November 9, 2008 8:09 AM Subscribe

A math professor was explaining a particularly complicated calculus concept to his class when a frustrated pre-med student interrupts him. "Why do we have to learn this stuff?" the pre-med blurts out. The professor pauses, and answers matter-of-factly: "Because math saves lives." "How?" demanded the student. "How on Earth does calculus save lives?" "Because," replied the professor, "it keeps certain people out of medical school."

posted by cthuljew (82 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

posted by cthuljew (82 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

I like the medschool joke.

posted by paisley henosis at 8:17 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by paisley henosis at 8:17 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mathematicians aren't very good at subject-verb agreement apparently.

posted by giraffe at 8:19 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by giraffe at 8:19 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was a biology major in calculus, upper level bio, and chemistry classes with mostly premeds. That joke is not so much a joke as actual truth.

posted by Tehanu at 8:26 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

posted by Tehanu at 8:26 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

If you aren't using calculus every day, I question whether you even have a life.

posted by DU at 8:41 AM on November 9, 2008 [12 favorites]

posted by DU at 8:41 AM on November 9, 2008 [12 favorites]

Med School Joke I heard once:

What do you call the person who graduates last in their class at med school?* Doctor *

posted by quanta and qualia at 8:46 AM on November 9, 2008 [23 favorites]

What do you call the person who graduates last in their class at med school?

posted by quanta and qualia at 8:46 AM on November 9, 2008 [23 favorites]

Actually, it wouldn't be tedious and pointless. Or at least, no more so than American-style football is anyway. The 50 yard line-segment runs perpendicular to the direction of play; while it might be pointless to define it as a line extending infinitely in either direction, it would ultimately be irrelevant, since most of that would be outside the defined playing field anyway.

Yes, I go to an MIT-type school. Why do you ask?

posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:48 AM on November 9, 2008 [10 favorites]

NNNNNEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!

posted by Aquaman at 8:49 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by Aquaman at 8:49 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Man, I made a calculus joke the other day, and I've never seen one go worse.

Setting: A meeting about getting trainees to interact more with people from other classes.

Program director: "Our students have great horizontal integration, but the vertical integration is poor."

Me: "That's to be expected, Lebesgue integration is a much more advanced concept."

Room: ...

Physics person: {chuckle}

posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:49 AM on November 9, 2008 [42 favorites]

Did you hear about the constipated mathematician? He worked it out with a pencil.

(apologies if it is included in the long list. My 6th grade math teacher used to tell that joke all the time.)

posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:59 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

(apologies if it is included in the long list. My 6th grade math teacher used to tell that joke all the time.)

posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:59 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a mathemagician. Now watch as I make this remainder disappear!

posted by Astro Zombie at 9:01 AM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by Astro Zombie at 9:01 AM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

No he doesn't. He cubes the circumference and divides by 6 * pi squared.

posted by DU at 9:07 AM on November 9, 2008

I never understood how Iran, Iraq, and North Korea could be the Axis of Evil when they're scattered all over a curved surface.

posted by lukemeister at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2008 [27 favorites]

posted by lukemeister at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2008 [27 favorites]

Bit of a shame if somebody got kept our of medical school because they couldn't do volume integrals or whatever. There are more relevant skills than ability to solve calculus problems for potential doctors, such as being good with people, strong desire to help others, willing to work your ass off, and I suppose ability to assimilate and retain a lot of academic facts.

Mathematical ability (ability to abstract, visualize, generalize, do abstruse manipulations with weird looking little symbols etc.) is just irrelevant. It shouldn't be used as some sort of IQ filter as the joke in the summary implies, since mathematical ability is not really correlated that well with the skills a doctor needs.

posted by snoktruix at 9:18 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mathematical ability (ability to abstract, visualize, generalize, do abstruse manipulations with weird looking little symbols etc.) is just irrelevant. It shouldn't be used as some sort of IQ filter as the joke in the summary implies, since mathematical ability is not really correlated that well with the skills a doctor needs.

posted by snoktruix at 9:18 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

In addition to what spaceman says above, interestingly the goal line is in fact a line, and extends past the sideline. As long as you don't hit the ground, if you cross that line (in or out of bounds) then it's a touchdown. (Any other time, you're marked down where the ball first crosses the sideline.)

posted by inigo2 at 9:18 AM on November 9, 2008

Calculus isn't an IQ filter. It's a tool you need to study the physics, chemistry, biology and biochemistry required to be a doctor. Medicine isn't (just) the laying on of hands. There's a lot of science there and calculus is like the hammer of science. You just can't get anywhere without it.

