several times why wikipedia is not an acceptable paper source to college freshmen.)

  37. …yes, but if the point of a class, as was the case when I taught history, was to teach the fundamentals of sound research practice in all its various strategies, then banning the use of Google and Wikipedia is a great way to start.

    The idea is, if you make students learn how to find information creatively using all available resources, and then learn to thoughtfully vet those sources for accuracy, bias and the main dialogs of the field, once they loop back to using the Web for research they’ll be much better equipped for the task than if they Googled their paper’s sources.

    If you want to teach how to “carefully vet sources for accuracy,” then Wikipedia would be an excellent place to start. Actually, I can think of a great lesson plan for that: find a Wikipedia article which you know damned well is a combination of fiction and fact, give students a copy of it, and have them seek out and correct the false information.

  38. (this is more of a concrete problem for my wife, who has had to explain several times why wikipedia is not an acceptable paper source to college freshmen.)

    Dhex –
    I admire men like my dad for not just standing up and yelling “I spent the entirety of this weekend grading your papers and EVERYBODY FAILS! Get out!”

  39. What is wrong with our bread?

    Why limit yourself to the cardboard texture of peer reviewed whole wheat?

  40. The smart kids are going to use Wikipedia anyway, they’ll just go to the footnotes and look for the more “acceptable” sources, like the books and scholarly journals and such that Wikipedians will use as reference material.

  41. “To-day’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile.”

    Only to be expected College professors have been setting the precedent for at least 3 generations now.

  42. What a ripoff. I thought this thread was going to be about jungle-fever.

  43. Yeah, the Innernette includes useless things like almost all new physics research since 1992 for free:

    http://arxiv.org/

    But I only believe stuff that’s printed on paper. That’s why I have a laser printer.

  44. Moreover, you tell ME how many of the holdings at the American Antiquarian Society (whose goal is to have a copy of every single publication printed in the USA from Jamestown to the Jamestown massacre) are online and searchable.

    Actually, I was just at AAS, Johno, and their electronic media projects are really impressive. Not everything in their stacks in online yet, but it will be.

    See, for example, this incredibly cool project on early American elections:
    http://www.americanantiquarian.org/fdp.htm

  45. As I point out at one of my sites, the major problem with WP isn’t what’s in it. It’s what’s missing (sometimes intentionally so). Unless you’re familiar with a subject, you’ll never know what’s missing.

    I don’t expect a site like Reason to point out that WP is in many ways a wonderful DisinformationTool, so let me be the first. Let me also suggest looking into how WP shares its link love with other sites, with a very small number receiving the majority of the lovin’.

    For a small example of one of the things that’s missing, see the bit about the quote here:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Bill_Richardson#controversies

  46. This article seems to be written from a perspective that says that the reason the internet is a “problem” for research is that “just anyone” can post on it, and that makes it impossible for students to determine which information is valid and which is not.

    I think this effect would not really be helped by better vetting of sources, because the problem isn’t really the quality of information, it’s the quantity of it. If you had access to every last peer-reviewed article on every last subject, and no other information whatsoever [thus removing the “amateur factor”], you would still have a completely unreviewable morass of information which would be internally self-contradictory.

    Previous methods of research appeared to “work” because students had access to a much more limited set of sources. That appears to be what the prof who is handing out mimeographs of a handful of sources is trying to duplicate. But the research work she receives in response will be just as flawed as work containing references to wikipedia, if the standard we’re using is “aware of and making use of all the relevant peer-reviewed work”.

  47. dhex | January 14, 2008, 5:03pm | #

    the issue seems to be, at least in part, is how do you teach people to build a good bullshit detector?

    Mikey gets a cookie. πŸ™‚

    This is basically the point as far as i see it. Bullshit detection is a declining skill.

    I’ve spent the last 11 years as a research analyst, and i can observe that people trained for this kind of job pre-internet and those post-internet differ in this respect.

    People who grew up with a more ‘paper based’ source-identification training tend to be better when it comes to evaluating the utility or relevance of any given piece of information. Those who grew up with an internet-based research approach tend to be more ‘flat’ as far as how they evaluate information. Whatever they find tends to be included. Or, they’ll weight information inappropriately based on misperception of significance.

    It’s more like trolling vs. fishing. Volume or ‘availability’ often equates to significance. They have a lot of trouble seeing the gaps in information and understanding how to go after them or see between them. They have a lack of appreciation of the difference between regurgitating ‘existing consensus’ vs. analysis, where you are connecting dots between related pieces of information.

