The Wrong Way Round

It’s just into the new year and I have tried to stay away from writing about this sort of this for most of last year but I need somewhere to let this stuff out and you are the people who I tell. I’ve mentioned before, many times, that this is a place for me to form my ideas and arguments. I’m not very good at that. I know what I think and I am quite convicted with those ideals, however I will change my mind once I see evidence that means I should. I don’t want to say I’m right about everything, I know I’m not, but I try to see things from a “do no harm” point of view. Right, disclaimers completed so here we go.

There is a lot of talk this morning about children’s education being affected by school closures. I want to consider that first. Yes, during the last national lockdown a lot of children struggled to keep up with the school work and a lot of children suffered mental health issues. If we look at the keeping up with the school work issue first there seems to be this idea that we have a fixed amount of things to teach pupils in schools. That’s not true. The reason people think like that is that they consider taking examinations, which by definition have a fixed content, to be the measure of schooling. This is bullshit. I can teach as much or as little as is required. We should look at the qualifications and change those. If we have teacher assessed grades for the next two years then it doesn’t matter if I fail to teach geometrical applications of vectors to my class. If an employed accepts someone who has a grade 8 in mathematics does the employer use that as a measure of that person’s ability to prove geometrical results using vectors or solving quadratic equations by completing the square? No, they do not. Employers use examination grades to give a measure of ability overall. Is that person good at mathematics? A teacher or centre assessed grade will still give that measure to employers, college or university.

STOP thinking that education is 200 things that pupils have to know before they leave school and start thinking about education as a process. Missing school for a few months doesn’t make kids any more stupid. It protects those in society from getting a dangerous virus that is KILLING 500 people a fucking day in this country.

Right, so I’ve fixed this concept of a fixed amount of education and we can use teachers to give grades so that society has a measure of the pupils we released to the wild. The next issue spoken about is that pupils need to be in school. The best place for young people is in school and I have some things to say about this.

Firstly, being in a supportive social environment is incredibly important to young people and mixing with others around their age is important. But the issue at stake here is that schools are where we force the rules of society onto people. It’s where we create the lifelong rules that people follow so that they fit into this current society. Late for school? Get punished. Mess around? Get punished. Swear at a teacher? Get punished. This societal requirement for school means that teachers and school staff do far more than educate children in the academic requirements of the world. We support the growth of young people and allow them to see different views and practice arguing and learning about how the world works. Schools are more than examination factories, we are places for creating future society because we don’t trust other people or families to do that well.

The mental health of our young people is incredibly important and schools form a massive part of giving meaning and a belonging to young people. Schools give structure to lives and help people develop. Having faced episodes of mental health issues in my life I am fully aware of how important good mental health and a supportive structure is to an individual. Rather than forcing society to rely on schools as a place of mental health support there should be much more of a support structure outside of school. The government admitting that we need pupils in schools for mental health reasons means that we have failed as a society to support our young people. If we require schools to do all these things then we are doing the bare minimum as a country. Pupils struggle without the support of school and I know children in supportive families who are having problems. The issue isn’t that schools are closed. The real issue is a lack of funding for support services outside of school and constant cuts over the last twelve years or more.

What sort of society do we live in where we are at the point of forcing schools to be open to support the economic activity of parents? Another reason being spouted for schools staying open is that parents can’t work if their kids are home. What sort of society have we created where the “family” unit can’t operate as a family and has to rely on state sponsored childcare? This is the government admitting that without teachers and schools taking your children off your hands for six hours a day then we can’t run economically as a country and that horrifies me. It would be nice to have the recognition that these are the things that schools perform for society. But recognition rarely comes.

So, to turn things around we need to do the following:

  1. Change how our qualifications work to support real learning in schools rather than examination results being the result of children need to know these 200 things.
  2. Pump money into bespoke services to look after the mental health of all people.
  3. Pump money into creating a society that can cope economically without aspects of education always being open.

Now you can see the issues. Everything I have said, except removing public examination, will cost money. It’s a political choice.

