Format of science questions

Old college threads.
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Captain Sinico
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Post by Captain Sinico »

Yeah; my gut is that they they probably didn't want Dick and Enrico to take for fourth power of 2 in 5 seconds for the Manhattan Project. I think maybe they might have wanted something more like actual scientific asymptotic analysis and reasoning done over something more like the actual time frame available for that kind of stuff with due recourse to the actual resources available to a scientist.
In fact, I believe the passage you cite is just further support for my contention. It is almost doubtlessly true that the "What power does this scale with?" question is much, much more like what Feynman is saying Fermi was good at figuring out than the "What is the value of this number?" question. That's why they're asking "What does this solution look like?" It's the form of the answer that's important; the actual numbers are profoundly not so until it comes time for actual design.

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vetovian
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Post by vetovian »

ImmaculateDeception wrote:
vetovian wrote: ...That is a good example because it shows where we disagree on our tastes. I don't think there is anything wrong with your question as written, but my own quizbowl aesthetic prefers the question that came up in the SCT.
Okay. Why? How can you reconcile that with your stated preference? The "What power..." question tests the exact same knowledge as your proposed computation question, it just doesn't require the computation.
As I said, it's a matter of taste. Why does one thing taste better than another thing? I can throw out some ideas why the one with the calculation might be more appealing to me: (1) it tests at a higher level on Bloom's taxonomy; (2) it's more open-ended on the form of the equation; (3) the method by which the team got from the question to the answer is like a black box from the spectator's point of view, and doesn't reveal the formula explicitly. I realize that reason (3) may make the calculation question less educational to the spectator than the question that asks for the power, but if it gets spectators wondering about it and asking about it, then it becomes more educational.
ImmaculateDeception wrote: As has been said a number of times, the ability to perform (even elementary) computations accurately within five (or ten or fifteen or thirty or sixty) seconds without any aid isn't anything like a valuable skill to... well, really any scientist that I know of (certainly not Dick Feynman), nor is it something that I think most people would support as a question in and of itself. Therefore, if you're still making the argument on the basis of the idea that we should test things that actual scientists do or use, I don't see how you can possibly insist on computation.
I disagree with your premise. Every day at work, for example, I look at numerical results that the computer has produced for different scales, and in my head I form an estimate of the rate of convergence (but OK, I concede I'm not making "accurate" computations).
ImmaculateDeception wrote: If you are, indeed, just saying "I and/or some physicists I played with a decade ago, one of whom was possibly Richard Feynman, would like there to be computation," well, I suppose we'll have to disagree and edit the sets we edit differently. If not, please explain what you are saying.
In the case of computational questions, I can't count on any former teammates to support me, but I do want some of them myself -- and as you've seen, I'm not the only participant in this discussion who liked the Stefan-Boltzmann computational question at the SCT.
ImmaculateDeception wrote: Yeah; my gut is that they they probably didn't want Dick and Enrico to take for fourth power of 2 in 5 seconds for the Manhattan Project. I think maybe they might have wanted something more like actual scientific asymptotic analysis and reasoning done over something more like the actual time frame available for that kind of stuff with due recourse to the actual resources available to a scientist.
In fact, I believe the passage you cite is just further support for my contention. It is almost doubtlessly true that the "What power does this scale with?" question is much, much more like what Feynman is saying Fermi was good at figuring out than the "What is the value of this number?" question. That's why they're asking "What does this solution look like?" It's the form of the answer that's important; the actual numbers are profoundly not so until it comes time for actual design.
To the contrary. There are some websites devoted to "Fermi Questions":
Philip Morrison wrote: "... the estimation of rough but quantitative answers to unexpected questions about many aspects of the natural world. The method was the common and frequently amusing practice of Enrico Fermi, perhaps the most widely creative physicist of our times. Fermi delighted to think up and at once to discuss and to answer questions which drew upon deep understanding of the world, upon everyday experience, and upon the ability to make rough approximations, inspired guesses, and statistical estimates from very little data."
theMoMA wrote:
I'm not sure what you might be thinking, but I'd say that your (A2) tests understanding of science better than (B2), and I'd also guess that (A2) would likely be converted at a higher rate. The reason is that people might forget the name Ohm's Law but know that V=IR. And people who have no idea on (A2) might guess that you multiply the two numbers.
Even the most basic electronics or physics class teaches you that Ohm's law yields the V=IR equation. If you can't remember that, why should the questions benefit you? They should not. What you propose are questions that benefit people who are actually worse at quiz bowl (you know, people who can't remember names of things).
If I have the choice of awarding points to "Alice", who knows that the voltage drop across a resistor is equal to the product of the current and the resistance but doesn't know that this relationship is called Ohm's Law, or to "Bob", who knows that something called Ohm's Law tells you the voltage drop across a resistor but doesn't know what the relationship is, then I think "Alice" is more deserving.
theMoMA wrote: When you only have a couple seconds to confer and compute a bonus answer, there exists massive potential for knowledgeable people to fail to convert a bonus. Much more potential than, say, exists for some hypothetical bad quiz bowl player to forget the name of the V=IR equation.
If people know that in order to get the answer they have to multiply 2 by 4 (as in Dwight's example), and they get that wrong, I don't feel bad that they fail to get points.
theMoMA wrote: Having quiz bowlers remember or apply exact equations is the definition of pedantic. In the sciences, remembering exact equations is not an important skill. A very important skill is remembering what equations apply to certain situations.
You and some other people in this discussion keep referring to "remembering equations" or "knowing equations" when it's clear from the context that what you are actually referring to is knowing the names of equations. Earlier here, Paul (whom I don't accuse of doing this) brought up the fact that he finds the functional dependence of the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution hard to remember, and I can see why, but does the assertion "In the sciences, remembering exact equations is not an important skill" really apply to V=IR?
theMoMA wrote: So the real question becomes: Why would you punish a team that remembers that the equation relating voltage, resistance, and current is yielded from Ohm's law, while rewarding bad quiz bowl players who either forgot the name of one of the most basic laws of physics and electronics, or (much more likely) guessed on how to combine the given numbers?
I would "punish" the first team because it doesn't have an idea of what Ohm's law is, only that it's the name of some mysterious thing that applies to the situation described. I would "reward" the second team for a lucky guess because, again, in real life getting the correct answer is often important, and being awarded points might encourage learning.
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Matt Weiner
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Post by Matt Weiner »

