jump to navigation

Sex Ed at Community Colleges? November 30, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education.
add a comment

There is a movement afoot to prevent community college students from getting pregnant.

Last week, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonpartisan group, brought the issue to Capitol Hill, touting statistics about unplanned pregnancies at community colleges before educators and legislators in hopes of inspiring those at two-year institutions to help prevent these pregnancies among their students. The group’s latest informational brief and report note that 61 percent of students who have a child after enrolling in a community college drop out before finishing a degree or credential; this dropout rate is 64 percent higher than that of their counterparts who did not have children. On the whole, 48 percent of all community college students “have ever been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant.”

This seems like a really bad idea. It is not surprising that 48% of community college students have been pregnant or have gotten someone pregnant. The average age of a community college student is 29 years—prime child-bearing age. So many students have children before enrolling in college.

Moreover, as Sara Goldrick-Rab argues:

We might also ask ourselves, what is the function of the American community college, if not to serve as the “second chance” institution where adults can return to resume an education after starting a family?…Doesn’t the community college have the potential to be one of the healthier educational institutions, where real life meets academic life — and childbearing and parenting occur without the usual stigma? After all, this is a place where we educate adults — not teenagers. […]

There’s also evidence that while parents finish college at lower rates, that’s largely a function of having to take longer to finish. They tend to work and enroll part time, so when we look at a typical window of time for completion, their rates look low. Give them longer, and parents finish up. Is this a problem? I can only argue yes from a purely economic perspective that says the sooner the economic returns begin, the better.

And that perspective is one that may be limiting our views here. After all, don’t we treasure higher education for its intergenerational benefits — what it allows us to pass on from parents to children?  Presumably these benefits only occur if we do, in fact, have kids.

This kind of initiative is just a waste of time and money. At a time when funding is being slashed do we need to hire more bureaucrats to provide sex education to adults?

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com


More Pseudoscience from the Science Media November 29, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Science.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

The recently-reported case of Mr. Houben is another example of the science media running amok.

Houben was completely paralyzed after an accident and had been diagnosed with Persistent Vegetative State (minimal brain function but no consciousness) for 23 years. But thanks to the technology of modern neuroscience, (MRI scans that measure blood flow) Steven Laureys, a neurologist at the ­University of Liege in Belgium, was able to determine that Houben was completely conscious but just unable to communicate. This is an important development that suggests misdiagnosed coma cases may be more prevalent than previously realized.

But as this story in the Guardian reports:

This led to further evaluation of Mr. Houben’s clinical state, and it was discovered that he was able to communicate by typing out messaging on a board. Mr. Houben soon began recounting how he was awake the whole time, screaming inside his head, and eventually retreated into his dreams. He now feels like he has been reborn and looks forward to interacting with his family. [The NY Times ran a similar story]

Many scientists, while acknowledging the importance of Laureys’ brain scan studies, are highly skeptical of the claims regarding communication. This commentary by Stephen Novella is typical:

I don’t know what Mr. Houben’s exam is. But I do have a video of him communicating. What I can say with high confidence is that this is a video of bogus facilitated communication. The “facilitator” appears to not just be supporting Houben’s hand, but moving it around the keyboard.

Houben is looking in the general direction of the keyboard, but at times not directly at it (which is necessary for single finger typing). It is not clear if he can even see, and since his eyes are not in line it is not clear which eye he would be using.

His hand is also in a brace; his finger is not touching the board – the plastic of the brace is – so he would have little sensory feedback.

And yet his hand flies dextrously across the board typing very quickly. It seems impossible that someone with his level of paralysis, and years of inactivity, would be able to type so quickly with just a little “support”. There is little doubt, in other words, that his typing is the product of bogus FC – the facilitator is doing the communicating, not Houben.

Reporting of his typing is without skepticism, and so basic questions are not addressed. It would also be almost trivial to test whether or not the communication were legitimate – the report says he responds in Flemish – so have a non-Flemish speaking facilitator hold his hand. Apparently, he also understands English so you could have a non-English speaking facilitator answer questions posed in English. Or blind the facilitator to the keyboard or visual information that Houben has access to. […]

The only thing I am certain about in this case is that the typing out of messages through FC is bogus. Otherwise, I do not have access to sufficiently detailed information to make any specific conclusions.

Another video has Mr. Houben typing furiously with his eyes closed.

