Invited Post by Liz Willner, Ed.D.
I was reading this week about Oklahoma schools and districts being given scores on a “simple” A-F basis. It reminds me of the challenges faced by those of us who are dedicated to helping all our students reach their full potentials. How do we report complexity to the public? How can a single grade tell anything about a school and the efforts of its staff, students, parents, and greater community? How can we help Oklahoma citizens care about other people’s children as well as their own? I wrote the following piece 5 years ago when I was struggling to explain why the very foundation of our work with child readers ought to be joy–not test scores, not skill and drill test-prep instruction, not fear of the public shaming ritual begun with No Child Left Behind.
This essay was written to an audience of Oklahoma reading teachers, but maybe it would be helpful for others to take a step back and ponder the power of words, the value of the individual, and the ultimate purpose of reading…
What is the most important goal of reading instruction in our schools? Some would say it is to teach students to comprehend increasingly difficult texts, others would say it is to help students develop the skills to think and question critically, and still others would say it is simply to ensure that our students do well on standardized tests. However, I believe there is a foundational goal that must be in place before anything else matters. That goal is JOY.
Ask yourself, “What is the value of reading in my life?” If your answer has more to do with satisfaction than skill level, more to do with comfort than comprehension, more to do with engagement than exams, you have experienced the joy of reading that ought to be the birthright of every student in Oklahoma’s schools.
But can we teach joy? Not really. We can, however, let it permeate all of our work with students. We can model joy and invite our students to experience the sheer pleasure of reading with us. It’s not that we’re off the hook from the more “scientific” aspects of the teaching of reading. We do need to include excellent instruction and quality assessment, but we also need to allow ourselves the privilege of demonstrating for our students the central role that reading plays in each of our lives. As Opitz and Ford write, “We not only teach children to read, but we also teach them to be readers” (2001, p. 4).
What does teaching children to be readers look like? It looks like the teacher who throws back her head and laughs with her first graders when she sees the pictures in Underwear Do’s and Don’ts (Parr). It looks like the teacher who cries when the painful part of Bridge to Terabithia (Paterson) affects him. It looks like the teacher who searches tirelessly for books that will engage a third grade boy who says he hates reading. It looks like the teacher who shares her own favorite passage of the latest book she’s reading with her students. It looks like the teacher who listens to one more fifth grader’s retelling of the latest Harry Potter book (Rowling).
Teaching children to be readers looks like a teacher who invites her sixth graders to love (or NOT love) a book she holds dear. It looks like a teacher who includes books from a variety of cultures in his classroom library. It looks like a teacher who challenges a seventh grade girl to read a book that she doesn’t feel confident about. It looks like a teacher who reads at home, comfortably nestled in his favorite old chair. It looks like…well…it looks like JOY.
Oklahoma teachers of reading should want for our students what we get when we are curled up with a fascinating book, when we’re so totally engaged in our reading that the world fades away, when we are so excited about a book that we seek out someone else who has read it, when we get a little self-satisfied feeling when a radio program mentions a book we’ve read.
Oklahoma teachers of reading should continue to develop their professional practices with new techniques and strategies, but always keep the ultimate goal of reading instruction in sight—JOY.
Opitz, M. & Ford, M. (2001). Reaching Readers: Flexible and Innovative Strategies for Guided Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Reprinted from the Oklahoma Reading Association Newsletter Fall 2007
Invited Post by Terry Phelps, Ph.D.
Many writers skimp by using shortcuts such as contractions, acronyms, and ellipses, but then ladle on redundancies, nominalizations, and other “fat” in their writing. This collection of fat-cutting exercises helps even experienced writers slim down their sentences.
[Please click on the link below to read the article and share your thoughts about fat-cutting exercises by clicking on "Comments" or the title next to it]
Invited Post by John Nail, Ph.D.
We need to first start with some definitions, as people often confuse the following.
