All posts by Nicole Jinn

About Nicole Jinn

I am a second-year MA student in the Department of Philosophy at Virginia Tech, concentrating on foundations of Statistics. My MA thesis research motivates closely-related research interests in Statistics education, i.e., the practice of teaching and learning of Statistics. Thus, I am leaning toward pursuing a PhD in Statistics education.

Defining Mindful Learning

During this week’s GEDI seminar, one of the discussions concentrated on the merit of “seven pervasive myths, or mindsets” (Langer 1998, chap. Introduction). One of the seven myths that stood out most to me is:

  1. The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature.

I find this myth very puzzling because the question of what is meant by “the basics” is largely unanswered. For one thing, what is meant by “the basics” cannot be generalized to education as a whole, but instead must be relative to a particular topic or research area. Even within a specific research area (e.g., statistics[1], biology, aerospace engineering, history), there seems to be little to no agreement on what counts as being “basic.” For instance, my thesis research is pertinent to establishing what is basic or fundamental to learning about statistical inference; namely, it argues that how we define the concept of “evidence” affects the formalism[2] a statistician uses to solve a research problem. Thus, the mathematics used in statistics is secondary to learning more basic concepts (e.g., evidence), at least according to my perspective. Whereas statistics has been treated for many years as a mathematical subject, which means the mathematics were what counted as being “the basics.” I would be interested to hear about the progress (or lack thereof) in other research areas concerning what is meant by “the basics.” Moreover, I will end by asking[3] readers the following questions: what counts as being “the basics” in your research area? How well do you think the basics must be grasped before moving on to other topics within your research area?


Langer, Ellen J. 1998. The Power of Mindful Learning. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

“Statistic.” 2013. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Accessed September 2.

[1]broadly defined as the study of the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. This should not be confused with the word statistic, referring to a quantity (such as mean or median) calculated from a set of data (“Statistic” 2013),whose plural is statistics (“this statistic seems wrong” or “these statistics are misleading”).

[3]I encourage posting answers to my questions as comments – I welcome your comments!

One thing that should change in Higher Education

One thing I believe should change about higher education is:

Publishing standards [in humanities and social sciences vs science and engineering]: Students spend months writing massive documents that almost no one will read. Spending the same amount of time producing publications definitely makes more sense, as having publications would make a stronger case for faculty positions, but simultaneously poses problems for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. The lack of publications by students in these areas, along with the lack of joint authorship, raises the question of whether the humanities and social sciences should approach scholarship in a way similar to science and engineering disciplines. As an advocate of integrating the humanities with science and engineering, I encourage more interaction between researchers in both [humanities and social sciences] and [science and engineering], which hopefully can increase joint authorship. With the emergence of Experimental Philosophy as a new research area, I am hoping that collaboration and joint authorship among researchers in various disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, statistics, philosophy) will continue to grow! Such growth could lead to researchers in the humanities and social sciences disseminating their research in a way comparable to the science and engineering disciplines, in terms of graduate students publishing a certain number of articles (usually as second or third author and not first author) per academic year, or presenting at several conferences per calendar year. Any thoughts on the future of Experimental Philosophy, and how it could help (or hinder) changes to make scholarship in humanities and social sciences similar to that of science and engineering?

Open access journals in philosophy

As I searched for open access journals in philosophy, there are several such journals that have opened recently (i.e., within the last five years). The first journal that appeared in a Google search is the Open Journal of Philosophy (OJPP). The publisher is: Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP), an academic publisher of open access journals. According to the ‘Aims & Scope’ tab on the OJPP website, “The goal of this journal is to provide a platform for scientists and academicians all over the world to promote, share, and discuss various new issues and developments in different areas of philosophy.” However, the ‘Article Processing Charges’ tab on the OJPP website, which seems very counterintuitive, is where they give a description of being an open access journal: “At SCIRP, we guarantee that no university library or individual reader will ever have to buy a subscription or pay any pay-per-view fees.” What is more, the fee they charge to authors is ridiculously expensive! For a paper within 10 printed pages, they charge $500, and $50 per additional page after 10 pages! It seems extremely expensive when one takes into account that the humanities and social sciences receive hardly any money compared to the grants provided in science and engineering research. If charging more money to the authors for producing articles is the way open access is heading, then I do not think that open access will be sustainable or successful, unless researchers in humanities and social sciences are given more money. Until that change happens, the open access movement unfortunately seems geared primarily for science and engineering research. What do researchers in the humanities and social sciences make of the open access movement?

