Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Shoveling shite against the tide

I was deluded. You can't beat fake news with science communication
Jenny Rohn (Guardian UK)
     …I believe, like many, that we are living through a dangerous era of untruth, one that will be recognised in the history books as a dark blight on our civilisation. Fascists, charlatans and propagandists are as old as time, but never before have they been mobilised with today’s powerful tools, which can coalesce forces globally and amplify messages in a flash. Ne’er-do-wells formerly had their village pub, their back-alley rendezvous, their circus stall – an influence confined by geography to a small canker.  Newspapers reached more widely, but still they were binned each evening to yellow with irrelevance. Even the terrible dictators of the past who managed large-scale atrocities were constrained by the limitations of an internet-free world.
     Scientists are human too, so why are we shocked when they fall short?
     Now, it’s a free-for-all, and we’ve all witnessed the shocking spread of lies and the way their sheer frequency has numbed us into impotence. Any one of Donald Trump’s dodgy dealings would have brought down any other president, but the creeping paralysis of untruth-overload has de-sensitised the population to his many scandals as effectively as “aversion therapy”– as when an arachnophobe is thrown into a pit with a thousand spiders and soon cured. Even definitive proof that the Russians have been meddling in the elections of Western states and sowing general discontent via social media has met with a collective shrug from the inured populace – while individuals might get riled up, each bit of fake news is just another defused spider to the collected whole.
     I think writers like me, who specialise in evidence-based communication, have been deluded as to the power of our pens in the face of this inexorable tide. We write our polite pieces in mainstream outlets and expect to change the world. We brace ourselves for the inevitable trolls in the comments sections and on social media, but we feel cheered and bolstered by the praise and support from like-minded members of the audience. We convince ourselves we are doing good, that we are shining a light – no matter how dimly – on an accumulation of evil disinformation. We feel smug when we get a thousand retweets – until we notice that the anti-vaxxers, the racists and the nutters are getting hundreds of thousands more.
     I am now starting to think that none of this makes much difference. When does any of our evidence, no matter how carefully and widely presented, actually sway the opinion of someone whose viewpoint has been long since been seduced by the propagandists?....

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8-14: do you regret all the lying?

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Goals and Values and Twaddle

blather: long-winded talk with no real substance*
The whole concept of MSLOs [measurable student learning outcomes] as the latest fad in education is somewhat akin to the now discredited fad of the '90's, Total Quality Management, or TQM. Essentially, the ACCJC adopted MSLOs as the overarching basis for accrediting community colleges based on their faith in the theoretical treatises of a movement.... After repeated requests for research showing that such use of MSLOs is effective, none has been forthcoming from the ACCJC [accreditors]. Prior to large scale imposition of such a requirement at all institutions, research should be provided to establish that continuous monitoring of MSLOs has resulted in measurable improvements in student success at a given institution. No such research is forthcoming because there is none….
The Accountability Game…., Leon F. Marzillier (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, October, 2002)
In the summer of ’13, I offered a critique of the awkward verbiage by which the district and colleges explain their values, goals, and objectives —aka SOCCCD'S G&V (goals and values) blather.
I wrote a post each for the district, Saddleback College, and Irvine Valley College efforts. (See the links below.)
This verbiage—stated in terms of “values,” “missions,” “goals,” “visions,” and whatnot—is often badly written. It is sometimes embarrassingly trite.
It occasionally communicates something worthwhile.
No doubt you are familiar with the usual objections to jargon. Higher education, too, has its jargon—an irony, given typical college-level instruction in writing, which urges jargon eschewery.
Sure enough, SOCCCD G&V blather is riddled with jargon and with terms misused and abused. For instance, in the case of the district’s dubious blather, the so-called “vision” is actually a purpose. Why didn't they just call it that?
As one slogs through this prattle, one finds that "visions" tend to be awfully similar to “missions,” with which they are distinguished. The latter in turn are awfully similar to “goals,” which must be distinguished from “objectives.” But aren't goals and objectives pretty much the same thing?
These perverse word games will surely perplex or annoy anyone armed with a command of the English language. In fact, readers will be perplexed to the degree that they are thus armed. Illiterates, of course, will be untroubled.
Here's a simple point: the district and colleges’ G&V blather tends to eschew good, plain English in favor of technical terms and trendy words and phrases (i.e., it tends to be bullshitty and vague). Thus, one encounters such trendy terminological turds as “dynamic,” “diversity,” “student success,” and “student-centered.” Even meretricious neologisms such as ISLOs and “persistence rates” pop up, unexplained, undefended.
Does anyone see a transparency problem with all of this? Shouldn't the public, or at least the well educated public, be able to comprehend statements of the colleges' goals and values?
In the case of the district, to its credit, all it really seems to want to say is that it wants to teach well and it wants students to succeed. Admirable!
So why all the ugly, common-sense defying, buzzword-encrusted claptrap?

Districtular poppycock: our “vision” and our “mission” and our tolerance of twaddle - July 31, 2013

THEY BUZZ: Saddleback College's "Mission, Vision, and Values" - August 4, 2013

IVC’s vision, mission, and goals: nonsense on stilts - August 5, 2013

THE IRVINE VALLEY CHRONICLES: no ideas, just clichés & buzzwords - Sep 30, 2013

*From my Apple laptop's dictionary