Tag Archives: dangerous idiot

Idiocy and expertise

I have – once or twice – been known to refer to Michael Gove as a “dangerous idiot”. In my opinion he is Dunning-Kruger in living, breathing, frightening action in one of the highest offices of state. He inserted his 1950s oar to screw up education and is now Lord Chancellor. He has somehow not yet screwed this up, probably because most of his changes seem to have been reversals of the chum-brained policies of his colleague Chris Grayling. Those two, plus Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith, make up the Four Horsemen of the Brexocalypse: I’ll leave it up to you to parcel out all the roles, but Grayling’s definitely Gummo.

Gove was interviewed last night about the EU referendum, and made this statement: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.”

gove-cartoon

What Gove means, of course, is that he has had enough of experts. Specifically, experts who disagree with him. Atop his Dunning-Kruger pinnacle Gove is unaware of how unaware he is and, by the thundering power of his own ego wrapped in his child-catcher ice-cream politeness and seduced by his own connections, he has decided he knows more than they do. He believes he is more expert than the experts.

Oh, but this kind of expert is fine by Gove, I expect.

Specialists with years, decades of training and experience, who live and breathe their subject: nope, but for one exception. The only knowledge he respects is political knowledge. To read a brief, to answer questions, to spin, to dodge, to answer without answering, to make small talk, to win elections.

This explains how he screwed up education, and how he will likely go on to screw up justice – or worse. Empirical understanding valued less than ideology and self-belief. He won, therefore he is correct.

Gove and his ilk are no different than Icke and his, bar a few lizards. It is dangerous idiocy let loose in power, a toddler diving into a ball pit of people’s lives.

2016. What a year. A year that might end with the four horsemen in charge here, and Biff Tannen over there. God help us all. No wonder everyone’s dying.

Time to rewatch Being There.

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Avaragado’s 2013 predictions – results

Here we are again. New Year’s Eve, fireworks, and celebrations filmed several weeks ago presented as if live TV. And most importantly, the results of my fabulous 2013 predictions – as marked by Chris Walsh, as usual. Commentary etc in square brackets.

News

  1. ✗ The Assad regime in Syria will fall. [Bashar al-Assad still President of Syria]
  2. ✓ There will be no changes in US federal gun-control laws. [Obama has called for tighter gun control, but no actual laws yet]
  3. ✓ The Duchess of Cambridge will give birth to a human boy. [21-Jul: Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to the future king]
  4. ✗ At least one Tory MP will defect to UKIP. [Plenty of councillors defected, and one UKIP MEP defected to the Conservatives, but this specific prediction proved false]
  5. ✗ The equal marriage bill for England and Wales will pass in the Commons but not the Lords. [15-Jul: Equal marriage bill for England and Wales has passed its Third Reading in the House of Lords]
  6. ✓ Dangerous idiot Michael Gove will be involved in a scandal over the exam board selection process for the new EBacc exams. [07-Feb: Education Secretary to announce dramatic climbdown over plans to scrap GCSEs]

[Score: 3/6]

Sport

  1. ✓ Manchester United will win the FA Premier League. [22-Apr: Manchester United won their 13th Premier League title by defeating Aston Villa 3-0 at Old Trafford]
  2. ✗ Chelsea FC will change manager at least twice. [Only one change of manager in 2013: Benitez -> Mourinho]
  3. ✓ At least one British person will win a Wimbledon title. [08-Jul: Andy Murray wins Wimbledon 2013 men’s singles final with straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic]
  4. ✓ Mo Farah will win at least one gold medal at the World Athletics Championships. [10-Aug: Won the 10,000m. Also 16-Aug: Won 5,000m]
  5. ✗ Rory McIlroy will win at least two majors in golf. [Wikipedia: “McIlroy began 2013 with high aspirations, but mostly did not fare well in early tournaments… 25th place at the 2013 Masters Tournament… won the 2013 Emirates Australian Open]
  6. ✗ At least one footballer playing in the UK will come out as gay or bisexual. [Robbie Rogers, but he plays in the USA]

[Score: 3/6]

