(Last edited: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 4:26 PM)
Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar
Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar
Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures -- Getty Images
ACCORDING to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, John Seigenthaler Sr. is 78 years old and the former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville. But is that information, or anything else in Mr. Seigenthaler's biography, true?
The question arises because Mr. Seigenthaler recently read about himself on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that he "was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby."
"Nothing was ever proven," the biography added.
Mr. Seigenthaler discovered that the false information had been on the site for several months and that an unknown number of people had read it, and possibly posted it on or linked it to other sites.
If any assassination was going on, Mr. Seigenthaler (who is 78 and did edit The Tennessean) wrote last week in an op-ed article in USA Today, it was of his character.
The case triggered extensive debate on the Internet over the value and reliability of Wikipedia, and more broadly, over the nature of online information.
Wikipedia is a kind of collective brain, a repository of knowledge, maintained on servers in various countries and built by anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection who wants to share knowledge about a subject. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have written Wikipedia entries.
Mistakes are expected to be caught and corrected by later contributors and users.
The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.
It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.
Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?
And beyond reliability, there is the question of accountability. Mr. Seigenthaler, after discovering that he had been defamed, found that his "biographer" was anonymous. He learned that the writer was a customer of BellSouth Internet, but that federal privacy laws shield the identity of Internet customers, even if they disseminate defamatory material. And the laws protect online corporations from libel suits.
He could have filed a lawsuit against BellSouth, he wrote, but only a subpoena would compel BellSouth to reveal the name.
In the end, Mr. Seigenthaler decided against going to court, instead alerting the public, through his article, "that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool."
Mr. Wales said in an interview that he was troubled by the Seigenthaler episode, and noted that Wikipedia was essentially in the same boat. "We have constant problems where we have people who are trying to repeatedly abuse our sites," he said.
Still, he said, he was trying to make Wikipedia less vulnerable to tampering. He said he was starting a review mechanism by which readers and experts could rate the value of various articles. The reviews, which he said he expected to start in January, would show the site's strengths and weaknesses and perhaps reveal patterns to help them address the problems.
In addition, he said, Wikipedia may start blocking unregistered users from creating new pages, though they would still be able to edit them.
The real problem, he said, was the volume of new material coming in; it is so overwhelming that screeners cannot keep up with it.
All of this struck close to
home for librarians and researchers. On an electronic mailing list for
them, J. Stephen Bolhafner, a news researcher at The St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, wrote, "The best defense of the Wikipedia, frankly, is
to point out how much bad information is available from supposedly
(Page 2 of 2)
Jessica Baumgart, a news researcher at Harvard University, wrote that there were librarians voluntarily working behind the scenes to check information on Wikipedia. "But, honestly," she added, "in some ways, we're just as fallible as everyone else in some areas because our own knowledge is limited and we can't possibly fact-check everything."
In an interview, she said that her rule of thumb was to double-check everything and to consider Wikipedia as only one source.
"Instead of figuring out how to 'fix' Wikipedia - something that cannot be done to our satisfaction," wrote Derek Willis, a research database manager at The Washington Post, who was speaking for himself and not The Post, "we should focus our energies on educating the Wikipedia users among our colleagues."
Some cyberexperts said Wikipedia already had a good system of checks and balances. Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford and an expert in the laws of cyberspace, said that contrary to popular belief, true defamation was easily pursued through the courts because almost everything on the Internet was traceable and subpoenas were not that hard to obtain. (For real anonymity, he advised, use a pay phone.)
"People will be defamed," he said. "But that's the way free speech is. Think about the gossip world. It spreads. There's no way to correct it, period. Wikipedia is not immune from that kind of maliciousness, but it is, relative to other features of life, more easily corrected."
Indeed, Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0 and a longtime Internet analyst, said Wikipedia may, in that sense, be better than real life.
"The Internet has done a lot more for truth by making things easier to discuss," she said. "Transparency and sunlight are better than a single point of view that can't be questioned."
For Mr. Seigenthaler, whose biography on Wikipedia has since been corrected, the lesson is simple: "We live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research, but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects."
(Last edited: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 9:39 AM)
Software 'cannot stop cheating'
(Last edited: Sunday, 27 November 2005, 10:38 PM)
Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S.
Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S.
After Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math this year, state officials at a jubilant news conference called the results a "cause for celebration." Eighty-seven percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level.
But when the federal government made public the findings of its own tests last month, the results were startlingly different: only 21 percent of Tennessee's eighth graders were considered proficient in math.
Such discrepancies have intensified the national debate over testing and accountability, with some educators saying that numerous states have created easy exams to avoid the sanctions that President Bush's centerpiece education law, No Child Left Behind, imposes on consistently low-scoring schools.
