Category Archives: Myths

An antidote to a paper warning you for wifi (and other examples of junk science)

I really like science, I like the self-correcting part of science even more.

Check this paper that was published by Sage and Burgio earlier this year:

Mobile phones and other wireless devices that produce electromagnetic fields (EMF) and pulsed radiofrequency radiation (RFR) are widely documented to cause potentially harmful health impacts that can be detrimental to young people. New epigenetic studies are profiled in this review to account for some neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral changes due to exposure to wireless technologies. Symptoms of retarded memory, learning, cognition, attention, and behavioral problems have been reported in numerous studies and are similarly manifested in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, as a result of EMF and RFR exposures where both epigenetic drivers and genetic (DNA) damage are likely contributors. Technology benefits can be realized by adopting wired devices for education to avoid health risk and promote academic achievement.

Sounds pretty alarming, no? Should we worry? Well, no.

The respected journal Child Development recently published a commentary that attributed a number of negative health consequences to RF radiation, from cancer to infertility and even autism (Sage Burgio, 2017). It is our view that this piece has potential to cause serious harm and should never have been published. But how do we justify such damning verdict? In considering our responses, we
realized that this case raised more general issues about distinguishing scientically valid from invalid views when evaluating environmental impacts on physical and psychological health, and we offer here some more general guidelines for editors and reviewers who may be confronted with similar issues. As shown in Table 1, we identify seven questions that can be asked about causal claims, using the Sage and Burgio (2017) article to illustrate these.
That’s right David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop took a closer look to the alarming article, and well…

Abstract of the paper by David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop that can be downloaded here:

Exposure to nonionizing radiation used in wireless communication remains a contentious topic in the public mindwhile the overwhelming scientic evidence to date suggests that microwave and radio frequencies used in modern communications are safe, public apprehension remains considerable. A recent article in Child Development has caused concern by alleging a causative connection between nonionizing radiation and a host of conditions, including autism and cancer. This commentary outlines why these claims are devoid of merit, and why they should not have been given a scientic veneer of legitimacy. The commentary also outlines some hallmarks of potentially dubious science, with the hope that authors, reviewers, and editors might be better able to avoid suspect scientic claims.

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Filed under At home, Myths, Research, Review, Technology

Why I am a bit annoyed with the mixed messages by Howard Gardner

Last week I received a complaint that I was too kind for Howard Gardner as we didn’t call his multiple intelligences theory a myth. The reason why we used the label ‘nuanced’ is because the basis philosophy that people differ can’t be labeled as wrong. Still we gave a lot of reasons why one should be cautious about this very popular theory. And lately Gardner himself outed the theory as being outdated and ill-researched.

But this paragraph tweeted by Stuart Ritchie is making me grinch:

This quote is coming from this video:

Now, the video is older than the own-debunking I mentioned before on this blog, but Casper made a good comment on Twitter about the mixed message Gardner is giving:

So: Gardner says his theory isn’t supported at all, he even acknowledges that the theories he opposes to do have scientific evidence supporting their theory, but he still defends his own theory because of it’s usefulness. Btw, this is one of the most common replies to any of the myths Paul, Casper and myself have tackled: “hey, I know it’s rubbish, but I think it is useful.”

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The present generation students is… slightly less narcissistic

Remember this magazine cover?

Looks pretty similar to this cover from 1976:

Or this one from 1985?

Or do you remember this picture?

Yeah, I debunked this story already here but these pictures suit the image of the egocentric, smartphone obsesses youth, and for sure this selfie-taking generation will be more narcissistic for sure? Well… no.

We already knew from 2012 research by Twenge et al that the narcissistic turn actually could have happened in the eighties, but now there is a new study by Wetzel et al stating that the present group of students… is probably less narcissistic than generations before them and there never has been a epidemic of narcissism at all, as this conclusion sums it up:

In contrast to popular opinion, our findings did not show that today’s college students are more narcissistic than college students in the 1990s or the 2000s, at least in the three universities examined in the present study. In fact, we found small decreases both in overall narcissism and in its leadership, vanity, and entitlement facets. Importantly, these decreases already started between the 1990s and the 2000s and continued more strongly in the late 2000s and 2010s. Our study suggests that today’s college students are less narcissistic than their predecessors and that there may never have been an epidemic of narcissism.

Abstract of the study:

Are recent cohorts of college students more narcissistic than their predecessors? To address debates about the so-called “narcissism epidemic,” we used data from three cohorts of students (1990s: N = 1,166; 2000s: N = 33,647; 2010s: N = 25,412) to test whether narcissism levels (overall and specific facets) have increased across generations. We also tested whether our measure, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), showed measurement equivalence across the three cohorts, a critical analysis that had been overlooked in prior research. We found that several NPI items were not equivalent across cohorts. Models accounting for nonequivalence of these items indicated a small decline in overall narcissism levels from the 1990s to the 2010s (d = −0.27). At the facet level, leadership (d = −0.20), vanity (d = −0.16), and entitlement (d = −0.28) all showed decreases. Our results contradict the claim that recent cohorts of college students are more narcissistic than earlier generations of college students.

