Archive for ‘Education’

December 8, 2020

All Models Are Wrong

Ideal gas law

All models are wrong‘ is a common aphorism in statistics; it is often expanded as ‘All models are wrong, but some are useful.’ It is usually considered to be applicable to not only statistical models, but to scientific models generally. The aphorism recognizes that statistical or scientific models always fall short of the complexities of reality but can still be of use.

The aphorism is generally attributed to the statistician George Box, although the underlying concept predates Box’s writings. He offered the ‘ideal gas law’ as an example: ‘PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an ‘ideal’ gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.’

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April 20, 2020

Dueling Scar

Academic fencing

Dueling scars have been seen as a ‘badge of honor’ since as early as 1825. Known variously as ‘Mensur scars,’ ‘the bragging scar,’ ‘smite,’ or ‘Schmitte,’ dueling scars were popular among upper-class Austrians and Germans involved in academic fencing at the start of the 20th century.

Among university students, it was seen as a mark of their class and honor. It is an early example of scarification (body modification) in European society. The practice of dueling and the associated scars was also present to some extent in the German military.

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March 25, 2020

Dark Tourism

Chernobyl Tour by Nik Neves

Dark tourism refers to travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. The main attraction to dark locations is their historical value rather than their associations with death and suffering.

While there is a long tradition of people visiting recent and ancient settings of death, such as travel to gladiator games in the Roman Colosseum, attending public executions by decapitation, and visiting the catacombs, this practice has been studied academically only relatively recently. Travel writers were the first to describe their tourism to deadly places. American political satirist and journalist P. J. O’Rourke called his travel to Warsaw, Managua, and Belfast in 1988 ‘holidays in hell’, or sociologist Chris Rojek talking about ‘black-spot’ tourism in 1993 or the ‘milking the macabre.’

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September 25, 2018

Toga Party

Animal House

toga party is a type of costume party in which attendees are expected to wear a toga, a distinctive garment of Ancient Rome, normally made from a bed sheet, and sandals. Toga parties held by college or university students are associated with keg parties and excessive drinking.

The earliest known college toga parties took place in the early 1950s. Decades before such Greek-themed parties became known as ‘toga parties,’ similar parties, generally called ‘bed sheet and pillow slip’ parties (or simply, ‘pillow slip’ parties), in which attendees wrapped themselves in sheets and pillow cases, were regularly held by fraternal orders (like the Masons, Odd Fellows, and Elks), civic organizations, and church groups.

October 25, 2016

Einstellung Effect


nine dots problem

Einstellung [ahyn-stel-luhng] (German: ‘attitude’) is the development of a mechanized state of mind. Often called a ‘problem solving set,’ Einstellung refers to a person’s predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though better or more appropriate methods of solving the problem exist. The Einstellung effect is the negative effect of previous experience when solving new problems. It has been tested experimentally in many different contexts.

The Einstellung effect occurs when a person is presented with a problem or situation that is similar to problems they have worked through in the past. If the solution (or appropriate behavior) to the problem/situation has been the same in each past experience, the person will likely provide that same response without giving the problem too much thought. This behavior is heuristical (related to mental shortcuts), it is one of the human brain’s ways of finding solutions as efficiently as possible.

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October 19, 2016



An epiphany [ih-pif-uh-nee] (from the ancient Greek ‘epiphaneia,’ ‘manifestation,’ ‘striking appearance’) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific, religious, or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.

Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. Often they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’s discovery of a method to determine the density of an object (‘Eureka!’) and Isaac Newton’s realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force. The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is more often used without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside.

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September 21, 2016

Safe Space

pc principal

In educational institutions, safe-space (or safer-space or positive space) originally were terms used to indicate that a teacher, educational institution or student body does not tolerate anti-LGBT violence, harassment or hate speech, thereby creating a safe place for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The term safe space has been extended to refer to a space for individuals who are marginalized to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization, typically on a university campus. It has been criticized for being contrary to freedom of speech.

