Ethics

There’s an interesting post at Harper’s , a set of 6 questions by Scott Horton and responses by Nathaniel Raymond “a war-crimes investigator who analyzed these furtive communications for the FBI and who now heads Harvard’s Signal Program on Human Security and Technology,” referring to James Risen’s new work Pay and Price.  Risen is a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter the Obama administration is trying to jail because he won’t give up his confidential sources for information he published on Bush-Obama middle east policy (there’s a long recent interview with him archived on Democracy Now).  The Harper’s post is not about Risen, however, but about one of the things he reports on:  The American Psychological Association’s collusion and participation in torture, and its lies about that participation.  I won’t try to summarize a brief and very clear, article, but some key points — “the APA secretly allowed the CIA to assist in revising its ethics policies on whether psychologists could participate in interrogation,” that the APA initiated some of this collusion, and then lied about it.  As Raymond point out, “the 2002 amended APA ethics code, which was passed by APA’s council within days of the Yoo–Bybee memo [the Bush administration’s effort to create a legal defense for torture] being signed off on by the Bush Administration, removed core concepts of international medical ethics from the code. The new code allowed the Nuremberg Defense and eroded the Nuremberg Code” and that Office of Legal Council (OLC)

memos hinged on the health-professional involvement in the torture. The OLC memos state that a good-faith defense against torture charges could be made if experts, in this case psychologists, claimed that the application of the torture tactics did not cause “severe, long lasting mental pain and suffering.”

Such conflations of legality and professional knowledge in the service of physical torment, and the subordination of both to the political desires of the state, may be most visible in the exception, but are probably common everyday institutional practice.   Schools, which in the US are dominated by the discourses of psychologists and educational psychologists affiliated with the APA, which supply a repertoire of pathologizing discourses that supply a scientific sheen to everyday oppressions.   More fundamentally, our standard, seemingly neutral vocabularies are built on premises about the normal distribution of “intelligence,” the individuation of “motivation,” the morality of tracking children, or treating decisions they make with young as one-shot “opportunities” which they have a single chance at using.   Is there an ethical problem embedded in the central conceit of intra-psychological processes?  The very idea that we can speak of individuals and psychological processes apart  for socio-cultural world?

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Authority and Influence in Academia

There’s a recent AP story showing that ‘school spending by the affluent is widening the wealth gap,’ As others have pointed out, however, the real problem is not that inequality allows some parents to spend a lot more on their kids than others (that is a problem, but not the big one) – the big one is that school funding itself is very unequal. It’s an old story, Kozol wrote Savage Inqualities decades ago, and Berliner and Biddle have written about it  – there are many studies, and expert testimony and reports done for funding lawsuits such as Williams vs. California.

Things are probably just getting worse, and in our supposed ‘recovery’ the states are still spending less.  The result is a reinforcement of the advantages already enjoyed by children in wealthy families.

I mention these thing because the “Ohio Education Research Center,” housed in the John Glenn School at Ohio State, but with faculty from the Educational Studies department ( among others), recently hosted its annual conference, and for its keynote invited Eric Hanushek.

Ohio Education Research Center Fall Conference

The Ohio Education Research Center is holding its 3rd Annual Conference, “Using Data to Inform Policy, Practice, and Teacher Success,” on Wednesday (10/1) from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Eric Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Stanford University will deliver the keynote address.

 

It’s an interesting choice for several reasons. Hanushek works at the Hoover Institute, a right-wing think tank, and has made a name for himself over the years for expert testimony in school funding cases, in which he invariably argues that funding makes no difference, that class size makes no difference, that teacher tenure and unions are a problem, and that firing bad teachers would be one solution.   There is, of course, a lot written showing the importance of funding, and as the judge in one case where Hanushek testified diplomatically pointed out only a foold would fine that money does not matter in education” (in Adler, 2010, 107). The economist Moshe Adler provides a nice characterization of Hunushek’s favored methods – meta-analysis — in the case of class. Adler is using the critique of the economist Alan Kreuger from Princeton.

 

Instead of counting studies, Hanushek counted estimates within studies. Hanushek reviewed 59 studies and extracted from them 277 estimates. The number of estimates in a study varied widely. Two studies included 24 estimates each, and both studies, by the same authors, were based on the same data. Other studies provided only one estimate. As Krueger explains, Hanushek’s method of counting estimates instead of studies is misleading. There is no reason to assign a greater weight to a study just because it has more estimates. . . . Krueger and Whitmore discovered that if studies were counted instead of estimates, the ratio between those that find class size does matter versus that find that it does not is actually four to one. (Adler, 2010, pp. 104-105).

