Wednesday, October 31, 2012

E-Learning in the 21st Century

Cover "There is a technological revolution taking place in higher education. The growth of 'e-learning' is being described as explosive, unprecedented and disruptive. E-Learning in the 21st Century provides a framework for understanding the application and characteristics of e-learning in higher education. The authors discuss their extensive research from technological, pedagogical and organizational perspectives in order to create practical models and release the full potential of e-learning. This in-depth understanding will give direction and guidance to educators who wish to facilitate critical discourse and higher-order learning through the use of electronic technologies in a networked learning context."

E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. (2013) Terry Anderson, (Google eBook)

Coursera Peer Assessment - Writing in the Sciences

MOOC I finally got a chance to experience the Coursera peer assessment model on the Writing in the Sciences course. It works like this:

1. Each student has 7 days to submit a piece of writing (300-500 words in this case) via the website.

2. During the following 7 days, each student must grade 5 (or more) pieces of work from other students. This is done on a 0-3 mark scheme driven by criterion-referenced rubrics covering Clarity and Concision, Language and Style, Focus and Organization, e.g. for Clarity and Concision:
0 points: No score (not explained - nothing submitted?)
1 point: "The writing is difficult to understand throughout; may contain  substantial clutter and serious grammatical problems."
2 points: "The writing is sometimes difficult to understand; may contain needless clutter, unexplained jargon, or grammatical errors."
3 points: "The writing is clear, concise, and easy to understand."
There is also a section for short freetext feedback, and markers are asked to resubmit two versions of the original text, one marked up with suggested changes (strikethrough for removal, bold for addition), the other a final mofidied version.

3. Marks are then returned via the website.

I was quite impressed with the process, which worked well in my case. I am well aware there has been lots of gaming on other Coursera courses. I received four peer assessments with brief but useful feedback. (My mark was 83% - if you care.)

Would it work as well with my students?  I'd like to think so but I'm not sure. For one thing it's not clear that our students are as confident or motivated as the participants in this course. For another, there is the issue of marking cartels as students indulge in the prisoner's dilemma (as they perceive it) with summative assessment. Sadly, I can't see a system like this being a goer for us.

Would I recommend my students to take this course? No, because frankly the course content is not very good. Would I want them to have the experience of having their writing commented on in this way? Absolutely. Have I achieved my personal learning outcomes for this course?
  • To improve my writing (let go of academic writing habits) - No, because I have only participated in a superficial way after becoming disenchanted with the lectures. But two piece of writing simply aren't enough to form new habits.
  • Explore practical strategies of how to teach and assess writing of large groups of students online - Yes, although I don't see myself of being in a position of being able to put a similar strategy in place for summative assessment in the foreseeable future even if a suitable platform was available.

And that's it. I'm taking a break from MOOCs for a while to concentrate on other things, including the #cfhe12 cMOOC which I simply haven't had time to participate in, and which has failed to motivate me because of the excessive North American focus and lack of sufficient structure to make me want to continue. My learning outcomes for this course were:
  • To compare my view of HE with that of others - where does it align? - Fail, because I simply didn't participate intensively enough to achieve this.
  • To experience d2l platform - Shockingly bad instance, although I'm quite happy to believe that d2l can be much better than this if used with more care and thought.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Visualization or curation?

I've bumped into some interesting analytics tools over the last week I'd like to share with you.

The first is Crowdbooster, which is saw at the Eurosurveillance meeting I spoke at last week. Crowdbooster does a number of useful impact-related things, analysing your content to show which items get most takeup. One simple but useful thing it does it to tell you how many of your followers are online at different times of day. For example, in the following image, compare blog one with blog two:

Spot the UK-based 9 to 5ers who read blog one, compared with the more varied distribution for blog two, which gets a lot of views from North America. Methinks I need to work evenings more with blog two. Fortunately, Crowdbooster lets you schedule tweets :-)

The second tool is Infomous, which I have admired for some time - it is used to good effect on The Economist website. Here's a view of this blog:

Other than pure eye candy, I haven't figured out how to make best use of Infomous yet. Is it an probably an improvement on the existing tag cloud in the sidebar of this blog?

