Monday, October 29, 2012

Examples of Bad Writing That Got Published AnywayExamples of Bad Writing That Got Published Anyway

    Thus, it would seem reasonable that shortening of 10 cm at skeletal maturity or predicted shortening of this amount when the child reaches adulthood would be sufficient to consider Syme amputation.

That was published. What does it mean? Well, you have to stop and think about it, don't you? Break it up into phrases. Shift some things around in your mind. Presumably your mind will reach a conclusion similar to:

    A Syme amputation should be considered for a shortening or predicted shortening of 10 cm at skeletal maturity.

I don't think the reader should have to work that hard.

Here's another.

    If the organism demonstrates to be a staph on the gram stain, one may consider drilling the femoral neck for prophylactic decompression as this may be secondary to a metaphyseal osteomyelitis.

That's nice. Say it three times fast. Basically, it's a little if... then statement. Very useful to the medical profession. If you see this symptom, then you do that procedure. Why make that so hard to figure out?

    If the gram stain shows staphylococci, consider drilling the femoral neck to drain the metaphyseal abscess.

That's better.

Nathaniel Hawthorne never did any scientific writing that I know about, but do you know what he did write? "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

I like that better than I do his novels and short stories. Here's something Hawthorne didn't write:

    It has been suggested that the utilization of surgical intervention be deferred until attenuation of the infectious symptomatology.


It has been suggested that... ? I call those "weasel words." Delete them. Always. Also, teach your word processor how to replace "utilize" with "use." But you know what? In this case, we can do even better than that.

    LaRocca recommends that surgery be delayed if the patient has an infection.

That's better. Or if you'd rather not dump the responsibility on your good buddy LaRocca because the patient died, try:

    Surgery should be delayed if the patient has an infection.

That'll work.

George Orwell noted that good writing is like a window pane. Here's an author who needs a big ol' shot of Windex:

    It is common for the need to voluntarily evacuate the pouch to occur on one occasion nightly; more frequent defecation interfering with the patient's sleep has not been encountered in our continent patients.

Thirty-three words. That's bad.

    Patients who are continent need only empty their stomach pouches once each night.

Thirteen words. That's good.

I refer to long-winded passive-voice writing that leaves readers wondering "What does that mean?" as speed bumps. You're cruising along at a nice steady pace, reading something, and BAM you've got to stop or slow down. Double back. Sort out the meaning that the author hid because of laziness, incompetence, or unclear thinking.

In writing, speed bumps are bad. Will the reader start reading again, or will he put down your article and go do something else?

Does this author even care? Is he even trying? Make an Acquisitions Editor wonder that enough times and you won't have a reader, because you won't get published at all.

It kinda nags at me that these were actually published, by the way. We've got a bad case of don't-care-itis to treat. Here's another symptom:

    The study confirmed the hypothesis that clinical instructors of undergraduate medical students would choose instructional techniques limiting active student involvement in patient care activities when faced with problematical situations.

When I gave this lecture to undergraduate medical students in Thailand, they should've all known what that sentence meant because they were experiencing it. But I didn't always give them time to "translate" the bad English into good English before I blurted out the answer.

    Medical teachers of undergraduates tend not to let students look after difficult patients.

Yeah, my examples lean heavily toward medicine, because I lectured for so long at Chiang Mai University's teaching hospital. But my examples and my message apply to all scientific writing.

Remember when I said you should read your writing aloud? One good reason for that is, if you do, you'll automatically simplify the sentences as you go. That's good.

For the other reason, I'm going to detour briefly into fiction.

    "I'm coming," he ejaculated.

There's no way you could read that aloud without bursting into laughter. Then you'd delete it from your manuscript and make the world a better place.

Finally, let's detour briefly to the US government. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that government documents are written in "plain language" which is defined as "writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience."

So what I'm teaching you here isn't just a good idea. It's the law.

 From the Department of Health and Human Services:

    The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a half hour or more of moderate physical activity on most days, preferably every day. The activity can include brisk walking, calisthenics, home care, gardening, moderate sports exercise, and dancing.

That was changed to:

    Do at least 30 minutes of exercise, like brisk walking, most days of the week.

A few examples were sacrificed, but the meaning is the same and it's certainly easier to understand.

    After notification of NMFS, this final rule requires all CA/OR DGN vessel operators to have attended one Skipper Education Workshop after all workshops have been convened by NMFS in September.

That's nice. I wonder what it means.

