Monday, March 17, 2014
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Monday, July 1, 2013
I drove on Highway 90. you can just stop on sit on the beach for many parts of the drive. one of the coolest things, is that there are carved wooden statues in the median along the way. Statues of dolphins, owls, pelicans, fish, etc.
On the drive there, I stayed at Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi. I do not recommend it. However, I did see a bird of prey, maybe a small falcon, sit on my picnic table. a few minutes later, I saw the bird carrying away dinner, probably a mouse, in its claws. I also tried Shepard state park, but the torrential rains dissuaded me from tent camping.
At Dauphin Island. I camped. it was just $22/night for a tent site. the beach off the campground (there is only one campground) is much less crowded than the public beaches. the crowd is local (alabama, ms) and nonintrusive, i felt. The person that ran the campground told me she grew up there, just around the time that the bridge was built. they would come for the whole summer and just camp in a tent right where the now only public campground is. She said now, a lot of people camp there RV/camper for the whole summer, but go back to the mainland to work every week.
Here is what I did: go to beach. set up small umbrella. relax. read. go in the water when it got too hot. go back to umbrella. repeat for hours.
I really enjoyed the Estuarium. I also took some time in the bird sanctuary. you can just walk around a lake and a swamp, with deserted beach access as well. --saw some huge primitive-looking... herons. (I have to look up what they were).
The fort is interesting also.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Whole Foods is doing this for profit Apparently labeling foods as nonGMO yields a sales spike between 15-30 percent. Whole Foods did not say why they are doing it except for “we stood up for the consumer’s right to know”. They do NOT say that they are doing it with regard to any actual PRINCIPLE; they just say it’s for the information. I would posit it is for PROFITS! Although they claim the information is for everyone, the target customers are people who are opposed to GMOs.
Ignorance of biology The public’s rejection of genetically modified foods and organisms is short-sighted and the result of ignorance. Ignorance in the sense of lack of information. Ignorance of basic biology. A brief biology lesson relevant to GMOs: Every living thing on earth is a genetically modified organism. Mutation is the naturally-occurring way of genetic modification (there are others, but it’s too complicated to describe here.) Life, in the form of cells, emerged 2.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. All cells contain the genetic material of DNA. Since the first cell, cellular DNA mutates every time a cell divides, usually just a little bit. Mutation is the tool of evolution: if there were no mutation, there would be no evolution. If there was no evolution or mutation, we would all still be in the primordial soup. If there were no evolution, neither us nor the foods we eat would be here at all. (Most of our food is from living things also.) Moreover, for millennia, agriculturalists have genetically modified organisms in the form of selective breeding to improve crops and livestock. Cruciform vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale are all derived by selective breeding of wild mustard. Domestic dogs are human-selected mutants of wild canines. This is even mentioned in the bible (in a primitive way), when Jacob keeps the spotted and speckled goats, to his advantage. Darwin mentioned “artificial selection” (crop and animal breeding) as his first argument for natural selection. Since the 1970s, with the advent of molecular biology, scientists have intentionally modified organisms genetically, through development of transgenic organisms. Many lifesaving products are the result of GMOs, such as insulin, TPA . GMO foodcrops have properties such as faster growth, resistance to pathogens, production of extra nutrients.
Blanket distrust of technology The involvement of a major CEO (of Whole Foods) in perpetrating this ignorance for profit is shameful and blocks progress. I do not understand why the anti-technology people are against humans controlling their own destiny, if possible. Scientific manipulation of DNA essentially uses the same processes as nature. The only difference is that people control it. I am completely for saving the planet, but the public wholesale distrust of technology does not help. To object to GMOS blindly is to be unknowledgeable about basic facts of biology. There are people who are unilaterally opposed to technology. Yet they use computers and take vaccines or medicine if they are sick. The case of “Golden Rice” is also instructive, in which many countries outright rejected free GMO rice which could save millions of cases of blindness and death in children. Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund are opposed to GMOs and Golden Rice. I used to support Greenpeace. Here is a quote from the green peace site “To protect the environment and human health from the risks of GMOs, Greenpeace has campaigned to stop their release into our environment since 1995. We scored a big win in 2000 when the Biosafety Protocol was adopted in Montreal, Canada. This agreement mandates that countries take precautionary measures to prevent GMOs from causing harm to biodiversity and human health.”
GMOs are safe Many high-level scientific studies have shown that there are no intrinsic, biochemical differences between GMOs and nonGMOs: DNA is DNA, protein is protein, etc. From Wikipedia: “There is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops pose no greater risk than conventional food. No reports of ill effects have been documented in the human population from GM food. From: AAAAS, WHO, NRC, Council on Science and Public Health There are some anti-GMO web sites. I don’t see them giving a rational reason for being against GMO foods http://www.greenamerica.org/pubs/greenamerican/articles/AprilMay2012/
GMOs, like anything else should be regulated and consumers should be informed I agree that information is good. I don’t think information should be withheld. However, a balanced view of GMOs should be presented, if all the trouble to label will be added. There are agribusiness issues regarding companies that use GMO, but that doesn’t mean that GMOs are intrinsically dangerous. I think there is a danger of GMOs in the problem of monoculture, but that is not relevant to the intrinsic GMO issue. I agree that should be regulated, but they are not intrinsically dangerous.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Sunday, December 27, 2009
FUNDING BASED ON NEED:
Minimum Basic Research Funding (MBRF)
A THREE-PART SERIES
Proposal for "Minimum Basic Research Funding Level" By Marion Freistadt. Dec, 2009.