Oh, by the way. I’m angry and have been for four years. But it’s getting worse. I’ve been shrugging all governmental responses off over the last year or so but I’m going through a phase of not being able to do that.

Testing The ‘Rona

I have spent the last few days angry and I expect it will continue. This government was, until yesterday, insisting that schools return for education and school stuff in the new year. This is while this country is ravaged by Covid-19. The numbers do not look good. The virus is rampant and the spike after christmas jollities will occur in a week when, once again, the government will act as though they don’t understand a two week delay to everything they introduce. They are incompetent and have always been. They lack the balls and empathy to do the right thing. I hear people say it must be difficult for people in charge and while I agree with that sentiment I feel those people are largely trying to find an excuse to forgive the tories from their utter ineptitude. The current bunch of politicians in charge of this country – and voted for by most of the country – are selfish pricks who don’t care about anything other than themselves.

There has been an insistence that schools must stay open whatever is happening and that education is really important. Wow. Given the lack of investment in schools and education over the last twelve years I’m surprised at this attitude. Maybe tories just don’t like their children and do everything they can to get them out of the house. I haven’t had a real term pay rise for over twelve years. Education has been underfunded for over twelve years. Just like the NHS the tories haven’t invested because of their policy of austerity over the last fucking decade.

So we should keep schools open but we don’t get the funding to do so. It’s like there is a belief that we should teach a fixed amount to the children and then test that “learning” or the whole system will fail. I don’t understand this rigid thought process. I can solve this now. Let teachers grade their pupils over the next two years. Cancel public examinations. Remove all forms of accountability by exam results. Let teachers give realistic grades to their students as a measure of how they have progressed and learnt over the last while. This removes the need for examinations, removes the need for all pupils to have learnt the same things and removes the need for keeping schools “open”. To be clear, when schools are closed the education is still happening. Teachers have upskilled immensely over the last year to do their best to deliver their passions and subjects online. Pupils motivation and parental support are always the biggest inhibitors to education – not what the schools or teachers do.

So, I’ve “fixed” education for you. Now you can put in policy to maintain the health of the nation and ensure that we work together to end this pandemic and get the disease under control. It is criminal that the number of deaths is as high as it is. The sheer ineptitude of the government should be enough to cause a revolution but that won’t happen in this country and that makes me sad. I don’t think there will be any accountability of this government for the deaths and illness. I think in four years when we have the next election there will be enough selfish people in this country to vote the tories back in. I am largely ashamed to live in such a selfish and racist country.

So, to testing. That is the point of this communication. I’ve read about testing for covid and I’ve decided to write this to get some handle on what it all means. This writing in my way of processing the information. So, some things to say first. There are different types of test and they aren’t all the same. If you test and get a positive it is likely you have the disease. If you test negative though it does not mean you are clear. Let’s see why. Testing relies on the virus replicating in your body enough so that there is lots of it in your saliva or snot. When you breathe or cough you expel tiny droplets and these are then absorbed by someone else, this is how this virus transmits. Also, we could leave virus particles on surfaces and other people then touch those surfaces and their mucus membranes. The current tests rely on either swabbing to see if your viral load is high or blood tests to see if you have developed blood cells that fight the disease.

The PCR test is the most accurate but takes time and money. They are almost 100% accurate if you have the disease. The false negative rate is low as long as you have some symptoms. It could be that you are infected but in the early stages and we know that it can take UP TO fourteen days for symptoms to first show. Therefore any negative doesn’t mean you are clear. All other types of Covid test are compared to PCR testing as it is highly accurate.

The Lateral Flow quick test has been hailed by the government and I suspect is the one being rolled out to schools for some fucking reason. Let’s look at the numbers involved with this test. Because it all comes down to probability and getting the numbers correct. The sensitivity [detecting the virus if you have it] ranges from 79% to 49% when those administering the tests range from laboratory scientists to tests performed by self-administration. We will use these numbers shortly.

