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The Surveilled Student (chronicle.com)
149 points by samclemens 6 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 140 comments





> “When you consider the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in this pandemic, is it too much to ask to share your heart rate or temperature?”

This is honestly disgusting, it's the worst kind of lazy "think of the children" style rhetoric. I'd like to think this kind of argument stands on it's own as ridiculous, I guess we'll see.


I am really sick of the word share. Share your data with us, share your heart rate with us, we just share this with a few of our partners. Sharing is caring, I guess.

An appropriate response to a company asking anyone to share anything is asking for revenue share.

I mean we're sharing things, after all. It only seems fair.

Yes I’ve struggled to take it seriously since day one - ‘the sharing economy’, like I’m paying you to rent a room in your house (Airbnb). That’s just ‘the economy’.

I think maybe they mean something along the lines of, you, the individual, provide the capital and the labor and take on the risk, and then you "share" some or most of the revenue with us.

That’s my biggest issue with “sharing” economy companies. They are asking people to take on enormous risks -buying homes and cars - and then just algorithmically delist them when a problem occurs with no liability.

Yes, that's pretty much the business model right there - taking advantage of loopholes in the regulations (until they're patched), it's version 2.0 of 'privatize the profits, socialize the costs'.

Agreed. In the previous paragraph to that quote:

> As he sees it, handing over health information is a relatively small price to pay if it means halting the spread of a virus that has ravaged the nation.

That "if" is doing a lot of work. Does BioButton actually help? Does it help even after mass vaccinations?

If it doesn't help, then why pay any price, no matter how small?

Or, just after what you quoted:

> He says the wearable technology seemed the least invasive way to catch symptoms early and give students tools to know if they might have early signs of, or potential exposure to, Covid-19.

How many false positives will it give? If there are 100 false positives to one true positive, then the signal will be drowned out in the noise.


> How many false positives will it give? If there are 100 false positives to one true positive, then the signal will be drowned out in the noise.

On the other hand the consequences of a false positive are much smaller than those of a false negative. Inconvenience vs serious health problems or death.


Absolutely this requires a cost-benefits analysis!

So, what is the false positive rate? I pulled the 100-to-1 out of my ass. Maybe it's 10K-to-1 or only 5-to-1. Maybe the false negative rate is 19-to-1, which would also make it rather useless. Dunno. Does the school know? Is that information public? Sure would be nice to have, yes?

What does "inconvenience" mean? I think you're talking about inconvenience for the students. If so, I want you to consider what "inconvenience" means for the school administration.

They have many policies they could enforce. They could have mandatory campus-wide testing every three days, and if someone tests positive then the campus is closed until tests are negative for three weeks, and during that time all on-campus residents are in quarantine, and classes switch to 100% remote teaching.

Inconvenient, yes? But if the question is simply "Inconvenience vs serious health problems or death" then surely this inconvenience they could put up with, yes? It'll surely be more effective than this BioButton!

Instead, it sounds like the administration wants something which is more convenient and cheaper to their budget. If so, shouldn't they demonstrate that this convenience isn't some sort of high-tech smoke&mirrors to avoid paying for something that is actually effective?


I think it depends. I have lupus so I’ve got a low grade fever pretty frequently even though for the most part I’m perfectly fine. I’m certainly not contagious. In the early days of the pandemic I was turned away once — in front of everyone! The judgment I felt from the others in line was awful. Like I’d done something wrong for being unable to control sometime completely beyond my control. The anxiety from that one experience was enough to keep me home unless I had absolutely no choice but to go somewhere. It was certainly more than just an “inconvenience” to me and my family and no one around me was ever at risk of death because I had been diligent in masking and social distancing from the beginning.

And while your experience was poor the practice of turning away those with a fever is a sane best practice.

It happened one time in am embarrassing manner, and that sucks, but when you put your grief next to the millions of people that died we can probably just continue to do this thing and deal with the embarrassing outcomes as they crop up.


>It happened one time in am embarrassing manner, and that sucks, but when you put your grief next to the millions of people that died we can probably just continue to do this thing and deal with the embarrassing outcomes as they crop up.

That's only valid if the millions of people that died would not have died had people been turned away with fevers. From my understanding that is not the case.


Yes, for you the embarrassing outcome is a one-off. But for me (and others) it was a distinct possibility every single time I left the house. Do you see the difference?

There's no difference except in my miscommunication - I used the term once because you described it as a single event, I did not mean to imply that it could not happen again or wasnt happening often and inopportunely, but instead to comment on the contrast between a measured event that sucks and millions of measured events that suck way more.

And young adults are among the least affected. There are no justifications for this kind of medical surveillance.

There are perfectly good justifications: More Americans died than combat deaths in WWII at this point. Young Americans can be permanently disabled, and can share diseases with old professors.

There are also perfectly good justifications for not wanting a police state.

Until both sides understand that the other side has a point, we're not going to land anywhere reasonable.

If we had 100% compliance with the easy things:

* Social distancing of 6 feet

* Universal usage of 80% or more effective masks

* Vaccines

* Everything that can be done outdoors is

We probably wouldn't need the hard things.

Reasonable measures by everyone are far more effective than part of the population throwing all precautions to the wind, and part insisting on a draconian police state.

I'm concerned about economic shutdowns, closing schools, failing businesses, police state measures, and similar. Avoiding those means we all need to acknowledge the very real risk of COVID19, and while we might not agree with medical surveillance, that the people pushing for it have different values but aren't crazy.


We must make these judgments and trade-offs all the time in society. We surrender freedoms regularly: You aren't free to drive on the wrong side of the road; you have to surrender personal info for a credit card, passport, plane/train/bus ticket; if you have another deadly, highly contagious disease, you can be quarantined.

I don't love the tone, but the number of deaths is an indicator of cost when considering the trade-off.


Is the privacy of many more important than the life of few?

Yes. Obviously. There's plenty of privacy destroying actions a society could take that would "save lives" but we don't do these exactly because of the encroachment on civil liberties they would entail.