    I also have a lot of contact with teachers – my friends and family being almost exclusively acedemics – and they share the same feedback about highschool/early college kids these days. they are more savvy about baseline use of internet to gather some facts, but slower at developing filters that allow them to critically evaluate things.

    I certainly dont blame wikipedia, and think that it’s all invaluable stuff, but the problem may lie less in the ‘transferability’ of information sources, as much as the ability to read and understand things.

    to cut it all short… to quote 2 of my highschool-teacher friends = ‘60%+ of the papers they receive share whole paragraphs of identical information’ – because kids are more ‘cut and pasting’ than reading and writing.

    the ‘cut and paste’ idea is the problem. There is a declining focus on ability to digest, internalize, and create a unique argument based on sources you find yourself that are specially-suited to the question asked. The exercise of defining a goal, reviewing and vetting sources, and writing critical analysis is sometimes ultimately more important a pedagogical exercise than simply “churning” data gleaned from a few hours in front of a computer.

    Of course, those few hours in front of a computer a necessary as well… but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of being the one person who actually read the ‘footnoted’ book, as opposed to simply quoting/referencing it.

  48. I think Google and Wikipedia are perfectly fine places to start an investigation, as long as the limitations are kept in mind.

    Some days thoreau is worse then joe…

    Perfectly fine place?

    Jesus…how about a reality check. The best place ever implemented by man in all of history to start an investigation is more like it.

    It is funny to watch these little fiefdoms scream when their power is threatened.

  49. the issue seems to be, at least in part, is how do you teach people to build a good bullshit detector?

    Easy…feed them a ton of bullshit but with equal access to non-bullshit and let the sorting begin.

    If we honestly believe that we need some sort of hierarchy to what and how people consume information then we might as well call it over and end this whole libertarian thing.

    (That is right mofo I said it. Now drink!)

  50. People taking a media studies class at university deserve whatever ill treatment they get, and more besides. In higher math, at least, you can get your information from your morning bowl of Rice Krispies if you like, but if you can’t prove it, you can’t use it.

  51. Easy…feed them a ton of bullshit but with equal access to non-bullshit and let the sorting begin.

    Combined with a healthy dose of RC’s First Law:

    You get more of what you reward, and less of what you punish. To wit:

    to cut it all short… to quote 2 of my highschool-teacher friends = ‘60%+ of the papers they receive share whole paragraphs of identical information’

    And every single one of those papers should get an “F”.

  52. Ayn_Randian,

    On a serious note, as if the old method of “There’s One Truth but there are a billion different ways to get there” is any more comprehensible or rational. Pfft.

    Why you say this is irrational I am curious?

  53. Would this prof have a teaching job if we used vouchers?

    Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here are a couple of thoughts that occurred to me while reading this:

    1. Keen illustrates what I’m going to call the successful dumb-ass paradox. On the one hand, he’s a dumb-ass. On the other hand, he makes a living and it seems to me that it takes a genius to make a living working with only the intellect of a dumb-ass.
    2. Maybe Keen and Thomas Freidman could have a cage-match. Two men enter and no man leaves, would be ideal.
    3. Maybe I shouldn’t drink and read.

  54. “Google is “white bread for the mind”, and the internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information, a professor of media studies will claim this week….”

    I suspect most of us spent too much time before the internet listening to the ridiculous stories of our grandparents and uncles, oh the homespun hell that is so many people’s Thanksgiving!

    Please! I’d put Google up against that any day!

  55. how do you teach people to build a good bullshit detector?

    It’s called teasing your children. Say complete bullshit with a deadpan expression, and stick to your story. When they get good at picking that out, move on to BS mixed with a grain of truth. It’s fun and amazingly useful in building critical thinking.

  56. prolefeed | January 14, 2008, 7:11pm | #
    “how do you teach people to build a good bullshit detector?”

    It’s called teasing your children.

    Wow, prole.

    Thats pretty much what dad used to do to me all the time. Lie through his teeth. And i’m not kidding. He tried to convince me a dozen times of things i had enough basic understanding of to know that something was fishy. It was a fun game.

    I agree whole-heartedly. Children should be confused and misled constantly πŸ™‚

  57. Professor Brabazon’s concerns echo the author Andrew Keen’s criticisms of online amateurism. In his book The Cult of the Amateur, Keen says: “To-day’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalised truths

    Idiots. I suppose they’ve forgotten that the New York Times is on the web? Ok, bad example, but I think you guys know what I mean.

  58. I’m all for the cult of the amateur. And I’m sure “talented amateur” Emma Peel could kick all of those experts’ assess.

