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Cowspirary Debunked

Cows Mt Capburn

Cows on the meadow off Stanley Turner looking toward Mt Caburn, Lewes, Susssex

 

Cowspiracy

This is an agenda-drive, single-answer to the world’s problem, California and US centric production.

There are problems with its presentation, the production techniques and approach and the choice of and use of evidence, and the ethics of how they treat those interviewed.

This is not a BBC Horizon or Panorama, or a BBC / Open University production. In GB we are used to the highest production standards. Ask yourself if the BBC would broadcast this.

 

Cowspiracy is the TV equivalent of the News of the World.

The story telling technique and style is to use exaggeration, scaremongering, a pastiche of the Hollywood storyline template, and exploiting tropes and clichés of the investigative documentary genre.

  1. People and organisations that do not wish to take part are assumed to be guilty of a cover up just because they do not wish to respond to emails or the presenter doorstepping their offices..
  2. Doorstepping and gratuitous use of ‘hidden camera’ angles suggests that those approached have something to hide – that is not proven; they just cannot respond to every nutter who presents themselves at their door waving a camera.
  3. Using emotive scenes where animals are killed or culled.
  4. Unnecessary and gratuitous lingering on a duck as it goes under the chop then cutting later to the presenter puffing up his cheeks and shaking his head. Yet this was an example of small-scale backyard farming that in reality is one of the answers to decreasing industrial-scaled meat production.
  5. The presenter playing the role of Jesus in the wilderness. ‘Someone like us’ – not a journalist, or academic, just a member of the public making his enquiries. He claims to be going on a learning journey but follows a singular path to prove his hypothesis.
  6. Scaremongering by making unqualified claims about potential mass extensions of species and lines such as ‘we’ve stolen the world from free living animals’.
  7. The death of an activist.
  8. Shot choice and cliches: tuna fishing, animal culling.
  9. By the end of the film, with lingering shots of California trees there is a distinct ‘hug a tree’ atmosphere.
  10. Cutting away to the presenter and his easy to read body language and facial expressions.

 

The Evidence

  1. Emotive, exaggerated animated graphics that are unrepresentative of the evidence they purport to come from making  naive scaled-up calculations to illustrate the problem and make projections.
  2. Inadequate introduction to those interviewed i.e. their context and stance relating to the argument.
  3. No interviews with the people who wrote the reports, news paper, magazine articles the ‘evidence’ was selected from.
  4. The quality of the research is weak. The sources poor, biased, limited and often of no value.
  5. The assumption that ‘peer reviewed papers’ were read and used throughout, when in fact only three are given on the website as ‘facts/
  6. Failure to adequately cross-reference and corroborate the ‘evidence’ uses.

 

The Ethics and Legality of some of the interviews

  1. Setting up an interviewee to be mocked/humiliated on camera then putting this online.  
  2. Recording before and after the interview to get the person off guard then using this. It must be assumed that a ‘release form’ of some kind was used, yet did these people know that the material would be used in this way?
  3. Showing and naming children on a sustainable farm who were indirectly mocked. If I was the parent of this farm I would have taken legal action against the producers.
  4. Using access to a sustainable farm and a backyard farm to mock them and in the case of the sustainable farm probably doing significant damage to their reputation and trade. Implying that what they were doing is worse than industrial farming was ludicrous and revealed the presenter and the programme makers to be unscrupulous activists not documentary filmmakers.

 

CONCLUSION

A single issue mockumentary aimed at animal activist vegan supporters.

More like a recruitment video for a movement or cult produced for believers to support their preconceptions.

The US is the guiltiest party, with by far the greatest consumption of meat per head in the world.

Abuse of selected evidence too often using newspaper and magazine journalists as the supposed ‘expert’ sources. (See the website).

Causality is complex but the presenter wants to reduce it to one thing

 

Do Your Own Research. Draw Your Own Conclusions

Go to a reputable source such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment and find and use only peer reviewed papers in reputable journals. Take nothing for granted, check the papers cited in these papers and construct your own understanding of the issues.