Science and technology

  1. ✓ Microsoft will buy Nokia. [03-Sep: Microsoft to buy Nokia’s mobile phone unit]
  2. ✗ Scientists will announce the synthesis of one or more atoms of element 119 or higher. [Ununseptium remains the most recently synthesised transuranic element, in 2010. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned]
  3. ✓ NASA will declare that Voyager 1 has left the solar system and entered interstellar space. [12-Sep: Voyager 1 departs to interstellar space]
  4. ✗ Scientists will announce the discovery of an ‘Earth twin’ – an Earth-sized exoplanet within the habitable zone of its star. [Kepler 78b is the same size as Earth, and has same proportions of iron and rock, but is so close to the sun that its year lasts 8.5 hours, rendering it a little too toasty to be habitable]
  5. ✓ The year will be one of the ten warmest years in the global record, and warmer than 2012, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. [13-Nov: “The year 2013 is currently on course to be among the top ten warmest years since modern records began. January-September 2013 was warmer than the same period in both 2011 and 2012.” We’re catching up with Kepler 78b!]
  6. ✓ Archaeologists will confirm that the bones dug up in a Leicester car park are those of Richard III. [04-Feb: DNA confirms bones are king’s]

[Score: 4/6]

Entertainment

  1. ✗ Lincoln will receive the Oscar for Best Picture. [Feb-24: Argo]
  2. ✓ Daniel Day-Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.
  3. ✓ Jennifer Lawrence will receive the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
  4. ✓ The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will involve appearances (in newly filmed scenes) from at least one former Doctor. [23-Nov: Tennant and Baker T, plus future Doctor!]
  5. ✗ The BBC will cancel The Sky at Night (probably while pretending not to). [Still running – Maggie Aderin-Pocock announced in December 2013 as a new presenter]
  6. ✓ The UK entry will finish in the third quarter of the rankings (ie, top half of the bottom half) in the Eurovision Song Contest. [1pt. 18-May: 19th out of 26 puts us 73% of the way down the leader board]

[Score: 4/6]

Celebrity Deathwatch

[We decided to award half a point per death to make the scores more compatible with predictions from previous years, since I included double the usual number of names in this section. We also abandoned the idea to score based on ages.]

  1. ✗ Denis Healey (95)
  2. ✓ Nelson Mandela (94) [Died 5-Dec aged 95]
  3. ✗ Mickey Rooney (92)
  4. ✗ Nancy Reagan (91)
  5. ✗ Richard Attenborough (89)
  6. ✗ Robert Mugabe (88)
  7. ✗ George H. W. Bush (88)
  8. ✓ Richard Briers (78) [Died 17-Feb aged 79]
  9. ✗ Barry Humphries (78)
  10. ✗ Shirley MacLaine (78)
  11. ✗ Bill Murray (62)
  12. ✗ Piers Morgan (47)

[Score: 1/6]

[Total score: 15/30]

A staggering score of 50%! This makes 2013 officially my most successful year ever for predictions. And if the trend of alternating better-worse but generally rising is anything to go by, my predictions for 2014 are on course for 40%. Though I can reveal that’s not one of my official 2014 predictions, otherwise we’re adrift in a glittering sea of meta.

Anyway, return soon for the 2014 predictions in all their 40%-likely glory.

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Avaragado’s 2013 predictions

2012! Who could forget the glorious summer? The coronation of Queen (formerly Sir Alan) Amidala? Britain’s abject failure in the 1500m tug-of-raw at the organic Spacelympics? The universal acclaim for the politics of austerity?

As the dregs of the year drip from the meths bottle of tomorrow into the tramp’s mouth of history and dribble through the foetid beard of ornithology onto the mangy dog’s head of clinical studies at Guy’s Hospital, it is time to stare resolutely past the tramp’s outstretched palm of invisibility to what 2013 will bring forth, or perhaps fifth. Here’s what I think:

News

  1. The Assad regime in Syria will fall.
  2. There will be no changes in US federal gun-control laws.
  3. The Duchess of Cambridge will give birth to a human boy.
  4. At least one Tory MP will defect to UKIP.
  5. The equal marriage bill for England and Wales will pass in the Commons but not the Lords.
  6. Dangerous idiot Michael Gove will be involved in a scandal over the exam board selection process for the new EBacc exams.

Sport

  1. Manchester United will win the FA Premier League.
  2. Chelsea FC will change manager at least twice.
  3. At least one British person will win a Wimbledon title.
  4. Mo Farah will win at least one gold medal at the World Athletics Championships.
  5. Rory McIlroy will win at least two majors in golf.
  6. At least one footballer playing in the UK will come out as gay or bisexual.

Science and technology

  1. Microsoft will buy Nokia.
  2. Scientists will announce the synthesis of one or more atoms of element 119 or higher.
  3. NASA will declare that Voyager 1 has left the solar system and entered interstellar space.
  4. Scientists will announce the discovery of an ‘Earth twin’ – an Earth-sized exoplanet within the habitable zone of its star.
  5. The year will be one of the ten warmest years in the global record, and warmer than 2012, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
  6. Archaeologists will confirm that the bones dug up in a Leicester car park are those of Richard III.

