Numbers count

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Nadine Bailey’s Informative Flights blog is always worth reading. Her latest post, Resist the list, is as spot-on as ever.  Nadine doesn’t like compiling grade level recommended reading lists for a number of reasons and in this post, she lists some of those reasons.  Her stand is that already-hooked readers don’t need lists (they have other strategies for working out what to read next) and lists don’t work with those who aren’t hooked-on-books.  For them, other techniques and strategies are needed.

Perhaps the only suggestion I’d add to her post is to emphasise more than she does that parents (and teachers) who read are more likely to have kids who read – and that parents who do not read and don’t have a lot of reading matter around the house are less likely to raise readers. Her post is pure Krashen and Cullinan and Trelease and all my other heroes.

I have long since held that reading is a survival skill, that like all skills we get better when we practice and that, unlike many other skills, practice is fun, enjoyable, pleasurable, pain-free – when we read for pleasure.  Reading for work and reading to learn are different, and if our basic reading skills are poor, they can be difficult too.  Reading is FUNdamental. When we find reading pleasurable, when we read for pleasure, we get the practice, we maintain and improve our reading skills at the same time. It’s not just our reading skills which improve with reading – our vocabulary, our comprehension, our understanding, our empathy and more all improve as well; it isn’t just our skills in language which improve, it’s our understanding across disciplines and subjects.  There’s a corollary there too: if reading for pleasure isn’t pleasurable, read something else.

All this is a lead-in to this article on something very different, but it was Nadine’s post which got me here. In the course of her article,  Nadine says

I suspect students spend a lot more time on Youtube for their learning. YouTube publishes some interesting statistics.  Of relevance is “YouTube is technically the second largest search engine in the world.” and “Average Viewing Session – 40 minutes, up 50% year-over-year”.

That gave me pause, I guess I’m a sucker for dubious use of statistics, I just need to take them apart.  There’s the Lake Wobegon effect (from Garrison Keillor’s fictional town where many stories state “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average),”   there’s Joel Best’s deconstruction of “The worst social statistic ever,” and of course climate-change-denier David Bellamy’s claim that 555 out of 625 of the world’s glaciers are getting bigger – probably helped along by an unnoticed mis-keying of the keyboard.

In this case, it is the claim made that the average viewing session on YouTube is 40 minutes and that it is growing by 50% “year-over-year.”  I have to point out that YouTube was not responsible for the data in the page to which Nadine links. The page to which Nadine links, YouTube by the Numbers: Stats, Demographics & Fun Facts, is published by the Omnicore Group. It includes data such as the Total Number of Monthly Active YouTube Users, the number of videos shared to date, the number of videos uploaded every minute, and other facts, factoids and figures, including the average viewing session (yes, the claim is “40 minutes, up 50% year-over-year”).

Many of the factoids have a source which sometimes is and sometimes is not YouTube itself. No source is shown for the average viewing session.

That’s not really a surprise.  I might be able to accept that the average viewing session for the year to June 2018 is 40 minutes, and I might just accept that the average viewing session for the year to June 2017 was just under 27 minutes (half of 27 is 13.5 which added to 27 gives the about 40 minutes average viewing session claimed).

But I’m not so sure that the growth has been half-as-much-again year after year after year.  That’s a little wild. It suggests that in 2014, just a few years earlier, the average session was less than 8 minutes, that in 2008 (ten years before the 2018 datum), the average viewing session was about 42 seconds. I doubt it.

Looking to the future, if the trend continues, by 2023 the average viewing session will be more than 5 hours, yikes! And just five years after that, 2028, we’ll be watching 38 hours at a single sitting.  Get a life, people!

Reading for pleasure enhances our literacy. I wonder what’s needed to engage our numeracy?

Don’t stop thinking!





Self-serving survey?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

When a company (or other group with vested interest) conducts its own research and publishes its own analysis of the results, it is usually worth investigating more deeply. Turnitin has long been a favourite source of disingenuous disinformation (see. for instance, my posts How much plagiarism?, Guilty: how do you plead?, A second look at SEER, and Not as I do, but… ).

Now my attention turns to RefME, the reference generator (unless it is a citation generator; there may be language differences here, as discussed in Language and labels).

RefME has just published a report Survey Reveals Unique Insights to US Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism on two surveys which the company carried out in recent months. It seems a prime example of how not to analyse data, how not to write a report. That’s a brutal assessment, but I think the brutality is justified. Just be sure to get in quick in case the report is edited or deleted.

I think there are (at least) five or six ways in which the report can be considered flawed. Fuller explanation follows the list:

  1. the discussion of the surveys reads at times like an inadequate discussion of the surveys and at times like a press release produced by the RefME publicity bureau;
  2. the report manages to confuse and conflate incorrect or inconsistently formatted references with plagiarism and/or academic misconduct;
  3. the discussion grabs at different research and studies, and suggests (inter alia) that small-scale surveys can be regarded as universal truths;
  4. in grabbing at those different research reports and studies, the writer misreports some and fails to do the homework, to check on the source behind the source;
  5. the report, despite praising RefME for enabling correct and consistent referencing/ endnoting, manages to be incorrect, incomplete and/or inconsistent in at least 11 of its 13 references.
  6. a small matter of several, many, passages which reuse so much wording from source documents that it might be felt that quotation marks are required; some readers might even class these passages as plagiarism.