Part 1: The current situation
Part 2: The problem
Part 3: A solution
In this series, I discuss problems with funding of biomedical research in America today. After discussing the current situation in Part 1 of this series, I describe the problems being addressed in this series (in Part 2). These problems may be summarized as suboptimal return on investment. Large amounts of money are spent on research, yet outcomes are lower than they could be. Much money and human effort is wasted. Supplies and equipment are purchased on arbitrary budget cycles, rather than as needed. Moral is low among many qualified scientists and some leave research (49% in one survey ). After discussing these difficulties, in Part 3, I propose a novel solution, which I call Minimum Basic Research Funding. The proposal may be characterized as research funding based on research need, rather than peer review.
Part 1: The current situation
This series is being written by a former biomedical researcher: I was a professor with tenure in a Microbiology department in a US Medical School. I received numerous grants (I raised over $722,000 for research) and published extensively (23 publications). However, I came to perceive deep problems in the system currently used to fund biomedical research. The series is written from a personal perspective, informed either by my own experience or that of my colleagues. However, most points that I make in this series are backed by references.
What does it mean to do research?
People outside the field may not understand exactly what a researcher does. First, it is study. One must read and learn about the particular field, both in general and in the specific. Of course, initially, this involves classes. The student must learn “how to learn;” that is, how to find answers. The student becomes more and more intellectually independent. As the student learns, the laboratory part of research becomes integrated into his/her activities and thoughts. The student joins a laboratory group, usually after rotating through several groups. The student poses specific experimental questions and then learns to design and perform experiments to answer the questions. Then, as results accumulate, the researcher, in conjunction with the advisor and colleagues, must compile the information and evaluate when the experimental results have demonstrated significant findings. When sufficient novel results are acquired, the results may be written into a manuscript which may be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Eventually, results will be submitted in grant applications. When I was in graduate school, grant writing was not taught. It now seems to be included in many current programs .
Built into this is that as knowledge increases, everything changes. The scientist must be adaptable: much of what was previously learned becomes obsolete.
Also intrinsic to the process is presenting results at national and international conferences. Another important aspect is self-promotion and nurturing of reputation: these are not explicitly taught.
How academic biomedical science is funded now? Getting started.
A researcher wants to do research. (I will also use the term PI, for Principal Investigator. The PI is the one applying for funding. A PI usually has several people working for him/her—these are also “researchers.” But here I am talking about the PI.) Typically, the person has trained for 5-10 years, during graduate and post-doctoral work. The financial and prestige rewards for research are low compared to many other highly skilled professionals, so most researchers are highly motivated: they are a self-selecting group. They usually have a deep love of science and desire to increase human knowledge. They are also very hardworking, putting in 50-60 hour weeks, especially during training.
To start independent research, he/she must have funding. Typically, a researcher must first secure employment in an academic institution, often a medical school. Funding initially, typically, comes from the department/institution where he or she is employed. “Start-up packages” usually provide 1-3 years funding. During that time, the researcher is expected to perform experiments (by him- or herself or directing one or more technicians, students and/or postdoctoral associates). These experiments should provide publishable results. Based on these published (or nonpublished) results, the researcher submits grant applications.
The role of grant funding in the academic process
In many cases, success in an academic career is dependent upon acquisition of external funding. During promotion and tenure review, one of the most important factors is grant success. This is often considered as an independent assessment of the researcher’s merit.
In addition, universities use researchers as “cash cows.” In addition to the face value of the grant, the institution receives “overhead” (aka “indirect costs”). This is a percent amount, set by the institution, which is added on to the face value of the grant. Although these values should be public information, it is difficult to determine how much these percentages are. I have heard up to 45%. This money is earmarked for costs such as building maintenance, utilities, support personnel, etc. Therefore, in addition to the obvious value of receiving grants, the university has a deeply vested interest in researcher’s financial success. Therefore, it is not surprising that universities task their promotion committees with emphasizing financial success. Researchers never see this money, nor do they know how it is used.
How much funding does one researcher need?
Assuming success, this depends entirely on the size of each researcher’s enterprise (and, therefore, the researcher’s ambition). Starting as a single researcher, minimally one R01 (the meat-and-potatoes research grant, typically 5 years, $250,000 per year) is required. The money is spent on personnel (student, postdoctoral, technician and, if required, PI salaries), supplies, equipment, travel and other things. This enables the researcher to accumulate people to perform research as well as covering supplies and equipment, if needed and budgeted. Whether the researcher’s salary must be covered depends on the type of institution. Successful results are published peer-reviewed journals. Having achieved publications, the likelihood of successful acquisition of additional grants is increased. Thus, a researcher can bootstrap his- or herself up to higher levels of funding and success. A mid-career researcher might have 3-5 R01s and several other smaller grants, or collaborative grants. Other sources of funding include contracts from industrial sources, such as pharmaceutical companies. If the researcher builds a megalab, millions of dollars of annual research funding is obtained.
Where does the money come from?
$94 billion was spent in 2003 on biomedical research in the US, taking place in academia, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries . In the US, the majority of academic research funding is from the federal government . American colleges and universities (690 institutions surveyed) spent $51.9 billion in 2008, of which $31 was from the federal government (all agencies, such as NIH, NSF, USDA, DOD, and EPA) . Typically in the biomedical sciences, the grant applications are submitted to an institute at NIH. However, there are other funding agencies either charitable, such as American Cancer Society, or private, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. About “80 percent of the NIH budget supports extramural research at 3,100 institutions around the world” . In 2008, NIH awarded $15,013,228,571 in 36,656 awards . This roughly correlates with figures given in  ($5 and $9 billion to HHS in biological and medical sciences, respectively). The FY 2010 NIH budget request is for a program total of $31 billion .
How many NIH-funded US biomedical researchers are there?
