Dec. 15th, 2010

liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
I've been following the protests over the tuition fees issue, but not really participating. I'm not a protesting on the streets sort of person, and my institution seems to be relatively apolitical. Certainly the medical students can't really think of jeopardizing their careers through unauthorized absences and potentially getting into trouble with the police. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the students' cause, police behaviour has unquestionably been deplorable. I'd have thought that the one thing a Liberal-Conservative coalition could agree on was that people have the right to express their opinions through demonstrations and protests. Apparently, though, we're going to get all the disadvantages of a right-leaning government but none of the benefits.

damned right I'm angry )

On a related matter, I'm a bit peeved at people uncritically repeating and re-tweeting that stupid article about Oxford's admissions policy. Some guy cherry-picked statistics to create some eye-catching headlines suggesting that Oxford is reluctant to accept Black candidates, and made a big fuss about how much effort it was to find out the detailed breakdown of the data via Freedom of Information requests, when in fact most of the ethnicity data is publicly available on university websites, and he just wanted something more fine-grained. Besides which, separating out different ethnic groups who all happen to have black skin is a valid exercise; clearly actual Africans, African-Americans, and people who live in Britain but ancestrally hail from Africa recently, or the Caribbean a generation ago, are different groups of people with different experiences. Conflating specific data about Black British people of Afro-Caribbean origin with data about Black applicants in general is bordering on deceitful.

I'm not at all claiming that Oxford totally doesn't have a problem with racism! There may well be racism. But making a big fuss about statistical noise fluctuations in tiny numbers of applicants isn't at all the way to address this. Part of the problem, of course, is the numbers of students from particular ethnic groups who get the kind of school education that makes applying to Oxbridge feasible. There is very likely racism involved in that situation, but it's not the fault of any university or college. But even if you're trying to deal with actual racism on the part of Oxbridge colleges, this approach is IMO counterproductive. Repeating alarmist articles all over the place simply discourages ethnically disadvantaged students from applying in the first place. It's like stereotype threat, only more extreme, and I think it's highly irresponsible to spread that kind of misinformation.

I'm reminded of a case when I was at college: there was a whole big fuss about some kid who was rejected from Magdalen college even though she had four As at A Level, and her headmaster went to the press claiming that she had been discriminated against because she attended a state school. He ignored the fact that all the candidates for medicine at Magdalen had straight As at A Level, not to mention that the girl hadn't made up her mind whether she wanted to read medicine or biochemistry. All this achieved was a marked dip in applications from state school pupils the following year; so much for all those righteous crusaders up in arms about Oxford's biased admissions policy! Innuendo sticks; people remember the shock horror story of bias, not the careful debunkings that follow. Simply repeating this kind of stuff for the pleasure of outrage does far more harm than good.

I've probably offended everyone by now. Oh well, that's my political rant for the week.

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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