Use Google Scholar if you don’t have access to a university library.

Don’t just read the relevant papers. Follow up the lines of argument and researched cited by these papers too.

Don’t buy the DVD or T-shirt.

 

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Asthma

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Asthma

It’s so rare that I feel wheezy or am woken with a crackle in my lungs that these last few days remind me, unkindly, that I do afterall have the condition.

I know too well what the causes could be:

Creoset on a neighbour’s fence and shed. This was applied a week ago. The vapour is noxious and heavier than air – both it and my feeling stressed about it in the hot weather would trigger a response.

A change in medication. Whilst I have always managed with the inhaled preventer Qvar and a spacer (two puffs twice a day), for the last ten weeks or so, by mistake rather than design, I have been using an ‘Autoinhaler’ that puts a powder into the lungs with a pumpmevhanism rather than an aerosol. This also elliminated the chance of getting thrush in the mouth.

Having the builders in: this has meant three things: dust in the house from building, fumes from some paints/vanishes though where possible low emmition paints are used and pilling things into our bedroom and a fourth … letting the dog sleep in our room as the building works and rearrangement of furniture has unsettled her.

Being rundown: a mild cold can go to the chest.

ACTION

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ACTION

I will:

change my prescription back to the autoinhaler – I have an appointment to see my GP;
sort out the bedroom and vacuum the bed, duvet and pillows with a device that removes dust mite – it works;
get some fresh air!

Though I will, mask in place, presson with sanding and painting various surfaces in the bathroom, putting up mirrors and towels rails.

When I think if learning, I think of the minuscule intricacies of the component parts of the brain and at the same time the immense vastness of the known universe.

As humans we are eager to understand everything.

It seems appropriate to marry neuroscience with astrophysics, like brackets that enclose everything. From a learning point of view then ask as you look at a person or group of people, ‘what is going on?’ specifically, ‘what is going on in there? (the brains) and between them to foster insight, understanding, innovation and advancement.

The best interface for this, a confluence for it all, is the Internet and the connectedness of it all.

What has the impact of the Internet been and based on everything we currently know, where do we presume it is going?

I keep getting this crazy panic that I can’t know enough soon enough to ‘make a difference’

Fig. 1. Testing ahead of an MBA Webinar

I keep getting this crazy panic that I can’t know enough soon enough to ‘make a difference’ – the learning bug has set off a tempest in my brain

Just as well that neuroscience is next on my list of conquests … or should that be psychology?

Or courtesy of e-learning and blended learning an MA in both simultaneously part-time over two years.

The mind boggles, but this is what the Internet permits like never before – degrees like A’ levels, even like GCSEs, why ever give up a subject you loved – like History … and … Music and … and Fine Art … and Sports Science … then who employs you? A tutor of multiple subjects to the super-rich? Oh, and an MBA.

If only I could be 28 forever.

The University of Oxford offers a combined MA from the Said Business School and Oxford Internet Institute – that’s two MAs taken simultaneously over two years. They’ve already had postgraduates through.

I’m thinking this way having recently wrapped my second degree, the MA in Open and Distance Education with The OU. Though on another ‘traditional’ e-learning module with The OU currently – Practice-based research in e-learning (H809), it is the second MOOC of the year that has my head spinning. We were introduced to various depositories of Open Educational Resources. The MIT offering was the clincher as I came across first undergraduate and then graduate content on Neuroscience.

This, currently, makes more sense to me than psychology.

To see and understand what happens when thoughts are formed or our senses perceive the world. Its like going behind the desk of a Magician to see how they do it (I did that at a friend’s birthday party age 6 or 7 … I can feel the carpet beneath my toes, see the little table and the drop down slat with the bag attached to it … ) I’ve created ‘tricks’ in camera and in post production when making videos. It isn’t hard to trick the brain. We want to see what isn’t there. This is possible because of how our brains connect – the chaos couldn’t be designed. Gun polish takes me back to another boyhood moment. Another the very first time we had marshmallows roasted in the fireplace.

