Field of Science

Life and Lemons: Follow-up on 'the' conversation

I told you we would get back to Dr. Ego Tistical

This isn't really about Dr. Tistical specifically, but the medical doctor (as opposed to nurses, EMTs, etc.) profession in general. Based on my experience I expect that a majority of medical doctors care deeply about titles and I wonder why. My issue isn't so much with the focus on titles, it's the implicit disrespect of others that comes with their use of titles. The conversation between myself, the Dr. Tistical, and the medical technician John, is one I have seen played out many times. The doctor goes by Dr., I have a Ph.D. so I am introduced as Dr., and the non-professionally degreed individual is referred to by their first name. (Of course if the doctor is unaware that I have a Ph.D., then I am also introduced by my first name.)
Establishing positive relationships, from here
Herein lies my issue, if you are going to introduce yourself as Dr. Tistical, your colleague is not John, it's Mr. Getoveryourself. By promoting your lofty accomplishments, but not granting your colleague, and dare I say fucking partner in the whole patient care-testing process, the same level of respect, you are a douchebag. In this specific conversation, Dr. Tistical always called me Angry, and I always called her Ego, until we were in the presence of John, then I was Dr. Choice. I am ok being introduced as Dr. Choice or Mr. Choice as I think we could do with certain level of formality in professional settings. When I introduce my son to new adult friends/colleagues, I almost always introduce them as Ms. or Dr. Lastnamehere. My issue is that I was introduced as Dr. Choice and John was introduced as John. Why not Mr. Getoveryourself or why not introduce me as Angry?

This is not an isolated case. I have met with many doctors over the last two months. They are uniformly introduced as Dr. Soandso. It's a toss-up on whether I am introduced or referred to as Angry or Dr. Choice. I have also met with many nurses, technicians, and other hospital staff. They are uniformly introduced by their first name. I am introduced or referred to almost always as Dr. Choice. Why? 

There are many ways a doctor could introduce themselves. For example, one could introduce themselves thusly: 
Hi I'm Ego, I'm your neurology doctor. How are you feeling today Angry?
This is the form the nurses and staff used to introduce themselves to me.

I want to stress that the interactions I had during my life and lemons episode with the doctors, nurses, and staff were wonderful. And my issues with introductions and titles were  mild. I did not get the sense that my doctors were being elitist snobs and I actually believe this is a training issue. When students are in the clinic they see the Dr./staff and Dr./patient interaction modeled. However, this culture can foster a cesspool of elitism where douchebaggery can thrive if not flourish. This is my reason for writing this post. For example, one weekend my ex-wife and I were in the elevator going to her lab when a guy wearing a lab coat got on. My ex introduced me to Paul (name not changed because he is a waste of space).
"Paul, Angry. Angry, Paul." 
"It's Dr. Imanarrogantfuck" immediately responded Imanarrogantfuck. 
Wow just fucking wow, was my only thought."Dr. Choice, Dept. of kissmyass" was my reply.
Paul looked somewhat abashed, maybe professionals don't ever wear jeans with holes in them like I had on or maybe MDs and/or PhDs in Paul's world do not marry non-MD and/or PhDs or maybe they don't allow their spouses to work. I don't know or care, from that instant on, Paul was and always will be a waste of a sperm and an egg. (Aside: Paul is a small man, literally and figuratively.)
A possible result of unreciprocated titles, from here

Life and Lemons: Testing and Results

When we last met I told that I was recovering from a seizure(s) and detailed a bit about how my short memory was fried or at least seared. After a few more weeks of recovery and numerous doctor visits and tests, I know a bit more about what happened and what didn't happen. The important thing is that mentally I am back to normal or back to the same level of abnormality I was at pre-seizure (I think).

I also know that I have to accept the fact that there are important aspects of the 'medical incident,' as one colleague described it, that will never be known. However like any scientific study, we have hypotheses that are best supported by the available data. But this is a story for another time. 

