Make Cheating Wrong Again

The Georgia State Trooper scandal has some True-worthy details that didn’t fit into the story. First, let’s start with that story, from True’s 16 February 2020 issue:

Make Cheating Wrong Again

The Georgia State Patrol fired all the August 2019 trooper academy class graduates after state investigators found all 33 of them cheated on an exam. Investigators found that the troopers coordinated — via a Snapchat group called “Unruly Troopers” — to “get their stories straight” as they were being investigated, violating their oath to “uphold professional conduct and standards.” Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough called the scandal “a punch in the gut” and said more firings might be forthcoming. He was correct: Gov. Brian Kemp forced McDonough to retire. “The person at the head is ultimately responsible,” McDonough said. (RC/WMAZ Macon) …Sounds noble until you realize he means the governor.

The Cheating Came to Light after a woman called the department to report that she had taken the test for one of the troopers — her boyfriend at the time. She passed the online exam without having even taken the classes. So first up, that a civilian who didn’t take the class can easily surpass the score of troopers who did really shows the quality of the recruits these days.

Her trooper boyfriend’s name: Demon Clark, a lovely Freak of Nomenclature (a staple of weird news).

Make Cheating Wrong Again
Georgia State Patrol graduates of the 106th Trooper School (August 2019): all fired. (Photo: Georgia Dept. of Public Safety. Click to see larger.)

After questioning, when he realized he was going to be fired, Clark implicated the rest of his class. “He said, ‘I’m not the only one who cheated’,” said Georgia’s Public Safety Commissioner, Colonel Mark McDonough. “He made the allegation that everyone had cheated. When that occurs, that gets your attention.” That’s when the agency started its investigation into the entire class.

Two investigators were assigned full time to the case; it took them three months to track down all the leads — their report spanned 2,491 pages.

Investigators were able to see the Snapchat “Unruly Troopers” posts. One the Atlanta Journal Constitution highlighted was, “Let’s all come to agreement now! We all took our tests and Clark is a dumbass.” While Demon Clark certainly is, so are the rest of them — just the sort of unthinking type that “obliviot” was coined to describe.

Obliviocy: Maybe it Came from the Head

After the press conference where McDonough announced the firings, he commented, “Adolescence has been extended in our society. They’ve been conditioned to the use of this for everything” — holding up his smartphone. He blamed the allegedly immature millennial-generation class for not being able to memorize the facts they’re taught.

That “is not part of their makeup,” he continued. “You need to know it? Google it. We have the Library of Congress at our fingertips.” That’s not how professionals should work, he said. “You don’t want to go to a doctor if he has to Google it.”

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

You’re damned right I want professionals to use reference materials! I definitely don’t want them to rely on their memories when they prescribe (say) acetohexamide (a drug that treats type 2 diabetes) — or was that acetazolamide (a drug that treats glaucoma)? Or neratinib (a drug to treat breast cancer) — or was that niraparib (a drug to treat ovarian cancer)? Look … it … up! And before the patient takes it!

My doctor does, and it gives me confidence, not concern.

Those examples are from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices’ List of Confused Drug Names, published to educate doctors about the thousands of drug names that are easily confused. To help, the ISMP championed the use of “tall man” (creative capitalization) spellings to help differentiate drug names, such as buPROPion (an antidepressant drug, also used to reduce nicotine cravings in people trying to stop smoking) vs. busPIRone (a drug to treat anxiety disorders).

That many of the “look-alike and sound-alike (LASA) name pairs” (as ISMP calls them) treat similar conditions makes it even worse: it’s easy for even specialists to get confused as to what’s what in their own fields. That’s why there needs to be such a nonprofit organization “devoted entirely to preventing medication errors.”

Medical errors in general kill more than a quarter-million Americans per year, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. That makes it the Number 3 cause of death in the U.S.[Disputed], behind heart disease and cancer, pushing respiratory disease to Number 4. And those are just the deaths: the count of “injuries” is much higher. Medication mixups constitute a large percentage of those errors.

