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Locked out

The Washington Post reviewer of Suzanne Mettler's critique of political leaders' lack of support for higher education may or may not be on the mark.

Nick Anderson's review in the Sunday American-Statesman hits Mettler as more for wonks than the general public, which is off-putting, to say the least.

Regardless, it appears that what she has put together needs to be read by all of us.

Mettler appears to document the very troubling anti-higher-ed trend that began in the early '90s when our representatives at the federal and state levels decided to just stop funding college educations.

When I was a college student in the '60s, my tuition was very low and, thus, very affordable because the state and national governments felt they had a stake in whether I and my cohorts got a good education. We would be more productive, pay more in taxes and generally improve the country.

In the '90s, the push was to put more costs on families and individual students.

We have not been better off for this lack of support, and we will not be going forward, either. In fact, we are becoming worse off.

This is not the way to run a thriving democracy.

Did I read that right?

I read both the American-Statesman and The New York Times over the weekend, and I can't remember where I saw this, but here is the gist of it: The folks who build the SAT made it easier for students after 1995.

What?

They made the test easier, and we still have tons of kids who don't do well on it?

Why would they make it easier?

And, if it's easier, why can't more kids score well?

Something is really wrong with these pictures.

When it's libelous...

A program on NPR yesterday afternoon took a roundtable approach to air issues about climate change.

One participant was a woman who was skeptical of climate change claims to the point of sarcasm.

And there were some others, but the moderator seemed to have a hard time defining the scope of the discussion.

At one point, talk turned to a court case. Apparently, a prominent climate scientist has sued a commentator for libel, contending that the commentator called his work fraudulent, among other things, and that his career was damaged as a result.

I don't know about all that. But the skeptical woman said that any and everything said about climate change should be up for a good verbal fight.

No doubt that's one approach, and if a prominent climate scientist puts himself into the public light, he gives up a lot of his rights to limit discussion about himself.

In fact, he will priobably lose, and he could actually earn just a summary judgment tossing the suit out.

I doubt that the case will ever get to the point where the lawyers will be asked to prove the truth of climate change, which is what the program hinged upon.

More windbags filling air time.

You'd imagine ... but ...

These days if I'm doing research on just about any topic, I'm going to Google first thing.

So, I have been spending a lot of time trying to learn about my great-grandparents, one set of whom came to Texas from Alabama and another set of whom came from Georgia, all of them moving here after the Civil War.

I know both my great-grandfathers fought for the South. They were privates in the infantry.

And they both landed in the 1870s in Hopkins County northeast of Dallas.

I have had quite a bit of succecss finding out about my great-grandfather Wilson because he rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest, and much has been written about his Civil War adventures.

But, the unit my great-grandfather Boswell served in, the 40th Georgia Infantry Regiment, is more obscure. At least that's case as far as Google is concerned.

Yikes! I've become so used to a Google crutch, I fear I've forgotten how to do real research.

It was inevitable

If there is a bad, yet very simple, way to do something and there are no consquences for doing so, then a significant percentage of people will go that route to avoid complexity and to save time.

Thus, it was almost inevitable, wasn't it, that reputable scientists and researchers in other disciplines would migrate from reputable sources to cite in professional journals to, well, Wikipedia.

The Montreal Gazette/National Post reports on a Canadian study that found "that thousands of peer-reviewed papers in medical journals have cited Wikipedia in recent years, and the number of references is increasing fast."

That's right: "peer-reviewed."

In case you're a newcomer to the research-and-publish game, Wikipedia has never been viewed as an acceptable reference work for professional publications. That's because it's crowd-sourced, and double-checked for accuracy and reliability only by members of the crowd, if they get around to it.

Journalists-in-training are routinely warned not to use Wikipedia in news and feature stories. Go to the original and best source, they are told. (Now, it is perfectly fine to look at a Wikipedia entry's bibliography to see if you can find that best source from the list.)

One surprised researcher, Dr. Sylvain Boet of Ottawa Hospital, told the newspaper that the growth in Wikipedia citations has grown exponentially over the last three years. "It goes against all the principles of scientific reporting and referencing," the doctor said.

So, how come peers are letting these citations through in the vetting process?

The cynical among us would say because they expect to use the same bankrupt techniques when given the chance.