The specificity of the lateral flow test [telling you that you are infected when you aren’t] runs at 0.4%. More accurately the specificity of the lateral flow test is 99.6%, it is a measure of how accurate the test is at being doubly wrong. So, if you aren’t infected there is a very good chance that you will get a negative result and only 0.4% of people who aren’t infected will be told they have the disease.

However, if you do have the ‘rona then the probabilities look far worse. The lateral flow test will miss around 50% of those people and declare them negative. This quite clearly shows that a negative result doesn’t mean you are negative. It doesn’t mean you can go visit grandma and it doesn’t mean you can go out. I’ve just read from UCL that up to 86% of carriers of SARS-Cov-2 virus might be asymptomatic. You need to have symptoms for the lateral flow test to work (ish), the lateral flow test will miss half of those infected and the rate is even worse if they are self-administered. This is not good news.

I’ve done some number crunching and it looks as though the probability of you testing negative even though you have the ‘rona could be as high as 25% [50% in some cases]. Oddly, maybe, this is an example of probability I teach sixth formers although I have to say I normally use the concept of a “terrorist detector” to show how immigration policies are bullshit. So, this all means that the government policy of using Lateral FLow Tests in large scale population preemptive testing is bollocks and won’t work. Just like everything else they have done this virus reaction won’t do what they think it will and be a waste of time and money and lives. If only they had paid attention to the Italians, Koreans and such like in the early days.

We all have a right to be very angry about the government’s response to this pandemic. We can acknowledge that it must be tough at the top but we can also acknowledge that they are doing an amazingly shit job of it. We are suffering and people are dying [500 a day] because the British public voted in a bunch of self-obsessed selfish losers who think it is their right to govern when, in reality, they are the worst possible group of people to lead us through this crisis. Fuck them.

I read a few articles to get this information but these were the main ones. Horizon Magazine of the EU research centre and also this one from UK Patient Site along with this one from the BMJ.

Make Decisions Now

All throughout this Covid crisis there doesn’t seem to have been much appreciation by the government that every decision they make will have a two to three week delay in any action that then occurs. This disease isn’t a quick-show-er, it takes a while to simmer and then it fucks your face. For the last month we have been experiencing five hundred deaths a day. The latest figures show a drop in that purely because it was Xmas and the paperwork will take a short while to fill out.

UK Deaths

We also have news of the new variants of Covid going around and this isn’t that surprising. If you have a lot of genetic replication you get a lot of mutations and the ones that survive are those that manage to pass on more quickly. Not a surprise. More evidence for evolution you religious bigots.

It’s time for the government to make the choice and close schools for the next month. We had headlines in December about the biggest growth in the virus was secondary school age children, that wasn’t a surprise really. Schools have done everything they can to try to make their sites “covid-safe”. I would like to point out that much like “natural” in food advertising “covid-safe” doesn’t mean anything. All it does mean is that schools are trying to do their best to follow the rules set by the government [I do understand that some schools will be worse than others and there’s not a lot I can do about that]. You might be thinking that I would obviously want schools closed for the next month, but I am going to disappoint you. I would rather be in school, I recognise it’s the best place for kids, it’s where they get the best learning experience, it’s best for them mentally. Working at home is MUCH harder than being in school. Many of my colleagues suffered bad backs and necks from working online. I had nerve issues in my legs. Everyday I spent eight hours staring at a screen while trying to do the best I can to educate and look after the welfare of pupils. There comes a time when the government needs to recognise that schools are a hub of transmission vectors and they need to close for a while.

A NEGATIVE test doesn’t mean you are NEGATIVE.

The government publishes data regularly on it’s Coronavirus Site.

It Doesn’t Say That

Here we go again. Another BBC News Headline and Fooyah goes off on one to deride the state of news. But first let me tell you where my biases lie.

I have recently decided to stop scanning my general Twitter feed. I follow about a thousand feeds on that account and a lot of them revolve around my interests of religion, airplanes aeroplanes, science and politics. Given what Donald Trump says and could possibly do after the 20th along with how that affects my interests you can imagine that my twitter feed is filled with horror. Even last year during the post-Brexit week I found that twitter was feeding the news I wanted while the traditional BBC site and radio news wasn’t giving me the detail I wanted. I felt I wanted to know everything that happened when it happened.

