Reasoning skills for writers and everyone else

At the University of Washington in Seattle, a new course is available: “Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning for the Digital Age.” Check out the syllabus, which includes links to readings. Even if you aren’t a student at the university, you can read the articles and case studies and hopefully sharpen your reasoning skills.

It’s great that this kind of class is available. I also wish that ‘data reasoning,’ critical thinking, and statistical literacy were taught more widely and at younger ages. (The material could be adapted for kids.) Will the class shape mental habits that help people deal with all the misinformation they come across online?

I’m reminded of an assignment I got in a college developmental psych class. The professor asked us to find a newspaper article reporting a research finding in psych. Our assignment was to analyze both the news article and the original research paper it covered. What were the limitations of the original study? What did the newspaper article exaggerate or omit? It was an effective lesson, and it changed how I read science journalism.

Any written piece – whether for a blog, an academic journal, or a newspaper – needs to meet a certain standard of integrity. If you want to publish something, do what you can to avoid major distortions, poor research, and blatant lies. If you set this standard for yourself as an individual or as a business, you’re fighting for a more honest and civilized discourse. You may even stand out favorably, your reputation enhanced.

All the courses in the world on “calling bullshit” mean little if the lessons don’t get applied. And reasoning skills will hopefully become a habit, not a one-time lesson. – Hila

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Job Skills for the Future – and the Psychological Resilience We’ll Need

There are many reasons people feel off-kilter these days. The shifting, churning job landscape is one of them.

A number of jobs threaten to become obsolete or at least shrink in number. Other jobs will come about, but we can’t fully anticipate what they’ll be. Still, people are trying to make informed guesses about the necessary skills for future job success.

What will the jobs of the future demand?

I recently came across this article from Singularity Hub: “7 Critical Skills For the Jobs of the Future.”

First off, I’m going to highlight “effective oral and written communication.” Yes, absolutely. You need to communicate ideas effectively, explain things with clarity, and keep people interested in what you do.

Other skills (or traits) on the list are valuable too, like critical thinking, imagination, initiative, and the ability to analyze information.

One line, however, started making me uneasy. Under “agility and adaptability,” the article states:

We may have to learn skills and mindsets on demand and set aside ones that are no longer required.

To be a lifelong learner is an excellent attitude. It’s important to stay up-to-date in your field and to remain curious about the world and well-informed. Even if you aren’t an expert in a specific area, having some basic literacy in it, some understanding of the foundational principles, is beneficial. And of course, it’s important not to become too stuck or narrow in your thinking. Re-examining ideas and leaving space for doubt and reflection are an important part of growth. I don’t discourage any of that.

What makes me uneasy is the idea of reinventing oneself “on demand,” at the drop of a hat. On demand, you adopt not only a new skill, but a new mindset. What does a “new mindset” mean? How quickly, and how deeply, can you really change in a short amount of time?

Let’s not overlook the psychological effects

Workers of the future sometimes get described the way a computer would. Just keep upgrading their operating system and updating their software. If they’re low on entrepreneurship, install that program in them. They won’t crash (one hopes).

Other times, the descriptions rely on marketing terminology. To keep up and survive disruptions, people need to “rebrand” themselves. They don’t have a temperament and a developmental trajectory they’ve taken through life. They have a tagline.

Seriously, what are the psychological costs of regularly needing to reinvent yourself? People are capable of flexibility. They’re able to adapt. But they have limits too. They can’t be everything, and they can’t change everything. If the changes are dizzying, how do they cope?

What does reinvention even amount to? Again, I’m not talking about becoming a lifelong learner or reevaluating what you think or know. That’s difficult enough for most people to stick to consistently. I’m talking about the possibility of quickly changing values, uprooting yourself from communities, severing attachments, living as a floating, flickering entity with little depth. In all seriousness, we need to better understand what “adaptability” would mean to people. When they have little time to change, heal, or develop wisdom, what are they left with?

The list of skills, or traits, for jobs of the future should definitely include psychological resilience. People will need to find non-destructive ways to cope with instability and rapid changes. How to go about doing this? I’m not sure yet, but it will be critical to understand the psychological stressors and help people figure this out.

– Hila

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Good Intro to How the World Is Changing

Technological developments are changing the world in profound ways. We’re more connected and more dependant on computing devices and internet-based services. We’re generating enormous amounts of data. And many tasks are becoming automated, requiring minimal human intervention.

