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back to article Comp Sci becomes 'fourth science' in English Baccalaureate

Education Minister Michael Gove has added computer science into the new English Baccalaureate as a "fourth science", putting it on a par with Physics, Biology and Chemistry, the Department of Education announced today. Computer Science is the only extra subject to make it onto the list of core academic subjects that comprise the …

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Meh

"Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/30/michael-gove-destroying-school-system

My sympathies to English schoolchildren. Sold to Google, et al as a job lot.

This is on par with asking the tax-avoidance industry to advice on corporation tax.

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Headmaster

Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

:% s/advice/advise/

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Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

Not sure what any of that polemic has to do with whether its a good idea teach real IT skills to kids.

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Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

Nothing, that's the point.

I don't care who's saying it - we used to be world class innovators in the IT sector - but I can't imagine many kids spewed out of the state system being able to understand anything that goes on behind their latest iDevice or website in the current state.

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P_0

Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

My sympathies to English schoolchildren.

My sympathies go to English schoolchildren who entered the system during the past 20 years, as the quality and quantity of their education has been eroded. School should absolutely focus on STEM subjects. Adding Comp Sci is a great idea (in theory - don't know whether this government can pull it off, especially since the over unionized teachers will probably be dead set against it: "More drama lessons! More Mickey Mouse qualifications!"). The UK doesn't produce enough talented STEM graduates. And yet why when I was at uni were about a quarter of the students studying psychology or sociology? These subjects a pretty poor excuses for "science". UK kids need to be weaned off the easy subjects.

The first part to solving a problem is to admit that there is a problem. Gove has gone this far.

Now it's up to him and the teachers to fix the problem. My prediction: Not optimistic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

especially since the over unionized teachers will probably be dead set against it: "More drama lessons! More Mickey Mouse qualifications!"

Unlikely, really. British teachers are not over unionised so you might have confused the country here (just a guess based on spelling, sorry if I was wrong).

Computer Science is generally taught like crap in both schools and universities. The additional problem is about focus - producing huge numbers of people with only a narrow focus of understanding is not a good indicator for national progress.

The most successful innovators, inventors and drivers of progress come with a spread of knowledge and experience - it is arguably the ability to transfer knowledge between domains that is more important than having an A level in Computer Science. In the UK we seem to have become obsessed with narrow fields of knowledge while the world is requiring a greater, broader, understanding to function - look at how many people have an opinion on what should be in the UK citizenship test, while not fully understanding the social and historical background (but I am sure they have a great deal of knowledge in their own areas).

Also, there is a frequently stated misunderstanding about how "easy" subjects are. Psychology and sociology are not easy subjects - a degree requires the same level of academic rigour as a degree in physics.

I personally found a BSc in Physics trivially easy (but then I love maths and find myself obsessed about the drive for calculable answers) but when (following a redundancy payout) I went back to university to do a BA I really, really struggled.

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Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

The most successful innovators, inventors and drivers of progress come with a spread of knowledge and experience - it is arguably the ability to transfer knowledge between domains that is more important than having an A level in Computer Science.

You're mistaking Steve Jobs for "most innovators". Do you think the guys who invented horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing were generalists? Or were they specialists in physics, hydraulics, geology? What about the paper thin phones coming out soon? Were they invented by a team of sociologists? Didn't think so. Your claim is so absurd, bordering on unbelievable. The world is shifting ever more into specialization. This is patently true, and observable. Even mathematicians studying different branches of maths don't understand each others' notation.

Telling kids that they can be great innovators by not studying anything in depth and just learning bits of this and bits of that is doing them a disservice. They're going to grow up with a false sense of their own knowledge and wonder why they can't find good jobs. The kids that find a specialist STEM subject and keep at it are far more likely to innovate.

In the UK we seem to have become obsessed with narrow fields of knowledge while the world is requiring a greater, broader, understanding to function

I disagree entirely. I don't live in the UK, you are right. I live in a country going through a similar issue, but one that is frankly starting off with a higher level of STEM education, but is slipping behind other countries. Nowhere in the debate is anyone trying to get kids to be generalists.

Of course kids need a general knowledge of a wide variety of disciplines. They need to be able to write polite, business English (or other language) , but since kids study English constantly form age 5 to age 16 you'd think teachers would find some time to squeeze that in.

But the general trend is towards specialization.