I have started to recognise that this was becoming an obsession. Constantly wanting to check Twitter. Missing parts of TV shows programmes because I was looking at my feed. I was starting to miss out on peace, on enjoying concentrating. I have now stopped looking at that particular feed. I use my normal account highlighted down the right hand side of this site because that feed has only friends and twitter is one of the methods I stay in touch with some friends. I don’t officially do Faceshit so that doesn’t really matter.

From now on I am going to get my news in manageable chunks by listening to the radio and occasionally browsing the BBC website. I gave up TV news a long time ago as I couldn’t cope with the forced human interest narrative they assigned to every story. The human interest of news didn’t affect me, I want to know the news behind the story, not the “this made Chloe from Bakersfield miss her train”.

I watched this video after my decision, it was sent to me by a friend and while I have some criticisms of the things said in the video I felt some of it applied to me and I am far from a millennial.

I do have some issues with some of the things he says and I am definitely not convinced he is right about everything but it is very interesting. I could see some of these behaviours in myself and so decided to change my behaviour to be more positive to my life. One of my current issues was feeling anger at all the Trump tweets or news items and being powerless to affect them in any way. By ignoring them I hope to gain some sense of control and happiness over those parts of my life. I can get on with my life largely as it is and just calmly wait for the end-times.

I have become largely convinced that mobile devices need to be banned in schools. Not because I am a nasty bastard but because we have a SOCIAL DUTY to teach children to concentrate on tasks that last longer than a few minutes. The young need to learn to be able to delay reward. They are in a system where I want them to learn during all my lessons in a week and the pay off is years away in their examination results, in their choice on university and in the pay of their future careers. I don’t have a science study to back this up but I do think we are doing a disservice to the young because they expect reward constantly.

Oh, but they can play computer games and concentrate for hours.

Yes and no. They are constantly rewarded while playing computer games. The tasks are short term and the rewards are built in regularly to make the kids feel good. This is the equivalent of checking an answer in the back of a maths text book and seeing that you got it right. That little hit of success. One of these is “fun” and the other takes place in a structured lesson where the ultimate pay off is years away.

A student I taught a few years ago who, in the run up to his exams, took his phone, turned it off and placed it in a plastic bag which he kept on him for emergency purposes. He did this for three months. He recognised the distraction that his phone is. It doesn’t matter if you find out something has happened 2 minutes after the event or 5 hours after the event. It’s the same thing that has happened. That kid got As and A* at A Level and now studies at a top university.

Look, I love my phone and I like my console and this computer where I am currently typing. I don’t want to throw them away. But I do think there are serious sociological problems that need to be faced. We are failing the youth by not preparing them to concentrate persistently at a task with a delayed reward.

This was the headline on the BBC News website, I heard about the article from listening to the radio 4 article. I also found the same “news” item in the Daily Fucking Piece Of Shit Mail.

Now, I’m not very good at reading science papers. I have tried and find the language very dense and deliberately obscure. Given my interest in REAL THINGS learning how to read science papers is probably a good thing. I found the original paper from where these headlines derive. It is linked here. The PDF can be found here, or below.

A cached copy from this website

I just want to cover some of my observations from reading the paper before writing about the news articles.

A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well-Being of Adolescents

This paper was a test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis [bullshit name making it seem acceptable or a good thing even though it’s a happy story about a fucking thief]. This paper is to test the happiness-screen time hypothesis. It doesn’t set out to find out if screen time makes teenagers happier than not having screen time. It doesn’t have a control group. All it does is see whether the youngsters have an ideal happiness-screen time relationship. It could have found out that 20 hours a a day was the ultimate happiness value.

Most of the paper talks about the regression curve they decided would fit and how they tested that. Essentially they found an upper limit in the curve.

