Friday, November 02, 2012

The Helpy-Chalk 2012 endorsements

The easy stuff

For President: Barack Obama
For Vice President: Joe Biden

For US Senator: Sherrod Brown

For Representative to Congress (9th district): Marcy Kaptur

For State Senator (24th district): Jennifer Brady

For State Representative (16th district): Andrew Meyer

For Prosecuting Attorney: Timothy McGinty.

Harder stuff

For member of the State Board of Education (5th district)

Our choices are Marianne Gasiecki, Rich Javorek and Bryan C. Williams.

The Ohio State Board of Education consists of 19 members, 11 of whom are elected and 8 of whom are appointed. They set K12 policy. District 5 includes all the parts of Cuyahoga County that aren't Cleveland. Our current guy is Robin Hovis, who was originally appointed by Disgraced Republican Governor Bob Taft.

State Impact Ohio gives quick profiles of all the candidates which tell me what I need to know. Gasiecki is a Republican who says Republican things. Javorek is a Democrat who says Democratic things. Williams couldn't get his act together enough to respond to an inquiry from a major news organization.

The Winner: Rich Javorek

Judges Races

Voting for judges is stupid. Whenever someone asks me why voting for judges is stupid I point to this New York Times story about the way Ohio Supreme Court rulings mirror campaign contributions. (Actually no one ever asks me why voting for judges is stupid, which is too bad.)

For Justice of the Supreme Court, race 1

Terrence O'Donnell. (R) v. Mike Skindell (D)

And look who shows up in the first judge's race this cycle: its the poster boy from the above NYT article, Terrence O'Donnell. That article reports that he ruled in favor of his campaign  contributors 91% of the time

The challenger in this race is Mike Skindell. He does not rate as well on the normally reliable  Judge4yourself, but judge4yourself does not work as well on high-stakes partisan elections.

Endorsement: Mike Skindell.

For Justice of the Supreme Court, race 2

Robert R. Cupp (R) vs. William M. O'Neill (D).

O'Neill is running on the promise to end to end bribery at the supreme court level and is refusing all campaign contributions. He did this in 2006 in a race against O'Donnell and lost by 20% of the vote, which is I suppose what happens when you don't raise money and your opponent does.

Endorsement: William M. O'Neill.

For Justice of the Supreme Court, race 3

Sharon Kennedy (R)  vs. Yvette McGee Brown (D)

This is a partisan election, even if the party affiliations aren't on the ballot. Everyone should vote Democratic.

Endorsement: Yvette McGee Brown

For Judge of the Court of Appeals (8th District)

Tim McCormack
Kenneth R. Spanagel

Equal ratings on Judge4Yourself, with McCormack doing better with the general bar, and Spanagel doing better with the criminal defense bar and winning the Plain Dealer endorsement.

But McCormack is the democrat and Spanagel is a Republican, and really this is a partisan election.

Endorsement: Tim McCormack.

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)

Marilyn B. Cassidy
Michael Jackson

Both get good ratings from Judge4Yourself.

Jackson is the Democrat.

Endorsement: Jackson.

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Daniel Gaul
Edele Passalacqua

Gaul's ratings are good to excellent on Judge4yourself, while Passalacqua's are adequate to good.

Passalacqua switched parties to Republican to challenge Gaul, after Gaul violated judicial ethics with an outburst in court. Gaul's high ratings at judge4yourself show that the legal establishment--and the Plain Dealer--are still behind him.

Endorsement: Gaul

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Kathleen Ann Sutula
Dean W. Van Dress

Sutula is decisively favored by all the groups reporting to judge4yourself. She's a Republican, but her opponent is a city councilman with no legal experience whatsoever.

Endorsement: Sutula

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Cathryn R. Ensign
Shirley Strickland Saffold

Strickland Saffold made headlines when it was discovered that she had posted all sorts of insulting and prejudicial comments to under the pseudonym "lawmiss," including the remark that one of the lawyers appearing before her should "shut his Amos and Andy style mouth." When that same 'Amos and Andy' lawyer came before her court again as a part of the Anthony Sowell murder trail, she was removed from the case. Strickland Saffold is now refusing to participate in the judge4yourself process. Ensign, a Republican, is running against Strickland Saffold "at least in part because the judge missed a pre-trial conference that Ensign's client had traveled from Columbus to attend."

Endorsement: Ensign.

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)

Cassandra Collier-Williams
Joan Synenberg

Republican Synenberg gets top marks across the board from judge4yourself, while Collier-Williams low marks, including a dismal "not recommended" from the Ohio Women's Bar. Synenberg gets special commendation for her handling of the case of Joe D'Ambrosio, who was acquitted after spending 21 years on death row for a murder he didn't commit. Synenberg stood up to prosecutors, who, it turned out, had withheld evidence.

Endorsement: Synenberg

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Pamela A. Barker
Colleen Ann Reali

The various legal bodies at Judge4yourself give Barker near perfect ratings, while Reali's are as weak as they come. Barker is the Republican, but this far down the ticket, competence trumps partisanship quite handily.

Endorsement: Barker

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Robert C. McClelland
Cullen Sweeney

Sweeney changed his name to run for this office. That should decide things right there. McClelland is also higher ranked on judge4yourself. On the other hand, McClelland has not been transparent about campaign contributions and is a Republican. Name changing and secret campaign contributions are pretty much the two worst things about electing judges in Ohio. But McClelland has the backing of the people who actually have to work in the legal system.

Endorsement: McClelland

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Annette G. Butler
Steve Gall

Gall is ranked higher at judge4yourself, and Butler actually received a "not recommended" from the Ohio Bar. Butler is a Republican who was "shocked" to discover that the male criminal defendants before her had a very low level of education. It is not known whether she clutched pearls while saying this.

Endorsement: Gall

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Juvenile Division) 
Frankie Goldberg
Denise Nancy Rini

Rini has a slight edge with the legal establishment at and the endorsement of the Plain Dealer. But Goldberg is a Democrat running on a reform platform and touting her connections with popular Democratic figures like Martha Fudge. Goldberg is in the race because she challenged and beat Joseph F. Russo a corrupt drunk who has a last name that appears often in connection with corrupt Cuyahoga county Democratic politics.

Endorsement: Goldberg

For Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Juvenile Division) 
Michael John Ryan
Anjanette A. Whitman

Ryan is a Democrat with a decisive lead in the ratings at Judge4yourself.

Endorsement: Ryan

State Issues

State Issue 1: Constitutional Convention?

Every 20 years, the state constitution says there has to be a vote on whether there needs to be a new constitutional convention. No one seems to be calling for one this time around.

Endorsement: No

State Issue 2: An independent redistricting council.

Someone called redistricting "The most fun you can have in politics without going to jail." In fact partisan redistricting in Ohio is a nightmare. Since both sides redistrict in their favor when they are in power, the resulting system mostly protects incumbents in general. The new commission would strive to make all districts to be competitive. The only objection to the proposal has been that an unelected body is not "accountable." But we have seen that when it comes to redistricting, the elected bodies are only accountable to their donors and powerbases.