Entertainment

  1. Lincoln will receive the Oscar for Best Picture.
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis will receive the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.
  3. Jennifer Lawrence will receive the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
  4. The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who will involve appearances (in newly filmed scenes) from at least one former Doctor.
  5. The BBC will cancel The Sky at Night (probably while pretending not to).
  6. The UK entry will finish in the third quarter of the rankings (ie, top half of the bottom half) in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Celebrity Deathwatch

In previous years I’ve named six people. This year I thought I’d round it up to nine, but then discovered three of my names overlapped with Andrew’s (caution: Facebook). Consequently I added three more, to make twelve.

Also, I’m adopting Andrew’s scoring system: each valid death (occurring at any time in the year) scores that person’s age at death subtracted from 100. For example, an 85-year-old’s death would score 15 points, and a 101-year-old’s would score -1 point (thus making it a daft choice). For reference, I’ve included the age of each of my selected celebrities, as at January 1st 2013.

  1. Denis Healey (95)
  2. Nelson Mandela (94)
  3. Mickey Rooney (92)
  4. Nancy Reagan (91)
  5. Richard Attenborough (89)
  6. Robert Mugabe (88)
  7. George H. W. Bush (88)
  8. Richard Briers (78)
  9. Barry Humphries (78)
  10. Shirley MacLaine (78)
  11. Bill Murray (62)
  12. Piers Morgan (47)

Please join me next New Year’s Eve for the official adjudication and other assorted lols.

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Examinations for Dummies

At today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, in response to a question about the government’s apparent plan to replace GCSEs with something like the old O Levels and CSEs, David Cameron said: “On this side of the house we think we need a rigorous system and that’s what we’re going to put in place.” And who could disagree with that?

He also, naturally, took potshots at Labour: “The tragedy is that what we inherited from the last government was a system that was being progressively dumbed down, where Britain was falling down the league tables, and GCSE questions included things like ‘How do you see the moon, is it through a telescope or a microscope?’” (Source: video on the BBC Democracy Live web site, from about 26:06, transcribed by me. I have no idea how persistent that URL will be, but Hansard will have an approximation to that text tomorrow.)

His mocking of the moon question revealed a deep ignorance of the examination system. His Education Secretary, the dangerous idiot Gove, presumably has similarly ignorant views.

What, I wonder, would they expect to see in an exam? A series of questions of equal and maximal difficulty? Presumably the correct answers to all questions would give you an A grade and thus the stamp of Tory approval, with the other grades distributed across those students who answered only some of the questions correctly. There. Easy.

But what have you learned?

You’ve learned that not all students can answer hard questions. Well, that’s not a great surprise. And in fact, for a maths or science exam with absolute right/wrong answers I’d imagine you’ve learned, to a first approximation, that a tiny number of students answer most or all questions correctly, because they’re the brightest in the class, and the rest get very few marks at all.

The reality is, you’ve learned nothing about the less able students or the mid-range students at all. You certainly haven’t learned how able anyone is. You’ve just partitioned the students between “can answer hard exam questions” and “can’t answer hard exam questions”.

This is demonstrated easily by pub quizzes. The worst quizzes consist of equally tough — or equally easy — questions. Either way you sit with your pint of orange and lemonade in grinding frustration, either writing Trotsky against every question or scribbling in the answer before the question’s finished. These quizzes frustrate the participants and serve only to make the question master look foolish.

Here’s what exams should do, which is — not coincidentally — what exams actually do.

Exams should include easy questions so students at the low-ability end of the scale can score more than zero. If you don’t do this you alienate them. You brand them as useless, as utter failures. They feel excluded and worthless. This is not good.

Exams should include questions of increasing difficulty, so you can more easily differentiate abilities. “What is a lunar eclipse?” “Give an example of a way to view the sun safely.” “Draw on the diagram the main components of a reflecting telescope.” (I have no idea whether these are real questions, or whether they’d be considered acceptable questions. They’re off the top of my head and seem to me to be in increasing difficulty. But I don’t set exams.)

And of course you need to stretch and challenge the most able students. “Give one reason why we shouldn’t fire Gove into the blazing heart of the Sun.”

GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education. GCE: General Certificate of Education. Exams allow students of all abilities to demonstrate their knowledge and to receive appropriate credit. They do not exist to serve only the most able students: they must be accessible to all.

Just about anyone with any knowledge of the education system could tell the Prime Minister this. The Education Secretary should be well aware already.

If they both do understand this point, then what are they really trying to do to the education system?

But if not: grade F.

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