No Professional Should Rely on Memory Alone

Surgeon Atul Gawande’s 2009 book The Checklist Manifesto * — pushing doctors to, like airline pilots, use checklists to avoid errors — was so profound it became a New York Times best-seller. “The modern world has given us stupendous know-how,” the book’s promotional description says. “Yet avoidable failures continue to plague us in health care, government, the law, the financial industry — in almost every realm of organized activity. And the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it to people — consistently, correctly, safely. We train longer, specialize more, use ever-advancing technologies, and still we fail.” The book reveals how checklists “could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds.” (emphasis added)

Indeed, cops having references to consult is nothing new. During my stint in law enforcement, starting as a cadet in the 1970s, we had reference booklets for common vehicle code violations to ensure the right code section was written on traffic citations. I still remember some of the common California code sections for violations (22350: driving faster than it’s safe, vs. 22348: driving faster than the posted limit), and some really esoteric ones (23110: throwing something at a vehicle; subsection a) was a misdemeanor — just doing it — while subsection b) was a felony, for having intent to maliciously injure). But when not absolutely sure? The rule was easy: look it up. What no one did was try to shame us for not remembering every frigging code possibility.

Make Cheating Wrong Again
Almost-former Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough: he retires as of March 1. (Photo: Georgia DPS)

As a volunteer medic, too, I have the EMS protocols I operate under. If I need to (say) inject someone with epinephrine to treat a severe allergic reaction, how much do I give? I have a (yep!) smartphone app that tells me, if I haven’t memorized it — or am stressed enough that I can’t remember it even though I have, in fact, memorized it. And no one would fault any of us for looking it up, even in a dire emergency.

But certainly, to know what to look up and how should be part of the job, and to learn that, tests are definitely appropriate. Cheating during such examinations is an outrage, and firing the entire class of troopers sends a very clear and appropriate message.

Still, it’s time for Mr. McDonough to move on to make room for someone else who is much more aware take command. “The person at the head is ultimately responsible,” he said. Let’s hope his replacement reinforces the integrity McDonough demanded, but also ensures troopers have all of the reference tools needed to make sure the details in the charges they levy against drivers are accurate. These days, that probably means smartphones, computer terminals in their patrol cars, or both. After all, the Library of Congress can be right at their fingertips.


  • “‘Punch in the Gut:’ Georgia State Patrol Dismisses 30 Troopers for Cheating on Speed Exam”, WMAZ Macon, January 29, 2020.
  • “State Patrol Head Forced out by Governor”, Atlanta Journal Constitution, February 13, 2020.
  • OPINION: Talk about Arrested Development! Whole Trooper Class Gone”, Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 31, 2020.

* FTC Notice: If you buy products through links on this site we may receive an “affiliate” fee, which does not affect the price you pay. See True’s Privacy page.

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46 Comments on “Make Cheating Wrong Again

  1. When I was in college, one of my professors had this expression that his own professor taught him many years ago when *he* was in college — “Don’t memorize it, know it.” His point was that in 99% of cases, memorizing formulas for what we do is unnecessary, but that if you don’t know what the formula means, when to use it, and how it works, you’re not going to succeed professionally.

    Indeed, in my job, I have memorized maybe three very basic formulas, but have to understand a lot more than that. For instance, there is little point in memorizing the formula for the mean of a lognormal distribution even though I frequently use that formula in my work. But if I don’t understand how a lognormal distribution works and what it’s good for, I’m not going to be successful. And it’s the same with just about every other formula I use — I don’t need to memorize it, I need to know it.

    • On a similar vein one of my college profs would say ‘a lazy engineer is a good engineer’ — meaning don’t reinvent prior art or calculate data that’s readily available, all you’ll do is spend more time than looking up the solution while risking adding a new error.

      Exactly! -rc

      • That’s why I became an Engineer…biology required too much memorization. In engineering classes, as long as you knew what you needed to look up, you were usually free to look at all the books you wanted.