The number of students used in the study was large. All the data was self-reported and that can cause issues of under-reporting of negative trends. This paper didn’t seek to find out how much happier students were before and after. All they looked into was the happiness of students compared to how much screen time they have. There’s no before and after. There’s no analysis of how increasing or decreasing screen time affects individuals. It could be imagined that deliberately affecting the well being of teenagers negatively would be immoral.

This study sought to confirm a previous hypothesis that a quadratic curve could be used to fit to the data and that from that there would be a maximum [inflexion in the paper]. It didn’t seek to find out anything else.

This study seeks to inform future studies and has nothing to do with optimum time to get students the most well-being. It just modelled that. There were no controls. We do NOT know from this study what happens if a student stops using their phone and does other stuff. This study wasn’t about that. It’s not a before and after study. It’s a study about now.

Interesting, but also obvious, was that different digital activities had different effects on well-being. Being on a phone has a lower time than watching TV. They are very different activities.

The study also says that they did not look into whether academic work was affected or what the possible outcomes are with high or low digital device usage. This study JUST looked at modelling the Goldilocks Hypothesis. My instinct is that the Goldilocks Hypothesis probably exists for most things. Want to eat chocolate? Have a certain amount to get most well-being feeling. Want to exercise? A certain amount will maximise your well-being score, and so on.

So, now a few quotes from the BBC article.

Moderate screen use ‘boosts teen wellbeing’

NOT what the paper says. The paper did NOT compare before and after, just what exists now. They are very different things.

They found a “Goldilocks effect” where a few hours of device-use seemed to boost mental wellbeing.

They were testing for the Goldilocks effect. They didn’t discover it. Their aim was to model it mathematically. Again, BOOST, no it doesn’t say that. Boost implies a before and after effect which was not measured by this study.

In addition, the first hour or two of screen time was actually associated with an increase in mental wellbeing for those using computers, smartphones, video games and watching TV or films.

FFS, not an increase just what is. IF I HAVE THIS WRONG PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I am not expert in reading science papers. Have a look yourself and tell me.

The BBC article is pretty bad but there are redeeming features to the article and even they explain that this paper confirms the hypothesis. It’s good to have some science about these things but the NEWS can’t report it very well. And we wonder why there are issues with fake-news and this being a post-truth world.

I need a few deep breaths now as I take some quotes from the Daily Shit article. I can’t read the whole thing without encountering a rage so I will rely on the bullet points at the top of the article.

Researchers found there is little evidence screen time damages teenagers

NOT what they were looking for. The study was to confirm the Goldilocks Effect. We would need a CONTROL group to decide if damage is done.

The found that, in fact, 257 minutes on a computer is beneficial for them

No, it didn’t. See above.

It is the ‘sweet spot’ when teens have had enough time to develop online skills

No, it doesn’t say that. For fucks sake. If we trained teenagers in developing internet skills properly they would soon realise that the DM website is full of shit.

 I’m done. If I tried I expect I could take the whole DM article and pull nearly every sentence apart. The main problem is I don’t want to. I don’t want to read that shit. It’s misleading. The BBC article was misleading but not as bad. It was still misleading.

No wonder we have problems with people trusting the news and sources. No wonder they want to listen to “news” that agrees with their own narrative about how the world works rather than challenge their own understanding. I try to be unbiased in my understanding of the world. I try to give weight to things that disagree with my perception of the world because it challenges me and because, as a human, I am incredibly unable to decide what it correct or true. That’s why science developed. It’s why there are true investigative reporters. The world should be able to cope with REALITY even if they fundamentally oppose what that reality is. We should be accepting of things that challenge us and make us think but ultimately make us more aware of what is really going on.

After all, isn’t the truth what we seek?


Let’s have another look at that graph:

I don’t know about you but a peak happiness going from 47 to 48.5 or so doesn’t seem impressive. Also, we don’t know how many students were at each level, so we don’t know how many students were at the zero hours per day level [I was sure I read this in the paper but can’t now see it].