MOOCs as experiments

There has been plenty of media coverage on massive open online courses (MOOCs), and the recent article I chose to comment on (Confirming the MOOC Myth) summarizes much the research conducted on MOOCs thus far from various sources. The consensus so far is that MOOCs “have yet to live up to their potential,” if we assume MOOCs to completely transform higher education. But such an assumption is absurd because no one component (e.g., online learning, tuition) can completely transform higher education. All parts need to work together in a way that benefits various types of students. Beyond just listing the pros and cons of MOOCs, the article also hints at the experimental nature of MOOCs: “presenters reminded listeners that their research — and the search for more uses for MOOCs — requires more time.” Framing MOOCs as an experimental endeavor highlights the need for further research on exactly how these courses are impacting (or can impact) the lives of individuals in different age groups. I see this advancement of online learning as a call for more careful examination and comparison of various learning styles at the post-secondary level.

Comments on the relation between STEM and humanities

There has been plenty of media coverage within the last few months on the so-called “STEM crisis”: that too few people study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A decent online introduction to the STEM crisis can be found here. Though, the article I would like to briefly comment on is from Inside Higher Ed titled “False Dichotomy.” With the increased emphasis on the STEM subjects, the humanities and liberal arts are resultantly given less attention. (For convenience[1], I will use humanities and liberal arts interchangeably from this point onward.) Underlying this debate about STEM subjects (versus liberal arts) is the dominant view that the liberal arts and the more technical fields (e.g., engineering) are discordant or incompatible with each other. Devin Hagerty – the author of the article I am commenting on – puts it this way: “As new students arrived on college campuses this fall, the message many of them heard is that majoring in history, or English, or anthropology is a surefire recipe for a life of irrelevance and poor job prospects. These ‘conventional’ disciplines cannot possibly train students for productive, enriching careers in the high-tech information age whose future is now.” In examining the dominant view, a question that arises is: why should money be the main factor in determining what careers are productive or relevant? I will not be able to answer the question, but invite comments on what readers think.

Now for my comments on Hagerty’s take on the separation between STEM subjects and the humanities. First, I especially like how Hagerty frames the debate in terms of the skills gained – whether liberal arts programs or curriculums provide skills that are of “practical value.” This debate, when I interpret it in terms of skills, brings out the relation between ‘natural sciences’[2] and humanities[3] (or “human sciences” (Dilthey 1991)), which is a philosophical issue that definitely has implications for higher education in general. Briefly, I think reading works (mainly by philosophers) on the relation between natural sciences and humanities could get us (re-)thinking what students should learn, and how to effectively teach students to be good learners and problem solvers. Precisely, I approve Wilhelm Dilthey’s “Introduction to the Human Sciences.”[4] Even though approximately two centuries have passed since Dilthey’s writing, much of it still applies today when we (i.e., people involved in higher education) look at the development of certain disciplines from a historical standpoint.

According to Dilthey, “The human sciences have developed from the sphere of practical life itself and have been cultivated through the requirements of professional training [e.g., political science, law]” (1991, vol. 1: Introduction to the Human Sciences, bk. 1 chapter 4). Also, “the system of those human sciences which contain the basis of the professional training for the institutions which guide society – and equally the presentation of this system in encyclopedias – ultimately arose from the need for a summary of what is necessary for such a basic education” (Dilthey 1991, vol. 1: Introduction to the Human Sciences, bk. 1 chapter 4). For instance, among the first applications of statistics was demography, which is typically considered part of sociology. Thus, the humanities or liberal arts have always been considered a key component of “basic education,” and there is no good reason – as far as I can think of – for discarding them from one’s basic education in this generation (and future generations).