That's a false dichotomy between option A), have your students sit exams in person and kill people, and option B), grossly invade your students' privacy with obnoxious spyware. Option C), just trust your students to take exams at home and slightly dilute the signal of your test scores, has always been on the table and is a totally viable alternative.

Is giving up your privacy bringing them back to life? The problem isn't the relative weighting, it's the implication that they're in any way linked.

Is it easier to kill people who have no privacy? History shows us the answer to that question is "yes".

Are there any simple generally understandable comebacks to cheap rhetorical tricks like this?

I think the only move is to answer it honestly. It isn’t even a trick really; it gets to the heart of the matter.

If you answer "no", the same logic can be used to strip you of all your rights. How much domestic violence and murder could be prevented if every home was required to have cameras and microphones installed?

Yes.

I said it about the Patriot Act and I say it about this.


There is no fucking connection between the two. We can have privacy and no deaths.

These ideas aren't so bad when they are voluntary, but that is never enough. There is inherently a power behind this where a small group needs to force a large group to do what they say.

> Is the privacy of many more important than the life of few?

That's a judgement call to which people will have different reactions.

One way to look at it is to ask if there are other mechanisms to accomplish the same/similar goal, then ask which of these mechanisms is most aligned with our values.

A recent Lex Fridman interview of Po-Shen Loh [0] covered a privacy protecting NPI approach. An interesting aspect of the approach is that it works with people's self-interest of taking steps to stay healthy instead of attempting to work against people's self-interest in not being quarantined.

0. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z1JwZbX4dQ

1. https://www.novid.org/

2. https://www.poshenloh.com/


Just consider the number of persons that died in the history fighting to earn and preserve your privacy!

Unlike other posters, I think this is a valid question. I mean, it's heart rate and temperature, not your porn habits or diary or whatever. If the availability of that data could potentially save many lives, why is it so bad to gather it?

I mean, if we're in favor of universal health care where, by some rhetoric, we're forcing people at gunpoint to give their money to save others, why is this so bad?


Because those who want "just heart rate and temperature" will want more in future. We aren't setting that precedent and opening up the possibility for more.

This is like saying “it’s just metadata, what could it reveal.”

As for heart rate and temperature, having this info over time can show:

When were you sleeping, active, potentially emotional?

When did a woman ovulate? Is she pregnant now? Did she have a miscarriage? Or maybe an abortion?


Unequivocally, yes.

Prof here. I don't use proctoring software, nor does anyone at my college.

But there is an issue. If I have someone who did the homework, learned the material, and can demonstrate it on the exams, and they find out that someone else in class got the same grade by cheating, aren't they justified in being angry? And am I not justified in being distressed to find that I am certifying someone as knowledgable (say,as part of an undergraduate program to become a person who designs bridges), when they are not?

My point is that there are for-real issues. That is, sober analysis needs to balance a lot of things, including people's genuine right to privacy and the effectiveness of the software, but also including the missions of the institutions and the wider needs of society.

> institutions have looked for a technological fix where there isn’t one.

Yes, the killer slam is that the proctoring software doesn't work. But what if it did?

Finger wagging warning: I'm approaching retirement. But you, that is, lots of folks now reading HN, will need to, over the course of their careers, work these issues through. There isn't a simple fix, IMHO. I hope people will try to give it serious attention.


I went to a college with an honor code, and proctoring exams was forbidden. Most exams were taken where the student was most comfortable (I usually opted for wherever I'd studied, be it an empty classroom or my dorm room). Most exams were simply open book.

I really think it was a great system. But, it's not perfect. I believe the military academies are all on similar honor systems, and I remember a few times of mass-cheating scandals, which have pretty heavy penalties, including expulsion in those environments.


> Most exams were simply open book.

As I've been out of school for a few years now, I've realized that the memorized material from school fades unless you use it regularly. It boggles my mind that we still effectively test students on memorization ability rather than research and synthesis abilities, even in 'hard' sciences. Sure, there are some processes, procedures and standards which we expect professionals to just 'know', but that should not be the vast majority of knowledge tested.

Plus, in the 'real world', I'll happily hire an engineer who doesn't know how to solve an interview problem, but can adequately describe how they'd go about learning how to solve it. I'd trust that person not to just go with their gut or what they think they know, but to rather do some research.

Granted, mass cheating, copying answers, etc is still wrong. People should still have to 'do the work' so to speak.


> I believe the military academies are all on similar honor systems, and I remember a few times of mass-cheating scandals, which have pretty heavy penalties, including expulsion in those environments.

According to some faculty, the U.S. military academies (or some of them) have rampant cheating (and other corruption) and little penalty. Look up The Cost of Loyalty by Tim Bakken, for example.

The best way to corrupt an institution is to idealize it.


Maybe the best system is honor code + encourage students to tell the Prof / administration if another student is cheating.

Cheating all on your own is difficult if you also have to hide it from your peers.


Agreed. Our honor code required that you report any infractions, otherwise you were also in violation. No idea if that was effective or not, but in my experience the code was taken somewhat seriously.

This argument pops out in many societal issues, not only cheating on exams.

Most people don't cheat and act in good faith but we make them suffer anyway because we will be damned if even one person cheats their way through the system, not on my watch! Make sure it's bad for everyone just because if someone exploits the system it will be bad for everyone.

In the end there is a healthy balance and those who cheat the system will either fail later from the lack of skill/knowledge or, if they don't, it means it was sort of unnecessary anyway


> If I have someone who did the homework, learned the material, and can demonstrate it on the exams, and they find out that someone else in class got the same grade by cheating, aren't they justified in being angry?

Why should they be angry? The whole point of college should be to learn, to build knowledge, not just to get good grades. If someone wants to pay money to cheat and not learn the curriculum, that is their choice


Hm. If exam is not measuring competence adequately, the exams validity is lacking, ergo, exam should be redesigned for better validity. Open-book exams with good validity exist, as do tests allowing scientific calculators and formula sheets. Admittedly, that is harder, but... what is "cheating" in the age of information anyway?

Cheating is posting the question to Chegg and then copying the answer someone posts into your exam. For example.