I'm sold on the idea that data visualization is an important tool in fighting information overload, but I'm not convinced that most of the tools currently available are as valuable as high quality curation.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Effect of Clickers in University Science Courses

Millionaire "In four studies on the use of student response systems, clickers, we sought to understand whether the use of clickers would impact students’ attitudes toward the use of technology for instruction and achievement on examinations. While the results varied some by study, overall, the results revealed no significant changes in the already positive student attitude toward the use of instructional technology. In all four studies, the majority of the students reported that they learned more when clickers were used in class. The use of clickers did not serve as useful predictor of student achievement in science classes. The findings of this study are similar to others which suggest that some classroom technologies (like clickers) may not necessarily have a direct connection with student achievement, despite positive student feedback regarding their experience using these technologies. Further studies are needed to better understand the true nature of the relationship between these technologies and classroom outcomes."

The Effect of Clickers in University Science Courses. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2012, doi: 10.1007/s10956-012-9420-x

Update: At Martin Hawksey's suggestion, I read:
Hake, R.R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American journal of Physics, 66, 64
It's not clear to me what "interactive methods" are in this paper - are they clickers? - or what was the extent of the interaction - a few questions in a lecture or hours devoted to testing?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Everything gives you cancer

Daily Fail "Everything gives you cancer, at least if you believe what you read in the news or see on TV. Fortunately, everything also cures cancer, from red wine to silver nanoparticles. Of course the truth lies somewhere in between, and scientists might point out that these claims are at worst dangerous sensationalism and at best misjudged journalism. These kinds of media story, which inflate the risks and benefits of research, have led to a mistrust of the press among some scientists. But are journalists solely at fault when science reporting goes wrong, as many scientists believe? New research suggests it is time to lay to rest the myth that the press alone is to blame. The truth is far more nuanced and science reporting can go wrong at many stages, from the researchers to the press officers to the diverse producers of news."

Nothing but the truth: Are the media as bad at communicating science as scientists fear? EMBO reports, 12 October 2012; doi:10.1038/embor.2012.147

Nature goes all altmetrics

Nature metrics tab
(click for larger image)

See: Alternative metrics. Nature Materials 11, 907 (2012) doi:10.1038/nmat3485

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A little more #DarkSocial advice

DarkSocial "People increasingly read their email — and their email newsletters — on mobile devices. Our research into the general usability of phones and tablets shows that small mobile phone screens present big usability challenges."
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, October 22, 2012, Mobile Email Newsletters

As I noted last week,
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has not really impacted on us as much as I expected it to this year, but mobiles have - which is problematic since many apps are inadequate for academic use, lacking functionality...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Better than nothing at all?

Governing the Commons Leaving aside the criticisms of this paper (low response rate, one institution), the conclusions it contains confirm my own experience.

"OER is still mostly a bottom-up phenomenon, where the managerial level of the institutions are not involved and not aware of the activities going on"

"small-scale local sharing is more common than more formal approaches to sharing"

"although staff are willing to share and, in many cases in this study, willing to share openly, they are not doing so to any formal large-scale degree, that is, through specific OER repositories and open licenses"

You won't find anyone who argues publicly against open access in principle, but the reality is disappointing. The author is determined to finish on an optimistic note:
Participation, albeit on a small and local scale, is better than no participation at all.


Awareness, attitudes and participation of teaching staff towards the open content movement in one university. Research in Learning Technology 2012, 20: 18520
This research investigates the current awareness of, and participation in, the open content movement at one UK institution for higher education. The open content movement and the open educational resources can be seen as potential methods for reducing time and cost of technology-enhanced learning developments; however, its sustainability and, to some degree, its success are dependent on critical mass and large-scale participation. Teaching staff were invited to respond to a questionnaire. Respondents (n59) were open to the idea of sharing their own content and, similar to other studies, demonstrated existing practices of sharing resources locally amongst colleagues; however, there was little formal, large-scale sharing using suitable licenses. The data gathered concurs with other research suggesting a lack of awareness to the Creative Commons licenses as well as a lack of participation in large open educational resource repositories.

See: Governing the Commons

Engaging by Talking: An Agile and Effective Approach to Audio Feedback

I am delighted to say that I have been funded by the UK Higher Education Academy (STEM) to investigate efficacy of and workflows in production and delivery of audio feedback to students.
Students express widespread dissatisfaction with academic feedback. Teaching staff perceive a frequent lack of student engagement with written feedback, much of which goes uncollected. Published evidence shows that audio feedback is highly acceptable to students but is grossly underused. This project will explore methods to produce and deliver audio feedback to a wide range of students engaged in a variety of academic tasks with the aim of maximising student engagement while working towards a framework which increases the use of audio feedback by teaching staff.