 

What will the impact be of the Web on education? How is knowledge sharing and learning changing?

Fig. 1. Father and daughter

From four or five months after conception with the formation of the brain, to the moment of brain death we have the capacity to learn, subconsciously as well as consciously.

Whether through interlopers before birth, in infancy and early childhood, or through family and carers in our last moment, days, weeks, months or years. At both ends of life the Web through a myriad of ways can advise, suggest and inform, and so educate, like never before. While for all the time in between as sponges, participants and students we can access, interact, interpose and interject in an environment where everything that is known and has been understood is presented to us. The interface between person and this Web of knowledge is a fascinating one that deserves close study for its potentially profound impact on what we as humans can do as people and collectively:  Individually through, by, with and surfing the established and privileged formal and formal conveyor belt of education through nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary centres of learning. Individually, also through expanding opportunities globally to learn unfettered by such formal education where such established opportunities don’t exist unless hindered through poverty and politics or a lack of communications infrastructure (a robust broadband connection to the Web). And individually and collectively alongside or beyond whatever formal education is provided or exploited by finger tapping into close and expanded networks of people, materials, ideas and activities

Open learning comes of age.

By seeking to peg answers to the role the Web is starting to play, at one end to the very first opportunity, at the micro-biological level to form a thought and at the other end to those micro-seconds at the end of life once the brain ceases to function – and everything else in between, requires an understandings neuroscience and an answer to the question ‘what is going on in there?’ How do we learn?

From an anthropological perspective why and how do we learn?

Where can we identify the origins of knowledge sharing and its role in the survival and domination of homo sapiens? And from our migration from the savannas of Eastern Africa to every nook and cranny of Earth, on land and sea, what recognised societal behaviours are playing out online? And are these behaviours mimicked or to a lesser extent transmogrified, warped or elevated by the scope, scale and speed of being connected to so much in such variety?

A history of learning is required.

From our innate conscious and subconscious capacity to learn from our immediate family and community how has formal education formed right the way through adding reading, writing and numeracy as a foundation to subject choices and specialisms, so momentarily expanded in secondary education into the single subjects studied at undergraduate level and the niche within a niche at Masters and doctoral levels. And what role has and will formal and informal learning continue to have, at work and play if increasing numbers of people globally have a school or university in their pockets, courtesy of a smartphone or tablet and a connection to the Web?

The global village Marshall McLuhan described is now, for the person connected to the Web, the global digital fireplace.

It has that ability to gather people around. Where though are its limits? With how many people can we develop and maintain a relationship? Once again, how can an understanding of social networks on the ground inform us about those that form on the Web? Multiplicity reins for some, flitting between a variety of groups while others have their niche interests indulged, celebrated and reinforced. Is there an identifiable geography of such hubs small and large and if visualised what does this tell us? Are the ways we can now learn new or old?

In relation to one aspect of education – medicine – how are we informed and how do we respond as patients and clinicians?

The journey starts at conception with the mixing of DNA and ends once the last electrochemical spark has fired. How, in relation to medicine does the quality (or lack of), scale and variety of information available on the Web inform and impact upon our ideas and actions the length of this lifetime’s journey At one end, parents making decisions regarding having children, then knowledge of pregnancy and foetal development. While at the other end, a child takes part in the decision-making process with clinicians and potentially the patient – to ‘call it a day’. Both the patient or person, as participant and the clinicians as interlocutors have, potentially, the same level of information at their fingertips courtesy of the Web.

How is this relationship and the outcomes altered where the patient will know more about their own health and a good deal about a clinician’s specialism?

The relationship between the doctor and patient, like others, courtesy of the connectivity and capacity of the Web, has changed – transmogrified, melted and flipped all at the same time. It is no longer them and us, though it can be – rather, as in education and other fields, it can be highly personalized and close.