 

The evidence on class size effects is complex: If you shrink classes and fill them with unqualified TFA teachers in schools without resources you’re not likely to be doing the kids any favors; but Hanushek’s methods as described above are problematic to say the least (though he does defend them) – and of course, he knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

 

More recently, Hanushek was one of only two witnesses called by the plaintiffs in the Vergara trail that ended teacher tenure in California. As described in the LA School Report:

Hanushek spent most of his time on the stand defending his belief that using value-added measures of teachers is critical for evaluating their effectiveness and supporting a recent Stanford report that showed LA Unified charter schools did a better job educating students than traditional district schools.

While plaintiffs attorney Marcellus McRae steered clear of asking about an even more recent Stanford report, a survey of all California charters that showed they performed about the same as regular public schools, a lawyer for the unions, Peder Thoreen, went right at it, only to be swatted back by objections because Hanushek said he had been out of the country when the report was released, and he was not entirely familiar with it.

That struck some of the lawyers as a bit disengenuous in that Hanushek’s wife, Macke Raymond, wrote both reports.

“It is a pretty outrageous statement given that it was written by his wife,” Jonathan Weisglass, a lawyer for the defense, said during an afternoon recess. “And it, in fact, says that for the entire state of California, that the performance of charter schools is equal to or worse than traditional public schools. It’s far less favorable to charter schools than the LA study. So it’s really kind of odd and surprising that he was only familiar with that one.”

Mainstream education writers regularly point out such flaws and conflicts of interest, but none of this damages Hanushek’s credibility (on value-added measures of teaching, see e.g., http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/02/26/analyzing-released-nyc-value-added-data-part-1/). He and colleague Paul Peterson (who famously once described himself as a “Jedi attacker” for vouchers) are much in demand by the corporate right (see them team up together on Wall Street Journal video) — and they get invited to keynote things like the “Ohio Education Research Center”

 

But it’s important to realize that one reason none of this counts against them is that what Hanushek does with data is not unusual for economists. Diesing (1985) showed long ago that the neoliberal ‘Nobel Prize’ winner (and father of school vouchers) Milton Friedman played loose with data: Friedman’s practice was to present his theory as the only one plausible, and then constantly adjusts and interprets the evidence to fit that theory:

 

  1. If raw or adjusted data are consistent with [the theory] he reports them as confirmation. . . .

  2. If the fit with expectations is moderate; he exaggerates the fit . . .

  3. If particular data points or groups of points differ from the predicted regression, he invents ad hoc explanations for the divergence . . .

  4. If a whole set of data disagree with predictions, adjust them until they do agree . . .

  5. If no plausible adjustment suggests itself, reject the data as unreliable . . .

  6. If data adjustment or rejection are not feasible, express puzzlement (pp. 65-66).

 

Mirowski (2013) in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste gives some context for this:

 

Orthodox economists tend to see nothing wrong with conflicts of interest, since they have generally subscribed to the precept that market arrangements are capable in principle of monitoring, restricting, and resolving any such conflicts in the course of normal operations.   . . .This has the curious implication that, whenever the economic orthodoxy has written about the “problem of corruption,” it parsed the problem as besetting only those individuals working in the public sector. Since everyone else employed in the private marketplace is known to be motivated by private gain, and the market turns that into public welfare, then by definition, there are no conflicts of interest in the private sector, only lax imposition of contractual protects. . . . Gary Becker [another neoliberal ‘Nobel Prize’ winner] boiled this down to a pity epigram in his Business Week column: “if we abolish the state, we abolish corruption” (p. 220)

 

In other words, the best way to avoid corruption is by selling your opinions to the highest bidder (that is, since no one really ‘bids,’ to those who pay best). This may be unfair to economists – some of whom really believe what they say – but that’s the implication:

In the neoliberal playbook, intellectuals are inherently shady characters precisely because they sell their pens-for-hire to private interests: that is their inescapable lot in life as participants in the marketplace of ideas. It is the market as superior information processor that ultimately sorts out what the masses should deem as truth, at least in the fullness of time. This constitutes the gist of the Robert Barro position [another neoliberal economist from the same team as Hanushek, Becker, and Friedman] that, as long as they keep paying us, we must be right. (Mirowski, 2013, p. 224).

