Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Count's "No Count" Analysis of Kentucky's Science Standards

Over at Vital Remnants, Count Martin Cothran spent 687 words not refuting (in fact supporting) my claim that his word count methodology was not definitive. I suggested that a simple word count method was not the best way to understand the Next Generation Science Standards. 

He changed my assertion, and argued against that.
Count Cothran claimed that, “If you do a simple word search through the Kentucky Core Academic Standards document, the problem becomes apparent.” Then, he counted… 

Then he concluded from his “analysis,” 

If we had only Kentucky's science standards to go by, we would have to conclude that climate and weather issues are more important than gravity, photosynthesis, electricity, genetics, radiation and quantum mechanics.

Examined properly, the standards are sufficient for conclusions to be drawn, but not if one is only going to count word occurrences. Simply counting words does not render the standards “apparent” in any meaningful sense.   

As Alex Grigg pointed out, it is not particularly enlightening to know how many times a word occurs if one is ignorant of how the word is used.

Sure, weather and climate by themselves are mentioned a lot more times…but that's because they are relevant to a lot of different areas.  Just because the standards said the word weather a few times doesn't mean they all referred to climate change.  For example, this first occurrence has nothing to do with climate change, but would be counted under his shoddy methodology…

Count Cothran is surprised that I could have been so wrong about what he was really trying to do with his analysis.

I wasn’t trying to find out “what’s going on” with the science standards. I was trying to get an idea of the relative emphasis on certain scientific subjects. “What’s going on” could mean any number of things. I wasn’t trying to do any number of things, I was trying to do one thing.

The one thing he did was count, and according to Grigg, he looked at the wrong document.
Here is the document in question, unless he is looking at something else: http://63960de18916c597c345-8e...

But that did not prevent The Count from drawing his conclusions.

It is hard to avoid the impression that Kentucky's science standards, rather than being an educational document, are trying to be some kind of global-warming manifesto.

A manifesto?! Really? He got all that from counting words?

At Vital Remnants, Singring took to my defense telling Cothran:

Your press release had a *headline* which claimed that the new science standards were a 'global warming manifesto'.

But here you suddenly pretend that all you were doing is trying to find out the 'relative emphasis on certain scientific subjects'. So either you have a severe problem with retaining short-term memories or you just like to play a bit fast and loose with the facts while you accuse others of doing just that.

Compounding the academic felony, The Count extrapolated speculations on what the authors of Next Generation Science Standards were thinking!

Cothran’s word count argument proves only that things are a certain way. It tells us little about why they are so. The Count’s method, while arguably helpful on a surface level - if and only if one is not mislead by the data - is insufficient. The most useful analyses tell us something about why something is so.

The Count’s confusion lies here:

Day seems to be arguing that the amount of text in a text document devoted to a particular topic is not a measure of how much the text of that document emphasizes that topic.

Close, but no cigar. I argued that the word count method is not definitive, and suggest that alone, it is insufficient. It is a measure. But alone, it is not a strong enough measure to support the conclusions Cothran draws.

Then, get this, Cothran spins into a defense of quantitative analysis, and suggests that I, being so progressive and all, oppose such “objective methodologies” because, well, that’s what we do in EKU’s Teacher Preparation Program. 

Total BS.

How does Day figure out how many miles he's got on is car? Does he check his odometer--or his horoscope?  

I am pleased to announce that I do rely on my odometer. Among the things I do not check is the horoscope, or the thermometer. The wrong quantitative method will produce results that are in error.

But testing another theory I heard somewhere, I peeked at the Bible for mileage help. Unfortunately, it only told me that I wasn’t driving the same car as God. …whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my Fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place… Jeremiah 32:37. But apparently I’m not supposed to emulate God, but rather pursue my enemies with [my] Tempest, and terrify them with [my] storm… Psalm 83:15. Apparently somebody saw that all of the Apostles were in one Accord…. Acts 5:12. Not very scientific. But I digress.