(MetaFilter: the hammer of science)

posted by DU at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2008 [16 favorites]

(MetaFilter: the hammer of science)

posted by DU at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2008 [16 favorites]

funny jokes, but man is that site annoying to navigate

posted by Large Marge at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2008

posted by Large Marge at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2008

s/line/plane

Or rather the planar equivalent of a ray, since you must be/hold the ball above the ground for it to count. If it were a plane, you could tunnel through the earth to reach it.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

What's the base of cephalopod logarithms?

Squee!

posted by lukemeister at 9:31 AM on November 9, 2008

Squee!

posted by lukemeister at 9:31 AM on November 9, 2008

Exactly. Drug efficacy, knowing the chance of success of a particular treatment, the electro chemical guts of your typical cell all are understood via calculus.

It's true that on a day-to-day basis your typical doctor isn't finding much area under a curve, but it is critical to have a good understanding of how we know certain things, and in other cases why we don't.

Also? It separates real medicine from crap like homeopathy.

(oh hey. this post links to a bunch of jokes. I like jokes)

posted by device55 at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's true that on a day-to-day basis your typical doctor isn't finding much area under a curve, but it is critical to have a good understanding of how we know certain things, and in other cases why we don't.

Also? It separates real medicine from crap like homeopathy.

(oh hey. this post links to a bunch of jokes. I like jokes)

posted by device55 at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

i agree - dr kevorkian would have never made a career of it if he hadn't understood poisson distribution

posted by pyramid termite at 9:33 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

Can somebody explain the second variant of the Two Mathematicians Walk Into A Bar joke - what's "anticommutative"? Looked it up, don't get it.

posted by facetious at 9:44 AM on November 9, 2008

posted by facetious at 9:44 AM on November 9, 2008

Some mathematics would be important for doctors working in medical research, I suppose.

Mostly statistics, linear algebra and maybe some differential equations, but school level stuff. I tend to think linear algebra is far more practically useful than calculus. It crops up everywhere.

posted by snoktruix at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2008

Mostly statistics, linear algebra and maybe some differential equations, but school level stuff. I tend to think linear algebra is far more practically useful than calculus. It crops up everywhere.

posted by snoktruix at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2008

Linear algebra and differential equations may be more useful than calculus, snoktruix, but I find it very difficult to believe that one could get a solid understanding of either without it.

posted by chimaera at 10:00 AM on November 9, 2008

posted by chimaera at 10:00 AM on November 9, 2008

That's known as a half-plane.

Also, calculus is important for doctors because a solid grounding in calculus is important for understanding probability and statistics, which are absolutely essential skills for all doctors. Without an understanding of probability and statistics it is virtually impossible to reason critically about medical research or make good judgments about risky treatments.

posted by jedicus at 10:03 AM on November 9, 2008

You need calculus-- at least at a first-semester level, I'm not talking the more advanced stuff math majors take-- to understand the other sciences. And you need some biology, chemistry, and physics to understand how the human body works. Calculus is one of the courses that lays the basework for those others.