Here's the detailed project plan:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Identity theft?

Passport Like many people, I am being asked for my passport with increasing frequency in order to prove my eligibility to work in the UK/EU.

My understanding of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 is that documentation such as a birth certificate and a National Insurance number is sufficient for this purpose. I'm also happy to allow people to see my passport and confirm that they have checked it. What I'm not happy to do is to send people my passport so that it is out of my possession for some time, or allow them to take photocopies of my passport and store them under who knows what degree of security. This requirement for "taking a photocopy" is usually presented as "the law". It isn't, and I refuse to allow anyone other than lawful authorities to have access to this sensitive information.

This means that it looks as if I will not be working as an Academic Associate for the UK HEA any more (unless I travel to York at my own expense to allow them to gaze wistfully at my credentials), and I may have difficulty claiming expenses lawfully incurred as part of travel as an invited speaker to a conference on an EU-funded project. In the latter case, it looks as if a trip to the Small Claims Court might be coming up to recover my costs.

So am I being unduly paranoid here? And are there any acceptable solutions to this problem?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Now in Chinese!

Learning Outcomes - the wrong way round

Target Martin Weller was questioning the value of learning outcomes on Twitter this morning, asking whether anyone ever reads them, and noting:
"...they've rather taken on a language of their own which bears a resemblance to English but isn't quite."
Do learning outcomes have any value? Like all aspects of education fossilized by officialdom, no.

Except that, in each of the MOOCs I have experimented with over the past few months, I have been careful to set my own learning outcomes at the beginning, and to measure my achievement against these, rather than any externally-imposed criteria set by someone else. So learning outcomes do have value - we've just got them the wrong way round.

See: Micropedagogy and Macropedagogy

SpotOn London 2012 #solo12

Originally, it was Science Online, then Science Online London, and now, following a disagreement over who owns the word "science", it's SpotOn London. And it's coming soon:

SpotOn London

SpotOn London
I'm in the Assessing Social Media Impact workshop on Monday 12th.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Closing the loop

The genius that resides under the name Alun Salt has come up with another good 'un: the Google+Blog plugin for WordPress. Installing this plugin on WordPress allows us to pull tagged content from the Annals of Botany Google+ page onto our WordPress blog - including live content such as comments made on the Google+ site:

Google+Blog plugin for WordPress

Why does this matter? As we follow Andrew Baron's dictum of write once, publish everywhere so as to maximize a readership sperad across multiple domains, the economics of republishing content become more unwieldy but the importance of doing so increases. The plugin allows us to close this loop.

I wish I had similar similar functionality for this blog on the Blogger platform, where nearly all the interaction occurs on Google+ these days. Although Blogger has improved greatly over the last year, this is one area it still lags behind WordPress, and the difficulties of making Blogger and Google+ talk to each other are frustrating. Blogger has a plugin architecture ("Gadgets"), what it lacks is the user community who develop code in the way that happens with WordPress. Unless I'm missing something?

Die, EndNote, Die

Google Scholar finally arrives. You won't be disappointed :-)

Google Scholar

Google Scholar: Cite from search results

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

#DarkSocial - The Results Are In

DarkSocial At the weekend The Atlantic published an article which has caused a bit of a stir: Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong. This was timely for me as it runs head on into the draft of a post I was planning for this week.

For the past three years I (or we, little w) have been using social networks with students, starting with Friendfeed and moving on to Google+ last year. We have always "forced" students to use the network (alongside face to face and email support) by means of assessment, even if that only amounted to a small proportion of their overall marks. I've never been happy about doing this, but the argument was that it was for the greater good (by generating a network/cohort effect). But I've never been convinced I was doing the right thing, that the ends justified the means, and faced with growing evidence to the contrary (e.g. What Students Want), this year I stopped. Students were given a choice of signing up to Google+ to receive support, or relying on face to face help sessions, and/or email support. I considered using my old personal Facebook page that I've never really found a use for as an alternative channel, but in the end didn't go with that because I couldn't afford to spread my time too thinly between too many different channels (already adding email to Google+ and f2f was a considerable increase in workload for me). And now the results are in. You want numbers? I got numbers.