Another thing to keep in mind (which was touched on briefly earlier) is there is by no means an infinite, or even large, number of equations that you can expect people to know, apply, and solve within five seconds. I will draw an analogy with the presence of straightforward math calculation (straightforward as in absent of any applied-science context) in many high school tournaments as tossups. How many different math skills can you expect most teams in the tournament to have, and test with small enough numbers to expect an answer within the five or ten second time limit? The answer turns out to be, somewhere between ten and fifteen. This means that people who know how to do a very few, easily predictable things that all come up with the numbers slightly changed in every single tournament (e..g: "you have x red marbles and x white marbles in a hat..." style combinatorics problems, "alice is 10 years older than her sister tina but will be 6 times as old in 1 year, how old is tina", etc) are of a value to their team that is way out of proportion to someone who only knows 10-15 things in any other category. Conversely, it means that every team that is serious about winning in high school quizbowl will take the comparatively minimal time necessary to learn how to do those problems, and basically the whole thing again reduces to a speed-arithmetic contest on tossups or an automatic 10 points on bonuses when top teams play important games, since everyone has figured out the tricks to doing the math problems in the most efficient way possible.

I suspect that if we try to expand these allegedly more applicatory science questions beyond the one or two already in certain tournaments, we will find very few equations that can be as quickly, indisputably, and accessibly applied as Ohm's Law, and find ourselves with the same pointless exercise where all the serious teams memorize a small handful of equations that are sure to come up. Instead of wasting the time to find out just one more problem with this idea firsthand, how about we don't do it in the first place?