Mathematics is different from statistics. Most doctors should be more fluent in statistics than they currently are. But unless they did some research before med school or picked a research-track career path, most aren't all that strong in statistics.

posted by Tehanu at 10:04 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mathematics is different from statistics. Most doctors should be more fluent in statistics than they currently are. But unless they did some research before med school or picked a research-track career path, most aren't all that strong in statistics.

posted by Tehanu at 10:04 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

facetious, we're finding (a+b)*(a+b), where the * distributes over the +. The answer is a*a + a*b + b*a + b*b. If we're talking about addition and multiplication over everyday numbers, then a and b commute, which means a*b = b*a. Then the answer is a*a + 2a*b + b*b. However, mathematicians will use the same symbols to represent other operations over a different domain, where it might be the case that a and b *anticommute*, so that a*b = - b*a. In this case, the cross terms drop out and the answer is a*a + b*b.

posted by 7segment at 10:05 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by 7segment at 10:05 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

"anticommutative" means that ba = -ab. So, in the expansion of (a+b)^{2}, you get a^{2} + ab + ba + b^{2} = a^{2} + ab - ab + b^{2} = a^{2} + b^{2}. There are some good maths jokes around, but these aren't them.

posted by warpy at 10:07 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by warpy at 10:07 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

The link has my two favorite math jokes. Version 2 of building a fence and counting people.

posted by jedicus at 10:08 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by jedicus at 10:08 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

pyramid termite,

A friend gave a talk in Paris in which he referred to "fish statistics" instead of "Poisson statistics". He was trying to make a joke. It did not end well.

posted by lukemeister at 10:10 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

They're the planar axis of a four-dimensional terrorspace. Duh. GWB ain't so dumb now, is he?

posted by Aquaman at 10:10 AM on November 9, 2008 [10 favorites]

A cop pulls a car over and asks to see a driver's license. He looks at it and asks "Dr. Heisenberg, do you know how fast you were going?" Dr. Heisenberg answers, "I have no idea. But I know precisely where I was."

Later the cop pulls a second car over, and after looking at the driver's license says "Dr. Schroedinger, I noticed you were driving erratically. Do you mind if I search your car?" Dr. Schroedinger gives him permission. After searching, he comes back to the driver's window. "Dr. Schroedinger, are you aware that there's a dead cat in your trunk?" Dr. Schroedinger says, "Well, there is*now."*

posted by Killick at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2008 [70 favorites]

Later the cop pulls a second car over, and after looking at the driver's license says "Dr. Schroedinger, I noticed you were driving erratically. Do you mind if I search your car?" Dr. Schroedinger gives him permission. After searching, he comes back to the driver's window. "Dr. Schroedinger, are you aware that there's a dead cat in your trunk?" Dr. Schroedinger says, "Well, there is

posted by Killick at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2008 [70 favorites]

snoktruix: *Mostly statistics, linear algebra and maybe some differential equations, but school level stuff. I tend to think linear algebra is far more practically useful than calculus.*

Here, I disagree. Calculus is a prerequisite for understanding statistics and physics beyond a cookbook level. Which is what I want when my doctor is evaluating trial studies in JAMA or proposing manipulating chunks of radioactive cobalt near my body.

And I don't think Calculus is that hard. Algebra with its complex transformations is worse, as is Trigonometry.

posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:21 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here, I disagree. Calculus is a prerequisite for understanding statistics and physics beyond a cookbook level. Which is what I want when my doctor is evaluating trial studies in JAMA or proposing manipulating chunks of radioactive cobalt near my body.

And I don't think Calculus is that hard. Algebra with its complex transformations is worse, as is Trigonometry.

posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:21 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

In addition to the reasons why physicians ought to know calculus proper, studying a more advanced level of any subject improves the mastery of the subordinate skills needed to work in that subject. Someone who has had calculus will understand algebra better than someone who has only had algebra.

posted by grouse at 10:43 AM on November 9, 2008

posted by grouse at 10:43 AM on November 9, 2008

I have to disagree a little bit about the importance to a functional knowledge of calculus to the practicing physician.

Sure, calculus may be the "underpinning" of a lot of the science a physician uses. But I think you could probably settle this question by simply quizzing a thousand practicing physicians and finding most of them probably couldn't integrate their way out of a brown paper bag anymore. They don't need functional calculus skills to do what they do, in general.

Similarly, a two semester course in organic chemistry underpins an understanding of pharmacology. But ask a thousand practicing pharmacologists about Friedel Crafts alkylation and you'd get blank stares from most of them, I'm sure.