A comparison of state test results against the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test mandated by the No Child Left Behind law, shows that wide discrepancies between the state and federal findings were commonplace.
In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on state reading tests, while only 18 percent of fourth graders demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Texas and more than a dozen other states all showed students doing far better on their own reading and math tests than on the federal one.
The chasm is significant because of the compromises behind the No Child Left Behind law. The law requires states to participate in the National Assessment - known to educators as NAEP (pronounced nape) - the most important federal measure of student proficiency.
But in a bow to states' rights, states are allowed to use their own tests in meeting the law's central mandate - that schools increase the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency each year. The law requires 100 percent of the nation's students to reach proficiency - as each state defines it - by 2014.
States set the stringency of their own tests as well as the number of questions students must answer correctly to be labeled proficient. And because states that fail to raise scores over time face serious sanctions, there is little incentive to make the exams difficult, some educators say.
"Under No Child Left Behind, the states get to set the proficiency bar wherever they like, and unfortunately most are setting it quite low," said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which generally supports the federal law.
"They're telling the public in their states that huge numbers of students are proficient, but the NAEP results show that's not the case," Mr. Petrilli said.
Other educators and experts give different reasons for the discrepancy between state and federal test results. A Standard & Poor's report this fall listed many reasons for such differences, among them that the National Assessment is a no-stakes test, while low scores on state tests lead to sanctions against schools.
The report noted that the National Assessment is given to a sampling of students, whereas schools administer state tests to nearly all students. The tests serve different purposes, with the federal one giving policy makers a snapshot of student performance across the nation, while state tests provide data about individual performance. Because of these differences, some state officials say it is unfair to compare the test results.
But the report by Standard & Poor's, which has a division that analyzes educational data, also noted some states' tests are just easier.
G. Gage Kingsbury, director of research at the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group that administers tests in 1,500 districts nationwide, said states that set their proficiency standards before No Child Left Behind became law had tended to set them high.
"The idea back then was that we needed to be competitive with nations like Hong Kong and Singapore," he said. "But our research shows that since N.C.L.B. took effect, states have set lower standards."
Not all have a low bar. In South Carolina, Missouri, Wyoming and Maine, state results tracked closely with the federal exam.
South Carolina is a state that set world-class standards, Mr. Kingsbury said. The math tests there are so difficult that only 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficiency level this year, compared with 30 percent on the federal math test. South Carolina officials now fear that such rigor is coming back to haunt them.
"We set very high standards for our tests, and unfortunately it's put us at a great disadvantage," said Inez M. Tenenbaum, the state superintendent of education. "We thought other states would be high-minded too, but we were mistaken."
South Carolina's tough exams make it harder for schools there to show the annual testing gains demanded by the federal law.
This year less than half of the state's 1,109 schools met the federal law's benchmark for the percentage of students showing proficiency, a challenge that will get tougher each year. As a result, legislators are pushing to lower the state's proficiency standard, Ms. Tenenbaum said, an idea she opposes.
Because of the discrepancies, several prominent educators are now calling for a system of national testing that counts, like those at the heart of educational systems in England, France and Japan.
"We need national standards and national tests," said Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University who is a former member of the National Assessment's board. "I conclude that states are just looking to make everybody feel good."
Ms. Tenenbaum too says the differences among states have convinced her of the need for a national test. "I think we should all just take the NAEP," she said. "Get it out of the states' hands."
But Representative John A. Boehner, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force, defended states' rights to define proficiency as they see fit and said that over time comparisons with the federal test would force them to draw up better tests.
"The bright lights of accountability are going to shine on the states who are kidding themselves," said Mr. Boehner, Republican of Ohio.
The battle lines have long been sharp in the testing debate. Most corporate leaders favor national testing, said Susan Traiman, a director at the Business Roundtable, a group that represents corporate executives.
Opponents include liberal groups that dislike all standardized testing; the testing industry itself, which has found lucrative profits in writing new exams for all 50 states; and political conservatives who fiercely resist any intrusion on states' rights to control curricula and tests.
Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, says that the comparison of state and federal tests provides useful information. "It allows us to shine a light," she said. "This is a truth-in-advertising type deal."
But Ms. Spellings has declined to criticize states whose tests appear to overstate the percentage of their students who are proficient. The law leaves it to states to calibrate their accountability systems, including how difficult they make their exams, she said. "We're not going to sit up in Washington and look at all those moving parts," Ms. Spellings said.