The Greenhouse Effect is a well-established physical effect. Technically, the Greenhouse Effect is the absorption (and eventually conversion to heat) of infrared (IR) radiation by an atmospheric gas. Nobody with any scientific credibility denies the Greenhouse Effect.
Global Warming refers to any long-term increase in average Earth temperature. When discussing any possible Global Warming, we must distinguish between weather and climate.
Weather refers to the conditions (air temperature, atmospheric humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind direction and speed) present at a particular time.
Climate refers to long-term general weather conditions. Climate refers to several years, if not decades. Low air temperatures in January and high air temperatures in August are examples of weather. Years of low (or high) rainfall per year are examples of climate. Global warming is an example of a possible climate (long-term) change; people often confuse it with weather (day to day) changes.
Climate Change is a broad category that incorporates Global Warming and any other possible changes, such as long-term changes in precipitation, the frequency of severe weather events (tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, etc.). Global Warming is a subset of Climate Change.
As mentioned above, we know that the Greenhouse Effect is a well-established scientific knowledge; it is a fact that a Greenhouse Effect operates on Earth. Earth’s average surface temperature is generally accepted to be somewhere close to 59o F (15o C). If there was not a Greenhouse Effect on Earth, it is believed that average Earth surface temperature would be somewhere close to 0o C (- 18o C).
The Enhanced Greenhouse Hypothesis:
Premise 1) Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when they are used.
Premise 2) Carbon dioxide is a Greenhouse Gas (GHG).
Premise 3) Greenhouse Gases increase atmospheric temperature.
Conclusion: The atmospheric carbon dioxide from our use of fossil fuels would expected to be causing an increase in average global Earth temperature, also known as Global Warming.
The Enhanced Greenhouse Hypothesis is relatively simple and logical. The problem is that the reality is much more complex.
Question 1: Is carbon dioxide the only greenhouse gas?
Answer: No. Methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor are other greenhouse gases.
Question 2: How much of the greenhouse effect is due to carbon dioxide?
Answer: Carbon dioxide has been estimated to produce 26% of the Greenhouse Effect during clear skies (source: Kiehl and Trenberth, Earth’s Annual Energy Budget, Bulletin of the American Meterological Society volume 78, issue 2 (1997), pages 197-208).
Question 3: Which greenhouse gas is the largest contributor to the Greenhouse Effect?
Answer: In clear skies, water vapor produces 60% of the Greenhouse Effect (source: see above).
Question 4: Why do the answers to Questions 2 and 3 specify clear skies?
Answer: Clouds complicate the Greenhouse Effect. During the day, clouds reflect sunlight from Earth atmosphere back into space. Anyone who has ever seen a planet (Venus, Mars, etc.) in the night sky has seen sunlight that was reflected back into space by either clouds in the planet’s atmosphere or by the planet’s surface. Daytime clouds reflect sunlight back into space and thus have a cooling effect. Nighttime clouds have a warming effect on the surface and a cooling effect in the upper atmosphere due to the Greenhouse effect of the water vapor in the cloud. As we will see, much of the argument between the various scientific camps (‘warmists’, ‘luke warmers’ and ‘flat liners’) involves the roles of clouds in atmospheric temperature.
Question 5: Nature releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Humans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. How much of atmospheric carbon dioxide release is due to humans? How much is due to nature?
Answer: The following are estimates and are not accurately measured numbers:
Nature: 210 billion tons per year (96% of total)
Humans: 9 billion tons per year (4% of total)
Source: Wikipedia – Carbon Cycle
Question: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are believed to have risen from 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution to its current level of 395 ppm. If this rises to 500 ppm (a 25% increase from 395 ppm), wouldn’t this increase carbon dioxide’s contribution to the greenhouse effect by 25%?
Answer: No; however, this is another point of contention between the various camps.