A plumber may be superior at his job. But he doesn't really need to be able to calculate the laminar flow of water at the boundary layer of a copper tube in order to repair a broken pipe in your house. Similarly, a watchmaker doesn't need to be able to derive Hooke's Law from fundamental principles in order to be a master horologer.

That's not to say that physicians shouldn't have studied and understood calculus at some point in their education. I think they should have, for the reasons mentioned. It's just that unless they're in medical research, a physician functionally needs more algebra and statistics, day to day, than calculus skills.

posted by darkstar at 10:48 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

Sure, calculus may be the "underpinning" of a lot of the science a physician uses. But I think you could probably settle this question by simply quizzing a thousand practicing physicians and finding most of them probably couldn't integrate their way out of a brown paper bag anymore. They don't need functional calculus skills to do what they do, in general.

Similarly, a two semester course in organic chemistry underpins an understanding of pharmacology. But ask a thousand practicing pharmacologists about Friedel Crafts alkylation and you'd get blank stares from most of them, I'm sure.

A plumber may be superior at his job. But he doesn't really need to be able to calculate the laminar flow of water at the boundary layer of a copper tube in order to repair a broken pipe in your house. Similarly, a watchmaker doesn't need to be able to derive Hooke's Law from fundamental principles in order to be a master horologer.

That's not to say that physicians shouldn't have studied and understood calculus at some point in their education. I think they should have, for the reasons mentioned. It's just that unless they're in medical research, a physician functionally needs more algebra and statistics, day to day, than calculus skills.

posted by darkstar at 10:48 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

Jedicus, it took me a few seconds to get that "Counting People" joke. When I did, it was like unwrapping a present. :)

posted by darkstar at 10:53 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by darkstar at 10:53 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a big difference between what you need to know to practice medicine and what you need to know to do medical research. That's why most countries allow you to become a practicing doctor with a bachelor's degree (in medicine). In some respects, American doctors are overtrained for primary care.

posted by BinGregory at 11:01 AM on November 9, 2008

posted by BinGregory at 11:01 AM on November 9, 2008

A mathematician and a physicist are on an airplane, looking out their respective windows.

The physicist says "Look! Brown cows in Iowa".

The mathematician, on the other side of the plane sees the same scene and says, "In the midwest, there exist cows, brown on top".

/mathjoke

posted by FauxScot at 11:20 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

The physicist says "Look! Brown cows in Iowa".

The mathematician, on the other side of the plane sees the same scene and says, "In the midwest, there exist cows, brown on top".

/mathjoke

posted by FauxScot at 11:20 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

As I scan this thread, I see the need for a whole lot of wedgies reaching critical mass.

posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2008 [7 favorites]

posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2008 [7 favorites]

Calculus and memes combine in both Newton and Leibniz versions.

posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:32 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:32 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Even the 404 is funny!

Marisa stole...: yeah, but you're outnumbered here, so I wouldn't count on the nerds being the recipients this time...

posted by Xezlec at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2008

Marisa stole...: yeah, but you're outnumbered here, so I wouldn't count on the nerds being the recipients this time...

posted by Xezlec at 11:34 AM on November 9, 2008

I really don't understand how someone with enough work ethic to be a doctor (a truly ridiculous amount) doesn't have enough to force themselves to learn calculus. Unless you have some sort of learning disability, it's not really that hard. If they did one imagines they could get the requirement waved, assuming it only affected math.

While I'd personally bet that over 95% of doctors have forgotten way too much calculus to use it practically in any sense, and probably 75% never learned it well enough to ever do so, I tend to think it should be necessary so that they can understand what calculus is and what it does. As long as you know what math can do, you can always find someone better at it than yourself to actually do it.

posted by Mitrovarr at 11:35 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

While I'd personally bet that over 95% of doctors have forgotten way too much calculus to use it practically in any sense, and probably 75% never learned it well enough to ever do so, I tend to think it should be necessary so that they can understand what calculus is and what it does. As long as you know what math can do, you can always find someone better at it than yourself to actually do it.

posted by Mitrovarr at 11:35 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not entirely certain that the actual mechanics of calculus are all that useful in day-to-day practice as an MD.