The National Assessment uses three performance levels to classify student results: advanced, which denotes superior performance; proficient, which indicates that students have "demonstrated competency" and basic, which indicates students have attained only "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." Many students also score below basic, which the National Assessment's governing board does not classify as an achievement level.
On Oct. 19, the day the federal results were released, Ms. Spellings urged reporters to compare the percentage of students performing at the proficiency level on state tests with the percentage of students performing at the basic level on the federal test.
Many state officials said they also preferred that comparison, which greatly softens the discrepancies. In Tennessee, for instance, the 66-point gap between the federal and state results in eighth-grade math shrinks to just 26 points if the state results are compared with the federal measure of basic skills.
"NAEP's basic is comparable to our proficient," said Kim Karesh, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education. "Now whether Tennessee's test is stringent enough is something that we're reviewing constantly. Nobody here would say we have a perfect test."
Officials in many other states whose scores differed sharply from those of the National Assessment cried foul over the very idea of comparing the results.
"The comparison to NAEP is not fair," said Mitch Edwards, a spokesman for the Department of Education in Alabama, where 83 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient on the state's reading test while only 22 percent demonstrated proficiency on the federal reading test. "Making comparisons to the NAEP becomes very difficult without giving the impression that some states are not measuring up to others or to the nation."
In Georgia, 83 percent of eighth graders scored at or above proficient on state reading tests, compared with just 24 percent on the federal test. "Kids know the federal test doesn't really count," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. "So it's not a fair comparison; it's not apples to apples."
(Last edited: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 10:29 PM)
Tecnologia como cultura
(Last edited: Friday, 23 December 2005, 10:32 AM)
The computer and I
General Introduction: grew up in California (LA then bay area), oldest of 6 children. Family moved to Phoenix, Arizona (parents still there), went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah still here. Married, wife Judy from very small town (300) in Nevada. Have 9 children, 7 married, youngest started college this week. No empty nest proxmity to BYU (10 minutes) and large extended family guarantees someone always living in basement while attending BYU (right now is niece & husband & 3 children). Enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, cooking, reading (especially aloud to anyone wholl listen), discussing ideas, listening to music (but more on that elsewhere). I dont really like gardening, but I live on 1 acre and I like grape juice, peaches, apples, apricots, various berries and other fresh produce, so I maintain a large garden. Used to be one of 3 properties between 2 large orchards, had chickens, neighbors had sheep & goats (even pigs once). All but us & one neighbor sold & developed during last 2 years into posh neighborhood, wonder what they think about the two remaining eye sores in the middle. We sometimes feel a little like the couple in the old Good Neighbors sitcom.
CAI-relevant Introduction: First introduced to personal computing in 1961 when G.E. tried experiment with remote terminals in 100 local employees homes, used Basic and 8-bit punch tape. Didnt think it took at the time, but have never been far from it since. While a grad student at BYU (c. 1980) I became involved in volunteer work at our gradeschool, teaching computer skills to children in an early-moring program. We used PET computers (5K!) and BASIC, which proved to be a great tool for building problem solving skills and encouraging creativity. It didnt really strike me then that teaching 3rd-6th graders how to make the computer do something by programming it was rather innovative, but some of them have since told me it was something of a turning point.
I had also met some professors involved in early CAI projects and instructional design. Some of them helped start Wicat, a company for developing computer-assisted teaching. Wicat produced what was probably the first comprehensive K-12 computer-based curriculum, delivered from a mini mainframe to 30 workstations. I started working for Wicat and soon found that while I had been hired to develop a set of ability tests (Ph.D. in experimental psychology), I had a knack for programming and was increasingly involved in software design and coding. A reorganization sent me from the Education Division to the relatively small Training Division, where I did front-end analysis and design on CBT for aircraft pilot training. Not exactly the revolution in education, but still a great place for involvement with computer aided instruction. I became interested in making training program development more consistent and automating it as much as possible, so I again found myself increasingly doing programming tasks.
A common limitation in CBT was that practice segments were pretty much lock-step, whereas most tasks being trained could be accomplished through many differenct sequences. In the early 90s we began developing avionics simulations for the new glass cockpit airframes that were coming into service. These were delivered on desktop PCs and were intended to become part of an expert system training program (guided practice). Unfortunately, we could sell simulations better than educational concepts, and by 2000 we had been purchased by Faros (a French company) and had moved entirely to the simulation business, producing full-cockpit Flight Training Devices.
Airplanes are fun, no getting around it. But my interest in simulation had been as part of training software, not as a separate self-contained component. I spoke with some of my educational contacts about moving my career back towards education, but nothing came of it. Meanwhile, the troubled airline business caused further cutbacks; finally in March of this year Faros terminated Wicat operation, and I found myself looking for work.