Also, 20% of students reported more than 12 hours a day engagement.

it was clear that many participants had reported
simultaneous screen use; approximately 20% of the sample
reported a sum of more than 12 hr of engagement on
weekdays, and 35% of the sample reported a total of
more than 12 hr on weekend days

Fuck! These poor kids. We need some serious intervention so we are able to help these people in society as a whole, so they can develop friendships, so they can function.

Beat Them Up

I need to vent some anger and rage. I’ve been so annoyed recently at what politics and society has become that it has to come out. Normally I can get away with a rant with friends at work or friends elsewhere, definitely not the family though, there are some relationships that probably would cope with that level of anger potentially aimed towards their actions.

Now I’m picking on a soft target for my anger. Education news. And I hate talking about education. I’ve been involved in education since I was 4. I don’t have the answers but there are times when there’s plenty of bollocks and bullshit messing with kids learning things.

So, the BBC headline is:


You can go ahead and read the story if you wish, I’ll be here, waiting.

This is a classic case of “shit goes wrong therefore blame education”. This country’s education system gets blamed for an awful lot. If there’s a need to tweek the way people feel about things then why not introduce that into schools? The government has always done one of two things:

  • Blame the education system for not influencing pupils enough the right way.
  • Blame the education system for influencing pupils enough the wrong way.

You see, the government thinks that all teachers are lefties, pinkos, commies, or liberal. The government doesn’t like teachers having power over pupils because all teachers are, by definition, caring about the future and society as a whole. The government sees schools as hot beds of resistance to the progress of society. That’s why teacher are called upon to include more and more social manoeuvring in all that they do. The government recognises that we have influence and while we influence lots the wrong way we can influence almost nothing the correct way.

What you should do is have a look over headlines and see how often “we will get schools to deal with this” crops up. It’s almost as if it’s a way for governments to say “we are dealing with that at an early age so it’ll be ok”.

Right, Brexit. In my opinion what caused Brexit? fucking austerity and a political class that shows little regard for the common man. A political class out to promote itself and not actually work for society and the progress of all. A political class whipping up notions of acceptable fascism and racism and a political class who consistently use an “us and them” rhetoric.

So there’s a correlation with social deprivation and the Brexit vote. Which means there’s a correlation with schools. THAT’S NOT CAUSATION YOU FUCKING TWAT.

So, here’s some of my views [no, they aren’t social science or proper investigations, therefore they are anecdote, but I don’t care].

  • Society has no control over what influences kids these days, social media is what influences them. They don’t watch TV like I used to or chat to their mates.
  • In the old days music was a concern because teenagers were obsessed with it. Now it is social media. Music didn’t try and sell them fake news and bullshit.
  • I might have a particular class for four hours a week. There are about 25 kids in that class. I am meant to be able influence each of these kids?
  • Kids spend 5 hours a day in lessons. Maybe another 90 minutes in school. The school enforces some of society’s rules and expectations. But that’s not a major influence on them.
  • Education, in this country, is not prized or treated as a good thing. If you have a keen, educated society you are less religious, more socially aware and more understanding. You might even pay attention to politics and things.
  • Knowing things (the correct things) should be prized. YES there are things that are correct. There is a right way to find out these things.
  • Learning to critically think and appraise news sources needs to be a skill ALL people have before being allowed to vote.

Possibly a little controversial here, but let’s face it, this communication has wandered a great deal. We have UK citizens [sorry, but really it’s fucking SUBJECTS] voting about shit they don’t understand, BREXIT, the general populous voting on a subject that the media has consistently FAILED to educate the public about what the EU does. A public that has taken all the information un-critically and voted correspondingly.

We also have the next PRESIDENT of the world’s most powerful country telling the world that you should let people make up their own minds about what is true! Utter bullshit. People have to be informed and have the facts as best determined by fucking experts. You very much don’t let the people determine what is true. You have experts, people who understand things explain WHY things are true to people.

I despair.


Multi Tasking

There’s a common myth that humans can multi-task and work well at all the tasks upon which they are concentrating. First, let’s discuss the term multi-task. It’s derived from computer speak then best definition is:

apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task at the same time.

