Tuesday, 19 November 2019

CCD Compassionate Crap Detector

It is not true to say that Dau.I and Dau.II never had a lesson in their lives. They both had a week in a Steiner school with their cousins in Cape Town in 1999. And, ten years later, Dau.I had a three week stint in the Hothouse for Harvard School . . . Be Your True Self Place . . . Centre for Talented Youth Ireland CTYI. Although she was sixteen, the CTYI experience was much like being a student . . . without the drink; but with the hoovering up of information; and the talking shite - politics, pleasure, philosophy - into the wee hours.
She is now a Librarian (her dream job since 6 y.o) but has just enrolled in a distance learning course in Psychology with Philosophy at DCU - incidentally the same place that hosted, and hosts, CTYI. She Skyped me up on Sunday afternoon and was clearly in bed. I laughed and said that she was clearly studenting if she was still in the scratcher, to use the mildly repulsive Dublin slang expression, while studying on a Sunday afternoon. Because she wasn't contacting me to stiff me for money, or for unconditional love, but because she wanted some feedback on her second assignment in PY101 - 1st Year Psychology. Her class had been requested and required to write 700 words, with citations and references, on The Discovery of Self In Infancy.

It's not obvious how you'd go about establishing this in pre-verbal children. Clearly asking them "And how are you feeling yourself?" is not going to elicit a more coherent answer than "With pleasure, thanks" perhaps especially if diapers are off. But psychologists are nothing if not ingeniously creative in designing experiments that begin to answer such existential questions. There is indeed an extensive literature on the idea, perhaps commencing with Jean Piaget's observations of his own and other children in the 1920s & 1930s. These early studies were strong on assertion and less strong on evidence, particularly with respect to replications and sample size. Earlier Dau.I had asked if I had legitimate access to a classic paper from 1972  Mirror self-image reactions before age two by Beulah Amsterdam from UNC, Chapel Hill. I hadn't, but Sci-Hub delivered anyway. In our Skype-to-fro later in the day, the key issue of sample size, and by extension, the credibility or reliability of any findings from small studies, was aired. I was delighted to see that at least one 1st Year science student in Ireland was critically evaluating the primary scientific literature rather than accepting the findings because they had appeared in print in a reputable journal.

Batting ideas back and forth we came up with the idea that as well as citing the source of information in a student paper, it would be really handy to include the sample size for any experimental results. Sample size being a pretty good surrogate marker for the data's reliability. The thing is that nobody thinks they have the time to follow up all the references cited in a paper and it would help to annotate an essay thus: an often-repeated test for the measurement of self-recognition and self-awareness (Amsterdam, B. 1972) [N = 88].  Which may be more valuable reading than (small children's brains seem to process self-awareness in a similar way to those of adults Filippetti M et al 2015) [N = 15], simply because the sample-size is 5x bigger. So that's the Crap-Detector; what's with the Compassion?

The compassion stems from an earlier to-fro with Dau.I regarding a Twitterstorm about Young Adult literature, its authors, readers, and critics. Being Twitter, the interactions soon degenerated into cross-patch vindictiveness which allowed a lot of other people to weigh in with their judgemental certainties. Someone was a little more forgiving and optimistic: One of the biggest backlashes was the vitriol with which everyone approached Twilight. It wasn't anything in the text that made it special or worse, it was that it was a series which teenage girls loved, and that meant that it was worth hating because nobody, including teenage girls, wants to be associated with teenage girls. But Twilight grew a generation of readers who will eventually find something else to love. My main issue is about the meritocracy of reading, we don't want kids reading comics, we don't like teen girls reading YA, or heaven forbid adults reading YA. But all these things when left alone build readers and maybe, hopefully critical thinkers. (Baldwin, E 2019) [N = 1] . . . because she is The One, CCD.


  1. I suggest you and D1 view this video which pretty much says the same thing, although in more than 700 words.

    1. Thanks.I *luv* Lindsay Ellis, a source revealed to me by Dau.I and I caught that essay on Twilight last year https://blobthescientist.blogspot.com/2018/01/twilight.html . She has been in the misogyny wars herself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Alen-p6_ak last month.