On to Moodle: My next door neighbors own a small school, a medical-dental technical college. The husband runs the business aspects, the wife is the educational director. They suggested I might have a look at what they called some IT problems at their school, which might serve as employment while I looked for employment, or even become a long-term position. After two days of reviewing their computer and records systems, I concluded that what was needed was more than a patch, but a thorough-going systematic approach. I had heard of Blackboard and WebCT, but hadnt heard much good about them and their cost was prohibitive (the school has 20 full-time employees). Still, those represented a systematic approach. During the next few days an associate of the school introduced me to Moodle. By the end of the week I was sure I had found the solution.
One thing has led to another. We are a long way from the overall implementation envisioned, but have made a lot of progress. I dont know where this will lead (anyone got an opening for someone who is equal parts educator, programmer, psychologist, simulations designerand loves Moodle?), but for now I feel that Moodle represents the coming-of-age of computer-assisted teaching. I will describe this more fully in the following blog on Moodle.
(Last edited: Friday, 2 December 2005, 9:39 PM)
Tiro ao crucifixo
Eu só quero que me expliquem isto porque é que ter um crucifixo pendurado na parede de uma escola é uma ofensa à laicidade do Estado e um atentado à Constituição, e já não é uma ofensa à laicidade do Estado nem um atentado à Constituição o país inteiro prestar homenagem, através de um dia feriado, ao nascimento de Jesus (Natal), à morte de Jesus (Sexta-feira Santa), à ressurreição de Jesus (Páscoa), à celebração da Eucaristia (Corpo de Deus), aos santos e mártires da Igreja (Dia de Todos os Santos), à subida ao céu de Maria (Assunção de Nossa Senhora), e até ao facto de a mãe de Jesus, através de uma cunha de Deus, ter-se safado do pecado original no momento em que os seus pais a conceberam (Imaculada Conceição). Na próxima quinta-feira, dia 8 de Dezembro, o Estado português vai curvar-se alegremente diante de um dogma de alcofa inventado no século XIX por uma Igreja acossada pela secularização, mas até lá entretém- -se a subir ao escadote para remover cruzes de madeira, esses malvados instrumentos que instigam à conversão religiosa. Em Portugal, já se sabe, a lógica é uma batata.
Por mim, podem limpar as escolas de todos os crucifixos, e, já agora, que se aproxima essa perigosa quadra para o laicismo do Estado chamada Natal, podem proibir também os presépios e até a apanha de musgo. A única coisa que me incomoda neste pequeno psicodrama é que o Ministério da Educação perca o seu tempo a expelir circulares muito legais, muito constitucionais e muito burras. O senhor que está pendurado nos crucifixos não é apenas um símbolo religioso - é também um símbolo civilizacional, que atravessa todo o Ocidente através da pintura, da literatura, da música, da arquitectura, do teatro, do cinema. Mais do que propaganda católica, o crucifixo faz parte da nossa identidade e é uma chave para compreender os últimos 21 séculos de História. Não tem a ver com fé. Não tem a ver com Deus. Tem a ver connosco.
João Miguel Tavares
(Last edited: Friday, 21 October 2005, 3:56 PM)
Um ano de desafios
(Last edited: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 3:31 PM)
Um ano de desafios, José Lopes da Silva
(Last edited: Saturday, 3 December 2005, 10:34 PM)
Uma comissão de avaliação de manuais
Uma comissão de avaliação de manuais
Nessa altura eu estava a dar uma série de aulas de Iniciação de Física e, depois de uma delas, Tom Harvey, que me ajudava a preparar as demonstrações, disse: "Devia ver o que se passa com a Matemática nos livros escolares! A minha filha chega a casa com uma data de disparates!"
Não prestei muita atenção ao que ele disse.
Mas no dia seguinte recebi um telefonema de um advogado bastante famoso de Pasadena, o Sr. Norris, que nessa altura pertencia à Junta Estadual de Educação. Pediu-me que fizesse parte da Comissão Curricular Estadual, que devia escolher os novos manuais para o estado da Califórnia. Sabem, o estado tem uma lei segundo a qual todos os manuais usados por todos os miúdos em todas as escolas oficiais têm de ser escolhidos pela Junta Estadual de Educação, pelo que formam uma comissão para ver os livros e aconselhar que livros eles devem escolher.
[...] Por esta altura, eu devia ter um sentimento de culpa por não cooperar com o Governo, dado que aceitei fazer parte da Comissão.
