Posted by: clholoman | April 16, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Two interesting, but unrelated, items a bit off the beaten path enough to warrant drawing your attention to them, while also mourning the losses in Boston.

There’s a really fascinating episode playing out in the economics blogosphere. Here’s a summary from the popular press, here’s a more detailed summary, and here’s a nice analysis with more links, but the summary is: famous economists publish powerful, yet easy to understand findings that make their way into current policy debates. Other scholars are unable to replicate their findings, ask for and receive the source data set and discover both questionable decisions and a basic coding (i.e. “fat finger”) mistake in the Excel spreadsheet. Now they can replicate the results, but  it throws the whole finding into question, including a basic question (and a favorite among social scientists) about having the causality backwards. And it really is about a fundamental issue for economics about the relationship between policies and macroeconomic outcomes.

Second, Stanley Fish, brilliant (but sometimes controversial and not always right) scholar of law and humanities and observer of higher education, has some musings on a brouhaha that I missed involving classroom activities and assignments that may, or may not, cross the boundaries of acceptability. One of our most important tasks as educators is to challenge our students in a variety of ways. Max Weber said “the primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his students to recognize inconvenient facts.” And one would certainly want to add challenges to attitudes and preconceived notions. But when, as Fish says, do we cross the line from classroom to therapy session? It’s a nice piece, as you see Fish wrestle with these issues and ultimately (spoiler alert) decide he’s not sure. I don’t think I agree with Fish on where he comes down on some of the examples, but it is worth thinking about.

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