Today I want to discuss the neuropsychological testing I had done and the outcomes of those tests. (Aside: Anyone think I would be writing these posts before the ACA and changes in insurance regulations preventing being kicked off the roles for a preexisting condition or massive increases in rates?) Several weeks after the birthday gift from god, I went in for a scheduled four hours of testing. At this point, my short term memory seemed to be working reasonably well, I had mostly recovered from an angiogram (the recovery was from having my femoral artery perforated as part of the procedure), and was back at work part-time. In short, I was feeling confident and not too concerned with the upcoming tests. 

Then I got to the hospital. I found the check-in office easily, despite the fact the hospital is actually four or five distinct buildings connected by walkways. The buildings are color coded and signs directing you to each building by color are frequent. Basically finding your building and the elevators within each building is trivial. After check-in, I was brought through a number of doors and down a few corridors to a new area to wait. My doctor, Dr. Ego Tistical more about her later, said she needed a few minutes and asked if I needed anything. I asked for directions to a cafeteria for some food and coffee, mostly I wanted coffee. She gave me directions to another building that used a different set of elevators. Getting there was no problem, the directions were great. Getting back, not so much. I was able to get back to the elevators easily and to the floor I needed, but then I was in the tangled web of similar corridors and doors. I made a couple of correct decisions/guesses and was about to go the wrong way, when the doctor waved to me from her office door.
'Was that the first test?' I asked
"No, but it would be a good one.' was her reply.
We sat down and talked about my recovery, how I thought I was doing, etc. I tried to be as honest as possible, not embellish or over-estimate how I was doing. In response to my mental functions, I said I thought I was back to normal although I tired out faster. I thought back to 90% of pre-seizure function was a conservative estimate. We talked about the seizure and events surrounding it, wasn't sure why though. Maybe it was to see  if I remembered anymore details, see if I had any questions (I did, and still do). After going over the results of the testing, I think a major reason for this discussion was to have a discussion. The topic was probably irrelevant, but it allowed her to get an idea on my verbal and language skills. She talked about the testing that would be done and answered my questions about what the tests assess and how they do it.

Then we began the testing.

Actually we went to a different room, where I was introduced to John. (All names changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent.)

"John, this is Dr. Choice. Dr. Choice, this is John, he will be administering the tests."
I extended my hand, "Nice to meet you, please call me Angry."
"Nice to meet you too, do you need anything before we begin?" asked John
"Well I'll let you get started and will talk with you again after the exams are completed." Dr. Tistical told me.
"I'm good John, thanks," I noted, coffee in hand, "Thanks Ego, see you then."
(See subsequent post for some thoughts on this conversation.) 
So now we begin the testing.

First, as I recall was the repeat the number game. John says 1, 2, 3. I say 1, 2, 3. We start with three digits all 1 - 9, then four digits, five digits, six digits, etc. We do a bunch of each group before we move up to the next group getting progressively harder. This easy to more difficult is a recurring theme throughout. Not sure how many digits we ultimately got to, I think it was eight but maybe ten. It's fairly easy to repeat back a single set of six digits, but try it after doing 5 - 10 sets of three digits, 5 - 10 sets of four digit numbers, 5 - 10 sets of five digit numbers, then do the six digit numbers. Maybe it will be easy for you, but it started getting difficult for me.


After doing digits forward, we repeated the process, but I had to repeat the numbers in reverse order. This was much easier than the forward process, probably because it was easy to memorize the first couple of digits, then the last couple of digits were fresh in my mind. So this reversing the digits was much easier. Except it wasn't. This was actually turned out to be my worst performance, but I felt good about it at the time (Kruger-Dunning?).


Finally, I had to repeat the digits back in numerical order: 4, 6, 2, 4 was repeated 2, 4, 4, 6. I also found this one easy because I could simply bin the numbers or remember that there were sequential runs of numbers like 3, 4, 5, 6 became 3 - 6. Apparently I actually did well on this exam, like I thought I did.


Now we move on to different tests. There was the see a picture like the one below:

The picture goes away and now I have to redraw it. Then the next picture comes up and as above they get progressively more complicated and have multiple objects. After completing this test, I am told that in a few minutes I would have to draw the pictures again from memory. Wish I known that at the beginning, but of course that is part of the test. Surprisingly, I was able to nail all these pictures. First time through and more importantly the second time through.