        • I am an engineer too, and I find that checklists in everyday work is more than required. In this ever more complicated world, in construction and design, it is almost impossible to keep track of it all.

          And I studied in one area, but went to work in a different area. I knew what needed to be done, and the text books and manuals told me how to do it. Memorization and regurgitation are an archaic method of learning.

  2. I once convinced a physics teacher to give an exam open book because, among other versions of the same argument, if I’m working in a lab and I need to know g, which I remember still as 9.81 m/s^2, to more digits, I’m going to look it up. He said “fine, the test will be harder then”. I said ‘OK with me’.

  3. Much of what we call teaching in the West is simply conditioning and fact learning. Your article is part of a larger issue that I call instrumental and relational learning. I’ve written about this here.

  4. Part of the problem is absolutely how we teach and how institutions of higher learning are complicit in the problem. Years ago, while in pharmacy school, we were told to memorize the formula for creatinine clearance (essentially the rate at which a drug will be removed from the body through metabolic processes). The process is essential to understand, because if you get the calculation wrong you can kill the patient. However, it’s a process almost exclusively used in compounding or hospital pharmacies (roughly 40% of the field). My then-wife, a retail pharmacist, told me she only used the formula at most three times per year and had the reference book open to the formula the entire time.

    When I pointed all of this out to the professor in class I was told that our class had to memorize everything because “we had to memorize things when we were in school so you do too.” That kind of thinking, “we know memorizing endless lists is entirely useless but we make you do it simply became we can,” amounts to institutional hazing. When I continued to fight against the hubris of this kind of thinking I was labeled a trouble maker and ultimately forced to leave the university. Oh…and every modern pharmacy with half a clue in this country uses a phone or computer app to make the calculation now.

    Your professor was an obliviot. -rc

    • He just followed the old adage: Non vitae, sed scolae! I had a math teacher like that in high school. He implemented a great disgust for mathematics in me. Instead I concentrated on languages (although I have never learned to use kommas correct in English or any other language for that matter — including my native language).

      • Anker — I had to Google (ironic isn’t it?!?) the phrase you quoted. The search results all told me the phrase means “We do not learn for school, but for life”. I’m curious how that give you a disgust for math? It seems to me that learning math in a manner that is “for life” would be more useful than blind memorization of many formulae, which is what much of school felt like to me. FWIW, I’m not a math lover either! 🙂

        • I’m sorry Jim, but google gave you the wrong answer/translation. The original adage is “Non scolae, sed vitae” which means what you found on google. I actually changed it into the opposite. My version translates to “We learn not for life, but for school” (which, alas, is how many teachers act). Personally I had the great luck to be schooled at one of the last village schools in my native Denmark. 55-60 pupils distributed in five age-levels, two classrooms and two elderly teachers, who had the task of teaching us to read, write and do basic algebra plus teaching us religion, history, biology and basic physics — which they did in a very engaging and motivating way. I was well into my thirties when it dawned on me that they had taught me something much more important than the aforementioned: They had taught us the joy of learning, which at least by me has been kept alive in spite of most of the teachers in high school trying to quench the thirst for knowledge. I do owe much though to my German and English teacher (the same person) who fired my interest for languages.

          Very lucky! I only had a couple of teachers very briefly with the same ability. And thanks for clarifying the Latin. -rc

          • Thanks! I think I read some stuff wrong earlier today. Too many teachers instruct for school and not life as your Latin says. Rare is the teacher that instructs for life — I think it is a flaw of the system as opposed to (most of) the teachers.

    • I’m dealing with the same level of “you gotta be kidding me” with a newly minted PhD in his first year of being a professor for my graduate program. He also adds a throwaway question to his weekly quizzes on some obscure statement he makes during his lectures to make sure you are paying attention.

    • I jokingly tell people my degree is in lazyness. Industrial Engineering, the field of being efficient. Particularly when it comes to how to do work, getting more results with less work.

