More Luddite FUD about kids and computers

Paul Raven @ 24-05-2011

I was thinking it had been a while since we had one of these. Via FuturePundit, O NOEZ TEH TECHNOLOGIES BE MAKIN KIDS SUCK AT TEH REEDIN:

“Our study shows that the entry of computers into the home has contributed to changing children’s habits in such a manner that their reading does not develop to the same extent as previously. By comparing countries over time we can see a negative correlation between change in reading achievement and change in spare time computer habits which indicates that reading ability falls as leisure use of computers increases”, says Monica Rosén.

OK, I’ll see your study and raise you with this one:

The e-Learning Foundation says that children without access to a computer in the evening are being increasingly disadvantaged in the classroom. Research suggests that 1.2 million teenagers log on to revision pages every week and those using online resources were on average likely to attain a grade higher in exams.

The charity cites BBC research in which more than 100 students used the BBC Bitesize revision materials before their GCSE examination. The children were found to have achieved a grade lift compared to those who did not use the online revision guides. The BBC study says: “This is compared to factors such as teacher influence, which was found to produce no significant difference.”

Which is right? I have no idea. The point is that if you send social scientists looking for evidence to support a pretty nebulous and hard-to-quantify phenomenon, they’ll probably rustle some up. Seek and you shall find… or, I dunno, spend that research money on looking into ways that we can use technology more effectively? How’s about it, huh?

Computers and the internet are here to stay. The way kids learn and interact with the world has changed hugely in last 100 years, and will keep changing, as it always has since the day some smart hunter/gatherer created the first baby sling. If all you’re gonna do is sit on your porch and kvetch about the good old days, you might as well let the kids get some enjoyment out of running around on the lawn.


The need to breed: reproductive licensing

Paul Raven @ 15-10-2010

Kyle Munkittrick’s at it again over at Discover‘s Science Not Fiction blog, this time raising an ethical question that has intrigued me ever since I encountered it in an assortment of science fiction stories and novels as a teenager: should the right to reproduce be subject to licensing*?

Cue knee-jerk horror and accusations of fascism-by-the-back-door… but Munkittrick makes some points worth considering. First of all, we already have a limited form of licensing with respect to child-rearing: adoption.

If you can have children naturally, you’re free to have as many as you want and basically do what you want with them. The only exceptions are parents so horrible that the state steps in and takes them away. If you can’t or don’t want to have children naturally, then not only do you have to go through the difficult and complex processes of adoption and/or ARTs, you have to be approved to do so. It’s double-damage on the equality front. Our society, it would seem, unconsciously believes “If you’re naturally able to have kids, then it’s OK for you to have kids. But if you aren’t able to naturally have kids, there might be something else wrong with you, and you should be investigated.” That kind of mindset is wrong – your ability to have kids is not an indicator your ability to take care of them.

He goes on to point out that all that’s realistically needed is a test of basic competence, just like you take to get a driving license:

Just as it is reasonable to have a person in charge of a car take a class and a few tests to make sure they’re capable, it is reasonable to have a person who will be in charge of a new life take a few tests to make sure they’re capable. You didn’t have to be Dale Earnhart, Jr. to get your drivers license; you won’t have to be Ward Cleaver to get your parenting license. You had to be able to merge into traffic, parallel park, and negotiate a four way stop; by the same logic, every child deserves a minimally competent parent.

The main problem that I can see is that by setting up a framework intended to screen only for basic competence, you’re leaving a legacy system to the politicians of the future which could be tweaked and adjusted for more fascistic ideological purposes. Not to mention the fact that any bureaucratic system of the complexity required to license parenting in a country the size of the UK would inevitably be highly susceptible to gaming, fraud and bribery…

Ultimately I’m somewhat hesitant to pick sides on this particular issue, despite what seems to me the very logical appeal of the idea; this is because I have no intention of ever having children, and as such I can’t fully understand the incredibly powerful emotional responses that parenthood – and, in some sad cases, the inability to achieve parenthood – engenders in people. How can I deny someone else the right to do something that I’ve never wanted to do?

That said, the logic seems fairly clear to me: surely the worst thing that we could do to any child is allow it to be raised by parents either unwilling or incapable of caring for it properly? As Munkittrick points out, almost anyone can conceive a child, but evidence suggests that not everyone can raise one. So whose rights must take primacy – the right of every human being to reproduce if they’re able and willing, or the right of every child to be raised responsibly? Given that the child doesn’t get a choice about whether it gets born or not, I see it as being the underdog in the equation, and hence more deserving of protection.