How are these changes affecting our lives? And what can we expect in the future?

A good introduction to these questions and their possible answers is The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. It’s a short book that discusses the impact of new technologies and makes predictions about how life will likely change in the coming years.

The issues the book addresses include:

  • The instant spread of information (including slander and misinformation) on a large scale.
  • Social unrest, with people experiencing displacement and feeling superfluous.
  • Workplace disruption, with certain jobs disappearing (and other kinds becoming available?), and certain skills increasingly emphasized (like quick learning, creativity, emotional intelligence, big picture analyses).
  • Growing inequalities in wealth, knowledge, and skill sets.
  • The best uses of data, struggles for control over data, and issues of privacy.

The book doesn’t focus only on the possible depressing outcomes; it discusses benefits as well, including various improvements in quality of life.

I like that the author doesn’t treat each prediction as an inevitability. The changes we’re experiencing will be shaped by decisions from governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, special interest groups, and individuals. Attitudes about work, life, ethics, and humanity will influence what we value and prioritize.

To know how to make better decisions, we need to stay informed about the issues and understand both the challenges and opportunities. Furthermore, these changes can take a psychological toll that we have to prepare for.

If you want to just skim through The Fourth Industrial Revolution, start with the appendix. It lists various technological shifts (e.g. 3D printing in manufacturing) and the positive and negative impacts of each.

– Hila

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Inspiration Medley #4

A mix of links to beautiful or funny content.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook – A cartoon by Roz Chast.

Lisha Simpson’s body art – A makeup artist transforms her arms and hands in scary, amazing ways.

Calm, lovely landscapes – By Michelle Morin.

Insomnia Jeopardy – Another excellent Roz Chast cartoon.

Photos of decaying staircases – By Ralph Graef.

Alphanumeric butterfly wings – What patterns did photographer Kjell Bloch Sandved find on wings?

Glass installations with rainbow beauty – By Chris Wood.

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11 types of blog posts for financial professionals

Accountants, financial planners, investment advisers, and other financial professionals use their blogs to engage with clients and demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

As a financial professional, what should you post about? Which topics will attract more web traffic and convince people you’re worth hiring? Popular types of blog posts for financial professionals include the following:

(more…)

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Loss of scientific thinking: What are some signs?

The combination of the appearance of professional respect for scientific rigor coupled with professional contempt for scientifically rigorous behavior is toxic, a poison that infects more activities in North America than the few I have pointed out here.

In Dark Age Ahead, published in 2004, Jane Jacobs discusses five major signs of cultural failure. It’s the last book the long-time journalist ever wrote, and it reads like a final warning.

The abandonment of scientific thinking is one type of cultural decay. Individuals and institutions have long had a tendency to avoid scientific inquiry, accept surface appearances without question, and use scientific data and terminology inappropriately. What’s worrisome is when there aren’t strong forces counteracting the decay.

When reading this section of Dark Age Ahead, I started thinking about examples I’ve come across in articles and other media that demonstrate an appreciation for a scientific veneer but not for scientific thought. Like the following:

(more…)

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Six Amazing Research Resources Online

The Internet is an immense swamp, a terrain of bots, trolls, and magnificent treasures. People are apt to get lost in it and lean on unreliable guides for navigation.

Swamp

There’s a massive mess of information (and misinformation) online. Sources frequently aren’t reputable or easily traceable. Even when it’s accurate, the information often isn’t relevant for a specific research purpose. Picking your way through it requires some internet savvy and critical thinking, along with strong organizational skills.

Fortunately, there are robust sources of information available, and tools to help people stay focused and organized when conducting research. What research resources can you turn to online? They range from enormous databases to tutorials for writing academic articles and citing sources. The following are six resources to look into:

1) Digital Tools for Researchers

Geared primarily towards scientists, it’s a huge list of tools for gathering, organizing, analyzing, sharing, and writing about different kinds of data.

2) EasyBib: Finding Sources

The link leads to only one section of a massive guide on writing research articles. Under “Finding Sources,” EasyBib lists a variety of places to look up scholarly papers and statistics.

3) International Writing Centers Association: Writing Centers Online

Many on this mega-list are university writing centers that include tutorials about research papers and instructions on formatting citations. The Online Writing Lab (OWL) from Purdue University is one that I’ve relied on to doublecheck AP style guidelines.

