Friday, September 08, 2023

Education and rote learning

Apparently this maths problem is doing the rounds. It didn't seem that challenging to me, though I can't comment on how difficult it would be for 10-year-olds.

I post it here mainly for the note at the end, reminding us that "education is not just about rote learning but also about critical thinking and problem-solving." I'm not entirely sure about the phrasing of this claim, since it seems to imply that education is partly about rote learning. Maybe that's truer at lower levels though.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Is social justice left-wing?

I just saw a piece in the Daily Express about the AHRC's plans to fund a Centre for Law and Social Justice. The angle is very much that this is a waste of taxpayer money. They quote an unnamed academic, who says it is shameful "to be using public money to create a research centre with an explicitly left-wing equality, diversity and inclusion agenda."

Of course, the AHRC has been criticised for its political agenda before (see here and here), when it included the 'Big Society' among potential funding topics. In this case, the suggestion is that they are going against the government agenda. As the Daily Express refers to the AHRC doing this "Despite the Conservative Government's concerted war on woke..."

One thing that's not clear to me, though, is why they assume social justice to be a left-wing agenda. The Centre for Social Justice describes itself as independent, but was co-founded by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. It's described by Wikipedia as 'centre-right' and, according to ConservativeHome, it was influential on Cameron's Conservative government.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

JME blog

I've just had a post, about strike ballots, published on the Journal of Medical Ethics blog. You can find it here

Readers may recall that I've written about similar themes before. The latest piece is indeed similar, but applied to a new issue (strikes by healthcare workers, rather than UCU).

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Toronto Mayoral Election

I saw via the BBC that there are over 100 candidates, including a dog, running for Toronto mayor. Despite looking at a couple of sites that claimed to cover everything one might need to know, I struggled to find the voting system involved. The site just linked mentions that a candidate could win with just 20% of the vote. In fact, it seems that the election uses first past the post - at least, according to Wikipedia, though no citation is given. This means that, in theory, one candidate could win with just 1% of the vote.

FPTP seems pretty undesirable when there are this many candidates. However, while some form of instant run-off could overcome some problems, it would also be burdensome on voters to rank all of the candidates.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Abortion is illegal in the UK

Much of the news coverage around abortion concerns the battle over Roe v Wade in the US. It is relatively low profile in the UK. However, a woman has just been sentenced to 28 months in jail for taking pills, when between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant.

I don't know anything about this case, other than the news report linked above, but Labour MP Stella Creasy is quoted as saying "contrary to what some claim, abortion is not legal in England - and you can be prosecuted for having one".

It concludes with another quotation, from Mandu Reid (leader of the Women's Equality Party), saying "The laws that convicted her [the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act] are archaic and date back to the Victorian era, before women had the vote". 

This seems a slightly odd statement. It's true that the law pre-dates women's suffrage, but of course no one currently alive had the vote back then. Further, women have now had the vote for the last hundred years, so it's not as if there hasn't been opportunity for change.

Generally speaking though, older laws command more respect than newer ones, because they've stood the test of time. Later generations could repeal them if they wanted to, but haven't seen the need to do so. This suggests that they're happy with the laws as they are. (I think Hobbes says something along these lines, but can't be bothered to look it up right now.) 

Monday, May 15, 2023

An ideal learning community(?)

"The fundamental academic freedom is the freedom to study according to one’s convictions and interests. Those who are called ‘teachers’ are essentially experienced and continuing students who have special responsibilities to those less experienced of their fellows who are called ‘students’; study is both a private and a public activity, involving discussion in speech and writing with one’s fellows to achieve a better development of one’s understanding and in some circumstances an assessment of that understanding for the sake of public recognition."

- Peter Campbell, 'Affluence, Academic Authority, and University Government' Political Studies (1975), at p. 147.

One of my colleagues has been known to say something along these lines at open days. I'm not sure how it goes down with prospective students, being told that they'll pay over £9,000 per year to learn from those who are still learning themselves, though it is of course true - we are all studying continually.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Why my vote wasn't counted

I didn't vote yesterday, but that's because I registered for postal voting and had posted my ballot last week. As it turns out, the election in my ward was declared void when one of the candidates died. My condolences to his family.

I didn't hear the news until later, and I doubt that many did, so I don't know how much effect it would have had one voting. However, this does highlight some interesting things about voting.

First, discussions of contraction consistency sometimes consider the effect of one candidate withdrawing. It is sometimes assumed that if A wins a three-way contest between A, B, and C then A should also beat B (or C) in a two-way contest. But this is not the case in many voting systems.

Second, this case also highlights the fact that - in the UK - voters elect individuals, not parties. If the votes were cast for the Conservative Party, rather than for Mr Galton, then he could presumably be replaced with another party nominee. But the votes are for the individual. This is relevant when elected officials decide to change party. It is sometimes suggested that this ought to trigger a by-election, though this is not the case.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Mordheim undead

I haven't posted any hobby content in a while, but I just finished painting this set of undead heroes for Mordheim and I'm pretty happy with how they turned out:

Friday, April 21, 2023

Disrespecting a game

Luke Maring has a paper on voting that begins with a discussion of a basketballer whose actions are said (by some commentators) to disrespect the game. While I understand the point being made, this example isn't one I'm familiar with. Earlier today though, I witnessed a similar example in the snooker.

