John Ioannidis to TC Doctoral Students: Saving Science and Humanity Begins with | Teachers College Columbia University

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John Ioannidis to TC Doctoral Students: Saving Science and Humanity Begins with Self-Knowledge

“There are millions of iPads, smart phones, and apps out there in the world,” President Susan Fuhrman told doctoral students at the College’s hooding ceremony on Wednesday. “But there are also a few thousand men and women out there with doctorates from the research institution known for virtually inventing modern education and for producing the most influential leaders in education, health, and psychology. You are now part of that great contingent.”

In her remarks, Fuhrman highlighted several graduates who, like everyone receiving a TC doctorate, demonstrated the “capability—sharpened through the experience bridging theory and practice at this great research institution—to solve the toughest problems facing society today.” They were:

Nathan Alexander, who received his Ph.D. in mathematics education. His dissertation, “Identity, Self-Efficacy, and Black Student Success in Mathematics” focused on factors that related to the ways students construct their self-beliefs within the school-based ecological framework. He received a tenure-track appointment as Assistant Professor at the School of Education at the University of San Francisco where he will teach social justice and education statistics courses.

Nancy Green Saraisky, who received her Ph.D. in Comparative and International Education and Political Science. Her research focused on the growing use in the United States of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measurement and its impact on U.S. education debates. She is looking to teach while continuing to build on her research in order to influence future policy around testing.

George Diaz, who received his Ed.D. in Physical Education in our Biobehavioral Studies program. Focusing his research on attitudes toward phys ed among Latino youth, he pursued his doctorate while continuing to teach phys ed in the Bronx. He wants to help fill the gap in the literature on cross-cultural analyses and to become an administrator at the district or system-wide level.

Blanca Vega, who received her Ed.D. from TC’s Higher and Postsecondary Education program. Fulfilling her father’s dream to earn a Columbia University degree, Blanca defended her dissertation, "Beyond Incidents and Apologies: Toward a New Understanding of Campus Racial Conflict in Higher Education.” She has devoted her scholarship and career to increasing access to postsecondary education for underserved populations. Her more immediate goal is to begin a post-doctoral fellowship and ultimately to teach.

Karima Clayton, who received her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. She defended her dissertation on the collateral consequences of the war on drugs, especially the experience of daughters whose fathers were incarcerated. “The Collateral Consequence of the War on Drugs: Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis of the Experience of Daughters Who Experienced Paternal Incarceration as a Result of the War on Drugs.” She wants to build on her research to focus on the criminal justice system itself and the disproportionate numbers of minorities represented within it.

John Ioannidis, the C.F. Rehnborg Chair in Disease Prevention at Stanford University; holder of professorships in Medicine, Statistics, and Health Research and Policy; Director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center; and director of the PhD program in Epidemiology and Clinical Research, received TC’s Medal for Distinguished Service. One of the world’s most cited and influential scientists, Ioannidis almost singlehandedly focused global attention on the pervasive fallibility of biomedical research and proposed detailed strategies for reform.

Ioannidis began his remarks in a witty, self-deprecating vein, acknowledging both mentors “who made my ignorance manifest” and his lifelong struggles in what he called “the advance course” in self-knowledge. “It takes a lot of education before we can barely scratch the surface of knowing a tiny bit about who we are,” he said. “Perhaps we can learn more by learning and caring about others.”

After sharing humorous observations on his approach to learning (“I still try to describe, narrate, probe, and hopefully quantify my ignorance and harness my uncertainty”) and the risks assumed by all who invite him to collaborate on pursuing funded research (“It clearly diminishes their chances of finding and claiming significant, impressive, and earth-shaking results”), Ioannidis raised a fundamental question: What are we exposed to? And what are we educated on?

First, he “wished more people were exposed to science, not necessarily the splashing successes of science and technology, but (rather) the true core of science, which is mostly about careful, rigorous, thoughtful work, skillful design and analysis, skeptical interpretation, continuous reevaluation of the evidence, and meticulous validation.” He added that he wished “the scientific method could become a more integral part of our everyday lives, reasoning, and decision making experiences.” He called for educators to join the first line of defense against the “spreading irrationality” of a growing “anti-science movement of ‘denial-ism’ that is gaining momentum based on sheer absurdity.”

Ioannidis then raised his second great concern: the precarious state of the arts and humanities and what he called “the spreading extinction of humanism.”

“In more developed countries, such as the U.S. or Europe, perhaps we do not shatter ancient statues and temples with sledgehammers and bulldozers,” he said. “But we still shutter our own soul by not supporting and allowing high quality art and humanities to flourish, and accepting them to be replaced by mass consumption products of the lowest common denominator.”  

Ioannidis concluded his remarks by praising TC’s doctoral graduates as “visionary educators” who are ready to celebrate humanity with all its breadth and unlimited potential for meaningful evolution.” 

Watch the complete ceremony.


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READ At First Masters Ceremony, Deborah Ball Urges Graduates to  Never Forget the Power of Skillful Teaching

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Published Wednesday, May. 27, 2015