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.