Remember that the Greenhouse Effect involves the absorption of infrared energy. The Beer-Lambert equation (also called Beer’s law) tells us that the amount of electromagnetic energy (including infrared) absorbed increases logarithmically with the amount of the absorbing substance, not linearly. Some calculations:
Log (280) = 2.45 Note: 280 is the carbon dioxide level before the Industrial Revolution)
Log (395) = 2.60 Notes: 1) 395 is the current level; 2) 395 is a 41% increase over 280; 3) this 41% increase in atmospheric CO2 levels increases CO2’s absorption of IR radiation by 6%
Log (560) = 2.75 Notes: 1) 560 is a doubling of the pre-Industrial Revolution atmospheric carbon dioxide level; 2) The increase in CO2’s Greenhouse Effect is = 12.2% over the pre-Industrial Revolution amount.
However, the ‘warming’ model assumes that the increase in the Greenhouse Effect due to increased atmospheric CO2 is 3 times higher than is calculated by the Beer-Lambert equation. The reasoning is as follows:
1) As atmospheric CO2 levels increase, the amount of the Greenhouse Effect due to CO2 increases. (Note: nobody disputes this).
2) As the Greenhouse Effect increases (due to increases in atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases), global temperature will rise. (Note: this is reasonable, but not necessarily universally accepted).
3) As global temperatures increase, the amount of water that evaporates from surface water (lakes, oceans, etc.) increases. (Note: nobody disputes this).
4) The extra water vapor produced by the increase in temperature from the increased greenhouse effect due to the increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will increase the overall greenhouse effect, which will lead to higher global temperatures. (Note: this is the key issue in the scientific dispute).
The skeptics’ argument as to why this model isn’t realistic:
Now we are back to the cloud issue. Skeptics argue that the higher levels of water vapor will produce more clouds, which will reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches Earth’s surface (due to the increased reflection of sunlight by the clouds), thus offsetting the enhanced greenhouse effect due to the increased water vapor.
Question 6: We know that the glaciers are melting; doesn’t this fact prove that climate change has occurred?
Answer: We know that a major climate change occurred about 10,000(?) 12,000(?) years ago when the last ice age ended. Glaciers have been melting since this global warming event began. We know that during the past ice age, virtually all non-tropical land masses were covered in glaciers.
One of the arguments between the ‘warmers’ and the ‘skeptics’ is whether or not climate change events such as the Medieval Climate Optimum and the Little Ice Age did- or did not- actually occur. If the Little Ice Age did in fact occur, as has been indicated by historical records, then presumably natural warming occurred during the 18th century that ended the Little Ice Age. There is some evidence of glacier advancement during the Little Ice Age that ended and was reversed at the end of the Little Ice Age.
Question: AARGH! At least we know how temperature changed during the 20th century, don’t we?
Answer: This is another point of contention. The problem is how ground-based temperatures were (and still are) measured. The issues are where the temperatures are measured, how they are measured and how much the temperatures are being influenced by near-by heat sources such as urbanization, pavement and possibly even cooking grills.
Skeptics argue that the only reliable temperature record is the one that uses data from weather satellites, as these avoid the problems discussed. Warmists tend to discount the satellite temperature record. The latest satellite-based temperature record is shown below; it should be noted that this data begins in 1979 as this was when the first satellite was launched. The ‘zero point’ on the horizontal axis is the average of this data from 1981 – 2010; when the line is above zero, the temperature is warmer than this 30 year average; when it is below, the temperature is lower than this 30 year average.
Note that although July 2012 may have been the warmest July in the US during the time period that modern temperature records have been produced, globally, July 2012 was 0.28o C warmer than the average global temperature during 1981 to 2010.
Models, Temperature Predictions and Realties
Warmists argue that their Global Climate (computer) models accurately describe Earth atmosphere and that the models’ predictions of future temperatures are accurate. Skeptics argue that the models do not accurately describe Earth atmosphere, particularly with respect to clouds and that the past predictions were not accurate. ♦
DR. NAIL is Chair of the Chemistry Department at Oklahoma City University
Watch closely as they shift–are there 12 or 13 men?