Second, Hagerty mentions in passing about the increased attention given to the label “interdisciplinary” (or interdisciplinarity). Specifically, he gives an example of interdisciplinary education being embraced in American institutions: “At the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, students this fall can declare a new major called global studies, which integrates courses in 12 liberal arts departments – including economics, geography and environmental systems, history, media and communication studies, and political science – into a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum.” This example sounds like a commendable attempt at promoting valuable skills that are desirable in any workplace. Besides, I uphold the fact that more and more meaningful problems are becoming global in nature. For this reason, there indeed is a growing need for the ability to appreciate multiple perspectives, and to respect cultural diversity. With this need to account for cultural and political factors, there is greater room for interdisciplinary endeavors; and I am a huge advocate for a balanced, interdisciplinary education that would draw (equally) from both liberal arts and natural sciences. Though, the meaning of the concept “interdisciplinarity” is worth clarifying[5], as the concept rapidly is becoming a buzzword with mixed reactions. Moreover, I will end with the following question[6]: what do readers think either of the proliferation of “interdisciplinarity”, or the relation between natural science and humanities?


Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1991. Wilhelm Dilthey: Selected Works. Edited by Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Translated by Michael Neville. Vol. 1: Introduction to the Human Sciences. 6 vols. Princeton University Press.

[1]I acknowledge that “humanities” and “liberal arts” may not mean the same thing to many people; at the same time, I think they have enough similarities to be regarded as synonymous for the purpose of writing this blog post.

[2]includes physical sciences, life sciences, and mathematical sciences (including statistics) – disciplines that rely primarily on quantitative methods.

[3]academic disciplines that study human culture, using methods that are primarily analytical/critical – distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the sciences.

[4]It is worth noting that Dilthey very likely influenced the naming of the college I am in (i.e., the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences).

[5]not here, but perhaps in my future endeavors.

[6]I welcome your comments, as this blog is intended to be a place for others to think out loud and make sense of debates in higher education.

Effects of the Government Shutdown

[F]urther jeopardizing federal research funding is next Thursday’s deadline for Congress to either raise the nation’s borrowing authority or cause the government to start missing payments on its obligations.

Oh, my! Now I am truly feeling the effects of the government shutdown! In particular, an article from Inside Higher Ed (titled “Moving Beyond Congress”) caught my attention, in terms of discussing the merits of reliance on the federal government versus state governments and businesses for monetary support.

The shutdown seems to affect my future direction in the following nontrivial way: I am applying for a fellowship[1] from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would fund my first three years of doctoral training, starting next year. The shutdown is particularly troubling because NSF funds approximately 20% of all federally supported basic research conducted by the United States’ colleges and universities[2], at least according to Wikipedia. And the NSF is on hiatus until the government shutdown officially ends! Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to think of more suitable sources of funding at the state level for the specific research areas I want to pursue (i.e., mathematics education – categorized[3] under “STEM Education and Learning Research” or statistics[4] – categorized under “Mathematical Sciences”). To clarify, STEM education is broadly defined as “teaching and learning in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” (Gonzalez and Kuenzi 2012, sec. Summary). What is more, the NSF provides financial support for numerous STEM education programs, which the federal government asserts is indeed a high priority!

Sure, state governments and businesses may have large amounts of money to provide; however, STEM education most likely does not align with (aspects of) the core objectives of state businesses. For this reason, I question the advice – for leaders of American research universities – to shift energy “away from lobbying Congress and focus more on partnerships with state governments and businesses” (Stratford 2013). Whether partnerships with state governments and businesses are beneficial would depend on the type of research question being investigated, as some disciplines (e.g., civil engineering, aerospace engineering, agriculture) seem to lend themselves more readily to applications in industry (i.e., outside academia). What do readers think? I would more than welcome your thoughts on this topic, especially as the government shutdown continues.


Gonzalez, Heather B., and Jeffrey J. Kuenzi. 2012. “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: A Primer.” Congressional Research Service. CRS Report for Congress (August 1).

