Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An Obvious Question About Vaccination

By Professor Doom

     I thought I’d said all I was going to say about vaccination, but a question keeps nagging me.

     First, some hypothetical questions:

Q: Which lumberjack will have heavier muscles, the guy who cuts down trees with a chain saw, or the guy who uses an axe?

     The answer’s obvious, right? The guy using the axe is actually using his muscles much more than the guy using the chain saw.

     Let’s try a harder one:

Q: Who has the better cardio, the worker who rides his bike 5 miles to and from work every day, or the worker who drives his car the same route?

     Again, the answer is obvious: the worker who rides the bike, who actually uses his cardiovascular system, will have a better system. 

      It’s very straightforward stuff: the parts of your body that you use develop and become stronger, the things you don’t use wither away and become weaker. Yes, there’s an absolute limit, and there’s totally such a thing as overdoing it, but study after study has shown that even a little bit of exercise is a good idea.

     Does any other part of the human body work that way?

     Sure. A common side effect of testosterone replacement therapy is testicle shrinkage…the testicles aren’t being used as much because of the therapy, so the body doesn’t develop them. It’s pretty reasonable to guess that, as far as the human body is concerned, “use it or lose it” is pretty good description of how it works.

      Now, doctors and medical researchers aren’t stupid, not by a long shot. They see these obvious things, and realize that other ailments might be prevented, or at least helped, by simply working the body appropriately. Thus, they have no trouble conjecturing that brain exercises might help patients with Alzheimer’s, and there are a legion of physical therapy exercises designed to strengthen weakened parts of the body. 

     Now back to vaccines. We’re told that literally dozens of vaccines are now necessary to maintain health…even as a great many other diseases seem to be on the rise.

     But consider the following:

     Yes, I know, it’s an internet survey, and no sane person takes anything on the internet at purely face value. People online claim that vaccines are responsible for all sorts of diseases, and, of course, the mainstream research consistently says that’s rubbish.

      Still, looking at that chart, a natural question should be, “Could it be that vaccinations weaken the immune system, in much the same way that driving a car weakens the cardiovascular system, using power tools weaken the muscular system, and testosterone replacement weakens the primary testosterone creation system?” There might be benefits to non-vaccination here that have been overlooked. I totally grant that some diseases are so dangerous that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any theoretical benefits of non-vaccination. 

     Other diseases are so minor, however, that the benefits of vaccination in these cases are likewise minimal, minimal enough that considering the benefits of non-vaccination should be on the table. The recent hoopla over measles outbreaks, for example, was pretty ridiculous considering that, for a very long time, measles was considered fairly trivial for most people (yes, I know there is a small risk of death, in much the same way you risk death getting your ears pierced). Toss in the very real possibility that measles (and thus, exposure to measles) may well grant some resistance to cancer, and the terror over some kids catching measles, a disease that, in my parent’s generation, was as ubiquitous (and dangerous) as acne, is highly puzzling.

      Anyway, looking at the chart does seem to suggest that vaccination might make the body more vulnerable to other diseases: the “free ride” from vaccinations isn’t so free. Vaccines might very well not cause diseases per se, but could they not make the body more vulnerable to diseases? It seems a natural question to ask, but that’s not my question.

      My question is simply: how is it that mainstream medical researchers have long understood the obvious “parts of the body that are used get developed, those that aren’t used don’t get developed” concept, but have never seriously asked that question in relation to vaccines and the part of the body that is the immune system? Instead, we have to rely on internet surveys for that kind of information. Yeesh.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

College “Turning” Into Grade 12.5…at Best.

By Professor Doom

    Absolutely there are legitimate institutions of higher education (most states have a “flagship” university that is allowed to be legitimate). Outside of these special places, however, standards went into freefall years ago. This has led to many community colleges being unhinged, with what actually goes on in the classroom unrelated to what, on paper, is claimed is going on in a college education.

     I’m hardly alone in such observations, but I concede that most of what I hear in this regard is coming from other mathematical colleagues; we’re pretty good about quantitative, objective measurements that what we’re doing in our classes today is far below what we used to be doing…and what we claim to accreditation we are doing.
      A post from an English professor confirms that it isn’t just the “hard” fields like mathematics that know something has changed:

--in much the same way that I used to teach community college courses, but noticed that it dropped to high school…then secondary school…then primary school, the professor here has looked up and realized that he is part of a fraud.

     It’s simple enough to understand what happened. Social promotion in schools led students to come to college thinking that “just show up” was all there was to education. Social promotion is coming to college now, and one can only guess what the end result of that will be.

       Every semester many students in my freshman English classes submit work that is inadequate in almost every respect.

--the same thing happened in my classes. I’d ask questions like “what is 1/3 + 1/3?” and get answers like “2/6”, or “3” or “8”, and only seldom get a correct answer.

