Ken Robinson: How Schools Kill Creativity (TED Talks)

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk “How Schools Kill Creativity” is really resonating with me, perhaps because I’m a relatively newly minted father, but also because of experiences of my own education.

In this 2006 talk, Robinson expounds in hilarious and insightful fashion about how the education systems worldwide are mostly geared towards producing candidates for the suitable for employment in the 19th century era of industrialization.

“My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy,and we should treat it with the same status.”

Wait, What Debate? – Dr. Pepper Facebook Advert Ignites Evolution Debate

Via Mashable comes word of how the Dr. Pepper advert below set off a debate about evolution that, as I write this, has garnered over 24,319 likes, 2314 shares and more than 3,300 comments. Why? The advert, in no-subtle way, supports evolution – as well it should.

Dr Pepper set off a heated debate over evolution on Thursday after posting an advertisement to its Facebook page, which showed an ape evolving into a man thanks to the discovery of a can of Dr Pepper.

“My ancestors were created in the Garden of Eden,” one user posted in response to the advertisement. “I ain’t no freaking chimp. No more Dr Pepper for my household. God Bless y’all,” Another complained: “this is showing the theory of men evolving from apes. I have lost all respect for Dr Pepper and if Dr Pepper wants business from thousands of people they will need to apologize.” (Spellings have been corrected throughout.)

Others shot back, including a couple of commenters who posted, “The day your faith gets shaken by a Dr Pepper ad is the day you should probably start reconsidering your faith.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves –  There is no debate here.

All there is are those people, who as a result of poor education and/or willful ignorance, attempt to find god in the ever decreasing gaps of scientific knowledge. A gap in our scientific knowledge is not evidence for the existence of a deity, it is simply evidence that there is more we have yet to learn.

It must be depressing to have a world view where there is no joy, excitement and wonderment from the pursuit of knowledge, where you simply accept that everything exists because “god made it”. So sad.

Folks are free to have their religious beliefs, but at some point they must realize, that having those beliefs doesn’t mean they need to be and act willfully ignorant in the face of scientific theory.

Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

The contention that evolution should be taught as a “theory, not as a fact” confuses the common use of these words with the scientific use. In science, theories do not turn into facts through the accumulation of evidence. Rather, theories are the end points of science. They are understandings that develop from extensive observation, experimentation, and creative reflection. They incorporate a large body of scientific facts, laws, tested hypotheses, and logical inferences. In this sense, evolution is one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have.

Dr Pepper - Evolution of Flavor

Akismet/Collective Intelligence/Education through Design

Andy Beard wrote an article a while back about the potential problems of using so called “collective intelligence” to power spam and comment filters on email systems and blogs.

Andy’s article, Akismet – the Danger of Collective Intelligence (and why I don’t use it), focused mainly on Akismet, the comment filter which I use on this blog and the problems caused when the collective intelligence is influenced by unintelligent, spiteful, and sometimes simply ignorant or uniformed users.

Logging in to WordPress this morning, the number of spam comments waiting for moderation got me thinking about Andy’s article and how Akismet could be improved.

The following is a rough piece of “blogging tourettes” related to improving Akismet!

The usefulness of collective intelligence in a filter such as Akismet is diminished by a number of factors:

  1. All those idiots who mark legitimate comments as spam simply because their ego’s can’t suffer the existence of an opinion which differs from their own.
  2. All those goits who mark a comment as spam simply because they don’t like the comment author.
  3. Users who lack the deductive capability to recognize a spam comment from a real one also harm the filter by provide false positives and negatives.
  4. User apathy! Users who have 500 potential spam comments and don’t want to check for false positives so instead hit the “Delete” All button!

Now, unfortunately there is very little we can do about factors 1 or 2 (besides round them all up and have them shot for being petty, closed minded idiots) as these proponents of collective stupidity are impossible to educate (without using electroshock therapy).

We can however, do a lot to improve the situation with regards to numbers 3 and 4 and we can do it without launching a massive “spam education” campaign.

We can do it by simply changing the design of the Akismet Spam interface.

When I logged in to WordPress this morning I saw that I had 1068 comments identified as spam. That’s a daunting number of comments to wade through when checking for false positives, especially if you’re a tired blogger who only blogs once a week about his growing belly button fluff collection and the girl that works behind the sweet counter who has a big rack, six toes on one foot and eyes that look in two directions at once and neither of those directions is at you.

It’s all to easy to hit that damn “Delete all” button and fill Akismet with false positives.

To make life a little easier for Navel Fluff Boy and make him more likely to check for false positives we need to change how the comments are displayed.

First off, lets not display every spam comment!

Lets group them together, so that identical comments are listed only once, but  also display the number of times the comment was received.

That way instead of seeing 200 comments from “Your favorite Aunty Carol” offering you Viagra (I guess we know why she’s your favorite now!), lets just have the comment displayed once with a “x 200″ box. Suddenly we’ve reduced the number of pages of comment spam to be check by 4 (Akismet puts 50 comments on a page!)

We could also add a button that allows you to delete all the comments on the current page without affecting the other pages, allowing you to come back later and not have to moderate all the spam in one sitting.

So now, we’ve made life a little easier for Navel Fluff Boy as he doesn’t have so many pages to wade through! Is there anything else we can do to ease his burden and get him back to searching for lint?

We can remove the pages completely!

22 pages looks like a lot of work! It is! So, lets borrow a little something from Google and give the Akismet Spam page a “River of Spam” just like Google Reader has a “River of News”.  Lets also give the river keyboard commands similar to Google Readers, so that he can moderate his comments with one hand while dreaming of big rack, six toes, funny eyes and…..

Awesome, now we don’t have pages, and things look a little easier which might encourage Navel Fluff Boy not to be so apathetic about his spam.

Still, making life easier doesn’t do much in terms of preventing those folks who can’t tell the difference between spam and real comments from degrading the collective intelligence by allowing false positives and negatives.

To help these poor soles we could do a little education by design!

Let’s give all the comments a rank or percentage probability of actually being spam and display it next to the comments. The user now has more information (percentage probability) on which to base his or her decision as to wether or not a comment is spam. Better information should result in a decreased number of false positives and negatives!

Now, there’s a little education for you!.

But wait, it gets better!

Now we have comments with probability ranks and a “river of spam”, so lets meld the two together and organize the river of spam so that it displays the comments in order of least probable spam to highest probable spam.

Now, we have a system, where the comments which are most likely to be false positives will show up first on the list, so are more likely to be detected which should hopefully lower the number of false positives entering the system,

We also, have all of those which are most likely to be spam grouped together so that if, after scanning some of the comments, Navel Fluff Boy does get lazy and hit the “Delete all” button there’s a lower probability of the comments containing false positives.

With a little (lot?) of design work, we could potentially reduce the time spent by everyone scanning comments for false positives, make spotting false positives easier and educate users along the way.

Unfortunately there is still nothing we can do about the idiots in factors 1 and 2, but a least Navel Fluff Boy has more time to dream about big rack, six toes, funny eyes, who he’ll probably never talk to anyway!