Manipulating student evaluations: the Downey Sales School method

Student evaluations are biased? Yes, yes, they are. Research has repeatedly shown that students’ evaluations of teaching quality show a range of biases. For example, Anne BoringKellie Ottoboni and Philip B. Stark argue on the LSE’s Impact blog that:

Student evaluations of teaching (SET) are strongly associated with the gender of the instructor. Female instructors receive lower scores than male instructors. SET are also significantly correlated with students’ grade expectations: students who expect to get higher grades give higher SET, on average. But SET are not strongly associated with learning outcomes.

Even given their limitations and outright unfairness, universities are not likely to give up student evaluations soon.

So I offer you another alternative: How I manipulate student evaluation scores. Using techniques I first learned while a door-to-door salesman as an undergraduate, here are tried and tested techniques for improving your evaluations, from the keyboard of a 25+ year university veteran. Buckle up — this may sound cynical — but I hope to persuade you that my goals and methods are not only ethical, but actually might improve your teaching. 

Photo by Aldiyar Seitkassymov on Pexels.com
Continue reading “Manipulating student evaluations: the Downey Sales School method”

Wednesday Round Up #18

This Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic

There are COVID-19 incidents in which a single person likely infected 80 percent or more of the people in the room in just a few hours. But, at other times, COVID-19 can be surprisingly much less contagious. Overdispersion and super-spreading of this virus are found in research across the globe. A growing number of studies estimate that a majority of infected people may not infect a single other person. A recent paper found that in Hong Kong, which had extensive testing and contact tracing, about 19 percent of cases were responsible for 80 percent of transmission, while 69 percent of cases did not infect another person. This finding is not rare: Multiple studies from the beginning have suggested that as few as 10 to 20 percent of infected people may be responsible for as much as 80 to 90 percent of transmission, and that many people barely transmit it.

This highly skewed, imbalanced distribution means that an early run of bad luck with a few super-spreading events, or clusters, can produce dramatically different outcomes even for otherwise similar countries… This kind of behavior, alternating between being super infectious and fairly noninfectious, is exactly what k captures, and what focusing solely on R hides.

Few people knew female birds had unique songs—until women started studying them

Recent findings have shown that female song is widespread, and it is likely that the ancestor of all songbirds had female song. Now, rather than asking why males originally evolved song, the question has become why both sexes originally evolved song, and why females have lost song in some species.

In a recently published study, we reviewed 20 years of research on female bird song and found that the key people driving this recent paradigm shift were women. If fewer women had entered this field, we believe that it likely would have taken much longer to reach this new understanding of how bird song originally evolved. We see this example as a powerful demonstration of why it’s important to increase diversity in all fields of science.

The End of Art History

Karmel has, in fact, proven that a global history of abstraction is impossible. This is an important achievement, for it opens the way to constructive analysis. Today’s art world has an essentially different structure from Gombrich’s Eurocentric tradition or Clement Greenberg’s New York-centric era; we must now recognize that writing a global art history demands that we give up historical thinking.

The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease

Memory, it turns out, is one of the major factors mediating the dialogue between sensation and emotional experience. Our memories of past experience become encoded into triggers that act as switchers on the rail of psychoemotional response, directing the incoming train of present experience in the direction of one emotional destination or another.

Why the right wing has a massive advantage on Facebook
*A better title for this piece would be that Facebook recognizes that it’s a company who manipulates emotions, creates excessive engagement, and promotes knee-jerk responding. It’s their business model. They are literally now the Tabloid of the Internt.

“Right-wing populism is always more engaging,” a Facebook executive said in a recent interview with POLITICO reporters, when pressed why the pages of conservatives drive such high interactions. The person said the content speaks to “an incredibly strong, primitive emotion” by touching on such topics as “nation, protection, the other, anger, fear.”

“That was there in the [19]30’s. That’s not invented by social media — you just see those reflexes mirrored in social media, they’re not created by social media,” the executive added. “It’s why tabloids do better than the [Financial Times], and it’s also a human thing. People respond to engaging emotion much more than they do to, you know, dry coverage. …This wasn’t invented 15 years ago when Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook.”

Your Brain Chooses What to Let You See

Take a counterintuitive finding that Tadin and his colleagues made in 2003: We’re good at perceiving the movements of small objects, but if those objects are simply made bigger, we find it much more difficult to detect their motion.