Next test was to be read a story and repeat it back as close to verbatim as possible. These were fairly long passages that were heavily detailed oriented. Not sure how I did, but it was frustrating trying to remember all the specific details. After the first pass and my attempt at repeating the story, John reread the story and I repeated it again. This time I was able to include more details or correct those I got wrong the first time through. We then repeated this process with a different heavily detailed oriented story. FYI the first story was about a woman, Mary, who cleaned offices and was robbed on 12th Ave. while going home on 8th St. This was problematic because she didn't have money for food for her kids or the rent. Luckily, the police officers took up a collection and gave her some amount of money $50 and change. (Probably the details are incorrect, except 8th St. but these are the kind of details included and only represent a tiny minority of the details included.) No idea what the second story was about, but I bet if you started it, I would recall the major details. After this activity was concluded, John then went back and read a number (20/story?) of statements me to which I had to give true-false responses. 'Mary worked as a secretary.' 'Mary was robbed on 8th St.' those kind of statements. Often upon hearing the factoid in the statement, I realized the error I made in my retelling. I have no idea how I scored, but it felt painful.


There were dexterity tests. Using just your left or just your right hand, pick up these pegs and insert them into the holes as fast as possible. Repeat using the other hand. I'm left handed so of course my fastest hand was my right. There was also keep your hand flat on the table and use your index finger to press a counter as fast as possible for 10 seconds. Repeat a couple times. That sucked, but I think I did ok from years of cell counting. Actually I didn't do as hot as I thought. I realized at the time my left hand was not as good as my right hand in these tests. This was surprising to me because I am left hand dominant, and it isn't even close. Of course, it turns out I have an issue with the right hemisphere of my brain (topic for another post), which correlates well with brain lateralization and handedness.

There were trivia tests. 'Who is associated most closely with the theory of relativity?' and language tests 'What does those who live in glass houses should not throw stones mean?' These latter tests also included John showing me a written word and asking me to say the word and define it. Again they got progressively harder, but were all simple for me. Until we got to the penultimate word, John unfortunately flipped to the final word, which I saw, before flipping back to the second-to-last word. I said and defined it, then as John was going to the final word, I said the word (as I think it was pronounced) and said I didn't have a clue what it meant. He asked if I wanted to take a stab at it, to which I replied 'No.'


There were three more tests I want to mention, although there more tests taken. The first was a move the block test, referred to as the Tower of London test. Basically, you start with the blocks arranged on the posts as shown on the left and John has another set arranged differently, like that shown on the right. The goal is to move one block at a time among the posts to make the image on the right. 

Starting position, from here
Goal position, also from here









The other point is you need to do this in the least number of moves and also in the fastest amount of time. I was never told which factor was more important, move number or time. In one trial, I made a couple of moves quickly and realized I screwed myself. Instead of trying to figure a way out, I simply reversed the moves back to start and did it the right way.

The next test I want to mention was the last test I took and one John had never given before. It was a pattern recognition test, kind of like the Wisconsin Card Sorting test. I was shown a picture and asked if it was represented by the number 1, 2, 3, or 4. The practice trial was the only one where I could guess more than once. The key thing here is that the picture was the first of many in a series that all followed the same rule. For example, the practice picture was:
 My first guess was 2, for two things, a white square on a black background. 'Wrong' John said. Then I guessed 4, for the four-sided object. 'Wrong' John repeated. Since there was no way 3 made any sense, except by way of exclusion, I went with 1, thinking one object. 'Right' John stated. The rule was in fact # of objects on the background. Once I had this card correct, John went to the next card and the next and the next, all of which I got correct because I had determined the correct rule. Now remember, this was the practice trial. For the real trials, I got one attempt on the first card. Right or Wrong, we went to the next card in the series. So in a real trial, it would have taken me three cards of trying to get the correct rule and the remaining cards correct. You should also realize that the cards varied in number of objects, shapes of the objects, colors, etc. So in the above example the next card could be 2 black triangles on a white background and now the correct response would be 2. Once the real trials began, if you guessed/deduced the correct rule in the first couple of cards, you breezed through them. If you did not things got more complicated, because you had to remember the previous cards, your guesses, and the hypotheses (rules) you already tried. You get to card 4 after incorrect guesses on the previous 3 cards and think of a new rule. Now you think back, does this new rule work for the previous cards and do I actually get different answers using this new rule for those cards? I was told this tests for 'executive function' but in many ways I think it tested for frustration coping mechanisms.