Facilitated communication involves a “facilitator” holding a patient’s hand to “help” them communicate by pointing to letters on a board. It was proposed some years ago as a way of helping brain damaged patients communicate but controlled, blind studies have shown that the communication is being done by the facilitator, not the patient. Yet these stories are reported with none of the skepticism such a hypothesis deserves.

So we seem to have another case of a credulous media drawing implications from a story with no facts to support them.

And as Novella points out:

It is also, in my opinion, a further abuse of this patient. Mr. Houben, if he is truly conscious, has now been deprived once again of his ability to communicate – usurped by a facilitator, who will be communicating in his name (and even writing a book, we are told). Never underestimate the ability for pseudoscience to make a bad situation worse.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Meta-Paranoia November 22, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
add a comment

Matt Compton at Democratic Strategist calls our attention to another corner of the freak show.

“In October, Mother Jones reported on the creation of a popular, massive multiplayer game, in which conservatives launch a revolution in reaction to an attempt by the Obama government to merge the United States with Mexico and Canada to form a North American Union:

In the game’s scenario, 20 million armed American “patriots” begin seizing local and federal government offices. These are the same people whose earlier Tea Party protests had been ignored and dismissed by the mainstream media. Now, they post bounties for government employees. There’s fighting in every state.”

The makers call the game, “2011 — Obama’s Coup Fails” but they are careful to describe the project as an act of satire and fiction.

“Unfortunately, far too many Republicans believe the coup already happened“:

PPP’s newest national survey finds that a 52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately […]

Belief in the ACORN conspiracy theory is even higher among GOP partisans than the birther one, which only 42% of Republicans expressed agreement with on our national survey in September.

 Adam Serwer‘s analysis seems right:

The 2008 electorate was the most diverse ever–for some people, that is disenfranchisement by definition, since that means America is being increasingly populated by people who aren’t “real Americans.” Even if ACORN didn’t steal the election, those people did, and so whether ACORN literally stole the election matters about as much as literal “death panels”. It’s “true enough.” Hoffman workers in NY-23 mistook one of their own African-American volunteers for a member of ACORN, which wasn’t even active in the district.

None of this new far right mythology actually has to make sense. As long as the frayed pieces of the puzzle can be assembled in a manner that allows this part of the right to preserve in their minds the idea that they are the authentic representation of what it means to be American, any explanation will do.

There are an awful lot of people in this country who can’t seem to get their minds around the fact that people of color are real Americans. And Compton rightly worries about the dangers of delegitimizing Obama’s presidency.

Perhaps someday the U.S. will return to a two-party system instead of a single party confronted by an irrational mob.

A Step Forward November 19, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Ethics, Philosophy Profession.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Via The Leiter Reports:

Apparently, The American Philosophical Association has adopted a new policy on religious institutions that discriminate against gay men and women (see here for previous post on this):

The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status […]

There has been no official announcement yet, but according to an unofficial report by Professor Alistair Norcross:

This statement will be displayed on the page where institutions buy ad space for JFP, and they will be asked to check a box to indicate that they are in compliance with our statement. If they do not check this box, a flag (i.e. a symbolic marking, like the dagger sign currently used to flag censured institutions) will automatically be added to the ad. The flag will say something like this: this institution has not indicated that it complies with the APA Nondiscrimination Statement.

In addition, the APA will fully investigate any complaints about institutions that may not be in compliance with our nondiscrimination statement, a flag will be used to mark ads taken out by any institution that is found not to be in compliance, and this flag will state that, following a full investigation, the APA has determined that the institution is not in compliance with the APA Statement on Nondiscrimination.

This is good news and about time.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

She’s Back November 19, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

Since Sarah Palin is back in the news, it’s worth revisiting some golden oldies from last year.

Juan Cole shows how closely the beliefs of Sarah Palin resemble those of fundamentalist Islam.

On censorship, the teaching of creationism in schools, reproductive rights, attributing government policy to God’s will and climate change, Palin agrees with Hamas and Saudi Arabia rather than supporting tolerance and democratic precepts. What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick. 

McCain pledged to work for peace based on “the transformative ideals on which we were founded.” Tolerance and democracy require freedom of speech and the press, but while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin inquired of the local librarian how to go about banning books that some of her constituents thought contained inappropriate language. She tried to fire the librarian for defying her. Book banning is common to fundamentalisms around the world, and the mind-set Palin displayed did not differ from that of the Hamas minister of education in the Palestinian government who banned a book of Palestinian folk tales for its sexually explicit language.