      However, there is a lot of need for some things to be in your mind without needing to look them up. Not talking about Randy’s drug examples, unless you are talking about them every day, but about things you need frequently enough that looking them up takes up much more time than learning them. What is 5 + 7? I could look it up, but why?

  5. As a pharmacist I never get through a day at work without looking something up on my phone or computer. It’s simply not possible to know the answers to everything that arises in the course of a shift. Even if it was possible to learn everything in school, much information would be out of date a few months after graduation. The most valuable thing I learned in school was learning how to learn.

    Oh, and I’ve reported a couple of LASAs to the ISMP.

    Awesome! -rc

  6. Sir, I beg to disagree (partially).

    Staying first in the medical realm: I’m fine if the doctor (or paramedic) looks up the dosage of epinephrine/adrenaline to be given to someone in a shock state (based on age, weight etc.), but he shouldn’t be looking up “what to give to someone in an allergic shock”. (S)He should know when to give adrenaline and when cortisone or both.

    Going back to cadets: maybe they shouldn’t be requested to recite the code sections (and I think they should double-check before writing it on the citation, to avoid having the case dismissed for wrong paperwork), but they should know whether something is or not punishable by law and whether we are talking about a felony or misdemeanor.

    From your report I somehow have the feeling that the troopers had to cheat in order to pass an exam someone with just “common sense” would be able to pass, which means they might stop me for jaywalking (crossing a street in an unmarked spot) even if no pedestrian crossing is in sight. And that’s what they should know off the top of their heads, without googling it up.

    As noted, I do have the dosage for epi memorized. But if, in the stress of the moment, a medic is presented with (say) a 12-year-old, and s/he isn’t totally sure whether the dose is 0.3 mg or lower due to the child’s size, I would think you would consider it prudent to double check rather than just guess. If it was me, and the child was in great distress and I wasn’t sure, I’d likely go for the 0.15 mg dose and THEN look it up, because it’s simple to give more if needed, but impossible to take some back. -rc

  7. When I taught at universities overseas, the cheating was so endemic that I resorted to using the cheating tools instead of banning them. My exams used computers, and sometimes if I wanted essays, the students wrote from home and emailed to a secure site within the university firewall. However, before each exam, I demonstrated to the students how I find plagiarists. Since all of my students were ESL (either Russian or Chinese depending on where I was) there were NONE who could write as perfectly as an advanced professional, so it was very easy for me to spot copy/paste. If I prove you plagiarize even one sentence, I told them, verbally and via email, you get F on the exam — no appeal. Each university dean backed me up, and my colleagues started using the technique.

    Excellent! Now that’s teaching. -rc

    • In a similar situation (teaching aircraft maintenance staff) I avoided essays and multiguess questions and went back to what my first trade teacher did.

      He asked 100 questions which needed not more than six words to answer. Most questions required just one word or a number. You either know the answer or you do not. Much slower to mark than multiguess but it really shows who is paying attention.

      It is amazing how many Australian students spell soon as sun, does as dose, groove a gruv and because as bicos.

      Well that’s sad to hear! But I like your teacher’s style. -rc

  8. Any engineer will tell you that a good engineer doesn’t have to *know* everything, he just has to know *where to look it up*. Before the Internet, for example, chemical engineers had the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Perry’s Handbook for Chemical Engineers, and other standard handbooks, plus the classic textbooks on organic chemistry, thermodynamics, and so on. Now, with the Internet, it’s easy to Google needed information (even if “google” is pronounced “duck duck go”), but the essential skill is still knowing where to look it up.

  9. Whenever I was training a new dispatcher I would tell them to think of all the information they need to know as a set of encyclopedias. Don’t memorize all 26 volumes, just the index so you know where to quickly find the information you need.

  10. IMHO, if you want to be a professional, there are multiple aspects:
    1. You have to know foundation material, STEM stuff.
    2. You have to know when to apply each bit of memorized material.
    3. You have to understand why you are applying it.
    4. You have to have experience to know if the answer makes sense.
    5. You have to demonstrate to an expert that you can perform/be certified.
    6. You have to know what you don’t know (and when to look it up).

