In 1993 Eileen Byrne coined the terms the 'Snark Syndrome' and the 'Snark Effect' to describe how educational policymaking and teaching theory in relation to women and science was based on "assertion rather on clear, logical or empirical soundness."
A Snark is the imaginary animal in Lewis Carroll's poem, The Hunting of the Snark:
'Just the place for a Snark!' the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.
'Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have have said thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.'
In Women and Science: The Snark Syndrome, Byrne says about women in science:
"By dint of repetition three times (or thirty), the educational community had internalized an oversimplified and often unscholarly selection of beliefs and premises which had descended to the 'everyone knows that...' level of slogan-like impact."
Thus the Snark Syndrome is the "assertion of an alleged truth or belief or principle as the basis for policymaking or for educational practice, although this proves to have no previous credible base in sound empirical research"
The Snark Effect is the application of the Snark Syndrome to implement specific educational policies and practices.
The Snark Syndrome is clearly at play in the discussions around the Net Generation and education. I have lost track of the number of times I have heard educators repeat the stereotypes about the Net Generation: short attention span, expert mutitaskers, technologically savvy etc etc. Countless Michael Wesch-like You Tube videos are circulating urging us to wake up and change our ways or else risk losing an entire generation of learners who we are failing to engage. The answer, we are told, is more digital technology. We are letting consultants, futurists, technology sales people and others with a limited understanding of education set the agenda. We blindly accept their recommendations and repeat them as fact. The Snark Syndrome may have already led to the Snark Effect but we still have a chance to turn back this uninformed wave and insist that educational policy and practice be based on sound research and theory.
My thanks to Tannis Morgan for pointing us to Eileen Byrne's work: Women in Science: The Snark Syndrome, London, The Falmer Press, 1993.