Read the whole article.

And here is a wonderful review of Sarah Palin’s “book”:

Now we are faced with the daunting task of wrapping our minds around the Palin memoir Going Rogue, appearing atop a bestseller list near you. Millions of copies will be sold of a book written by someone who can’t write, intended for an audience that doesn’t read, about the thoughts of a person who doesn’t think. God is dead.

She is fun and she is scary.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Fightin’ Words November 17, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy.

Via Interfax:

A fight broke out between delegates at an international philosophy forum being held at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ House of Scholars in downtown Moscow, a police source told Interfax on Monday. “The police were informed about the brawl at the House of Scholars at about 12:30 p.m. Several police patrols were sent to the location,” he said. An argument between delegates developed into a fight, with a man and a woman getting hurt. Both received medical aid at the scene of the fight.

I am dying to know what this fight was about—realism vs. anti-realism or maybe the Kantians just had enough of the utilitarians and couldn’t take it anymore. Who knows? But this is so much better than Republicans vs. Democrats.

H/T Brian Leiter.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

The End of the Humanities November 17, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education.
Tags: ,
add a comment

The corporate model of education, which has been colonizing K-12 education for  years, will soon make its appearance on college campuses.

The emphasis on standardized testing, the use of top-down curricular mandates, the use of profit motives to “encourage” teacher performance, the attack on teacher unions and modes of pedagogy that stress rote learning and memorization—these are all features of education “reform” promoted over the last 20 years culminating in the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act. It is filtering into higher education in the guise of Student Learning Outcomes and other mandates required by accrediting agencies.

The movement is especially noxious in the UK. Let’s hope this version doesn’t find its way across the pond.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has proposed new guidelines for funding research—entitled the Research Excellence Framework (REF).  One new component stipulates:

…that research must “achieve demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society”. The guidelines make clear that “impact” does not include “intellectual influence” on the work of other scholars and does not include influence on the “content” of teaching. It has to be impact which is “outside” academia, on other “research users” (and assessment panels will now include, alongside senior academics, “a wider range of users”). Moreover, this impact must be the outcome of a university department’s own “efforts to exploit or apply the research findings”: it cannot claim credit for the ways other people may happen to have made use of those “findings”.[ …]

The document offers a “menu” of “impact indicators” that will be accepted: it runs to thirty-seven bullet points. Nearly all of these refer to “creating new businesses”, “commercialising new products or processes”, attracting “R&D investment from global business”, informing “public policy-making” or improving “public services”, improving “patient care or health outcomes”, and improving “social welfare, social cohesion or national security” (a particularly bizarre grouping). Only five of the bullet points are grouped under the heading “Cultural enrichment”.

The author of the linked article Stephan Collini writes:

Clearly, the authors of this document, struggling to give expression to the will of their political masters, are chiefly thinking of economic, medical, and policy “impacts”, and they chiefly have in mind, therefore, those scientific, medical, technological, and social scientific disciplines that are, as the quoted phrase puts it, “closer to market”.

He goes on to point out:

As the phrases quoted above make clear, the guidelines explicitly exclude the kinds of impact generally considered of most immediate relevance to work in the humanities – namely, influence on the work of other scholars and influence on the content of teaching.

Collini has a detailed critique of how this proposal essential destroys the humanities. Here is an excerpt:

An experienced cultural or social historian, working on the topic for years, might – just might – be able to identify the part played by a particular piece of academic research in long-term changes in certain social practices and attitudes, but it would require a hugely detailed study and could probably only be completed long after the event and with full access to a range of sources of different kinds. Yet every academic department in the land is going to have to attempt something like this if they are to get any credit for the “impact” of their “excellent” research.

Of course philosophy will be the casualty of such a regime as well, because the “impact” of philosophy on social attitudes is even less direct and more long-term than cultural history.

The idea that intellectual labor is only valuable if it produces useable “products” will be the death of inquiry. Genuine inquiry depends on the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

But I would not be surprised to hear glowing reports about the  Research Excellence Framework on a campus near you.

