The Takeaways: Week 11 of 2017

A round-up of some of the intriguing, insightful, and/or thought-provoking things I read over the last week.

Cathy O'Neil, How to think statistically (about dieting) (March 13, 2017)

Here’s the golden standard: if you can come up with something to tell Medicare about how to have a population of morbidly obese people become a population of regular weight people, then you win. Otherwise, if you’re tempted to tell me about a lifestyle change that worked for you, please don’t, because that’s not statistical.

There are few writers on the internet that I admire more than Cathy O'Neil.

Tyler Cowen, How Emotions are Made (March 14, 2017)

Cowen's review of Lisa Feldman Barrett's book of the same name, subtitled The Secret Life of the Brain. Where, if anywhere, are we able to draw a bright line between nature and nurture? Per Cowen, Barrett's research stands in some opposition to Paul Ekman (on which I've riffed a little here. If emotions are "socially constructed and filtered through cultural influences," then perhaps this becomes another example where learning to think locally and specifically takes one farther than reaching for the universal. Maybe we've just not earned "the universal" yet...

Jay Rosen, A miss bigger than a missed story: my final reflections on Trump and the press in 2016 (November 11, 2016)

Today this is seen as a major screw-up by journalists, a moment of shame. They admit it: they missed a huge story. But now we can see that underneath it was an even bigger failure: they failed to flag the retreat from empiricism as a pattern that could replicate. That’s more than a missed story. That’s a shift in political culture away from journalism’s grasp.

The retreat from empiricism was a disturbance in 2004. Twelve years later it is a political style in utter ascendency. “When we act, we create our own reality” was a boast in the Bush White House, a bit of outrageousness intended to shock the reporter. Now we have Trump’s attempt to substitute his reality for news of the world.

Because then again, never striving to get higher than the local and the specific makes for problems of a different kind.

Audrey Watters, What's on the Horizon (Still, Again, Always) for Ed-Tech (February 16, 2017)

No doubt, I am asking the Horizon Report to do something and to be something that it hasn’t done, that it hasn’t been. But at some point (I hope), instead of a fixation on new technologies purportedly “on the horizon,” ed-tech will need to turn to the political reality here and now.

(Audrey Watters is in the same class as Cathy O'Neil: acute, skeptical, and always worth your time.)

Once I'd heard about the Horizon Report in the years immediately after I left academia, I occasionally would suggest it as a resource to educators and learning professionals that I knew or worked with. For me, working as a consultant, it felt like a good place to help others begin a conversation. But now, I wonder how often those others took it seriously as a prediction - as inside information on a forthcoming, fairly certain future.

Christina Farr, What It’s Like To Be A Therapist For Minority Tech Workers (March 16, 2017)

Thanks to the magic of RSS, I can read just the things from a source like FC that are relevant. But even that comes to seem like it's not worth the time. The story here is one that will probably not come as a surprise, if you know the context and the general trends of tech work culture. It's a snapshot, but like other mass-audience articles that I think about including here, I find myself wondering if there are others who said it better. So I pull a few key words from the piece and run a few Google searches. For example, over the past few weeks I've ended up with mass-audience articles about machine learning in the bucket I keep for the Takeaways, and I've searched things like black women in machine learning or whatever. For this piece, I didn't really find anything, so perhaps this is an emerging area of specialization. The subject of the piece is a new practitioner, developing services that the Bay Area might well need.