Now, I am going to mention what the science tells us about multi-tasking. When I say science in any of my communications I mean the broad consensus of the outcomes of scientific studies. I don’t mean just what a single scientist or person says, I aim to give you the CONSENSUS. Over time science has looked at things, asked questions and tried to answer them. The human endeavour has produced, over time, a consensus on how reality works. When we find errors we correct them. Science is a self correcting process. If things are wrong, science will correct them. The consensus changes with our latest understanding of what is correct. You will always be able to find a scientist who will disagree with the consensus, especially with politically charged ideas [anthropogenic global climate change], but the consensus is important as it gives us the best ideas of how things work.

OK, my research here is mostly from Wikipedia. I am perfectly aware that this can be a site that has reliability issues, but on matters of science I think it is a good start point. I would NOT look at Wikipedia to get a balanced view of politics or people, but on science issues it is very good.

There has been a reasonable amount of research into human multi-tasking and the results of these experiments indicate that although we can switch tasks quite quickly we can perform none at the best of our ability. If you multitask you are going to do all the jobs to a poorer standard than if you concentrate on a single thing at a time. Moreover, if you wish to complete all tasks to a good ability then you will get them done quicker if you concentrate on a single task at a time.

Our brain is NOT a computer and the analogy fails all the time if it is thought of as a computer. Our memory is remarkably plastic, our brain function is plastic and our concentration can only really be on one thing. If you start reading about how our brains work and the amount of information they ignore and just make up you will be very surprised.

There is no evidence that there is a gender difference in multi-tasking, so if people say women are good at it you should correct them. You should also correct people who say they can multitask. Point out the evidence says that you will perform the tasks less well than if you cover them individually. These people will try to argue from personal experience but they would be wrong to do so. We are very subject to confirmation bias and incorrect thoughts that personal experience is pretty much always subjective. The reality is often different – just remember that dancing bear in the basketball players video.

I was going to give you personal examples of failures to multitask, but my previous paragraph excludes me from doing so. In which case I will just give you some more general ideas to confirm in your heads that what I say is generally true [I’m using your preponderance to have confirmation bias as a route to accepting this communication].

Ever been driving and talking or doing something and then suddenly thought: I don’t remember the last mile of driving?

Ever phased out of a conversation because something is happening in the background?

If you talk to people who design cockpits for airplanes they will always talk about reducing the pilot work-load. This is so that the pilot can concentrate on flying the plane rather than have to worry about checking things all the time and flicking switches. If the pilot has a reduced work-load s/he will be better at doing his/her job properly and being aware of the important things.

When driving cars it is important to concentrate on the driving aspect of being on the road and not other stuff happening in the car. It is your job to make sure you are safe to you and the other road users around you. If things go wrong it is your concentration that could save you and others. The problem is that for most of the time when driving nothing goes wrong and so people concentrate minimally on driving and spend their time “multi-tasking”. This reduces their ability to pay attention to what is going on around them. Gladly it is quite rare for shit to happen but it does happen and you need your whole attention when it does. Pilots spend their entire careers practising over and over again the drills needed to save an aircraft and the lives on board so that if/when it does happen they can automatically make the right decisions. We don’t practise any of this in cars, apart from an emergency stop for our driving test, and so this causes problems when things do go wrong. People are not practised at what to do. I would argue that this is largely because it is not financially worth it to save a few lives on the roads compared to the investment that would be needed to make everyone practise car saving techniques regularly.

That last paragraph loses the plot a little. But here’s the summary and a little more exposition. People can only perform a single task to their total ability. If they attempt to multi-task then the overall effect is a significant drop in their output and understanding.

In terms of education this communication explains why children can’t do homework in front of the television. I would also argue that listening to music will hamper their understanding as they will concentrate on the music and not what they are studying, or they are doing both but to poor effect. I have some music on while writing this but I couldn’t tell you what words they are singing because I am mostly concentrating on this writing. I am using the music to block out other distractions and this may prove useful for learning if it is in an environment where there are auditory distractions. Finally, we take examinations in quiet rooms because the quiet allows us to concentrate on the task in hand.