Listen to the debate on this issue at the City Club of Cleveland.

Endorsement: Yes

Bay Village Issues

Issues 3, 4 and 5:

The Republican mayor of Bay is laying the groundwork here to merge city services, including police and fire, with other services in the region. The move is opposed by the police and firefighters unions. Their campaign only mentions issues 4 and 5, and not 3. Perhaps this is because 3 primarily impacts the police and fire chiefs, who count as management.

In any case Bay Village is rich, and doesn't seem to need to save money here. As long as people are willing to buy those jillion dollar lakefront houses, I think there is room for more taxes on the very wealthy.

Endorsement: No.


The proposed change simply says "Shall article XIII section 13.3 Disqualification of the charter of the City of Bay Village, regarding the disqualification of certain city officials, be amended."

This looks like the ordinance that put the issue on the ballot. It contains this text, which seems to be the full text that will be added to the charter:

No Councilman, Mayor, Director of Finance or any other officer, employee or appointee to any board or commission of the Municipality shall cast a vote or approve a contract that he may directly or indirectly be financially interested in any contract, job, work or service with or for the Municipality, nor in the profits or emoluments thereof, nor in the expenditure of any money on the part of the Municipality other than in his fixed compensation and expenses; and any contract with the Municipality in which any officer or employee is or becomes financially interested may be declared void by the Council. Any such individual who takes an action that violates this section shall be disqualified from holding such office or position in addition to being subject to any other penalties provided by law.

This looks like an ordinary measure to prevent sweetheart deals and selling government contracts.

The ordinance also contains this language, which is interesting.
That this ordinance is hereby declared to be an emergency measure immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, safety and welfare, and for the further reason that it is immediately necessary to place said proposed amendment on the ballot in a timely fashion so the electors may decide the question proposed, wherefore this ordinance shall be in full force and take effect immediately upon its passage and approval by the Mayor.
They may just have to use language like this to expedite the ballot issue. On the other hand, they may be planning on kicking someone out of the government as soon as this is passed. Maybe if I hung out more with the neighborhood gossips I would know these things.

I can't find the full charter for the City on the City's website. Someone should complain about that.

Endorsement: Yes


Bonds for the schools, with a levy to pay for the "debt charges" on the bonds.

Always vote for the schools.

Endorsement: Yes

Cuyahoga County Issues


The port authority does not seem to be well managed, and I think was involved somehow in the recent cluster of corruption cases which led to the downfall of local politicians and a restructuring of government. Still, you need the government to fund economic development. I'd rather reform the system than defund it.

Endorsement: Yes


They want to switch to a 2 year budget cycle.

Endorsement: Yes


They want to stagger the terms of the county auditors and the count executive.

Endorsement: Yes

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vote for William O'Neill, for The Ohio Supreme Court

Ohio voters, end bribery at the Ohio Supreme Court! Vote for William O'Neill, who is refusing all campaign contributions. His opponent, Robert Cupp receives huge contributions from people whose cases he will later rule on. Ohio Supreme Court justices do not recuse themselves from cases involving campaign contributors.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For Justice of the Supreme Court: Mike Skindell

Hey Ohio Voters,

This election incumbent Republican State Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell is being challenged by Democrat Mike Skindell. You might remember O'Donnell from this scathing exposé from the New York Times about corruption on the state's high court. Ohio Supreme Court elections are big money affairs, and Supreme court judges don't recuse themselves when major campaign donors appear before them. Instead, they just rule in favor of the people who gave them big money. O'Donnell is the worst offender, ruling for the people who gave him money 91% of the time.

The normally reliable Judge4yourself gives O'Donnell a higher rating. In this case, you shouldn't listen to them. They are aggregating recommendations from Bar Associations and newpapers, which aren't good sources for partisan elections at this high level.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Egg freezing--cross posted from my bioethics class.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has officially declared that the process of freezing human eggs for later use is no longer experimental. You can check out the story on NPR about it here. In particular ASRM found that success rate for older women using eggs frozen from younger women was as high as the success rate for young women using IVF. This means that more women will be freezing their eggs when they are young in case they want to get pregnant when they are old.

The NPR piece I linked to includes several quotes from people who are skeptical of this technique. One that was interesting to me was a comment from Adrienne Asch at Yeshiva University. She seems to say that society should make it easier for women to have children when they are young, rather than creating technologies that allow women to have children when they are old. "It's an example of using technology to solve social problems," she says.

If some women decide not to have children when they are young, because they cannot find a partner or want to pursue a career, is it really a social problem? Conversely, would it be a social problem if a lot of women starting having children in their 40s and 50s, after they have established careers?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Genocidal rhetoric in China

I'm not sure what to make of the recent wave of anti-Japanese sentiment in China. The good folks at Language Log have some interesting posts up about a slogan/poem now appearing all over China calling for the extermination of all Japanese.
Even if the whole of China is covered with tombs, [we] must kill all Japanese; even if no grass grows in China, we must recover Diaoyudao [the Senkakus]
The Diaoyuadao are the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Here is a discussion of the poem. Here is a discussion of how literally we should take such rhetoric, including this comment.
Since Mao, words like xiāomiiè 消灭 ("eliminate; extirpate") have crept further into daily-life Chinese than they had ever been before, and in that sense they are not literal. But the very "normalization" of bloodthirsty language probably makes violence more possible, too.
I've been thinking we need to update the old Tom Lerher song, National Brotherhood Week: Oh the Christians, hate the Muslims, and the Muslims, hate the Hindus and the Chinese hate the Japanese, and everybody hate the Jews. I'm not sure who Joe Arpaio should be dancing cheek to cheek with, though.


Monday, August 13, 2012

More on Multiple Choice Questions

Preliminary MCQ Blog Post Emily asked me to say more about using multiple choice questions to evaluate more advanced levels of skill and comprehension. I had posted my notes from this talk by Tziporah Kasachkoff and Nils Rauhut on multiple choice questions at the AAPT. Tziporah and Nils discussed using multiple choice questions for three purposes. The first was for simple "did you do the reading" quizzes. These are simple fact recall questions which even critics of multiple choice testing acknowledge are useful. The second two, however, were testing for higher levels of reading comprehension, and testing for key logical skills These were the uses Emily wanted to know more about.

To my mind, the key to the sophisticated use of multiple choice questions is to recognize that multiple choice question can be used to identify all parts of an argument, and this can be leveraged to evaluate students on the educational goals named at all levels of Bloom's taxonomy. If you teach logic or critical thinking you are probably already familiar with this at a basic level. You can give the students a simple three ore four sentence argument and ask them to identify the conclusion. The example is written in a standard form used in critical thinking texts, where the part of the passage in italics provides context for understanding the argument given by the speaker in the remainder of the passage.

