The Problem with Disinviting Disagreeable Speakers on College Campuses

I’ll keep this short and simple. Three very good things can happen when faced with a disagreeable viewpoint:

  1. You find out you are wrong, and you learn something.
  2. You find out you are right, and your own viewpoints are strengthened.
  3. You increase your critical analysis skills in the process of identifying the flaws in the speaker’s arguments.

I call these three things, the 3 consequential benefits of disagreeable speech, or simply The Three Benefits. So why would college administrators disinvite a speaker? Arguments in favor of disinvitation fall into three categories:

  1. This speaker doesn’t represent the inclusiveness of our university
  2. We don’t want to legitimize or to give a platform for harmful speech
  3. We don’t want students’ feelings to be hurt

The fundamental problem with all those arguments — aside from being illogical — is that none of them outweigh the three benefits.

College students aren’t mindless sheep waiting to be brainwashed by a Cult Wolf Leader. College students are taught how to recognize bad arguments, and to react & counter them with facts and objective reasoning.

If a speaker’s viewpoint is indeed harmful, you aren’t legitimizing it or giving it a platform for spreading — again, that assumes students are helpless & mindless sheep. No, instead you’re actually preparing students for fighting it and for helping others fight back.

College is the Shaolin Temple of Argument-Style Kung Fu. Don’t deny students the opportunity to hone their minds and their skills by disinviting speakers with disagreeable viewpoints.

And if you don’t believe me, because I’m too conservative, maybe you’ll listen to this guy:

How to Create a Meme, Part 1: ProfessorF’s 4V Theory of Memes

There are no surefire formulas for creating memes, but there is “ProfessorF’s 4V Theory of Memes.”

One of the questions students always ask me is: How do you create a tweet that goes viral? Now if I could answer that question, I would be rich indeed. It’s plainly non-trivial, otherwise everyone would be creating memes and making money off of the ad revenue.

The problem is that creating a meme, like writing a best-selling novel or like shooting a successful box-office movie, is what I call a dialectical problem—a problem whose solution changes whenever someone solves it.

So if someone creates a meme, you can’t just copy it and expect it to go viral. You may get lucky and pass it off as your own to an unsuspecting group, but generally once someone creates a meme, you have to come up with a new one.

Many people have tried to give formulas. YouTube’s content manager gave a three-part formula for making a video go viral:

  1. Create unexpected content;
  2. Get your content to one or more tastemakers who will…
  3. Spread it to communities of participation.

The problem is that (1) just begs the question: What is unexpected content?

This is where my 4V Meme Theory comes in.  Information will spread if it contains at least one of the following elements:

  1. Value. An example is the answers to a difficult test.
  2. Violation (of expectations).
  3. Verification (of a widely held but unproven belief).
  4. Validation (by an authority of a widely held but unproven belief).

So, if your tweet, your video, or whatever social media content you create, contains at least one of these 4 elements it at least has a chance to go viral.  There are no guarantees. Tastemakers and communities of participation are important, but your content first needs one of these four elements.

In my next article, we’ll look at examples of memes containing Value, Violation, Verification, and Validation.


Cognitive Gamification, Part 2: Why Games?

Why do people like playing games in the first place? Evolution provides an answer.

63% of American Household have at least one person that plays video games regularly (3 or more hours per week), according to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2016 Essential Facts Report.

It’s clear that a large number of people enjoy playing video games, and games in general, but it’s not clear why. Playing games is a counter-productive activity. It takes time away from useful activities like actual work, or studying, or housework.

So again, why do people enjoy doing a counter-productive activity?

Evolution provides an answer.

We like playing games today because, fundamentally, they allow us to practice those skills — eye-hand, exploring, gathering, strategic, and social — that gave primitive man a survival advantage.

For example, throwing a rock at a tree stump honed eye-hand coordination skills needed for hunting. Searching for and collecting things like shiny rocks honed the exploration and pattern-recognition skills needed for gathering. Finally, trading shiny rocks with others honed negotiation and other social skills.

There are many more examples we can imagine, but the point is this: those primitive people that enjoyed playing games were the ones who survived to pass on their genes.

In short, we are Wired by Evolution to enjoy games.

Today, most of us no longer need to hunt or to gather our food, so playing games seems like a counter-productive activity.

Nevertheless, the widespread playing of video games in modern society can be understood as a pre-adaptation for survival, co-opted for business.

Further Reading

Bird feathers are an example of a pre-adaptation for warmth, co-opted for flight. For a fascinating read on adaptions, pre-adaptations and exaptations, see:
Gould, S. J., & Vrba, E. S. (1982). Exaptation—a missing term in the science of form. Paleobiology, 8, 4-15.

Cognitive Gamification, Part 1: Definition

If only the hard things in life were fun, imagine how successful everyone would be. Gamification provides hope, but it has limitations.