But the type of problem-solving that you have to be able to do to pass calculus, the way you have to make your brain work in order to understand the concepts and apply them, the amount of concentration devoted to a problem and the methodical working-out of that problem -- that's necessary.

Taking advanced math and science courses changes the way you approach and solve problems, makes you break down problems in a methodical and practical way. Since I took advanced chemistry and physics courses, I have noticed definite improvements in my skills at cooking, sewing, carpentry, personal finance, and fixing stuff. Math and science teach transferable skills.

posted by jennyjenny at 11:36 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

But the type of problem-solving that you have to be able to do to pass calculus, the way you have to make your brain work in order to understand the concepts and apply them, the amount of concentration devoted to a problem and the methodical working-out of that problem -- that's necessary.

Taking advanced math and science courses changes the way you approach and solve problems, makes you break down problems in a methodical and practical way. Since I took advanced chemistry and physics courses, I have noticed definite improvements in my skills at cooking, sewing, carpentry, personal finance, and fixing stuff. Math and science teach transferable skills.

posted by jennyjenny at 11:36 AM on November 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

Hey guys! What's the square root of 69?

8 something.

Har, har. Got that one from graffiti on the wall of my nerd high school.

posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:36 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

8 something.

Har, har. Got that one from graffiti on the wall of my nerd high school.

posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:36 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I once sat in on a biomedical engineering conference back when I thought I was any good at engineering. Seeing how all the devices used work, and all the clever math behind them, I can see why fairly advanced math is needed. It's one thing to know how to use a device, and another thing to understand how it works. It's understanding that separates the technicians from the experts in nearly every field, and I'd personally much rather have an expert diagnose me than a person who merely reads the numbers and picks the diagnosis that closest lines up.

posted by mccarty.tim at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2008

posted by mccarty.tim at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2008

I have never meted out a wedgie in my life. The occasional wet willie, even a purple nurple now and then, but as a drama/lit mag nerd, I was more wedgee than wedger.

posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:45 AM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fixed that for me. I was actually told in class that the purpose of calculus was to make sure the engineers that couldn't cut it flunked out. My geology major buddies and I dropped that class that day, filed a complaint with the department, and then found a professor willing to help us.

posted by Big_B at 11:47 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a grape?

*Elephant grape sin theta.*

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a mountain climber?

*You can't--a mountain climber is a scaler.*

What is gray and huge and has integer coefficients?

*An elephantine equation.*

What’s purple and commutes?

*An abelian grape.*

What's the integral of "one over cabin" with respect to "cabin"?

*Natural log cabin + c = houseboat*

Why did the mathematician name his dog “Cauchy”?

*Because he left a residue at every pole.*

Why didn’t Newton discover group theory?

*Because he wasn’t Abel.*

posted by neda at 12:05 PM on November 9, 2008 [11 favorites]

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a mountain climber?

What is gray and huge and has integer coefficients?

What’s purple and commutes?

What's the integral of "one over cabin" with respect to "cabin"?

Why did the mathematician name his dog “Cauchy”?

Why didn’t Newton discover group theory?

posted by neda at 12:05 PM on November 9, 2008 [11 favorites]

Not to get all anal, but, not surprisingly for Second City given where they come from, the sketch has nothing to do with MIT, it's the University of Chicago, original home of the "Monsters of the Midway" before dropping its football program entirely in 1939 (at which point the nickname got transfered to the Bears).

Severn Darden, a U of C alum, wrote several heavily intellectual sketches for Second City, of which one was

posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:07 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wait, what? I thought calculus is vital to almost every kind of engineering..

posted by naju at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2008

Hey, these are like drummer jokes for people that can't play guitar!

posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2008

posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:11 PM on November 9, 2008

f(x) = 2x + 3 walks into a bar.

The barman says: "sorry, mate, we don't cater for functions."

posted by liquidindian at 12:30 PM on November 9, 2008 [4 favorites]

The barman says: "sorry, mate, we don't cater for functions."

posted by liquidindian at 12:30 PM on November 9, 2008 [4 favorites]

Funnily enough, all the mathematicians I know play the guitar rather well, while I, a drummer, reached the limit of my mathematical capabilities at entry-level trigonometry.