Can clinicians be many things to many people?

Can any or only some of us cope with such multiplicity? A psychologist may say some will and some won’t, some have the nature for it, others not. Ditto in education. Trained to lead a classroom in a domain of their own, can a teacher take on multiple roles aimed at responding to the unique as well as the common traits of each of their students? While in tertiary education should and can academics continue to be, or expected to be undertake research as well as teach? Where teaching might be more akin to broadcasting, and the classroom or tutorial takes place asynchronously and online as well as live and face-to-face.

Disaggregation equals change.

In relation to one aspect of education in medicine and one kind of problem, what role might the Web play to support patients so that they can make an informed decision regarding the taking of potentially life saving, if not simply life improving, medications? Having understood the complexity of reasons why having been prescribed a preventer medication, for example, to reduce or even eliminate the risk of a serious asthma attack, what is going on where a patient elects, sometimes belligerently, not to take the medication. Others are forgetful, some misinformed, for others it is the cost, or the palaver of ordering, collecting and paying for repeat prescriptions. Information alone isn’t enough, but given the capacity of the web to brief a person on an individual basis, where they are online, what can be done to improve adherence, save lives and enhance the quality of life?

My hypothesis is that a patient can be assisted by an artificial companion of some kind, that is responsive to the person’s vicissitudes while metaphorically sitting on that person’s shoulder i.e. in the ‘Cloud’ and on their smartphone, tablet, headset, laptop or whatever other assistive interface will exist between us and the Web.

 

Fig. 2. Where it ends … more or less

At a parent’s side when they die is a profound experience. The breathing stopped and a trillion memories drained away. To what degree will this no longer be the case when a life logged digitally becomes a life in part preserved?

 

Reflection on Block 1 – towards compliance for those with moderate severe asthma

The most straight forward of assignments has proved anything but … not for how to write this 2000 word piece, that is straight forward, but rather committing to a subject, then narrowing down the theme, possible research question and then dig up some papers … and not simply offer the lot, but give the five ‘that say it all’. To pick five how many must you read, at least as abstracts. I made three false starts, even read a PhD thesis on blogging before deciding it is a minefield. I may like to blog but I no more want to research it for an OU assignment than sort out pebbles on Brighton Beach. Lifelogging, memory and neuroscience all interest me … but are too big to get my head around in a few months – a few years perhaps. Looking at my notes I see I have papers also on augmented learning for field trips and museum visits. Then I returned to a platform that caught my eye three yesrs ago on H807 when I interviewed Dr. B. Price Kerfoot of Harvard Medical School on ‘Spaced Education’. So far this system has been usef with doctors, to support their learning and decission making … the next step will be patients. One of the humdingers here is ‘compliance’ – taking the medication you are prescribed if you have a chronic condition. What dawned on me this afternoon is that as a asthmatic I am the perfect patient – compliant to the nth degree. What surprised me is that such a large percentage of asthmatics are not. But with alleregies – a double-whammy of irritations, I ignore the nasal steroids and antehistemines almost completely. Compliant, and defiant in one go so just about canceeling the two out. But why? This is what fasciantes. You know you need to take something to avoid a return of the symptoms, but as there are no symptoms you stop taking the medication. Anyway, I am sifting through papers to set me straight and to offer some answers. If you have a moderately severe chronic condition and wish to share your medication regime or attitude please speak up – asthma, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, other mental illnesses – chat on Skype? Meanwhile I checked my preventer inhaler – it was empty. I at least had a spare and will get a repeat prescription in tomorrow.

How to improve asthma patient outcomes using spaced education

Cover of "Living with Asthma"

Cover of Living with Asthma

There had been no plans to make this content public, but I thought I’d share it because of my interesting realisation that the Zemanta search tool may be  a reasonably valid way to winkle out papers relevant to a topic of interest. Out of habit it now I offer link to further content that on first appearances seems to  offer similar or contrasting views. Before I look at the selection that was offered to me, and the 7 from the 16 or so I was offered I am going to go through conventional route using the Open University Online Library and see what I may find that to any large extent differs.