Certain topics seem to bring Martin’s pen to paper: gambling, homosexuality, religion, gay marriage, Planned Parenthood, domestic partner benefits, diversity, sex, KERA (where he was correct about the ungraded primary program), Rick Pitino’s sex…and I guess, science standards. And he sometimes tries to get liberal university faculty defunded if they support gender and women's studies, or as his boss admitted to H-L, because all of those folks are committed to non-heterosexual issues.

Ever since he was a conservative columnist for the liberal school newspaper at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Cothran has prepped himself for controversy.

"I probably elicited more hate mail than all the other writers combined," he told the Herald-Leader, satisfied. "That was a lot of fun. It sort of introduced me to the world of controversy, and here I am."

Perhaps one can be excused for concluding that Cothran is, at times, more interested in persuading than accurately presenting facts that might support the other side. Former Kentucky Board of Education Chair Joe Kelly used to complain that Cothran's Op-Eds were deliberately "divisive and often take things out of context to the point that they aren't accurate."

Later in The Count's piece, Martin turns to my comment that he has written in defense of the Dover Decision, and forces me to confess – I have not read most of his writings. That’s why I hedged my comments and said, 

If I understand him correctly, he sees Intelligent Design as distinct from old school creationism, a concept soundly rejected by the court in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District."

I had to allow for the possibility that I did not fully understand his position. Martin is a prolific writer who has penned lots of stuff I haven’t read. If he says he opposes Intelligent Design, then I’ll take him at his word, even if the pro-evolution folks at Panda’s Thumb aren’t so sure. 

Does he oppose creationism? I'm not sure he said.

Cothran wonders if I have read the Dover case (yes, a while back) and have the reasoning ability to understand it (perhaps not, but I certainly understood that on a preponderance of the evidence, a conservative Republican judge rejected the argument that ID and creationism were distinct, and that the Dover schools could no longer require the teaching of ID as a religion-based alternative to evolutionary theory). Where I come from you've actually got to take account of what the court decides. 

Cothran straightens me out thusly,

I am an Aristotelian-Thomist, and as such have some serious issues with…any theory that is mechanistic in nature, which ID arguably is.

I’m glad we cleared that up. 

Hummm. I wonder why Cothran spends so much time writing on a topic he does not believe in, and why he provides so much aid and comfort to his…enemies? No. Actually he has “personal friends at the Discovery Institute and they asked to rerun some of [his] blog pieces, which is just fine with [him]." Very slippery, Martin. No blood on your hands. 

Way back when he was a state senator (1995), KBE Chair David Karem spoke to the Herald-Leader about Cothran and concluded,

"He has given aid and comfort to those who blindly oppose anything…So he wittingly or unwittingly allows himself to be a spokesman for blind opposition."

Well I’m not sure all of the opposition is blind, but Karem had it about right. If one provides aid and comfort, they are also making it possible to sustain an effort. It provides a defense of that effort. Cothran has written in defense of ID, whether he agrees with it or not, here and here.

But what would Aristotle say about this Aristotelian-Thomist’s methodology? And how could a lowly educator at a teacher college ever be brought into Cothran’s enlightenent? Well, the truth is, I don’t know what Artisotle’d say. But Cothran probably does, if we could only get him to admit it.

Maybe he‘d say something like this:

Some demonstrations prove only that the things are a certain way, rather than why they are so. The latter are the most perfect. (Aristotle: Organon in Posterior Analytics)


KY Teacher said...

I'm just curious...are Richard Innes and Martin Cothran the same person? I ask because they both seem to be drinking from the same pool of mistaken information.

They complain because stuff is missing from the new standards. Well, it's supposed to be. Senate Bill 1 required the revised standards to cover fewer topics but address then more in-depth. You can't have FEWER unless you leave something out.

I can't even begin to imagine what a set of science standards would look like that they could both support. I just hope I'm not forced to teach from them.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the reminder about SB1.

thomas said...