    The internet is great for guessing, but it takes a professional to sort out the bs.

  11. When I took the oral exam for initial flight instructor license, I was asked a question but I didn’t absolutely know the answer. I told the examiner, “I’m not sure, but I know where to look it up” as I was reaching for my flight back to pull out the book (this was 1991). He told me, “OK, as long as you know where to find the answer.” That was a valuable lesson to me then that I taught all my students and continue to teach my employees today — it’s OK to not have the information in your head *as long as* you know where to go to get it.

  12. I think what struck me was the test was an online test where they were all trusted to fill it in without supervision. The fact that the entire class, without exception, cheated, makes me recognize that no, they were not all stupid, they likely could have easily passed the test had they tried on their own. Instead, like lemmings, like sheep, passively and deliberately, they all chose as a group to cheat, and to then conspire together to try and obscure the truth. There is such a stunning lack of moral character demonstrated by these actions, far above and beyond the initial act of cheating, that were I a resident of Georgia I would be quite grateful those 33 individuals were sent back to rethink the direction of their lives instead of granting them the right to make ethical decisions affecting other people’s lives.

  13. There is a huge difference between information you need to know off the top of your head in your chosen profession and that which you realize you’ll need to look up or double-check with reference material. Medicine is far too complicated to rely on memory alone; not just drug names, but dosage and drug interactions are serious matters that consultation with reference material is a sign of putting the patient’s health first, not the ego of the medical professional.

    As far as the cadet cheating thing goes, they have already proven themselves unworthy of being police officers. Cheating is bad enough, but they had an organized conspiracy to cover it up. We don’t need police officers that engage in wrongdoing or engage in conspiracies to cover up misconduct.

  14. Regarding the selection of proper drugs for a given condition, it really bothers me that most medical providers insist on knowing your “preferred pharmacy” so they can simply send the Rx directly to them. Usually, the patient isn’t even informed of the name of the drug, the dosage, or any specific instructions for its use, until they obtain the Rx from the selected pharmacy. This way, the patient is not afforded the opportunity to give the prescribed drug a sanity check for its appropriateness. AND, the patient cannot check for the lowest price via such apps as GoodRx, prior to it being filled. On more than one occasion, I have refused a prescription at my “preferred pharmacy” and had it transferred to where it is substantially cheaper. Such a waste of time and/or money.

    • In Australia most doctors still issue a paper script and as the result of a bad reaction where I ended up in hospital with brachycardia (pulse rate 38bpm) due to a drug interaction I spoke to a relative in another country who is a doctor. He recommended I use the British NHS (preferred) or website before purchasing any script to determine what, if any, interactions occurred when added to the already too many tablets and eye drops I must take.

      The other thing he recommended later, after another unwanted ambulance ride, was to download and read every detail of the manufacturers documents on each drug. This second trip was caused because my doctor specified a specific brand of a medication I took prior to surgical removal of the cancer. From my preferred chemist that was fine but I mistakenly left the tablets in the sun on a 40C day so needed new ones urgently. Chemist X only stocked brand X (at almost twice the price) and, despite the doctor marking the script as no substitutes permitted, swore that they were perfectly safe. Unknown to me they contained sulfa as a non active ingredient. I am extremely allergic to sulfa.

      I now do both processes before purchasing any scripts.

      That was malpractice by Chemist X. -rc

  15. When interviewing for a previous job, I was asked what the most important tool in my shop was. With about two seconds thought, I replied that it was my library at the shop…I might be a know-it-all, but I don’t know it all!

  16. I am a retired communications technician, in our training we were taught Ohms law and trigonometry appropriate to sound etc. but were told under pressure and faced with a difficult fault, know which book you need and how to understand it. Just as important (or maybe even more so) have a list of phone numbers of colleagues who are competent in the area you need at the time.

