Pinterest quackery

October 21, 2014

I’m beginning to think Pinterest has become the wormhole through which junk science enters the universe.

Sample du jour: an “alkalizing foods” chart telling people they can lose weight and prevent cancer by consuming certain foods to make their blood more alkaline.

Among the supposed “alkalizing” substances: lemon juice.

Those of you who passed chemistry class might, at this point, be giving that sentence an epic side-eye. But wait! You don’t understand! See, you put the lemon juice in water, which raises its pH, so when you drink it, it “alkalizes” your body. Science!

o__O

o______O

o__________O

For those of you who flunked chemistry, let me explain:

Acids have a pH below 7.

Alkaline substances (a.k.a. bases) have a pH above 7.

Neutral substances have a pH right at 7. Pure water, for example, has a pH of 7.

When you add water to a strong acid, you get a weaker acid. When you add water to a strong base, you get a weaker base. You can’t convert an acid to a base (or vice versa) by diluting it. And you obviously can’t raise the pH of a substance by adding acid; that’s like trying to lighten paint by mixing in some more black.

Now for some biology:

Your blood is slightly alkaline, because blood is supposed to be slightly alkaline. The pH isn’t subject to the whims of your diet. If it were, a bag of Sour Patch Kids would probably kill you. The alkalinity of your blood doesn’t bounce around like your glucose level. It’s more like your body temperature: It has to remain within a very narrow window.

Even if your blood’s pH were subject to wild fluctuations, you couldn’t adjust it by means of diet, because anything you eat has to go through your stomach first, and your stomach is full of hydrochloric acid, diluted by your body to a pH somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5. To neutralize that, you’d basically (see what I just did there?) have to knock back a shot of Liquid Plum’r and chase it with a glass of Windex. I don’t recommend this, unless you’re just trying to die young, in the most horrifying possible manner.

What I’ve seen of the “alkalizing diet” isn’t particularly harmful on its face. It’s never a bad idea to go heavier on the vegetables and lighter on the aerosol cheese. But doing that won’t alter the pH of your blood — and it shouldn’t.

Emily


Folk Thursday: Tupac

October 9, 2014

For Devin, Joey and Tevin. Good luck in St. Louis this weekend, guys. I love you, and I am ridiculously proud of you for taking a stand. The root of the problems you’re trying to solve predates all of us, but I’ve known since the minute I set foot in Room 204 that if anybody can get this world moving in the right direction, my kids can.

Go save the world. <3

(And the rest of you: Say a prayer, light a candle, or just hold a good thought for my kids this weekend. They're planning to travel 400 miles to participate in a very large protest on a very controversial issue, and things could get … tense.)

Love,
Ms. Priddy

P.S.: I realize Tupac isn't folk, but his lyrics are at least as powerful as anything Bob Dylan or Joan Baez ever had to say. I'm just sorry they're still relevant. I'd hoped they'd be obsolete by this point, but we still have a long way to go.


Follow your bliss.

February 7, 2014

“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.”
— Richard Bach

I’ve been having a conversation with a former student on Facebook about the difference between following your dreams and following the dreams other people are projecting onto you.

Throughout your life, just about everybody you encounter is going to have an opinion about what you should be doing with your life and what “success” is going to look like for you.

Understand two things:

1. You are never going to please those people.
2. You are not obligated to please those people.

I have had people give me the side-eye because I don’t have a master’s degree. I have had people give me the side-eye because I’m not on the evening news. I have had people give me the side-eye because I’m a [insert current job title] instead of a [insert higher-paying or more prestigious job title].

You know what those people have in common?

THEY DON’T KNOW MY LIFE.

I don’t have a master’s degree because I have no need for a master’s degree. It won’t get me a raise or make me a better reporter. At this point, a stats class and an Adobe Illustrator workshop would be far more useful. When I point that out, I get a mouthful of platitudes about the personal growth that comes from being a lifelong learner. Never mind that since I got my bachelor’s degree in 1997, I have studied dog training, horseback riding, distance running, martial arts, neon sign repair, metaphysics, trig, calculus, acoustic guitar, and the history of U.S. 66, all purely for sh*ts and giggles. Apparently it doesn’t count as “lifelong learning” if it doesn’t have an expiration date.