In the U.S. the concept originated in the women’s movement, where it ‘implies a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance…a means rather than an end and not only a physical space but also a space created by the coming together of women searching for community.’ The first safe spaces were gay bars and consciousness raising groups. Positive Space initiatives are prevalent in post-secondary institutions across Canada including McGill University and the University of Toronto.

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May 28, 2016

Pygmalion Effect

Clever Hans

The Pygmalion effect, or ‘Rosenthal effect,’ is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. The effect is named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. By the Pygmalion effect, people internalize their positive labels, and those with positive labels succeed accordingly. A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the ‘golem effect,’ in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.

Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s first showed that, if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance was enhanced. This study supported the hypothesis that reality can be positively or negatively influenced by the expectations of others, the ‘observer-expectancy effect.’ Rosenthal theorized that biased expectancies could affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies (predictions that directly or indirectly cause themselves to become true)

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May 18, 2016

Late Bloomer

ugly duckling by Heng Swee Lim

late bloomer is a person whose talents or capabilities are not visible to others or do not manifest until later than usual. The term is used metaphorically to describe a child or adolescent who develops slower than others in their age group, but eventually catches up and in some cases overtakes their peers, or an adult whose talent or genius in a particular field only appears later in life than is normal – in some cases only in old age.

A notable example of a child who overcame early developmental problems is Albert Einstein, who suffered from speech difficulties as a young child. Other late-talking children who became highly successful engineers, mathematicians, and scientists include physicists Richard Feynman and Edward Teller. Neuroscientist Steven Pinker postulates that a certain form of language delay may in fact be associated with exceptional and innate analytical prowess in some individuals.

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February 5, 2016

Adaptive Unconscious

Miyagi Wax by rubyred

lizard brain by  Deanna Halsall

In cognitive psychology the adaptive unconscious is thought to be a set of mental processes that influence judgment and decision making in a way that is inaccessible to introspective awareness, and thus linked to the unconscious mind. It is different from conscious processing: it is faster, effortless, more focused on the present, but less flexible. In other theories of the mind, the unconscious is limited to ‘low-level’ activity, such as carrying out goals which have been decided consciously. In contrast, the adaptive unconscious is thought to be involved in ‘high-level’ cognition such as goal-setting as well.

The term ‘adaptive unconscious’ suggests it has survival value and hence is an adaptation which was strongly selected in the past. Indeed, for much of vertebrate evolution, all mental activity was unconscious. No-one supposes that fish have consciousness. Thus our consciousness is added to an already-existing set of mechanisms which operate but whose operation is normally not felt by us.

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January 27, 2016


Daniel Levitin

The term infomania is used to describe a sometimes debilitating feeling of ‘information overload,’ caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in e-mail), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones and instant messaging. It is also understood as distraction caused by the urge to constantly check on incoming information, which causes the person to neglect other, often more important things—duties, family, etc. (For instance, a typical symptom of infomania is that of checking email frequently during vacation.)

The term was coined by Elizabeth M. Ferrarini, the author of ‘Confessions of an Infomaniac ‘(1984) and ‘Infomania: The Guide to Essential Electronic Services’ (1985). Confessions was an early book about life online. In 2005, British psychologist Glenn Wilson conducted an experimental study which documented the detrimental effects of information overload on problem solving ability. This was described in a press release accompanying a self-report survey of the extent of misuse of modern technology sponsored by Hewlett-Packard (However, in 2010, Wilson published a clarifying note about the study in which he documented its limited size and stated the results were ‘widely misrepresented in the media.’)

October 1, 2015

Doctor Fox Effect

WC Fields by Nick Reekie

The Dr. Fox effect states that even experts will be fooled by a nonsensical lecture if it is delivered with warmth, liveliness, and humor. A 1980 study found that the perceived prestige of research is increased by using a confounding writing style, with research competency being positively correlated to reading difficulty.

The original experiment was conducted at USC School Of Medicine in 1970. Two speakers gave lectures to a classroom of psychiatrists and psychologists on a topic the attendees were unfamiliar with (‘Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education’). The control group was lectured by an actual scientist and the other by an actor who was given the identity ‘Dr. Myron L. Fox,’ a graduate of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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