As far as I'm concerned, these

posted by Sys Rq at 12:36 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't mean it was a deliberately difficult weed-out course. Been there, done that, hate that attitude in faculty. I just mean that there is a certain glamor about med school, and premed prerequisite courses get a whole bunch of people with not even a passing interest in science or biology, no analytical capability whatsoever, and no discipline to work through courses they need but don't particularly like. The first course that pure memorization can't float them through is a barrier for those people. Calculus is one of those courses.

posted by Tehanu at 12:54 PM on November 9, 2008

Organic chemistry is another of those courses.

It's not intentionally a "weed out" course, but it functions as one. Folks who manage to sail through their other classes without being very diligent students get to O-chem and find it a whole new ball game.

O-chem requires a kind of ability to systematize and understand (not to mention memorize) a large amount of information that echoes the kind of learning they'll have to do in med school. So even though physicians may not ever have to remember how do run an aldol condensation, and didn't need the info past their MCAT test, success in o-chem is a good rough indicator of the ability to succeed in med school courses.

As cruel as it may sound to say it, it's probably better for students to learn that in their sophomore year as an undergraduate, when they're struggling with calculus and organic chemistry, rather than finding out in their first year of med school, after they've invested much more into their putative career path.

posted by darkstar at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's not intentionally a "weed out" course, but it functions as one. Folks who manage to sail through their other classes without being very diligent students get to O-chem and find it a whole new ball game.

O-chem requires a kind of ability to systematize and understand (not to mention memorize) a large amount of information that echoes the kind of learning they'll have to do in med school. So even though physicians may not ever have to remember how do run an aldol condensation, and didn't need the info past their MCAT test, success in o-chem is a good rough indicator of the ability to succeed in med school courses.

As cruel as it may sound to say it, it's probably better for students to learn that in their sophomore year as an undergraduate, when they're struggling with calculus and organic chemistry, rather than finding out in their first year of med school, after they've invested much more into their putative career path.

posted by darkstar at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

It is fine for a university to require all of its graduates to demonstrate some sort of quantitative reasoning skills. Such requirements are part of the robustness of our educational system. But there are other ways of satisfying that requirement. Surely there are other classes besides Calculus which use quantitative reasoning skills. Or, maybe high school math is enough, in which case the university could say something like "if you pass this high school math competency exam, then you satisfy the requirement."

posted by metastability at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2008

posted by metastability at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2008

Um. I took calculus in high school. Calculus is like the stepping stone math course between high school and college. So I think we're already doing that. And the idea of making a lower level high school math course a sufficient requirement for med school would be setting students up for failure in courses like physics, which are required by med schools.

posted by Tehanu at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2008

posted by Tehanu at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2008

DU: "*If you aren't using calculus every day, I question whether you even have a life.*"

I don't even know what calculus*is*, and I'm doing okay. I didn't get many of these jokes, though.

posted by jack_mo at 2:20 PM on November 9, 2008

I don't even know what calculus

posted by jack_mo at 2:20 PM on November 9, 2008

I always understood the calculus joke to mean that it keeps mathematicians out of med school, not dumb med students out of college.

posted by cthuljew at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2008

posted by cthuljew at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2008

> *Calculus is like the stepping stone math course between high school and college.*

Most of the high-school educators in the Good Ole' South don't agree with this sentiment.

Johnny don't need nun 'uh that there fancy book-lernin' to get hisself a football scholarship.

The linked jokes are fun. Thanks, cthuljew!

posted by simoncion at 2:32 PM on November 9, 2008

Most of the high-school educators in the Good Ole' South don't agree with this sentiment.

Johnny don't need nun 'uh that there fancy book-lernin' to get hisself a football scholarship.

The linked jokes are fun. Thanks, cthuljew!

posted by simoncion at 2:32 PM on November 9, 2008

Johnny don't need nun 'uh that there fancy book-lernin' to get hisself a football scholarship.

