Missing Link Friday – 19 November 2010

Cheating students, immortal hamburgers, housing nutters and a cunning plan to improve the affordability of Grange Hermitage, all feature in this week’s Missing Link Friday.


Lies, lies and more lies

Joe Hockey is an expert at deception, writes Ad astra at The Political Sword. The star-bound blogger questions Hockey’s claims about debt and interest rates in a long post that begins with a discourse on the nature of truth.

Skepticlawyer considers another kind of deception — students who hire someone else to write their university assignments. In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education ‘Ed Dante’ writes about his career as a ‘essay mill‘ writer. Obviously his customers want to be sure their assignment is in capable hands and he doesn’t hesitate to reassure them:

… part of my job is to be whatever my clients want me to be. I say yes when I am asked if I have a Ph.D. in sociology. I say yes when I am asked if I have professional training in industrial/organizational psychology. I say yes when asked if I have ever designed a perpetual-motion-powered time machine and documented my efforts in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dante claims to have written around 5,000 pages of scholarly work over the past year and hopes to earn around $66,000. A few readers have done the math and concluded that he is either hopelessly underpaid or lying about how much work he’s doing.

Understandably teachers are worried about being duped. At Core Economics, Kwanghui Lim suggests relying more heavily on exams: "one can correlate the student’s exam performance with their term paper, and to some extent this acts as a way to smoke out the cheaters".

How worried should teachers be about essay mills? Earlier this year American blogger Dan Ariely decided to find out. Together with Aline Grüneisen Ariely approached four essay mills and ordered a typical college term paper … on the subject of cheating.

After ploughing through pages of poorly written, sloppily referenced gibberish, Ariely concluded that "the day is not here where students can submit papers from essay mills and get good grades for them".

It’s not just students who claim credit for work that’s not their own. According to editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association, ghost writing is common in medical journals. Drug companies pay ghostwriters to author papers that are published under the names of academic authors.

At the Scholarly Kitchen Phil Davis published an interview with a ghost.



The true value of higher education

At Skepticlawyer, Legal Eagle wonders whether oral exams might be a better way of finding out how much law students really know. She writes: "I don’t know that any universities would accept this (too labour intensive perhaps?). But I think it’s an interesting idea."

Economics professor turned politician Andrew Leigh worries about the rising cost of academic labour . He recalls: "the more wages outstripped funding the more we had to cut positions, forcing young researchers who were doing terrific work at the frontiers of their fields to go and find jobs elsewhere."

At Catallaxy Sinclair Davidson argues that it might be a good thing if young researchers forced out of universities end up in the private sector.

Also on the subject of higher ed, at Freedom to Differ, Peter Black posts an amusing video of Cornell University lecturer Mark Talbert expressing his frustration when his class is disrupted by a loud yawn.


The price of everything …

Are house prices too high? At Core Economics Mark Crosby isn’t expressing a view. If you want to be reassured he suggests you read Chris Joye. If you want to panic, read Steve Keen.

At Aussie Macro Moments, Chris Joye rails against "housing nutters" and the "the lunatic housing fringe" who continually forecast huge falls in house prices. No doubt Joye’s restrained writing style adds to his credibility.

J.W. Beck has also been keeping an eye out for nutters. In October media outlets around the world reported the surprising result of artist Sally Davies’ ‘Happy Meal Project’. Davies left a McDonald’s Happy Meal out on a plate for 180 days. And on day 180, the burger and fries looked pretty much the same as on day one — there was no visible mold or decomposition. A spokeswoman from McDonald’s Australia was quoted as saying that "this outcome seems virtually impossible."

J.W. thinks that only idiots would be surprised at the outcome. Ms Davies "has merely rediscovered preservation through dehydration, a spoilage-averting technique dating back to prehistoric times."

The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss managed to combine both lying and hamburgers in a recent debate over bank interest rates. In the National Times he wrote:

Australia’s banks seem to have embraced the credo that if you are going to tell a lie, you might as well tell a big one. One of the biggest is that when the Reserve Bank lifts official interest rates, the banks have no choice but to pass on the rate rise in full to their home loan customers.