Finally, there was the memorize, in about 2 seconds, this person's face, now this person's face, now this person's face, etc. There were many faces, I guessed 30, but was told during the results phase that there were 48! Once we went through the 48 faces, John got out another stack of pictures and I was simply asked whether a face he showed me from this new stack was in the original stack or not. Some of these were easy to pick out, there was angry guy, happy guy, high guy, Ego (looked a bit like the Dr.). There were many others I remembered or could eliminate due to some particular hair style, facial feature, etc. and many I could not recall one way or the other. We know eye witness testimony sucks, but remember I was asked to specifically remember these faces and that I would be asked to recognize them or not afterwards. I found much of this test extremely difficult and think it reinforces those studies raising concerns about eye witness testimony. Of course, about 20 minutes later after taking some other tests, John pulled out a stack of pictures and asked if the faces were in the original deck or not. Now I am trying to parse whether a given face was in the first deck or one I remembered from the second deck. This test sucked.

Four hours of testing completed in two and a half, this was off-set by the fact I didn't take any breaks and also that I did not have any significant impairment (I was not aware of this at the time.). Regardless, when I left I did not feel good about myself and how I did. The confidence I had going into the testing had fled. After two weeks, I met with Dr. Tistical to go over my results. The good news, as mentioned a second ago, is that I have no loss of mental function. I scored extremely well overall, and ended up on the right hand side of the curve. Even those tests I did poorly in, I was still well to the right of the curve. Dr. Tistical told me about cognitive reserve, which I hadn't heard about before, and apparently I had enough of it to recover from the seizures. Here's hoping I do not have another, as there is no guarantee that I will be so fortunate in the future.  
From here, I ended up in the 3σ area

Life and lemons: The Memory Addition

About two weeks ago I opened my eyes realized I was in a strange room laying in a strange bed. I saw my ex-wife sitting off to the side. Other people were around. I thought to myself 'oh shit! wtf happened?!' I then immediately passed out.
What you see  ~1nsec before 'WTF?!'' leaves your lips.
At least I think that's what happened. The last thing I remember, in real time, was attending a talk given by a colleague on a Friday afternoon. But since that time, I have learned a lot about human memory using an experiential approach. At some point after the talk, probably the next day, I had a number of seizures that seem to have been fairly significant. I was then unconscious and kept alive via a ventilator for a couple of days. Not sure what drugs, besides anti-seizure medication, I was given but they behaved more powerfully than aspirin. Of course, I'm also not sure how much residual burn-out there was from the massive neuronal firing that took place in my brain.
From here: I was probably the brain in the lower right UPDATE: lower left
So as I slowly recuperate (not actually that slow considering), I figure I will document some things I learn by going through this process. I should probably point out that nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I did knock myself out once, for a minute or two, in graduate school playing wallyball, which sent me to the hospital with a concussion. I also smacked my head pretty good as an undergraduate, which did not send me to the hospital, but may have caused a concussion. Otherwise, I have never had seizures nor had many head injuries. At least not that I remember.

Not that I remember. This is what I have experienced since waking up. I have been amazed at the specificity of what I have forgotten, the extent that my memory has lapsed, the rapidity with which I think I can effectively think again, yet the areas where I still have difficulties.

Again, I remember going to my colleague's talk. I think I remember the general topic discussed, however I am generally familiar with what my colleagues do, so maybe this reflects more long-term memory and not actual memory of the talk. I remember transforming a yeast species Friday morning (sadly that experiment was lost over the intervening week and a half and was needed for an R21 resubmission due in a week (some of that preliminary data they can't ask for)). After the talk, some friends offered to take me to a local bar for a celebratory birthday beer. I didn't mention this started on or around my birthday? Oh well, happy birthday to me. I had one beer and then went home. All this other stuff, I had to be told by others. I have no recollection of even discussing going out afterwards. The only reason we know I made it home is that that is where the police found me just before getting an ambulance the next day. My memory really stops at ~5PM on Friday and again no injury occurred at this time. It is a viable hypothesis that my friends promised to take me out this week instead and are using my memory loss to their advantage.