    Vessel operators must attend a skipper education workshop before commencing fishing.

Okay. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Organic Evolution Debate

The organic evolution debate is really based on philosophy and theology, not experimental science. This means that the debate can never be settled with current information.

The polemical struggles among Atheistic Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design seem to go on forever. One might imagine that if organic evolution were as scientifically based as its advocates claim, then any disputes could be settled easily and quickly by a few simple experiments. But after about 150 years, the conflict seems to rage more than ever before. Much of the difficulty stems from the inability of the evolution advocates to offer anything more concrete than creative speculation on the original source of life and on the source of our astronomically complex DNA.

The microscopic bandwidth for change inherent in the current theory of descent with modification through mutation of DNA cannot explain the explosion of life forms and structures within the relatively short lifespan of the earth. Evolutionists mock the "young earth" creationists, but they have their own problems with a "young earth," as they try to compress trillions of trillions of years of random changes into a mere 4 billion years. They speak of "deep time," but in the mathematical world of probability, a mere 4 billion years does not begin to touch the "deep time" required to accomplish all the inventions and specie differentiation of their magical evolution. Richard Dawkins seemed to acknowledge this problem when he suggested in an interview that aliens transferring life to earth might be considered a possibility.

One of the unacknowledged logical consequences of their supposedly unstoppable "descent with modification" process, is that there needs to be trillions of mass extinctions in order for the current set of species to appear unique and stable. The basic idea is that among a large population of a particular species, a few of those creatures acquire some superior traits. For those traits to become dominant, all other similar creatures must die off. This would logically have happened trillions of times in the development of the 10 million species on earth. This implies that the entire earth should be covered several meters deep with the bones of every conceivable creature. A large portion of the mass of the earth would be in bodily remains of various species. The "bears to whales" speculation should have produced some very interesting results. The other alternative is that we would see millions of similar creatures all alive at once, showing infinitesimal incremental changes among them. Since we see neither the almost limitless piles of dead fossils, or the nearly infinite gradations of living fossils, we must conclude that their speculation on this point is implausible.

By implication, evolutionists assert that the "science" of evolution is too important in the scheme of things to have to be held subject to the normal requirements of science, including experimental proofs and surviving experiments designed to disprove it. It is acceptable, and perhaps even required, to ignore probability, statistics, the second law of thermodynamics, even simple logic, to uphold their philosophy-based assertions. Evolutionists become disturbed when people say that it takes as much "faith" to believe the atheist creation myths of evolution as it does to believe the creation myths of Christianity. But since their most important assertions cannot be verified by common experience or even by complex and controlled experiments, it must be either "faith" or faith by another name, perhaps the "suspension of disbelief," that must be operating here. See for more information.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How To Use Ohm's Law

Probably the most important mathematical relationship between voltage, current and resistance in electricity is described as "Ohm's Law". In 1827, George Ohm developed his well-known formula concerning electricity after performing various experiments and studies. Ohm's formula is used to find out the required resistance, voltage or current values so that we can design circuits and choose the right components. For example Ohm's law is used to determine the correct resistor value in a circuit when the voltage is known and you would like to limit the current to a certain value.

Ohm's Law is defined as V = I x R, whereby V is the voltage, I is the current and R is the resistance (in Ohms). When using the equation in practice, the value of all of the components can be more easily determined by rewriting the equation. When you would like to find the current you can use I = V / R or when you like to find the resistance value you can use R = V / I.

If we write Ohm's law as I = V / R, it lets us know that the electrical current in a circuit can be calculated by dividing the voltage by the resistance. In other words, the current is directly proportional to the voltage and inversely proportional to the resistance. And so, an increase in the voltage will increase the current provided that the resistance is held constant. Alternatively, if the resistance in a circuit increases and the voltage doesn't change, the current will decrease.

If you'll want to determine the voltage in the event that the resistance as well as current are known, you can utilize the formulation V = I x R. The formula shows us that if either the current or the resistance increase in a circuit (when the other stays the same), the voltage will also have to increase.

The resistance in a circuit may be computed with R = V / I. When the current is kept constant, a rise in voltage will result in a rise in resistance. An increased current while voltage stays constant will lower resistance. It must be noted that for a wide variety of materials used as a resistor (such as metals) the resistance is fixed and does not depend on the amount of current or voltage. In semiconductors however, the resistance is often dependent on the current or voltage level.

To get a better understanding on the mathematical relationship between voltage, resistance and current, Ohm's Law is very useful.