Example 1: Consider the following passage
Susan tells her friend Jill about a theory she's developed. I think your husband is having an affair. Think about it. He has been working late a lot recently, and you found strange lipstick in his coat pocket. Also, he seems very chipper and has been weirdly nice to you.
Which sentence represents the conclusion of this passage? (Select one option.)
  1. Your husband is having an affair.
  2. Your husband has been working late a lot recently
  3. Think about it.
  4. You found strange lipstick in your husband's coat pocket
  5. Your husband seems very chipper and has been weirdly nice to you.
The same passage can be used to identify a premise, for instance like this.
Example 2: The sentence “He has been working late a lot recently” functions as what in this passage? (Select one option.)
  1. a conclusion
  2. a premise
  3. an indicator phrase
  4. a thesis
You can also write multiple choice questions that focus on the inferential relationship itself, rather than just premises or conclusions, as in this example.
Example 3: Consider the following pair of sentences
  1. Fido is a dog
  2. FIdo is a mammal
Which of the following best describes the relationship between the pair of sentences. (Select one option.)
  1. If (1) is true, then (2) is true.
  2. If (2) is true, then (1) is true
  3. Sentences (1) and (2) are either both true or both false.
These examples are simple, but they illustrate the fact that you can use multiple choice questions to gage comprehension of every part of an argument. This is something you can build on in order to evaluate the skills Tziporah and Nils were concerned with: higher levels of reading comprehension and higher logical skills.

Reading comprehension is no small issue to be delegated to primary and secondary schools. This becomes clear in the philosophy, just because so many of the texts we deal with are so very difficult. But even for a general college education, giving students the ability to properly digest complex information is crucial. It is one of the big skills tested in the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which is probably the best measurement of critical thinking out there. The CLA is also, importantly, a test that college students don't show much improvement on during their time in school.

Being able to identify an author's point is a basic reading comprehension skill, and one that most people don't get the opportunity to practice, because so many writers in the popular media never bother to have a point. In philosophy, as in many disciplines, the author's basic point is the conclusion of her argument. Questions that ask you to identify the conclusion of a passage can be scaled up to ask students about the conclusions of assigned readings. Now, of course, it is not just enough to know an author'point. We also want the students to know why the author thinks we should believe her claims. And so we can also employ questions that ask about premises. The next example is from a test given at the end of a unit on Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. It features one target passage, and then questions that measure simple factual recall, recognition of conclusions, recognition of premises, and an understanding of the nature of the inference.
Example 4: For questions 1–4 consider the following passage

I shall briefly explain how I conceive this matter. Look round the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions to a degree beyond what human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed. By this argument a posteriori, and by this argument alone, do we prove at once the existence of a Deity, and his similarity to human mind and intelligence.

1. Who is speaking? (Select one option.)
  1. Philo
  2. Cleanthes
  3. Demea
  4. Pamphilus.
2. What is the conclusion of the argument in this passage?
  1. The universe resembles a machine made up of many smaller machines.
  2. The adapting of means to ends is characteristic of human machines.
  3. The Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man.
  4. The universe was created by a perfect, all-knowing deity.
  5. The world could not have been created randomly.
3. What is the role of the claim that the universe resembles “nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines” in this passage?
  1. It is a premise
  2. It is the conclusion.
  3. It is a qualification on the conclusion.
  4. It is not part of the argument at all.
4. Why does the speaker call this an a posteriori argument by analogy?
  1. It can be known without any experience of the world, simply while sitting in one's chair, because it depends on an analogy between human thought and God's thought.
  2. It can only be known by experience in the world, because that is the only way we can see the analogy between human thought and a machine
  3. It can only be known by experience in the world, because that is the only way we can see the analogy between the world as a whole and a machine
  4. It can be known without any experience of the world, because it is a regress argument.
This sequence of questions illustrates the way you can leverage asking questions about the parts of an argument to go past mere factual recall. A student who answers these questions correctly is demonstrating a thorough understanding of a pivotal passage in Hume's Dialogues. The student understands the basic claim, the reasons for that claim, and the level of support those reasons provide.
Because it is important that students know both an author's thesis and argument, some instructors create elaborate, two-tiered questions that ask about both at the same time. This is a modified version of the example Tziporah used at the AAPT talk.
Example 5: For Locke a government derives its legitimacy from which of the following?
  1. The separation of the legislative, judiciary and executive functions
  2. The consent of the governed
  3. the coherence of civil laws with divine laws
  4. The wellbeing that government contributes to its citizens' lives.
If you answered (a), circle the number next to the best description of why Locke believes that (a) is the source of a government's legitimacy.
  1. Government can be legitimate only if those who serve its various functions have powers independent of one another.
  2. Non-separation inevitably leads to conflict of interest and conflicting interests may lead to unfair behavior and a government that may behave unfairly is, for Locke, a government that is illegitimate
  3. Legitimate political power must be spread as widely as possible and not concentrated in one function
  4. All of the above
If you answered (b), circle the number next to the best description of why Locke believes that (b) is the source of a government's legitimacy.
  1. Only democracies are legitimate forms of government and democracies require majority consent of the citizens
  2. All persons are created equally by God, and so no one person or group may rule over another without that other&apost;s voluntary consent.
  3. Those who do not vote for a government are not bound to obey it.
  4. All of the above
If you answered (c), circle the number next to the best description of why Locke believes that (c) is the source of a government's legitimacy.
  1. Locke believes in the supreme authority of God.
  2. All political authority comes from God.
  3. Even in the state of nature, God's laws determine how we should behave.
  4. None of the above
If you answered (d), circle the number next to the best description of why Locke believes that (d) is the source of a government's legitimacy.
  1. The only reason we want or need government is to improve our wellbeing
  2. Wellbeing is the ultimate goal of all civil arrangements
  3. One would not vote for a government that did not improve his or her life
  4. All of the above
A two tiered question like this has the advantage of allowing you to ask about both premises and conclusions without revealing either to the student. It has a lot of disadvantages, though. It takes up a lot of space on the page and time during the test, so you can't ask too many of these. Also, if you grade it as an all or nothing question, an initial misstep could give a student a grade that doesn't reflect their real ability. After choosing a wrong initial answer, the student might waste time agonizing over a set of choices, none of which can earn her credit.