Stratford, Michael. 2013. “Moving Beyond Congress.” Leaders Urge Research Universities to Look Beyond U.S. Government for Support | Inside Higher Ed. October 11.

[1]Namely, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP).


[3]according to the appendix of the 2014 NSF GRFP Program Solicitation (NSF 13-584).

[4]that would focus on research methodologies in education.

Is there a professional code of conduct for philosophy?

Very recently[1], I was asked to find a professional code of conduct or ethics statement for my academic discipline. The academic discipline I am currently in is philosophy. In looking for a professional code of conduct, one of the more trusted sources is the American Philosophical Association (APA). Thus, it seemed most logical to consider the “Statements and Policies” page on the APA website, where there are links to 22[2] distinct statements. Hence, I took some time to examine the Statements and Policies page. However, the Statements and Policies page seems quite disorderly to me in the following ways: (1) there is a large number of disparate statements; (2) the statements themselves vary widely in length (i.e., from one sentence long to several pages long); (3) many of the statements give recommendations or suggestions on what philosophers may do, as opposed to setting rules or clear guidelines on what is ethically (un)acceptable (e.g., sexual harassment, discrimination) for actual practice.

Overall, the APA Statements and Policies page provides plenty of useful information on the importance of studying philosophy well and the nature of philosophical inquiry. However, such information about the nature of studying the discipline itself is not what I think about when exposed to the phrase “professional code of conduct” or “ethics statement.” Instead, what comes to my mind in looking for a professional code of conduct is something similar to a code of conduct for engineers, or a code of ethics for engineering education, or a code of ethics for educational research: a single document that clearly lays out rules of practice, or ethical standards (e.g., plagiarism, avoiding harm), or principles/guidelines that aid in establishing ethical courses of action in different contexts. Moreover, I see such principles or guidelines for philosophical practice – if they exist – as consisting of normative statements of appropriate ethical behavior for philosophers, as well as providing direction on the types of issues that philosophers are likely to encounter in their professional work. After all, I do not think that philosophical research is done in a vacuum (i.e., without interacting with other people), even though philosophers may not necessarily conduct experiments in the same way as researchers in disciplines that emphasize empirical approaches (e.g., science, engineering, business). Besides, I think that a professional code of conduct for philosophy could be used to highlight how similar philosophy is to various disciplines, in terms of ethical standards not being drastically different across disciplines (e.g., honesty, integrity, respect).

Having described what I look for in a professional code of conduct or ethics statement, such a code of conduct does not seem to exist for philosophy. Or, if such a code of conduct exists then it is safe to infer that not all philosophers are aware of its existence. It seems hidden because most participants[3] in my program are not aware of such a code of conduct or ethics statement, whereas graduate students in other disciplines (especially engineering) are exposed to such professional codes of conduct earlier in their training. Nonetheless, I will end by asking[4] other philosophers (or philosophically-minded people) the following questions: do you know of a professional code of conduct or ethics statement for philosophy that meets my expectations (stated in the previous paragraph)? Do you think the existence of a code of conduct is beneficial (or not) for philosophy as a profession?

[1]A week and a half ago to be exact.

[2]Well, I counted there are 22.

[3]both current students and alumni.

[4]I encourage posting answers to my questions as comments.

Office of Research Integrity Case: Karnik, Pratima

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) lists many cases of research misconduct every year. In choosing a case to focus on, I want the case to be very recent. (The shorter time elapsed between the case update and my comments permits my remarks to (potentially) be that much more proactive!) Thus, the case I will be commenting on was last updated on August 8, 2013: “Dr. Pratima Karnik, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), engaged in research misconduct in research submitted to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), in grant application R01 AR062378.”

In this case, Dr. Karnik plagiarized in two major instances: the first one was for her NIH grant application; the second one was for her research. In her grant application, she inserted text from a NIAMS grant application that she reviewed. The second instance is slightly more complicated; specifically, she plagiarized “significant portions of text”[1] from a list of eight articles (listed in the case summary) into her own research reports! She also plagiarized from “one U.S. patent application available on the internet”[2].

