Category: The Independent

No, no, no, no, no


I don’t want to be, well, argumentative. But this research does not show what the headline says it does. The headline implies that argumentative children do better in maths and science, according to a study. It implies this by being phrased as follows:

Argumentative children do better in maths and science, study finds

So what happened? How did the researchers find these argumentative children and establish their maths/science performance?

Well, they didn’t. They just didn’t.

What they did do was recruit ordinary — non-argumentative — children into a study. Or more specifically, they included 78 primary schools in a program in which “dialogic teaching” was taught as part of the curriculum.

Such teaching methods do this:

Teachers were encouraged to ask their pupils open questions, encouraging them to become familiar with the idea of exploring a topic rather than simply stating a yes or no answer.

And children in these schools were later found to have higher scores in science and maths than children in other similar schools.

They also had higher scores in English, although for some reason this doesn’t warrant a place in the headline.

Actually, “exploring a topic rather than simply stating a yes or no answer” is far from argumentativeness. Argumentative people don’t explore topics. They align themselves to dogmatic positions and then reject contrary views out of hand without exploring them.

Climate change deniers are famously argumentative. As are creationists. And homeopaths. All cling to minority views in the face of evidence to the contrary. They can only plausibly do so by refusing to explore the topic.

In reality, the Indy‘s headline — like many headlines — seeks to grab eyeballs and clicks by dog-whistling a range of implicit stereotypes, aimed at the type of internet user (i.e., all of them) who gets excited when they see news stories that confirm their own biases.

These stereotypes include:

  • Nerdy kids — maths and science whizzes — can be a right pain in the ass
  • Maths and science involve getting into arguments and liking it
  • Psychology studies can prove our labeling prejudices correct

And by the way, introducing the term “argumentative children” means you are about to describe a subset of the adolescent population who are dispositionally argumentative. This story concerned an intervention that aims to get ordinary kids to behave differently. This does not make them “argumentative” any more than delivering introverts with a social skills program would entitle you to refer to them afterwards as extraverts.

I am always amazed by the uncritical and unthinking manner in which critical-thinking research gets reported. Or written up.




Results being “due to” causes somehow doesn’t imply causality

So, last week I had the pleasure of enjoying this delicious meal while exploring some backstreet neighbourhoods in Muscat, Oman. See can you guess what the green stuff is…


Here’s a closer look…


And here it is listed on the menu:

Continue reading “Results being “due to” causes somehow doesn’t imply causality”

Stop Press: Some kids are crap at computer games, one chimp is not


Is it me, or are sample sizes just getting smaller? I mean, last time round we had that scare story warning us that the art of parenting is being destroyed by smartphones — you know, the one based on observations of 40 adults in a fast food restaurant in Boston. Turns out that 40 adults was just scientific extravagance. You can actually spot the end of humankind on a much smaller budget.

This time our evidence of the descent of humankind into species-wide stupidity is from a study sample comprising twelve children. Yes, twelve.

The sample was boosted by the inclusion of some chimpanzees. Four chimpanzees to be exact, although only one of them proved to be of any interest (I presume the other three just scratched themselves and threw dirt at the experimenters). Continue reading “Stop Press: Some kids are crap at computer games, one chimp is not”

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