On Saturday, I was expected at the airport to pick up my family and at some point I sent a text message letting them know I saw the flight was on time. Again, no record of any of this exists in my brain. No record of anything from Saturday exists.

I did not arrive at the airport, which was met with surprise. I consider myself dependable and generally succeed at arriving early for things like this. Further surprise occurred when I did not answer a phone. At this point or not too long thereafter (sorry but I was unconscious), my family called some friends for a ride. They also called the police. Things got a bit weird here, initially the Minneapolis police department was contacted, I'm guessing because 911 was dialed as people drove through Minneapolis. The Minneapolis police department told them to call back in 24 hours. I probably would have been dead, so thanks for those birthday wishes. After my son was taken care of and situated my ex and a friend called my hometown police, who decided to check out the house. They even exited their vehicle and looked in the windows where I was observed seizing. Deciding that 24 hours might be a bit long to wait, they simply kicked in a door and started keeping me alive. I was already in the back of the ambulance getting ready to hit a hospital by the time my friends and ex arrived to the scene. (Full disclosure, I heard these details several times, but I was still on the foggy-side, so it's possible a detail or two is not exactly correct.

So ventilator for a couple of days, then awake. (This is definitely one place an exclamation point would never be appropriate.) I think it was two days before I actually began to sense that the fog was lifting. I was walking, initially with a walker but by Thursday on my own. I could actually read, at least my brain seemed to be able to concentrate and focus well enough to read. I read about 20 pages of a book I was 3/4 of the way through. I currently remember those 20 pages, but there are several hundred pages I've lost. I've gone back to reread hoping to spur some memory, but nothing. I remember looking forward to finishing the book and being done with it, I don't think it's worth going back to near the beginning and rereading knowing how I feel throughout the rest of the book. The interesting thing to me is that these 100s of pages were read weeks before the seizure. Yet they are gone.

Once I could type reasonably well (I'm still getting better at it), I contacted my undergraduates to let them know what happened and have them contact me. One of them, who was continuing a project from the fall, had to remind me the specific experiments being done that week, but I knew the goals of the project. However, for the other students I had no clue. I couldn't have given you a reasonable guess. The thing was I could have listed all the things I wanted done in the lab and the projects I wanted to move forward. I simply could not look at one list and tell you who was working on what parts.

I know my son and I went to see the Lego Movie. I know Chris Pratt played the lead character. Otherwise, nothing. Can't tell you the plot, other than it was lego-centric, but duh!

I've looked at my calendar and I will see something out of the ordinary and haven't the slightest idea what it's for. I was planning to submit a fungal white paper next week, I guess. No idea what it was for. Doesn't even matter, spending the last two weeks either in the hospital (week 1) or slowly getting my shit back together (week 2), there's no way I can complete it in time. I know how to cook, I know how to get around on roads (although I am not allowed to drive for 3 months). I know how to do laundry. I remember how to play my flute and can still figure out music fairly well by ear. I can type, email, etc. although these higher level motor skills take a bit longer than they used too. Still every day is better.

I can read science papers, albeit slowly. I can focus on seminars and can identify areas to question, however it is more difficult vocalizing that question. That may have as much to do with the chunk from the side of my tongue I bit off as anything else.

So while I am still going to take it slow for a few weeks or at least not push myself too hard, it's good to see improvement. It's also interesting to experience the short-term memory losses associated with the seizure, not a good thing , but interesting. It's amazing how fragile memory is and really begs the question 'what is memory?' Maybe neurologists have a handle on this answer, but I am not aware of it.

An Exciting Weekend!!!!

Looking for things to do this weekend (and you do)?

Why do you need something to do, you ask? It's Valentine's Day weekend you point out. You plan on lots of dancing and romancing with your significant other, you say. So why do you need something to do?

Two reasons: 1. To prevent chafing, it's not a bad thing to take a break. 2. To embrace some science.