  59. I think this discussion of wikipedia is quite insightful…

    Not just the main essay, but also the responses
    http://www.edge.org/discourse/digital_maoism.html

  60. {{lts|POV}}{{POV}}
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  61. So the students learn to reflexively internalize that peer reviewed=inerrant. Oops..sorry..I need to go finish my thoroughly footnoted copy of *Arming America*.

  62. It’s no suprise Wonder? is America’s favorite brand of white bread. So soft, so delicious, so fresh. For over 80 years, Wonder Bread has helped America build strong bodies. It provides essential vitamins and minerals-an important part of your family’s healthy diet.
    So give ’em what they love…. Wonder!?

    We also heartily recommend iceberg lettuce, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, Chock Full O’ Nuts Coffee, American Automobiles and a minarchist State, based upon a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution.

  63. So much to say:

    1:
    When books had to be handwritten by carefully trained monks, you knew that what you were getting had been properly vetted and peer-reviewed. But if if this newfangled “printing press” allows any Tom, Dick or Harry to get published, there will no longer be anything reliable about the printed word.

    You may already know this, Jennifer, but your satire there comes pretty close to the historical truth. I’ve read that when the printing press was invented, the Roman Catholic Church was very wary of it — in fact, tried to have it suppressed — because the printing press made it so much easier to disseminate a particular kind of minisinformation, which the church called heresy.

    Note to people who don’t know me: This is not a gratuitous swipe at anyone’s church. I’m a Catholic myself. This is just to show that some forms of human misjudgment are eternal.

    In fact …

    2. At Saint Louis University, I took a course from a Jesuit named Walter Ong. “Technology of the Word,” I think it was called. About how the technology used to store and and transmit information affects the way a culture thinks.

    And here I learned that Plato in his day was very critical of an increasingly popular technology called writing. Because people would use it as a crutch — they’d keep track of knowledge and facts by writing them down instead of keeping them in their heads. And as a result, no one would truly “know” anything.

    3. I am unconvinced that the Internet is significantly more prone to error than any other medium.

    Print has long enjoyed an unearned credibility. Because of all the trouble it takes to print something, people have come to assume that information is more credible simply because it is printed.

    But remember what George Orwell said: “Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper … ”

    And my own experience with public relations confirms what Brian Doherty once said: “Almost every time I read a newspaper story about a topic of which I have personal knowledge, or about an event that I’ve witnessed, I find errors–sometimes in minor details, sometimes in key ones. Almost everyone I’ve asked about this says the same. But our knowledge of journalistic error in a few specific cases doesn’t translate into a strong general skepticism.”

    I don’t think the Internet is any more prone to error and misinformation than the more traditional media. However, I think the Internet is much, much better than the traditional media at correcting misinformation. Online, it’s much easier to find a correction, a rebuttal, or a clarification of a dubious statement. Newspapers and magazine, on the other hand, acknowledge only a tiny fraction of their errors, usually in some hard-to-find cranny in tiny type. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a television news show issue a retraction of an error.

    4. Some skepticisim toward Wikipedia and other online sources of information is always warranted, of course. But students should learn to be no less wary of statements found in newspapers, books, magazines, encyclopedias or broadcast media. Singling out Google or Wikipedia for suspicion just gives those older media more unearned credibility.

    (Although I will say I was very surprised at this, while browsing through Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion this weekend: I read a description of some appalling behavior by GW Bush, mocking a death row prisoner, and upon checking the footnote, I found that Dawkins’ cited source was a Wikipedia article. I would think he could have cited other sources that are at least perceived as more reliable.)

    The key is to be aware that any source of information could be in error, and the more important the truth of a statement is to you, the more sources you should consult to verify it. The instructor should give this admonishment to his students, and then turn them loose on the Intertubes.

  64. If you want to teach how to “carefully vet sources for accuracy,” then Wikipedia would be an excellent place to start. Actually, I can think of a great lesson plan for that: find a Wikipedia article which you know damned well is a combination of fiction and fact, give students a copy of it, and have them seek out and correct the false information.

    That would be an excellent idea, Jennifer.

    Something’s wrong, that you aren’t a teacher (any longer) and this guy is.

  65. prolefeed | January 14, 2008, 7:11pm | #
    “how do you teach people to build a good bullshit detector?”

    It’s called teasing your children.

    GILMORE | January 14, 2008, 7:25pm | #

    Wow, prole.

    Thats pretty much what dad used to do to me all the time. Lie through his teeth. And i’m not kidding. He tried to convince me a dozen times of things i had enough basic understanding of to know that something was fishy. It was a fun game.