Cleaning your room. Learning calculus. Exercising daily. The mere thought of doing these things gives you that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Don’t kid yourself. When you’re faced with an activity that’s boring, difficult, or repetitive, the first thought that comes to mind is: “Isn’t there something else I should be doing?” Aka procrastinating. We all do it, and we do it a lot! But failing to procrastinate, the next thought is always: “Why can’t this be more fun?”

That question gets to the very heart of what’s known as “gamification”. Simply put:

Gamification is the process of taking an un-fun activity and making it fun by adding gaming elements.

Gaming elements include score-keeping, competition, cooperation, collectibles, and redeemables, to name but a few.

Some recent examples of gamified activities include:

  • Nike+ FuelBand, a hardware wristband and a smartphone app that gamifies exercise through score-keeping.
  • Pokemon GO, a videogame that gamifies exercise, albeit unintentionally, via collectibles.
  • Duolingo, a multi-platform app that gamifies language learning via interactivity.
  • Starbucks Rewards, gamifies purchases via redeemables.
  • Microsoft Rewards, gamifies the use of Microsoft software, such as Bing Search or the Edge Browser, via redeemables.
  • America’s Army, a videogame developed by the US Army that gamifies combat maneuvers via a combination of videogame elements.
  • My own research on pair programming, gamifies computer programming via cooperation.

This list makes it clear that many different things can be gamified, but can any activity be gamified? The answer is yes, but there is no guarantee that the gamified activity is an improvement over the existing activity.

We need principles to guide the gamification of activities.

Cognitive gamification is the application of principles from cognitive science to transform unfun into fun activities.

In part 2, we’ll explore the evolutionary basis for why people like playing games.

The Last Minute

Nick V. Flor • March 20, 2017 • @ProfessorF

It’s rare to find people that complete their work way ahead of time. Let’s be honest. If you’re like most people, you do things at The Last Minute.  This is true of almost all students, and (surprisingly) teachers as well.

Now, because so many people do things at The Last Minute, I’ve invented this pithy saying that I tell all my students who cry about all the work they have to do in such a short amount of time:

Stop complaining & remember this: “If not for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

Important note: I didn’t say you’d get quality work done in the last minute, just that something would get done. And something is better than nothing.

The Last Minute allows you turn in something.

Of course, the real truth is that students ought to plan their work and work their plan ahead of time; then the last minute wouldn’t exist. But since students (& teachers) are actually bad at planning work, let’s look at some things you can do to make sure the work you do turn in at the last minute is somewhat of quality, rather than something questionable:

Think about the problem in the meantime.

If you’re not going to work on the problem until The Last Minute, at least think about it so that when you do start working you’ll have some direction and have a head start.

Breakdown your work into Tasks With Times.

For example, if you have a 1000 page paper that needs to have a thesis statement, argument, and conclusion, along with diagrams, and you have 4 hours to do it—break this up into 4 tasks (thesis, argument, conclusion, diagram), each one hour a piece.

Abandon a task once you hit its time deadline and move onto the next task.

Once you hit your task’s deadline, you have to go with whatever you have and move onto the next task. Give each task it’s due and no more. Leonardo da Vinci is reported to have said: “Art is never finished, it is merely abandoned.” So abandon once you hit the deadline.

Take heart knowing that the last minute will force you to pick a solution that’s good enough instead of wasting your time finding the optimal solution.

The law of diminishing returns says: even if you had worked way ahead of time searching for the optimal solution, at a certain point the time you spend trying to create perfection isn’t giving you a much better solution—and you were better off doing something else more valuable.

Of course, this doesn’t help if you’re doing math, where there’s usually a single correct answer, but for creative solutions with many equally good answers the last minute can be your ally.

And the final thing I want to leave you with is this:

There is no such thing as “free time.” You make time.


Any free time you have will be sucked up by some activity. No, there is no such thing as free time. You have to make time. And The Last Minute is an opportunity for you to do so.

Get to it.


Talking Politics at Work

by Nick V. Flor • March 9, 2016 • @ProfessorF

Talking politics at work can be dangerous, but these tips will keep you safe

“Nick, I’m disappointed. I thought you were a smart person.” – Co-worker after finding out our political views differed.



“He should be FIRED or at least reported to the Office of Equal Opportunity.” – A colleague after another colleague told her that she shouldn’t decide on President based on gender or race.

Yes, those are actual quotes (to the best of my memory). From my university, no less. And lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear about my number one piece of advice regarding “talking politics at work”—Don’t! Especially if you’re a teacher in a classroom. As a teacher, your goal should be to teach students how to think, not what to think. So, I find it particularly problematic when professors pontificate politics from their pedagogy! 

But if you’re aware of the risks and still want to discuss politics at work, here are some tips:

Tip #1: Don’t

I know, I said this already. But it’s important to repeat myself because you have to know the risks, which are: (a) your co-workers now think you’re either an idiot, an -ist, certainly -phobic, and perhaps even the devil himself! or (b) your company fires you!

