The (un)reliability of scientific journals

This article is rather technical, but a quotation near the bottom sums it up nicely:

Journal editors have expended much time and effort in teasing out how to handle authors’ and reviewers’ competing interests. They need now to concentrate on their own and those of their employers, lest we reach the dismal scenario described […]

How economics and politics are intertwined

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June 2015: Mothballed

As I will begin a new job in the fall of 2015 at a school that does not (for the moment, at least) offer the IB Diploma, this TOK class blog will become inactive in June 2015. I will leave it online for as long as it seems sensible to do so. If you […]

“The Golden Ratio: Design’s Biggest Myth”

The Golden Ratio is a staple of mathematics classes, art classes, and TOK textbooks. In this article by John Brownlee, however, he makes that case that the Golden Ratio is a load of rubbish.

. . . the idea that the golden ratio has any relationship to aesthetics at all comes primarily from two people, […]

Bonus terminology question

Explain why the commonly-used expression

“scientifically proven”

is misleading and illogical.

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Paul Graham, “How You Know”

A brief but useful essay by Paul Graham, “How You Know”, is worth reading and thinking about.

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Why do we cling to beliefs when they’re threatened by facts?

Interesting article at has relevance to TOK:

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Y13 Essays: Revised Deadline

The deadline for the Y13 TOK essays has been changed to Thursday, December 4th, in recognition that most Y13 courses will have assessments during the week of November 24th.

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Practice Body ¶ November 2013

Write a 200-300 word paragraph beginning with this sentence:

Our physical senses are limited and can sometimes lead us to make serious mistakes.

Publish your paragraph as a new post on this blog. Category: “Practice Body Paragraphs”.

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“The core of the scientific method”

. . . Ask a question and then investigate what the answer is. That’s the core of the scientific method—formulate a question, come up with a hypothesis, make a prediction based on that hypothesis, then test to see if that prediction holds. Not only is that a good way to do research, it is […]

TOK Orals on the Internet: Beware!

Tim Sprod, highly experienced TOK teacher and co-author of one of the best TOK textbooks, recently posted this comment to the IBO’s “Online Curriculum Centre” TOK forum for teachers:

The examples of TOK presentations to be found with a search engine should – in my opinion – NEVER be taken as good exemplars. While […]

Thoreau on democracy

“After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically […]

Metaphors: Stuart McMillen

Well worth a look:

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From the IBO TOK Guide (first exams in 2015):

How does language shape knowledge? Does the importance of language in an area of knowledge ground it in a particular culture? How are metaphors used in the construction of knowledge?

Language can refer to the mental faculty which allows people to learn and use complex […]

Y12 Presentations, May-June 2013


If you need technology for your presentation, you must have everything ready to go the moment you walk in the door. Be prepared to present one day early—if someone ahead of you is ill, we will ask you to present earlier than scheduled. You are allowed 10 minutes. After that point, the teacher […]

Mapping the Brain

Fascinating conversation; just keeps getting better.

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Wine-tasting “experts” seem to have no expertise

This blog post about wine-tasting is filled with ‘earthy’ language (in other words, obscenity and profanity) but it does suggest some interesting TOK questions.

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How to put together a successful TOK oral presentation

Most of what you need to know, right here:

Updated version for the new TOK syllabus (first exams in 2015):

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New page: Quotations

I have added a new page to the blog where you can find quotations particularly relevant to TOK. You can click on this link

to see it, or use the linkbar underneath the photo.

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Page Smith, American Historian

His most disputed work was “The Historian and History” (1964), a witty indictment of American historians. In the book he observed wryly that there were then 15 “trained and presumably productive” people with doctorates in the field for every year of the nation’s history.

That is far more than is necessary, he argued, especially […]

“The Nightmare of the West Memphis Three”

From the New York Review of Books, a real-life situation filled with TOK issues and juicy quotations.

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“Something stronger than reason”

Pierre smiled, Natasha began to laugh, but Nicholas knitted his brows still more and began proving to Pierre that there was no prospect of any great change and that all the danger he spoke of existed only in his imagination. Pierre maintained the contrary, and as his mental faculties were greater and […]

A color-coded map of the world’s most and least emotional countries

From the Washington Post:

Is Gallup polling data reliable? Is the characterization of the data (“an emotional country”) accurate? Etc.

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Benjamin Franklin on the value of Reason

Benjamin Franklin—printer, entrepreneur, scientist, inventor, community organizer, revolutionary, diplomat, celebrity—wrote one of the earliest autobiographies. In it he tells a story from his youth that neatly illustrates the value of reason in our lives.