    I agree whole-heartedly. Children should be confused and misled constantly πŸ™‚

    Wow, my dad used to do the same thing to me — starting at a very early age:

    “Where’s Mommy? Where’s Mommy?”

    “I sold her to the gypsies.”

    I just now realized that my dad was teaching me to detect bullshit. Maybe this is why I’m so skeptical of various sources of information nowadays … especially my dad.

    Thanks, Dad!

  66. By the time most kids in North America have reached 15, they have seen tens of thousands of TV commercials.

    If they don’t have a BS detector by that point, they’re too stupid to be given the car keys.

    My own feeling is, since the TV came along, each generation has been more skeptical than the last.

    Good thing, too.

    The caveat is: skepticism is only one part of critical thinking. Learning to weigh evidence, examine statements for internal consistency, having the discipline to check the facts and a host of other factors comes with experience, which is what the kids will get in time.

  67. Stevo

    Your mom phoned.

    She really likes living with the gypsies.

    ;P

  68. How exactly is Professor Clueless going to enforce her little embargo?

  69. My own feeling is, since the TV came along, each generation has been more skeptical than the last.

    Oh, I dunno. Each generation that goes off to college seems to fall for the same tired lefty anti-business, pro-state, eco-conscious proto-Marxist BS just like the one before.

    Personally, I think its having to earn a living that really tunes up your BS detector. Its just fun and games before then.

  70. Has anyone ever considered that perhaps it is the university model which is at fault, and not the internet?

    After all, the university paradigm of study is extremely well adapted to a cultural situation where the knowledge being imparted to students is finite [say, the body of classical works salvaged from antiquity that were still in existence by the time the universities really started to get cranking in the 13th century]. The professor can hold all of the material in his head, can therefore make a legitimate claim to being an “authority”, and just about every possible permutation of “research” a student might undertake has already been seen before and can be graded in the context of that experience.

    The university paradigm of study is also very well suited to the initial and intermediate stages of the scientific revolution, where most discoveries are due to relatively simple experiments that can be easily duplicated, and can be communicated to anyone who can understand math that has been around since Newton – and where empirical data is being collected and written down on a blank piece of paper, due to the culture’s previous lack of interest in it.

    It may not be well suited to a milieu where the pile of content available in the humanities has grown from a small pile of Latin works written on goat skins to…the internet, which is still growing geometrically. It may not been well suited to a milieu where the empirical data set we have has grown exponentially for over a century, where the paper is no longer white but has been written over, crossed out, erased, and used as a palimpsest for about as long, and where the mathematics and methods of experiment in “new” work is no longer remotely accessible to more than a small handful of people.

  71. Fluffy,

    That doesn’t sound like any of the Universities I’ve spent time in.

  72. Without the internet, would I know about this?

    http://3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/2008/01/building-a-new.html

    Admittedly this is not something I found with google or wikipedia.

    I also note that the professor has not banned her students from using the internet, just google or wikipedia.

    Means they will learn about resources like PubMed, and their library search engine.

  73. Well, Neu, that’s because the universities are pretending.

    The fact is that not even professors can be “experts” at anything more than a tiny and trivial slice of their discipline.

    Has any Joyce scholar out there read each and every published thesis on Joyce? No. There’s too much material, and the slush pile gets bigger every day.

    This problem of content is “worked around” by ignoring huge swaths of the content [even so-called professional content] and by excommunicating other swaths [by declaring internet sources off limits].

    The “flat” perspective of internet-age students is a result of the fact that they don’t instinctively know which sources have been arbitrarily declared fit and which haven’t on the basis of academic politics. The fact that no one is in a position to make such a determination any more [because no one has any real handle on the content, since it’s beyond human capacity now] is glossed over. It may sound silly for a professor to hand out photocopies of 200 approved sources at the beginning of the semester and tell their students to ignore the other 100 million, but as a practical matter that’s a pretty good metaphor for the state of academic work in general because of the human limitations involved.

  74. Funny – very likely most of those peer-reviewed articles (and more) could be found and searched more easily on scholar.google.com, not to mention Lexis Nexis, EBSCO, JSTOR etc.

  75. A professor of media studies complaining about unreliable information? And they say irony is dead.

  76. And it may just be that those kids are cutting and pasting from the internet rather than doing original research and critical thinking because they’re too over-tasked to do anything else.

    Seriously, my high school kids do tons more homework, at a higher level, than I ever did before I got to engineering school. Combine that with my parenting peers’ emphasis on external sports programs, private music lessons, public service projects and the like (all so you can get little Janie into Yale) and its a wonder you ever get an original thought out of any of them.

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