Metrification & Language Changes

Metrification would make learning math and science easier in the US.  Of course, in the short term there would be an awkward period of adjustment for people and some costly retrofitting and phasing out of machinery.  There was a failed attempt to move to the metric system in 1975.  It was abandoned due to a problematic acclimation process.  However, I believe that the arguments for the transition overemphasized creating an international commonality, not the best tactic in the US.  Please forgive the crude analogy, but this situation is a little like asking a group of men who have worn briefs their entire lives to switch to boxers because they save time when using the restroom.  If you have worn briefs your entire life, then spending a few more seconds in the loo seems like an insignificant inconvenience.  However, if the argument for wearing boxers is backed by evidence that they improve sperm count, then the payoff for wearing boxers may motivate more men to fight through the initial awkwardness.  Much in the same way, the argument for metrification will gain further support if solid evidence is provided that the math and science performances of American students are being adversely affected by the use of the English System.  Take into consideration the calculation of area.  1 m2=10000 cm2=.000001 km2 in the metric system while 1ft2=144in2=(1/5280) 2 mi2.  Just by glancing at this one can see that it is easier to convert and multiply by factors to scale up or down in the metric system.  It is also easier to recognize patterns in the metric system.  That makes doing many conversions and other everyday math simple enough to do in one’s head.  The English System is much more cumbersome for students to grasp and work with.

Now, let us consider how linguistic patterns may affect the performance of American students on math exams.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he makes the case for why language factors into why Chinese, Japanese, and Korean students outperform American students in math.  For one, they learn to count faster.  There is evidence that this may be due to their number-naming system.  They say ten-one for eleven.  Fifty-four is five-ten-four.  Our naming system gets messy in the teens where we introduce new words like “twelve” before we start using the single digit terms again.  Then we switch from preceding the new term with the single digit terms to tagging them on to the end, e.g. nineteen and twenty-nine.  Some of the incremental base 10 terms sound similar to the digits they are related to, but are not intuitive the way they are in some Asian languages.  Asian number words also tend to be brief.  According to Stanislas Dehaene’s The Number Sense, whom Gladwell quotes, there is a correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a language and memory.  Mainly, that it is easier for people to remember numbers in languages that have brief words for them.  As further proof of the advantages that Asian languages have when working with numbers, Gladwell asks us to imagine asking a young English-speaking child to add 37 and 22.  The Asian number nomenclature greatly simplifies this problem by keeping the tens and single digits separate: three-tens-seven and two-tens-two.

If we look into the benefits of metrification and changing our number words, we may be able to take a course of action that may uncomfortable in the short term but pay dividends in terms of learning.

Gun Control Measures Can Coexist with Self-Defense Right

In the wake of the particularly grotesque mass shooting in Connecticut, we are bound to have heated debates on the correct course of legislative action to address the high number of gun deaths in this country.  Before I give my opinion on the matter – for whatever it is worth – I would like to talk about some of the unavoidable arguments over the 2nd Amendment that are to ensue shortly.  Those who are against more stringent gun controls will usually take an unnuanced individual rights and/or common defense interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.  The exact wording of the 2nd Amendment is as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Read More

Questions of Morality Regarding Drone Strikes

It was over 1 yr & 2 mos ago when the biggest uproar over a drone strike occurred, unfortunately not even a blip in most media coverage.  A group of teenagers that included a 16 yr old American boy by the name of Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi were targeted and killed (  Abdulrahman had never been accused of a crime.  Nor was he a part of an extremist group.  By all accounts, he was not an advocate of violence unto Americans or anyone else.  Prior to his death he had decided to search out his father, the radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who he had not seen in 2 yrs.  This led to his demise.  He visited with cousins and met new friends in his short search.  Perhaps some of those he came in contact with were under surveillance.  After all, the US had been on the tail of Anwar for some time (he was killed 2 weeks prior to Abdulrahman).  Maybe the US decided to kill Abdulrahman simply for being the son of Anwar.  Who knows?  The US has never officially addressed this atrocity.

Read More

Inherently Noncompetitive Competitions

I do not understand the insistence on making competitions out of activities that were not competitions to begin with, unless the purpose is to provide a grant.  If you make a movie or a work of art is it not enough to know that a good portion of the viewers have enjoyed it?  Aren’t the fruits of advancing science or promoting peace sufficiently rewarding without further distinctions?  If you are attractive is it not satisfying enough to receive the occasional compliment and the rest of the perks that come with physical beauty?

Read More