Also, there is a frequently stated misunderstanding about how "easy" subjects are. Psychology and sociology are not easy subjects - a degree requires the same level of academic rigour as a degree in physics.

Psychology and sociology are obviously easier then STEM subjects, in that the subject matter isn't rigorous, definitions are vague, the conclusions from various "experiments" are absurd and offensive to anyone who thinks science is a rigorous discipline.

In the modern world I find it disappointing that people are still pretending that all subjects were created equal, and knowledge of one subject is more or less as important as any other.

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Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

Gove + education = big laugh

I doubt if he could ever understand there is a huge difference between 'computer science' and 'IT studies' and 'programming skills'.

Next from Gove the Destroyer -- any school without a cupboard full of unused Pi' s will be automatically failed in OFSTED?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

You're mistaking Steve Jobs for "most innovators".

Nope. Far from it. You are mistaking Steve Jobs for an innovator. I was talking about the spread of human history which has consistently shown that people given access to a broader range of knowledge find better ways to improve on specialist topics.

Specialists rarely (although, importantly, this is not the same as never) drive significant innovative change.

Do you think the guys who invented horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing were generalists? Or were they specialists in physics, hydraulics, geology?

You might want to re-read that. Specialists in three areas are not "narrow focussed specialists."

These developments came by having people who understood physics and geology (for example), as well as having detailed specialists in physics and separate ones in geology. Without the underlying cross-over of knowledge in at least some of the group, the conjoined ideas will never find fertile ground.

What about the paper thin phones coming out soon? Were they invented by a team of sociologists? Didn't think so.

Its good that you can answer your own questions here, because this agrees with what I have said. A team of sociologists is the specialist I am saying we should avoid. Having people who under stand technology and art for example helps create breakthroughs in form and function.

Your claim is so absurd, bordering on unbelievable.

Yet you seem to prove it with each point you make. Thanks for that.

The world is shifting ever more into specialization. This is patently true, and observable. Even mathematicians studying different branches of maths don't understand each others' notation.

And the rate of innovative change decreases. In most areas now we drive evolutionary, "small step" changes until there are occasions where by a cross over appears and someone realises a way (for example) of tying mathematics into music to invent something new and unusual.

I disagree entirely. I don't live in the UK, you are right. I live in a country going through a similar issue, but one that is frankly starting off with a higher level of STEM education, but is slipping behind other countries. Nowhere in the debate is anyone trying to get kids to be generalists.

I dont think we have a common understanding of what a generalist is.

It is not someone with a below average understanding of everything. It is someone who has enough of an understanding of a variety of topics that they understand how things interconnect and can see the links between disciplines.

All education drives kids towards a general knowledge - we need this to function in society. We need to understand how society works so we can learn our place in it, we need to understand how our laws and history drive the behaviour of people today. None of this is less important than understanding how to code or how to wire up a motherboard, or even what use a Bose-Einstein Condensate is.

But the general trend is towards specialization.

But this does not mean it is the right thing to do. I agreed that this trend existed in education, but there is a greater need for people to have more general knowledge. We are provided with greater sources of information and expected to make informed decisions on a variety of things - all without understanding why it is important or what the long term impacts might be.

Psychology and sociology are obviously easier then STEM subjects, in that the subject matter isn't rigorous, definitions are vague, the conclusions from various "experiments" are absurd and offensive to anyone who thinks science is a rigorous discipline.

That is quite entertaining. Incorrect, but entertaining. You might want to look over your own cognitive bias over this - maybe a better understanding of the "soft" science would help you out.

In the modern world I find it disappointing that people are still pretending that all subjects were created equal, and knowledge of one subject is more or less as important as any other.

I agree to an extent. Any subject that isnt physics is simply a hobby and should never receive any funding. However, historians, chemists, biologists, artists and many, many others may disagree.

It is a trusim that the subject you enjoy and think is important should be viewed across the whole world as important because obviously nothing else is as good.

Sociologists and psychologists can explain why this happens, how to measure it, how to detect it in claims & assumptions and how to guard against it in your own activities.

Tell that to the Chemists.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Michael Gove is destroying our school system"

@ Elmer.