To be tongue-in-cheek - that person will make a great dev, because I copy answers from stackoverflow all the time and get paid 6 figures to do it.

The old technique of letting your neighbor copy your answers is both more effective (they don't need to be your neighbor) and harder to monitor (just use your phone to post answers somewhere). The other old technique of sending your older sibling to take the test for you is also difficult to monitor digitally.

I know you're making this argument in good faith, but whenever someone talks about balancing one person's rights against the needs of society, it is an excuse to treat someone in a way they know is wrong, on some level, but they don't want to accept. Rights are a moral issue, and it sounds a lot better to say, "We need to balance individual rights against the needs of society," than to say, "I know we can't morally treat people this way, but we are going to anyway because they are in the way of our big goals."

Rights are only a concept that exists within societies, so it seems like societies will either define rights broadly and then discuss tradeoffs, or they would need to define rights very narrowly so a tradeoff isn't conceivable. But then few things would be bona fide rights. If you define a right as inviolable, then privacy isn't a right by that definition unless you have some extreme individualist/anarchist worldview.

>Rights are only a concept that exists within societies

I fundamentally disagree with this. Rights exist regardless of society, society merely limits them.


The only right that seems even remotely plausible and socially independent was Hobbes's claim that we have a right to defend ourselves from being killed.

Anything else just seems too ontologically and epistemologically suspect.


I think that you're missing the point of the comment you're responding to. Here are some similar statements:

"Permission is only a concept that exists within an Authorization scheme"

"Legal and Illegal are only concepts which exist within a Legal framework"

"Simultaneity is only a concept that exists within a shared reference frame"

They are saying that societal rights are actions a society says it's okay with. You are saying that rights are actions you can take without consequence (I'll call this 'effective right'). Those are different concepts, and you're asserting that "effective rights" is the correct definition of "rights". The different definitions say different things:

- You have the effective right to do something -> no-one will stop you. This can be a vacuous statement if there's no-one around.

- You have the societal right to do something -> the people around you will tolerate your action.


> Rights exist regardless of society, society merely limits them.

Exactly. Universal human rights are in fact the basis of most modern government, international law, and more. Recall that someone once wrote,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men ...

Note that no higher power (beyond a "creator") endows these rights. Since that was written, that philosophy and government based on it has swept the world. Most people reading this comment live in a country that operates on that or a similar basis. The evidence of belief in it and its success are overwhelming - I always wonder why it's trendy these days to try to shoot it down. Isn't it good news (except for people who want to oppress others)?


> I fundamentally disagree with this. Rights exist regardless of society, society merely limits them.

I'm curious what "exist" means here and am very surprised at the "merely".


>I'm curious what "exist" means here and am very surprised at the "merely".

In a natural state you have all the rights - your rights are theoretically unlimited. Society is what limits them. Society cannot create or remove rights, but it can limit your ability to express or use them.


Ah. I found Locke's Second Treatise very unconvincing, so we probably disagree both on the soundness of the argument-from-nature and what constitutes a right—is a right "real" when merely conceived of, or must it be exercisable in practice, necessitating either highly effective personal power or highly effective power of a society on your behalf, to be, in any sense, real (moreover, what does it mean for a cave-dwelling loner in the state of nature to have freedom of speech, for example? Not much, I'd say—rights aren't even useful or sensible constructs absent society, from what I can tell, and within society they're basically just freedoms we've decided we like a whole lot and want to provide with a powerful label)

>is a right "real" when merely conceived of, or must it be exercisable in practice, necessitating either highly effective personal power or highly effective power of a society on your behalf, to be, in any sense, real

Yes, it's real when conceived of, just like drugs are legal until there is a law against them. There are limits on exercising one's rights, but that doesn't mean the right itself goes away or as you put it, never existed in the first place.

>moreover, what does it mean for a cave-dwelling loner in the state of nature to have freedom of speech, for example? Not much, I'd say

So rights only exist where they are useful? How about if you don't exercise a particular right, do you still have it?

>rights aren't even useful or sensible constructs absent society, from what I can tell, and within society they're basically just freedoms we've decided we like a whole lot and want to provide with a powerful label

I think it's more that they are freedoms we have recognized exist rather than something society has created. While freedom of speech might not have been particularly useful without a society, you certainly had that freedom before society existed. It's not really possible for society to be the creator of freedom of speech if it existed prior to society.

On the other end, if society collapses and you are again in a state of nature, you again have freedom of speech. So it's really just that society limited your ability to exercise that right, it didn't remove it entirely.

For me part of the importance of inherent rights comes down to an understanding that given societal ability to decide for a person what rights they possess, they will, from time to time, decide that a person possesses no rights at all. If that is actually true, and all rights come from society, then there's no real moral way to rebel against that. Individuals need to have an ability to balance against society and if society is the source of all power as well as all moral standing, there is no possibility for the individual.

If rights exist at all, they must by necessity be inherent to the person and not granted by society.


Then yes, rights don't exist at all.

What we do have is something else, let's call it "rights(tm)", which are a social construct used to privilege and protect individuality. We use it as a tool when making decisions about how to treat others and what laws are legitimate. They are contestable, and allow the tradeoff to be adjusted based on circumstances and the priorities of societies.


While I understand your perspective, I disagree with it.

That gives too much power to society and is a foundation for tyranny in my opinion. More, it means slavery without the right to contest it unless that right is provided by the State, which of course it wouldn't be.

Also fundamentally it doesn't make sense because I clearly have the right to do things if I am doing them and nobody is stopping me.


That's the whole thing, isn't it? Different societies do stop people from doing different sets of things. So "nobody is stopping me" can't be evidence for any "natural" set of rights beyond society, since it would result in wildly different sets of "natural rights" for people in different societies. And a different set outside of a society, where maybe you have the a greater right to light things on fire but a lesser right to not get killed by someone else lighting things on fire.

Here's the thing; I'm operating in the framework I was responding to, where rights come from the state and must be exercised to be real.

If all rights come from society and I have no rights outside those society grants, and I am able to take an action not explicitly outlined as one I have the right to take by my society, and society does not punish me for doing this in any way - how do I not have the right to do it in the first place?