I took AP Calculus in TN. The Good Ole' South is not what you think, in an ever-increasing number of ways. You might have noticed if you'd observed the region more and your preconceptions about it less.

posted by Tehanu at 2:52 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sometimes it is. In my university, faculty referred to it as a "gatekeeper" course which is a euphemism for "weed-out" as far as I can tell. There are limited resources to teach courses beyond this level (both within chemistry, or in allied fields such as medicine that require organic chemistry) and having people fail earlier rather than later saves time and resources for everyone—the university, the student, and their fellow students.

posted by grouse at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

heh heh, at art school the weed-out course wasn't difficult, it was just scheduled at 8:30 Monday morning. It worked. I ended up studying psychology.

posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:02 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:02 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't have a problem with an inherently difficult course serving as a gatekeeper. O Chem is one of those that can do that on its own merits. What I don't think is right is making a course deliberately difficult in order to serve that function. I once TAed for an intro bio course that was pretty systematically botched. Its problems were a result of a lot of mismanagement, too many students with far too limited resources, and an outdated approach to the lab material. The problems were not created or exacerbated to create a gate, but there were only slow and very partial attempts to fix any of them because the course was considered acceptable as long as a certain proportion of students was making it through and a certain proportion was not. There's a difference between a O Chem or Intro Bio course that is used as a weedout and a course that is made to be one or left broken to serve as one. Certain science courses are going to be the decision-making point for most students not matter what, but making the course not just difficult in terms of material (I am all for setting the bar high) but difficult in terms of the student experience not only filters the entrance to a discipline, but often fosters bitterness toward the subject area in general.

posted by Tehanu at 5:04 PM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by Tehanu at 5:04 PM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

I was a premed and loved calculus. Looking back, it's a shame I didn't have more time in undergrad to study more advanced mathematics. I get by now just piecing together bits of analysis, group theory, and topology from math blogs in my (vanishingly small) free time.

I once worked a summer with a physicist doing high schooler physics gruntwork. He told me about his mentor, who once said "I can't even remember a time when I didn't know how to integrate."

I sort of feel the same way about doing a physical exam. I wish I felt that way about integration.

posted by adoarns at 5:23 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I once worked a summer with a physicist doing high schooler physics gruntwork. He told me about his mentor, who once said "I can't even remember a time when I didn't know how to integrate."

I sort of feel the same way about doing a physical exam. I wish I felt that way about integration.

posted by adoarns at 5:23 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just think how much better you could be doing.

posted by DU at 5:52 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I get it, because the guy fails math and winds up in front of the operating table with scalpel in hand, thinking to himself "Is it two *kidneys*, or two *livers*?"

posted by turgid dahlia at 7:05 PM on November 9, 2008

posted by turgid dahlia at 7:05 PM on November 9, 2008

metastability: *Or, maybe high school math is enough, in which case the university could say something like "if you pass this high school math competency exam, then you satisfy the requirement."*

It's worth noting that, having taught first-year calculus, the students which tend to crash and burn in these classes are nearly the exact same students who do terribly on the "basic skills test" that we've started to give at the beginning of the term. So I don't think that giving them a math competency exam would fix anything; rather, it would make the exact same students ask why they have to take a high school math competency exam as a prerequisite to their glorious degree in pre-med.

posted by vernondalhart at 8:33 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's worth noting that, having taught first-year calculus, the students which tend to crash and burn in these classes are nearly the exact same students who do terribly on the "basic skills test" that we've started to give at the beginning of the term. So I don't think that giving them a math competency exam would fix anything; rather, it would make the exact same students ask why they have to take a high school math competency exam as a prerequisite to their glorious degree in pre-med.

posted by vernondalhart at 8:33 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I heard that the weed-out for medics was based on memory, not reasoning - learning all of the body's metabolic pathways during the first year.

posted by GeorgeBickham at 11:36 PM on November 9, 2008

posted by GeorgeBickham at 11:36 PM on November 9, 2008

Doesn't include:

Why did the chicken cross the mobius strip?

To get to the same side.

posted by twoleftfeet at 1:38 AM on November 10, 2008

Why did the chicken cross the mobius strip?

