Archive for July, 2009

A defence of blogging.

July 4, 2009

John Naughton uses Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in today’s Guardian to mount a defence of blogging against “print-based critics of online news, who are forever asking rhetorical questions about how much fact-checking is done by pyjama-clad bloggers”

I’m quoting John’s whole posting here because it should be read through without interruption caused by the reader having to find bits through links.

Lest we get too carried away by admiration of the Daily Telegraph’s role in exposing the hypocrisy and corruption of MPs, it’s worth consulting Ben Goldacre’s column in today’s Guardian.

He focussed on a report in the Torygraph which appeared under the headline “Women who dress provocatively more likely to be raped, claim scientists”. The report begins:

Psychologists found that all three factors had a bearing on how far men were likely to go to take advantage of the opposite sex.

They found that the skimpier the dress and the more flirtatious the woman, the less likely a suitor was to take no for an answer.

But, contrary to popular opinion, alcohol consumption did dampen their ardour with many men claiming that they were put off by a woman who was drunk.

Sophia Shaw at the University of Leicester said that men showed a “surprising” propensity to coerce women into sex, especially those that were considered promiscuous.

Ben phoned Sophia Shaw to see if the story was an accurate account of her research. She told him that

every single one of the first four statements made by the Telegraph was an unambiguous, incorrect, misrepresentation of her findings.

Women who drink alcohol, wear short skirts and are outgoing are more likely to be raped? “This is completely inaccurate,” Shaw said. “We found no difference whatsoever. The alcohol thing is also completely wrong: if anything, we found that men reported they were willing to go further with women who are completely sober.”

And what about the Telegraph’s next claim, or rather, the paper’s reassuringly objective assertion, that it is scientists who claim that women who dress provocatively are more likely to be raped?

“We have found that people will go slightly further with women who are provocatively dressed, but this result is not statistically significant. Basically you can’t say that’s an effect, it could easily be the play of chance. I told the journalist it isn’t one of our main findings, you can’t say that. It’s not significant, which is why we’re not reporting it in our main analysis.”

Ms Shaw went on to say:

“When I saw the article my heart sank, and it made me really angry, given how sensitive this subject is. To be making claims like the Telegraph did, in my name, places all the blame on women, which is not what we were doing at all. I just felt really angry about how wrong they’d got this study.”

Ben reports that since he started sniffing around, and Shaw complained, the Telegraph has changed the online copy of the article. But “there has been no formal correction, and in any case, it remains inaccurate”.

Now… Of course this is the kind of thing that happens every day in much of the mainstream media, so we’re rather resigned to it — especially in reporting any aspect of scientific or scholarly work. But it’s conveniently overlooked by many of the most vociferous print-based critics of online news, who are forever asking rhetorical questions about how much fact-checking is done by pyjama-clad bloggers. Actually, in this particular case, a blogged account as factually inaccurate as this Torygraph story would have been picked up and demolished within minutes in the blogosphere. So let’s have less cant from the processed-woodpulp brigade about the intrinsic superiority of their trade.


Licence to teach.

July 2, 2009

There were reports yesterday that Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, is strongly opposed to Schools Secretary, Ed Balls’s proposal – outlined in a new education White Paper which deals with a  package of measures designed to boost school standards parental power – that teachers will be required to get a licence – renewable  every five years – to ensure they are fit to teach in English state schools.

Mr.Grove said; “Instead of real steps to improve teaching, such as giving heads the power to pay bonuses to specialist teachers or reforming teacher training, Ed Balls proposes yet another huge bureaucratic measure that will cost a fortune and cause all sorts of problems. We don’t support it.”

Balls proposes that this “licence to teach” should be introduced for newly-qualified teachers from September 2010 and for remaining staff in coming years. Licenses – based on teachers competence in the classroom – would be issued by individual headteachers, and the General Teaching Council, which regulates the profession, would monitor the process and would have the power intervene if schools fail to impose rigorous checks.

Balls said: “It may be that we will discover some teachers who don’t make the grade … We want this to be a profession which is continually learning and developing, and that will be central to the licence.

“It’s saying we want to ensure the best teachers in every classroom in every part of the country.”

Balls’s proposal is, to my mind, by no means a bad one.  My first instincts tell, however,  me , that while the introduction on renewable licencing may be no bad thing, there is no good reason to be at all sanguine about Balls’s proposal that the issue of licences be the preserve of headteachers.  One suspects that Balls,  in trying to avoid creating another bureaucracy to administer “bureaucratic measure”, has not fully considered the implications of giving the headteacher of a single school would licencing, or refusing a licence, based on that teacher’s performance within that school and that school only. That part of his proposal must be more carefully thought through. I’d say.

Clive James for Oxford Professor of Poetry? 2a

July 2, 2009

In a recent posting, in which I discussed Clive James’s qualifications for the Oxford professor of poetry, I remarked that “if anybody has any doubt about  just how well James talks about poetry, then they should be  be on the lookout for the July issue of Poetry in which he discusses,  among other  topics, James Merrill,  free versus formal verse,  some of the things make poems last, and the work of the late Michael Donaghy, …”

This July issue of Poetry is now available from all good bookshops, and, if you can’t wait for the print version of James’s essay, The Necessary Minimum, the online version can be accessed from here.

Rita Keane (1923-2009) R.I.P. 2

July 1, 2009

A tribute to Rita in the Irish language, the only one I have seen, from An Druma Mór (The Big Drum) news service. Even though it’s not especially original, I thought, because it’s the only one I have seen in Irish, it worth including here.

Tá ómós á gcarnadh do Rita Keane, duine de mhórcheoltóirí traidisiúnta na tíre le fada an lá, a cailleadh inné in aois 86 bliain.

Bhí cónaí uirthi in oirthear na Gaillimhe.

Bhí an ceol sa dúchas ag muintir Keane agus bhí Rita is a deirfiúr Sarah ar na baill den teaghlach a bhí i ceilí band clúiteach mhuintir Keane a tháinig faoi aird an phobail ó na 1950í ar aghaidh. Bhí clú agus cáil ar an albam a chuir Rita agus Sarah le chéile in 1968, Once I Loved, bailiúchán d’amhráin i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla.

B’aintín le Dolores agus Seán Keane í Rita.

3 bliain ó shin bronnadh Gradam Ceoil TG4 ar Rita agus ar Sarah.

Dúirt Ciarán Mac Mathúna gur mór an chaill don phobal Fodhlach bás Rita agus go ndearna sise agus a clann eachtaí chun an ceol traidisiúnta a choinneáil beo an t-am a ba laige é.

Rough translation

Honour is due to Rita Keane, a mainstay of traditional music for a very long time, who died at the age of 86.

She lived in east Galway.

She was a member of the Keane family ceile band in the fifties,  and in 1968 she and Sarah recorded an album Once I Loved, on which there were tracks both in Irish and English

That three years ago she and her sister were awarded Gradam Ceol TG4 (an award that the Irish Gaelic language broadcaster gives to honour contributions to music)

She was an aunt of Dolores and Seán Keane. (popular Irish folk singers) 

The broadcaster Ciarán Mac Mathúna acknowledged the great service she and her family’s had given inkeeping the music alive at a time when it was in danger of dying out