A Tale of Technology, Risks, and Unintended Consequences
Invited Post by John Nail, Ph.D.
Modern pharmaceutical drugs, along with other medical technologies, have doubled life expectancies during the past 100 years. There is a real possibility that the news media, politicians, lawyers and gullible jurors will put an end to these advances. The news media appears to enjoy reports of ‘dangerous products’ that the politicians embrace as it gives them a way of diverting attention from their own lack of competence. Trial lawyers earn their living by convincing gullible jurors that the ‘big companies’ are to blame for anything adverse that occurs when someone uses their product. Often, the result of the media and political orgy is that useful products are removed from the market. This is the story of a drug that was removed due to safety reasons and the possible unintended consequences of its removal. Before we proceed, we should note that 1) ALL technologies have unintended adverse consequences, 2) It is not possible to know what these consequences will be until large numbers of people start using (and abusing) the product, and 3) Decisions have unintended consequences, including often making a situation worse when trying to make it better.
Vioxx (generic name rofecoxib) was a prescription drug for the treatment of pain from osteoarthritis (this is the type of arthritis that occurs when bones are rubbing against each other). Vioxx was approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration on May 20, 1999; it was discontinued on September 30, 2004, due to concerns regarding cardiovascular problems (heart attacks and strokes) in patients that used the drug.
A considerable amount of testing is required before the FDA will approve the use of a new prescription drug. One of the pre-approval tests involving Vioxx was the ‘VIGOR’ study – a double-blind test in which one group of participants (the study group) was given Vioxx and the other, (the control group) naproxen, a non-prescription pain reliever. This trial found that the Vioxx group members who had pre-existing heart attack risk factors were four times more likely to have a heart attack than were the participants of the naproxen group with pre-existing heart heart attack risk factors. One interpretation of this result is that Vioxx causes heart attacks in people with heart disease risk factors; the other interpretation is that naproxen prevents heart attacks in people with heart disease risk factors. We know that aspirin prevents heart attacks, so it is reasonable to assume that naproxen prevents heart attacks. Interestingly, there was no difference between the two groups in regards to deaths from heart attacks, nor was there a difference between heart attack rates between the two groups in people who did not have heart attack risk factors. Thus, if a person has heart attack risk factors and should be taking a ‘baby’ aspirin each day, that person’s chance of a heart attack is four times higher if the person is taking Vioxx instead of naproxen.
APPROVe was another Vioxx clinical study in which the ‘control’ group was given a placebo (sugar pill). During this study, it was found that, after 18 months, the participants who were being given Vioxx were almost twice as likely to have a heart attack than were the participants who were being given sugar pills. However, the heart attack deaths (mortalities) were equivalent between the two groups. Thus, as in the VIGOR study, the rate of heart attacks were greater in the Vioxx group, but the rate of heart attack deaths were identical between the two groups. The APPROVe results and the resulting media uproar resulted in Vioxx being withdrawn from sale.
Bextra and Celebrix were Vioxx’s competitors. Bextra was withdrawn due to increased heart attack and stroke risks in patients who were taking Bextra while recovering from heart surgery. Celebrix is still being marketed, however, it has a ‘black box warning’ that it should be used only as a last resort on patients who have heart disease or a risk of developing heart disease.
One of the arguments for why Vioxx and Bextra should no longer be sold was that “osteoarthritis patients have other options for relieving their pain” – these other options are over the counter pain relievers (aspirin, naproxen, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc.), and opioids such as codeine, demerol and morphine. While opioids are among the most effective of all pain relievers, they have unintended effects such as narcosis (sleep inducement) and physical and psychological addition. Rush Limbaugh allegedly became psychologically addicted to opioids.