         As students poured into classes without the slightest clue how to do anything, or how to learn anything, and without any interest in learning how to do or learn anything, the professor has a choice: fail everyone, or reduce standards. Administration in higher education quickly got rid of faculty that took the “fail everyone” route.

     Truth telling in my profession can also be hazardous to the pursuit of tenure, so that was an added incentive to keep my head down. 

     I’ve certainly met more than my share of professors that simply want to keep their head down, thinking that they’ll somehow get tenure. That’s a faint hope, but the fact still remains that speaking out about what’s going on in higher education is a bad idea.
     So, faculty have no choice but to take the standards down, down, down.

     What have standards been reduced to in the college where this professor has spoken out?

Early in the semester we must first assess their ability to identify a complete sentence ― that is, one with a subject and a verb.  After that, somewhere around week five, we find out if they can identify a topic sentence ― the thing that controls the content of a paragraph.

     Think this through for a bit. The professor has a month to teach the skill of “identify a complete sentence.” That means he spends time talking about verbs, and subjects, and how to identify those as well.

     Yes, that’s right, in college, the first month of college English includes much discussion on “how to find the subject and verb in a sentence.” After the first month, these nigh-adults will learn how to look at a paragraph and identify a “topic sentence”. I’m not an English expert, but this really seems below high school level.

     A college semester is 4 months long, any hope of learning any, well, college level work here? Nope. Much as many “college” math courses are 6th to 8th grade, so it is in English as well.

       I can’t make this stuff up, and it’s fairly comparable to what I’ve seen in my own field.

      I really feel the professor is being too kind here. Is “identify the verb” really a college level, or even high school level, question? It really seems like that was the kind of thing I learned a few years before high school. I know, the public schools are failing badly, but, please, let’s think about this.

       We’re spending a month teaching college students how to find the verb, and subject, in a sentence, so they can communicate in a basic level in the English language. A month. (See what I did there?) Please, gentle readers with children, attempt to teach this to your child (one old enough to read), and see with your own eyes, this really, really, shouldn’t take a month, not if your child has even the slightest interest in learning anything. 

     And our highly educated professionals are spending a month to teach an adult this concept? It’s no different from when I was spending a month or more trying to teach adults how to add fractions…and failing easily as often as not.

     What’s really going on here is massive numbers of people are flowing onto campuses, and soaking up massive amounts of tax and student loan money. Yes, these people get some of the money, but the bulk of it flows into administrators’ profits…administrators that have no problem robbing taxpayers, and extorting faculty into reducing standards to a level that would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.

     Interestingly enough, another professor actually responded to the referenced complaint:

      Wow, what planet is this guy from? “Accept his contention”? Seriously? I receive many e-mails of near gibberish on a regular basis, I’m more than willing to accept an English professor would get the same. Allow me to present a couple of e-mails from students:


Please i dnt know how to solve the questions under unit three, there is no graph work derived to solve the questions.Please help me

          Are the above incomprehensible? I suppose not, barely, but I trust the gentle reader will concede that the above are not exactly college level writing. Is it really grade 12 ½ work? I don’t think so.

     While being a bit reluctant to take a claim at face value, the response has some things of merit to say, though he mostly just blames public education. 

“Hey man, can you help me read the lunch menu?”

--even in the 8th grade, I had friends who couldn’t read “very well”. So I’d read the menu for them.

      There have always been terrible students in public schools, students that just get socially promoted up through the grades. Now they’re in college, and social promotion has come to college…this won’t help them in the slightest.

      Still the professor has one thing I can’t argue with:

I know teachers whose student load approaches 200 students. Let’s go back to those good old days when people had teachers who wrote careful, thoughtful comments on their weekly-assigned essays…Try that with 200 students every week. Give a teacher a modest 10 minutes to spend on each of 200 students’ essays, and you’ve got 2,000 minutes a week just spent grading essays.

That’s 33 hours spent each week outside class grading papers. This figure does not take into account additional time spent on daily record-keeping, helping kids before and after school, doing lunch duty, addressing discipline problems, and doing other things that conscientious teachers do.

Nor does it take into account the new demands placed on teachers for collecting data that may or may not serve a purpose.

--we collect plenty of data for no purpose in higher education, too.

      He’s talking about public schools here, but keep in mind, these massive class loads are now common in higher education as well, even in writing courses.

       Still, it’s nice that at least for writing, college is still arguably high school. It’s easy enough to show that for most other subjects, college is below high school, often far below.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

College is 39% as Bad as Smoking

By Professor Doom

     At this stage in human civilization, everyone in the Western world knows smoking is very, very, bad for you.  Yes, many things are bad for you—watching TV all day long, not eating vegetables, and so on.  I totally respect people should be allowed to make choices that I don’t necessarily agree with…but smoking is a terrible thing to do to yourself, even as I respect individual rights.