4) The DiRT Directory of Digital Research Tools

DiRT categorizes these digital tools based on what you need, anything from visualizing data to converting files to annotating text.

5) Educational Technology and Mobile Learning: 10 Great Tools for Academic Research

Among their recommendations are Evernote, Zotero, and Mendeley. One of the items on their list is an additional list of tools for generating bibliographies.

6) Lib Web

Links to thousands of academic, public, and government libraries around the world.

(I’ll also throw in a link to WorldCat, which will help you find books, DVDs, and other materials in libraries near your home.)

Important to keep in mind…

Using these resources won’t necessarily steer you away from misleading information. There are plenty of scientific papers, for example, based on poor methodology and yielding doubtful results.

A while ago I wrote a post on evaluating the credibility of Internet sources. It may help you make sense of what you find in the swamp. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for assistance with research, writing, and editing, as I have extensive experience with all three.

– Hila

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)

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When to lose ‘loose’ and use ‘lose’

I often see people write something like:

“I’m going to loose my mind.”

“She was afraid of loosing the love of her life.”

“How can I invest in the stock market without loosing too much?”

They’re using “loose” when what they really mean is “lose.”

Loose vs. lose

For the most part, loose gets used an adjective. It means free of tight restraints or bonds. “Her hair was loose,” is one example. Or maybe it was in a loose ponytail, meaning that she didn’t tie it too tightly.

Sometimes, you can also use loose as a verb that means to release something (or someone). You’re freeing them from a restraint or bond. When you say, “I’m going to loose my mind,” it sounds like you’re about to unleash your mind on the world, setting it loose on everyone.

In contrast, lose is a verb meaning to misplace something or get deprived of it in various ways. You can lose your keys and your sense of humor. Hopefully you’ll recover both.

People worry about losing their money in the stock market. They’re afraid of losing the love of their life to death or because of hurtful behavior. Losing isn’t always negative, though. If you lose yourself in some music, for example, the temporary parting from self-consciousness can feel pretty good.

Lose loose control

The confusion between loose and lose is understandable. In some situations, there’s a strong connection between the two. For example, if you tie your birthday balloon loosely to a chair, it may break free and float away. You lose your balloon because it was too loose. If something isn’t tightly restrained, or if you free it from its bonds, you may wind up misplacing it or getting deprived of it.

Also, people get mixed up because of the similarities in spelling. One ‘o’ vs. two. But it’s important to understand the differences between the words.

– Hila

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Lost in a Data-Driven World

I recently came across “Hyper-Reality,” a short film by Keiichi Matsuda. (Watch the video at Vimeo.)

It shows a woman navigating a world of augmented reality. Her visual field is crowded with corporate logos, social media icons, status updates, and menus. Virtual arrows urge her to take certain paths, and messages pop up asking her to rate things and contact people. She has an identity that she builds with points (e.g. “4 city points” for using public transportation). To answer questions like “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” she summons a Google search bar.

Data-driven world with augmented reality

Screenshot from Keiichi Matsuda’s “Hyper-Reality.”

Something goes wrong for her during the film, and at the end it’s comforting to think that security measures won’t ever be that weak. (Right?) In any case, the film isn’t intended as an exact prediction of what our world will turn into. But it isn’t far-fetched. The data-driven world it depicts is recognizable. And people can feel lost in it.

Concerns in a data-driven world

I recently read Data-Ism by Steve Lohr, a solid introductory book on big data for a general audience. Lohr highlights some potential major benefits of big data, which range from more effective healthcare interventions to reductions in energy costs. He also discusses the concerns about privacy, security, and lack of transparency in data collection and use.

  • Who has my data?
  • Who is collecting it, and how and when?
  • What’s the purpose of data collection?
  • What are people doing with my data?
  • How does the data get analyzed, and how are individuals and organizations acting on the conclusions?
  • Has my data been used against me? (Perhaps in grossly unfair ways?)

Matsuda’s film conveys the helplessness of feeling like a fly that twitches in the web of data. The film’s central character seems surrounded by choices – what to click on, who to contact, what to purchase – but they’re superficial. In her world, personal identity has become only a set of data points. She has no defenses to protect the integrity of her self or understand the purpose of her life.

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