Recently in Nature Communications, Tadin’s team offered a tantalizing explanation for why this happens: The brain prioritizes the detection of objects that are more important for us to see, and those tend to be smaller. To a hawk hunting for its next meal, a mouse suddenly darting through a field matters more than the swaying motion of the grass and trees around it. As a result, Tadin and his team discovered, the brain suppresses information about the movement of the background — and as a side effect, it has more difficulty perceiving the movements of larger objects, because it treats them as a kind of background, too.

Getting around by sound: Human echolocation (first published, 14 June 2011)

(We are republishing ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg.downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content. I originally published this on 14 Junne, 2011. Comments have been pasted in at the end of the post from the original.)

Daredevil_65As any fan of the adventures of Daredevil knows, being blind in comic books can give you superpowers.  Matt Murdoch was blinded by a radioactive accident that he befell because he tried to save a blind pedestrian from the truck carrying the waste (ah, the irony…). Murdoch developed a kind of ‘radar’ sense that allowed him to prowl Hell’s Kitchen, rooting out the miscreants and lowlifes who, like the blind Man Without Fear, preferred to lurk in the dark.

Although his personal life proved that nice guys often finish, if not last, certainly with a heavy burden of angst and personal tragedy, Daredevil built upon the observation that deprivation of one sense can lead to heightened ability in others.

Although the Man without Fear may seem implausible, in fact, researchers have examined a number of blind individuals who seem to develop extraordinarily acute echolocation, a kind of active sonar that they use by clicking to produce echoes from their surroundings.  In a recent edition of PLoS ONELore Thaler from the University of Western Ontario, with Stephen Arnott and Melvyn Goodalereport on brain imaging research that tries to sort out how individuals who can echolocate – who have what one blind activist calls ‘flash sonar’ – accomplish this perception neurologically. Do they use an especially acute sense of hearing, or do they develop another kind of sense, able to transform echoes into spatial perception?

What the researchers found, in short, is that blind individuals who could echolocate did not really have better ‘hearing’; on normal tests of hearing acuity, they scored the same as two sighted subjects who could not echolocate.  However, when a recording had echoes, parts of the brain associated with visual perception in sighted individuals became extremely active, as the echolocators were able to extract information from the echoes that was seemingly not accessible to the control subjects who were sighted.

Continue reading “Getting around by sound: Human echolocation (first published, 14 June 2011)”

David Graeber: 1961-2020

david graeber

Anthropologist, activist, and author David Graeber, author of some of the most popular and cutting recent works in our discipline, has passed away at 59 according to his widow, artist and writer Nika Dubrovsky. Some news outlets are saying that the causes are unknown; other suggest he had contracted COVID. 

As author Matthew Rozsa quotes in Salon, historian Rutger Bregman has said:

Shocked to hear that David Graeber has passed away, one of the greatest thinkers of our time. And a phenomenal writer.

I agree. I wrote an extended piece about David on PLOS Neuroanthropology in 2011 that I reposted here last year: David Graeber: anthropologist, anarchist, financial analyst*. Even then, it was clear that his work was crucial, and there have been hugely influential works since then on “bullshit jobs,” the Occupy movement, and bureaucracy.

Continue reading “David Graeber: 1961-2020”

Wednesday Round Up #3

Wednesday Round Up #3

“Decolonize Maiz” is art work by Ernesto Yerena. You can purchase it from the Saguaro Gallery.

Black Lives Matter: How the movement that’s changing America was built and where it goes next

And according to Muhammad, we can make these big asks now in large part not merely because of Garza, Cullors, and Tometi, but because of the framework they established. Black Lives Matter was born as an organization with a queer, feminist framework that grasped the importance of intersectionality. “Both Patrisse and I have this experience being queer black women in a movement for black freedom that really isn’t shaped in our image. One of the things that actually connected Patrisse and I very early on is what it meant to try to navigate that space,” Garza says.

That was especially important at a time when the media focused on black death centered on straight black men and boys. Since people are oppressed because of race, gender, and all of the various ways they are identified, if black lives are to truly matter, they all had to matter. It is to the movement’s credit that the deaths of trans people like Tony McDade and Nina Pop haven’t been lost in the shuffle of recent tragedies. But visibility hasn’t been the sole accomplishment.