If you are testing on a computer, you can avoid this problem by simply programming the machine to show the question about Locke's reasons only if the initial question about Locke's thesis is answered correctly. If the initial question is answered incorrectly, the system can just move on to the next question. How that is scored will depend on the larger structure of the question tree. Alternately, if you wish to remain on paper, you can allow partial credit for certain paths through the subquestions. The correct answer for Example 5 is B-2, that is the student must answer answer B for the main question, and then 2 for the second question. However combination C-2 is also a plausible reading of Locke. Partial credit could be awarded for that. You could also award partial credit for combinations that are at least logical, in that the reason given in the second question actually supports the answer given in the first question, even if the first answer isn't the actual view of the author.To do this, you have to structure the distracters right for the secondary question. For instance, a secondary question for the first answer of example 5 above might look like this.
Example 6: If you answered (a), circle the number next to the best description of why Locke believes that (a) is the source of a government's legitimacy.
  1. Government is weak and indecisive if all of its powers are spread out among many people
  2. Non-separation inevitably leads to conflict of interest and conflicting interests may lead to unfair behavior and a government that may behave unfairly is, for Locke, a government that is illegitimate
  3. In order to me legitimate, a government must have separate legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
  4. One would not vote for a government that did not improve his or her life
Answers (1) and (4) are not reasons for the separation of powers. Answer (1) is a reason one might not want to separate powers. Answer (4) is a reason that would justify answer (d) in the original question. Any student who selects these answers not only does not know Locke's view, but is fundamentally confused about the issue at hand, and may just be selecting answers at random. Answer (3) is basically the same as the conclusion we are trying to justify. So if Locke did believe that the separation of powers was the key to legitimate government, and he used this reason to justify that view, he would be begging the question. A student who gives this combination of answers has enough sense of what is going on to be consistent in their mistakes, and might deserve a bit of partial credit. Finally a student who combines an initial answer of A with a subsequent answer of (2) may not have read Locke, but is at least capable of recognizing a coherent argument. We will look more at this sort of question when we come to using multiple choice questions to test higher level logical skills.

The simplest way to test for understanding of both premises and conclusions at the same time is to use a single question where each option states both a premise and a conclusion, and some answers differ only in the premise or the conclusion. For instance, the question in example 5 could be rewritten this way.
Example 7: Where does Locke believe the legitimacy of government comes from, and why? (Select one.)
  1. The legitimacy of government comes from the separation of the legislative, judiciary and executive functions, because non-separation inevitably leads to conflict of interest and conflicting interests may lead to unfair behavior.
  2. The legitimacy of government comes from the separation of the legislative, judiciary and executive functions, because legitimate political power must be spread as widely as possible and not concentrated in one function
  3. Legitimacy of government comes from the the consent of the governed, because all persons are created equally by God, and so no one person or group may rule over another without that other's voluntary consent.
  4. Legitimacy of government comes from the the consent of the governed, because those who do not vote for a government are not bound to obey it.
  5. Legitimacy of government comes from the coherence of civil laws with divine laws, because Locke believes in the supreme authority of God.
  6. Legitimacy of government comes from the coherence of civil laws with divine laws, because all political authority comes from God.
  7. Legitimacy of government comes from the wellbeing that government contributes to its citizens' lives, because wellbeing is the ultimate goal of all civil arrangements.
  8. Legitimacy of government comes from the wellbeing that government contributes to its citizens' lives, because one would not vote for a government that did not improve his or her life.
So, we can use multiple choice questions to ask about premises, conclusions, and inferences, and and we can ask about a couple of these at the same time. This lets us evaluate student's understanding of they core philosophical content of any text. We can also use multiple choice questions to get students to push deeper into issues than they have gone in the reading. In doing this start evaluating higher level logical skills.

One simple way to do this is to ask questions that introduce objections to arguments the students have already seen. For instance, when I teach the The Crito I have a hand out which puts the central argument of the dialogue in cannonical form. On the test, I might repeat this schematization and then ask students to evaluate new objections to it, as in the example below.
Example 7. Consider this argument from your reading.
  1. One must never do injustice (49b6)
  2. Therefore, one must not return injustice with injustice. (49b8)
  3. Therefore, if one has a contract, one must not break it, even if the other party has wronged you. (49e.)
  4. Every citizen makes a contract with the laws of the city to obey those laws. This duty is stronger even than duty to parents (50b).
  5. Therefore, one must obey the laws of the city, even if the city has wronged you. (51b)

  6. Therefore, Socrates should stay in prison. (51c)
Which of the following objections Crito might make to Socrates's argument? (Check all that apply.)
  1. In fact, one should do injustices sometimes, and cases where one has been done an injustice are a good example of this.
  2. Even if one must never return an injustice for an injustice, it doesn't follow that one must always carry out a contract, because the contract could be voided with the other side breaks it.
  3. If Socrates runs away, it will be a violation of everything he's stood for.
  4. Socrates has no reason to fear death, so he has no reason to avoid execution.
Example 7 is fairly simple. The first two items are objections to the argument, one challenging the truth of a premise and one challenging the strength of an inference. The second two choices are not objections to the argument. They are further statements in support of the argument.

If your course covers more aspects of critical thinking, you can add interesting variations to this question. For instance, if your course emphasizes the difference between objections directed at an argument and independent reasons to doubt the conclusion of an argument, you could add the option "(e) If Socrates allows himself to be executed, his children will grow up as orphans." If you have made it sufficiently clear that independent arguments against the conclusion do not count as "objections to an argument," this would then be a wrong choice that many students would be very tempted to circle. Alternately you could ask a question that asks students to identify exactly how a different responses to this argument work, as in this example.
Example 8: Consider the following list of possible replies Crito or someone else might make to Socrates's main argument in the Crito, outlined above
  1. In fact, one should do injustices sometimes, and cases where one has been done an injustice are a good example of this.
  2. Even if one must never return an injustice for an injustice, it doesn't follow that one must always carry out a contract, because the contract could be voided with the other side breaks it.
  3. If Socrates runs away, it will be a violation of everything he's stood for.
  4. Socrates has no reason to fear death, so he has no reason to avoid execution.
  5. If Socrates allows himself to be executed, his children will grow up as orphans.
Mark each of the replies with one of the labels below, depending on what kind of reply it is. Some labels will be used twice.
TP: This is a challenge to the truth of one of the premises.
SI: This is a challenge to the strength of one of the inferences.
IND: This is an independent argument against the truth of the conclusion
NC: This is not challenge at all to the argument.
Questions like this allow us to push very deep into the logic of a philosophical argument, while retaining the ability to grade answers quickly, mechanically, and objectively.
I could go on with more examples, and in fact in a very short time I will. I've been asked to write an article on multiple choice questions for newsletter of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers. This post is a draft of part of it, and more will be coming soon.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Joan Forry and Phil Jenkins on responding to plagiarism as a moral issue

Joan: We are not talking about the usual topic: how to detect and prevent plagiarism.

Phil: anecdote about having to correct a teacher who had given a penalty for plagiarism that was perceived as a too draconian. The teacher defended the penalty as a moral punishment, rather than a simply an assessment of student performance.

Specifically, the case was a plagiarized paper and the penalty was failing the paper AND losing a letter grade on the final grade of the course. The justification was that not turning in a paper gets you a zero, and the punishment for plagiarism should be worse than that.

So the question is: what is the appropriate response to cases of plagiarism and why? The why is the important part of the question.

Daryl Close in Teaching Philosophy on the purposes and principles of grading: Purpose: provide readers of the transcript with an expert opinion on the knowledge and skills of the student. So even grading on attendance is unfair because it doesn’t measure knowledge or skills. [Me: Showing up on time is a skill that employers want to see.]

Two views of plagiarism:

Course mastery view
·         Plagiarism is a failure of the student to demonstrate mastery of the material.
·         The immorality of the act of plagiarism is irrelevant to the act of grading. Evaluating moral is unfair.