By this I mean funded and unfunded researchers attempting to perform biomedical research (in an appropriate setting). This figure is difficult to determine, so here I present an estimate. NIH receives nearly 80,000 applications a year . (Some of these are not in the US: NIH accepts applications from foreign institutions.) To calculate number of researchers, I used data on success rates. According to “Broken Pipeline” , overall success rate for R01 submissions was 24%, while first time submission success was 12%. Many researchers submit more than one application /year. However, many do not submit every year. For simplicity, I will assume these two variations approximately cancel each other out. Let’s say there are 80,000 academic biomedical researchers seeking funding in America today.
How many researchers are funded and how many are unfunded?
This is difficult to determine. However, I will make an estimate (based on the previous estimate). If overall success rates are 24%, then 19,200 (24% of 80,000) are funded and 60,800 are unfunded. However, another report suggests a much lower number are funded (by NIH). According to an on-line PowerPoint report from NIH, “NECB SPECIAL TOPIC-FIRST TIME total scientists supported.ppt” in 2007, there were over 8,000 investigators supported“ .
How are the funding decisions made?
In most cases, there is a canonical process by which funding decisions are made. In general, the system is called “peer review.” This is supposed to mean that proposals are evaluated by a group of the applicant’s peers. The entire process is called “dual review system.” This refers to two distinct steps: the first being scientific merit (“study section” aka Scientific Review Group [SRG]); the second being programmatic. However, the real decisions are made in the study section. There is a complex study section organization in NIH and other funding agencies. A study section consists of a panel of 15-20 specialists in a particular field. Submitted grants are initially processed by the Center Scientific Review (a part of the NIH) and directed to the appropriate study section. Within the study section, grant applications are assigned.
What goes on in study sections?
This is the heart of the matter. Who is making these decisions and on what basis? There are certainly visible efforts and reports that much is done to make the process fair. Something relatively new is the “mock study section.” [14,15] Naturally, material made by CSR will be made to appear fair. Apparently, anyone with conflicts of interest (obvious, as well as not so obvious, like a former association) with the applicant is asked to leave the room. The primary reviewer gets 10 minutes, secondary, 5 and 15 minutes for discussion. Reviewers are asked to come up with scores.
Summary of Part 1
I have described the basic career path for an academic, American, biomedical researcher. Most are dedicated, hard-working individuals. Often, however, instead of simply “doing research,’ their primary occupation becomes raising money for their research. The majority of opportunities to fund their research are found through the NIH, which is part of the federal government, although philanthropic and industry sources exist as well. An extremely complex process for applying for grants has been developed. Success in research appears to be linked to success in fund raising. While this system cannot be considered a failure, since it has produced a high level of useful results (for example, the human genome project and all its fallout), the outcome is suboptimal. Much human effort, physical materials and money is wasted. The next part in this series, deals with this.
11. http://www.brokenpipeline.org/brokenpipeline.pdf in 2007
Friday, July 31, 2009
A friend gave me this article:
By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, May 28, 2006; W08
Here is a list of some deniers (and some linked links) from that article.
- Bill Gray
- “Gray does not say there has not been any warming, but states 'I don't question that. And humans might have caused a very slight amount of this warming. Very slight. But this warming trend is not going to keep on going. My belief is that three, four years from now, the globe will start to cool again, as it did from the middle '40s to the middle '70s.' ”
- “The core of Gray's argument is that the warming of the past decades is a natural cycle, driven by a global ocean circulation that manifests itself in the North Atlantic as the Gulf Stream.”
- “Gray said those who had linked global warming to the increased number of hurricanes in recent years were in error. He cites statistics showing that there were 101 hurricanes from 1900 to 1949, in a period of cooler global temperature, compared to 83 from 1957 to 2006 when the earth warmed.”
- “he says is supported by scientists afraid of losing grant funding and promoted by government leaders and environmentalists seeking world government.”
- “’It's a big can of worms!’ Gray says. It's his favorite line.The models can't even predict the weather in two weeks, much less 100 years, he says."
- Marion here: how can it be both ways? Natural cycles, yet unpredictable. If you know what the cycles are, you are predicting.
2. “George C. Marshall Institute or the National Center for Policy Analysis: helped scuttle any possibility that the United States would ratify the Kyoto treaty.”
Here is a link to a scientific article they posted:
If I understand the abstract, they are saying that tropospheric temperature variation follows Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), which follows El Niño.
- Richard Lindzen
“He has been a critic of some anthropogenic global warming theories and the alleged political pressures on climate scientists. He hypothesized that the Earth may act like an infrared iris; increased sea surface temperature in the tropics would result in reduced cirrus clouds and thus more infrared radiation leakage from Earth's atmosphere. This hypothesis suggested a negative feedback which would counter the effects of CO2 warming.”
(Note: here is an article “debunking his claims: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/04/lindzen-in-newsweek/)
- Fred Singer “a consultant to various major corporations, including GE, Ford, GM, Exxon, Shell, Sun Oil.” “The Earth currently is experiencing a warming trend, but there is scientific evidence that human activities have little to do with it. Instead, the warming seems to be part of a 1,500-year cycle (plus or minus 500 years) of moderate temperature swings.” “In 2007, studies Singer co-authored found tropospheric temperature trends of 'Climate of the 20th Century' models differed from satellite observations by twice the model mean uncertainty.”
- Sterling Burnett http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=H._Sterling_Burnett
- Fred Smith: Competitive Enterprise Institute, a factory for global warming skepticism http://cei.org/ “What's unnatural, Smith says, is wilderness. The so-called wilderness of early America used to be inhabited by Indians, and they changed their environment. ‘They burned down trees, they burned forests, they ran buffaloes over cliffs. They were not dancing with wolves,’ he says. ‘Wilderness is the least natural part of this planet.’" Joel Achenbach
Thursday, July 30, 2009
New Orleans must be a unique city in NOT having city-sponsored curbside recycling. (there is private). The current administration is (unbelievably) opposed to it! They seem to favor the proven unsuccessful route of "gassification."