Also please refrain from justifying anything with appeals to the conveniently-defined preferences of "spectators" who do not exist; that's what College Bowl does.

Also please give some indication that you understand that three-part "given the equation tell me what it is called FTPE" bonuses are as reviled as they are rare in good tournaments. You seem to keep implying that this is not the case, and in fact your whole argument essentially must straw-man it into being so in order to have any premise from which to work.
Last edited by Matt Weiner on Wed Mar 14, 2007 1:58 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by DumbJaques »

To the contrary. There are some websites devoted to "Fermi Questions":
"There are some websites devoted to. . . " is possibly the worst reasoning of all time. See Vampire Watermelons. In fact, see like ten billion ridiculous things that have "some websites" devoted to them. Tigerwoodsisgod.com is a personal favorite.

For a while I thought this thread would die, but it came back to life and ripped out my spleen. I move that this discussion has become laughably ridiculous and that, despite several concerted attempts on the part of Mike and some other people, real reasoning has proved futile, much like my attempts to comprehend a good 80% of what's being posted. Lock?

(Unless of course the discussion can be saved, perhaps via Pat's posting of some wholesome, family images found on "some websites" that will bring us all together).
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Post by grapesmoker »

DumbJaques wrote:
To the contrary. There are some websites devoted to "Fermi Questions":
"There are some websites devoted to. . . " is possibly the worst reasoning of all time. See Vampire Watermelons. In fact, see like ten billion ridiculous things that have "some websites" devoted to them. Tigerwoodsisgod.com is a personal favorite.

For a while I thought this thread would die, but it came back to life and ripped out my spleen. I move that this discussion has become laughably ridiculous and that, despite several concerted attempts on the part of Mike and some other people, real reasoning has proved futile, much like my attempts to comprehend a good 80% of what's being posted. Lock?

(Unless of course the discussion can be saved, perhaps via Pat's posting of some wholesome, family images found on "some websites" that will bring us all together).
I was right before and I'm right again. I hope you all enjoyed this exercise in futility.
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Matt Weiner
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Post by Matt Weiner »

By the way, here are the science bonuses from the first three packets in this year's ACF Regionals set. Feel free to point out where they could have been changed to incorporate less knowledge of what things are called or whatever.

Stuff related to glycolosis FTPE.
[10] Glycolysis produces two of these molecules, which can be converted to acetyl CoA and used as input for the Krebs cycle.
ANSWER: pyruvate or pyruvic acid
[10] This enzyme catalyzes the cleavage of FBP into two trioses in the fourth reaction of glycolysis. It has two classes that differ in their mechanism of enolate stabilization; class I forms a Schiff base with the substrate, while class II does not.
ANSWER: aldolase
[10] The pentose phosphate and Entner-Doudoroff pathways are alternatives to this pathway, commonly considered to be synonymous with glycolysis. It is named for its elucidators.
ANSWER: Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas Pathway

A Kornblum-DeLaMare fragmentation will separate a peroxide into its corresponding alcohol and this functional group. FTPE:
[10] Name this basic organic group that can also be created by the strong oxidation of secondary alcohols.
ANSWER: ketones
[10] If you want to make an aryl ketone, you can go with a boring old Friedel-Crafts acylation or use this acid-catalyzed rearrangement, which will separate an aryl ester into a phenol and a ketone attached to another part of the ring.
ANSWER: Fries Rearrangement
[10] This simple reaction will turn a nitro group, or NO2, into a carbonyl group and thus can create ketones out of nitroalkanes.
ANSWER: Nef Reaction

They are always fermions and are divided into baryons and mesons. For ten points each:
[10] Identify these elementary particles, which unlike leptons have internal structure and may consist of either two or three quarks.
ANSWER: hadrons
[10] This theory of the strong interaction described the behavior of gluons in hadrons. Its name comes from an additional quantum number postulated in order to satisfy the Pauli exclusion principle.
ANSWER: Quantum Chromodynamics
[10] Together with quark confinement, this central feature of QCD demonstrates that at shorter distances, quark interactions will be weak; its development landed Politzer, Wilczek, and Gross the 2004 Physics Nobel.
ANSWER: asymptotic freedom