Pretty much spot on. Yes, it's excellent that Computer Science has been recognised as a proper science, but it doesn't change the fact that Gove is basically a tool. For an excellent case, just look at this very article. Great, yeah, CS is now officially no longer a soft subject, but, and this is the important bit, <i>there is no computer science syllabus</i>. It's all still in a state of flux and probably won't be pinned down before 2015, as it involves retraining thousands of teachers, stuffing the mouths of CS graduates with gold so they enter teaching, rather than banking, and, you know, software and equipping schools with the hardware and knowledge they need to actually support a computing curriculum, all at a time when most schools are struggling with major budget cuts. (Unless they become an Academy, of course...)

The same goes across the rest of the EBacc subjects. Yes, they've been recognised as core subjects, which is nice, but in terms of the rigour of the syllabuses, they're all still identical to the impossible-to-fail-if-you-did-an-hour's-work nonsense I did at the turn of the century. The only major difference is that modular teaching and coursework have been all-but eliminated, something people with any experience with the business end of teaching are universally opposed to as a counterproductive throwback to learning by rote and the Victorian era.

And then there's the EBacc itself. As I mentioned above, I took my GCSEs at the turn of the century and took home 10 A*s and 3 As. An excellent raft of results by any measure. Would I have got an EBacc? Would I bollocks. I'd got the requisite 3 sciences, mathematics, and a foreign language, but because I elected to study economics and religious studies rather than history and geography, I'm apparently a less valuable student than someone who didn't.

tl;dr: Typical Gove. All fur coat.

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and just who

is going to be teaching this lot?

Its hard enough to find teachers that can show the kids the rudiments of Word/Excel/PowerPuke, the modern equivalent of how to hold your pencil properly.

Finding people who can actually program and then pass those skills on to kids is going to be more challenging. I hope we don't just end up with classrooms full of kids bored by being asked to copy down bit of source code from the smart board.

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Re: and just who

You're more than right - basically any "ICT" teachers currently working in schools will need to be fired, which seems like a thing schools in the main are reluctant to do - teachers are precious in their eyes - even though really, you should have the right people for the job, and cull those who can't (so, a lot of teachers, then).

But yes, we do not want to end up in a situation where people are copying code from a board. That would be counter to the whole point of learning yourself.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: and just who

Computer Science is not about coding!

That's as bad a mistake as teaching the ICT curriculum

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Anonymous Coward

Re: and just who

"and just who is going to be teaching this lot?"

Calling Lee Dowling! Lee Dowling to checkouts please!

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Re: and just who

At a local school I programme the simple lighting controller while the lead on ICT looks on in amazement.

I explain how it's just bunging stuff in to a fixed memory location , copying it to a final destination and then combining links to various memory slots in order to produce sequences.

The kids seem too understand the relative simplicity but . . .

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Boffin

Re: and just who

"You're more than right - basically any "ICT" teachers currently working in schools will need to be fired, which seems like a thing schools in the main are reluctant to do - teachers are precious in their eyes - even though really, you should have the right people for the job, and cull those who can't (so, a lot of teachers, then)."

Basic arithmetic: 500,000 teachers in England and Wales. 9% churn. Just shy of 45,000 new ones needed each year. Start sacking another 8 to 9% of the secondary teaching force because $current_govt has changed the syllabus will send a cerain message to likely candidates...

.... what you need is a standard platform, some lesson plans written centrally and in service training. Can be done.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: and just who

I guess CEng, MBCS, CITP and experience from 1982 including a PhD not enough then. I suppose writing a GCSE/16+ exam scheme in Digital Electronics and computer control in the mid 1980s is irrelevant. Unix / Linux sysadmin for 1000+ user system, no value. Good job I moved into social care aspects of school management then since my ICT/comp sci background is inadequate and clearly not needed.

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P_0

A great idea, in principle. UK science teaching is pretty poor. I think Gove has good intentions here, but the system is so bad it won't change a thing.

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But that's what we used to do with computer magazines, the included the text to copy and run, because it was cheaper than including cassettes with the magazine.

I cannot create code from scratch, yet, but I can read VBA, some PHP, some ASP and Javascript to understand whats happening, and why.

Copying code is a good place to start learning good habits, for when you DO start to write your own fart apps..:)

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Stop

Well, Have You Thunken Of

..solving math and physcis problems using Computas ? You could actually do some amazaing things that way, such as simulating trajectories while teaching Newton's laws ? Or maybe numerical integration while teaching the ideas of Gauss ?

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Re: Well, Have You Thunken Of

There are the 'educational' software out there -- they are used to make games and stuff - great starts for playing with gravity. And it might teach some coding basics as well.