I believe that government is granted powers by the people. I do not believe that people are granted powers by the government. That's the fundamental difference. People can live without the government, the government cannot live without the people.

That means that if the government is acting against the interests of the people, the people have the right to reform the government.

If power comes from the government instead, the people have no right of reform save that granted by the government. This means that if the government doesn't want to be reformed, the people have no justification for reforming it.

As to your right to light things on fire, being killed by others etc - you have the right to kill other people, especially when they are trying to kill you. You may be killed in response, that can happen. That's the incentive for making a society, so people don't kill or rob you. You make a government and grant it your proxy to act in your stead - so you don't get to kill people anymore, but society will do it for you.


I think this is magical thinking about what a government is.

The social contract theory is a just-so story. It's not real. Governments exist because they are a tool for concentrating power and out-compete other social groupings in terms of economic strength and capacity for violence. But good governments want to incentive happy, productive citizens, so they use pre-existing language, or invent new language, to discuss how to achieve that. "Rights" are an example of this.

Governments don't exist from the consent of the governed, but rather from the lack of force sufficiently strong to dissolve them. Just because I don't have this force doesn't mean I have consented to being governed.


> Governments exist because they are a tool for concentrating power and out-compete other social groupings in terms of economic strength and capacity for violence.

Governments exist because single people aren't powerful enough to protect themselves and because people are social, so they group together.

This is more Hegel, but they totally do exist from the consent of the governed because the people do have the power to dissolve them. If the will of the people does not align with the government, over time the government will dissolve. The question is how bad it has to get before that happens.

>Governments don't exist from the consent of the governed, but rather from the lack of force sufficiently strong to dissolve them. Just because I don't have this force doesn't mean I have consented to being governed.

So essentially if a force existed that could dissolve governments, then no governments would exist? Again, I think that force does exist, embodied in the governed as a whole. By the way, you completely do consent to be governed. You can choose to drop out - the problem being that if you do that you leave yourself at the mercy of powerful actors. It's not an optimal state.


You're at the mercy of powerful actors regardless of whether you consent to it. A law will affect me the same way regardless of whether I believe in it. A rock blocking my path blocks it whether I consent to it being there. Maybe I can go around, or maybe I need to move it, but my consent isn't really important. By the way, most governments do not forbid dropping out.

Hegel is doing the continental thing of waving hands and converting a collection of individuals into a People who Consent. But if you have 80% of the people not consenting, but 80% of the power supporting the government, consent doesn't matter.

I think you're also leaving out the possibility of a Nash equilibrium, where nobody likes the government, but there is not a way to coordinate a transition to something better without a high likelihood of something worse.

But in the end I don't think we disagree too much, just some quibbling around the edges. Maybe I'm wrong though.


> The social contract theory is a just-so story.

I find this (the liberal employment of just-so stories) to be practically a defining trait of enlightenment-era political thinking. Happy coincidence that their application resulted in systems of government strong enough to survive competition, though I do worry that that had more to do with other factors than with the benefits of liberal democracy, which may be more like peacock feathers than something enduringly fit in a changing environment, and that, especially with a changing technological landscape, the March of Democracy may end up being rather less long-lived than we might have hoped. I gather some cold-war thinkers had similar concerns. That turned out to be OK, more or less, I suppose, for generous values of "OK"—Russia didn't exactly shift toward liberalism afterward the fall of the Soviet Union, for one thing.


Yes, we will have to see. I think my own attachments to liberal values don't provide much guidance for how humanity will be best served. But I hope whatever emerges or wins out does it somehow by making people live meaningful lives, and not by leading us to something like Derek Parfit's repugnant conclusion.

Where this loses me is: 1) I don't think "it's inconvenient" (that is, it empowers tyranny) is a compelling argument for or against the truth of something, and 2) I don't see how this, in fact, affects the practice or existence of tyranny one way or the other. The reason I think it matters is because I think it's harmful when people get really hung up on some set of rights that they believe are proven from a hypothetical argument (as the "state of nature" argument is—often this ends up being heavily centered around individual property rights, as in Locke) and draw a hard line between those and any other liberties that others might like to admit to the ranks of "rights". I don't really think I'm more or less able to defend against tyranny if rights "exist" (huh?) in a "state of nature" that doesn't actually reflect anything like the apparent "natural" state of humanity, which seems to have been communal and societal since, quite likely, before we were H. Sapiens yet.

My practical objection is, in particular:

> More, it means slavery without the right to contest it unless that right is provided by the State, which of course it wouldn't be.

You can contest whatever you want, if you're able. The hypothetical "source" (huh?) of your rights doesn't matter. You can make a moral argument against slavery even if "state of nature" reasoning about rights were 100% for-sure convincing-to-everyone proven to be wrong. It's irrelevant. If someone's contesting slavery and you convince them that the "natural rights" conception is bunk, they can... still contest slavery. It doesn't matter a bit. It's a label to convey that we're very serious about something and think others should take it very seriously, too, and so far as that goes it's useful and important.


>Where this loses me is: 1) I don't think "it's inconvenient" (that is, it empowers tyranny) is a compelling argument for or against the truth of something

Oh, ok. But what about the part where it exists without society? In the US, for example, our laws are mostly reactionary. It's built on the common law system, and things change over time as they encounter new situations. So rather than creating a law to create the new, the law is created in response to the new.

>2) I don't see how this, in fact, affects the practice or existence of tyranny one way or the other.

Do you not see that in practice or in theory? Because in practice sure, it's hard - the concept of rights stemming from the individual is mostly an enlightenment one and that's only a few hundred years. That said, countries that follow that principle have not had a tyrant lead them for more than a few years over that period either, while countries where rights come from the state have had tyrants or monarchs. That doesn't really prove anything but if you go into the theory, one system supports centralized power and the other supports decentralized power. Which is better for consolidation and control by a smaller group?