Now, for some Gran Turismo.


I went walkabout on Sunday with my niece and we spent the day wandering around 35 km around London with me boring her most of the time. We had lunch at the RAF Club and also saw a gig at Electrowerkz in the evening. One of the things I did was to show her around Imperial College and the student union.

In Beit Quad of Imperial College there is a place that used to be my office [it’s no longer an office] and also the union dining hall. Inside the hall are some honour boards and on there, my name! I have wanted to go back and get a photo of this for some time now and this proved to be the perfect opportunity.

Dep PresIf you look, you will see me in the 1994 to 1995 season, just after Charles Leary.

Honour Boards

Here’s a link to a previous communication about IC.


I don’t understand the logic or reason behind this:

BBC Rounding

My questions are:

  • What colour would 54.4% be?
  • What colour would 59.15% be?
  • What colour would 64.5% be?

Why are they coloured using whole numbers to differentiate the boundaries and then why tenths for the light blue-ish colour?

Ohhh, I think I get it. Because the national average is 59.2% that means it’s ok to have three colours below that and only two above it.

Does this chart say that no local authorities managed to get the average but some were below it and some were above it?

There are about 52 areas below average. There are way more (I got bored of counting) above that. Does this mean there is positive skew?

Do you know what?



A New Fallacy

I would like to introduce a new logical fallacy into the world.

The argument from “PROFESSIONALISM”.

This argument is provided by those who wish to change organisations and structures. The conversation might go something like:

“We want to make you work 20 hours more in a week. As a professional you must agree that this would increase the time you have to work.”

Essentially it seems rather a hard argument to try and battle. If you are a professional then you want to do your job to the best that you can. You also think that you are open to change and improving outcomes. So, this “you should agree with me” approach seems rather hard to argue against.

My problem with this argument backing up changes in an organisation is that pretty much anything can be justified using the “you’re a professional and so would want the best for your sector”. This is why the argument shouldn’t be used. If your argument can be extended (a bit like the slippery slope) to back up anything then it invalidates the points you are trying to put across.

“You can’t disagree with these new standards as they surely improve what it is that is expected of you as a professional.”

Again this seems hard to argue against. But there is a counter argument to be made. As a professional I should be expected to do all that I reasonalby can to ensure that I work my best. There is a limit to what can physically be done and the expectation on professionals should stop before that limit is reached.

Time for the world to use arguments that really back up what they want to do. Some evidence wouldn’t go amiss either [not just anecdote].

BBC Headline #5

BBC Headline from the website taken today:

Lagging pupils “don’t catch up”

This headline is lacking and, to be honest, the whole article is shocking. Headline problems are:

Quotation in Headline
No Shit Sherlock
Problematic Assumptions

Quotation in Headline
As long as someone wrote it or said it you can include it as a quotation in any headline or article. Say what you want. There’s always some nutter willing to give their opinion to give your leading headline some weight. “Crystal energies healed me” or “watch out for 23 December 2012! Those Mayans knew a thing or two”.

No Shit Sherlock
Pupils who are lagging behind in their work and understanding don’t then go on to catch up. Really! I need a whole BBC Headline to know this? How about “Some schools do really well!” or “Pupils getting better grades” or “Some schools not as good as others!”. There’s a distribution of schools or pupils, you can’t measure everyone and have everyone above average.

Problematic Assumptions
The biggest issue with the article and what the headline implies is that the bottom few pupils as measured by some arbitrary government test do not proceed to do well as measured by some other government arbitrary process. Have these people never heard of the Gaussian Distribution (the bell curve or normal distribution)? Some pupils will always be behind the others and will probably continue to be behind. Elsewhere in the article it is claimed that the top performers go on to get good grades later on. Holy Cow! This curve needs to be explained to them.

This is a graph of the Gaussian Distribution as everyone sees it:

Bell Curve

The Gaussian Distribution as the government sees it (blue version):

Bollocks curve

No one is allowed to fail or fall behind or not be clever or be too far from the mean.