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 ConcepciĆ³n “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.