Are you smarter than a fifth grader?
I hate the whole concept of Fox's television show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thought
it would be fun to have local teachers create
a twenty-question quizon stuff fifth-graders ought to know. Here are the
questions from the quiz, each of which is hyperlinked to the Google search
results for the question text:
is a hyperbole?
chamber of the heart receives blood from the lungs?
the equator a line of latitude or longitude?
is a mixed number?
organ in the body produces bile?
kind of a root is a carrot?
tribes of American Plains Indians lived in what structures?
did American Indians of the Northwest coast use to symbolize their clan and tell
is larger: 3/5 or 5/8?
are the three branches of the United States government?
are the names of the five Great Lakes?
many hydrogen atoms are there in a molecule of water?
are as strong as an ox." Is this statement a simile or metaphor?
part of speech is "after": An adverb, conjunction or preposition?
invented peanut butter?
many pints are in 2 gallons?
many feet are in 9 yards?
part of speech describes a verb?
is a proper noun?
is something found on a plant cell that is not found on an animal
Go ahead. I dare you to compare the Google search results to the quiz answers. For nearly every question, the first or second Google link has the correct answer.
In most instances, you don't even need to click through to the actual web site.
You can just read the short blurb for the link on the Google results page.
[Also, note that question 14 is a trick
questionand that the teachers' answer
to question 20may be incorrect (I think it should say chloroplasts, not
So now we're not only spending all this time in school making kids memorize
stuff that literally can be found in mere seconds, we're actually making game
shows out of it (like we've always done) and framing it in such a way so
that grown-ups feel stupid if they don't remember information that
most adults never need to keep in their heads. Let's be honest
here: when is the last time you really needed to know the names of all five
Great Lakes, whether or not animal cells have cell walls, or who invented peanut
blogged about this before. I know there is some core knowledge that we want
all of our kids to know, both because we want them to be able to recall it even
faster than the time it takes to search the Web and because it's part of our
cultural / societal background and heritage. But as I said in my
earlier post, I'm guessing that this body of knowledge is much less than
we've traditionally believed because of the technology that is now available to
We used to have to memorize things because the only way we could store
knowledge and information was in our heads. We passed that information down
orally from generation to generation. Over time we learned to mark stone
tablets, knot ropes, write on papyrus and then paper, and print books. With each
technological progression, we needed to carry less factual information in our
heads because it was available in other places and we could get it if we needed
it. Our ability to store information digitally on hard drives, DVDs, and the
Internet is just the latest transition, with a concurrent reduction of the need
to carry around a bunch of disparate, disconnected facts that are irrelevant to
our daily lives. There's a reason we don't make most individuals memorize the
periodic table or the quadratic equation: they don't need that information most
of the time and, if they do, they can find it pretty easily.
Am I smarter than a fifth grader? Yes, and it's not because I have memorized
all of this stuff. It's because I'm an adult who can find the information that I need in mere seconds when I need it,
critically consume information, and act upon information in professional, ethical, and productive ways.
What do you want your fifth grader to be learning in
[Update: I love this follow-up on the Journals of Journeys blog.]
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
- The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
- The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.
- The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
- The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
- Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
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