But again if you must, here are some tips:

Tip #2: Make your goal The Truth

When arguing about politics, you’re usually arguing about political issues like Global Warming or Illegal Immigration or Free College. Your goal should be to discover The Truth about these issues, not to stubbornly defend your position to the end.

Tip #3: Understand the type of person you’re arguing with: Sports Fan, Virtue Signaller, Feeler, or Fellow Truth Seeker

You’ll notice that most people that you argue politics with either have a sports-fan mentality or they’re virtue signaling:

Sports-Fan Mentality. These people have decided that the Democrats or Republicans (or whatever political party) are “their team” and the politicians are like their favorite athletes.  For these people, their team can do no wrong, despite any fouls you may point out.

Virtue Signaling. Social media has given rise to a weird form of bragging: “virtue signaling”. This is showing off (signaling), usually on social media, how good and open-minded (virtuous!) you are to the world. To these people the truth is only relevant if it allows them to brag on Facebook about what a GOMP (Good Open-Minded Person they are).

Feeler. This is a person that puts feelings over facts. If they feel something is true, it must be true. All they need is one anecdote to validate their feeling. Once they have that anecdote, you can present them with all the facts in the world, but facts will never trump their feelings on the issue.

You can’t arrive at The Truth if you’re arguing with a Sports Fan, Virtue Signaller, or a Feeler. So politely disagree, be prepared to say why you disagree, and move on to another topic.

Tip #4: Don’t get mad, investigate: ask for data & sources, demand logic

But if you are dealing with a fellow truth seeker, here’s my first tip: Don’t get mad.

It’s easy to get mad when someone disagrees with you on a political issue, like Global Warming. But remember that political issues are complex and there’s rarely a single correct answer like there is in math.

For example, if arguing the ridiculousness of Global Warming, you may point out that the polar ice caps have grown, and they’ll counter with “but the ice layer is much thinner”, which may seem like a ridiculous claim.

But it may be true, and you owe it to The Truth to find out. So don’t get mad. Ask for proof–data, sources, anything that will help you discover the truth.

Tip #5: Disagree Agreeably

If you can’t agree on something, then make it clear you disagree but that you’ll take their position seriously and look into it. Then actually look into it. Who knows? You may be wrong in which case you’ll learn something new, and you’ll have more of the truth on your side the next time you argue politics.

Postscript: These are my popular tips on arguing politics. They’re based on a more extensive theory I have, based on an opponent’s personal philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics.

Markets: Post Mar08 Primaries

by Nick V. Flor • March 9, 2016 • @ProfessorF

Huge shift in market preferences after the March 08 primaries, which were “won” by Donald Trump.  Before I get to the shift, let’s look at the results:

NYTimes09Mar16Second, the prediction market:

PredictWise09Mar16Note that Trump’s percentages have gone up 4pts since my last report. However, Cruz looks to have solidified his position as the #2 candidate and, more significantly, Kasich has surged 4 points ahead of Rubio to take the #3 spot.  Kasich has not won a single primary, so his surge past Rubio suggests that the market believes he is the new “Establishment” candidate.


IBM Statistics Algorithms Link

by Nick V. Flor • March 7, 2016 • @ProfessorF

I needed to check the implementation of my Varimax Rotation, which is part of the Excel Big Data analysis package that I’m writing for my OILS Learning Analytics class. After much digging, I ran across this fantastic reference:

IBM Corp (2013). IBM SPSS Statistics 23 Documentation. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.  Retrieved March 6, 2016 from

The Varimax Algorithm is on page 336 (page 396 in the PDF) along with Equimax and Quartimax.

Thank you IBM!



Markets: Post-Mar05 Primary

by Nick V. Flor • March 6, 2016 • @ProfessorF

The markets mark the end of Rubio—Kasich passes Rubio.

Four states held primaries on March 5: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maine. Trump won Kentucky and Louisiana, while Cruz took Kansas and Maine:


In response, the Prediction Markets drop Trump 4-points, raise Cruz 11-points, and drop Rubio 9-pts, and raise Kasich 3-pts, which allows him to take the lead over Rubio:


It appears the market is predicting that Kasich is the new establishment candidate, and I believe he could mount a serious challenge to both Trump and Cruz.



Prediction Markets Post-Mar03 GOP Debate

by Nick V. Flor • March 4, 2016 • @ProfessorF

It looks like the attacks by the GOP Establishment prior to the March 03 GOP Debates had an effect on Trump’s market score. He dropped from 81% to 71% since my last report on March 2 (post Super-Tuesday).


However, the post-debate graph is flat, suggesting Trump’s performance did not hurt him.  One interesting development is the introduction of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the market as possible GOP candidates.

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