 

We seem to be doing our part here at OSU – it’d be interesting to know how much Hanushek made for his keynote.

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Journalism and Qualitative Research, I

What’s the difference between qualitative research and ethnography?   Some obvious ones — the academic setting, the  practices of peer review (which is famously uneven and inconsistent) versus ‘fact-checking’ (which can range from weak to stringent) the more common use of real names in journalism and the (usually) tighter time pressures; the need in journalism to write for a broader market (the books must sell), and so forth.

Choice of topic and the ways topics are addressed also differ.  Charles Perrow, a sociologist of organizations (author of a fine textbook on Complex Organizations) said in about 1979 that if he wanted to find out something about how corporations were really run Continue reading

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The Library

As I was putting together a reading list for the coming spring I noticed that journals I was using last spring were no longer available.  When I asked the librarian what had happened it took her a while (she was unaware of the change, apparently, so not only was there no consultation with faculty, but poor communication), she informed me that “Taylor and Francis (as well as Bentham and Karger) have removed some full-text content from EBSCO databases . . . While they are replacing the 395 titles with 596 other titles, valuable content for users was removed by the vendor.”  When I checked the two lists I discovered that the change wasn’t arbitrary:   the additions reflected a hard turn to the ‘sciences,’ and many of the journals (apologies in advance) seemed to be relatively specialized (Albanian Journal of Agriculture, Azerbaijan Journal of Mathematics, etc.).  Meanwhile a number of journals I use – British Journal of Sociology of Education, City, Comparative Education, Mind,Culture & Activity, Disability Studies, Teachers and Teaching, Identities, Review of Education, Pedagogy, & Cultural Studies, Peabody Review of Education — appeared on the ‘removed list.’   A few of these, it turned out (e.g., the Peabody journal, the Journal of Education Policy, and Educational Psychology) are still available through different suppliers (though the Peabody Journal has an 18-month embargo).  Other texts, like the European Educational Research Journal, which is not on the removed list, is no longer accessible as of this writing, though the library site seems to suggest it is.

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Disenchantment

Beginning to read research from the perspective of a researcher, not responding to the content or argument (alone) but simultaneously studying how the work is constructed.  It’s a process of partial disenchantment, of no longer just responding to things the way that those who construct them or author them want you to, but also considering how those effects are produced.  This helps you read critically – and you also add their strategies to your own toolbox.  Part of this process of learning to see something in terms of how it works rather than superficially from an aesthetic distance was nicely captured by Mark Twain, writing about learning to pilot riverboats.  When he first rode the boats, he remembered:

I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling ‘boils’ show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the ‘break’ from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.

No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.  (Twain, Life on the Mississippi).

You develop an analogous way of reading academic texts, strange as it may seem.  It’s not less pleasurable, but it’s different.

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Changing conceptions of science, I

A lot of methodology is about what’s called in science studies “boundary work” — struggles to control the boundary between what counts as “science” and what’s other stuff.  The qualitative/quantitative methods disputes are examples of boundary work (and what you see now with “mixed-methods” is a secondary strategy by  the quantitative researchers, who realizing they can’t completely win, seek to discipline and incorporate elements of qualitative inquiry.  Qualitative researchers, for their part, have been using ‘quantitative Continue reading

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Exemplars of Dissertations grounded in Qualitative Inquiry

It’s often hard to think through what a good qualitative dissertation could look like.  If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a university library, one of these 13 might provide a model.  All are fairly recent, but most importantly, all were published as well-received books. If you look you’ll note how few have 5 chapters.  You’ll also see that many don’t have “literature reviews” (or even “methodology chapters”).  You can download the dissertations through the library’s webpage — look under ‘databases’ and ‘dissertation abstracts’ and search by author or title.  Don’t try to find them in the library catalog.

–    Lewis, (2000).  Race in the schoolyard: Reproducing the color line in school.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.  Book:  Race in the Schoolyard:  Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities
–    Andre-Becheley, (1999) To know otherwise: A study of the social organization of parents’ work for public school choice.   UCLA.. Book:  Could it be otherwise?  Parents Continue reading

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