>The reason I think it matters is because I think it's harmful when people get really hung up on some set of rights that they believe are proven from a hypothetical argument (as the "state of nature" argument is—often this ends up being heavily centered around individual property rights, as in Locke) and draw a hard line between those and any other liberties that others might like to admit to the ranks of "rights".

Could you make an example? I'd be surprised that someone can be for natural rights and be against say the existence of a right to free expression, for instance.

>You can contest whatever you want, if you're able.

Sure, my point is that it makes you more able. People want to be on the side of justice and morality and it's important to have deep foundations for individual rights to assist in preventing the government from succeeding in its attempts to usurp them. Governments always try to usurp people's rights, but it's harder to do when individuals know it's happening. I think it's better to be suspicious of the government when it increases its own power. If you believe your rights come from your government then when the government limits your potential actions you are less likely to object - you'd sound ridiculous. I believe it's these minor objections that lead to larger movements and allow for change without direct and bloody revolution.

This part, for example: If someone's contesting slavery and you convince them that the "natural rights" conception is bunk, they can... still contest slavery. It doesn't matter a bit.

That's true but if that happens it stays a single person contesting slavery with no real basis in ethics. Why do they want to deprive people of their property in contravention of existing rights and laws? Why not have slavery outright, actually, in that case? What's wrong with it? Is it only wrong because the state currently says so? I don't think so - I think it's wrong for a lot of reasons but at its core, a person owns themselves, always. As a result they cannot be fully owned by another.


> That said, countries that follow that principle have not had a tyrant lead them for more than a few years over that period either, while countries where rights come from the state have had tyrants or monarchs. That doesn't really prove anything but if you go into the theory, one system supports centralized power and the other supports decentralized power. Which is better for consolidation and control by a smaller group?

I'm not comfortable relying on continued belief in a conception of rights that I don't think has great grounding in reason, to safeguard against tyranny. At best it seems a slightly-helpful convenience with an uncertain future, useful primarily as a tool of propaganda. That's not nothing, admittedly, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone using it for that purpose.

> Could you make an example? I'd be surprised that someone can be for natural rights and be against say the existence of a right to free expression, for instance.

The simplest thing to point out would be that natural-rights adherents have a tendency (I've noticed) to be hostile to any kind of "positive" right, seeing them, pretty much categorically, as strictly at-odds with capital-R Rights that can be derived from the State of Nature thought experiment (or similar). These positions tend toward incoherence, irrespective of the truth-value of the State of Nature argument itself, in their more mainstream form (supporting e.g. the right to a trial and judgement by one's peers despite that pretty clearly involving some positive rights to other people's time, or that the claim that others cannot choose to give up rights for any reason is itself a positive right) or else, in an effort to maintain coherence, toward reducing anything too close to a "positive" right to a business transaction in order that positive gain might always be voluntary (IMO "voluntary" in this context is on such a sliding scale that here applying as if it were concrete and absolute amounts to sophistry, but that's a whole other topic). This latter at least has some promise so far as its reasoning goes, but I'd prefer to see its application succeed somewhere far away from me before I'd entertain becoming an advocate for it.

Either way, I don't like absolutism regarding Natural Rights which have been granted this elevated status as the outcome of a thought experiment. If we could, hypothetically, somehow, have 99.9% as much liberty to free speech and, as a result, everyone's quality of life would be 10x greater because this minor infringement would enable all sorts of huge benefits, of course I'd be all for that—I'm choosing exaggerated figures and treating these as precisely measurable for ease of illustration, but my point is that I favor treating infringement on what are commonly agreed upon as rights with a high degree of skepticism but not treating them as a suicide pact, as it were... because I simply don't think they're special, and that their utility is what justifies their protection, not the reasoning that led to their selection.

In the end, I'm simply more interested in and find more compelling the conservation or creation of liberties, of all sorts, that make life nicer and more practically free for most people. Whether these are or are not Rights that can be derived from a state-of-nature line of reasoning is of little concern to me. I do think that the sets of rights arrived at by the usual names in that movement are a damn good starting point, however I think that has more to do with the whole thing being an exercise in motivated reasoning than with the thought experiment proving anything fundamentally true about human freedom. I see the derivation from the state of nature as a side-show, and the rights so-arrived-at are what are worth consideration (and acceptance or rejection, either one—I don't think we're obligated to accept them, because, again, I don't think they have some kind of reality [what would that even mean?] beyond what we decide to give them).

> That's true but if that happens it stays a single person contesting slavery with no real basis in ethics. Why do they want to deprive people of their property in contravention of existing rights and laws? Why not have slavery outright, actually, in that case? What's wrong with it? Is it only wrong because the state currently says so? I don't think so - I think it's wrong for a lot of reasons but at its core, a person owns themselves, always. As a result they cannot be fully owned by another.

I do not think natural rights are the only—or even a particularly good, because, again, I judge them to be built on shaky ground—way to arrive at an ethical argument against slavery, so I don't think their absence removes all ethical basis for arguing against slavery.

Actually, this right here lets me illustrate part of my whole point here: "[...] a person owns themselves, always. As a result they cannot be fully owned by another." Great! So why worry about slavery? A person owns themselves, always. Always.

So that right "exists", because someone wrote down an argument from the state of nature that demonstrates that it does. Wonderful. Does that free a single slave? No. Applied as propaganda, perhaps it does. But that "right" "existing" has no power whatsoever to free a single person. Only turned into action, in a relevant context, is it of any value. We choose to manifest it as a kind of reality, but it exists not at all per se.

Let me put it this way: if the state of nature argument had happened to yield that people can be owned and owning people is a right (again, I think the whole thing's motivated reasoning, so this isn't even slightly implausible, IMO, if you put it in the hands of someone who wants that outcome they may find a path that's every bit as solid as, say, Locke's) would we be compelled to accept that? It's a right, so it must be ethical and fine? I say hell no. And I don't think any other rights that fall out of the argument deserve special protection or deference except so far as they're useful and we judge them Good.


The positive/negative rights question is interesting, I'm gonna read a few things and think about this.

well said

If rights are unlimited, and only their expression can be limited, then it seems like it is a category that excludes nothing and so is basically vacuous.