      On the other hand, I don’t believe we should encourage people to make terrible choices. So, yes, I think posters saying “Smoking is Cool and Sexy” are ridiculous and morally questionable, in much the same way advertisements that say “Not Eating Vegetables Is Cool and Sexy” or “Watching TV 8 Hours A Day Is Cool And Sexy” are ridiculous and morally questionable.

     Yes, I respect that some people smoke, and smoke, and smoke, literally for decades, with no particular ill effects, but in general, smoking is so bad that outright encouraging it “for pleasure” is simply wrong.

     The real issue with smoking advertisements is the targeting of the young. Bottom line, children are very vulnerable to believing things they are told. This was a great thing back when snakes and lions and such were likely to be encountered by a child—a simple warning “Stay away from snakes, they are bad” was all it took to keep children from messing around with snakes until they were old enough to handle such things.

      Nowadays, the world isn’t filled with such natural dangers, though we still “play” with children by telling them about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus—children still readily believe, until they finally outgrow their credulity. 

      Such myths may be harmless enough, but as natural dangers have faded from the modern human experience, new dangers, from advertising executives, showed up to lure children into making bad decisions. Thus, most people get hooked on smoking when they are young…they got addicted before they were old enough to not be so vulnerable to advertising that an adult mind would find ridiculous.

      So it is that some 85% of smokers regret smoking. 85%. Even if there were no major health risks involved with smoking, we as a society should have a real problem with an industry that encourages an activity that 85% of the people involved regret doing.

     What does this have to do with education? Well, our children are encouraged from a fairly young age that they must go to college…they get told this over and over again, to the point that many believe that the whole point of schooling is to get them to go to college. Heck, many schools boast of the percent of their graduates that eventually go on to college.

      Would a school boast of having a high percentage of students who smoke?

      “But college is good for you!” is doubtless going through the minds of some readers. It totally can be, I concede, but realize this is just the echo of all the imprinting delivered in childhood. College was almost certainly quite often a good idea in the past but today’s “college” is far removed from whatever idealized vision people have of higher education of generations ago.

      Why believe me? Do college students regret going to college in anything like the same way smokers regret starting smoking? Let’s see:

      Now, just because some people regret an activity, doesn’t mean the activity is necessarily wrong. I’m sure I can find someone who totally wished he’d never went to Disney World, but when 1/3 of the participants think they’ve made a horrible mistake, isn’t that a hint that there’s something wrong?

The other problem on student debt is a lack of financial education. The first major financial decision many students are making is with their college loans. It’s a major decision and often times there’s been little financial education, if any, that’s been taught. The Wells Fargo survey found that 79% of millennials think personal finance should be taught in high school; basic investing, how to save for retirement and how loans work were the top three topics they “wished” they’d learned more about.

     Note the same pattern we have here that we observed with the tobacco industry. These victims were targeted when young, and ignorant of how the modern world worked in regards to finance. “College is good for you” was combined with ignorance of the long term effects of loans to capture a generation into student loans.

      I concede student loans aren’t truly addictive, but getting rid of them is no less a challenge, since they follow you to the grave unless paid off…and all too often, higher education provides no means to pay off the loans.

     Should higher education administrators be viewed with the same repugnance that we view tobacco company executives that still target children

     This is a personal decision, but do realize that today’s high cost of college education is due to the administrators of higher education, rulers that could casually include financial education in their mission of education, to the point of refusing to allow loans to kids fresh out of high school, loans for coursework of no financial value. These rulers could do many, many, things to put integrity into higher education, instead of what they have done, which is remove integrity from higher education at every level. I guess that rather answers my rhetorical question.

       Oh, and back to the title of today’s essay. If we view “What percent of people that regret doing something” as a measure how bad such an activity is, then we can actually compare the inappropriateness of various illicit activities.

     So, here goes: 85%, or .85 of smokers regret smoking, an activity that we pretty much all agree is a very bad activity.

     33%, or .33 of people that went to college regret going to college.

     Simply look at the ratio, .33/.85, to get about .39. Thus it is that one can conclude that going to college is 39% as bad as smoking. We all agree that smoking is bad, but, comparatively speaking, college is rather bad as well.

     What proportion of “people regret doing this activity” is a sign that the activity is a fundamentally bad thing to do? Again, this is a personal decision, but I suspect this proportion will only go higher, as more and more people learn firsthand just how disastrous student loans are, and how worthless so much of higher education is.

      In times past, we didn’t have great numbers of people regretting going to college, but now we have millions of victims. 21% of the US population smoke cigarettes, and about 88% of high school graduates go on to college at some point. It follows then, 
that someday, we’ll have more victims of higher education than we do victims of smoking. Is this not yet another sign that something has gone very wrong with today’s version of higher education?