Moral violation view:
·         Plagiarism is a moral wrong because it is an act of deception
·         It may be regarded as an affront to the discipline, the learning community and the institution.
·         Students have an obligation to deter immoral behavior.
·         Penalty for plagiarism is to deter and punish wrongdoing.

Exercise: we are broken up into two groups and grade a sample paper based on one of the two views.

The prompt is a very mild case of plagiarism. Everyone else thinks that this is a mild violation, I think it is not even a mild violation.

Moral violation group: First question: it deliberate or innocent. They think it seems innocent, so it a redo.

Content mastery group: this person didn’t really fulfill the assignment. My group thinks it is a D or an F. I think it is a C.

The speakers wanted this to be a case that would get an ok grade from the course mastery group and be failed by the moral violation group. I think it gets a C from either perspective.

Hermberg: Most of us are at institutions whose mission is to produce conscientious, good citizens.  Our mission statement says our graduates are people of integrity.

Julie: Does this represent course mastery or does it represent academic system mastery.

Phil is now trying to redo the example so the violation is more severe.

Peter Bradley: You can’t break apart the plagiarism part of the paper and the overall quality of the paper.

Matthew Lee: “A truth hands on approach to teaching logic.”

What we are going to do today is build a world, then you are going to destroy it, then build another one. You are the gods of your world.

Create a world where the following sentence is true “There is a purple donkey.”

Picks up a styrofoam hemisphere. This + imagination will be a purple donkey.

Two kinds of labels:
Name: “sam”,
Predicates: “___ is a donkey” “__is purple.”

Conventions:   Break all predicates down in to the smallest meaning full parts.
Don’t tag negative properties. “__ is not hungry” does not get a flag. If a property isn’t flagged, the object doesn’t have it. We assume Sam is not hungry (or sleepy or dead.)

Basically, this is a Styrofoam version of Tarksi’s World, developed independently, with slightly different rules.

David Concepción “Why that learning objective?”

One pedagogy is only better than another relative to a particular outcome. Therefore we don’t know whether what we are doing is worth a hill of beans unless we have thought through what our learning objectives are.

Standard goals: content, skills, enlightenment.

He has been moving more towards enlightenment goals.

An enlightenment question for environmental ethics: What ought you grieve? (Connects to a book by Judith Butler on the social construction of the grievable.)

Outcomes need to be keyed to the role of the class in student development: one off course, course for early majors, or a course for late majors.

He hands out lists of kinds of goals, including a list from L. Dee Fink. [Interestingly, the Fink seems to be presented as an alternative to Bloom’s taxonomy.]

What follows is an exercise in identifying learning outcomes for three different kinds of courses. [Most of my colleagues think that identifying learning outcomes is the most painful, pointless exercises imaginable, and the only thing that can make the experience worse is to have a philosopher in the group. This is a room full of philosophers trying to decide on learning outcomes. I like it.]

The punchline: Ultimately everyone was drawn to “enlightenment” type outcomes. David then says “if this is the outcome you really want, and you aren’t evaluating it, your outcomes are out of alignment.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nils Rauhut and Tziporah Kasachkoff “Everything you always wanted to know about multiple choice question in philosophy—but were afraid to ask.”

Nils: When I came to philosophy, I thought multiple choice questions were a violation of the spirit of philosophy. But really, multiple choice questions do things that no other assessment cannot do.

Tziporah: I always thought multiple choice questions were appropriate for philosophy. After all, we take the GRE. But I did have problems with essay exams, because the research shows that all sorts of arbitrary things bias essay grading, including penmanship, the name that appears on the top of the test, and framing effects. Also, essay exams are impractical.

Audience guy: I’m interested in multiple choice questions as learning events. Research has shown that mcq with feedback improves performance on essays down the line.

·         Good multiple choice questions take time to write.
·         It really helps to have someone else take your multiple choice tests. If you can’t give your test to a colleague, give it to yourself 10 days later.
·         If a large % of the class gets it wrong, there is something wrong with the question or the way you teach the material.
·         If students identify an ambiguity, be humble with t. Just because you are the author of a question, doesn’t mean you are the final judge on what the correct answer is.
·         Don’t ever put in wildly implausible answers.

The literature refers to the part of the question that the answers are about is called the stem. The false answers are called the distracters..

A bad multiple choice question.

What is an argument in philosophy?

a.                   A factual disagreement between people
b.                  Giving reasons for belief
c.                   A shouting match
d.                  Any verbal attempt to persuade

Problem, according to Tziporah: (c) is too implausible to be a good distracter.

First question: What do I want this multiple choice test to do?

Tests to check if students have done the reading.

Nils uses basic reading comp questions (7-8 minutes) at the start of classes, and have them grade their peers tests, to embarrass the students who haven’t done the readings. You need at least 10 questions for this to work.

Questions to ask yourself: Is it really the case that someone hasn’t done the reading will do badly and someone who has done the reading will do well.

He hands out a sample quiz. Could a student who did the reading actually ace this quiz? Paul: This quiz should be open book.

Tests to check higher level of comprehension.

Tziporah: gives an example of a forking sequence of questions, where you have to justify your answer to the first question in the second question. Students don’t get questions for the right answer unless they also answer the reason question correctly. Students also get no credit for wrong answers for the first question, no matter how good the answer to the second question is.

Often these aren’t used for [summative] assessment at all.

Tests practice key logical skills.

  • Identify the conclusion
  • Identify similarities to other arguments.
  • Identify an objection.

AAPT Conference Notes: Walter Ott “Open Source Workbook on Modern Philosophy”

Problem: How to get people to read in a way that forces them to interact with the text.

            Work study questions into texts. Include intro material.

            They are more likely to homework if it involves exercises. “read this” doesn’t register as a real assignment.

He’s got four or five people using his text. Several versions with different mixes.

Use fill in the blanks for arguments reconstructed from paragraphs of the original text.

Rebuild a paragraph exercise. Take an 11 sentence paragraph from Descartes. Put each sentence on an index card. Shuffle them. Have the students try to reconstruct the original order.

Andrew Mills: Don’t grade them on the first read exercise, but make the first read exercise a part of larger exercise that they are graded on. 

AAPT Conference notes: Allyson Mount “Teaching Logic with Games and Muzzles”

She teaches logic to full classes “95% of whom actively don’t want to be there.” So she has to sell the course. [That’s pretty standard.]

Her course is half formal logic/half informal critical thinking. Venn diagrams, propositional logic.

Games motivate because they try strategies and they don’t work, so they see the need to improve their thinking.

Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 to play the games. More than 4 and you  get free riders.

She says she uses clickers and peer review in class, but won’t be talking about it today. [I want to hear her techniques here.]

Students who are really really struggling don’t like groups, because they are embarrassed at their lack of ability.

20-30 minutes a game. Doesn’t replace anything—just supplements.

Be really really explicit about what the point of the game and how it relates to the other material.

Sixty four squares
Good in the first session of class.

Draw a 8 by 8 grid on the board (number the columns, letter the rows.)

