That was then, this is now; science and chaos edition

A blast from the past, circa 1688 and thereabouts: Even as the House of Lords was starting to consider what to do after the departure of James, many sprang to settle old scores and reopen old issues.  Legal toleration made the Church of England more defensive and less tolerant of sceptical or heterodox opinions.  The […]

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Education Without Romance

What is the great the illusion of education? How do both the Left and the Right perpetuate myths that harm the most vulnerable participants in the system- the students? In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes author Fredrik de Boer to discuss his book, The Cult of Smart.

A terrific conversation ensues, featuring areas of both agreement and disagreement between Roberts and de Boer. Now we’d like to know what you think. Use the prompts below and share your answer in the comments, or use them to start your own conversation offline.


1- What are the different myths that the Left and the Right lean on with regard to education, according to de Boer? What do they have in common, and how do they diverge?


2- Roberts pushes de Boer, suggesting he gets close to saying schools achieve nothing. How does he respond? What does de Boer mean when he says that different schools make no difference?


3- De Boer asks a trenchant question: To what extent is educational mobility even desirable? How would you answer this question?


4- In discussing the “monolith” of American K12 education, Roberts and de Boer talk about the role of standards. Why does de Boer insist it’s a mistake to measure gains in learning?  To what extent do you agree that standards are the opposite of innovation in education?


5- Both Roberts and de Boer emphasize their concern for those at the bottom- whether  income distribution or academic achievement. Compare their suggestions regarding how best to help those with the lowest academic achievement. Who’s more convincing? What do you think can be done to help those at the bottom?


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Death panels, euthanasia, and the conservative embrace of herd immunity

I don’t have an ax to grind here, but I’ve noticed an anomaly and wonder if commenters see the same issue.

I’ve always thought of the left as being vaguely “pro-life” on issues like pollution control and national health care. The right seems “pro-life” in its opposition to Medicare “death panels”, euthanasia, and of course abortion.

Conservative views are often informed by religion, and there’s a clear hostility to the cold utilitarian calculation embodied in death panels and euthanasia. The idea of viewing old people as disposable, or the idea of saying, “it’s not worth spending $X to save grandma” seem especially repugnant to conservatives. This group often criticizes countries in northwestern Europe that have a more “utilitarian” approach to death. To many conservatives, life is sacred.

Given these perceptions, I would not have expected so many conservatives to embrace the view that its OK to trade off the lives of a few hundred thousand mostly old people in exchange for a few trillion dollars more in GDP (and, in fairness, more freedom as well.) Note that this freedom argument could be called “pro-choice”. My partying may kill grandma, but “it’s my body, my choice”.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing here that conservatives are right or wrong on any of these views. I’m not even sure that the views conflict. I’m also not sure that I fully understand the views of “conservatives” as a whole, a label that includes people as diverse as pro-life Catholic supporters of the welfare state and pro-choice libertarian atheists.

So maybe there is no contradiction here at all.

Another possibility is that conservatism is evolving in a new direction. We know that ideologies change all the time. Liberals have been on both sides of eugenics, free trade, free speech, and a host of other issues. Why shouldn’t conservatism evolve as well?


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The rude people who comment on Derek Lowe’s blog

Gotta love the logic of bioethicists… >> Hey guys, can we maybe run a vaccine challenge trial to help accelerate research? We’ve got 30k volunteers signed up already Aw jeez, that would be horrible! Humans are unable to consent to taking a deadly risk! (though lets ignore doctors volunteering to work despite PPE shortages or […]

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