“This moment crystallizes how important organizing is to movement work and movement building,” Muhammad says. “It’s clear that what they did helped to prepare, city by city, what is emerging as a national network of organizers who have been ready, willing, and able to step into a crisis. We have to see what’s happening here in terms of the nucleus of these massive protests being the outcome of all of that work.”

Explainer: what is decolonisation?

Decolonisation is now used to talk about restorative justice through cultural, psychological and economic freedom.

In most countries where colonisers remain, Indigenous people still don’t hold significant positions of power or self-determination. These nations are termed “settler-colonial” countries – a term made popular in the 1990s by academic Patrick Wolfe, who said “invasion is a structure not an event”.

We Can Protect the Economy From Pandemics. Why Didn’t We?

Now 49, Wolfe had traded the Cameroonian jungle for the conference rooms of Silicon Valley. When I saw him on Zoom, his shoulder-length locks were gone, and his quarantine beard was shot through with gray. But he had the same glow of enthusiasm I remembered. His new preoccupation, he told me, was pandemic insurance.

I’ll confess this didn’t immediately pique my interest. The word insurance evokes in me feelings of tedium and loathing. Like many Americans, my personal interface with the industry has, let’s just say, been less than positive. But then Wolfe began to explain the unexpected direction his career had taken. After years of thinking about epidemics in terms of the symptomatic and the dead, he’d begun considering their economic ramifications. A global pandemic, and the steps we would take to stop it, would mean business closings, layoffs, and mass unemployment. Preparing to face an outbreak, he’d come to believe, required anticipating those impacts.

Tanya Luhrman reflects on writing, books, and the difference between anthropology and ethnography. All built around her own trajectory as a scholar.

Continue reading “Wednesday Round Up #3”

Wednesday Roundup #2

Tyrone B. Hayes on how racism works in the academy. Hayes also was featured in the New Yorker for his groundbreaking work on how manufactured chemicals negatively impact our environment, in particular the herbicide atrazine’s impact on sexual development among amphibians

“Why are you always here?” She asked as we walked up the hill from LSA to Morgan Hall where Immunology was taught. I had walked alongside the professor from LSA to class all semester.

Concerned, I answered, “I’m taking the class, is that ok? I’ve never had a course in immunology.” I assumed the Professor was confused because I was an IB graduate student taking an undergraduate course in MCB.

“I didn’t know they let you guys take classes” she responded.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Aren’t you the custodian who takes care of the crickets?” she queried.

“No… I’m a graduate student in IB” I answered.

“Oh.” She said unapologetically. “I always see you on the elevator…I just assumed you were the custodian who takes care of the crickets.”

And that was my introduction to Berkeley as a new graduate student (fall of 1989). It was one thing for campus police to block my car twice during my first week of graduate school and interrogate me because someone called and reported me in the building…but it was a completely different one for one of my professors to treat me this way. I dropped the class.

I thought Berkeley would be better. It reminded me of my first day at Harvard…

The Biggest Psychological Experiment in History Is Running Now

Individual resilience is further complicated by the fact that this pandemic has not affected each person in the same way. For all that is shared–the coronavirus has struck every level of society and left few lives unchanged–there has been tremendous variation in the disruption and devastation experienced. Consider Brooklyn, just one borough in hard-hit New York City. Residents who started the year living or working within a few miles of one another have very different stories of illness, loss and navigating the challenges of social distancing. How quickly and how well individuals, businesses and organizations recover will depend on the jobs, insurance and health they had when this started, on whether they have endured hassle or heartbreak, and on whether they can tap financial resources and social support.

The pandemic has laid bare the inequities in the American health care system and economic safety net. Black and Latino Americans are dying at much higher rates than white Americans. “When we talk about preexisting conditions, it isn’t just if I’m obese, it’s our society’s preexisting condition,” says medical anthropologist Carol Worthman of Emory University, an expert in global mental health.

Fortunately, the unprecedented pandemic is leading to unprecedented science not just in virology but on mental health and resilience. Behavioral scientists are measuring the psychological toll in real time and striving to identify what helps people cope.

This Is What I Want To Tell My White Professors When They Ask, ‘How Are You Today?’

Continue reading “Wednesday Roundup #2”