It's important when you get into society, though. If we didn't have the right to rule ourselves in all capacities, we would be limited in ability to respond to new situations.

It's also really the only thing that makes sense from an individual rights perspective, given the absence of God.


> It's also really the only thing that makes sense from an individual rights perspective, given the absence of God.

If someone's going to disagree with someone else on the existence of God, then surely they can disagree with them on the existence of rights (in general or in specifics). And so the concept of rights outside of society consensus is back to being no more use than the concept of God. (That is: it's high use if everyone agrees, but there's nothing forcing everyone to agree, so it all comes down to social negotiation.)


That's not as absolute as you make it seem. At some point we decided it's correct to send murderers into a prison, and I doubt you think this is wrong. Yet, this is balancing individual rights against the needs of society. How much rights for how much need always matter.

The real argument here is that a school's principal is not a legislative body, and his authority to make those choices is completely illicit.


>The real argument here is that a school's principal is not a legislative body, and his authority to make those choices is completely illicit.

It isn't entirely if you're talking about minors. There's a duty that the State has in a paternalistic sense to care for children, and children have a more limited set of rights than adults.

Where it gets interesting is this is intruding into private spaces where the parents are the ones with those rights, not the school.

For adults in college, it's more like a corporate environment and they can decide themselves what tradeoffs they want. It's possible there is some overreach or discriminatory factor there.


Is it "the right to cheat" you're concerned about, or "the right to take an exam without being watched" or something else? I'm not sure what right's we're worried about here in 'jimhefferon's post.

> aren't they justified in being angry?

1. It's not a binary thing - indifferent or beside themselves with rage.

2. Not enough to expect the authorities to engage in draconic measures to prevent this from happening.

> And am I not justified in being distressed to find that I am certifying someone as knowledgable (say,as part of an undergraduate program to become a person who designs bridges), when they are not?

"distressed"? Not really justified IMHO. Grading is statistical and partially arbitrary anyway, don't sweat it so much.

Due disclosure: My academic experience is a Ph.D. program, teaching assistantship, and junior academic staff union rep.


> If I have someone who did the homework, learned the material, and can demonstrate it on the exams, and they find out that someone else in class got the same grade by cheating, aren't they justified in being angry?

They are justified in feeling whatever emotion they feel. That doesn't mean you have to react to their emotion.

If you had a student that felt they had a good understanding of the subject, but failed your test; they might assert that your test - not their knowledge - is flawed. Naturally they would have the right to be angry. So would you change your test? I doubt it.

> And am I not justified in being distressed to find that I am certifying someone as knowledgable (say,as part of an undergraduate program to become a person who designs bridges), when they are not?

So because someone passed a single test, they are going to go start building structurally flawed bridges? If that is the case, then there are much more serious issues than cheating.

What's more likely is that a successful cheater might pass your class and fail their career. You might be embarrassed or upset about it, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal.

The problem here is that an obsession over "accreditation" is being held as more important than education. The mission of a university has shifted from learning to credit, at the expense of everyone involved.


Pretending like computers can do the job of a person is not that much sillier than pretending a poorly paid proctor who doesn't care can do the job of a professor is not that that much sillier than pretending a class grade is sufficient to certify somebody's knowledge is not that much sillier than pretending a written test can do the job of a one-on-one evaluation.

But each step is more "efficient" than the previous one. It's just that each one is also less effective.


Certification and evaluation is already receiving a lot of attention, the cryptocurrency world is full of nonsense but the core idea of doing decentralized verifiable computation is necessary for having a p2p society.

However we still don't know how to solve the tragedy of the commons in a decentralized way. The most promising angle for studying that is machine learning (they want to train models distributed over many machines so they need to do probability preserving compositions, this works for markets).

There is also a lot of work that needs to be done on user interfaces, secure hardware, operating systems and internet browsers. Without a stable foundation we cannot be trusting this infrastructure with our governance. Yet we absolutely need such infrastructure to meet the challenges ahead.

Really the finger-wagging should be directed at all the publicly funded institutions that used Zoom in the pandemic and maybe directed funding towards tracking research when they could have collaborated globally on improving jitsi to fit the needs of all the different education institutions in the world.


What I feel we need in STEM is procedural exams. We've done it in my university with random question orders and random question selection from a large pool but it's still not enough. It slows down cheating but students can still coordinate on facebook quite effectively.

I think the next step is fully unique exams per student with question parameters and solutions generated on the fly.


At some point, don't you think it makes sense to just have oral exams?

My opinion is that exams are counter productive. Why do we need the exams? If a person is not knowledgeable it's not the university problem it's the employer problem, it's on the employer to find out that the person does not have the ability to add value to the business. The purpose of univeristy should be to give access to knowladge not to make sure an adult person actually studies it. The university can only attest that the student had access to such and such courses thought by such and such people...

You're absolutely right that cheating is endemic. At the same time, all proctoring software I've ever encountered was garbage.

I believe the solution is to require candidates to take exams at a Prometric or Pearson VUE physical location.

It's absolutely worth the expense.


Why isn't academia fixing these problems? Why us? Why are profs so lazy that they can't fix their issues? You guys are so entitled to your control that when it comes to benefitting society it goes to "nah, let the students handle the stress, we don't care if we rape them privacy wise". Sincerely Pathetic

It's the money. In the past the instructor would have given each student an oral exam, but with introductory classes with more than 200 students that approach doesn't scale.

I felt this. My university has been using Respondus LockDown with webcam to proctor many exams and it feels like a violation of my privacy to have to use that software. Not only does it feel wrong to have such an adversarial application on my personal computer, it has caused my laptop to kernel; I found out I could check out laptops which I now use to take exams.

I feel significantly more stressed while taking an exam with webcam. I don't cheat-- I don't _need_ to cheat, and yet still feel more stressed on these exams because of how many things can go wrong. When taking math-heavy exams I would frequently get a warning from the software that my face was not in view... because I was working on my paper.