To get to the same side.

posted by twoleftfeet at 1:38 AM on November 10, 2008

RDRR!

posted by Spatch at 5:50 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by Spatch at 5:50 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here is a link to my Paypal. I fully expect everyone here to deposit their lunch money therein posthaste.

posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:19 AM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:19 AM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

This humanities courses, why do I have to take them. I'm an engineer...I'll never use this stuff. How is existentialism or themes in Joyce gonna help me be an engineer. I mean noone asks me "is that a Dali or a Magritte" in my every day life. As long as I can write a spec or a scope of work, that's all the art I need, amiright?

posted by kjs3 at 6:41 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by kjs3 at 6:41 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

from my own personal collection: actuarial jokes!

34. Question: How many actuaries does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: a) How many did it take last year? b) How many do you want it to take? c) None, after credibility weighting, we have indications that the bulb is still lit. d) None, the insurance department is not allowing any modifications to the bulb at this time. e) Have any of our competitors changed bulbs yet? f) None, they prefer to leave us in the dark. g) Five: one to screw it in, and four more to estimate the length of its life before being screwed in. h) The same number that it took last year, adjusted for trending. i) Two- The Senior Actuary presents the proposal to Managment and the Junior actuary does the work. j) One- But he/she has to do battle first with Sales and Marketing over the issue. k) One- But first, it takes ten years to pass the exams.

posted by Soulbee at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

34. Question: How many actuaries does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: a) How many did it take last year? b) How many do you want it to take? c) None, after credibility weighting, we have indications that the bulb is still lit. d) None, the insurance department is not allowing any modifications to the bulb at this time. e) Have any of our competitors changed bulbs yet? f) None, they prefer to leave us in the dark. g) Five: one to screw it in, and four more to estimate the length of its life before being screwed in. h) The same number that it took last year, adjusted for trending. i) Two- The Senior Actuary presents the proposal to Managment and the Junior actuary does the work. j) One- But he/she has to do battle first with Sales and Marketing over the issue. k) One- But first, it takes ten years to pass the exams.

posted by Soulbee at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

(MetaFilter: the hammer of science)

Hmmm.. Interesting. I haven't had to integrate anything since I took a calculus course. Or, for that matter before. And I'm saying this as a 3rd year medical student with a double major in chemistry and biology.

I didn't realize there are so many doctors and medical educators here in the thread.

posted by c13 at 9:54 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not intentionally a "weed out" course, but it functions as one. Folks who manage to sail through their other classes without being very diligent students get to O-chem and find it a whole new ball game.

O-chem requires a kind of ability to systematize and understand (not to mention memorize) a large amount of information...

I don't think you need to understand a huge amount of organic chemistry to succeed at exams, certainly at 1st/2nd year undergrad level. As long as you understand the fundamental mechanics behind some key reactions, many others will follow surprisingly naturally. Compared to physical chemistry, organic is much more learning orientated than understanding. Therefore, if you struggle with organic, you either haven't understood the basics.

posted by dragontail at 12:10 PM on November 10, 2008

Maybe it's so you don't end up writing sentences like that one?

posted by Sys Rq at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I get the feeling this is eroding in a lot of places in the South especially as the difference between ag-schools and "fancy ivory elite" schools diminishes even the very rural areas. For example, in North Carolina high schools are working much closer with nearby colleges to develop curricula and math is one of the heavy hit areas. If you don't know single-variable calculus by the time you're out of high school, you're basically on a different tier and at a disadvantage for prospective engineering majors.

(One of the winners of the Siemens Competition--with research on gold nanoparticles--a few years ago, for example, came out of left field from rural South. It's an amazing story.)

The other motivating factor is College Board Advanced Placement, which is (1) basically normalizing the math curriculum toward AP Calculus AB/BC/both and (2) making calculus very, very attractive for high schools to teach because of how broadly most schools offer credit for it.

Also, long live EL HOSPITAL'S RULE FOR LIMITS OF INDETERMINATE FORMS.

posted by shadytrees at 10:58 AM on November 11, 2008

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segment", otherwise the game would be tedious and pointless.posted by jonmc at 8:14 AM on November 9, 2008 [4 favorites]