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Filed under At home, At work, Education, Myths, Research, Youngsters

Sometimes you’d better don’t believe the press release

I read a lot of different studies and press releases about studies and some end up on this blog. Yesterday I read one press release and when I than read the actual study, I ended up not writing a blog post but tweeting this:

Sadly enough other people did go with the hurray-feel of the press release, as you can take from the title of this NPR-post.

I received these 2 great replies:

But if you want to check for yourself, here you can find the press release and here you can find the actual study.

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Filed under Education, Media literacy, Myths, Research, Review

Very interesting presentation by Christian Bokhove: This is the new m*th! #rED17

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Presentation: Urban Myths about Learning and Technology (at #rED17)

This is the presentation I gave at the National ResearchED conference, September 9 2017. The presentation is in part based on our book Urban Myths about Learning and Education and in part based on the recent article I co-wrote with Paul Kirschner published in Teaching and Teacher Education (yes the one that was mentioned in Nature).

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Filed under Book, Education, Myths, On the road, Research, Review, Technology

A short piece on mythbusting and possible misuse

Lately I’ve seen how mythbusting can be used as a tool to push your own opinion. I don’t like this, so let’s call it a myth. As co-author of a book in which Paul, Casper and myself try to debunk edumyths, I want to explain how we tried not to make this mistake.

First of all we use 3 categories to discuss the different items in our book:

  1. Myth
    The statement is untrue or almost completely untrue or there is no proof.
  2. Nuanced
    The theme is still a subject of discussion and science has not yet provided conclusive evidence.
  3. Unproven
    We and we emphasize “we” found no scientific evidence during the writing of this book

A second thing we did is that we checked each others texts for possible biases. The three of us have opinions of our own, but our book is not about us. E.g. we have a famous scientist in our team who co-wrote a very important article about discovery learning. Still, we labelled it nuanced as this is still a discussion in educational sciences.

To me this is very important. Some of the myths we debunked actually did hurt for myself, but Urban Myths is not about me or us.

At first I didn’t want to write this post, because I know Christian Bokhove will discuss this also at length in his ResearchED-talk next week. Still I did because I saw the mythbusting-technique being used once to often to try to convince other people of their own idea. I do recommend you attend ResearchED and more specific Christian’s talk.

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On gender and math: there are more gender similarities than there are gender differences

Good little video (H/T Paul Kirschner) on something we also discuss in our book:

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What a week: our paper in Nature and Discover Magazine

The past week I spent in Potomac for the very first CTTL-academy with a lot of great teachers, principals and other fantastic people such as Dan Willingham, Vanessa Rodriguez, David Weston, Ian Kelleher, Lauren, Glenn and the infamous many more. But the biggest surprise came while I was waiting for my flight back home. Suddenly my notifications-feed went nuts.

Last month Teaching and Teacher Education published an article about the Digital Native myth – and multitasking too – by Paul Kirschner and myself. Our paper now made it… to an editorial in Nature!

And as it often goes: one thing lead to another, so now it has also resulted in a post on Discover Magazine.

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Filed under Education, Myths

Again: brain training has little to no effect

Yesterday I repeated this at the CTTL academy and this new study confirms it – again: brain training has no effect on decision-making or cognitive function. This is a great study, although I have to agree with Neuroskeptic that the amount of participants is a bit low.

From the press release:

During the last decade, commercial brain-training programs have risen in popularity, offering people the hope of improving their cognitive abilities through the routine performance of various “brain games” that tap cognitive functions such as memory, attention and cognitive flexibility.

But a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania found that, not only did commercial brain training with Lumosity™ have no effect on decision-making, it also had no effect on cognitive function beyond practice effects on the training tasks.

The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Seeking evidence for an intervention that could reduce the likelihood that people will engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or overeating, a team of researchers at Penn, co-led by Joseph Kable, PhD, the Baird Term associate professor in the department of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences, and Caryn Lerman, PhD, the vice dean for Strategic Initiatives and the John H. Glick professor in Cancer Research in the Perelman School of Medicine, examined whether, through the claimed beneficial effect on cognitive function, commercial brain training regimes could reduce individuals’ propensity to make risky or impulsive choices.

Lerman’s prior work had shown that engagement of brain circuits involved in self-control predicts whether people can refrain from smoking. This work provided the foundation for examining whether modulating these circuits through brain training could lead to behavior change.

