I love the arts, particularly bouncy, moderately cheesy dance music experienced in a club. Programme evaluation has been poking at the arts for a while now and attempting to quantify their impact on wellbeing. And I really wish evaluators would stop and think what they’re doing before rushing in with WEMWBS. The experience I have dancing in a sweaty club is very different to the experience wandering around Tate or crying in a cinema. Programme effects are contrasts: the actual outcome of the programme versus an estimate of what the outcome would have been in the programme’s absence, e.g., following some genre of “business as usual”. Before we can measure the average causal benefits of the arts we need a sensible theory of change, and some ideas about what the counterfactual is. Maybe you can find out how I feel dancing to Free Yourself, but what’s the contrast? Dancing to something else? Staying in with a cup of tea and chocolate, reading a book about standard errors for matching with replacement? What exactly is the programme being evaluated…? (End of random thoughts.)
The point of an English degree (Stewart Lee)
‘The universities minister, Michelle Donelan, wants to chop courses where “fewer than 60% of graduates are in professional employment or further study within 15 months of graduating”. She misunderstands the point of studying the arts. […] The point of an English degree is to inspire those who take it with such a love of literature that they spend the next decade serving in bars while trying to complete their Great Work. And if that doesn’t fly, they must become English teachers, handing on the same curse of loving literature to future generations, their collective misery deepening like a coastal shelf, just as our collective understanding of the works grows because of their efforts.’
– Stewart Lee (2022, 3 June). Tory contempt for the arts means we face a second dark age. The Guardian.
An optimistic interlude
Formal and Applied Practical Reasoning
This design, by Lydia Rivlin, was used for an academic conference poster and book cover. Apparently it caused some controversy. About its design, Lydia says (personal communication, 16 Aug 2006):
“When I had to think of something to illustrate the idea of formal (i.e. mechanical) and applied practical reasoning, this image of a robot chatting up a prostitute sprang straight into my mind. […] I have an idea he is asking her how much she would charge for an oil change – but I could be wrong.”