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Reijo Rasinkangas (Oulu, Finland)

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Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic Growth (Penguin Business)
Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic Growth (Penguin Business)
by Alison Wolf
Edition: Paperback

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Which education matters, how, and when, 13 Sep 2008
In spite of the provocative title of the book, Does Education Matter?, Alison Wolf is no fool. She admits that (1) yes, knowledge, and thus education, is important in itself. She admits that (2) yes, education has an effect on the salary an individual can gain. As a "positional good" it affects how the wealth in society is distributed. This is because employers use higher education also as a proxy of different abilities like intelligence or motivation, and only partly as an indicator of concrete skills. Furthermore, Wolf admits that (3) yes, education at the primary and secondary level has an important effect also on how wealthy, in absolute terms, a given society can be. The important concrete skills employers are looking for are, quite simply (but not at too trivial level), reading, writing and mathematics. She even admits that (4) yes, education at the tertiary level can create wealth, provided it creates high quality research and professionals. But here we are already close to a "no" answer (which you all knew was coming).

In Western Europe, about one third of a cohort get a university degree, and we are on our way to the level of two thirds already reached in the USA. There is preciously little evidence that this expansion creates economic growth; if anything, it is a result of such growth. Symptomatically we have not seen similar expansion in the resources provided for the universities. With funding per student, also the teacher/student ratio has decreased dramatically, implying decreasing quality of the education ("efficiency gains" in education are problematic). Moreover, the overemphasis on tertiary education has made it more difficult to provide high quality primary and secondary education. As Wolf points out, the chosen policy most likely hurts the economy!

According to Wolf, however, there is little one can do to decrease the popularity of the tertiary level education. Young people are optimistic about their abilities and they - and their parents - want to keep the option of high future salaries open as long as possible. (This is why it has been so difficult to upkeep and create more vocationally oriented options for secondary or tertiary education, even if it might be more efficient.) At the same time, the politicians are not going to restrict university attendance by increased fees or by demanding higher academic results from the enrolled students; such options would simply be too unpopular among the voters. What is good for individual may be bad for the society.

In the USA the problem has been solved by letting the universities to compete, and thus creating stratification in the sector. In the more or less nationalized European education this is problematic, but perhaps less so than the options mentioned earlier. Best universities could this way get funding that is necessary to provide the highest research needed both economically and culturally (just take a look at the US Nobel Prize winners).

So, referring to "education, education, education" as a sure way to national riches is erroneous, not because education is unimportant, but because of diminishing returns: it is possible to have too much of a good thing, when it comes with costs. In similar vein Wolf explains - with excruciating UK specific details - the waste of resources when politicians and even business organizations have tried to "improve" the post-compulsory, i.e., vocational, further and university education.

In addition, expansion of tertiary education is not very effective way to help the poorest people of the society. In fact, the opposite is true, as it is the middle class that swamps the universities, widening the economic gap. A much more effective tool seems to be wage subsidies promoted by, for example, economist Edmund Phelps. Unfortunately, middle class voters (and thus also politicians) prefer investments in education, since they can profit from it. And as far as the education is concerned, socially conscientious people should pay more attention to the primary level, where the long term future of kids can be affected more.

Finally, concentrating solely on the relationship between education and economic growth impoverishes our world view and culture. Education is important in itself, and economy is important even when it is helped by the growing service sector.


The Ultimate Collection
The Ultimate Collection
Offered by the_record_factory
Price: £5.95

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Far from ultimate!, 30 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Ultimate Collection (Audio CD)
Missing songs like Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue Got Married, and It's So Easy. Calling this The Ultimate Collection is cheating.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2008 9:28 AM BST


The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies
The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies
by Richard Hamblyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.84

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pages missing, 25 Mar 2007
The paperback Picador 2002 edition I got from Amazon is faulty, missing pages 197-244 all together! Otherwise this is a good read, although information wise not very deep. I recommmend instead Pauline Halford's Storm Warning - The Origins of the Weather Forecast (2004) where, however, Luke Howard is discussed only briefly.


Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction (Philosophy and the Human Situation)
Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction (Philosophy and the Human Situation)
by Janet Radcliffe Richards
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.78

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear philosophical thinking, 26 Feb 2002
Two important books on modern biology were published in 2000 by authors outside of the field itself. One of them - Ullica Segerstrale's "Defenders of the Truth" concentrates on the historical and sociological aspects of "The Sociobiology Debate". Janet Radcliffe Richards' "Human Nature after Darwin" provides a different, complementary point of view with a subtitle "a philosophical introduction". Both books come up with similar results: the criticism against evolutionary psychology has been seriously misplaced.
In Radcliffe Richards' opinion, "much of the smoke of the Darwin wars is generated by widespread unfamiliarity with fairly basic techniques of philosophical argument and analysis". Her book is not so much about the science itself than the implications of the different points of view: if it turns out (as it does) that the Darwinian critics have corresponding problems with their views than "sociobiologists", the metaphysically motivated resistance against new scientific results is pointless. Radcliffe Richards starts by creating a line of "deepening Darwinism":
anti-Darwinists
Mind-First, dualist Darwinists
plank-paper Darwinists (standard social science theorists)
gene-machine Darwinists (evolutionary psychologists)
The first level is populated by creationists and the like minority groups. It is fairly safe to say that most people like the second level best, accepting Darwinian evolution for our bodies but not our minds. Just after that we find the "materialism boundary" and the two rather provocatively named levels; the level arguing that biology has no effect in human behaviour, and the level where it does contribute (in addition to culture). The "culturalists" base their view on works from the likes of Durkheim (sociology), Boas (anthropology) and Skinner (psychology), while the "genetics" derive theirs from E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, David Buss and others. In evolutionary psychology one studies the emotions and other inclinations as adaptations that can - indirectly - affect how animals, us included, behave and learn.
Now, from the description above, evolutionary psychology does not come out as a very dangerous idea. Why it is often portrayed as such? While Segerstrale deals with the motives of the critics in her book, Radcliffe Richards concentrates on the logical errors in their reasoning (since these matters are not easy to separate, the two books form a very good couple). For example, when evolutionary psychologists speak about emotions, critics see them making claims about innate behaviour which is, of course, totally different thing. Dawkins' "selfish gene" -view is claimed to advocate selfish human behaviour, but how is this possible: not only does word selfish has a totally different meaning in the two contexts, but - more importantly - genes are far, far different things than the organism they create. The hidden assumption behind the criticism here is mind-boggingly silly!
Radcliffe Richards' rationality is most of all common sense, as can be seen from quotes like "if we think some earlier theories are certainly false, we must believe that the evidence that proves them false is certainly true" (about possibility of truthful scientific theories). What about the claim that non-materialism goes with non-determinism, while non-material substances are often thought to affect each other and material substances (brains)? Do such matters as choice, responsibility and desert (merit) fare better in a state of indeterminism? Does free will fare better in cultural determinism (standard social science theory) than in evolutionary psychology? Radcliffe Richards' answer is no. In addition, there is no reason to think that if materialism (as a metaphysical view) is true we must be unable to reason morally (or have materialist set of values). Explaining the evolution of altruism does not make it illusory, and to support our moral intuition we have our (culturally influenced) cognitive machinery. "The only values that might be threatened by the truth of evolutionary psychology are the derived ones that result from combining the fundamental ones [e.g., the well-being of men and women should be regarded as equally important] with particular empirical beliefs."
The book originates from an university course intended to teach philosophy at an introductory level. As a consequence, it is not only clearly written, but also has several exercises (with answers) to sharpen ones philosophical techniques on. "Human Nature after Darwin" is an important contribution to the philosophy of biology.


Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate
Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate
by Ullica Christina Olofsdotter Segerstråle
Edition: Paperback

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting work on sociology of science, 25 Feb 2002
Two important books on modern biology were published in 2000 by authors outside of the field itself. One of them - Janet Radcliffe Richards' "Human Nature after Darwin" - was "a philosophical introduction". Ullica Segerstrale's "Defenders of the Truth - The Sociobiology Debate", written by a sociologist, has a different, complementary point of view. Both books come up with similar results: the criticism against evolutionary psychology has been seriously misplaced.
Ullica Segerstrale studied organic chemistry and biochemistry before turning to the sociology of science, where she concentrated on the sociobiology controversy. She completed her Ph.D. on the subject in 1983, and the present work seems to be an extended version of that work. It is based not only on published papers and books on the subject, but also on personal interviews and conferences / meetings she has been attending even before the controversy really started with E. O. Wilson's "Sociobiology" (1975). As a consequence, "Defenders of the Truth" is a remarkable history of the field with a lot of insider information. In addition to Wilson, we learn about the views of, e.g., William Hamilton (who started the whole field already in 1964), Richard Dawkins (of the "selfish gene" fame) and John Maynard Smith (who brought game theory to biology). The main characters of the other, critical side are Richard Lewontin, Stephen J. Gould and Steven Rose.
However, Segerstrale is not interested only in history, as she deals also with the motives and philosophies behind the debate. Wilson's ideas form a thread throughout the book, since he has never been shy to reveal his moral agenda (he wants to save the human race!). It is interesting to learn how consistent his philosophy has been even though it has also evolved during the last three decades (up to the recent "Consilience" in 1998). This is an important point to note: there are actually many sociobiologies - most of which are not even called by that name - and, e.g., the "sociobiology" of Dawkins is different from that (those) of Wilson's. Segerstrale tells us that "scientific truths do not spring out of Zeus' head like Pallas Athena; they are the end products of a long collective process...". Trivial perhaps, but still important to remember. Especially the way Wilson tries to draw moral out of biology has been criticized by his colleagues, and also Segarstråle finds problems with it (however, the reasoning behind Wilson's view is explained, and morality and ethics can have many sources; Wilson may not be totally wrong, either). This applies also to the relationship between biology and culture: Wilson's culturgens seem somewhat different from Dawkins' memes (note, however, that Wilson himself considers the modern evolutionary psychology nothing but human sociobiology).
Relating to postmodernism, Segerstrale is critical about the "social constructivists" and "relativists" of her own field: science is "reality-driven" enterprise, not a social construct (this especially when we talk about scientific products, not the process). She argues that the critics of the sociobiology form a transition point between the 1960's "new left" and the present "cultural left" (i.e., postmodernists). The key signature of this is the interest in textual analysis of scientific literature, which created very unpleasant results (read, lies) very early on in the sociobiological debate. Wilson and his colleagues were claimed to be right wing zealots and racists, allegations that Segerstrale shows to be totally misplaced. (Actually, it becomes obvious that many "sociobiologists" have leftist views.) Here she takes sides: although she considers moral / political debate and controversy a healthy phenomenon in science like sociobiology, wrongly placed attacks on individuals are not acceptable. In addition, although Segerstrale tries to understand the motives of the critics, I find it difficult to accept that anybody would be so offended by the use of hypothesis in research; Lewontin's quest for "certain" knowledge seems quite ridiculous.
Many evolutionary psychologists are women. Now we have also somebody from the social sciences defending research that has been (wrongly) portrayed, e.g., as anti-feminist. Segerstrale is making an important contribution to the above mentioned "long collective process" not only by her arguments, but also by being female and sociologist (yes, it is silly that this kind of things matter, but we are all human). I was - as a physicist - very pleased to read a sociological study that really made sense; I hope that people on the other side of the debate could find some value in evolutionary psychology by reading this book (as well as the Radcliffe Richards' one). However, note that one may be more able to appreciate all the details included in the book by reading first some more popular works on the subject (e.g., Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" or Wilson's "Consilience").


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