While banks might be paying more for funding from some of their sources, Denniss argues that the math just doesn’t work: "It’s like making hamburgers", he said. "If meat accounts for a third of your costs and the price of meat goes up 10 per cent, you shouldn’t be expected to put up the price of the price of hamburgers 10 per cent".

Not surprisingly the banks argued that it was the Australia Institute’s math that was wrong: "The AI’s manipulation of APRA data involves a simple but fundamental mathematical error", said Steven Münchenberg of the Australian Bankers’ Association.

Wrong or not, some bloggers were captivated by Denniss’ hamburger analogy. At Core Economics, Mark Crosby writes:

I like this hamburger logic. I think we should apply this to all goods. Take wine. Grange Hermitage has been increasing in price by double digits for decades. The price of grapes has not. Penfolds are clearly scumbags. The price of Grange and all other wines should be a simple markup on table grape prices. Say $3/bottle.


Marriage and good breeding

At Crikey, Guy Rundle notes that Prince William’s soon to be bride, is a commoner:

The Middletons are former flight staff who made a mozza out of mail-order party supplies. Doesn’t get more commoner than that. There was a time a girl from that sort of family who got near the heir to the throne would have been tasered. I bet Prince Philip hasn’t even been told yet.

Apparently Ms Middleton is concerned she still doesn’t "know the ropes". Still Life With Cat’s Kerryn Goldsworthy assists by correcting her English.

Kerryn also expresses a concern about marriage. According to a report in the ABC, "Philip Ruddock, who was attorney-general in 2004, said marriage should be limited to those who could procreate." Kerryn responds:

So: does Ruddock think that not just gays and lesbians, but no women past childbearing age, and nobody of either sex who was born or has been rendered infertile, should be allowed to get married? And to take his remark to its logical conclusion, does he think that any existing marriage in which either partner has become unable to ‘procreate’ should be dissolved? Including, presumably, his own?

With or without procreation, the Royal marriage promises to be a boon for journalists. As Hoyden About Town’s tigtog writes:

… what’s better for ratings and merchandise tie-ins than a big wedding episode? Journalists will be anticipating months ahead of letting the waffle freely flow while merchandisers offer wedding-related content up to them on a platter, and they get to dust off some of their old Diana content for the nostalgia quotient as well.


Think tanked?

"I wish progressive, social democratic Australia had something to match the Sydney Institute", writes Paul Howes in the Australian. Howes argues that left wing think tanks like the Australia Institute and the Centre for Policy Development are outclassed by their conservative rivals. John Quiggin disagrees:

This would have been an unremarkable claim to make in the 1980s (a generation ago). But today ?? The Sydney Institute is Gerard Henderson, who hasn’t had a new idea since the “Federation Trifecta” in 1990. Around the same time, the IPA with John Hyde rose briefly above its history as a conduit for business donations to the Liberal Party and its present role as an advocate of anti-science delusionism on issues ranging from tobacco to global warming to the Murray-Darling Basin (the latter not quite so much since the departure of Jennifer Marohasy). The HR Nicholls society has been moribund for years – its last notable contribution was as the 2006 venue for Nick Minchin’s disastrously leaked suggestion that WorkChoices had not gone far enough (he was bagged for this by John Howard in his autobio)

Howes is "still in thrall to the 1980s agenda" writes Quiggin. Which is peculiar given that Howes was born in 1981.

With the release of Howes’ book, Confessions of a Faceless Man, a number of bloggers turned their attention his way. At Grog’s Gamut, Greg Jericho sums the book up as "pretty innocuous" and "lacking insight." At Politically Homeless, Andrew Elder is clearly not a fan.

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4 Responses to Missing Link Friday – 19 November 2010

  1. Senexx says:

    I’m more concerned about what spooked Mark Crosby than the other pieces of work mentioned.

    I would add this post by Stubborn Mule – http://www.stubbornmule.net/2010/11/bank-funding-costs/ where he agrees with the banks that their funding costs are rising but the banks have all ready gone beyond recovering those costs.

  2. Jacques Chester says:

    Andrew Elder certainly knows how to dust somebody up.

  3. Ken Parish says:

    This article on the ABC website by Elvis Jarnecic provides the rest of the picture on bank interest rates and profit margins (along with the blog post by Stubborn Mule referenced by Senexx at #1 above).

  4. Pingback: Skepticlawyer » Saturday chit-chat

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