I am not a physician or Medical Docotor, though I am asthmatic and have been in, on and off a variety of inhalers and sometimes oral steroids for some thirty years.

Preventer – Inhaled Steroid – two puffs twice a day. Used with a spacer to reduce chances of thrush.

Reliever – as needed, which is generally never, with rare need if I develop a chest infection, in which case I may end up on antibiotics anyway.

Oral Steroids – Very rarely, usually related to a chest infection. Once every five years?

Nebulizer – Never. Unlike my late father and one (or two) relations who take the view that they only need the preventer when they are wheezy … and end up hospitalised when they have an asthma attack and in the case of my father on steroids for so long that he became diabetic.

Preventative measures – know your triggers, avoid them, keep fit and attend an annual Asthma Clinic. I have to be cautious with house dust allergy and its partner in crime – damp. The odd list of triggers includes, at times, bleach, cumin seeds, one of the Lucozade sports drinks (odd that, coming from GSK who also produce asthma drugs). Possibly white flour. Yeast causes other problems too. We have a dog, but I’m not comfortable for long in a house with soft furnishings where there are cats. Get the bedroom windows open as often as possible. Use a specialist vacuum cleaner on the mattress, pillows and duvet. No carpets. No curtain. Leather sofa preferred.

Fig. 1. Twenty years ago I found myself producing, directing and writing a two information videos for a major pharmaceutical company – ‘Living with Asthma’ and ‘the Cost of Asthma’.

These had a shelf life of some ten to fifteen years, eventually to be replaced by DVD and online interactive equivalents. We did a combination of narrative drama reconstruction – a thread from a TV soap  in which a protagonist has an asthma attack, interviews with patients and experts (doctors and pharma) and narration with 3D animations and charts.

The purpose of this exercise is to:

  • Justify and explain the question for a piece of empirical research.
  • Offer FIVE pieces that  support then set you research on its way.
Though an academic exercise I’m going to treat this as something that could find funding, and that I could carry out.
What is the proposed research about? Asthma patient ignorance of best practice in relation to taking their prescribe drugs – why they are taking the drugs, how they work, when they should take them, how and how often …
What is it trying to find out or achieve? Improve patient care i.e. compliance (UK) – so taking their medicine correctly. This is important where the condition is chronic and the symptoms aren’t continuous. People tend to lapse taking the preventative drugs … it takes several days on onset of symptoms for these to kick in.
How will it go about doing that? A randomised controlled trial in which all asthmatics are invited to sign up to receive information over a period of x months, reminders about asthma and their drug taking regime.
What will we learn from it and why was it worth learning? That a significant percentage of asthmatics who have been prescribed an inhaled steroid (preventer medicine) to take twice daily are failing to do so, simply because they don’t see the need to do so unless they are feeling wheezy (a misconception, it should be taken regardless) or they allow their inhalers to run on empty for some time before being aware of this.That a significant percentage of asthmatics, probably largely the same group as above, misuse their reliever inhaler a) taking it too often b) not correctly inhaling so that drug ends up lining their mouth rather than entering their lungs.Taking the right dosage of inhaled steroid, as prescribed, in the correct manner, is likely to reduce need for the reliever inhaler to nil and will result in less long term damage being done to the lining of the lungs.It will improve patient outcomes, reduce the use of inhibitors and reduce hospital visits or overnights where a person has suffered an avoidable asthma attack.

 

Learning & Memory – my 1,500th post to this blog

Fig. 1. Looks a like a good read

I’m starting to read papers on neuroscience that result on my starting to use my hands and fingers as I read, even reading and re-reading phrases and sentences out loud as I try to ‘get my head around it’. (A search in the Open Universal Online library for ‘hippocampus rats memory’ brought me to the above.

