Saturday, April 20, 2013

Give me some truth

This is the information age. Now, more than ever, info abounds, the truth is out there. This may not apply to every subject under the sun and you can be sceptical about some things you may read online but dig deep and you can learn.

I was sidetracked in my last post by a rage of differing thought when what I’d meant to simply say was that we need not listen to the ill-informed or those who skew a message for their own purpose, we should be able to see the truth somewhere.

These thoughts were prompted by two issues. The first was the differing views of politicians and pundits upon the austerity measures and benefit changes wreaked by the ‘honourable’ Gideon Osborne. The fact that both sides were able to argue and claim polarised opposing views was anathema to me. Someone, I thought, must be able to do the sums and calculate which parts of society are now better and worse off – to settle the argument. As it happened I was fortunate to catch a BBC news bulletin where they attempted to do this (sadly I can’t find it online) and as it turned out we were all worse off to a large degree – if not now then very soon.

Quite often the data is out there, generally it’s the case that there’s some vested interest that prevents it being shared with us. In the situation above you may argue that the best evidence would be in the calculation of the difference expressed as a percentage of previous household income. The fact that I know this – when I barely passed maths at school – means that it can and should be calculated and always shown as evidence when this debate rages.

The problem may be that the news exists not just to share what happened and when, but to demonstrate those ‘occurrences’ as a form of entertainment, they have to illustrate rather than state. If they were to just say ‘this is how it is’ then the opportunity to have two differing political viewpoints debating it would be irrelevant.

It has been suggested this week that news is bad for us and argued alternately of course, either way we know that the quantity of information available to the average person is far in excess of that than has been available previously. It is said that there’s more info in an average Sunday Newspaper than a Victorian person would’ve seen in their lifetime. Maybe there's too much? 

Not all news can be boiled down to simple detail of course; it just bothers me sometimes when they don’t even try.  Yesterday it was the turn of the apparently (if not evidentially) intelligent Michael Gove. The education minister reckons that our school days should be longer and school holidays shorter. This is to apparently make us compete with the Asian market. Naturally it was widely condemned as non-evidence based grand-standing or ‘policy-making on the hoof’ but what was really needed (in my view) was a complete overview of how schools in Asia/Europe/America compare, probably expressed as hours at school vs results.  

I don’t have the energy to look for this but I imagine the data is there somewhere. If you have the faculties – mental and metaphysical – then the information is at your fingertips. If you care enough then you can find it.  

I don’t know if the school day is long enough but I do know that my children are harder workers than I was at their age. I also know that many schools differ in the way they attack the curriculum (particularly in the quantities of homework set) but that this curriculum is evidence based and schools have statistics to back it up. Successive Governments have made a big deal of this – need I mention Blair’s “Education, education, education”?

What Gove didn’t say is where the money was going to come from to keep schools open longer and teachers working more hours. This money is not currently in the public purse I presume? Even though he’s a Tory I would generally welcome these bigger ideas and the opportunity to debate them, it’d be better though if we all had the evidence visible so that we could at least analyse it.

I did computer studies at GSE level at school; I parachuted into it after not being competent enough at Technical Drawing. Although this was a ‘mere’ 30 years or so back our version of computer studies was purely theoretical with not a computer in sight. Now there are computers everywhere, so that in the space of thirty years we’ve gone from not having one computer in an entire school to having three in my house. These provide access to a world of information, far more than we can ever use – it’d be nice to be using some of it though.

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