I think professors caught on. Using LockDown seemed to fall out of style somewhat for my second semester. In classes where there was no monitoring software, exams felt easier just being allowed to take them in a comfortable environment. I don't have to think about keeping my eyes 100% on the screen the whole time and I don't have to worry about my laptop crashing or internet going out-- I can tether if I need to. Being able to listen to music during exams was just a cherry on top.


> I would frequently get a warning from the software that my face was not in view... because I was working on my paper.

From the linked article:

> “I got flagged quite a few times for moving, or taking a second and looking away while thinking,” says Olivia Eskritt, a second-year student at St. Clair College....

I was talking with someone on Zoom the other day, and I noticed that she would generally look at the camera while listening to me but often look away while talking. I know that she wasn’t reading something or looking at somebody else in the room; she was just concentrating on what she said, and it was easier for her to do so when she wasn’t looking at my face on the screen.

I’ve never analyzed videos of myself talking, but I suspect that my eyes also tend to wander when I’m thinking hard about something. I can’t imagine having to try to control the direction my gaze when taking a test.


>I was talking with someone on Zoom the other day, and I noticed that she would generally look at the camera while listening to me but often look away while talking.

I do this in Zooms and in person, and have done so for many years. Before talking with someone for the first time, I always let them know that I zone out when talking or thinking about what they're saying.


You're supposed to shift your gaze to prevent eyestrain headaches.

I'm sorry that happened to you and also glad you're in a better place! :)

Some of my classes use LockDown browser as well and these are computer science courses so there was a lot of pushback due to privacy concerns, so I can sympathize with your viewpoint. Although a majority of students don't cheat, it's still awful that the behavior of a few dictates how the others are perceived.


If you don't mind doing it, you can reverse engineer it to remove the VM detections / make a stealthy VM.

Some of them use state of the art obfuscation to make this a PIA, others are not that good[0]

The one I've taken a look at(forgot it's name) was using VMProtect and had a competently written VM detection routine. It wasn't my exam so I recommended that they use a kvm switch instead of fumbling around with vm hiding tools.

[0]: https://secret.club/2019/05/16/exam-surveillance2.html


This was something I attempted, but couldn't get it to work. At some point we just have to refuse.

If this is what I was facing @ uni I'd drop out & build in the where your deepest curiosities & ambitions lead you.

You'll learn & grow so, much, quicker.

The open source / decentralized finance space was where my authentic curiosity lead me.


On top of this, looking away from the subject of focus and absent-mindedly fidgeting are common behaviors of people with neurodivergent conditions like ADHD and ASD. Accusing those who seem to be putting some focus away from the test is harmful to every test taker, but significantly more harmful to neurodivergent people.

What's the worst consequence of doing exactly the opposite the software wants you to do? Just flagging?

If so, I'd put up a mid-test dance party just to mess with the program in protest. Thankfully my university hasn't adopted proctoring software.


The worst case is you get accused of cheating, and you have to appeal to someone who's never taken a test with online proctoring in their life, or the person who selected the proctoring software who presumably thinks it works OK.

> it feels like a violation of my privacy

There is no privacy while taking an exam in the classroom, which is part of the point: Exam is taking in full view of examiner (and others) in order to prevent cheating and to make it public to other students (to build trust in the fairness of the exam).

If the exam is taken at home because of extraordinary circumstances it is reasonable to implement measures to replicate this and as it happens I don't think that there is an alternative to software with webcam.


Except this software tends to do so much worse, like scanning hard drives and monitoring processes and network traffic.

Source: Forced to install one, refused, and getting given a spare laptop instead.


Perhaps they do, but if you think about it is it unreasonable?

You are taking an exam with an unknown active computer in front of you. You could have any sort of material displayed on screen and/or connectivity to a third party, or whatnot.

An alternative, which you mention, is to be given a trusted laptop for the duration of the exam. A potential issue there is that they may not have so many devices available to distribute.

There are always trade-offs.


Yes, it is unreasonable to force people to install literal spyware on their computers.

It’s funny how lots of students (rightly so) get defensive about software that scans your hard drive and monitors processes, but then they install all these random games or apps like TikTok on their phone which comes with a cocktail of more invasive access.

I mean, I also refuse to install TikTok and Valorant for the same reasons. Don't paint us with the same brush. At least Android and iOS have a decent sandbox. Aka they can't just index my files.

The equivalent here is your examiner rummaging through your backpack and yelling at you because you stared off into space pondering a hard question.

I've interviewed quite a few people in order to assess their technical skills. Here are some takeaways:

1) I look at skills, not grades.

2) I look at skills, not which university someone went to.

3) I look at skills, not weather or not they someone to university.

Just read the docs and practice in order to learn relevant skills. You can done quicker than those to went to uni, have more practice in a shorter amount of time and not have any debt.


The highest education I have is secondary school (highscool) and what you say couldn't be more right in my expirence. I got some CompTIA certs while working a night shift to get into IT and prove I knew the basicis. Everything beyond that has been learning in my own time and on the job.

I'm now 30, no debt, self employed (by choice), contractor working in "senior" roles, what ever that means. I do regret not having some basic comp sci theory, but I've never really needed it or had the desire to learn it on my own time. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing, but it's not stood in my way so far.

This might be a controvertial view, but I feel that having to self learn a topic is a good filter to see if you actually enjoy the topic. If you don't want to sit and self learn a dense topic (assuming lives dont depend on it), then you will likely hate working on it.

University for a lot of people is a free holiday for when you havn't decided on what you want to do.


> This might be a controvertial view, but I feel that having to self learn a topic is a good filter to see if you actually enjoy the topic. If you don't want to sit and self learn a dense topic (assuming lives dont depend on it), then you will likely hate working on it.

Maybe, but I’ve felt my ability to self teach myself anything steadily collapse over the years. Particularly, while I enjoy some topics, I do not enjoy having to understand their prerequisites independent of the original topic, and any prerequisites to those, at which point I’m just is abstracted and far away from the initial thing I was interested in in the first place. One common thing for me personally is math. There are many things I’m interested in, where a solid understanding of calculus is necessary. Now I could maybe manage to maintain interest if the calculus was all I needed, but I had a terrible math education and have no interest in spending all the relearning algebra and other calculus prerequisites, far displaced from what originally caught my interest.