This is the kind of thing from the abstract:

 The nucleus accumbens shell (NAC) receives axons containing dopamine-b-hydroxylase that originate from brainstem neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Recent findings show that memory enhancement produced by stimulating NTS neurons after learning may involve interactions with the NAC. However, it is unclear whether these mnemonic effects are mediated by norepinephrine (NE) release from NTS terminals onto NAC neurons. (From Kerfoot & Williams (2011:405)

On the other hand, when I read this I think I’ve taken it too far. Like the skier who watches with admiration as someone comes down a gully but would never do it themselves. 

 The A2 neurons are activated during times of heightened arousal by the release of glutamate from vagal nerve fibers that ascend from the periphery to the brainstem (Allchin et al. 1994; King and Williams 2009). Highly arousing events increase epinephrine secretion from the adrenals and facilitate binding to b-adrenergic receptors along the vagus nerve (Lawrence et al. 1995) that in turn, increase impulse flow to brainstem neurons in the NTS (Lawrence et al. 1995; Miyashita and Williams 2006). Epinephrine administration, stimulation of the vagus nerve or direct infusion of glutamate onto A2 NTS neurons are all known to significantly potentiate norepinephrine release within the amygdala and hippocampus (Segal et al. 1991; Liang et al. 1995; Williams et al. 1998; Izumi and Zorumski 1999; Hassert et al. 2004; Miyashita and Williams 2004; Roosevelt et al. 2006). (From Kerfoot & Williams (2011:405).

Fig. 2. Neuroscience for Dummies (Frank Amthor 2012) L5704

This is the bold step I’ve taken, not having to reading papers on neuroscience but feeling the need to do so. I’ve had three years of considering the theory behind learning, now I want to see (where it can be seen) what is happening. Papers rarely illustrate. What I want are papers with photos, charts, and video clips, with animations and multi-choice questions, then a bunch of contactable folk at the bottom to have a conversation with.

Figure 2 will have to do for now, though having got through ‘Neuroscience for Dummies’ I’m ready for the sequel ‘Neuroscience for the Dolterati’.

To understand how the nervous systems works, according to Professor Frank Amthor I need to know how neurons work, how they talk to other neural circuits and how these circuits form a particular set of functional modules in the brain. Figure 2 starts to do this.  (Amthor, 2012. Kindle Location 323)

What is going on here?

If I understand it correctly there is, because of the complexity of connections between neurons, a relationship with many parts of the brain simultaneously, some common to us all, some, among the millions of links, unique to us. Each neuron is connected to 10,000 others.  To form a memory some 15 parts of the brain are involved.

Learning is situated, much of it we are not aware of.

There is a multi-sensory context. Come to think of it, while I was concentrating I got cramp in my bum and right thigh perched as I am on a hard kitchen chair, and the lingering after taste of the cup of coffee I drank 45 minutes ago. I can hear the kitchen clock ticking – though most of the time it is silent (to my mind), and the dog just sighed.

Does it matter that my fingers are tapping away at a keyboard?

Though second-nature touch-typing it occupies my arms and hands and fingers which could otherwise be animated as if I were I talking. Would this in some way help capture the thought? I am talking, in my head. The stream of consciousness is almost audible. It was a couple of sentences with a few new acronyms involving an image I have in my head on what neurons, synapses and axons looks like.

What would happen where I to use a voice recorder and speak my thoughts instead?

By engaging my limbs and voice would my thinking process improve and would the creation of something to remember be all the stronger.

I’m getting pins and needles/cramp in my right leg. Aaaaaaaaaaagh! Party over.

The question posed is often ‘what’s going on in there?’ referring to the brain. Should the question simply be ‘what’s going on?’

Learning & Memory

My eyesight is shifting. In the space of six months of moved to reading glasses. Now my normal glasses are no good either for reading or distance. Contacts are no use either. As a consequence I’m getting new glasses for middle distance and driving. The solution with the contact lenses is more intriguing.

