Time for the second round of Breaking Down 2021 TOK Essay Titles! These are 3 great titles to consider when choosing which 2021 TOK essay you’ll write. All of them feel extremely relevant in today’s day and age so read on to get some top tips about how to approach them!
Note: Following these suggestions will not guarantee you a good score on your TOK Essay! These are our thoughts on the best ways to consider the questions, but ultimately it’s the quality of your arguments that will make or break your essay!
“Statistics conceal as much as they reveal.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.
This is an extremely pertinent statement to the situation that we’re living through right now. In a world of misinformation, alternative facts, and statistics being carefully selected to put one’s own argument forward can often lead to people being misled. It’s important to unpack this statement and its key words before diving into discussing your Real Life Examples (RLE) and Areas of Knowledge (AoK). Conceal typically has a negative connotation, implying hiding something intentionally whilst reveal has a more positive connotation as you are ‘discovering’ or ‘making clearer’. By the phrasing that they conceal ‘as much as’ they reveal, the statement is implying that all statistics will carry with them the same, or larger, amount of misinformation as it does information. Is this true? Can you find situations in which it definitely is not true?
Pivoting to consider which types of RLEs to bring up in this situation, one might naturally gravitate towards those that naturally have a tie to statistics. Don’t think that these are the only AOKs you can discuss in relation to this question, though! By coming up with a RLE from a different AoK you may separate yourself from the pack, not guaranteeing that you’ll score higher but at least giving you a chance to differentiate yourself from the rest.
A great example of how statistics can be used to mislead is explained in the following TED Talk by Mark Liddell where the usage of two separate statistics to explain the effectiveness of a hospital paint two very different pictures! Similarly, in the age of Corona, one could look at the death rate as a percentage of population in the US and conclude that they are one of the worst affected countries in the world, while when you look at the death rate as a percentage of cases their situation looks much more promising as they’ve conducted so many tests that the proportion of those diagnosed with Corona that actually die is lower than many other countries! We don’t recommend that you use Corona as one of your RLEs for multiple reasons, primarily because it will be the go-to example for so many students all around the world, but this RLE exhibits just how much statistics can conceal as well as reveal!
An interesting RLE to consider is what the Soviet economy reportedly looked like during the 20th century. Many graphs coming out of the Soviet Union at the time showed an extremely prosperous, growing economy while many who were living there reported that the truth was nothing like it. This study conducted by the CIA looked into the validity of Soviet Economic Statistics during the 20th century and how the falsification of statistics may have concealed what life was really like.
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“Areas of knowledge are most useful in combination with each other.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.
The crux of this 2021 TOK essay title is that it is extremely difficult to establish what makes an Area of Knowledge ‘most useful’. Does it imply that the strength of the knowledge produced will be greater when the knowledge is backed up by two areas of knowledge? Perhaps something can’t be considered useful knowledge until that knowledge can be backed up using more than one AoK? This is something you’ll need to establish before approaching the prompt and will be the key to scoring well in this prompt as the RLEs will be easy to think up!
An interesting example to consider would be exploring how the AoKs of History and Religious Knowledge Systems are used in combination with each other. A large part of the reason why the major religions that are practiced today are as prevalent as they are is due to the historical nature of them. There are many historical records, outside of The Bible, showing the existence of Jesus Christ and his Disciples. Contrast this with Norse religions that have disappeared into the past, there are fewer/no historical records suggesting the existence of the Gods they worshipped. An interesting article to read to explore this concept further (if you have time) is “We Learn What Religion Is From History: On the Relation Between the Study of History and the Study of Religion” by Kurt Rudolph and Gregory D. Alles.
You could even look at the combination of Science and Religious Knowledge Systems if you really want to challenge yourself! This is a field in its own right that university students spend multiple years studying in order to fully understand, but dipping your toes into the importance of science in affirming religion, and the importance of religion in science(!) is an extremely interesting discipline. To get a first glance, we recommend you check out the following page from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy!
A potential structure for this essay could look as follows:
- Introduction – establish your key terms, specifically how you define ‘most useful’ and ‘in combination’ as this will prove crucial to your explanations
- First combination of AoKs – explain how these AoKs work ‘in combination’ with one another and how that creates more useful knowledge than if they were used independently
- Second combination of AoKs – optionally give a second example with the same, or different, AoKs
- Counterexample – are there situations in which the usage of one AoK independently from all others actually leads to ‘more useful’ knowledge?
- Conclusion – weight the statement in relation to your examples and counterexamples. Is it true that AoKs are always more useful when used in combination, or are there exceptions to the rule?
“Avoiding bias seems a commendable goal, but this fails to recognize the positive role that bias can play in the pursuit of knowledge.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
We think this is one of the most interesting of the 2021 TOK essay titles, but perhaps one of the most difficult to establish a clear argument in which you address multiple AoKs, WoKs, and RLEs. As with all titles, a lot of work will need to be put into breaking down what the statement is actually implying. First of all, what is bias and why does it typically have a negative connotation? We must also address why avoiding it is a commendable goal and if that truly is always the case. For example, when polling voters, who are naturally biased towards their top candidate, we wouldn’t want to avoid bias in the poll because we’d end up with irrelevant statistics! In fact, polls are an example in which we’re actively trying to measure the level of bias. However, you can of course make the argument that we want to avoid other forms of bias, such as selection bias, when polling. If you’re conducting a poll to get a clearer picture of who’s the front-runner for an election, it’s important to poll a large enough cohort with diverse enough backgrounds such that the results aren’t skewed by the sample chosen.
If we choose the Human Sciences as our first AoK, exploring the Pollyanna Principle becomes a natural RLE. The Pollyanna Principle is a so-called ‘positivity bias’ allowing us to be happier, healthier and feel part of a community. People suffering from depression typically tend to focus on the negative more than the positive, while those who are not suffering from depression tend to do the opposite. What ensues is that they are more prone to remembering positive memories than negative ones! Read more about the Pollyanna Principle here.
Another RLE is looking at how bias can help in the business world! An interesting Economics paper published at the esteemed Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania explores how a worker who overestimates their own ability might actually make everyone else in their organisation better off! Take a second to think about it – if a peer of yours set their target grade in the IB at a 45 they might inspire other people in their class to go for the same! Even if that target is far above what they could conceivably achieve, the overestimation, or biased self-perception, can lead to a positive effect on other students! We highly recommend you read the following paper to explore it further!
So there we have it, the final three of the six 2021 TOK essay titles broken down! Still feeling unsure? We’ve got elite IB tutors ready and able to help you do yourself justice…