The New Orleans Sierra Club (and partners!!) is making a commitment to bringing back curbside recycling to New Orleans!! The upcoming election (February 6, 2010) is the way to do this. We need to make recycling a FRONT AND CENTER visible issue for the election and the next administration, whoever it is. We think we will succeed, because the time is right—there is support. A steering committee has formed to guide this effort. We met yesterday and brainstormed like crazy. Lots of great ideas! Now we need to make it happen.
There will be open meetings on the 4th Monday of each month (time and place to be announced) for community input.
PLEASE post your ideas on how to make it happen to this the New Orleans Sierra Club facebook page.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I was a virologist for 19 years. I am no longer a practicing virologist, having been furloughed after Katrina.
Here, I list some of the more creative virological ideas I had. I have been carrying these around in my wallet, on a hand scrawled slip of paper, for a long time. I have given up on ever bringing these to fruition, or making money off them. I know I may never get credit for these, but just remember, you heard it here first. However, I think these are creative ideas that someday may be realized. I offer these as a service to humanity (violin music swells here). Actually, I would like to get credit if any of this pans out, but life is fickle.
- A new kind of anti-viral. SINDI. Or SI-DI. RNA viruses evolve rapidly. DI are “defective interfering” particles. These occur naturally. They are short, replicating or replicable pieces of RNA. SI are nonviral, also naturally occurring, “small interfering” RNAs. These are small RNAs that are complementary to other RNAs. The siRNAs serve to regulate other cellular RNAs. Since their discovery, they have been used therapeutically to block harmful RNAs. My idea is to combine these two. Put an SI inside a DI and use it as an antiviral, specifically targeted towards a pathogenic virus. Then as the self-replicating DI expands, its SI portion kills the virus.
- “Virdefleq” A new kind of virus detection system. Non PCR based. You have a nucleic acid duplex containing your viral target sequence (must be known). One end of one strand has a fluorochrome and the end of the other strand has a specific quencher. No target, your Nucleic acid duplexes, no fluorescence. Add patient sample. If the target is there, it binds and disrupts the duplex, yielding fluorescence. Therefore, presence of virus in patient specimen equal fluorescence signal. Simple, but I don’t think it’s been done. I wrote this up and submitted it to the Technology transfer committee. They liked it and recommended that the lawyers look at it. Then Katrina hit and …..
- When I submitted the poliovirus receptor to the Human Leukocyte Differentiation Antigen Workshop, it was screened against many cell types. PVR was named CD155. In the process, it was found to be expressed on Hematopoietic stem cells, CD34 + cells. We confirmed these results AND showed that poliovirus replicates in those cells. This opens the possibility that a (highly modified) Poliovirus could be used to deliver gene therapy to stem cells. However, our work was not finished when Katrina hit….
- Viruses to cure evil. By evil, I mean genes that mediate senseless violence. Candidate genes have been identified (Xp11.23, 11p15.5, 17q11.1-q12, xq28, 20pter-p12). These are genes, which have variants that mediate psychiatric disorders, such as “impulsive aggression,” “suicidality in relation to stressful life evens.” Gene therapy will reach a point in which human somatic genes can be targeted for knock-out. Viruses may be the vectors. RNA against evil!!!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Dawkins Delusion
list of Captain Haddock's epithets
On Tuesday, President Obama spoke positively about Community Colleges. He said that college education is critical and that community colleges are critical to college educations. He “unveiled the American Graduation Initiative, a 10-year, $12 billion plan to invest in community colleges. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-vander-ark/presidents-community-coll_b_239666.html
Dr. Jill Biden (Second spouse) chimed in:
David Brooks had an op-ed piece in today’s TimesPicayune with a similar theme.
Where will the money come from?
out of the taxpayer’s pockets.
But that’s not what bothers me today.
Despite these developments, morale at theCommunity College where I work is at an all time low. Layoff notices have been sent around. There is talk of eliminating the “Temporary Full Time” position. Class size will be increased. No fall schedules have been set yet.
It was up and down. First 15% budget cuts, then 10%. Now ???????
Is this how we treat education and educators? Where’s the love? Where’s the money?
I work my butt off. I teach really well. I get good feedback from students. Yet I have zero job security. I don’t get health insurance.
I believe in science
Using hypothesis, experimentation and theory, science advances human knowledge. In this essay, I present a personal meaning of the word “science.”
I was a biology research scientist, specializing in virology, the study of viruses, for almost 20 years. All organisms, including viruses, use DNA or RNA to transmit genetic information. Transmission may be faithful or not faithful. Accurate transmission, the most common kind, is required for species preservation. However, a small number of errors, or mutations, continuously occur. Organisms have mechanisms to ensure accurate genetic transmission, but no mechanism is perfect. Therefore, infidelity of genetic material is, paradoxically, an axiomatic property of life.
The rate at which mutations occur can be measured. Organisms vary widely in their mutation rates. Humans have relatively low rates, while RNA viruses, such as HIV, have high rates. Despite the ubiquity of mutation, there is a limit to how high mutation rates can be. If the mutation rate is too high, something called “the error catastrophe” occurs because life is no longer possible. Therefore, although mutations are intrinsic to genetic behavior, their limitation is also inherent.
