Bad academic statistics
The article on academic papers makes me wish that fewer, but clearer analyses were published occasionally (“Fewer, but better papers published: survey,” April 14, page 2).
The information presented compares the number of papers published by Taiwanese academics between 2012 and 2016 (138,411, according to the authors of the report) with the number published by the same group between the years 2011 and 2015 (139,408, from the same source). It should be clear that the years 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 are included in both groups.
Anybody with a minimal understanding of statistics should know that the totals are not independent. If they were independent, the difference between them would not be “statistically significant,” meaning that differences in two non-overlapping periods of five years could differ by more than the observed difference, about two times out of 100.
Obviously, the authors of the published analysis had available the number of articles by year (or could have made arrangements at minimal cost), and something more intelligent might have been said from analyzing the trend in those numbers.
What is worse is that the whole discussion pays no attention to the steps that lead to those numbers. One might think of the process as very complex, but we might simplify it at least as follows:
One, authors submit papers to journals.
Two, each journal decides what articles to publish, a process that involves the standards of the journal, as well as the relation between the number of articles submitted and the number of pages the journal needs to fill.
When we consider that simplified process, some considerations that have no place in the oversimplified “things just get published” version come to mind.
The number of papers published by Taiwanese authors might have declined because the authors submitted them to journals of higher standards, but, equally well, they might have declined because more authors from other countries submitted more papers to the journals.
I would not expect the authors of the evaluation to have access to the data required for a conclusive analysis, as journals do not publicize the number of articles submitted by researchers of various countries, but the authors could have come closer to something worthy of attention if they had used the data about the journals in which papers were published and had sought data about the rejection rates of the journals involved, data that journals often do publicize.
That they present data on articles published in two distinguished journals suggests that the first part of the data requirement was available. The second data requirement would not have been a major obstacle.
Moreover, I will note that the report indicates that the majority of papers from Taiwan were on “computer science, engineering, economics and business administration” — fields that are not usually of interest to journals such as Nature and Science.
That suggests that the analysis should be done by field of endeavor, rather than lumping everything together. If it had been done on that kind of a basis it might be possible to infer trends more clearly.
New Taipei City
Bad behavior unpunished
Andres Chang (Letter, March 25, page 6) responded to the implicit racism in Pai Po-hsueh’s letter (Letter, March 18, page 8), in which Hsueh demanded that foreigners behave better. However, what makes Hsueh’s complaint particularly ridiculous is the inconsiderate behavior of a minority of Taiwanese people who misbehave on a daily basis (Letter, Oct. 6, page 8).
Every day, everywhere, Taiwanese people drive dangerously and recklessly — thereby injuring and killing thousands of people annually — and block sidewalks and bicycle paths with their cars and scooters.
Every day, everywhere, people throw their trash onto the streets, forests, ditches, rivers and beaches.
Every day, everywhere, people add to the already bad air pollution by smoking; burning joss paper, incense and firecrackers; and idling scooters, cars and trucks for convenience or no apparent reason at all, often while parking illegally on red lines or blocking sidewalks.
Every day, everywhere, people spit betel nut juice onto the sidewalk and smoke, including in outlawed places such as at bus stops, and then throw their cigarette butts onto the ground.
Here is a favorite example of mine: One year ago, a local school renovated an area behind the school, beautifying it with a pretty new fence, planting flowers and bushes with signs explaining the importance of nature, and cute little benches to sit down and relax.
Within a few weeks, all the bushes were littered with hundreds of disgusting trash items, many of them thrown away by taxi drivers who park illegally next to the little park, idling their cars and smoking cigarettes. Nobody complains, no police intervene, no tickets are given out.
Whenever I visit Japan, I find the contrast to Taiwan staggering — how clean Japan is and how well-behaved the people are. There are no scooters on the sidewalks or trash in the parks, because people have a sense of moral obligation and wrongdoers are punished.
To clarify: As in almost every country, it is a minority of Taiwanese people who behave badly, but the problem in Taiwan is that there seems to be no concerted attempt to reign in this kind of behavior, so it continues with no hope of improvement.
If bad behavior were punished, no matter who committed it — foreigners or Taiwanese — then perhaps Taiwan could become a more pleasant place to live. Alas, I have no hope of that happening any time soon.
Education seems to be in a worldwide crisis, from teacher strikes in the US against inadequate funding to cram schools in Taiwan where students spend their time repeating what they should have learned in day school.
However, we are also seeing some hopeful signs. In the US the activism of students against gun violence after the Parkland, Florida, high-school shootings has been informed and inspiring. So have young people’s worldwide climate change protests.
In Taiwan, as an editorial in the Taipei Times reported in January (“A long road to improving education,” Jan. 24, page 8), the Ministry of Education has announced changes in the teaching of English to “prioritize listening and speaking skills over memorizing vocabulary” to encourage students to “first listen, then speak, then write.”
If changes from force-fed education to a more creative and practical system could be put into practice and spread to other subject areas, hardworking Taiwanese students might be able to devote their school and after-school activities to enriching their lives, rather than to test preparation.
Something important struck me this week as I watched my seven-year-old son at gymnastics practice. He is in the national gymnastics program in Yilan County. He practices 20 hours per week. I have been a keen observer of his practices the past four years. He has had excellent coaching and has won awards in national competitions.
Recently, his coach has had duties at the school where he works that sometimes keep him from the beginning of practice. I have been watching his team of seven and eight-year-olds do their warm-up and begin their practice session on their own. It is very impressive to see these young kids take responsibility for their work and train without adult authority. (Other coaches are present, so it is a safe situation.)
This is an example of good teaching. The gymnastics students have been prepared, encouraged and are motivated to train whether the coach is present or not. They understand what they are there to do and they understand that the reason for training is not the coach watching them or that they have to pass a daily test. The purpose and reason for training is personal to them.
I know this from my son, who has internalized the desire to be his best at what he is doing, but he is not alone. He and the kids on his team are pursuing gymnastics knowledge for the value it has for them individually, not as something imposed by an outside authority. This is the way education should be and what education policy should strive for.
I do not believe in magic, but there is something magical that can happen in education. If one gymnastics coach can make it happen, others can too.
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