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Re: Well, Have You Thunken Of

Hence Gove's reference to Scratch. Easy to start, can do animations and simulations, can 'drop' into Squeak (basically Scheme) for the really clever ones.

You can do a fair bit with MS Excel: e.g. a Euler method simulation of two-body orbit, simple sequences/series leading to chaotic systems &c.

Gove has got one point right: fixation on exam results/pass rates does actually collapse curriculum down into 'topics' that you have to be able to answer exam questions in. Most of my old teachers would get the sack today.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Well, Have You Thunken Of

My 12 year old son has no interest in scratch because it is too simplistic and childish. Scratch might be good for getting the average 7 year old into computer programming but for the above average 12 year old it's more of a disincentive.

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Headmaster

A significant difference...

Between my schooldays in the late seventies and now is that if you had an interest in anything computerish, there was *no-one* to teach it to you before you got to university, if indeed you went. Anything you did you did yourself, and if you didn't build the processor card you almost certainly built any peripherals you needed: video, serial comms, tape store, extra memory.

And you wrote the code to make things work, on the fly, reading magazines and copying code... badly, unstructured, buggy, but on the whole working.

These days, the hardware for a machine even as simple as the Pi is just too complex in manufacturing terms for someone to even think of making, so it's a black box you have to live with. And while it will run sensible compilers, the days of bare metal 'hello world' programs have gone.

I'm not sure at what level you start teaching kids CS. They're almost certain to be familiar with certain interfaces , OSes, and applications, but there's a huge gap from 'hello world' to a fully functioning and integrated application. I'd love to see a syllabus.

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Nobody

..would stop competent teachers to buy Z80 CPUs, SRAM memory, ADCs, DACs, prototype bards, soldering irons and so on to build School Computers. Except for their own laziness and silliness, of course. "But it will never run Android !!!" and so on.

Now, I can hear all the arguments about badly educated teachers, no money left and so on. I still don't buy them, because schools and parents are more than willing to spend serious money on pointless trips to Paris or even California.

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Re: A significant difference...

While the hardware for a Pi may be too complex you can still sit down and make an educational computer which will cover everything you need to know, and at a whole collection of educational levels all from more or less the same source (code).

Want to know how a cpu chip works on a 'physical' level and do some machine coding as well:http://www.visual6502.org/JSSim/

Want to analyse a computer from every aspect:http: //www.geda-project.org/

In fact I believe all the Pi design data is available for public consumption to you could actually simulate the Pi on a Pi and you would have probably the most amazing educational tool ever**10 and all the tools would be free and if the educators shared their contributions freely in 5 years we could be looking at something big.

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Re: A significant difference...

"Between my schooldays in the late seventies ....."

Ditto - only the sixties

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Re: Nobody - @Joanne

The problem is cost. I have on my desk here a eurocard computer that I recently built to amuse myself as a deliberate homage to the single board computers of my youth.

It contains a 65C02 processor, 32kB RAM, 16kB EEPROM, a UART, a 6522 ACIA, eight seven-segment LEDs (and a driver chip) and twenty cheap push-button switches. It cost around fifty quid in parts, not including the PCB. Ok, that's a one-off, but it's hard to argue against the thirty quid that a Pi costs.

So much that was possible then, also, is no longer valid now... video display? You have to *start* with VGA - at twice the data rate of PAL - because PAL/625 displays are vanishing. Store and retrieve your program to tape? Nah... and folks, MP3 really doesn't like FSK data. Serial works, if you have a USB adaptor somewhere lying around so you can see what you're sending... everything these days is characterised by fast and complex data protocols. Hell, I built a video display from first principles for my MK14, and it worked, too... but with thirty-odd years experience I'd hate to build an HDMI interface from glue logic.

Going from 8-bit 1 MHz machines that we could build and understand to today's gigahertz machines has been an interesting journey, but I'm not sure it's one you can take in one step.

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Re: A significant difference...

Same for me, except my school days was in the eighties.

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Mushroom

Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

"Scratch". Yeah, as in "scratch ass".

Real computer science is taught using PASCAL. If the little fuckers don't want to spend the time learning the syntax of a real, capable language I suggest they simply line up at McDonald's for a Great Opportunity.

Only hard work is the real source of any real achievement and wealth (even if the wealth does not end up with the people doing the hard work). So, bite the bullet, spend long hours in front of the PC if you really want to do "Computer Science".