Although scientists elaborate theories such as these about the universe, the truthfulness of their methods is just as important. If scientists are not truthful, then scientific truths cannot be discovered. So fundamental is this to me that untruthfulness itself, for me, is almost like a violation the laws of the universe. A friend once said to me: “the electron doesn’t lie.” He meant that everything in the universe (from electrons to genetic material) behaves exclusively according to its underlying natural properties. The variable fidelity of genetic material is a powerful metaphor for human truthfulness. Just as mutations inevitably occur at a low but measurable rate, deceitfulness by people happens. And just as mutations cause defects, deceitfulness has consequences.
I recently taught at a college where the level of student cheating was extremely high and included the use of clandestine high tech devices. From my point of view, every falsified answer, whether correct or not, was a like mutation in the integrity of the learning process. If these students were an evolving species, they would not survive, since their infidelity was so high it would cause an “error catastrophe.” The cheaters should become extinct. In reality, the consequence of cheating is that these students, sadly, will be unprepared for their future endeavors.
Despite this unpleasant experience, I still believe in science. The human brain has evolved to seek underlying, unifying principles; this inquisitiveness mediates science. The requisite truthfulness of science usually overrides human deceitfulness. I still try to live my life by principles of science and veracity.
Friday, July 17, 2009
JULY 17, 2009
I am trying to make a comprehensive list of “Green” groups, plans, etc, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Feel free to advise me of others.
These are my real heroes right now. Against all odds, they are maybe the only group really doing curbside recycling here. $14/month is NOT much.
http://recycle.tulane.edu/ Tulane recycling guide. Comprehensive
http://www.sierraclub.org/gulfcoast/downloads/HolyCrossDemo.pdf GreenZone Task force
http://www.nolaeast.blogspot.com/ Blog to stop NO East Landfill (from 2006)
http://louisianaaudubon.org/ Protecting habitat, fighting mercury pollution.
http://www.crcl.org/index.htm Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
http://www.saveourlake.org/ Lake Pontchartrain Foundation
http://www.tulane.edu/~greenclb/ Tulane Green Club
OTHER MULTI-LINK SITES
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I am an atheist. I believe that the laws of thermodynamics rule the physical universe and that there is no nonphysical existence.
Judaism is both a culture and a religion and many aspects of it, such as ethics, are appealing to many people. But this is not my point.
God is a human invention. But why? It can be understood in evolutionary terms. The human brain is a product of evolution. Religion is found in all human cultures (http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/2004_10_29_religion.htm). This suggests that religion, and a belief in God, has an evolutionary benefit. What is that benefit?
I believe that it is not religion that is evolutionarily beneficial. Rather, it is a byproduct. A byproduct of what? Science.
Science is a human activity that our evolved brains undertake. In science, the goal is to discover underlying causes. For example, the scientific method of hypothesis and experimentation led to the discovery of electrons and genes. The human brain has evolved to carry out these activities.
God is perceived by some to be an underlying cause. I believe it is an erroneous conclusion. But the quest for God is the result of our intelligent seeking of underlying causes.
But then why do I practice Judaism and attend synagogue? I use the word “God,” despite being an atheist.
In a word, poetry. I believe that God-language is metaphor. All language is metaphor. Poetry is evocative metaphor. The powerful God-ideas are metaphors for our deepest emotions. Love, yearning, regret, hope, joy, despair.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Is this a Green Plan?
Apparently the EPA sponsors programs for states to help produce “green energy” http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/pubs/gplocator.htm
Okay, green costs money. I might pay. But this program is for Biomass. Basically they will be burning begasse and other fibers. “Though biomass is a renewable fuel, its use can still contribute to global warming. This happens when the natural carbon equilibrium is disturbed; for example by deforestation or urbanization of green sites. When biomass is used as a fuel, as a replacement for fossil fuels, it still puts the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass
(All of this really happened to me. I am posting it to make others aware of what happens in some universities. Names of people and institutions are omitted)
NOTE: I submitted a report of this information to SACS, the accrediting agency. After some reported follow-up, I was told no cause for action was found. In other words, this is still going on.
Chapter I Introduction and Warning
You are about to read some things that may shock you. Please keep the following in mind while reading. This article is organized into 3 sections, each with different purposes. Throughout, I am careful to distinguish observations from interpretations. I ask that you do so also.
(1) The first section (Chapters II and III) contains descriptions of events. In this section I present unembellished descriptions of things I actually saw. People often ask how I know I saw cheating. From these descriptions, you should be able to interpret whether you believe my subsequent interpretations, in the latter sections. The first chapter is things, the meaning of which is obvious. The second chapter in this section is descriptions of things that I actually saw, but the meaning is not so obvious, at least to an outside observer.
(2) Based on my observations, I believe that the students are highly organized in their cheating. The second section (Chapter IV) consists of my extrapolations about how the cheating MIGHT be organized within one school. Parts of this may be wrong or incomplete. Bear in mind that this was written from the perspective of an unwelcome outsider. Chapter V is web tools for cheating. Chapter VI is about faculty and adminstration complicity
(3) IN Chapter VII, I suggest some possible solutions.
Chapter II “Just the facts.” Things that I observed directly
Statements about cheating
During a panel discussion at orientation, I asked about cheating in this institution. One student said that basically all students cheat, but infrequently. This student, later, privately told me that I would be amazed at the level of cheating that occurs. This student mentioned signals. He told me that dropping a pencil means "I'm in trouble." A cough means "the answer is C."
Many professors will scramble the order of questions and choices in multiple choice questions. He also told me that students can decode all of this scrambling. (I believe I discovered one was this is done, described below.)
Cell phones in the test.
On three occasions, I caught students with cell phones on during a test. In one case, a student had a wireless ear part in her hand. She had apparently taken it off her ear (from under her long hair). In another case, I saw a student putting a cell phone into her pocket as she went to sit down for a test. The third one I saw was at the end of a test, a student pulled a phone out of his pocket, said something into it briefly, and then returned it to his pocket. This occurred as he walked from his seat to the door.