Goal: Find the secret square in as few questions as possible. Asking only yes/no questions.

The groups have to come up with a sequence of questions to ask that will get the answer quickest.

Worst strategy: Guess individual squares.

Best strategy: binary search—get it in 6 questions.

Tell the students to play out the strategies on their own.

After the small groups ask “Is there anyone who can get it in 3 questions?”

Have them play out the strategy—don’t have them explain it.


Two groups will succeed at six. Ask what those two strategies they came up with have in common. Now we have an abstract solution.

Connect to the curriculum.

Variation: Now devise a strategy in which each yes/no question is either a conjunction or a disjuction.

How do you ask “Is the square B6” as a conjunction? As a disjunction?

[put a distracting pattern in the square, so they ask questions like “is it inside the smiley face or outside.” When you give the solution, point out that you have to abstract from the stuff that isn’t relevant.]


Also a daily puzzle at the NYT.

Cards with 4 variables: color, shape, shading and number of symbols.

A set is three cards where each feature either matches on all three cards or are all different on all three cards.

Objective: Identify as many 3-card sets as possible.

Connect to the curriculum

·         Use venn diagrams to identify three random properties.
·         Talk about stipulative definitions.
·         Identify three random cards and have them identify categorical propositions. (No red card is solid, etc.)

Playing the game doesn’t directly relate to any lesson.

Problem: Two people in the room were red-green color blind.
Solution: write the names of the colors.

Andrew Mills: can you teach conditional reasoning asking students to fill in sets.

Other questions: How many sets can start with this card.

Fun thing to do: given 12 cards on the table, prove there are no sets there.

Wason selection task

Which cards to you turn over to verify a rule, like if a card has a circle on one side it is yellow on the other. If the person is drinking, then they are over 21.

Connect to the curriculum
Symbolize and use truth tables. The relevant line you need for the truth table is T → F. Have them note that the same line for the contrapositive claim.

Circle → Yellow                     ~Yellow → ~Circle.
T          T          T                      F          T          F
T          F          F                      T          F          F
F          T          T                      F          T          T
F          T          F                      T          T          T

Do at least a few weeks on truth tables before you introduce this.

So the Wason selection task is an add-on at the end of the truth table section, not a way to teach it.

Mills: This helps calm logic anxiety because you can talk about how people get the Wason task in the alcohol context and not others. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bioethics FAQ, Q6: We don't need animals for research, but we do need them to eat.

Research and survival are different. We need the nutrients that the animal provides as well as the fur to protect our bodies from the elements. Granted some of that can be found in plants but not all.
There is no need to eat meat for food. A vegetarian diet can be just as healthy as a diet with meat in it. According to Harvard nutritionist Marion Nestle "People who eat vegetarian diets are usually healthier – sometimes a lot healthier – than people who eat meat." The Mayo Clinic says that "A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet the needs of people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and pregnant or breast-feeding women."

When people say that you that you must eat meat to get all the nutrients you need, they are generally thinking of either B12 or Omega 3 fatty acids. B12 is only found in animal products. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in lots of common vegetarian foods, including tofu, but is not in a form that the body digests as easily as the form found in animal products.

The first thing to note is that these nutrients are only an issue for people who are fully vegan, and not just vegetarian. (Typically a vegetarian is defined as someone who eats no meat of any kind, and a vegan is someone who not only eats no meat, but also avoids animal products like eggs and cheese.) If you are a vegetarian for ethical reasons, the easiest way to be sure you get your B12s and easily digested Omega 3s is to find a source for eggs from chickens living in morally acceptable conditions.

Even for full fledged vegans, these nutrients don't have to be an issue. You can get B12 from vitamin supplements, which are fermented from bacteria, not taken from animals. And given how common foods with Omega 3s, including soy products and canola oil, are in vegetarian diets, I don't see that getting enough Omega 3s will be a problem for someone eating a healthy diet low in junk food.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bioethics FAQ Q5: Why don't we experiment on prisoners, instead of innocent animals.

If we are going to use animals then we should at least use the humans in prison that act like animals. Why should something that has done nothing wrong be subjected to experimentation? People in prisons in our country have been found guilty of a crime like murder, assault, and rape. I think that people who with no doubt committed murder should no longer have a say and have that be how they contribute something back to society. They had rights when they were not committing crimes and knowingly killing and raping people. If they want rights they shouldve thought about that before taking away someone else. 
 Ever since the Nuremburg war trials again Nazi doctors, experiments on humans without their consent has been considered a war crime. This has been adapted by most countries, including the US, as a part of law. If you want to experiment on prisoners, you need to explain how it can possibly be consensual.

You might think that US prisons are different than prisoner of war camps, because the people there are guilty of things like murder, assult and rape. But this is not what is going on in most prisons. In 2006, 49.3% of state prisoners were in jail for nonviolent offenses. For federal prisons, that number is 90.7%. (See wikipedia, end of the fourth paragraph down.) The drug war is largely responsible for this. In 2004, the majority of (55%) prisoners in federal prison were there for drug offenses. The same year in state prisons, 22% of the prisoners were there for drug offenses. (See here.For profit prisons also play a role here, because they lobby for tougher sentencing laws to increase their business, and hence their profit. (See here and here. In the most extreme case, a for builder of for-profit juvenile detention facilities in Pennsylvania bribed two federal judges to send innocent kids to their juvenile prisons. The judges in the case received 28 and 17 years in prison. The developers of the prisons who paid the bribes received 18 months and 12 to 18 monts.

You said, "They had rights when they were not committing crimes and knowingly killing and raping people. If they want rights they shouldve thought about that before taking away someone else." But most rights specified in the US consitition do not go away if you have committed a crime. In fact, many of them only make sense after a person has been accused of a crime. The right to a fair trial, the right to see the evidence presented against you and the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment are all rights that you get after you enter the justice system.

It is also worth looking at what happens when people do experiment on prisoners. The most notorious cases of this are the Nazi war crimes, but this has happened in US prisons as well. In 1906 Dr Richard P Strong began experiments infecting prisoners in the Phillipenes, which was then a US possession, with cholera. Thirteen prisoners died when they were accidentally infected with bubonic plague. Six years later strong conducted lethal experiments where prisoners were infected with beriberi. The surviving prisoners were given cigars as compensation. For more information, see this article, called "They were cheap and available" on the history of experimentation on prisoners. The article was originally published in the British Medical Journal, but the full article was posted on a web page run by health case activists.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bioethics FAQ 4: Active Euthanasia goes against the oath you take as a physician

The Hippocratic Oath says that a doctor should "never do harm" to patients--never "give a lethal drug to anyone if asked or advise such a plan." How then can a doctor justify assisted suicide or active euthanasia? And what worth is the oath if it can be compromised to benefit or comfort the patient in their final days? Is it time for more states to adopt the Death wih Dignity Act?
The original Hippocratic Oath, from 2,500 years ago, did ban euthanasia. However, no version of it has been legal binding for thousands of years. It is not even clear that the oath that is reprinted all the time these days was actually from the Hippocratic school—it may have been Pythagorean. The text we use was rediscovered in the middle ages and has been used ever since to inspire doctors. These days it often appears in some watered down form in medical school graduation ceremonies. When people water it down, the first thing they do is remove the politically controversial stuff, like the bans on euthanasia or abortion.