29% of students have signed up for Google+ so far (c.f. ~99% under the "compulsion" of assessment). Doesn't sound too bad? I haven't got to the bad news yet. Of those, 0.7% of the cohort have become active contributors. That's pretty much in line with the conversion rate to long term active users from previous years, and also with the Nielsen participation inequality ratio. We know that 5-10% of students are Visitor lurkers, never actively contributing but drawing information from the network occasionally, again, in line with the Nielsen ratio.

Does this mean that social is working? I say no. DarkSocial (mostly email) outperforms social by anything from 3:1 to 10:1, depending on what I measure and how I measure it. What does perform mean? It means actively engage - ask questions, contribute information - interactions other than passive consumption. For me, that's a pretty damning indictment of social technologies. Who cares? I do. This inefficient DarkSocial technology does not scale in that same way that networks do. There is no cohort (peer) effect. And students become passive information consumers rather than producers.

There's no doubt that DarkSocial "works", in the way that Web 1.0 "worked" as a filing cabinet or a noticeboard, in the way that a VLE "works". My @leBioscience project is doing great, performing exactly as I want it to, where I have promoted email as the primary distribution channel (82% of subscribers) - lots of passive readers (but no interaction). That lack of engagement is not what I want when I teach.

Why is DarkSocial so tenacious? Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has not really impacted on us as much as I expected it to this year, but mobiles have - which is problematic since many apps are inadequate for academic use, lacking functionality (the Google+ app being a case in point). I believe I am seeing the influence of inadequate, underpowered mobile clients, although that is not the complete reason for the failure of social. Email certainly works well on mobile these days - the CrackBerry Effect.

Does my experience of #cfhe12 back up the idea of DarkSocial? Maybe, it's certainly been an underwhelming experience so far, and not what I was hoping for from a cMOOC (other explanations are equally possible ;-). What does any of this matter? I need to know where I'm going, what to invest in. Social has been oversold. Is it time to invest now, or to pull out?

See also: GigaOhm Dark social: Why measuring user engagement is even harder than you think

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dutch disease and the failure of OER initiatives

Dead Aid I may have been skiving on my MOOCs over the past week, but I have been keeping up with my economics homework. I've just finished Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid, and I was particularly interested in her description of Dutch disease with respect to African aid.

Dutch disease is where foreign currency floods a market, overpricing local commodities, forcing down the value of labour and ultimately cutting off the isolated economy from wider trade. Which is, when you think about it, pretty much the effect the huge influx of OER money has had on the academic economy. With no real demand for OERs, staff who have been teaching for years find the value of their labour is decreased or destroyed unless they secure huge grants (rise of the MOOCs). Disenfranchised by their institutions, they are powerless to compete freely since there is no open education market. Whatdya know, Marx (and Richard Hall) were right.

Moyo's answer to the problem of dead aid is a pretty Marxist solution too - a free market where the majority of revenues are spent on public goods. To translate this into the OER context means that we need to value OERs and the labour of those who produce them. OERs are pretty close to the definition of public goods, but at the present time, their production is financed by the economically damaging awarding of aid (grants) by external "benefactors" such as JISC. If you want to know all the reasons why that is a very bad idea, read Moyo:
"Just as throwing aid money at poor countries does not work, simply boosting investment is not the key to economic growth either. Only when capital is allocated to its most productive uses will an economy benefit, and this can only happen when governments are given incentives to respect and support those industries that can contribute to a country?s longer-term potential. The ceremony to cut the red ribbon to launch the newest road, bridge or port is easy. The hard part is ensuring the longevity of infrastructure, which can only be achieved if the economy is growing"
If we are serious about OERs, we need to reverse the failed strategy of throwing money at the problem and start building a genuine open economy of OER production and use.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Week The MOOCing Had To Stop #cfhe12

MOOC You know things have reached an interesting point when complete strangers start commenting publicly on your MOOC addiction. That's happened to me three times this week (that I know about). I find this amusing. However, this was the week that the virtual world of MOOCs ran into the solid reality of life - the week the MOOCing had to stop. I've had so much fun with face to face teaching this week (and rather less fun teaching online wrestling with IE8) that I just haven't had time to engage with the four MOOCS I am supposedly taking.