For all this plagiarism, Dr. Karnik’s research is scrutinized for only two years! That is quite a short time, in my opinion, considering all the plagiarism she has done. Nevertheless, the “Voluntary Settlement Agreement” that she settled on for two years is much closer to how research ought to be performed. There are three parts to the Voluntary Settlement Agreement: (1) A plan for supervision of Dr. Karnik’s duties must be submitted to ORI for approval; (2) Any institution employing Dr. Karnik must submit a certification to ORI – with each application for funding from U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), or with each report involving PHS-supported research – that the content (of applications or report) is free of plagiarized material; and (3) Dr. Karnik must exclude herself voluntarily form serving in any advisory capacity to the PHS.

Out of the three parts, the one that stood out most to me was part (2). In addition to not allowing plagiarism, the certification(s) that each institution employing Dr. Karnik will submit for the next two years must affirm that data she provides is derived from a legitimate source (e.g., actual experiments), and that she accurately reports the “data, procedures, and methodology” sections in her application (e.g., to PHS for funding) or research reports based on PHS-supported research. For this reason, the more institutions Dr. Karnik is affiliated with, the more cumbersome[3] this process of obtaining such certification(s) will be! These requirements (i.e., of accurate reporting in Dr. Karnik’s manuscripts and obtaining data from a legitimate source) highlight that there is an ethical component to doing empirical research that cannot be overlooked. After all, it is very important to have the ability to effectively communicate and present one’s research to audiences outside of the investigator’s research field (e.g., Dermatology in Dr. Karnik’s case). And presenting empirical research[4] well to people outside of one’s specialization often comes with being prepared to answer questions about the data collection, as well as being able to provide lucid explanations of which methodology is used and why that methodology is (or was) chosen for the particular inquiry at hand.

[1]This phrase is subject to equivocation, and raises the question of how much text is “a significant portion”? Though, it is never acceptable to copy text verbatim without citing the original source.

[2]The Internet is never a safe place to store things, and should be treated with more care!

[3]notably with the increasing numbers of non-tenure-track or affiliated faculty.

[4]especially in cases where the research area makes some use of statistical methods!

Data-based decisions in Higher Education

The question posed in this article is:

how is it possible to simultaneously base decisions on data and innovate?

Succinctly, the author believes that data-based decisions and innovation are theoretically opposed[1] but not opposed in practice. Behind this question is a strong assumption and a habit that Matt Reed had to apparently “unlearn”[2]: that we must look for the unassailable position – things must be certain or determinate. As Reed puts it, “Grad school teaches … that if you meet a theory on the road, you try to kill it. The idea is to spot flawed arguments, so you can build strong ones.” Of course, I do not dispute that a prominent goal in various research areas (including Administration in Higher Education) is to build strong arguments, yet I have not encountered any (meaningful) arguments that are utterly irrefutable. I am not sure what exactly Reed studied while he was in graduate school, but I do not know of any disciplines that insist on arguments being absolutely irrefutable or certain.

On the other hand, it is fairly uncontroversial that some disciplines make use of statistical concepts (e.g., variability, uncertainty, sampling, model) in one way or another! I have seen a variety of mathematical and statistical models applied to an assortment of research spanning from biology to engineering to social sciences. Administration (i.e., Matt Reed’s current area of focus) is no different[3] in that it, too, uses statistical concepts. After all, it is widely accepted that the common role of statistical methods used across various academic disciplines is to give a framework for learning accurate information about the world with limited data. The pervasiveness of researchers accepting uncertainty in their models implies the extensive usage of statistical methods, and that scientific reasoning can never be entirely certain.