To correct for astigmatism and near or short sightedness I am going to have a one lens in one eye to deal with the astigmatism and a different lens to deal with the short sightedness in the other. My mind will take the information from both and … eventually, create something that is sharp close up and at a distance. This has me thinking about what it is that we see, NOT a movie or video playing out on our retina, but rather an assemblage of meaning and associations formed in the brain.

I will try these lenses and hang around, wander the shops, then return. I am advised that I may feel and appear drunk. I can understand why. I could well describe being drunk as trying to navigate down a path with a microscope in one hand and a telescope in the other while looking through both. I feel nauseous just thinking about it.

So ‘stuff’ is going on in the brain.

These days the activity resulting in the brain figuring something out can, in some instance and to some degree, be seen. Might I have an fMRI scan before the appointment with the optician? Might I then have a series of further scans to follow this ‘re-wiring’ process.

I need to be careful here, the wrong metaphor, however much it helps with understanding may also lead to misunderstanding. Our brain is organic, there are electro-chemical processes going on, but if I am correct there is no ‘re-wiring’ as such, the connections have largely existed since birth and are simply activated and reinforced?

Fig.3 . Synaptic transmission

Any neuroscientists out there willing to engage with a lay person?

What would observing this process of unconscious learning tells us about the process of learning? And is it that unconscious if am I am aware of the sensations that have to be overcome to set me right?

REFERENCE

Kerfoot, E, & Williams, C n.d.(2011), ‘Interactions between brainstem noradrenergic neurons and the nucleus accumbens shell in modulating memory for emotionally arousing events’, Learning & Memory, 18, 6, pp. 405-413, Science Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 7 March 2013.

Amfor, F (2012) Neuroscience for Dummies. Cheat Sheet. (for the time challenged)

 

Learning in extremis

Fig.1. Three years later

“Emergency Home Birth!” my wife exclaimed pointing at a book on pregnancy and childbirth.

My wife went into labour at 2.30am, we’d planned a home birth (this is her second) however our hospital was some 37 miles away and our allocated Midwife was another 20 miles beyond that.

I got her on the phone and she spoke to my wife between contractions – she wouldn’t make it.

‘Call an ambulance and I’ll be over in due course’, she said.

Chapter Six, ‘Emergency Home Birth’ looked like it needed half an hour to read and at least as long  again to digest; there wasn’t time.

Thankfully om the facing page of Chapter Six the editor had laid out the essentials in clear bullet points – towels, scissors and string are the ones I remember, probably because I required all three, these and the warning that the umbilical cord can get caught around the baby’s throat. I needed that too.

Just in time learning, delivered just in time.

And so it was, at around 3.20am, my wife on floor holding onto the  the end of the bed, towels in place that our son was born.

First his head, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his throat. I eased this over his chin and around his head, surprised at how thick and tough it was – then one,the both shoulders and he fell into my arms like a muddy rugby ball out of a scrum. My wife rolled around and sitting at the end of the bed she took him into her arms.

A few minutes later the midwife arrived, thought everything was going well and went to run a bath. In due course she showed me how to cut the umbilical cord then took my wife to the bathroom.

Learning in extremis?

In my day job I was supporting the teaching of such techniques at the logistics and distribution group UGC in Oxford.

I didn’t need a book, or a training video and given this was 1996 I wasn’t going to have Google, Quora or YouTube offer some advice.

I’ve had no further need for these particular parenting skills, though it’s been an adventure following two infants through childhood into their early teens.

Learning works best when it is pushed, when there is a challenge of time and circumstances, where it can be applied and seen to work.

How do we apply this to formal education, to studying for exams through secondary and tertiary education?

What is the difference with learning in the workforce, between physical actions on a factory floor, in a mine, power station or warehouse, out on a civil engineering building site or in an office or boardroom?

