Evidence-based education

Nick Gibbs MP, one of UK’s Education Ministers, spoke on ‘the importance of an evidence-informed profession’ on February 16th at the University of Buckingham.

“Debunking the neuro-myths that surround teaching is an important endeavour as, unchecked, they can pervade classrooms throughout the country, damaging educational achievement. A decade ago, the neuro-myth of Brain Gym was prevalent in England’s schools. In schools afflicted by Brain Gym, pupils were instructed to activate their brains by rubbing so-called ‘brain buttons’, located in different areas of the body. By having pupils rub their clavicle, various regions of the brain would light up – so went the theory. In the oddest cases, pupils were instructed to slowly sip water in the hope that water would be absorbed into the brain via the roof of the mouth, thus hydrating the brain!”

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Autism charity founder is anti-vaccination campaigner

The founder of a British autism charity is an anti-vaccine campaigner with strong links to the discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield. Polly Tommey, who believes that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, founded the US and UK branches of the Autism Trust and produced a highly controversial film (Vaxxed) directed by Mr Wakefield alleging a link between vaccines and the condition. Scientists and campaigners have expressed concern that Ms Tommey’s role in the charity was in conflict with her views about vaccines. Jon Spiers, chief executive of the charity Autistica, called the film highly irresponsible.  (From the Times, 1.2.17)

British study to ‘immunise’ against fake news

Scientists from the University of Cambridge, led by Dutch social psychologist Dr Sander van der Linden, are developing a method to ‘vaccinate’ news readers against misinformation.

Their research, using climate change denial as an example, shows that it works well to briefly mention that there is criticism against the consensus on the subject, but provide an easy-to-refute example of this. When someone will later come across similar criticism in a fake news story, they will be prone to reject it. However, if conspiracy theories are given too much attention, and treated with a more detailed debunk, this has an adverse effect on the readers, who will more likely believe the next hoax article that they are presented with.

The key is finding the right dosage that helps people protect themselves against nonsense.

More information in English – Meer informatie in het Nederlands

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Mystery of ghostly noises in Swansea solved

An amusing story about a monthly wailing noise that has been troubling the people of Swansea in Wales for the last two years (Google ‘Swansea siren’). Until recently the source of the sound was a mystery but much importance was attached to the fact that the city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Maybe the noise was the ghost of the warning sirens that sounded 75 years ago (http://tinyurl.com/jv7b26r)? Officials spent more than a year investigating the sounds, which start before dawn and go on into the early morning. Now the source has been traced to Vale Europe nickel refinery in nearby Clydach which is required to test its emergency evacuation procedure once a month. But will this explanation satisfy everybody?