Identify the following big features of Mars, FTPE.
[10] Running roughly from Noctis Labyrinthus to Chryse Planitia, this huge system of crevices is truly the grandest of all canyons in the Solar System.
ANSWER: Valles Marineris or Mariner Valleys or Valley of the Mariners
[10] This volcanic area at the western end of Valles Marineris includes a 10 kilometer high lava bulge topped by Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons, Ascreus Mons, and Olympus Mons.
ANSWER: Tharsis Bulge
[10] This Southern Hemisphere impact crater, the largest on the planet, was produced during the late heavy bombardment phase. It was the site of the 1971 crash landing of the Soviet spacecraft Mars 2.
ANSWER: Hellas Planitia or Impact Basin

1. It was designed by John McCarthy, who received the 1971 Turing Award for his work in artificial intelligence. For ten points each:
[10] Identify this language that really loves its parentheses.
ANSWER: Lisp or list processor
[10] Lisp is based on this formal system, invented by Alonzo Church, which Church used to show the impossibility of a solution to the decision problem.
ANSWER: lambda calculus
[10] This man helped Hilbert formulate the decision problem. He is best known today for his eponymous two-argument function, which is not primitive recursive and is frequently used in benchmarking.
ANSWER: Willhelm Friedrich Ackermann

Answer stuff about the work of Rudolf Clausius, FTPE.
[10] Clausius introduced this parameter of kinetic theory denoted L, defined as the average distance a molecule may travel before it will interact with another molecule.
ANSWER: mean free path
[10] Clausius derived this flexible theorem in 1870, which can state that the average gravitational potential energy is twice the average kinetic energy of objects in a bound gravitational system.
ANSWER: virial theorem
[10] Clausius worked with this Italian physicist on an equation that relates the dielectric constant of a non-polar isotropic medium to its number density and mean dynamic polarizability.
ANSWER: Ottaviano-Fabrizio Mossotti

Answer these questions about nonlinear dynamics FTPE.
[10] One of the simplest nonlinear systems is this map which can be used to describe the discrete time evolution of a population subject to a growth rate and a fixed constraint.
ANSWER: discrete logistic map
[10] The logistic map exhibits period-doubling, and the ratio between successive intervals of the bifurcation is equal to this constant, approximately 4.67.
ANSWER: Feigenbaum constant
[10] This theorem shows that in nonlinear systems, quasiperiodic orbits are stable under sufficiently small perturbations. It explains, for instance, the stability of the solar system.
ANSWER: KAM theorem

Answer these questions about excretory systems FTPE.
[10] In this type of animal, the blastopore develops into the anus, and the mouth develops afterwards.
ANSWER: deuterostomes
[10] Arachnids and some insects possess this kind of excretory system where waste is absorbed from the hemolymph into slender tubes connected to the alimentary canal.
ANSWER: Malphigian tubules
[10] Like most annelids, earthworms utilize these excretory structures, consisting of tubules with internal openings that collect body fluids using a ciliated funnel.
ANSWER: metanephridia or metanephridium (don’t accept protonephridia; they’re different)

Answer some questions about signaling in the nervous system, FTPE:
[10] These junctions between neurons can be either chemical or electrical, and communication across the chemical type is mediated by neurotransmitters.
ANSWER: synapse or synaptic cleft or synaptic junction
[10] In chemical synapses, the release of vesicles from the presynaptic membrane is regulated by this calcium-sensitive protein in the SNARE complex.
ANSWER: synaptotagmin-I
[10] This variant of the Nernst Equation gives the membrane potential of a neuron in terms of the internal and external ion concentrations and the relative permeability of the membrane to each ion species.
ANSWER: Goldman-Hodgkins-Katz Equation