Where do you folk stand on this one? Particularly interested in input from parents, would-be or actual.

[ * I feel Julian May’s Galactic Milieu books dealt rather well with this issue, in that she was careful to simply portray such a system in action, warts and all, good and bad, without passing any authorial judgement on its ethical validity. Recommendations of other stories or novels that deal with similar subjects would be most welcome! ]


Are “designer baby” fears actually prolonging children’s suffering?

Paul Raven @ 23-03-2009

baby feetMedia hysteria about “designer babies” maintains ethical pressure on IVF genetic screening techniques and keeps them from becoming more widely used. Michael Le Page at New Scientist suggests IVF-PGD should in fact be mandatory, comparing a refusal to use the technique to the actions of parents who refuse medical treatment for their child on religious grounds:

We now have the ability to ensure that children are born free of any one of hundreds of serious genetic disorders, from cystic fibrosis to early-onset cancers. But children continue to be born with these diseases.

All would-be parents should be offered screening to alert them to any genetic disorders they risk passing on to their children. Those at risk should then be offered IVF with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (IVF-PGD) to ensure any children are healthy.

Why isn’t it happening? Because most people still regard attempts to influence which genes our children inherit as taboo.

He goes on to point out that IVF-PGD can’t be used for ‘designing’ a child, and takes the view that if every life is a gamble, screening for inheritable diseases is a way of stacking the deck in your favour… and in the child’s.

Of course, that view is contrary to the “pro-life” philosophy, but even someone more moderate than that might see Le Page’s approach as callous. And there’s the argument that it’s immoral to attempt to eradicate disability entirely; remember the deaf couples who use genetic screening to select in favour of a child with deafness? [image by lepiaf.geo]

What do you think – should we use science to engineer away our physical defects before they happen, or to make life as comfortable as possible for those afflicted with them?


Genetically selected babies

Tom Marcinko @ 17-03-2009

dna-manA first for Spain. An earlier version of the story was calling it the first ever, but that can’t be true, can it?

The mother of a child whose life has been saved thanks to the stem cells from the birth of his brother, who was genetically modified to serve such a purpose, has said ‘Andrés is happy.’ The 7 year old boy has now overcome a severe hereditary congenital anaemia, thanks to the blood from Javier Mariscal, his newly born brother.

snip

The couple explained that they had decided not to have another child with the problem, but when the possibility of the Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis arose, they had no doubts, especially as they really wanted another child. Now Andrés will [presumably] have a normal life, instead of living just 35 years, the average for someone with what is now his previous condition.

Wishing the family well, and not wanting to be a Luddite, but readers can probably recite the ethical concerns for themselves.

[DNA Man: tom.arthur]


O NOES teh webz iz infantilizin yr brainz (yes, again)

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2009

A bearded man infantilizing himself yesterdayIf you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard of Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution. But Lady Greenfield knows all about you, and how your use of social networking sites and computer games is contributing to the ongoing infantilization of the 21st Century psyche:

Arguing that social network sites are putting attention span in jeopardy, she said: “If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder.

“It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

[Emphasis mine – try playing the same game with the whole of Lady Greenfield’s output, kids! Should keep your attention for twenty seconds at least.]

Will no one think of the children? God only knows that when a generation grows up with things that its elders didn’t have, the fate of the human race is bound to take a turn for the worse. Just look at the pernicious long-term effects of the printing press, the germ theory of medicine, radio and popular music, and (of course) television… [image by jmr_photo]

It’s unfortunate that we’re so hard-wired for fearing change – no new technology has managed to erase that little character trait yet, it seems. As always, the TechDirt boys do a great job of shredding this week’s sensationalist backlash against Twitter:

It’s pretty clear that none of these folks have ever really used Twitter — because they all seem to interpret it as being a broadcast mechanism, rather than a conversational one. This isn’t to say that Twitter is right for everyone, but most of the people who find value in it, find value in the conversational aspect of it, not that it “broadcasts” mundane facts of their lives. […] There are still plenty of people who hate Twitter, but it’s difficult to take seriously people complaining about it when it seems quite clear they’ve never even bothered to use it.

Quite – now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to post a few naked pictures of myself to Lady Greenfield’s MySpace page. LOLZ


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