Hossein Vafaei played a very unusual break-off shot against Ronnie O'Sullivan, simply smashing into the pack of reds. You can see it here or here. Commentator John Virgo described it as "disrespectful" but, despite the headline on the linked page, I don't think he was explicit about who or what was disrespected. (Actually, I think someone said he was disrespecting his own ability, but this may have been co-commentator Stephen Henry.)

However, studio pundit Steve Davis was more specific, saying "I don't think it is necessarily disrespectful to Ronnie, but it is maybe considered disrespectful to the game of snooker". (These remarks are quoted in various places, including the Guardian and Independent.)

I doubt many of my students are snooker fans, but this example of alleged disrespect to a game is at least more recent, if not more relatable for them...

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Why punctuation matters

Here is a good example to illustrate the importance of "quotation marks"... In case it vanishes from Twitter, image copied below.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Voting age in New Zealand

I was aware that the minimum voting age has been challenged in Canada. That's something I mentioned a while back. However, I only very recently learned of some similar developments in New Zealand.

I gather than their Supreme Court has already ruled that restricting the vote to adults (18+) amounts to age discrimination against 16- and 17-year olds. Nonetheless, according to this article on The Conversation, it seems that proposed legislation to lower the voting age for national elections is unlikely to proceed - although it seems that the age may be lowered for local elections only, partly because this change only requires the support of a simple majority, rather than a 75% super-majority, of MPs. That may also be of interest when I teach about majoritarianism and constitutional entrenchment.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Is economics a social science?

I'm set to teach philosophy of social sciences next year (in the autumn), so I've been on the lookout for things about (social) science. I was struck by the title of this press release: a funding boost for economics and social sciences. 

This seems like rather odd phrasing to me. I would have thought that 'social sciences' already included economics, but separating them in this way suggests otherwise.

Institutionally speaking, the Department of Economics is part of the Faculty of Social Sciences. This may not be decisive, since our Faculty also includes Mathematical Sciences and I wouldn't ordinarily consider mathematicians to be social scientists. However, the inclusion of economics does not seem similarly incongruous. If anything, it's arguably the social science par excellence.

Thursday, March 16, 2023


Since I'm no longer in Scotland, I haven't followed the SNP leadership contest too closely, but this recent article caught my eye. It's mostly about membership numbers and transparency, but the bit I found most interesting was mention - at the very end - that the process uses the single transferable vote system.

This is slightly unusual terminology, since STV is normally used to refer to PR systems. When only one person is being elected, this is usually referred to as the alternative vote system - something I blogged about long ago

Nonetheless, it could be a useful example next time I'm teaching about these voting systems. I've previously used Conservative leadership contests as an example, though these aren't ideal in a couple of respects. First, unless there's a 'coronation' without a vote (as happened for May and Sunak), the final vote goes to party members, rather than MPs. This changes the electorate between rounds. Second, as a sort of consequence of this, someone can get over 50% in earlier rounds but not automatically win. This happened in 2019, when Boris Johnson received over 50% in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Base rate fallacy?

Sucked in by the clickbait headline, I read this article about bank fraud. I'm not sure whether I really learned anything about bank fraud, but it is a useful example for research methodology.

The article says that the UK banks most at risk of fraud are Santander, Natwest, Barclays, HSBC, and Halifax. However:

1. This is based on the number of online searches for terms such as '[bank] + fraud number'. It's not clear how reliable an indicator that is of fraud cases. It might be that some banks have this number more easily available from their home page, and that may skew how many people need to search.

2. There's no indication that they take account of how many customers each bank has, but that's surely significant in drawing any conclusions about risk of fraud. For instance, they report that Santander had 11,690 searches, but Natwest 11,480. This is only a small difference at best, but what if Santander had twice as many customers as Natwest? In that case, the odds of fraud (assuming that's what is being measured here) would only be about half...

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

When is a woman (not) in Iran?

Democracy is rule by the people, but one key question is 'which people?'

If one believes in a principle like 'no taxation without representation' then there's no obvious justification for restricting the franchise to citizens. Immigrants pay taxes, so perhaps they should be enfranchised too. Indeed, it might even be necessary to extend voting rights to non-resident foreigners too, if they are subject to taxes.

Those working on this issue are often interested in laws that claim universal jurisdiction - that is, they are not restricted to the territory of the state in question, but purport to be binding (on citizens or even people generally) wherever they are.

I noticed an interesting example of something like this in this BBC article about Iranian headscarves. According to the article, "Women in Iran are required to wear headscarves in public, even when abroad" but this obviously doesn't make much sense. If an Iranian woman is abroad, then she's not in Iran. Thus, the law doesn't apply only to women in Iran.

I'm assuming this law applies to Iranian citizens, though perhaps it applies to all women ordinarily resident in Iran. In any case, it seems that they can commit an offence outside Iran.