I summarised my position with my current Coursera MOOCs last week, and that hasn't changed significantly. What's new this week is Current/Future State of Higher Education cMOOC (#cfhe12). While I haven't had time to engage with the first week of this course as I would have liked (such as listening to the speakers), I know enough about MOOCs now to know that it is vital that I set my personal learning outcomes for a MOOC at the outset. So here are mine for CFHE12:
  • To compare my view of HE with that of others - where does it align?
  • To experience d2l platform (mostly a bad experience in this instance ;-)
  • A space here for another possible outcome I haven't had time to think of yet (you get the picture).
However, in the spirit of the thing, here's my CFHE12 week 1 homework, a rather sad little blog reflection on my world view of HE:

The Changing Landscape of Higher Education. Educause Review February 2011 is a pretty good summary of the present situation.
Why the internet isn’t going to end college as we know it. The Atlantic July 2012 also makes some pertinent points. Futurologists always overestimate the speed of change, unless it's black swan. If it were, CFHE12 would not exist. Ergo...

And that's it. Apologies, and hopefully normal service will be resumed next week.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Coursera Weekly Reflection 07.10.12

Coursera I am posting weekly reflections here on my current Coursera MOOCs as they progress. This is my last Coursera weekly update for the time (see below):

Statistics One:
The content is still good but it's an organizational shambles - this is really the sort of low level stuff there is no excuse for Coursera screwing up. I have now completely decoupled this module from assessment as we arrive at the last week. That's no problem at all as I feel I have definitely met my personal learning outcomes for this course. Would I be happy for my students to take this course? Yes, but:
  • Not contextualized as biology so it would be problematic for most.
  • Most students would need the f2f handholding and explanation which is absent in a MOOC
More to the point - would I pay money for this course? Certainly not as it stands, but with polishing and much better customer (I use that word deliberately) support from Coursera, possibly, as long as there was a suitable system of micropayments - no way I'm paying close to the costs of a proper residential course.

Scientific Writing:
Same problem as last week, overly dogmatic and virtually every example changes the meaning of the sentence. Unexpectedly, I'm disappointed with the quality of this course, as is much of the traffic on the Coursera discussion boards. I don't think I'm going to get much out of this course in terms of writing, so my personal learning outcome - to experience peer grading on the Coursera platform - is now my main objective here.

Social Network Analysis:
This course is also taking a hit. It's good (although the calculus is challenging) and if I didn't have much else to do I would stick with the non-programming bits, but at the moment I simply don't have time, so I'm skimming the video lectures and random clicking the assignments so I stay apparently "engaged".

The other development this week is that I cracked and signed up for the Current/Future State of Higher Education cMOOC (#cfhe12). I'm not sure if I'll be able to find much time to participate, and the initial experience has been clunky and unwelcoming, so we'll have to see. If I've got anything to say, I'll be blogging here using the #cfhe12 hashtag.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Social Media: New Editing Tools or Weapons of Mass Distraction?

Despite the exponential rise of social media use in the publishing industry, very little is known about its impact on the editing profession. The aim of this paper is to investigate how editors and proofreaders use social media tools in their work. The first part is a descriptive study of users and uses of social media in the context of editing. The second part critically evaluates the positive and negative aspects of using social media tools for work and explores practical implications. The results of a survey of 330 editors and proofreaders indicate that the use of social media tools is motivated chiefly by the interpersonal utility and information-seeking behavior. While social media tools are seen as easy to use, their perceived usefulness varies. Moreover, they are considered to be time consuming and distractive. Other concerns, and indeed barriers to the adoption of social media, are linked with the blending of professional and private identity, the merging of working and personal life, and issues surrounding privacy and author’s confidentiality.

Social Media: New Editing Tools or Weapons of Mass Distraction? The Journal of Electronic Publishing, Vol. 15, No. 1. (June 2012), doi:10.3998/3336451.0015.103

I sent this, somewhat in jest, to my long-suffering managing editor. Then I noticed I'd been heavily cited in it. Oops.

Francis Spufford

Red Plenty


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Selling science by the pixel

Pixelated Most of my "job" involves communicating science, all the way from lecturing undergraduates to what most people consider wasting time on Facebook. In the course of a typical week, tens of thousands of people read what I write. But increasingly, what I write seems less important.