I’m not on the evening news because I’m a print journalist, not a broadcaster. I’ve never taken a broadcasting class, never applied for a broadcasting job, and never said anything that would imply admiration or, really, even a modicum of respect for that profession. Being disappointed that a newspaper reporter isn’t on the evening news makes about as much sense as being disappointed that Andre Dawson never won a gold medal in figure skating.

I’m not wherever it is someone else wants me to be, doing whatever it is someone else thinks I should be doing, because I am too busy enjoying what I’m doing here and now.

Wherever you go, and whatever you do, someone is always going to be more than happy to project his own hopes, dreams, disappointments, priorities and expectations onto you if you’ll let him.

Don’t.

Emily


Mathematical misconceptions

January 12, 2014

As an old math teacher, I was more than a little concerned by some of the comments I saw on a stats-driven story we ran in the paper today. Because the misconceptions I saw in the comments are fairly common — and because some of my former students read this blog — I thought it might be worthwhile to address a couple of the more egregious examples here, for the benefit of anyone who has slept since freshman algebra.

Misconception 1: If you don’t have data for the full year, any conclusions you draw based on that data are statistically invalid.

Reality: Full-year stats are nice to have, but as long as you’re comparing apples to apples, you can draw meaningful conclusions without them. If I compared an 11-month period in one year to full-year data for another year, my conclusions would be invalid. But if I compare an 11-month period in one year to the same 11-month period for several preceding years, I can make valid comparisons even if I don’t have that twelfth month.

Misconception 2: If numbers look bigger, they are.

Reality: Not necessarily. Remember fractions? Ratios? Decimals? Let’s look at some examples:

1/2 is bigger than 1/3, and 1/3 is bigger than 1/4.

If your odds of something happening are 1 in 14 (which can also be expressed as 1:14 or 1/14), then that thing is more likely to occur than if your odds of it happening are 1 in 18 (1:18 or 1/18).

At least one reader didn’t understand that. He was convinced that even though the number of crimes in a given jurisdiction had gone down from one year to the next, the crime rate — expressed in the article and accompanying chart as a ratio of crimes to population, reduced to lowest terms — had gone up. I assume he drew this conclusion by looking at the second number in each ratio. Since that second number got bigger, he thought that meant the crime rate was going up.

These folks aren’t alone in their confusion. A lot of people don’t understand how stats work — which makes them easy targets for unscrupulous people who do.

You shouldn’t trust stats blindly, because they can be manipulated, and people can make mathematical errors. But you don’t have to be afraid of them, either. Statistical data can be incredibly useful, but it’s hard to use a tool if you don’t know how it works.

Emily


Bullying: Prologue

November 4, 2013

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the effect of bullying on kids. I don’t know whether it’s gotten any worse since I was a kid. I do know its consequences have become more apparent, forcing adults to pay more attention to it and make a better effort to intervene when they see it happening. The issue has come up again on my Facebook timeline because a 15-year-old boy in my dad’s hometown committed suicide last month, citing bullying as the reason.

Beginning when I was 7, and continuing for the better end of a decade, I endured near-constant ridicule by my peers.

I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that I was being bullied. In the ’80s and early ’90s, a bully was someone who shoved you down or beat you up. People who called you names weren’t bullies; they were just a pain in the ass. (As a society, we took a while to figure out that sometimes a pain in the ass is a serious injury.)

Admittedly, my ugly-duckling phase was spectacular by any metric, and asking a bunch of immature brats to overlook it would have been a wholly unrealistic request — but regardless of the relative accuracy of their comments, my peers’ tactless behavior left scars, some of which I’m just discovering 20 or 30 years later.

For instance:

I am desperately uncomfortable in social settings that involve large groups.

I rarely trust people when they compliment my appearance — and if I do believe them, my first instinct is to deflect the praise.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor.

I don’t dance.

I cuss like a sonofabitch.

I would rather chew off my own leg than let anybody see my tears.