A colleague had a test stolen from his locked office. He had counted them before leaving the day before.
In our department, we were not issued individual printers. We had to print everything, including our tests on common printers or copy machines. One day (early in my stay there), I printed a quiz in the evening and did not collect the tests (from the locked copy room) that day. The next day, the tests were gone. At that time, I was not suspicious and figured my memory was wrong. However, more than 50% of the students got 100 and another 25% over 80 on that test. Another time, immediately after I sent a test to a printer, I got an irrelevant phone call from a student (a senior, telling me that he was missing class because he had to look at a house he was buying). When I got to the printer, one page of the test was missing, and the test was not where it should have been on the printer if it had just been printed.
Chapter III. Suspicious things I saw for which I cannot prove the meaning.
In test signaling.
Before you read this, be warned that the universal response to these items below is that these are normal behaviors and impossible to prove that they are cheating behaviors. This is correct. Please remember that this is the place in the article where I am listing suspicious, not confirmed, cheating behavior. I am not listing normal behavior. I am listing behaviors that were excessive and repetitive. Moreover, in a good cheating system, normal behavior is the perfect cover. In addition, I believe that some of these behaviors were covers for the real cheating behavior, such as whispering into cell phones.
There was significant audible noise during test taking. Audible kinds of signaling I saw/heard were: coughing, yawning, sniffling, sneezing, stretching, chest thumping, head scratching, fidgeting, squirming, repeatedly turning pages. I am now at another institution, where students are absolutely silent while taking tests.
There was a LOT of erasing, moving pencils around, dropping pencils, switching pencils, clicking mechanical erasers, moving and switching different color mechanical pencils, pencil twirling. I never saw an old-fashioned number 2 pencil there. Often, many students would have multiple erasures of the same tet questions.
Also, I saw a lot of finger movement, eg, a thumb being moved between successive fingers, knuckle cracking on different fingers, Another strange thing that happened once was after turning in a test to me, a student came back and said that he wanted to look at a question again. I let him and he pointed to one question, for which he had the answer "B". Then but he walked close to another student and wagged his pencil twice.
Chapter IV. My hypothesis about how the cheating is organized.
I believe that this cheating is a system-wide activity among students. It is a cultural norm at this particular institution. I believe there is a highly developed culture of cheating there. I believe that the majority of students participate and certainly every student is aware of. I believe that it is successful because it clandestine and highly organized. As long as students are organized and faculty/administration is not, cheaters will "win."
Here, I cannot prove any of this, but the pattern fits. What follows is completely hypothetical. It is certainly wrong in some details. However, I believe that in general terms, this is approximately what is going on. The cheating could be run in a “military-style” organization with test captain, sergeants and foot soldiers for each test. Each thing I describe is their ideal. Obviously they do not succeed in all aspects for every test. The general idea is that (1) advance copies of the test are obtained. (2) The "captain" (usually a senior, or very good student) actually learns the most material. (3) During the test, the captain is in two-way communication with someone outside the test. (4) The captain transmits answers (4) everyone else uses the answers and /or transmits them.
Attempts to obtain advance copies of current test—
I have already described three cases that describe how advance test copies are obtained. In addition, other activities may be occurring.
Before a test.
Students may sneak in digital cameras into Xerox rooms to take picture of tests (when stealing is not possible). Every department has student workers who have keys and access to departmental files and copy machines. One professor told me that one time he thought he glimpsed a copy of his test on student's laptop before a test. Whenever I went to campus during evenings or weekends, there were students hanging around faculty offices.
Hacking professors computers would be easy, since all university laptops are connected to the same network. Just one mole in IT would be sufficient to siphon tests. The main drive for each professors (standard issue) computer is on the network. Moreover, someone in IT could be communicating when a professor is about to print. I tried to keep my files on my desktop, not the server. And tried to keep the computer not connected to the network. I heard from faculty that the copy machine sometimes breaks down while printing out a test. I believe it may not be accidental.
Relevant professors may be under surveillance by students around the clock before relevant test times. I always saw people "talking" on cell phones, outside my office, which is in a distant, dark arm of the old building. There are desks in the hall, some chairs and always someone on the phone. I believe that at least one the observers is on cell phone, maybe pretending to be talking about something else (to explain their presence) or maybe transmitting the professor’s whereabouts. Anytime the professor enters or leaves the office is communicated. If this is coupled with the network person, they would know when the professor is sending something to the printer. Even if not, the watcher could figure it out, depending. One time I noticed that same person (not a student worker) hanging around the department office, where there were about 6 faculty offices, over several hours. I think this because I walked to a class, taught and walked back and the same person was still there, appearing to talk on a phone. Copies of previous tests could easily keep a bank. I was told that the department policy is to return tests. I was asked what can they study? I said try books. Here’s a suggestion. They pay big bucks for the books, why not use them?
During the test:
I think that for each test there is one (maybe 2) “captain”, probably with a concealed phone. In several of my classes, I think I spotted the captain — usually someone you would not suspect, say a really good student. However, in one case, I suspect it was not a good student (“Student 1”). Student 1 was in my Wednesday class. A few hours before the exam, Student 1 called me and asked whether the test was multiple choice or otherwise. Then I caught her a putting a cell phone into her pocket on her way into the test (administration reaction to that noted below). A poor student could still transmit signals from someone outside the class during the test. In another class, I think was a very good student (Student 2). I caught him doing some really fancy hand signaling.
After one of the tests, students wanted to go over the answers with me. I indicated this was fine with me, but I couldn’t remember whether I had scrambled the questions or the answers. One student volunteered that it was both! How would she know that before I had graded and returned the tests? Another time, I went over the answers, post-test. There was one question that was a little obscure. When I said the answer there was a loud, collective, “Oh,” from ALL the students. It was like they were all taking the test together as one group!
