Foundation for Educational Thought Experiment Research (FETER)

I have just have an amazing idea that I reckon will help a lot of folks out.

At present, if you wish to promote a faddish teaching method then you have one of two options:

  1. Just tough it out. Make lots of colourful diagrams, generously lace your presentations with jargon and simply ignore the fact that there is no evidence to support your position.
  2. Conduct a badly controlled experiment. Vary more than one factor at a time in such a way that you can imply that the experiment shows evidence for one factor – the method you wish to promote – even though any difference between experimental and control groups is likely to be due to one of the other factors. Of course, you could just not have a control group.

However, it strikes me that there is a highly attractive alternative; the use of thought experiments. Thought experiments are potentially limitless; you can run them as many times as you want in order to generate whatever statistical power you wish. This means that you will no longer have to rely on using tortured relativist logic to try to explain why quantitative studies are for losers.

Moreover, thought experiments are unconstrained by the capriciousness of reality. Once you have decided what you want a thought experiment to demonstrate then it’s just a simple case of making-up some sort of description of it and a set of results. We could even farm this out to the internet. The Foundation could harness the disruptive technology of distributed collaboration. Busy consultants can offer up a research question to the network and a host of cognitive empiricists could set to work pretty much straight away.

Anyone interested?

[Post inspired by @sblakey]

effect of thing


2 thoughts on “Foundation for Educational Thought Experiment Research (FETER)

  1. Stan says:

    A couple of additional points to the axiom of Thought Experiment as Proof Idea (TEPId).

    It is an axiom as that works better than a proof which would need its own proof.

    There is the Lemma of argument Nul-populum applied to TEPId

    Einstein used thought experiments.
    Lots of people did not at first accept his ideas.
    The more people object to my ideas the more they are on par with Einstein’s.

    And the Corollary of Argument by lack of imagination

    I can’t (or won’t) imagine X is true.
    So I cannot conceive of a thought experiment to prove X.
    So X is not true. QED.


  2. Stan says:

    An important caveat: the ideas behind FETER are only useful as satire and should never be applied where anything matters.

    A tragic example is available from Radio Canada.

    The story of lumpectomies. In summary, initially the only treatment after a positive biopsy was a radical mastectomy. It was only after years of advocacy and evidence from cases where a mastectomy was not possible that the practice began to change. It was thought by many experts that the simpler less risky procedure of a lumpectomy could not possibly be a viable alternative.
    Of course the story is complicated – without evidence it is taking a big risk to try a different treatment. But the story is of a lack of interest in collecting and examining evidence and then acting on it. If people making life and death decisions can fall into that trap we better all watch our own blinkers that don’t let us see beyond what we are sure is true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.