UCT and the proposed academic boycott of Israel

As published in Daily Maverick, 10 March 2024

The University of Cape Town’s Senate convened on February 23 for a regular meeting, where the agenda included three separate motions calling for one or more of a range of responses to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. None of the three motions could be voted on that day following a loss of quorum before any of the motions could be tabled.

Further notes on OpenAI and ChatGPT

Continuing with the theme of my previous post (on higher education and OpenAI), John Maytham invited me join him in discussion on CapeTalk to explore some of the implications of these AI tools for student assessment and the educational project. The audio on my side was not great, but it’s certainly audible, and the podcast is available here.

In any event, here’s a more structured version of what I said, and wanted to say. In his introduction, John referred to the comments made by other guests he’s had on the show, including by some friends of mine, but those contributions seem to have largely been focused on the implications of ChatGPT/OpenAI on human creativity, how it is identified (in light of these plausible simulacra), and the implications of that for culture.

The OpenAI chatbot and the future of higher education

There are many obvious ways to cheat in large (typically 1000+ students) undergraduate classes such as mine, and one of the frustrations one often has to deal with is the fact that while it might be easy to see — and to be relatively certain — that a student has committed academic dishonesty, it’s not always easy to prove that they have done so.

Critical Race Theory and the SAIRR

Descendants of the founders of The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) have recently criticised the Institute for straying from their founding principles. While the SAIRR disagrees with Dr Heather Brookes’ (the granddaughter of the founder, Edgar Brookes) assessment, those who read the comments to the first piece would also note that her sentiment is shared by a previous member of their national executive, Prof. Hugh Corder, who resigned in the mid-90s thanks to perceiving this same value-drift occurring even then.

Review: The Psychology of Stupidity

A friend recently asked me to review Jean-Francois Marmion’s book, The Psychology of Stupidity, for her radio show Book Choice (that’s the podcast link – my bit starts at 39m50s, and it is also embedded below).

As it happened, I was reading the book in any case, so happily agreed to provide the requested 3 minutes of audio commentary. For those who prefer reading to listening, the (fuller) text is posted after the audio.

Sboros on Noakes and academic “mobbing” at UCT

The text below was submitted as a letter to The Cape Doctor, a South African Medical Association publication for medical professionals in the Western Cape. In the August 2019 edition, Marika Sboros includes my name in some of her fantastical musings, and I felt that a rebuttal was in order.

Given that the publication is typically only seen by its subscribers, I post the text of that letter here also, for the record. The edition in question (pdf link) is available on samedical.org, and a backup is stored here on Synapses too.

The “Journal of Controversial Ideas”

Jeff McMahan, Peter Singer and Francesca Minerva plan to launch the “Journal of Controversial Ideas” sometime in 2019. The journal will allow for (but not insist on) articles to be published under a pseudonym, ostensibly in response to a prevailing culture of self-censorship and fear of expressing opinions on contentious topics.

McMahan and Singer are both philosophy professors, well-known for engaging with complex topics in an accessible manner, and in Singer’s case, also no stranger to controversy. According to a headline in the Guardian from 2009, he might in fact be “The most dangerous man in the world” (he isn’t).

As By Fire – Jonathan Jansen on the 2015/6 university protests

The Cape Town launch of Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s latest book, As by Fire: The End of the South African University, was held last week at the Book Lounge. I was invited to be the discussant and, having already read the book a few weeks ago and found it to be worthwhile, was pleased to accept.

On re-reading it in preparation for the discussion, my initial impression persisted: relative ‘insiders’ to the last few years of university politics and protests might not learn much that they didn’t know, while the general public certainly could.

No, that doesn’t actually beg the question

Greetings from the Franschhoek Literary Festival where, when we’re not sitting in panel discussions, you might often find us sitting drinking wine and debating important matters. Today, after our table resolved the issue of whether you should wear your name tag in a visible (to some, ostentatious) fashion (yes), we moved on to talking about whether it was worth contesting the increasingly prevalent misuse of the phrase “begs the question”.

The (unbearable?) whiteness of philosophy

There’s an interesting – and important – discussion going on in South African professional philosophy at the moment. You can read about it on the Mail&Guardian, but the nutshell summary is that tensions regarding the “apparent supremacy of European philosophy over African philosophy” have resulted in the president and “several black philosophers” resigning from the Philosophical Society of Southern Africa (PSSA).