This is not to denigrate the RefME software itself. I have no opinion there. Until I bought a new computer a few months ago, I found the app hung up too often to enable a valid critique of its performance as a reference (or citation) generator. Now, I find it Continue reading

Still wrong to be forgotten

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Google (Europe) continues to give people the “right” to be forgotten.  Those whose requests are upheld become more difficult to find; Google’s European search engines no longer link to web page/s which offend or upset a complainant.

There are ways around this, some of which are detailed in my earlier post, Wrong to be forgotten.  One way is to make the complaint public.  The “Streisand effect” comes into play, by which a complainant gets more publicity for having made a complaint than was achieved by the original report, drawing attention to oneself.

Debora Weber-Wulff today announces that she too has had links removed from one of her web pages, in a post entitled Notice of removal from Google Search. Google gives no right of appeal, nor indication of who made the complaint, so Dr Weber-Wulff has kindly furnished Continue reading


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Last night I sat through two webcasts promoted as part of Plagiarism Education Week, promoted and hosted by Turnitin. One of the two webcasts was, I thought, spot-on, encouraging, helpful. The other was … disappointing.

In Tweets from the French Revolution? Using What Students Know to Promote Original Work and Critical Thinking, one of the speakers described a research study he had conducted.  For the first part of the study, 20 adult English learners were given an assignment : write an essay on a historical event or figure. After they had written their essays, the adults were asked two questions: (1) had they found the assignment difficult? and (2) had the assignment helped develop their critical thinking skills?

Most declared they had found the assignment easy, and most said that it had not required critical thinking.  Meanwhile, a check revealed that every single student had plagiarized. Let’s make that Continue reading

More misleading headlines

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It’s a good-news-bad-news situation. Taking the same government statement, the UK tabloids Daily Express and the Daily Mirror have two very different takes on the same story:

(Screengrabs taken from BBC News : The Papers, 3 February 2014)



The Daily Express story concentrates on government plans to raise the basic rate of pensions year on year over the next six years.  The Daily Mirror story features the current benefits and perks that pensioners enjoy which they will lose in order to pay for the promised increase in basic pensions.   Whether pensioners will be better off or not over time is not clear, and may depend on how long they live, on whether pensions continue to rise in line with inflation or the cost of living after the six years of guaranteed rises, and many other factors. On these bare stories alone, it pays to keep an open mind, and to seek further, dig deeper. Continue reading

Never mind the quality, just keep taking the tablet

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I have just taken part in a live Turnitin webcast, Grade Anywhere: Turnitin for iPad (free but you need to register your email address; you’ll then be sent a link to the webcast).

The webcast is meant to promote their new iPad app, and it seems it is true, now you can grade (almost?) anywhere. You don’t even need a live internet connection, as long as you synced your iPad to your Turnitin account and downloaded student work before you went offline.

turnitin for ipadA pity then that Turnitin itself is flawed. Continue reading

Thirty percent

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I use the Google Alert feature to be made aware of new web pages which include terms I regularly search for. It saves me having to remember to repeat my favourite searches, and it pinpoints new or changed pages.

I thought the feature had gone berserk the other day. My alert for “every written assignment they complete” usually gives me just one or two hits a week.  This week’s digest gave me forty hits. Continue reading

Footloose with figures

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

I couldn’t believe my ears. I wasn’t watching, admittedly, but the voice in the television advertisement definitely said, “No wonder 93% of Cosmopolitan readers recommend it.”

That is some recommendation, that’s a lot of people. It’s a lot, even if the ad refers to UK readers only. I just had to check.  Let’s see: according to its owner, Hearst Magazines UK, Cosmo’s UK readership is 1,430,000, at least it was in the second half of 2012, which suggests that 1,329,900 readers recommend Scholl’s Express Pedi, “Professionally pedicured feet at your fingertips.”

How does Scholl know? Continue reading

Rewriting history…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

First, let’s be clear: this is NOT a piece on Margaret Thatcher’s place in British or world history.  It is a piece on journalism, and the rewriting of, if not history, then at least a rewriting of the record.

Let’s start with the story. While writing to an American friend, I wanted to give her a link to the debate over the BBC’s dilemma as to whether to play “Ding-dong! the witch is dead” on its weekly top of the music charts radio programme this week.  “Ding-dong…” is a short number from the 1938 musical The Wizard of Oz, and has been adopted as the anthem of an anti-Thatcher FaceBook group. Since Thatcher’s death earlier in the week Continue reading

Floored by flaws?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A recent iThenticate press release carried the headline, “Survey Shows Plagiarism a Regular Problem in Scholarly Research” (iThenticate Press Release, 2012 December 5).

I’m not sure what to make of it. The logic, the argument, the statistics, the interpretation. There’s something not quite right. Several things. I have already noted some of my disquiet in Flattering Flaws, wondered if there might be vested interest in sensationalising the survey results?  But those are not my only concerns.

To be more sure, I went to the actual survey report, available as “2012 Survey Highlights: Scholarly Plagiarism” (iThenticate, 2012).  I wanted to check the statements, and to think again about the logic of statements made in the press release.  Continue reading

Flattering flaws

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It’s ironic that I have to thank Turnitin for bringing Retraction Watch to my attention.

Retraction Watch is a blog written by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky. It aims to report on retractions made in science journals.  Scientific knowledge is not static, but it does tend to develop slowly. New knowledge is gained as connections are made, Continue reading