“Our motivation,” Kable said, “was that there are enough hints in the literature that cognitive training deserved a real, rigorous, full-scale test. Especially given the addiction angle, we’re looking for things that will help people make the changes in their lives that they want to make, one of which is being more future-oriented.”

The researchers knew that people with stronger cognitive abilities tend to make less impulsive decisions on the kinds of tasks that Kable studies, which involve giving people choices between immediate smaller rewards and delayed larger rewards. They also knew that this behavior is likely mediated by a set of brain structures in the dorsolateral prefrontal area of the brain that have been associated with performance on the executive function tasks like the ones in the Lumosity™ battery.

“The logic would be that if you can train cognitive abilities and change activity in these brain structures,” Kable said, “then that may change your likelihood of impulsive behavior.”

The researchers recruited two groups, each with 64 healthy young adults. One group was asked to follow the Lumosity™ regimen, performing the executive function games for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for 10 weeks. The other group followed the same schedule but played online video games instead. Both groups were told that the study was investigating whether playing online video games improves cognition and changes one’s decision-making.

The researchers had two assessments of decision-making that participants completed before and after the training regimen. To assess impulsive decision-making, the participants were asked to choose between smaller rewards now and larger rewards later. To assess risky decision-making, they were asked to choose between larger rewards at a lower probability versus smaller rewards at a higher probability.

The researchers found that the training didn’t induce any changes in brain activity or decision-making during these tasks.

The participants were also asked to complete a series of cognitive tests that were not part of the training to see if the program had any effect on their general cognitive abilities. While both groups showed improvement, the researchers found that commercial brain training didn’t lead to any more improvement than online video games. Furthermore, when they asked a no-contact group, which didn’t complete commercial brain training or video games, to complete the tests, the researchers found that the participants showed the same level of improvement as the first two groups, indicating that neither brain training nor online video games led to cognitive improvements beyond likely practice effects.

Although the cognitive training by itself did not produce the desired benefits, initial findings from Lerman’s laboratory show that combining cognitive exercises with non-invasive brain stimulation enhances self-control over smoking behavior. This group is now conducting clinical trials to learn whether this combination approach can alter other risky behaviors such as unhealthy eating or improve attention and impulse control in persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Habitual behaviors such as tobacco use and overeating,” said Mary Falcone, a senior research investigator at Penn and coauthor on the study, “contribute to preventable deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other public health problems.”

Lerman said, “As currently available behavioral and medical treatments for these habitual behaviors are ineffective for most people, there is a critical need to develop innovative approaches to behavior change. Changing the brain to change behavior is the approach that we are taking.”

Kable hopes to use some of the data collected in this study to better understand both within-person differences in decision-making over time, why one person might be more patient at some times and more impulsive at others, and across-person differences, why some people tend to take the immediate reward and others tend to take the delayed reward.

If they can better understand the neural basis for those differences, Kable said, it might provide some clues about what kinds of cognitive or neural interventions would be useful to try to intervene and push people to be less or more impulsive.

Although, in this study, the researchers found that commercial cognitive training alone would not have an influence on one’s decision-making process or cognitive abilities, they believe that it was still an avenue worthy of rigorous investigation.

“I think we’d all like to have better cognitive abilities,” Kable said. “And we all see ways in which the vagaries of where we grew up and what school we went to and who our parents were had these effects on learning at an early age. The notion that you could do something now that would remediate it was very exciting. I think it was just an idea that really needed to be tested.”

Abstract of the study:

Increased preference for immediate over delayed and for risky over certain rewards has been associated with unhealthy behavioral choices. Motivated by evidence that enhanced cognitive control can shift choice behavior away from immediate and risky rewards, we tested whether training executive cognitive function could influence choice behavior and brain responses. In this randomized controlled trial, 128 young adults (71 male, 57 female) participated in 10 weeks of training with either a commercial web-based cognitive training program or web-based video games that do not specifically target executive function or adapt the level of difficulty throughout training. Pre- and post-training, participants completed cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of validated decision-making tasks: delay discounting (choices between smaller rewards now vs. larger rewards in the future) and risk sensitivity (choices between larger riskier rewards vs. smaller certain rewards). Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no evidence that cognitive training influences neural activity during decision-making, nor did we find effects of cognitive training on measures of delay discounting or risk sensitivity. Participants in the commercial training condition improved with practice on the specific tasks they performed during training, but participants in both conditions showed similar improvement on standardized cognitive measures over time. Moreover, the degree of improvement was comparable to that observed in individuals who were reassessed without any training whatsoever. Commercial adaptive cognitive training appears to have no benefits in healthy young adults above those of standard video games for measures of brain activity, choice behavior, or cognitive performance.

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