Want to learn more about ohms law and resistors in general, than please visit the resistor guide, the most extensive resource on everything related to electrical resistors.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

8 Jedi Mastery of Organic Chemistry Tips

Mostly every student I've ever tutored wanted an "A" in Organic Chemistry. What is the meaning of an "A"? It means you've mastered the subject. Like Qui-Gon Jinn, you've become a Jedi Master (of O-Chem). This takes dedication, perseverance and hard work.

Indicated are some tips I've picked up along the way to help you get that "A" you want so much!

Jedi Master of O-Chem Tips

    Learn to speed write and draw so you can take "super notes". Yes, you're notes will be messy, however everything will be OK as long as you can read them. Many times professors will tell you VERY important things about exceptions to rules and subtleties of the chemistry without writing on the board. When you write more quickly, you can then spend more time LISTENING to what your professor says. Copy these things down, and place the important "tidbits" in boxes.

    Re-copy your notes. This is a bit more work, however if done within a few hours of lecture you might be amazed at just how much more this reinforces your knowledge and understanding of the material.

    Know ALL the functional groups. Make flash cards with the groups on one side and the names (common and IUPAC) on the other side. Keep these with you wherever you go. When others are playing video games on their cell phones, whip out your flash cards and get ahead.

    Know ALL the common reactions. Grignard additions to carbonyl compounds; Michael additions to enones, enals, enenitriles; Aldol condensations; Claisen condensations; Robinson annulations, etc. Make flash cards for these too so you know them as soon as you see the starting materials and reagents.

    Learn to think in terms of mechanisms. Memorization here is insufficient. It is important to understand reactivity trends such as activating carbonyl compounds to further polarize them for nucleophilic addition, turning poor leaving groups into good ones via protonation or other "priming" strategies. Push electrons, push electrons, push electrons. The odds are good that, if you can draw a logical flow of electron pushing without breaking rules, the mechanism you come up with is a reasonable one.

    Keep the BIG PICTURE in mind. Everything you learn leads to something else upon which you will continue to build. Just like life itself, Organic Chemistry is cumulative. Continue to review as you learn more material. This makes life much easier for you when finals come around.

    Work as many problems as possible. The most fundamental way of learning the principles of Organic Chemistry is through their application. Keep in mind sometimes professors take exam questions from textbooks different from the one you're using. Use multiple textbooks when possible.

    Get a professional tutor (M.S. in O-Chem or better with experience, passion for teaching, and enthusiasm for the subject) as soon as you suspect you are having trouble. Without exception, novice tutors will give you novice results. NEVER go unprepared into any exam.

The most challenging exam you'll have in O-Chem I is SN1, SN2, E1, E2. Know this the first day of class. The most challenging exam you'll have in O-Chem II is carbonyl chemistry and reaction mechanisms. Don't be caught off guard - keep these things in mind.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Monday, October 22, 8PM @ the Bell House, FREE! They Live Among Us! For our "Shocktober" edition, Secret Science Club explores urban evolution and the wild beasts of New York City with biologist Jason Munshi-South

They stalk. They scurry. They haunt the night!

New York is one of the most heavily urbanized places in the world.
And yet . . . alongside the human metropolis—in the parks, beneath the rivers, among hidden groves of trees—is a clawing, crawling, creeping creature-filled world.

Evolutionary biologist Jason Munshi-South of CUNY has tracked elephants in Central Africa and proboscis monkeys in Borneo. Now he is on the trail of elusive animals living right under our noses and rarely glimpsed by unsuspecting humans. Employing the tools of landscape genetics, population genomics, and field studies, he asks:

--What ecosystems survive in the city, and how are NYC’s parks like the Gal├ípagos Islands?
--What impacts do human activities have on wild populations? Have urban-dwelling species evolved?
--What might studying the genetic adaptations of urban wildlife tell us about human disease? Just as mice are used as models in laboratories, might wild mice be used as models to study how humans are affected by urbanization?

Before & After
--Try our cocktail of the night, the Creature Feature
--Groove to wild tunes
--Enter our beastly trivia contest
--Stick around for the scarily informative Q&A!

This Shocktober edition of the Secret Science Clubmeets Monday, October 22, 8 pm @ the Bell House, 149 7th St.(between 2nd and 3rd avenues) in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Subway: F or G to 4th Ave; R to 9th St.

Doors open at 7:30 pm. Please bring ID: 21+. 

