The Breakfast Table

The Benefits of Bad Science

Dear Atul,

But I like the medical tangents. And I like hearing that the research on repetitive stress injuries is less clear than the Times suggests. I work hunched over in a creaky old chair with my feet tucked up under me, at a desk that’s too high. I even do interviews with the phone cradled between my ear and my shoulder. And I’m someone who catches a lot of bad diseases by reading about them.

On the other hand: While I can’t argue that you’re wrong to oppose bad science on the front page of the New York Times (something you’ve done most eloquently in the past), I’m inclined to like almost any story that might act as a brake on the education establishment’s passion for computers in the classroom. I’m not against teaching kids how to use them; I’m just very suspicious of how fast they’re coming to be seen as essential to learning anything. In touring D.C.’s private elementary schools a couple of years ago to choose a school for our son, we heard endlessly about the schools’ computer labs and “publishing” programs; in some of the libraries, the banks of new equipment were so grand that you had to look twice to find the books. (In the end, we chose the school that had the most books lying around the classrooms.) It’s scientifically sleazy of me, I guess, to hope that a story like today’s Times article will scare educators away from the keyboard. But it’s kind of fun to resist the tide of computer evangelism on Microsoft’s nickel. …