You keep confusing the Next Generation standards and the Kentucky Core Academic Standards the same thing ... they aren't.

It is rather foolish to criticize a person for misinterpreting a certain document, when you don't even know what that document is.

I suspect that you will follow up with an article saying that the Bible never mentions someone name Jesus ... and citing the Bhagavad Gita as proof!

That is, after all, how they do things at the EKU Teacher Preparation Program.

Richard Day said...


Is this the same Thomas who writes with Martin Cothran at Vital Remnants?

Sounds like it, but it's hard to know. I'll give Cothran credit for writing under his own name. You may want to consider it.

On this site authors are responsible for what they write, and only what they write. We refer to the opinions of others all the time.

I haven't confused the standards. I did print Grigg's question about them. Griggs can defend Griggs.

I criticized Cothran's methodology, and did not have to read either document to know that, based on his method, no conclusions could be trusted. That remains true.

Sorry about the unnecessary Bible reference. Martin was being condescending with his horoscope comment, so I went with it. No offense meant. I do read that one regularly...but not for scientific information.

As for the Bhagavad Gita, I haven't read it either. But now I sense some bigotry. Is it your position that Hindus deserve your derision?

It is clear that neither of you have any clue about the Teacher Prep program here, or anywhere else I'd bet. You may be disappointed to learn that the nation's most conservative Teacher Prep watchdog group just named the EKU program among the top 9% nationally. But since we are not simply partisan hacks, we questioned their methodology as well. It's not personal. It's just business.

Richard Innes said...

RE: KY Teacher's Comment

SB-1 does require fewer topics taught to deeper understanding. However, it also requires preparation for college and careers. Drop too much "stuff," and that second requirement isn't going to be met.

The issues are: have the right topics been dropped, and is what is left being over-emphasized?

The answers to these questions are not simple, but getting it right, or at least approximately right, is very important.

KY Teacher, it seems that virtually all discussion of electrical current flow in closed electrical circuits is absent from the NGSS (This was in Kentucky’s old standards). Are you comfortable with that?

Are you comfortable with removal of discussion of the Universal Gas Law (it was in the old standards, too)? If greenhouse gasses are your thing, you might need to know this law.

One more item: Assuming you really are a teacher, I hope you avoid the use of demeaning language in your classes. I think most of our teachers try very hard to avoid this as they work to model ways to avoid bullying. Name-calling is a great tip off that someone is trumpeting a personal agenda. However, name calling is an ineffective way to create an impression that you are interested in civil discourse.

Oh, yes, I am not the same person as Martin Cothran.

In any event, as I mentioned earlier, all teachers, including you, need to put your thoughts together on the NGSS and send them to the Kentucky Board of Education before the end of the month. Your reputations, not mine, are ultimately on the line if these new standards and related tests wind up going down the same path as our old KIRIS and CATS assessments did. If there is “stuff” that needs changing, now is the time to speak up.

KY Teacher said...

Mr. Innes,

I don't see that I was engaging in 'name calling' but if you perceived that I am then I apologize.

The areas of contention from Fordham and yourself have been primarily the physical sciences. The American Chemical Society and the American Physical Society have both endorsed the Next Generation Science Standards. They are the professional organizations that advocate for chemistry and physics respectively. If they thought the standards weren't sufficiently rigorous in those areas I trust they would say so.

Just because the universal gas law isn't explicit in the standards doesn't mean it still won't end up in the high school curriculum. Standards and curriculum are entirely different things. And assessments are a third thing entirely. I'm afraid that no matter how good the new standards are that we'll have equally poor tests.

Don't kid yourself: the only thing that really matters in high school now is biology because that's the only subject that is tested. These new standards won't have even the slightest impact on high school physical science classes. For that matter they won't have an impact on biology either because the ACT standards are what the test is based on.

Don't confuse the standards with the test because in the real world the test IS the standards.