No cover. Just bring your smart self!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Visual-Spatial Vs Auditory-Sequential Learning in Organic Chemistry

Organic Chemistry is a visual-spatial scientific discipline requiring an educational approach unique in comparison to other sciences.

Those who teach in primary or secondary schools obtain degrees in a variety of subjects. With many schools, one need only take two college level courses to be certified proficient in the subject at the high school level. Career non-university teachers must take course work beyond the baccalaureate level, including education, in order to obtain their teaching credential. Quite ironically, professors at Universities are not required to take a single course in education to teach the subject most related to their Ph.D.

Some professors are natural educators, while others must work at it. Some natural educators work on becoming truly amazing educators via study of teaching methods and psychology of education. In principle, educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings. This necessarily involves the psychology of teaching, however extends to both cognitive and perceptual psychology, each of which is a separate sub-discipline, however one overlaps with the other. Cognitive psychology involves the study of thought processes, perception, memory, neuroscience and learning. How might exploration of a social science lead to becoming an extraordinary chemistry professor?

I've been a student of analytical psychology for more than ten years. Recently, my interests in psychology have shifted toward cognition and neuroscience. Most of my development as a teacher was not related to anything I did in the classroom, rather it had more to do with my experience as a tutor. The advantage I have as a tutor is the one-on-one relationship with the student. Over the years, I was able to observe two primary modes of learning endemic to every student. This fostered my interest in cognitive and perceptual psychology, and the understanding of these modes has helped me grow as an educator.

The concepts of auditory-sequential and visual spatial learning have been around for almost three decades. Auditory-sequential learners are those who (1) think primarily in words; (2) learn sequentially by progressing from easy to difficult material; (3) can easily focus on details; (4) excel at memorization; (5) feel most comfortable with one "right answer"; (6) are analytical thinkers; and (7) excel at algebra and general chemistry. They are left-brain dominant, making excellent accountants, bankers, engineers, lawyers, mathematicians, physicians, and scientists. Linear-sequential teaching and thinking are the standard in American education.

Visual-spatial learners, on the other hand, are those who (1) think primarily in multi-dimensional images; (2) learn holistically, mastering complex skills easily however struggle with simple skills; (3) see the "big picture" at the expense of details; (4) excel at seeing relationships; (5) generate unusual solutions to complex problems; (6) are good synthesizers; and (7) excel at geometry and physics. They are right-brain dominant, making excellent artists, builders, creators, inventors, musicians, writers and visionaries. A visual-spatial approach toward learning science has yet to be adopted on a statistically significant scale to determine effectiveness over the auditory-sequential mode.

Both auditory-sequential and visual-spatial learners have fundamental strengths making them unique. Some visual-spatial learners also excel at auditory-sequential processing, i.e. they can utilize both sides of their brain equally well. The caveat here is the potential for "paralysis" when both sides of the brain are struggling to solve a particular problem in their native mode. Interestingly, I've found that Organic Chemistry is best learned and understood by left- and right-brain balanced people - these are the ones with logical and analytical reasoning skills who can learn the science as a language in terms of imagery, not words. They can also reason using images. I'm indeed fortunate to fall into this last category, and am thus able to use strengths from both learning modes to reach my students, especially when the shift is from memorizing functional groups to understanding reaction mechanisms.

    Auditory-sequential learners... think primarily in words... can easily focus on details... [and] feel most comfortable with one "right answer," [whereas] visual spatial learners... learn holistically... see the "big picture"... [and] generate unusual solutions to complex problems.

Part of being an effective teacher or tutor is recognizing the primary mode of learning in the student, and then focusing the lessons to suit their needs. Visual-spatial learners have different needs than auditory-sequential learners, and hence a different approach is needed, especially in the sciences. No science professor knew this more than Prof. James H. Mathewson, a University of California - Berkeley Ph.D. who taught at San Diego State University from 1964-1992. His monumental publication, "Visual-Spatial Thinking: An Aspect of Science Overlooked by Educators," contains far more detail than is practical here. The reference is Mathewson... Science Education, Vol. 83, No. 1. (1999), pp. 33-54.

Aside from depth of knowledge in his/her field, along with a natural propensity for interpersonal dynamics, an amazing science teacher is one who is cognizant of modern trends in educational psychology, and who is adaptive and flexible in his/her teaching style. S/he can deliver a presentation to reach both auditory-sequential and visual-spatial learners. An amazing science teacher takes "time to grow," and always perseveres to become better and better.