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Study: Quickie Degrees Are Worthless

By Professor Doom

    Any look at the graduation statistics of our community colleges (and to a lesser extent, universities) shows graduation rates fluctuating between “miserable” and “atrocious”.

     Administration in higher education has responded, but never with integrity. Instead of simply not trying to sell higher education to anyone with a pulse, they’ve watered down much of education, introducing coursework and degrees that produce easy graduation and many sweet, sweet, student loan checks….but no useful skills or knowledge.

     This hasn’t been enough. Most new college students are not really high school level, and these new marginal students were shuffled into remedial programs that were great for accumulating those sweet, sweet, student loan checks…but don’t lead to degrees. Administration has responded here by introducing social promotion to college, so that, in many schools, college “courses” are packed with students that can neither read nor write nor calculate at the 9th grade level.

      And it’s still not enough.

      Another popular administration plan has some merit: speed up the degree process. Granted, this method isn’t as good as the others for getting those sweet, sweet, student loan checks, but at least it gives students fast degrees, and that’s worth something, right?


     Despite the fact these fast degrees are useless, I still find myself approving of them. I’ve seen so many students trapped the system, swirled around for 5 years or more, and then spit out, deep in debt, with either a worthless degree, or a bunch of worthless credit hours.

     A fast degree is better than that, right? Much less opportunity to get deep into debt, and hopefully, once the student has his worthless degree, he’ll escape the mythology of higher education and move on with his life, three, maybe four years younger than he would be if trapped in the system getting a “normal” degree.

     “…eight years after graduation individuals who obtained short-term certificates had earnings essentially indistinguishable from those who completed no degree at all.”

     It’s interesting that they managed to study these quickie degree recipients for 8 years, and managed to get this result. I would look long and hard at statistics of folks getting “normal” degrees and compare those who didn’t even go to college at all…I strongly suspect that quite a few of the graduates would find themselves worse off—slightly better earnings for the lucky, but both graduates and non-graduates set back by ever growing student debt.

     Short-term certificates are rapid degree programs offered at many community colleges that are designed to provide certification in some basic field in less than a year’s time (programs taking more than a year are deemed long-term certificates). They are commonly offered in relatively simple technical fields such as medical billing and business information systems.

      It’s very clear there’s a hierarchy of fraud of in higher education. For-profit tops the fraud, I totally concede. But, mercifully, the American public (and, to a lesser extent, the Federal government) has caught on to the fraud. For-profits are finding it hard to attract suckers into the system, even heavyweight University of Phoenix has 50% of the student base it did a few years ago. When most HR departments toss applications from UoPhoenix right into the trash, word gets around not to bother going there.

     For-profits are the top frauds of higher education, but a close second are the community colleges, the primary source of those quickie degrees. Again, this only makes sense, both in terms of offering such degrees, and in terms of worthlessness. Community colleges, for the most part, are dealing with the weakest students, the ones that have no chance in a university setting…and no chance in anything like serious college work. If you can’t sell ‘em college work, there’s no point trying to get them to buy remedial work, either, since the only point of remedial coursework is preparation for college.

 “Dancer”: “I’m just here to make some money until I get my medical degree, I’m only one semester away from graduating.”
 Faculty: “Medicine, very nice. What field?”
Dancer: “Massage”
Faculty: “…”

--I grant that some students going into quickie degree programs have to suspect things are not on the level, but many are desperate to grab any straw that might save them. It doesn’t excuse administration from selling them straws that they know full well are attached to nothing that will help.

      So, stuff ‘em into quickie degree programs. It’ll take years before these students realize they got nothing from those programs.

Today, about one quarter of all community college degrees are short-term certificates.
--so the report is really saying that one quarter of community college degrees are ripoffs…and that really is a low estimate, because most of the 2 year degrees are worthless, too. I’m all for reducing the cost of higher education, but it’s clear the community college model as it stands today isn’t the way to go.

     And, of course, it makes sense that these programs are worth nothing. Community colleges are designed to offer the cheapest education possible, so they really can’t afford to hire people with real job jobs…it’s simply unreasonable to expect people with no skills to actually be able to teach students anything useful.

     This was the case even in fields, such as nursing, where a two-year associates degrees or long-term certificate did result in major earnings gains of 30 percent or more. In the handful of fields that did see a salary gain, such as protective services, the boost was limited to only about $1,000 per year.

     It really is possible to have valuable 2 year, jobs-related, degrees, but doing honest work just isn’t good enough for community college administrators. They know full well quickie degrees are worthless, and they know why. But rather than do the honorable thing, and simply stop selling bogus, worthless, degrees and coursework, community colleges will just keep right on selling the things.

     Did I mention those sweet, sweet, student loan checks? 

     For profit schools made a fortune raking in those student loan checks, but now that everyone knows about them, they’re drying up and blowing away. Do the administrators at community colleges not see what will happen once people figure out what’s going on there as well?