Recently, a study determined that switching osteoarthritis patients from Vioxx or Bextra to opioids has resulted in a fourfold increase in falls and broken bones in elderly osteoarthritis patients. A quote from an article in The Journal of Higher Education that discussed this increase in falls and broken bones,
“Somebody should have thought more carefully about the elderly before making these recommendations” (switching elderly osteoarthritis patients from drugs such as Vioxx to drugs such as codeine to control their pain), says Bruce N. Cronstein, a professor of medicine at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “Falls in an elderly population can be very dangerous, leading to long hospitalizations and even death.” ….”We don’t have wonderful alternatives for treating chronic pain”… Long treatment with aspirin or ibuprofen, for instance, often irritates and damages the digestive system…Falling down seems like one of the most obvious adverse effects, says Dr. Cronstein. “That’s not rocket science,” he notes. “The elderly are more frail. They have a host of factors that could lead to falls. If you add something that makes you a little unsteady, it increases the risk”
Thus, the choices for people with osteoarthritis are (and were) over the counter drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, that can cause digestive damage from long-term use, prescription narcotics that increase a person’s risk of falling by fourfold, or prescription drugs such as Vioxx that, in people with heart attack risks, increased their risk of heart attacks, however, these did not increase their risk of dying from a heart attack. The media and political storm that resulted in Vioxx and Bextra being removed from the market appears to have resulted in either more pain in osteoarthritis sufferers due to their not treating the pain, or the possibility / reality of digestive system damage, or increased use of opioid drugs which has produced an increase in falls and broken bones.
Elderly patients also don’t have the best of memories. This sometimes leads to accidental overdoes of opioid (and other drugs) due to a patient’s forgetting that they had already taken their pain pill for that day. It is also known that people often develop tolerances to opioid drugs, making these increasingly less effective.
I leave you with a comment uploaded to the discussion section from The Journal of Higher Education article:
‘“In addition to the danger of increased falls, the removal of Vioxx and Bextra from the market meant increased arthritis pain for millions of people (including me). The possibility of heart problems for some won out over the reality of pain for millions. I hope that not all medical decisions are made this way” John C.’
Unfortunately, this is how medical decisions are made during a media generated crisis. The next time that there is a media uproar about ‘dangerous medical products’, remember that the unintended consequences from the product’s alternatives may be worse than the product’s unintended consequences.
DR. NAIL is Chair of the Chemistry Department at Oklahoma City University
[*sing to the tune of The Witch is Dead]
Invited Post by John Nail, Ph.D.
On his September 14 show, Dr. Oz apparently claimed that apple juice contains large amounts of arsenic, making it unsafe for consumption, particularly for children. Previously, Dr. Oz has made claims about ‘unsafe’ amounts of contaminates in drinking water. While making claims of ‘____ (fill in the blank) is dangerous, we must protect the children from ____ (fill in the blank)’ may make for good daytime television, these claims are lousy science. Unfortunately, the typically American combination of poor thinking skills, pathetically poor science understanding and the ‘evil big business’ news story template make many people susceptible to accepting the scientifically unsupported, sensational claims made by entertainers such as Dr. Oz. Physicians such as Dr. Oz, a heart surgeon, rarely are scientists.
Yes, chemists can detect arsenic in apple juice; we can also detect arsenic in drinking water (both tap and bottled) and virtually every food, both ‘organic’ and conventional, in any supermarket, including Whole Foods. This ability to detect arsenic isn’t due to wide-spread arsenic contamination, it is more due to the incredible technology that allows Analytical Chemists to detect increasingly minute levels of chemical substances. Nowadays, we can almost always find any of the ‘bad’ substances in almost every food. The real issue is that minute amounts of bad substances are not necessarily harmful.