This nuke was simulated in Fortran code.

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Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

I I were going to make a comp sci curriculum, I would start the first term opening up some old acorn computers that I bet most schools have lying around. The the kids a screw driver, let them open it up and make them disassemble, reassemble it. Explain all the bits to the kids. Open up a HD drive and watch it spin around, explaining what is happening.

Second term, start actually programming in Pascal and Python.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

My 11 year old learned Scratch - wrote a few (good for 11) shoot-em-up games and got bored. Now he's 13 and just got an Arduino controlled robot. His understanding of fundamental programming ideas (variables, loops, conditions, etc.) gained from Scratch allowed him to control the 'bot using Arduino's C in hours - he just had to remember to put a ; on the end of a line and use {} to enclose more than one statement etc. - hardly rocket science.

I'm not sure he would have even entertained the idea of programming C on the Arduino without the Scratch start.

[For the pedants - I know Arduino C is not 'proper' C]

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Stop

Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

Scratch was suggested for 11 year olds, and as such it's a great start, just as turtle logo was once upon a time.

Those interested in going further can move onto coding in text once they've exhausted the possibilities of Scratch. They'll have had a great head start.

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Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

Computer science is more than just coding, so let's not fall into that trap. It's data structures, algorithms, operating systems... you know, the kind of stuff Linus Torvalds did at university.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

Indeed Data Structures and Algorithms are the basics. That is why you need a proper language to specify those.

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Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

A "proper language" for data structures is rather different from a "proper language" for algorithms, I suggest. Diagrams and pseudocode respectively are quite good, and a "proper" programming language alone would tend to obscure these subjects.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

"Computer science is more than just coding, so let's not fall into that trap. It's data structures, algorithms, operating systems... you know, the kind of stuff Linus Torvalds did at university."

Yes it is, but a university level education is generally considered to be too advanced for a 11 year old (except for <insert-your-mickey-mouse-degree-courses-here>).

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Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

a university level education is generally considered to be too advanced for a 11 year old

I kind of hoped you'd get that I wasn't suggesting teaching the subject at university level, any more than I'd suggest raising the standard of maths or biology to university level. There, I've spelled it out for you.

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Coat

Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

"Real computer science is taught using PASCAL."

Nah!

Real computer science is taught using Dijkstra's Guarded Command Language.

(There, I've done my name dropping for the current quarter).

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Re: Oh Yeah, DUMB IT DOWN !

Nah, start 'em off right: Malbolge

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Lucky England

Unfortunately, we don't have Gove on my side of the Severn estuary, so my GCSE-age kids are stuck with the cumpulsory but absurdly misnamed Skills Wales programme. Can you copy a file onto a USB stick using Windows Explorer? Tick. Can you open a Word document? Tick? And so on - I kid you not.

If you're planning to set up a tech business, go to England, not Wales. Our government is more interested in egalitarianism than education.

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Re: Lucky England

"If you're planning to set up a tech business, go to England, not Wales. Our government is more interested in egalitarianism than education."

How's your Polish?

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Joke

Re: Lucky England

"How's your Polish?"

I'm still a bit backward in that subject.

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Anonymous Coward

Does this mean

That I've finally won the argument with my flatmate that I 'am a proper scientist'?

(and can start other arguments with him starting with 'as a scientist' without fear of reprisal?)

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Boffin

Re: Does this mean

You can also say:

"Back off, man. I'm a scientist"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Does this mean

And "In what the Scientific community is calling 'fucking shite', I can't find my keys."

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No

Computer science is to science as plumbing is to hydraulics.

The Devil's DP Dictionary (1981) Stan Kelly-Bootle

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FAIL

"Plumbing"

Certainly I am biased being a CS graduate. Nevertheless, I will forcefully argue that it IS a science if you can make cold-hard-provable statements like "you can't be faster than O(n*log2(n)), if you sort a random number of elements by means of comparison.

Of course, the real implementations of CS include "plumbing" such as popular OS designs (Unix, various languages, etc). But that does not invalidate CS as a science.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Plumbing"

The theoretical stuff is really applied maths isn't it?

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Re: "Plumbing"

The theoretical stuff is really pure maths and the more logical and less hand-wavey parts of philosophy.

Inventive types create original algorithms out of pure maths. Everyone else copies them, at which point the maths becomes applied.

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