A Christmas present from a tweeter

Posted on


You make a casual remark on twitter and before long demands are made to defend a researcher’s methodological approaches.

It started innocently enough:

At this point I have to state that I know Jo, know some of her work and worked with her at Sussex for a few years. That said I am not a maths ed expert, neither do I subscribe to or have expertise in her methodological approach to maths ed research. She does large scale longitudinal studies, I am more case study in history of science ed., though I also research creationism and evolution from the standpoint of the nature of science and scientific understanding.

I made a casual remark in reply – a disagreement of the opinion (remember it was Tom’s opinion) given.

Twitter, as we know, is imperfect in conveying subtlety in what you write. I said ‘mostly good stuff’ (that means the stuff I know about) yes, I admit it can be read that I am trying to defend nearly everything she has ever written which of course I have not even read, not being maths ed. I did add I don’t agree with 100% but that seems to have been lost in subsequent exchanges.

So let me state. I’ve read some of Jo’s work, I thought some of what I read was good stuff (note I’m not saying true, universally applicable, incontrovertible, God’s (if you have one) gift to maths education or a ‘paradigm shift’ in maths teaching and learning). I’m also not saying her epistemological, ontological and axiological positions are 100% and not to be disagreed with. It was a ‘casual’ comment where on reflection I should have said ‘some’ not ‘most’ – my bad!

I then had the temerity to say this which starts a mini twitter storm (actually more a brief gust in an alley)

So right from the start I say I’m not maths and I defer to maths experts

I do rate her research in that some bits that I found interesting also worked in a science classroom but not in a way that could be reported in a peer reviewed journal. I do rate her methods – longitudinal studies using hundreds of students (though again I have not studied in depth her methodology for every study she has undertaken) but in general longitudinal studies are good – aren’t they?

Queue entrance of Twitter’s very own @oldandrewuk asking how I adapted her work in science ed.

So I said what I did

OK he thought initially I was ‘defending her research methods’ but as I clearly stated I was not, I was talking about a teaching method I found interesting and that I did a small bit of action research with a few science trainees about 6 years ago.

I also posted this, knowing the vile attempts that have been made to attack her personally, professionally and how spiteful and vile some ‘experts’ in US maths have been towards her.


This prompts OA to write:

Which is NOT what I said, though it’s useful to characterise me as doing this and so cast me as unwilling to acknowledge that there are any proper dissenters to her views on teaching and learning maths, nice one OA good set up.

But no, it won’t wash.

I am happy for there to be debate on the pros and cons of any educational activities, but the attacks MUST be about the issues and not the person, when it strays to the personal and attempts top get people sacked because you don’t like their views, or charges of intellectual dishonesty which were investigated in full, then dismissed, but continue to be made knowing they’ve been fully investigated and dismissed that crosses a line. I refer to the unprofessional hounding of a professional by two other maths experts who happen to disagree with Jo and what she does.

I won’t bore you with the full exchange, but it resulted in demands for me to defend her methods and research or admit I have failed to do so. I defended one aspect of the work she conducted by reproducing it in small scale. It was group work in explaining a difficult concept in a mixed ability setting. I know enough about research to know that what I did was not robust enough for me to publish myself, so I did not. I also said that the approach was interesting (which it was).

The full exchange reminded me very much of the sorts of exchanges that I frequently have with creationists on twitter – the creationist evangelicals. I don’t know OA personally, have never met him, have no idea what he is like at teaching maths. It strikes me that his approach to debating on twitter (though I could be way off the mark) is somewhat akin to an evangelical creationist in maths education terms. That is there is a right and fully evidenced and scientifically robust way of teaching and everything else is wrong. Try to even suggest that something like mixed ability teaching in maths or group work could work or be a valid way of teaching and I will challenge you to the death to prove it beyond doubt in peer reviewed scientifically valid and robust terms that can have no doubt or any flaw in its approach or else you MUST admit defeat and admit that I am right and you are wrong. What happened in the end is also what happens with many evangelical creationists – they block when you try to have a reasonable conversation and put the view that perhaps we don’t know everything, and that things could happen but it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your faith to see that other things could happen.

One further example of ‘extremis’ in OAs arguments is seen in this tweet and his response to my tweet to another tweter about science being about finding the ‘truth’. I said that only maths can claim to find the ‘truth’ science can never do this. His response to this conversation with the other tweeter was:


He either does not understand science and the methods of science or is deliberately trying to get me to say that science is really lies so the can come back and prove me wrong.

Science is about the ‘best explanation’ we have for anything. At no point can we claim that explanation to be ‘the truth’ as new evidence can always contradict our best explanation – at which point we must modify the explanation or abandon it completely for a new one. So no, science does not tell ‘lies’ but neither can we claim ‘truth’ for science. Our best explanations are the theories in science.

I don’t know why OA plays these games as it always ends (with me) with him going off in a huff and blocking. He did it before then inexplicably unblocked me. I don’t know why he bothers at all with me, he clearly will not bother to engage in a proper conversation, but always makes demands and tries to ‘win’ all his arguments at all costs.

So thank you OA for the xmas present of not having to respond to your demands (not that I was going to anyway – it was not necessary and it’s not my field of expertise). It’s a pity you despise Jo and her work. She is a wonderful person, warm dedicated and always thinking of how to improve maths education for all children. No she doesn’t always get everything right, none of us, including you OA can ever do that, but at least she tries and at least she is not a vile, nasty, unprofessional maths expert, unlike her US tormentors.Creation_of_Adam


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