There need to be exams – from mocks to annual exams and finals.
Essays and regualr assignments are part of this best practice.
And how about tests, even the surprise test, not so much for the result, but for the pressure that ought to help fix some learning in our plastic, fickle minds?

In advertising we often spoke of ‘testing  to destruction’ that nothing beats a clear demonstration of the products power, staying power or effectiveness in memorably extreme conditions.

I like the idea of working Against the clock, of competition too, even learning taken place, as I have heard, as someone cycles around Europe, or drives a Russian Jeep from Kazakstan back to Britain.

I believe in the view that ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ – that you can galvanise a group to rally round when needed and those new to this game will pick up a great deal in the process; personally I loved the ‘all-nighters’ we did in our teens breaking one set then building another in the Newcastle Playhouse, some sense of which I repeated professionally on late night and all night shoots, often in ‘extreme’ places.

 

To teach is to nurture and the best metaphor for the mind is to see it as a garden

Fig. 1. My own vision of education as nurturing – like growing plants in a garden

‘Her metaphor for the brain is that of a garden, that’s full of the most interesting,  different things that have to be constantly cultivated and constantly checked‘.  This was Kirsty Young  introducing her guest, Professor Uta Frith. (01:24 into the transmission, BBC Radio 4 2013)

Professor Uta Frith of University College London was on Desert Island Discs for the second time this week  – this time round I paid close attention. I then went to the BBC website and took notes.

Having recently completed the Open University postgraduate module H810 Accessible Online Learning and of course interested in education, this offers insights on what studying autism and dyslexia tells us about the human mind.

There’s more in another BBC broadcast – Uta Frith interviewed for the BBC’s Life Scientific – Broadcast 6 Dec 2011 accessed 1st March 2013 – and available, by the way,  until January 2099 should you not be able to find time and want your dyslexic grandchildren to listen.

The difference between someone who is autistic and the rest of us is how we each of us see the world.

‘We learn by taking different perspectives – something about ourselves which we otherwise would have never known’. Uta Frith (2013)

‘Take what’s given to you and make the best of it, but of course the cultivation is key to all of these things, so culture in our lives, learning from other people … these are the really, really important things’. Uta Frith (2013)

We may all have some of this in us.

Genetic factors matter.

‘How we are raised is a myth. It is not right. It has been so very harmful. It is a illusion to think that doing the right things, for example that you get from books, that you can change things.’ Uta Frith (2013)

Then from BBC’s Life Scientific

‘A passionate advocate of neuroscience and how its findings can be used in the classroom to improve learning. She hopes that eventually neuroscience will inform education in the same way that anatomy informs medicine’. (01:35 in, BBC 2013)

Uta Firth wants knowledge of the brain to inform education the way knowledge of the body informs medicine.

Professor Uta Frith is best known for her research on autism spectrum disorders. Her book, Autism, Explaining the Enigma (1989) has been translated into many languages. She was one of the initiators of the study of Asperger’s Syndrome in the UK and her work on reading development, spelling and dyslexia has been highly influential.

Throughout her career she has been developing a neuro-cognitive approach to developmental disorders.

In particular, she has investigated specific cognitive processes and their failure in autism and dyslexia. Her aim is to discover the underlying cognitive causes of these disorders and to link them to behavioural symptoms as well as to brain systems. She aims to make this research relevant to the education of people with development disorders and to contribute to a better quality of their everyday life.

The above profile form the UCL pages

Further Reading/Viewing

Uta Frith on YouTube on early years, then on dyslexia

Frith, U (1989/2003) Autism – explaining the enigma (second edition)

Frith, U (2008) Autism – a very short introduction

REFERENCE

Uta Frith, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, Transmission accessed 1st March 2013

Uta Frith, The Life Scientific, BBC Radio 4, from BBC website as a podcast (accessed 1st March 2013

University College London, Staff. Website (accessed 1st March 2013)

 

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