Knowledge of Value?

Foucault, who I used as the theorist for my PhD, said that ‘Knowledge is Power’ (those who ‘know’ things’ can gain power by telling others what they ‘should’ know)… so this story caught my eye:

On the other hand, knowledge seems to command little public esteem and our anxiety about the state of it is, perhaps, evidence of decline. The educational system values skills more highly than knowledge. Technology crowds knowledge out of space reallocated to data. Academic specialisation, for the individual who practises it, usually deepens knowledge but often broadens ignorance – sticking heads in furrows instead of raising them to survey whole fields. Postmodern epistemology doubts the validity of the very concept of knowledge. The economy gives higher rewards to chutzpah, celebrity, greed and fraud than to learning.

Read full story.


David Weinberger: Too Big to Know

Here’s a book I’m keen to read, that has recently been reviewed in Times Higher Education:

The worry that we are being overwhelmed by information is not new. Five hundred years ago, the spread of printing presses led some thinkers to bemoan the mass reproduction of books and the negative impact it was having on learning. The rapid adoption of personal computers and the embedding of the internet in our work and personal lives have given a new generation of naysayers even more to complain about. The technology consulting firm IDC claims that in 2011 1.8 zettabytes (1.8 trillion gigabytes) of information were created and replicated globally – the equivalent of a pile of DVDs stretching to the Moon and back, and growing at such a rate that by 2020 it will be halfway to Mars.

Of course, a lot of these data are the digital exhaust we leave behind as we snap photos and post updates to Facebook and Twitter, and the 200 billion spam emails sent every day. However, there is also gold to be found among the detritus, and, as David Weinberger shows, the digitisation of information is transforming how we work and learn, with profound effects on global economic and social development. The central hypothesis of his wide-ranging but highly readable book is that knowledge is created differently in the emerging digital age than has been the case in the rapidly receding age of paper.

Read the full review.

Academic Digital

Technology impacts academic libraries

We’re in exciting times… technology is changing access to materials:

For the first time, a national digital library has become a realistic possibility, both technologically and economically. Such a shared service, delivering a national core collection of monographs and journals, would allow the UK to maintain its lead in delivering the best content electronically to all students, researchers and academics at higher education institutions. It would also overcome a significant barrier to new entrants to the higher education market: further education colleges would be able to buy into it, rather than having to build up their own individual libraries. The student experience would be improved by resources accessed through a national catalogue.

Academic Digital

Blogging of value?

Interesting debate about the ‘power to knowledge’ of bloggers (vs) journalists…

The standfirst of “You can’t tell me anything” (27 October) says that “the gleefully bull-headed ignorance shown by politicians, bloggers and others” suggests that “scientific evidence and scholarly analysis may soon count for nothing”. But nothing in the article supports the claim that bloggers are on the side of ignorance. What I have seen over the past 10 years is a steady increase in mainstream journalism spreading stupid claims about academic research while academic bloggers battle to set the record straight.

Read full story.


You can’t tell me anything @timeshighered

Yet the world seems to be ignoring the experts – even actively contesting them, having judged them to be among the people whose headlong mistakes caused the international economic downturn. The credibility of the intellectual classes, including academics, has come under attack in the US and elsewhere. And while scholars such as Romer may be exasperated by this new reality, some concede that they and their institutions bear a portion of the blame.

Seeking to explain this anti-intellectual turn, Norman Nie, founder and director of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, says: “It’s really a result of the loss of liberal arts education. There has been an explosion of what amount to trade schools and, even in (many) universities, a curriculum that is trade school-like. Social sciences and the humanities have melted away. Physicists don’t read the great works of history. The biggest problem is the loss of the background that a liberal arts education gives you in terms of context.”

Read full story, see also the editor’s leader:

The academy has to accept some responsibility for this lamentable state of affairs. Scholars seem reluctant to try to shake students out of their utilitarian, employment-driven mentality, which makes them disinclined to question and argue. Academics are often unwilling to stand up and be counted in some of the most contentious – and vital – debates on and off campus.

although mentioning that “climate-change denial and creationism emblematic of the malaise” appears to be not taking part in the debates himself, but the point about ‘Vocationalism’ is an important one.. to return to the main article:

The humanities are missing an important opportunity by not making the case that learning how to formulate arguments and move around in the world of ideas is an important idea.

Also of particular interest:

“There’s been a general debasement of the idea of evidence, the idea that looking at the facts can teach you something that you don’t know that forces you to rethink your position,” Dimitriadis says.

“In a sense, belief systems have become more important than evidence” – including in-campus cultures that encourage diversity – helped along by “that notion that everyone’s belief system is OK. We have this notion of balance, that your belief is as good as my belief. I believe that global warming is caused by X, and you believe that global warming is caused by Y.”

Expanding on this theme, Graff says higher education seems to have abandoned the concept of argument. “I blame the educational system for contributing to the flood of undigested information,” he says.

“What would focus that information for students would be well-focused debate. Controversy clarifies. But educational institutions fail to take advantage of presenting controversy.”

Academics, in their research and writing, practise robust debate, Graff says.

“But when we go into our classrooms, we don’t. In theory, higher education is an argument culture; it (certainly) is in our publications and conferences, but not in the curriculum. I suppose it’s rooted in a certain fear that, as we become more diverse in higher education, we don’t really know how to negotiate disagreement.”

A very thought provoking article, is belief or evidence more important?

Brammer says: “How do you refute personal experience? When arguments are based in the personal, questioning the evidence is questioning the person.”

She continues: “The simple truth is that the personal-experience argument makes argument accessible to everyone. It is compelling and easy, requires no research or work or reading, and ultimately makes it nearly impossible to engage in the meaningful deliberative discourse necessary to solve global and local problems. Unfortunately, via the media, the US has exported this to the world.”