I’m long overdue for one of these … here we go.
The question came up somewhere of “what is something you find interesting in your field”. But I’m one of those arseholes who has a number of fields (admittedly, though, they do coincide – as one of those fields, actually – but that’s another story!). My fields are archaeology, engineering physics, mathematics education, educational psychology, applied ethno-psychology and autism studies. Here we go!

 

1- archaeology:
The fact that I could go to the village my mother grew up in and – using archaeological principles – determine the reasons for the shift in economic centre of the village and the corresponding shift in the social centre of the village based on the changing landscape, the architectural styles differences and the South Yorkshire Mining Advisory Service’s archives; it was all down to mining – firstly with a small number of bell pits in the Top Field, and eventually a properly-industrial full-scale mining operation; previously an agrarian local economy, with a couple of farriers needing better fuel for furnaces, and latterly a very strong connection to the railway and the movement of coal to power stations on MGR trains (merry-go-round).

 

2- engineering physics:
The fact that I was able to go into quantum Bayesianism before quantum Bayesianism was a fucking thing! I’d been investigating the behaviour of word prediction systems on a computer whilst learning how to get this shit to call people ‘wankers’ (because – you know, non-orative people’s everyday speech needs), and it hit me that every key stroke as the software was learning words would eventually lead to the prediction of letters and then words based on the empirical probability of that letter leading to that word being used. Using a concept called a ‘decision to inspect’, it was a very short leap to then using Schrödinger’s objection to the Born interpretation of quantum mechanics as a way into investigating the nature of parallel universes since every presenting option from the word prediction software represented a separate universe, and all these universes were coexisting as probable outcomes (based on the many outcomes of previous ‘decisions to inspect’). Complex probabilities allow for the existence of a number of such universes to exist in parallel and the decision to inspect leads to all probability vectors collapsing to purely imaginary (1.0i) bar the one event that actually is realised (with the probability vector collapsing to entirely real: p = 1.0). These universes present all the time and only become evident on a decision to inspect (which is really an act of choice on the part of the person involved in the inspection). Any probable outcome set can be computed for any number of stages in the future using Markov chains but, as decisions to inspect are acted on, these probable outcome sets will change based on the outcomes of those decisions made previously. The applications in physics here are obvious, but there are also applications in psychology, archaeology, anthropology and other sciences in which mathematical models and methods are now finding good homes.

 

3- mathematics education:
The fact that you can use a thin rubber sheet to explain why the imaginary number i (and its real-number multiples) can exist, with the outcome that real numbers are just complex numbers with trivial imaginary components and that imaginary numbers are just complex numbers with trivial real components. The clue here is that – just because the graph of f(x): x -> x² + 1 does not reach the x-axis in the _real_ part of the domain, the corresponding pattern of behaviour of the elements in the imaginary part of the domain does indeed cross the x-axis in the _imaginary_ part of that domain. This gives us a saddle-point where the value of the first partial derivative of the function (as a complex function) is 0. The x(Im)-y plane shows the inverted parabola crossing the x(Im) axis at -i and +i. Fucking gorgeous!

 

4- educational psychology:
The fact that too many people really do not have a fucking clue what they are talking about when they go on about ‘ABA’, and that needs to fucking stop. Like, NOW. ABA – applied behaviour analysis – is a form of experimental method by which claims about teaching methods in the real world can be assessed for validity. That is entirely it. It is not a therapy. It is not a fucking torture method. It is a way of doing science in applied settings. People need to fucking deal with this. And yet it is a topic that people prefer to remain completely ignorant about purely because it allows them to hate on people. Taking that path is anti-science in the same way that anti-vaccinationism is anti-science: an intentional misunderstanding leading to the invoking of hatred … yes, that means it leads to a fucking hate crime, folks. If someone claiming to do ABA or any kind of behaviour therapy is causing harm … look up their credentials, their code of practice and their ethics code, and any association to which they claim to belong. Compare them to the code used by the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board. And then report them to whatever authorities will investigate. But don’t take that as evidence that ‘ABA is torture’ – because it fucking isn’t. The basis for people doing this: too much Dunning-Krugerism, confirmation bias and willingness to believe all claims made on the basis of no evidence to support them. This is why engaging in this ‘ABA-hate’ behaviour is entirely anti-science.

 

5- applied ethnopsychology:
The fact that organisational cultures in the organisations that make up a country’s system can be the cause of ill-health, both physically and mentally. Any organisation whose culture is based on restricted access to resources, in which access based on competition, and in which vulnerable groups must rely on self-protection because the culture of those organisations either exploits these groups or leaves them open to exploitation by other elements of the system … this is a sick culture that will cause these health problems because those kinds of values are counter-values: they undermine quality of life, and they lead to reactive problems such as reactive anxiety and reactive depression (against which medication will NOT be much use, since the cause is outwith the person!). Authoritarian AND Lassier-faire cultures are equally bad in this regard. Authoritative cultures are better – but I have yet to find one. Finland’s is definitely authoritarian and the UK’s has become increasingly so. The rate of suicides in Finland has traditionally been higher than most of the EU’s average, and is also higher than Norden’s average. The problem cannot therefore be blamed on seasonal affective disorder – since Sweden and Norway would have broadly similar rates to those seen in Finland. They do not. Finland came in the bottom decile on empathy scores on a world empathy mapping. Finnish social workers have been found – in a lot of Nordic research on social work in Norden – to be the worst in Norden. Practices are typically authoritarian: they choose, and you don’t; they decide, you have no part in the process.

 

6- autism studies:
The fact that the meme about ‘everybody being a little bit on the spectrum’ is a fucked-up mix of right and wrong. Autism is diagnosed on the basis of behavioural traits that are expressed to certain intensities, with certain frequencies and for certain durations. For some people, the expression of these traits – in any kind of cluster that could be identified as ‘autistic’ (because the individual traits are not necessarily only expressed in autistic people!) – may lead to a score in the top 25% on a given scale. They may lead to a person being given a score in the middle 50% of scores on that scale. They may lead to a person obtaining a score lying in the bottom 25% of scores on that scale. And this is where the issue of diagnostics comes in: because it’s not enough to just check of stuff on a list and call that a diagnosis: it is not. Unless you understand stuff about incidence and prevalence and error types and other statistical stuff, you do not have the expertise to diagnose. Period. Using, for example, the ASQ50 (developed and researched by the Cambridge team led by Simon Baron-Cohen), we could determine a diagnostic classification based on the likelihood of the person actually being autistic, or of being ‘autistoid’ (AKA broader autistic phenotype) or simply not being autistic (at least to any significant extent). And it is this _significance_ that is important: things can be non-significant, statistically (but not clinically) significant or clinically significant (in which difficulties present persistently in two or more different settings). And this is usually determined by a difference between any two scores that is 0, 1 or 2+ standard deviations. Well – these numbers – 0, 1 and 2 – give us a great and simple way to classify the extent to which someone is on the spectrum: 0 (not significantly), 1 (statistically significantly) and 2 (clinically significantly). Because of the way in which traits are expressed, then, it is clear that almost anyone could be seen to be ‘on the spectrum somewhere’ – even though not everyone can be seen as being autistic. And there is definitely a difference. The odd thing is that the phrase ‘everyone is … etc’ tends to be used to minimise experiences, and this is wrong. But the idea that ‘one is either autistic or one is not’ is also wrong.

 

And there it all is. Not all great but interesting and important. I hope to be writing on these topics in greater detail as individual blogs shortly.