Comecei imediatamente a receber cartas e telefonemas dos editores. Diziam coisas como: "Ficámos muito satisfeitos ao saber que o senhor pertence à comissão porque queríamos realmente um homem de ciência..." e "É maravilhoso ter um cientista na comissão, porque os nossos livros têm uma orientação científica...". Mas também diziam coisas como: "Gostaríamos de lhe explicar a intenção do nosso livro..." e "Teremos muito gosto em o ajudar no que pudermos a avaliar os nossos livros...". Aquilo afigurava-se-me um disparate. Sou um cientista objectivo e parecia-me que, como a única coisa que os miúdos iam receber na escola eram os livros (e os professores recebiam o manual do professor, que eu também receberia), qualquer explicação extra seria uma distorção. Por isso não quis falar com nenhum dos editores e respondi sempre: "Não precisam de explicar; estou certo de que os livros falarão por si".
[...] A Sr.ª Whitehouse começou por me falar nas coisas que iam debater na próxima reunião (já tinham tido uma reunião; eu fora nomeado mais tarde). "Vão falar sobre os números de contar". Eu não sabia o que aquilo era, mas afinal era o que eu costumo chamar números inteiros. Tinham nomes diferentes para tudo, pelo que tive imensos problemas logo de início.
Ela contou-me como os membros da Comissão avaliavam os novos livros escolares. Arranjavam um número relativamente grande de exemplares de cada livro e davam-nos a vários professores e administradores do seu distrito. Depois recebiam relatórios do que essas pessoas pensavam sobre os livros. Como não conheço uma data de professores ou administradores, e como achava que, lendo os livros sozinho, podia formar uma opinião sobre o que me pareciam, resolvi ler os livros todos sozinho.
[...] Então fui à primeira reunião. Os outros membros tinham atribuído uma espécie de pontuação a alguns livros e perguntaram-me quais eram as minhas pontuações. Muitas vezes a minha pontuação era diferente da deles e eles perguntavam: "Por que deu uma pontuação tão baixa a esse livro?"
Eu dizia que o problema daquele livro era isto e aquilo na página tal tinha os meus apontamentos.
Descobriram que eu era uma espécie de mina de ouro: dizia-lhes, em detalhe, o que havia de bom e de mau em todos os livros; tinha uma razão para cada pontuação.
Perguntava-lhes por que tinham dado uma pontuação tão alta a determinado livro e eles diziam: "Diga-nos o que pensou do livro tal". Eu nunca descobria porque é que eles tinham pontuado uma coisa de determinada maneira. Em vez disso, estavam sempre a perguntar-me o que eu pensava.
Chegámos a um certo livro que fazia parte de um conjunto de três livros suplementares publicados pela mesma editora e perguntaram-me o que pensava dele.
Eu disse: "O depósito de livros não me mandou esse livro, mas os outros dois eram bons".
Alguém tentou repetir a pergunta: "O que pensa do livro?"
"Já disse que não me mandaram esse, pelo que não tenho opinião sobre ele".
O homem do depósito de livros estava lá e disse: "Desculpem; posso explicar isso. Não lho mandei porque esse livro ainda não estava completo. Há uma regra segundo a qual as entradas têm de ser todas até uma certa altura e o editor atrasou-se uns dias. Por isso nos foi enviado apenas com as capas e o interior em branco. Da companhia mandaram-me uma nota pedindo desculpa e dizendo esperar que pudessem considerar o conjunto dos três livros, apesar de o terceiro vir atrasado".
Verificou-se que o livro em branco tinha pontuação de alguns dos outros membros! Não acreditavam que estivesse em branco porque tinham uma pontuação. Na realidade, a pontuação para o livro que faltava era um pouco mais alta do que para os outros dois. O facto de não haver nada no livro não tinha nada a ver com a pontuação.
Creio que a razão de tudo isto é o sistema funcionar deste modo: quando enchemos as pessoas de livros, elas ficam ocupadas, ficam descuidadas e pensam: "Bem, há muita gente a ler estes livros, pelo que não faz diferença". E põem um número qualquer algumas, pelo menos; não todas, mas algumas.
[...] Esta questão de tentar descobrir se um livro é bom ou mau lendo-o cuidadosamente ou recebendo os relatórios de uma quantidade de pessoas que o lêem descuidadamente é como este famoso problema antigo: ninguém podia ver o imperador da China e a pergunta era: qual o comprimento do nariz do imperador da China? Para o descobrir, percorremos todo o país, perguntando às pessoas que comprimento julgam ter o nariz do imperador da China e calculamos a média. E o cálculo seria muito "preciso" porque considerámos muitas pessoas. Mas esta não é a maneira de descobrir seja o que for.