Decades ago, (real) scientists argued over the competing ‘Linear’ vs ‘Threshold’ hypotheses regarding exposure to toxic substances and exposure to radiation. Today, now that we can find almost every naturally-occurring toxic substance in everything, we’ve learned that the body has natural mechanisms for removing toxic substances and repairing damage from toxic substances. The ‘Threshold’ model, the assumption that permanent damage only occurs when the exposure happens faster than the body can fix things, is now widely supported. The ‘Linear’ model, in which it is assumed that any amount of exposure to a bad substance will cause some permanent damage, is only supported by government regulatory agencies, activist scientists and scientists whose scientific careers have been based on researching the effects of very low exposures. We’ve known for five centuries that ‘the dose makes the poison’, which means that everything (including water) is toxic in high enough amounts and nontoxic in low enough amounts.
Small amounts of arsenic (and other ‘bad’ substances, including radiation) are in our food and water because nature put them there. As an example, much of the soil in central Oklahoma contains naturally high amounts of arsenic.
Consider someone who lives in central Oklahoma and has high arsenic soil in their backyard. If an apple tree grows in the high arsenic soil, the apples produced by the tree will contain high amounts of arsenic, even if the tree is grown using ‘organic’ techniques (only chemicals produced by nature are used for fertilizer or pest control). The person who consumes the apples from the tree will be exposed to arsenic.
The Federal Government (EPA) set a limit of no more than 10 ppb (parts per billion) of arsenic for drinking water and mandates that the water in every municiple water distribution system be tested at least once every calendar quarter to measure the levels of ‘bad’ substances such as arsenic and chloroform. Operationally, no water distribution system would let water with an arsenic level of above 9 ppb go into the system; this ensures that the water stays below the 10 ppb level. One part per billion of arsenic in water (or apple juice) is 0.000001 gram of arsenic in one liter (effectively one quart) of water or apple juice. Water with the federally allowable limit of 10 ppb of arsenic contains 0.00001 gram of arsenic in each liter of water.
Dr. Oz claimed to have found as much as 23 ppb of arsenic in apple juice. The Federal Government (USDA and FDA) also monitors the amounts of ‘bad’ substances, such as arsenic in food. While the USDA and FDA don’t set absolute limits as does the EPA, they would be ‘concerned’ about apple juice that contained 23 ppb of arsenic; when the FDA test food products, they rarely find arsenic levels higher than 13 ppb. (http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=149396 ).
The USDA classifies a ‘serving’ of apple juice as one cup. Consider a child who drinks four cups of apple juice every day for ten years and that all of the apple juice that she drinks contains 23 ppb of arsenic. During this ten years, she would ingest a total of 0.083 grams of arsenic and 1,708,200 calories from the apple juice; 14,600 juice boxes would go to the landfill.
Some of our ancestors had to hunt wild animals and gather wild plants to keep from starving. Occasionally, instead of eating the wild animals, the wild animals ate them. Other ancestors had the relative comfort of being able to sometimes grow some of their own food. If the crop didn’t make, they often didn’t eat. Today, food more abundant and safe less expensive as it every has been during the history of mankind.
It appears that some people need something to worry about and Dr. Oz, as well as other entertainers, make a living by making mountains out of anthills.
DR. NAIL is Chair of the Chemistry Department at Oklahoma City University
Dr. Richard Wiseman
On December 28, 2005, on CNN’s Larry King Live I had this exchange with alleged psychic Sylvia Browne after another guest asked Sylvia the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden: (from the CNN transcript):
KING: All right, Dr. Farha what’s your complaint? I know you took on Sylvia in an article but what’s your complaint about the overall concept here?
FARHA: Well, first of all, let’s put this in perspective here. Last year on the Montel Williams Show, Sylvia predicted that Osama bin Laden is dead. I don’t know if Sylvia still thinks that or not but I’d sure like to know.
BROWNE: Yes, I do.
FARHA: My whole take on this is — OK, very good, well we’ll find out sometime Sylvia. We’ll find out.
Well, Sylvia—we found out. Of course we now know that he was clearly alive at the time of her 2004 prediction and he lived until early May of 2011. Add this to her recent idotic failed prediction that aliens would visit Earth by 2010. Another in the growing list of failed predictions by Sylvia Browne….