Bad Science

Bad Science is always kind of on my radar because I follow PZ Myers, and it is one of those blogs that he ingests whole to keep his New Atheist Rage meter pegged at “red faced and screechy”, but I don’t really read it all that often. This is because, by and large, Bad Science is just a bunch of misinterpretations of statements that border on manic, with the occasional feel-good story about how some Catholics touched a kid one time. I don’t really have a problem with this but I’m able to endzone-dance on Catholic dogma in my own head with incredible efficiency, no external validation needed.

But this bothers me.

I have said before that I don’t like the argument that tech is bad because we’re losing skills, and this is absolutely no different. This is the same argument packed up with a couple of vague fMRI images.

Let me lay it down for y’all again and see if you can pick up what I’m laying down. No early human was born with an in-built ability to ride horses. Or drive cars, or hull wheat. They didn’t hatch with a book in hand, nor with the ability to track buffalo. These are things we learn, and we learn these skills because they are germane to our particular socio-cultural habitat. The computer and game-related queues that children may or may not be picking up are not _replacing_ skills. These children would not otherwise be learning how to correctly sex fruit trees or some other thing which your prejudices determine is a “valid” skill. If this child were not learning to mash A rapidly to cause Kirby to float, they could just as easily be learning to hold their breath when they’re being raped because if they can just pass out then their assaulter will leave them alone. They could be learning that beer makes TV more fun. They could be learning that if you tie your shoes this way, the knots end up straight across instead of up and down. Experiential data is ALL VALID. There is NO SUCH THING AS BAD DATA, only bad experiences. As long as these children are also getting physical play and socializing with other children, game play and television, social networking and telephones are all valid and valuable inputs. These children don’t need to be taken to a ranch to learn to process beef, their jobs aren’t going to involve that. But they are going to need to learn how to effectively manage dozens of input streams, self motivate, and engage on multiple fronts. Except in the case of a total top-down armageddon which alters our society to the core, it is unlikely that a kid learning how to keep up with friends on Facebook is going to not serve them well.

Despite not liking the significantly reactionary conclusions being drawn from this data, I am happy to see this science being done. I do like that we are discovering more about early cognitive development, and I love that we can now map how the young brain weights data value. I think this will be key to improving our education system, so we know how and when to teach certain skills. I am a firm believer in the smarter-not-harder theory of education. But misinterpreting the logical conclusions of this type of research is annoying and idiotic.

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