Earplugs. Student 2, whom I saw take a cell phone out of his pocket, at the END of a test, was wearing large purple earplugs. The earplugs could conceal small wireless devices. He could be receiving signals with the earpiece and transmitting with the pocket phone. The earplugs were sticking out more than one would expect.
Also, doodles on the test are probably reminders in the signaling process. He also had some rubrics that made no sense. Maybe those were the signaling patterns. This may be another reason students wanted to keep tests. There were check marks and asterisks all over the tests.
That “captain” is in 2-way communication with someone (or several people) outside the room. This outside person would be feeding answers to the test taker and the test taker I signaling (in a predetermined code, for which question answers are needed. The university has a text message system that they provide the students with. The captain then signals others. I don’t know how the signals are disseminated, but I believe that there is some kind of relay system, perhaps hierarchical. Then, students distract the teacher as much as possible. If a single flashed number, like three fingers, can convey an answer to everyone in viewing distance, a single distraction of the teacher is fatal. If there is a grammatical of numbering error, multiple students keep asking the same question. There were constant irrelevant questions. (Teachers should not answer questions during tests.) I had one student ask me how many points a question was worth. I do not allow bathroom breaks, but one time the student took her test at the beginning of the test, looked at the test and then asked to go to the bathroom. Other distractions in class: I had the door shut and a student left and propped it open with a door stop, so I had to unjam it, because there was noise outside the door. I would not remove it next time.
In class signaling.
I wasn’t able to work it all out, but there must be different signals for needing an answer and having an answers, for example, foot tapping would mean “need” and pencil tapping might mean “have an answer.” The kinds of signaling I thought I saw were: coughing, yawning, sniffling, maybe sneezing, stretching, chest thumping, head scratching, erasing, moving pencils around, dropping pencils, switching pencils, erasing, clicking mechanical erasers, different color mechanical pencils, repeatedly turning pages, fidgeting, squirming. Also, there was a lot with fingers, eg, a thumb being moved between successive fingers, knuckle cracking on different fingers, pencil twirling. I never saw an old-fashioned number 2 pencil there. One student returned after handing in a test to me and said that he wanted to look at again. I let him and he pointed to one question. He had answered “B.” Then, and this may be my imagination, but he walked close to another student and wagged his pencil twice.
I know that it starts to sound ridiculous, and I am aware that I cannot prove any of these things. However, there are many reasons that I think these are signals. Also, there is a lot of the same going on as decoys. One student told me some of them. He told me several things, but one was that a cough stands for C.
Since, by a certain point in my time at University, the students knew I was on to signaling, I now think some of it was faked, to draw my attention away from the ringleaders. I saw one student watching me. The next time I looked at her, she was wiggling here fingers. I turned to look in the direction she was “signaling”, I saw nothing then I looked back and she was laughing at me. Students that I have challenged have asked exactly what I saw them doing, as if to report back how much I know.
Another point is that although my experience was in one department, I believe that what I observed is too well-organized to only occur in only one department.
I realize that after a point, this may sound paranoid. I had NO suspicions originally. As time went on, my suspicions were aroused, and then became worse and worse. I eventually had to remove myself from the situation. It is possible that I have over-interpreted my observations. However, here I am just reporting what I saw and what it MIGHT mean. I believe that, while I may be incorrect in some of the details, the preponderance of the evidence supports that there is a pattern of organized cheating at this particular institution. It is extremely unlikely that this is the only institution where it occurs in this manner.
Chapter V. Web tools for cheating
2. From a web blog. http://www.helium.com/tm/275009/cheating-common-college-campuses
“SMS stands for Short messaging serves and is also called text. Sending a text is becoming more and more popular every year because it allows the user and receiver to send short messages with out talking on the phone and is less the cost. .. If you send a lot of text message you can add a fetcher to you cell phone plan to pay about $3-$10 [depending] on the company for unlimited text messaging. ..So I say text messaging is a great thing [because] it allows us to talk to people when calling [is] not appropriate … Now … kids in school have [their] cell phone turned on and on silent mode and talking to each other during class and are using cell phones to cheat on test by asking another student my text what the answer is. … Happy text messaging.”
“…That's not all the police had to deal with, however, with them also reportedly turning up 42 pairs of so-called "cheating shoes" with "transmitting and reception ability" prior to the exam, as well as some "cheating wallets" and hats.” (from Academic Dishonesty: An Educator's Guide Journal of College Student Development, Jan/Feb 2003 by Waryold, Diane M)
Chapter VI. Faculty and administration complicity
When I showed my chairperson the bluetooth phone, she said that she did not know what it was. Soon thereafter, in a different test, I spotted a student putting a cell phone into her pocket as she sat down for a test. I screamed (which I shouldn’t have done) for her to leave the test. She ran to my chairperson crying that she just wanted to call her mother. My chairperson had the student call her “mother” in front of us and let her back into the test. When the test was stolen from my colleague’s office, my chairperson sent an email to keep tests in locked cabinets. I asked how to get one and there was no answer. I know I could get one myself, but this inaction displays a lack commitment to fighting cheating. When I accused a third student of sending hand signals, of course she objected. Then she went to my chairperson. My chairperson came back to my office with one of the nuns. We discussed various things, but my chairperson decided to accept the grade on the quiz in question and allow the student to retake a special make-up exam, since the poor student was now too upset to take the midterm that day.