In the modern world, there are no binding oaths for doctors, but there are codes of ethics. The first important one is the the Nurembuerg code, established in the wake of war crimes trials against Nazi doctors. Together with other international documents like the Geneva Declaration and the Helsinki declaration it is the basis of the doctrine of informed consent in international law and ethics.

In the US, the most important ethical code is probably the American Medical Association's code of ethics. The AMA opposes both euthanasia (by which they seem to mean active euthanasia) and physician assisted suicide. There isn't any real teeth to this, though. It is simply marked as an "opinion" of the AMA. As far as I know, members of the AMA who issue lethal prescriptions under the Death With Dignity Act in Oregon (and now Washington!) are not sanctioned in any way. I'm not even sure the AMA lobbied against either state's Death with Dignity Act.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Listening to my niece watch Star Trek

I recall reading an interview with Ronald D. Moore (creator of the re-envisioned Battlestar Gallactica) where he talked about being a such a fan of the old Star Trek that he recorded the audio of the show by putting a tape recorder in front of his parents TV. He would then fall asleep listening to the show. He said that to this day he responds more to the audio cues in the old series more than anything else.

I totally know what he means right now.

Also, it is amazing how much work the melodramatic music by Alexander Courage is doing to keep the audience excited. It was really a very heavily scored show.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Bioethics FAQ 3: "Illegals receive free health care"

Is it ethical when illegal immigrants receive free health care coverage when U.S. citizens are denied?
Some factual background will help put this in context. Undocumented immigrants who show up at an emergency room can have their care covered by Medicaid. As soon as the patient is physically able to leave the hospital, the coverage stops. This same coverage is available to citizens and legal aliens, if they have no other means to pay for emergency care. It is provided as a part of the general principle accepted by American society, that emergency rooms should treat all comers who need it. There are no other federal assistance medical programs that undocumented immigrants are eligible for, although there are some states will use their money to provide care for the children of undocumented immigrants.

This this USA Today article from a while back suggests that, because they are generally young and healthy, undocumented immigrants account for less than 2% of health care spending in the U.S. This article in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at health care spending on undocumented immigrants in North Carolina between 2001 and 2004 and found that an overwhelming 91% of the hospitalizations were for pregnancy and complications of pregnancy. In fact, 95% of the people seeking emergency treatment in this study were female, even though most immigrants are male.

The bottom line is that undocumented immigrants don't have access to any kind of care being denied citizens. Even if that were the case, though, there would be two solutions to the problem. One would be to deny the benefit to the undocumented people. For instance, among the 48,391 people seeking treatment in the North Carolina study were 7 minors under 18 needing emergency treatment for lupus. If you thought that they were receiving some kind of care that lupus patients who are citizens couldn't get, you could bar those 7 kids from the hospital. The alternative solution would be to insure that lupus patients who are citizens have access to all the treatment available. The sense of injustice comes from thinking that someone has access to something you don't. Whenever that happens, it is good to ask yourself "do I want to deny this to the other person, or gain it myself?"

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Bioethics FAQ 2: Repeat abortion

I definitely believe that there should be a limit on abortions. Abortions should not be used as a type of birth control. Too many teenagers are having multiple abortions, and this is unacceptable. If a your woman makes a mistake that is one thing, but mistakes are supposed to be learning experiences. If abortions are used as a "way out"and there is no limit, I feel that abortions will become more and more common in the future.
I want to once again point people to this report from AGI on women who have repeat abortions. Their most important finding is that women who have repeat abortions are just as likely to be using contraception as women who have only one abortion
Regardless of whether they were obtaining a first or repeat abortion, just over one-half of women had been using contraceptives when they became pregnant, and this lack of an association holds up after controlling for other factors. Adolescent women obtaining repeat abortion are, in fact, slightly more likely than first-time abortion patients to have become pregnant while using a hormonal method.
This suggests that women who have repeat abortion are not using abortion as a form of birth control any more than women who have a single abortion.

Your comment indicated that you should expect that women who have had one abortion should have increased rates of birth control use. The statistic I found doesn't really speak to that, because it doesn't cover women who had a single abortion, remained sexually active, and did not have an unwanted pregnancy after that. It may be the case that large numbers of these women did in fact increase their birth control use.

Here are some other interesting correlations:
  • women having repeat abortions are more likely than first-time abortion patients to have had prior births (76% vs. 47%), and many (19% vs. 8%) have had three or births
  • Repeat abortions tend to cluster together. “Three-quarters of repeat abortions were reported to have occurred within five years of the prior procedure, including four in 10 within two years. Third and higher- order abortions appear to be even more closely spaced.” The authors speculate that this indicates “situational problems for some women in avoiding unintended pregnancy.”
  • Women who have repeat abortion are also giving birth more often: “Women having repeat abortions are more likely than first-time abortion patients to have had prior births (76% vs. 47%), and more likely to have had many (19% vs. 8% have had three or more prior births).”
All of this points to the possibility that women who have repeat abortions are simply more fertile than other women. They aren't doing anything different. They just tend to get pregnant more often.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Bioethics FAQ. Q1: Abstinence is 100% effective.

I am creating a kind of FAQ for my bioethics classes. It is not exactly a FAQ, because many times, including this one, what I am replying to is not really a question. It is a false or misleading statement made by a student on the discussion boards or in the paper.

In a paper on abortion, a student writes
The only way not to get pregnant is not to have sex. I feel she should not be allowed to have an abortion for the simple fact that nothing can stop pregnancy and the only thing to prevent it is to not have sex at all. If you do not want a baby you should not have sex, period.
Abstinence may work 100% of the time, but vows of abstinence have a failure rate between 26% and 86%. Condoms, by comparison, fail 12% between and 70% of the time, almost always because they are used improperly. Used properly, condoms fail 0.5% and 7% of the time.

You say 'if you do not want a baby, you should not have sex,' but the situation isn't so simple. You cannot choose "no sex ever," as if you were selecting Safe Search on Google. You can pledge abstinence, but that will probably fail, at which point, it would be good to have a back up plan, such as using condoms and using them properly.

Even then, though, there is a chance you will still get pregnant. This brings us back to the issue of abortion. It is tempting to look at a pregnant woman considering abortion and think 'she is completely different than I am. I could never be in that position." But, in fact, she may have done all the things that you have done—taken a vow of abstinence, learned to use condoms correctly as a back up—and still wound up in that position. Like it or not, a lot of what separates you and her is just luck.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Call for online logic resource recommendations

Do you have any free online resources for use in freshmen level symbolic logic classes you would like to recommend?