On Saturday:
we have the annual homeschool (creation) science fair taking place at Northwestern University in Roseville. The fair is in the Maranatha Hall lobby.
From 36 head north on Snelling Ave.
Judging is from 10:00 - 12:30, so the kids will be there then. I love talking science with kids, so I plan to be there around 11:00. Afterwards I plan on having lunch at Grumpy's (marked with a star). Even if you don't go to the fair, feel free to join me afterwards. I'll be at Grumpy's, in the bar area, sometime between 12 and 12:30. If you go to the fair because I brought it your attention, you must play nice with the kids.

On Sunday:
we have Dr. Sehoya Cotner speaking at the Southdale Library at 2:00. Her talk is "Are we still evolving?" Of course the answer is yes, but there is much interesting information and fun associated with these talks. Afterwards there may be a lunch, although I'm not sure I'll be going. I may have to brew up some beer instead.
The pin denotes Southdale Library - Duh
If you go to the talk because I brought it to your attention, feel free to be an ass. (Not responsible if Dr. Cotner kicks your ass though.)

Highly Conserved Is Relative

When discussing some aspect of biology, we often want to know how common is the gene, pathway, structure, interaction, or other phenomenon we are interested in. This can be important in two distinct manners: 1. if we find our gene, pathway, etc. is maintained in many different types of organisms, this suggests that our gene, pathway, etc. likely plays an important or fundamental role in some level of biology; 2. if we find our gene, pathway, etc. is not found in different types of organisms, this suggests our gene, pathway, etc. likely can tell us something about the unique biology of what we are studying.

To discuss this phenomenon of commonality, we say that something is conserved (or not). Of course saying a gene, pathway, etc is conserved doesn't tell us much by itself, because we need to know the level of conservation. Is the gene, pathway, etc. conserved among sister species? within a class? a phyla? a kingdom? The answer to this question tells us a lot about whether we are looking at a fundamental process or at the level of specificity of the process. In the seminars and papers I read, I generally see a short-hand approach to discuss conservation where the speaker or author uses a superlative or adverb to suggest the level of conservation.

For example, I recently heard a talk where the presenter stated that a protein was 'highly conserved, being found in both mammalian systems and yeast.' That sounds pretty impressive. But I immediately thought of eukaryotic phylogeny (mammals and yeast are both eukaryotes), and this figure I borrowed from Lab Rat a former FoS blogger who blogs at Scientific American. This is a figure my Eukaryotic Microbiology students see every week in class (the bacteria and archaea are not included in this figure).
I want to draw your attention to the Opisthokonts over at ~4:00. This is the supergroup of eukaryotes containing the metazoa (animals) and fungi. If we blow up this area of the figure, the last common ancestor of animals and fungi is indicated by the red arrow. (FYI humans, including you, are indicated by the green arrow.)
Now look at the first picture and think about all the eukaryotic diversity absent from the Opisthokont group! Is something found in both mammals and yeast highly conserved? I suppose so, since that last common ancestor lived ~1 billion years ago. But mostly I suppose not, because the vast amount of eukaryotic diversity lacks it.

A tangential point, but it's probably worth pointing out that the eukaryotic kingdoms we mostly hear about: animals, fungi, and plants represent little of eukaryotic diversity. Animals and fungi are contained within the Opisthokonts and plants are contained within the embryophytes at ~1:00. Everything else on this wheel represent non-animal, non-fungal, non-plant eukaryotes.

Bill Nye Won the Debate and Why I Think It Matters.

Not actually Ken Ham
There are 2 rules most people know:
1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
2. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
I would like to promote a third that is less commonly known:
3. Never debate a creationist*
*unless you're Bill Nye, the science guy.
First, I will up front state that I was not a proponent of Bill Nye agreeing to debate Ken Ham at the Creation Museum on a topic related to evolution and creationism. In fact, if another debate were planned, I am still against Bill Nye participating. I saw and foresee nothing good coming from said debates.

Second, I was wrong.