I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm’d off Block Island, our people […]

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”

Does Robert Fulghum begin to make a case here for a universal ethical code?

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at […]

David Bordwell: how to watch an art film

David Bordwell is one of the world’s great authorities on filmmaking. If you are interested in how movies work, you can do no better than to read him. Lucky for all of us, he has a blog, and this article on how to watch an art film is as good a place to jump […]

“Would You Kill Baby Hitler?”

A fascinating essay by Roger Ebert, the American film critic.

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Why emotion trumps reason

From the NY Times, “Inside the Mind of Worry”.

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Social Science Is Hard

Kevin Drum argues that social science is more difficult than chemistry or physics.

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Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: Don’t Be So Sure

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle has crossed over from physics to become a sort of ‘common knowledge’ like Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ or Freud’s ideas about neurosis or the ‘Oedipal complex’. This article from ars technica, however—“Demolishing Heisenberg with clever math and experiments”—makes the Uncertainty Principle seem much less than certain.

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Beau Lotto’s TEDTalk & more: links

Beau Lotto’s 2009 TED Talk is here: No subtitles, but click on “Show Transcript” and you can have a written version in Chinese and Korean and lots of other languages.

This 2012 TED blog post may also interest you:

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Using Precisely-Targeted Lasers, Researchers Manipulate Neurons in Worms’ Brains and Take Control of Their Behavior

“Researchers have been able to take over an animal’s brain, instruct it to turn in any direction they choose, and even to implant false sensory information, fooling the animal into thinking food was nearby.”

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Links from Y13 Class, Fri Sept 7th

Here are the links from today’s TOK class:

Leonard Lopate’s interview with Mark Matousek:

Eve Ensler’s TED Talk:

Paul Graham’s essay, “What You Can’t Say”

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Year 13: Human Rights Question

Write a post in which you consider the following question:

Where do our ideas about human rights come from? Are they rooted in something universal to all people, like human nature or divine law? Or are they rooted in a particular culture, or a particular religion, or a certain group or class of society […]

“Turn your school into Paris”

While we are thinking about street names, you might be interested in this post I wrote a while back proposing that schools do something similar—especially since DCSZ is opening a new Senior School campus in the coming months.

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Earl Morris on truth, history, science, and relativism


For those who truly believe that truth is subjective or relative (along with everything else), ask yourself the question – is ultimate guilt or innocence of a crime a matter of opinion? Is it relative? Is it subjective? A jury might decide you’re guilty of a crime that you haven’t committed. You’re […]

The case for a multiverse

A rejoinder to Andy Fletcher’s argument, here:

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Like Unlike asks, “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?”

My favourite is by Carl Zimmer: “A Hot Young Earth: Unquestionably Beautiful and Stunningly Wrong“.

Before that, Einstein and the scientific method, among others, make appearances. Well worth reading!

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BGI (Beijing Genomics Institute)

I came across this site via Steven Pinker, the renowned Harvard psychologist. If you are interested in brain science, genetics, and intelligence, have a look!

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A reader comments on intuition

I received this comment by email. —etm

I have been reading about the thoughts on intuition on your site and find most of them do not actually reflect what intuition is in my experience.

Many speak about intuition coming from deep in the subconscious or from life experience, but when I teach about intuition, […]

Dawkins, dunes, atoms, and waves

In his TED talk, ‘Queerer than we can suppose’, Richard Dawkins suggests that we may be more like waves than physical objects. He describes a crescent-shaped sand dune in Africa that moves about 17 metres each year. The grains of sand that make up the dune are constantly changing—being added to or removed from […]

TEDTalk: Beau Lotto, ‘Optical illusions show how we see’

Two links to this TEDTalk, should you want to watch it again:

1. In my Dropbox folder, here:

The path is Video / Science & Technology / Sense Perception. It’s the first one in that folder.

2. From the TED site, here: Beau Lotto.

If you watch on the TED site, you […]

5 Famous Events That Never Happened

This piece from Daily Writing Tips makes clear the hazards of repeating ‘what everybody knows’.

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August 2011

I will be team-teaching TOK part-time this year, so this blog’s name has been changed to reflect the fact that the course is now team-taught at Dulwich College Suzhou. The lead teacher is Julie Connah, assisted by Alan Connah and myself. Older content was written by me and my students at Suzhou Singapore International […]

On the ‘3 theories of truth’ [#26: Monday’s class]

Perhaps it will be useful for me to summarize the main points I argued in today’s class.

I disagree with van de Lagemaat when he speaks of three theories of truth. The first, which he calls the ‘correspondence theory’, seems to me to be simply the definition of truth: if what I say matches […]

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