Transparency in evaluation should be a basic right

25 Oct

Over two centuries ago American colonies revolted against the crown under the slogan “no taxation without representation.” It is such a basic principle, you should be able to participate in the decisions that affect your life.

Today, we are faced with a new challenge; evaluation by secret algorithms. Right now, teachers across the country are being evaluated by proprietary value added algorithms. Recently, in Ohio, the contractor who produces the value added ratings announced that there had been an error in this year’s calculation.  Because the formula used to calculate the value added measures are secret, we have to rely on the good intentions of the contractor. There is no way to independently assess the contractor.

But there is a more fundamental question here, how can it possible be fair to be evaluated by a secret formula? I do not believe that value added measures of teaching are valid. Perhaps, one of the reasons they keep the formula secret is that people might come to realize that the practice itself is flawed.

This is not just an issue for teachers. There are efforts to evaluate colleges of education based on these secret algorithms. There have even been proposals to evaluate doctors this way. Secret evaluation techniques allow employers to have arbitrary power over employees.

Transparency in evaluation should be a basic right for all workers.

Adolescents with Parents who get their daily stresses are better adjusted

25 Oct


“Adolescents whose daily experiences were perceived more accurately by their parents reported better psychological adjustment”

Originally posted on Science Abstracts:

This neat study from Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine demonstrates the value of having parents who are in tune with the daily stressors in their child’s life.

Adolescents and their parents were asked to keep daily journals, with parents making daily assessments of their child’s day. Adolescents with parents who understand their daily stresses have better psychological and immunological profiles than those with parents with inaccurate assessments.

Parental Accuracy Regarding Adolescent Daily Experiences: Relationships With Adolescent Psychological Adjustment and Inflammatory Regulation

Objective: There is evidence that parents play an important role in their adolescent’s health and well-being, but the links between specific daily processes and biological mechanisms relevant to health remain to be determined. In this study, we examined the role of parental accuracy—that is, whether parents who are more accurate about their adolescents’ daily experiences have adolescents with better psychological functioning and inflammatory regulation.

Methods: In…

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Making and keeping neurons

24 Oct

A study in Current Directions in Psychological Science tells us “The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons, and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive.” Here is the abstract:

“The brain continues to produce new neurons throughout life. For instance, the hippocampus (a brain region necessary for select learning processes) produces thousands of new neurons each day. However, a significant number of them die and do so within just a few weeks of their birth. Laboratory animals that are trained to learn a new skill between one and two weeks after the new cells are generated retain most cells that would have otherwise died. The types of skills that keep new cells alive are not limited to those that depend on the hippocampus but rather include those that are effortful to learn, requiring more training trials or time spent training. Importantly, training alone is not sufficient to increase cell survival; animals that are trained but do not learn do not retain more cells than animals that are not trained. Therefore, learning increases the survival of newly generated cells in the hippocampus as long as the learning experience is new, effortful, and successful. Once rescued, the vast majority of these cells differentiate into neurons, thereby forming synapses and generating action potentials as they become incorporated into the existing architecture and functional circuitry of the adult brain.”

Note the sentence: “learning increases the survival of newly generated cells in the hippocampus as long as the learning experience is new, effortful, and successful. ” So there’s no excuse, it’s time to take up a challenging learning project.

Here is the paper’s author, Tracey Shors, speaking on adult neurogenesis:

A tame hummingbird

24 Oct


“a man and his semi-tame hummingbird.”

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

This is a touching YouTube video showing a man and his semi-tame hummingbird. The YouTube notes give this information:

João Silvestrini lives in barretos, Brazil. Has two hummingbird mother and child visiting your home. This video is 01/10/2014. João on message reports that this is the puppy, and makes one months that Mom hummingbird presented the child to Mr. João

Although we can’t see the bird very well, perhaps one of our readers with tropical experience can identify it.

A translation of what João says from the YouTube comments:

Hey, hey.
Come here.
Let’s film you here.
Here here.
Let’s talk here real close, look.
You seeing (it)?
There, look.
And, eh, come here, here now.
Come drink a little bit, eh?
Like that, look here, come here.
Come here, there (closer to ‘like that’), there. Look.
Let’s go to the camera again?
There, look!
Look there!
It’s filming, it’s…

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Sciency Adverts are More Convincing

24 Oct


“Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis.”

Originally posted on Science Abstracts:

Dilbert by Scott Adams

Dilbert by Scott Adams

It’s not by accident that shampoo and face creams adverts sound so sciency.

Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy


The appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness. Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis. In our studies, including simple elements, such as graphs (Studies 1–2) or a chemical formula (Study 3), increased belief in a medication’s efficacy. This appears to be due to the association of such elements with science, rather than increased comprehensibility, use of visuals, or recall. Belief in science moderates the persuasive effect of graphs, such that people who have a greater belief in science are more affected by the presence of graphs (Study 2). Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion despite their not truly indicating scientific…

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Fish oil supplements: Dangers for children

23 Oct

Fish oil supplements are often promoted as cognitive enhancers. But there is increasing evidence that fish supplements pose health risks. Dr. Greger looks at fish oil supplements for children:


My paper on astrology published!

22 Oct

My paper, “A failed demonstration of sun sign astrology,” has been published in the most recent issue of Comprehensive Psychology. Here is the abstract:

“A 2013 paper by Adel, Hossain, and Johnson presented findings that seem to support a tenet of astrology: the relationship between birth sign and celebrity. However, their finding was simply an artifact of assigning an arbitrary starting point to the zodiac signs and, consequently, the data do not support the validity of astrology.”

The Adel, Hossain, and Johnson paper that I critique can be found here.




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