Super-genius
I am not in favor of a debate between evolution and creationism for a variety of reasons:
  • There is no basis for comparing these two topics other than a lot of people have issue with one topic or the other. Evolution is so strongly supported and affirmed by the evidence, a debate equating evolution with creationism is akin to a debate on gravity and consciousness-dependent falling. 
  • Many of the points creationists use were debunked years ago. It has been explained over and over, and yet they keep using the same points. It's almost as if they are being willfully ignorant or outright lying. I saw a talk last semester that used the same discredited talking points Ham did. 
  • Debates are not about truth or getting at the truth, but are exercises in oration. Who has the best oratory skills does not equate with who is correct or not correct.
This particular debate was worse because it took place at Ken Ham's Creation Museum. Furthermore, the tickets were siphoned towards a creationist-friendly audience. So not only was the environment completely lopsided in pro-creationist favor, but the Creation Museum made money on the endeavor through ticket sales and the soon-to-be-available DVD. Even if Nye were to win (doubtful given the audience), the mission of Ken Ham would be supported.

One thing I did not consider was the internet. The debate was streamed live for free and is currently still available for viewing. Importantly and surprisingly, the debate was watched live by at least a half million viewers! So while Nye clearly lost the debate in the forum it was held, he won in a landslide via the intertubes. As to my first premise that Nye lost in the forum it was held, the evidence comes via Matt Stopera of Buzzfeed who took these  pictures among others of event attendees:
It is, they aren't, because it is. (How can both a sprinter and a faucet run?)
It does not. (Look up on a sunny day if you don't understand why.)
Garbleblarglegable, non-sequitor
However, in the intertubes Nye kicked ass or maybe a better way to put it is Ham presented his own ass to Nye on a silver platter. Why do I say Nye won? Well actually Christian Today says Nye won or at least the readers of Christian Today think so. The fact that >500,000 people saw the debate streaming live tells me Nye won. First, these were not carefully screened creationist-friendly viewers such as those found at the Creation Museum. Second, Nye had all the evidence and Ham had….. Third, Nye was fortunate enough to have Ham keep opening his mouth.

Nye in his opening remarks noted that billions of believers accept evolutionary theory (in general terms). This is a powerful point to make because Ham likes to link evolution to atheism as much as possible (disregarding the facts that most Christians accept much of evolution and the physics and that much of evolutionary theory and physics was developed by believers).

The question the debate centered on was "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era?" Nye essentially addressed this question throughout the presentation; Ham noted the question and then proceeded onto the standard talking points. This was obvious to any viewer.

But perhaps the kiss-of-death occurred during the question and answers. When asked 'what would change your mind?' Ham responded with essentially 'nothing would change my mind' and Nye responded with 'evidence' and then listed some things that evidence could look like.

Why I think this is important is that in a more accessible format, Ham showed the Christian community in this country how 'stone cold fuck nuts (thanks Mr. Black)' he and his followers are. When the state legislature in South Dakota is trying to bankrupt a community by preventing K-12 administrators from preventing science teachers from teaching creationism, we need Christians to realize how dangerous these peoples are.




So I was wrong, at least in the larger context. I think the debate was a win for science and Bill Nye and for that I thank Mr. Nye.

Poor US Education Meme Infects the Minnesota Daily

It's bad enough to reading the standard misinformation regarding K-12 education in the popular press, but now its infected our student paper too. The editorial compares the curricula of Germany with that of South Korea as educational systems that could be modeled to improve US education. But the question, the answer to which is assumed in this editorial, is, is the US education system doing poorly?
Dunces unite

Based on the popular press, you'ld think the US education is in complete disarray. This idea is supported by tests that compare the US to many other countries.


For example, Pearson ranks the US as 17th overall in cognitive skills and educational attainment (Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore rank 1-5). The US is between Belgium and Hungary and for the record Germany comes in at a devastating 15th. These rankings spanned 2006 - 2010.


Furthermore, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 rankings have US 15 year olds at 17th in reading, 23rd in math, and 21st in science out of the 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. (The US ranked 36th in math of all countries/areas tested.) 

Highlander ranks higher than
US in math and kicking ass

These rankings are problematic for several reasons.