Stay tuned.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Terrorist Trials November 16, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
add a comment

Last week, the Justice Department announced their decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others connected to the 9/11 attacks in federal court in New York. Predictably, the announcement has sent conservatives into paroxysms of melodramatic hand-wringing. Here is Joe Leiberman:

“The terrorists who planned, participated in and aided the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are war criminals, not common criminals,” Lieberman said in a statement. “The individuals accused of committing these heinous, cowardly acts of intentionally targeting unsuspecting, defenseless civilians should therefore be tried by military commission rather than in civilian courts in the United States.”

And here is Rudy Guiliani:

“I do not understand why they cannot try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military tribunal.  That also would demonstrate that we are a nation of laws.  That is the way we have tried enemy combatants in the past, whether it was the Second World War or the [U.S.] Civil War.  In this particular case, we are reaching out to give terrorists a [legal] benefit that is unnecessary.  In fact, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, when he was first arrested asked to be brought to New York.  I did not think we were in the business of granting the requests of terrorists,” he said

I don’t understand what the problem is.

Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, Jose Padilla, Ali Saleh al-Marri, and Masoud Khan are just a partial list of dangerous terrorists who we have tried and convicted of crimes in U.S courts. None of them have escaped from their jail cells or gained some sort of propaganda victory as the result of their trials.

And I don’t remember conservatives complaining when these trials were announced.

The conservative position seems motivated by nothing but the belief that our principles aren’t worth defending, our justice system is too incompetent, or that this collection of misfits and fanatics have magical powers. There is nothing rational about these worries.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote:

[T]he Right’s reaction to yesterday’s announcement — we’re too afraid to allow trials and due process in our country — is the textbook definition of “surrendering to terrorists.” It’s the same fear they’ve been spewing for years. As always, the Right’s tough-guy leaders wallow in a combination of pitiful fear and cynical manipulation of the fear of their followers. Indeed, it’s hard to find any group of people on the globe who exude this sort of weakness and fear more than the American Right.

People in capitals all over the world have hosted trials of high-level terrorist suspects using their normal justice system. They didn’t allow fear to drive them to build island-prisons or create special commissions to depart from their rules of justice. Spain held an open trial in Madrid for the individuals accused of that country’s 2004 train bombings. The British put those accused of perpetrating the London subway bombings on trial right in their normal courthouse in London. Indonesia gave public trials using standard court procedures to the individuals who bombed a nightclub in Bali. India used a Mumbai courtroom to try the sole surviving terrorist who participated in the 2008 massacre of hundreds of residents. In Argentina, the Israelis captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, and brought him to Jerusalem to stand trial for his crimes.

It’s only America’s Right that is too scared of the Terrorists — or which exploits the fears of their followers — to insist that no regular trials can be held and that “the safety and security of the American people” mean that we cannot even have them in our country to give them trials. As usual, it’s the weakest and most frightened among us who rely on the most flamboyant, theatrical displays of “strength” and “courage” to hide what they really are. Then again, this is the same political movement whose “leaders” — people like John Cornyn and Pat Roberts — cowardly insisted that we must ignore the Constitution in order to stay alive: the exact antithesis of the core value on which the nation was founded. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that they exude a level of fear of Terrorists that is unmatched virtually anywhere in the world. It is, however, noteworthy that the position they advocate — it’s too scary to have normal trials in our country of Terrorists — is as pure a surrender to the Terrorists as it gets.

As to the principles of justice involved, these people are not prisoners of war.

Prisoners of war are uniformed members of states who are party to the Geneva Conventions. Prisoners of war are not necessarily criminals but have been captured on the battle field and can be held until the war is over. The procedures that govern treatment for prisoners of war differ from criminal trials because no crime has been alleged and the rights of criminal defendants are not at stake.

By contrast, the 9/11 terrorists are not uniformed members of states and more importantly they have allegedly committed heinous crimes on U.S soil. Thus, they are properly considered criminal defendants.

But anyone accused of a crime has a right to a jury trial, competent representation, and rules of evidence that exclude hearsay, evidence obtained by excessive coercion or torture, etc. In the U.S., regardless of citizenship, we do not deprive someone of life or liberty without due process, which the special military tribunals set up by the Bush Administration did not provide, according to the Supreme Court. We don’t suspend due process procedures when the crimes are especially heinous.

There was a time in this country, before conservatism was reduced to reactionary authoritarianism, when these principles of basic justice would have been uncontroversial.