I’m giving a talk at this years AAPT conference in Austin where people can share their recommendations for any kind of logic opencourseware. As a part of that, I’ll be promoting my version of a free online logic textbook,

Do you use a free online textbook? Which one? Are there any youtube videos you like to use? Have you posted class preparations on line? Send links and recommendations to me: jloftis at lorainccc dot edu. I’m looking specifically for material that works with freshman level symbolic classes, including Aristotelian logic, sentential logic, and basic quantificational logic. I already have some resources, but need more more more! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Untitled #1

This is the power
This is the truth of the power
This is the power of the truth of the power

See things as they are.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Paid spokesperson for a bad idea

For critical thinking classes, I want to create a series of "talking head exercises," where students have to play spokesmen for proposals that are stipulated in advance to be really bad ideas. The first scenario I thought of goes like this: There are two courses of action, and one is twice as risky as the other. Option A has a 15% chance of a Very Bad Outcome, and Option B has a 30% chance. The Payoff if the Very Bad Outcome is avoided is the same in each case. You, the student, have been hired as a TV spokesperson for Option B by an organization that for some reason (money, ideology) wants to see it happen. You need to write up a series of talking points and coaching tips to yourself for your next TV appearance.

The answer for this particular scenario would involve two bullet points:
  • Emphasize  that both options have risks 
  • Avoid direct quantitative comparisons. 

The spokesperson needs to say things like "Look there are no guarantees in life. Even if we took option A, there is a possibility of a Very Bad Outcome, perhaps from set of circumstances X. [Elide the fact that these circumstances are unlikely.] If we want the Payoff, we are going to take risks. All we are saying is that we should give option B a chance."

If we got really fancy, we could do role play in class, although right now I don't do any public speaking type stuff in any of my classes. It would be nice to do this in combination with studying the techniques used by people in history advocating for what we now all agree are very bad ideas, such as Bill Buckley's oh so rational arguments for segregation, or the talking points for people paid to say that cigarettes don't cause cancer.

I need more scenarios, though.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

This alone provides immunization against the cavils of Dawkins-style atheists.

If you restrict yourself to beliefs that can be verified scientifically, you can't make it through your day. This alone provides immunization against the cavils of Dawkins-style atheists.

The question becomes then, what else to believe, in addition to what can be known by science. The next step that presents itself, to me at least, is to take our emotional responses to the world as at least potentially veridical. This doesn't just appear amazing, it might actually be amazing. This doesn't just appear disgusting; it is actually disgusting. We can clearly be wrong about such judgments. (When I was 17, I thought gay sex disgusting.) But we cannot be rid of all of them, or else, how do we get through our day?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Philip Pettit on Republicanism

Periodically I hear people try to explain the difference between the Republican and Democratic party in America by linking the Republican party with a tradition of republicanism that starts with the Roman Republic and goes through the founding fathers. Democrats are then linked to some dreadful rabble-rouser like Andrew Jackson. But Pettit's take on the republican tradition seems to say this this is all backwards. First of all republicanism is contrasted with classical liberalism, which the libertarian wing of the republican party claims as their ancestry. Second, Pettit's republican tradition has a strong tradition of government protection against private domination, which is really the thing that links all the elements of the current Democratic coalition together. It is the one thing that labor, women, ethnic, religious and sexual-orientation minorities all require.

In other news, if I listen to philosophy, rather than music on my run, I tend to walk more.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pleasure and the present moment

Intense athletic training often causes the athlete to focus intensely on the present moment in a way that distorts the overall perception of time. (This is sometimes called the flow state.) Many meditation practices also get you to focus on the present moment, as does smoking dope. In cognitive science terms, you can characterize this focus as a constriction of the window of short term memory. (This at least describes the experience of smoking dope, which can create such a narrow window of short term memory that it cannot hold a longish sentence The beginning of the sentence drops out of your mind by the time you get to the end, and you forget what you are saying.)

All of these states are considered pleasant. But is it intrinsically pleasant to have your window of short term memory constricted? If there were drug that only constricted your window of short term memory, and did not have other euphoria-inducing agents, would the drug still be fun?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"about one-sixth of eating disorders can be blamed on cultural environment"

This interview (found via this salon article) makes some very good points. This is the quote people are talking about:
Therapists pretty much agree that there are three main causes of eating disorders, and most of us who get them have a combination of the three. One is your genetics. Second is your physiology, like the biology of your actual brain—your personality. Some people are incredibly resilient and slough off difficult messages; other people are not. In my book I call them Velcro; things stick to them. I’m Velcro. The third thing is environment. Environment is broken into two parts: the environment of your home, what your mom and dad said to you, the behaviors they modeled. The other part of environment is culture. So about one-sixth of eating disorders can be blamed on cultural environment, like the pictures we’re shown. That’s what I mean when I say skinny models don’t cause eating disorders. I just think that’s completely oversimplified and kind of ridiculous. If we magically were able to suddenly change the images we see in order to be diverse in all ways, gradually that part of the pressure would relieve itself. But it wouldn’t relieve that need of a girl to control her food intake because she can’t control her life.
A lot of this must be oversimplifying. Genetics and physiology are intertwined, so any attempt to separate them as causes must be a little arbitrary. She also exaggerates her own position when she jumps from "about one-sixth of eating disorders can be blamed on cultural environment" to "I say skinny models don’t cause eating disorders."

Still, I think there is something basically right here. It jibes also with the stories reported in conjunction with the trend of exporting the American style of mental illness. (See also here.) People in Hong Kong used to develop a form of anorexia different than the American model. They refused to eat, but not because they thought they were fat. However as more American culture got picked up in the Chinese speaking world, the way people talked about the illness changed. It became something about women wanting to look thin when it wasn't before.

The fact that a style of mental illness can be based in a culture and then exported is fascinating in itself. But what is also interesting is that we can talk about anorexia separately from its current cultural connotations. Even minus the skinny models, people can develop pathological desire not to eat.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kaptur vs. Kucinich.

Redistricting has pitted two of the House's most progressive democrats against each other in the democratic primary for our district: Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur. Kaptur is from Toledo. Kucinich is from Cleveland. The legislature has gerrymandered a district that includes every progressive household alon I-90 between the two cities. We have to decide whom to vote for.

Kucinich is well known on the national stage. Kaptur I know less about. But...

She has a lot more seniority (=power) in the House than Kucinich. In fact she ranks 25 in seniority and sits on the Appropriations committee. Kucinich is 125th, and has no good committee posts. The Kaptur campaign is playing this as a "workhorse vs. showhorse" contest.

Kaptur has progressive bone fides. She was named "most valuable house member" in 2008 by The Nation, and is a member of the House Progressive Caucus.

On the other hand, Kucinich has a slightly more progressive voting record than Kaptur, particularly on peace and civil liberties issues. Plus he does things like introduce articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney.

Kucinich is has also made noises about a Cleveland issue that doesn't seem to be on Kaptur's radar: the soon-to-collapse-catastrophically Inner Belt Bridge. The bridge is the same age and design as one that collapsed in Minnesota recently, and generally has lanes closed to decrease the amount of weight on it at any given time.

So, we've got our mail-in ballots, and need to figure this out.