Zero Sum Games: For the US to move up in its rankings other countries must go down. As the Highlander says 'There can be only one.' Is the US education system likely to be that much stronger than education system of the United Kingdom? Germany? Japan? Canada? France? Belgium? I'm not suggesting we should not try to attain the greatest achievement possible, but don't you think these other countries want to have student success? Even if we thought of it first (we didn't), other countries would likely have noticed and followed suit.

Apples and Oranges: The US is not a monolith of education. If anything we're a monolith of stupidity. We have a decentralized education system. Each state can do what it wants, thus states like Tennessee and Louisiana, which overtly teach biblical creationism, may do poorly on science exams. Using the US as a single entity for comparison sake does reveal major shortcomings in our educational system. But it's basically worthless, unless your goal is to eliminate public education and replace it with a mechanism to move more taxpayer money into corporate hands.

From Slate
 If we look at states individually, something different emerges.

On the PISA exam, the US math average was 481, placing us at 36th of OECD. The average for the OECD countries was 494, putting the US well below average. But if we look at individual states we find that average in Massachusetts was 514, Connecticut was 506, and Florida was 467. Two states doing well above the OECD average and one state 4 points below Croatia, a country recently established from the ruins of Yugoslavia.

Similar results are seen in the science averages. US average: 497; OECD average 501; Massachusetts average 527; Connecticut average 521, and Florida average 485.

Any guesses on reading literacy? US average: 498; OECD average 496; Massachusetts average 527; Connecticut average 521, and Florida average 492.

Do you see a trend there? It looks like some states, Massachusetts, do extremely well helping promote a strong US score. Yet other states, I'm looking at you Florida, fuck it up for everyone. You'ld think the talking heads would be asking 'what's working in top performing states like MA, NH, MN, etc?' or even 'what's not working in bottom performing states like FL, MS, AL, etc?'

I bet people in Massachusetts really want to overhaul their successful education system in order to try out a new one that might improve Florida's scores.

We spend so much time disparaging teachers that many rankings done in the US use teacher tenure, teacher seniority, and charter school availability as major criteria in their evaluations of state education. Regardless of student outcomes! If a state has teacher tenure and great student achievement, should that state be dinged? For example, the American Legislative Exchange Council (not affiliated with Congress) came out with their rankings: Massachusetts received a C; Florida a B.

I suggest you go back on look at the PISA scores and then let that digest a minute. If you think the PISA test is a Muslim plot, you could also look at the USA USA USA National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP rankings: MA, with MN and NH, first in 4th grade math; Fl 30th. MA first in 8th grade math; FL 37th. MA, first in 4th grade reading; FL 13th. MA first in 8th grade reading; FL 33rd. (Was that a complete sweep?) Yet the ALEC says FL is a clear letter grade better than MA. WTF?!?! (ALEC cares little about education and more about policy that ends public education: Vermont and Rhode Island received D+'s yet were 2nd and 6th in the country on the NAEP tests respectively; Utah B- and South Carolina C were 41st and 50th on the NAEP test respectively.)

For the record, MA and other top performing states do well across economic spectra. These results are not simply due to socio-economic differences. However, poverty clearly has a profound effect on education achievement. 

Coming full circle, it's not a zero sum game here either. For FL to improve its ranking other states have to lose positions. The point is that using the US as an education collective to compare against actual education collectives is ridiculous.

Regardless, I am tired of hearing about the travesty of the US education system, when in fact many states are doing great, but are dragged down in national surveys by poor performing states (I'm looking at you deep south). We should look at the data coming from these assessments and tests and determine what is valid (are students in Singapore better prepared for the test due to timing of the curricula? do all students go to school and are they all tested in China?). We should also celebrate our accomplishments, YAY Massachusetts, and recognize our problems, I'm looking at you Florida, I'm also looking at Minnesota which is doing great on these tests but still has a huge achievement gap.

So thanks Minnesota Daily for getting me to write this. For the record, we don't need to look to South Korea or even Germany to fix our education system. First, we have to realize the US education system does not exist, so it can not be broken and need to be fixed. Second, we only have to look at our neighboring states to see what works and what doesn't. Third, if there are applicable educational innovations developed overseas or even up North, I'm all in favor of trying them. But realize much of our system works well and let's not fuck it all up because of Florida.