Occasionally, I write about my own primary research, but the vast majority of the time I am performing a curation role, shaping people's attention to what I, as a seasoned practitioner (never "expert", please) consider to be important, significant, and indeed, entertaining. Over the past few weeks I have been conducting an experiment based on what I have observed. This has involved leading not with text, but with a single image. The text accompanying the image is minimal, accessible, and contains a link to the source. The text also needs to be above the image (rather than as comments), so that when the image is reshared (see below), the text stays with it. On MicrobiologyBytes, this is normally a scientific paper, for AoB Blog it may be a paper in the journal or it could be purpose-written original blog content. Life is easier when sourcing from open access journals, which I favour on MicrobiologyBytes whenever possible, and of course, in AoB PLANTS we have a pipeline of high quality images published under a Creative Commons licence.

I'm not claiming this "discovery" is in any way original, examples of people who do it well include ASM on Facebook and many astronomers who have used the deluge of beautiful celestial images to their benefit. Some professional media outfits such as the Financial Times do a good job, others - not so much, e.g. Reuters. The theory here is that social networks such as Facebook are not primary publications, only pointers to content elsewhere. With Twitter, it's easy - 140 characters doesn't leave you enough space to do more than point. Facebook and Google+ are more tempting, and pointing is not the only way to do this, it's possible to make them your primary publication platform rather than an owned site such as a blog, although most people would consider this to be a dangerous long term strategy.

I have not formally measured outcomes as a good analysis of the drivers would be so multifactorial (content, colour, time of day, day of week, platform, etc, etc) as to be virtually uninterpretable, but I'm happy with the results I'm getting. Image-led pointers not only get more views, they generate more in platform engagement such as comments and shares. I'm personally surprised that image should generate more engagement than text but that is the way the world seems to work these days.

So why am I writing this post, giving away all my "secrets"? Because I'm shocked that more science communicators have not figured this out for themselves, or observed it by watching others as I have done. I still see so many blog posts and press releases without images. I pass them by without stopping - why did people waste time writing them? Sure, finding a suitable image may take some work and imagination. Writing a press release on the world's most boring metagenomics paper? Unless it fails to name a single species (in which case, why publish it?), there's your picture lead. It just takes a little effort and imagination.

Alan Cann is the creator of MicrobiologyBytes 
and Internet Consulting Editor for Annals of Botany.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Google+ Ripples

I'd love a tool like this to track the spread of information across cohorts of students. Memetastic!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

5:2 diet data for @DrMichaelMosley

Dear Dr Mosley,

I watched your BBC Horizon program Eat, Fast and Live Longer when it was first broadcast on 6th August 2012. I was so interested in the findings that the next day I started a 5:2 diet which I am still maintaining.

Although weight loss was not my primary objective, in the first four weeks I lost nearly 3 kilos and my BMI went from 24.8 to 23.8. Since then my weight has stabilized, but here's the thing - I've changed shape. I have lost over two inches from my waist and had to buy new underwear, trousers and a belt to stop slippage during lectures. I have no idea what my IGF-1 has done, but to my surprise, I have found the 5:2 diet very easy to maintain and I plan to continue on it indefinitely.

Update: I was surprised at the reaction this post got yesterday. Thinking about it more last night, I've decided that I don't like the term 5:2 diet, I much prefer 5:2 lifestyle, which emphasizes the change I am trying to make, i.e. long term sustainable habit change and not solely about weight loss.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Red Plenty - A Russian Fairytale

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford A tip-off from @nosnilwar, one of my two reading gurus, put me onto Red Plenty, and indeed, on to Francis Spufford. For personal reasons, I've been reading a lot of economics over the past two years, partly for family reasons, partly because it is a significant preoccupation of our time. My consumption has ranged from the acerbic observations of Stiglitz on the greed of bankers to the doleful prognostications of Krugman on macroeconomic failure. In this tale of woe, Red Plenty stands out like a beacon. This is a fairytale about economics, a narrative approach to politics which conceals fabulous scholarship, wit and wisdom. Red Plenty is an account of political economy which, despite the blood stains and shattered lives, will still put a smile on your face.

Yuri Gagarin’s daughter answers the phone. ‘No, mummy and daddy are out,’ she says. ‘Daddy’s orbiting the earth, and he’ll be back tonight at 7 o’clock. But mummy’s gone shopping for groceries, so who knows when she’ll be home.’

This is not a book about economics. It is a moral tale everyone should read.