Check out the intro-to-calculus section in the preview PDF of my book: https://minireference.com/static/excerpts/noBSmathphys_v5_pr... It's just a few pages and you'll know the basic ideas.

Learning calculus and all the prerequisites is really not that bad. Yes you'll need to do some review on prerequisites like algebra, functions, and maybe a bit of trigonometry, but it won't take you more than a month or two. See also Figures 1, 2, and 4 in this concept map of the different "game levels" you'll have to go through: https://minireference.com/static/conceptmaps/math_and_physic...

As a coder you've had to learn much more complex things, so I bet calculus will turn out to be easier than you think. Also, if you know Python syntax you will have SymPy on your side which is like math superpowers, see https://minireference.com/static/tutorials/sympy_tutorial.pd...


Yeah, I've had the exact same experience. My previous managers always pushed me to hire based on which school the person went to, grades (for interns), or even ability to solve trainable problems (leetcode, whiteboard), but most of the time that didn't go well and we always got problem-people that knew how to pass a test but not to work on real world problems.

Looking only for skill, on the other hands, is hard but it pays off.


I refuse to use proctoring software in my classes.

The COVID-19 monitoring stuff is a little trickier. Universities were between a rock and a hard place - don't do enough, and you will have an outbreak on campus, and there's a lot of town-gown pressure to then blame the students for everything that subsequently happens. Do too much, and you're deep into the lives of your students.


Prof here. Oooh, don't get me started.

Look, EVERYBODY WHO TEACHES ANYTHING. I can think of VERY few cases in which a valuable learning exercise involves "a tight-time pressure situation in which you can't talk to people or use the internet." If anything, we're reinforcing the false idea of "value in memorization."

Unfortunately, I think all too many of my colleagues haven't really thought about this and are just "doing things like we've always done."


When I went to university, a great deal of exams were oral. You would draw a few tickets from a pool and have 10-15 minutes to prepare your answers. I'm sure there are alternative ways to examine students that don't require such draconian surveillance.

Link to view the full article without login:

https://web.archive.org/web/20210219112511/https://www.chron...


Is it just me or is this article locking up so you can't scroll past a certain point?

This generally handy bookmarklet solved it for me: https://alisdair.mcdiarmid.org/kill-sticky-headers/

If your browser has a no-script extension available, this will fix the issue.

For me, Firefox reader view (F9) got rid of that.

Not just you. Same here. Using Chrome.

> handing over health information is a relatively small price to pay if it means halting the spread of a virus that has ravaged the nation.

It doesn't mean that.

> “When you consider the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in this pandemic, is it too much to ask to share your heart rate or temperature?” he asks.

Monitored all the time? Hell yeah it's too much. But then, so is the monitoring of smartphones and the search histories stored by Google and the NSA going through people's GMail and Yahoo mail. etc.


Ed Snowden warned us about long-lasting surveillance in March 2020[1].

[1]: https://theintercept.com/2020/04/08/watch-are-we-vesting-too...


This will only get worse and worse as time goes on and tech gets cheaper. Unless the people realize that the people who design,market and require these devices have names and addresses.

Can this sort of thing be refused? If you're paying for your education - in some cases very dearly - you're a customer aren't you?

> Can this sort of thing be refused?

As a student at a US public university, the student body has tried everything from basic dissent, to petitioning, to introducing formal proposals to remove proctoring to the university's academic senate. Nothing has worked, and refusing to take proctored exams would simply cause us to fail the course.

> you're a customer aren't you?

You're a captive consumer. There are very clearly defined windows for transfers, so it's not like you can switch immediately if a university doesn't meet your expectations, and there are implications for your graduation date too (meaning you're more than likely going to need to take courses again that don't transfer over, costing even more money)


Not sure where being a "customer" or not comes into it. You sign quite a bit of contractual agreement when entering a university, that takes precedence over whether or not you give them money. Either it's enforceable according to that or it's not but you don't get to retroactively red-line things just because you were the one paying for the service.

Of course "refusal" could simply mean you will go elsewhere, whether you get your money back is up to the agreements you signed when you gave the money though (you won't, at least not all of it).


from my personal experience as a student, what seemed to help reduce cheating was 1.) honeycombs on cheggso if you use the answers there it's obvious, 2.) hard time limits so it's harder to coordinate cheating, 3.) large question pools

One more reason to skip uni. Remote only experience for full price with orwelian nightmare included. All documentation and lessons are online for free. You do not need human text to speech engine that costs 30k/year.

> You do not need human text to speech engine that costs 30k/year.

So you don't need to ask any questions, ever? Then go to the library instead.


Not all lecturers welcome questions, it depends on the country and culture. Certainly my own undergraduate experience consisted of a "human text-to-speech engine" experience where the lecturer lectured mainly from a text, while students were expected to silently listen, and then answer any questions they had themselves by searching in the literature.

When I moved on to graduate studies and had a weekly seminar, then questions and discussion were welcome, but I sympathize with the feeling that in-person undergraduate education is a waste of time and (in countries that charge tuition fees) money.


I really didn't ask many question during my career as a student. The whole thing really was an exercise in obtaining credentials.

Did you visit public library recently? It is closed or full of homeless people. Scihub and laser printer is much better option!

For $50/hour you can find experts in most fields. You could even hire underpaid postdocs who teach at unis.


Good luck getting past the gate keepers for most companies then.

If you're in any other engineering field (EE, ME, etc), you're really not going to get a job without a degree. Compared to programming, it's like perhaps a 1% chance.

Unless you're going to become a doctor or civil engineer, those qualifications are pointless.

They absolutely are not pointless for software engineering. I tried skipping university and there is a night and day difference in responses before and after graduating.

I am pretty sure I got nocked back for a job at EBAY because I have an atypical career path.

FB, Google etc dropped gate keepers.

Facebook and Google aren't most companies, most companies will still turn you away if you don't have a degree

it is infinitely easier to get a job w a degree than without one




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