Another thing that stood out to me is how early the author acknowledged that there is a philosophical issue around causality – that is something I find pleasant. Though, what startled me just as much as this early acknowledgement is the lack of attention and detail Reed gives to explicating the philosophical issue(s) pertinent to causality. (In fact, causal inference is a topic quite heavily discussed both in statistics and philosophy of science.) Reed even admits that “the problem of inference and causality is real” (emphasis mine) in administration but says very little about it and how that affects research in administration. He also states, “When something new comes along, it’s easy to object that the idea is ‘unproven.’” But I find this statement to be unqualified because there could be evidence for a new idea, especially with the large amount of data available in the Internet. Hence, it is not necessarily a question of whether there is evidence or not – rather, it is more about how one uses the available evidence, as well as the nontrivial[4] process of evaluating how strong (or weak) the evidence is for the research question at hand.


Mayo, Deborah G., and David R. Cox. 2010. “Frequentist Statistics as a Theory of Inductive Inference.” In Error and Inference: Recent Exchanges on Experimental Reasoning, Reliability, and the Objectivity and Rationality of Science, edited by Deborah G. Mayo and Aris Spanos, 247–274. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1]I do not find the conflict obvious – how exactly are data-based decisions and innovation opposed? Matt Reed unfortunately does not go into more detail, and takes it for granted. However, I think that insight from an experiment (i.e., a data-based decision) can be a starting point for innovation.

[2]The fact that Reed had to unlearn such a habit surprised me greatly, as reasoning in a probabilistic manner is second nature to me, especially with my copious training in probability theory and statistics.

[3]Some disciplines rely more heavily on statistical methods; others make less direct use of statistical concepts – the reliance on statistical methods may not be equal, but is still existent in various research areas!

[4]My current research advocates a methodology (described in (Mayo and Cox 2010)) that provides a systematic way to evaluate how strong the evidence is for a particular (statistical) hypothesis.

Inside Higher Ed: Making Sense of the Higher Ed Debate

Today, higher education is under scrutiny to explain what it does and why, while reformers from the White House to Wall Street are eager to provide alternatives.

What Johann Neem calls “the Higher Ed Debate” in this very recent article is a verbose way of stating the perhaps unsurprising fact that disagreements continue to exist – and do not disappear easily – between (1) the Obama administration, (2) higher education administrators and policy makers, and (3) faculty members in universities/colleges. Plainly put, such disagreements between the 3 groups arise from different assumptions each group has about the nature and purpose of higher education in America. More than mere disagreements, however, is the deplorable fact that members of each group do (or may) not sufficiently understand the perspectives other than the one their own group holds to, or even not have a good grasp of the perspective their own group adheres to.

Yesterday’s article on “Understanding the different perspectives in the higher ed debate” from Inside Higher Ed (titled Making Sense of the Higher Ed Debate) seized my attention because of the illuminating way Johann Neem framed the Higher Ed Debate, in terms of 3 schools of thought (or “languages” as Neem calls them) that the groups (listed above) are thought to represent respectively: Pragmatism, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics. As a philosophy major at the Master’s level, I think this way of framing the Higher Ed Debate rightfully brings out the importance of learning and practicing philosophy! My philosophical training thus far has taught me to be open-minded, to learn about various perspectives before taking on a specific one, as well as how to provide arguments for or against a specific perspective. Thus, grasping the 3 schools of thought (mentioned previously) and how they relate to each other in the context of higher education will undoubtedly help everyone who is in the debate to fathom this momentous[1] debate in higher education.

However, what stood out to me was the expositions of Pragmatism, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics, which I found to be far too simplified, especially when Neem associates each “language” with only one philosopher: John Dewey for the Pragmatists, Jeremy Bentham for the Utilitarians, and Aristotle for the Virtue Ethicists. Though, it is fairly uncontroversial that these 3 particular philosophers were highly influential to the corresponding school of thought. To clarify, I do not claim to be an expert in any of these 3 schools of thought, but the little exposure I have had to all 3 perspectives (in separate courses, of course) is more than enough to recognize and appreciate the danger of associating each perspective with only one philosopher. At this point, I encourage and invite comments from philosophers, or other philosophically-minded individuals, on Neem’s description of Pragmatism, Utilitarianism, or Virtue Ethics (or all 3). Do you think that these 3 schools of thought accurately capture how people are thinking about the nature and purpose of higher education in America?

[1]I would also welcome comments about the importance (or lack thereof) of this debate.