Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why Web Usage Statistics Are (Worse Than) Meaningless

This post, "Why web usage statistics are (worse than) meaningless," clears up many misconceptions about website statistics. Take special note about what a "hit" designates; and, why many hits may be insignificant for judging the amount of interest in your website.

Also, see why you should be skeptical about purveyors of SEO, especially those who promise substantial increase in "hits" as though they were necessarily significant.

Just take any html document and add graphics. For each occasion of access, the html document counts as one "hit" and each associated graphic adds another "hit." Such increase in "hits" does not indicate a substantive increase in text document traffic.

Take careful note of the issue of caching.

Here is the link for the article: On Interpreting Access Statistics


EG Rozycki

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Worm Turns: Testing the Candidates

The current governmental infatuation with one-size-fits-all standardized testing is a concern of many. But there is a remedy for this illicit love affair. Require every candidate for political office to take a battery of standardized tests. Then we will widely and repeatedly publicize the result. And to make sure no deserving individual escapes the net, we will also require aspiring high level government appointees, such as candidates for Secretary of Education, to also take the tests.

We could require every aspiring office holder to take the same tests he/she prescribes for others. Before being allowed to run for President, for example, Dubya would have had to pass the self-same tests he championed for high schoolers. Imagine him sweating and scratching his noggin.

Similarly we could require every aspiring state Secretary of Education to pass the battery of tests they propose requiring of aspiring teachers. In Pennsylvania, for example, he or she would have to pass separate NTE tests in Reading, Writing, and Listening Skills, (The later would be a tough one for any politician.).

An alternate plan is to design office specific skill and knowledge tests. A candidate for President of the United States, for instance, would be tested on their knowledge of world geography test, US and world history, basic economics, the environment and so forth. We could turn to ETS or the Psychological Corporation to craft the items. And they would be finalized only after a painstaking vetting. Blue ribbon boards would appraise and reappraise every question. Then every candidate’s test results would be announced to the world.

We could also test their moral and ethical views. Admittedly, dishonest answers would be a problem and safeguards clearly are required. One possibility is to administer this particular test while test-takers are hooked up to lie detectors. Imagine a candidate sweating and squirming as the polygraph relentlessly tells the tale. “Is that your actual answer? Is that your final honest answer?” (Philadelphia’s infamous late Duce/Mayor Frank Rizzo once failed a lie detector test while trying to prove the device’s reliability. Evidently the polygraph was more discerning than voters.) Alternatively, we could inject test-takers with scopolamine, a truth serum favored by secret policemen the world over. The test would be administered orally as the subjects drift guilelessly on a tripped out cloud.

Regardless of the method, however, we would have to be absolutely certain that our subjects answer truthfully. And we should keep in mind that most of them would be unaccustomed to doing this.

That, in broad outline, is the plan. But it needs filling in. That’s where you can help. Tell us what you think. Should aspirants for public office take the same tests they prescribe for others, or should they be required to take brand new custom designed tests of character and job-related knowledge. And should we test just once, or every year the person is in office? (Longitudinal testing has the obvious advantage of measuring whether or not the subject is improving while “serving.”)

You also might like to suggest specific test items. They need not be multiple choice. All types of questions typically found on standardized tests are welcome. Rush your comments and test item suggestions to The Worm Turns Foundation, c/o Newfoundations, P.O. Box 94, Oreland, PA 19075, or post them here.

To examine these issues further, see Justice Through Testing .

Best Wishes,

--- G K Clabaugh

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Choosing The Lesser Evil: a Moral Failure?

quid leges sine moribus vanae proficiunt?
("of what avail empty laws without [good] morals?")
-- Horace III.24
Must Moral Rules Be Taught as Universally Absolutely Binding? Yes, by definition, it would seem. Otherwise, what makes them morals, “sacred values,” rather than merely effective procedures pursuing likely only narrow, even, individual ends? There is a big difference between “Love thy neighbor” and “Love thy neighbor in order that thou be invited to his cookouts.”

Such moral precepts can be taught in schools with strong religious or moral uniformity. But would they provoke many a parent’s fears of indoctrination? (See Education without Indoctrination: is it possible?) And why, do most people in today’s United States of America -- though not, one suspects, Socrates' Athens -- reject the idea that “Love Thy Neighbor” might rationalize pederasty?

When are Moral Rules absolutely binding? Kant’s advice not to lie, even to a murderer seeking his victim, makes one wonder. Clearly, there is a lot of slippage as to what teaching morals -- or “values,” to use more au courant terminology -- amounts to. “Teaching” is a highly ambiguous term: its results, i.e. values taught, can vary greatly. To be able to repeat a rule does not indicate, in itself, that one would follow it when not supervised. (See What is Worth Knowing About Values)

Just preaching Do’s and Don’t’s doesn’t go very far to inculcating them -- as “Do as I say, …” jokes suggest. Mere preaching does not teach how to use moral precepts accurately in real situations. (See What is it to know how to use a principle?)

Moral Priorities in Context. One approach to applying rules -- not only moral rules -- coherently and consistently in varying situations is to prioritize them according the degree of “sacredness” you accord them. Thus, if protecting innocent human life is of higher priority than telling the truth, you will lie to the murderer seeking his victim. (See Prioritizing Principles)

Even “sacred values,” i.e. those values you most strongly resist changing, can conflict. To invoke two Biblical commandments: Does informing about your parents’ criminal behavior honor them? Suppose they are political opponents of a dictator?

Consider also the conflict between virtues: telling the truth, and being kind. Your child draws a picture of you and asks, “Do you like this?” You are very likely to say, “Yes,” despite the picture’s being grotesquely different from your reflection in a mirror. Absolute morality tends to generate hypocrisy, or force choices between competing evils or goods. (See Teaching Values: basic lessons in hypocrisy?.)

Whose Evil? Whose Virtue? We live in a pluralistic society comprising many different cultural groups. Civil law binds us to behavior that does not infringe on many of the cultural practices of different groups. We even have public rituals of acceptance in this 21st Century for groups who were -- not so very long ago -- publicly despised and deprived of legal rights, e.g. Blacks, Irish, Chinese, females, disabled, etc. However, despised differences persist today although their public expression is either legally forbidden or “out of style.” (But public schools still have to deal with such animosities. See “Sacred Values” in US Public Schools: pretending there is no conflict.)

Why Not Teach Situation Ethics? If there is one persistent educational side-show, it is the business of educating various groups in ethics. Captive audiences, scholastic or corporate, learn to talk a good line to meet both federal and local standards of “civility.” Offenses, even in the use of recently tabooed vocabulary, merit headlines in proportion to the celebrity of the offender.

The trouble with situation ethics is that it promotes, indeed, requires individual freedom of choice. Situation ethics is ultimately based on what each individual considers fundamental, be those values idiosyncratic or social. This opens up the possibly of rejection of the values which other autocrats would have us commit to.

So, blather and obfuscation, presented in many venues, often with abundant libation (school kids, excepted), in order to loosen tongue and muddle thought, lard expatiation on ethics or morals.

But Sacred Values Universalized Restrict Individual Freedoms! Morality, “sacred value.” presumes a Leviathan, whether individual, e.g. a secular or religious autocrat or institution, that demands constancy of allegiance. Otherwise, as Thomas Hobbes puts it, we are in a condition of war, each of us against the other. (See The Quest for Loyalty: Oaths, Promises, Contracts, & Vows )

However, we face a conflicting demand: Individual freedom is no virtue lacking morals, i.e. commitment to common sacred values.
What is liberty without … virtue? …It is the greatest of all evils… -- Edmund Burke

Adam Smith would have agreed with him.

updated 7/3/18

--- EGR