That last bit is why I am not particularly looking forward to the project I’m about to do.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at each of these battle scars — partly to satisfy my own curiosity about the shapes they took, but mostly because I’m sick of hearing about kids closing the book before they get to the good parts, and if the story of how I survived a decade of verbal attacks and grew up to have the world by the tail can keep even one kid from killing himself over somebody else’s bullsh*t, then I need to suck it up and tell that story, even if it means giving up some secrets I’d rather keep.

Stay tuned. We’re finna kill some dragons.

Emily


Remember when?

May 24, 2013

This post is an open letter to the Daniel Webster High School Class of 2013:

Dear Seniors,

I love you with all my heart and wish I could be there to celebrate with you, but life — as you are learning — is a vibrant, glorious parade of unexpected adventures that help us grow into our potential, and like you, I am still growing and learning and moving forward. My adventures have taken me to my mom’s hometown to work for the newspaper there.

I didn’t expect to leave Tulsa quite so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect to find my way back home, but life has a way of sending us where we need to go at that moment, whether we’re expecting it or not. Some of you will end up exactly where you thought you’d be in 10 years. Most of you probably won’t. All of you will change the world, just as you’ve been doing since the day you put those protest slogans on notecards and stapled them to the bulletin board in sophomore English.

As your time at Webster draws to a close and you head out on your own adventures, I’d like to look back with my own set of “remember whens.”

Remember when Alex made that Venn diagram comparing and contrasting Chewbacca and Sasquatch?

Remember when Gabbie talked me into participating in Day of Silence? I didn’t know it was possible to disrupt class without making a single sound, but Keyonna managed to do it.

Remember when we came back from Christmas break to find a mysterious stench in my classroom, and Chasity decided the ghost must have spent the whole break eating Mexican food?

Remember Carmen’s crush on Coach Williams?

Remember when Dionne, Kalynn, and Keyonna translated Hamlet into modern English?

Remember breakfast in the classroom?

Hey, Jasmine — remember Jerome in advisory?

Remember Meeyotch the class fish?

Remember Chris and Ricky’s “that’s what SHE said” jokes? (Why would she say THAT?)

Hey, Anthony — remember when Daryl was “fit’nna rag”?

Remember Fernando’s ironic hat?

Remember the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Remember That Guy?

There are not many things I am sure of in this crazy world, but here is a thing I know: No member of the Daniel Webster High School Class of 2013 will grow up to be That Guy. You are some of the smartest, sweetest, funniest, and most passionate people I have ever known. I love you all, and I am ridiculously proud of you.

Love,
Ms. Priddy


Madison

May 3, 2013

Today was glorious — chilly and drizzly, but just right for a trip to Makanda to wander through Dave Dardis’ secret garden. Dave has put in a new gallery next to Rainmaker Studio to display his work, and it’s really nice. A precocious fourth-grader named Madison, who apparently is a frequent flyer on the Boardwalk, decided I needed a guided tour.

You have not lived until you have experienced the Makanda Boardwalk through the eyes of a little girl with a big imagination. What an awesome place for a kid to hang out.

Madison and I had a very artsy, creative conversation that I am pretty sure inspired both of us. She has been studying Greek mythology at school, and she thought one of Dave’s sculptures — a woodcarving of a woman’s face with little brass people scurrying over it — represented Mother Earth and her children. Can you imagine? Fourth grade, and she’s already looking at esoteric sculptures and expounding on their underlying symbolism. As an old scholar bowl coach, the first thing I thought was, “Somebody needs to put this kid on a buzzer.” But when I suggested that she try out for her school’s team in a few years, she said she didn’t think she could do something like that, because she was in special ed.

Do I have to tell you what Mama Bear thought about whoever put that idea in this child’s head?

I assured her that I had known some awesome players who were in special ed, and if she thought something sounded like fun, she should go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

It really bugs me that people act as if a learning disability somehow disqualifies a kid from being gifted. Hell, I’m convinced that half the things we classify as “disabilities” are just gifts we don’t know how to use. We don’t know what to do with them, so we slap a negative label on them and try to train or drug them out of kids because it’s easier than trying to figure out how to harness lightning. And in the process, we end up introducing the false god of “I can’t” to a 10-year-old who spontaneously interprets modern art through the lens of ancient literature and articulates her findings to a receptive stranger.

Sometimes I really hate our educational system.

Emily


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