My chairperson called a faculty meeting (a regular one) but said, that after a discussion she had had with the dean, we should have an off-the-record discussion about cheating. When my colleague stated in the faculty meeting that a test had been stolen from his office, there was no outrage. There was a little discussion. Then someone asked whether this means that some old keys are “out there.” (To me that is the obvious answer.) It was discussed and decided that it was unlikely. Then I told about finding the bluetooth. One person volunteered that they do not permit any visible electronic devices in tests. Well, duh!!!
I sent several emails to the Dean about my detection of cheating. I had no response, except that she planned to start an “integrity committee” and I could be on it. I have read the faculty handbook on integrity. My reading of it is that the professor has the responsibility and the right to ensure that no schoolwork is compromised by any kind of cheating. I did not see any formal mechanism for dealing with cheating, except at the classroom level. I was later told that there is an honor committee, and that it is dealt with at the “committee” level, not at the Faculty Handbook level. However, the person telling me this could not find it. So then I unsuccessfully searched the University Web site for an honor committee. Not found. I found a “hearing” committee, but I believe it was a pre-law committee. I was told by another faculty that a faculty person that she knew had one incident in which formal charges were brought before a committee; that person said I would be contacted. I heard nothing.
It is very difficult to get copy machines for the department and printers for individual faculty. All copiers in our department are networked. I would guess this is true for most departments. We have been told that this is for financial reasons. However, in the faculty orientation, The president of the University gave a long litany of large amounts of funds that he procured for the University. Perhaps these funds are earmarked for capital expenses, but in the context of a very large budget and maintaining the integrity of an institution of learning, I find it puzzling that these conditions continue.
I was assigned to a particular classroom to teach a particular class. There were 66 student registered for the class. The room has elevated bleacher type levels is rated for 72. However, it is extremely crowded when all the students are there. The small seats with writing boards are crowed so that the student arms are almost touching one another. There is a line of desks on the floor, up to the podium. I seriously question the room-size requirement guidelines, because the teaching room that I lecture in is not large enough for the students, let along a test where they should be spread out. I won’t go into detail about the difficulty I had just getting an adequately sized room for testing 70 students. The previous complaint is more about bureaucratic ineptitude, but the result was that I had to give tests under conditions that invite cheating.
When 5 new faculty members tried to meet informally to discuss issues, we were essentially prohibited from doing so, by one of the nuns. Also, because of the difficulty with proctoring, I suggested making a list of times that faculty are available for proctoring. I was told to not pursue that because faculty should not be pressured to proctor.
Chapter VII. My recommendations.
Cheating must be dealt with on two levels.
I. The more important level is institutional.
(1) The institution must, first of all, have a public, no-tolerance policy for cheating. This should be achieved by several means. First, by simple and clear statements of the ATTITUDE. In all statements, such as Faculty and Student Handbooks, web site, (even printed on all tests) at strong statement (THE University statement, whatever it is) must be posted. The lengthy student code of conduct has about ONLY one sentence on the issue. (Since this University is a Catholic University, I think that the statement should be ground in faith and a relationship with the Almighty, but that’s just me.) This no-tolerance policy must emanate from the highest level, that is, the President of the University.
(2) The institution must create enforce policies with consequences for cheating. Many institutions have “Honor Boards” I’m sure that there are “best practice” policies to guide the effort.
II. In the trenches
Unfortunately, the second level on which cheating must be faced is in the classroom. It is clear that there is an intensely adversarial relationship between students and faculty surrounding grades. The students are clearly organized in a hierarchical structure and faculty must combat it on those terms. Moreover, any system can be beat. But we still have to try. Do we disarm our military because terrorists continue to infiltrate the US? I think that if the underlying adversarial nature of the endeavor can be healed, the cheating would diminish.
Ethics discussions in classrooms
Ethics should be openly discussed by faculty in class. First this gives a heads-up that this classroom is a no tolerance zone. Secondly, I believe that many students do not understand why it is wrong. One student I asked said that he has to cheat because everyone else does. Another student told me that University students are very unhappy about the living and eating situation, so they feel entitled to misbehave. It might be possible to include an ethics component in the Freshman 101 course (but it should be given every year).
Develop alternative assessment methods
The purpose of testing is to determine whether the student has learned. There is much new research on nonadversarial assessment methods. This university actually has people trained in this, and there have been some workshops. Clearly it is not enough. One problem is that since everyone’s course load is so high, very few people have time to attend. These workshops should be mandatory and that time should be made for everyone to attend on a continuing basis.
Five of us (new faculty) were prohibited, by a nun, from meeting to discuss issues. Also AAUP is barred from the campus, and the substitute “faculty association” is only permitted to meet at and for a dictated amount of time. To stop cheating is extremely time-consuming, especially since the load is already so high. (Imagine having to do one critical part of your job, in detail, 2 or 3 times). I was given some software (for which we had a site-license) to help scramble question and choice order. The software ended up taking more time than it would have manually. Blackboard is supposed to be able to do this. Unfortunately, much of faculty comradery is based on having a common enemy, the cheating students. The goal of faculty should be to work together to strengthen student learning.
Until that time is reached, faculty should share with one another any cheating methods that they detect. It is clear that students are highly organized around this issue and the faculty must meet that organization, similarly organized. At the moment, the coding that I broke will not be available to anyone else. I doubt that the sophisticated level of cheating that I found is only carried out in my class.
Having enough proctors is very important with this level of cheating. Minimally you need 2 in every test, one to never stop looking, and one to answer questions. Proctors do not have to be students. There should be an optimal student/proctor ratio. Keeping the test time as short as possible is important, because it gives the students less time to figure out the hands signs. There are probably signals for the kinds of questions, multiple choice, TF, etc. so the more different kinds of question you put, the harder it will be for the signals to go out.
A final thought
I asked one student whether he thought there was a lot of cheating going on. He replied that he thought there was more than there should be. I asked, “Well, how much should there be?”