Answer the following about coordination chemistry, FTPE.
[10] EDTA is an example of one of these complexes, named for a Greek word, in which a ligand is coordinated to a metal ion at two or more points.
ANSWER: chelates
[10] Ligands which are attached to a central metal ion by bonds from two or more donor atoms are referred to by this adjective, and contribute to the stability of the chelate effect.
ANSWER: polydentate ligands
[10] In a namesake effect, these types of ligands have greater thermodynamic stability than linear analogs with the same number of chelate rings. They have three or more donor atoms, and include crown ethers.
ANSWER: macrocyclic ligands/effect

Identify some famous flows from fluid dynamics, FTPE:
[10] This type of flow occurs when the Reynolds number is less than about 2100. It occurs when a fluid flows in layers with no inter-layer disruption.
ANSWER: Laminar or Poiseulle flow
[10] This type of flow occurs with vanishingly small Reynolds number, when viscous forces far outweigh inertial forces. It is described by a famous set of equations by its namesake and Navier.
ANSWER: Stokes flow
[10] This type of flow is exemplified by the laminar flow of a viscous liquid in between two plates, with one moving relative to the other. The flow is caused by viscous drag forces.
ANSWER: Couette flow

They consist of high velocity winds blowing around a low-pressure center, or eye. FTPE:
[10] Name this type of tropical cyclone commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico
ANSWER: hurricane
[10] This scale developed by two meteorologists ranks hurricanes from category 1 through 5, with 5 being the strongest.
ANSWER: Saffir-Simpson scale
[10] Hurricanes often originate in this low-pressure region associated with the rising limbs of Hadley cells. Sailors named it the doldrums, but the modern name emphasizes that the trade winds meet here.
ANSWER: ITCZ or Intertropical Convergence Zone or Intertropical Front or Equatorial Convergence Zone or Intertropical Confluence or Intertropical Discontinuity
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theMoMA
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Post by theMoMA »

I would "punish" the first team because it doesn't have an idea of what Ohm's law is, only that it's the name of some mysterious thing that applies to the situation described. I would "reward" the second team for a lucky guess because, again, in real life getting the correct answer is often important, and being awarded points might encourage learning.
Oh, I see. Mindless memorization is what we're looking for, not actual knowledge of when to apply. Glad you cleared that up!
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Captain Sinico
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Post by Captain Sinico »

vetovian wrote:As I said, it's a matter of taste.
And a lot of other things. You started this by saying "This is what people who know actual science want" and "This is better because it tests things people who know actual science know." I guess we're now down to "It's a matter of taste," which can be used to support literally any conclusion.
In fact, that appeal only even makes sense if you believe a vast majority of players share your taste. I don't believe that's so and I haven't really seen you offer any evidence that it is. In fact, it seems to me that an absolutely overwhelming majority of players would have a great distaste for calculation (admittedly, I myself among them.)
I see what you're proposing at this point basically boiling down to replacing a bunch of what we now call science with calculation, even if said science questions test the exact same knowledge as their calculational analogues. I say this since an exact analogue of the calculation question you proposed is worse, in your view, than the question we were out to replace. I don't really think that's a good idea for the whole gamut of reasons we've been through, namely: such questions are even less accessible than the science we have now, which is already the least accessible major topic; such questions don't test skills often used by scientists; the universe of such questions tractably solvable by even a good arithmetician is limited and would quickly be exhausted; and such questions are probably impossible for most people to write well.
So, in short, it looks to me like your proposal is undesirable for a variety of reasons, would be difficult to implement, and would be unpopular. Consequently, I also don't think the calculation bonanza will be coming any time soon (certainly it will not from anything I edit.) Keep living the dream, though. I would appreciate it if you were a little more straightforward about what you're actually asking for next time.

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Post by AKKOLADE »

Closing this thread as the discussion has turned into a series of points being repeated endlessly. It must be stopped before it turns into some kind of black hole for discussion.
Locked