Can we please return to that time? That is my conservative thought for the day.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Time to Wake Up–You’re Dreaming? November 12, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Human Nature, Science.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Why do we dream? And why on earth do 3rd trimester fetuses dream when they have nothing to dream about? New research gives an answer that goes in a new direction. Instead of focusing on the dream itself, what Freud called the “manifest dream content” and trying to figure out what it may symbolize of hidden wishes and memories, sleep researcher Dr. J. Allan Hobson suggests to look to a physiological explanation rather than a psychological one. We dream to prepare our brain for waking up.

“It helps explain a lot of things, like why people forget so many dreams,” Dr. Hobson said in an interview. “It’s like jogging; the body doesn’t remember every step, but it knows it has exercised. It has been tuned up. It’s the same idea here: dreams are tuning the mind for conscious awareness.”

Drawing on work of his own and others, Dr. Hobson argues that dreaming is a parallel state of consciousness that is continually running but normally suppressed during waking. The idea is a prominent example of how neuroscience is altering assumptions about everyday (or every-night) brain functions.

This theory isn’t the only one to focus on the brain function of dreams rather than the dream content. Theories have been floated for a while, suggesting that the purpose of dreams is to get rid of superfluous mind activity from during the day, like “clearing” your computer’s “cache.” Hobson’s theory seems to hold some additional promise, though; for one thing, it explains the “fetal dreaming” phenomenon. For another, it also may explain that intriguing phenomenon of lucid dreaming, but it still doesn’t address why some dreams seem so meaningful to us. The dismissal of the meaning of dreams is going to run into another feature of human nature that is not hypothetical: Our pervasive, universal, fantastic capacity for storytelling as a way of making sense out of chaotic life. And dreams are certainly a form of narration. Still, I have been wondering about dream and their supposed meaning for a while, and this theory may give at least partial answers: if dreams are somehow unconscious messages to our conscious self (according to traditional Freudian theory, as well as a multitude of other dream theories), then why do we forget most of them before they even reach our conscious mind? Messages without a listener? Stories without an audience? Seems like a wasted effort…Or perhaps the intended audience is not our conscious self at all? Hobson’s theory may provide the answer: No audience is needed other than the brain itself that needs to gear up and be ready for when we do wake up. And why do some of us lapse into daydreams—especially teens? Well, maybe it is the brain reverting to a dream state as a form of growth process for the young brain? The brain taking a break and absorbing new impressions? (That may actually have been sufficiently explained by neuroscience, and I’m just not hip to it. In that case I apologize for my ignorance!) Philosophers can only hope that dream researchers may actually come up with some useful answers (because we don’t have the credentials to do it ourselves!), but once the research is out there, we can make it work for us in our continued search for the nature of Human Nature. But with our narrative capacity being so deep-seated, a dream theory will have to address the narrative function of dreams, if only as the brain function best suited to get the brain up and running. That in itself would be interesting.

And The Wall Came Tumbling Down November 11, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Academics and intellectuals often make the mistake of assuming all significant historical events are the result of intended actions on the part of powerful players. But this account of the fall of the Berlin Wall suggests it was an accident of history—not really intended by anyone but the product of fortuitous mistakes and a guard who could not bring himself to commit mayhem.

A Politburo spokesperson, during an insignificant press conference, misread a note that was handed to him. He mistakenly claimed that East Germans would be allowed to cross the border. And Harold Jager, supervisor of the guards at Bornholmer Gate made a fateful decision:

During the evening news broadcast in West Germany, the anchor Hanns Friedrichs joyfully proclaimed that the ninth of November was a historic day, for the East German government had announced that its borders were open. East Germans who listened surreptitiously to the Western broadcast immediately gathered at the gate. Within an hour, thousands had gathered at the Wall.

In a nearby possible world, this story ends with a bloody riot. Armed guards shoot the boldest of the misinformed citizens; the uninjured retaliate. Guards are killed, the police put down the riot, and the Wall stands, not forever, but for a little white longer as the Soviets eased into openness.

In this world, Harald Jäger, in command at the Bornholmer Gate, decided not to shoot. He called his superiors, who of course had heard of no such policy change, and faced with the gathering, chanting crowds, decided to let a few cross the border; by midnight, he simply opened the gate to all, not taking names or checking identification.

And so the great symbol of Communist oppression was brought down by a bungled message and a prudent decision by a low-level commander.

A lot of people are in debt to Harald Jager.

Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com