  17. I work in IT in a role which I sometimes describe as “tech support for the people who wrote the apps on your phone”. When those developers run into trouble with the bits of their apps that run in the cloud, we are (some of) the people they turn to. It is *impossible* to know everything needed to do this job — partly because of the sheer amount of stuff there is to know, and partly because our customers are occasionally finding new problems that aren’t documented or fixed yet. Looking things up is such an essential part of our jobs that we sometimes joke about being “professional search engine users”, although anyone who remembers libraries with staffed reference desks knows that this is hardly a new thing.

    Being able to cope with uncertainty under pressure is so important that we test for it in job interviews. If I am interviewing you for a role, my goal is to dig in on some detail of our conversation until I get you to the point where you don’t know the answer. How you react to that is critical; carrying on in ignorance or trying to bluff your way through is a red flag, because we need to know that you can tell when you’ve found a gap in your knowledge and where to go next to fix that.

    Obviously people still need to gain fundamental skills and domain specific knowledge that lets them know what they have to look up, but being able to find out quickly is now much more important than being able to remember.

    It’s aggravating when people bluff when asking for help. It wastes time and effort, and holds them out to be insecure fools when it’s actually smart to admit when they don’t know something, because no one can know everything. If they only realized…. -rc

  18. The toughest final exam I had in college was in “electromagnetic fields and waves”. The professor told us “It’s open book and notes, it starts at 9am and goes until you finish. Bring your lunch if you think it’s necessary.” It prepared us for being professionals: it wasn’t enough to know where to look it up. You needed to know _what_ you needed to look up, and how to use it to solve the problem. The best skill was the ability to know roughly what the answer should be, so if you made a mistake calculating the surface integral of the vectors, you might catch it.

    Any professional must have that knowledge and those skills.

    Randy, you might have to double-check the dosage, but you know what to administer, where to find the correct dosage, and more importantly, what should happen afterwards, so you’ll know if something’s going wrong.

    Exactly. Thanks for finishing the thought for those who need it to understand the concept better. -rc

    • “The best skill was the ability to know roughly what the answer should be…”

      When I was studying engineering, I had to do most of my calculations with a slide rule. With a slide rule, you have to determine WHERE the decimal point belongs, so you really had to know the approximate answer before you could place the decimal point. I really believe that in these days with ubiquitous calculators, many people don’t have to make an effort to determine the rough answer, and so they can miss mistakes in their calculations. I wonder if engineers building the Hubble Space Telescope would have found the error in units when grinding the telescope mirror had they tried to make a simple rough answer before they started grinding.

      If an engineering student is not thoroughly familiar with his references (that is, where to find answers), then he is unlikely to complete a test within the specified time period. But I agree, as an engineer, I often looked up many rules and guidance documents, because they were subject to change. Looking up the information was the only way to ensure that you were using the latest information.

      • When I taught first and second years at an engineering school one of the concepts that I started with I called “Guestimation”. That being having a rough feel for the result rather than blindly trusting your calculator. I caught much flack for this by the other faculty but was often thanked by my students for the lesson.

      • I just read a book about the Hubble problem (The Perfectionists — it’s a great read). The problem with the Hubble was not that they didn’t know the right answer; it was that they had a faulty calibration gauge. Yes, it was a mistake to have no process for checking the gauge, but it was not a problem that they hadn’t checked for approximate answers. The mirror was approximately right.

  19. Somehow I doubt that it is limited to that one class.

    I know of a case where the officer lied in court, admitted it was false, and the judge just ignored it and the credibility of the officer.

  20. I am an aircraft maintenance technician with qualifications in five countries including the USA and Australia.

    My most valued qualification is the US one which required three 3 hour multiguess exam papers and four days of practical examination that naturally depended on your ability to read and *comprehend* the manuals.

    When I came to Australia the regulator rejected the American licence but recognized the qualification that I valued least.

    Here to be licenced on a heavy aircraft or powerful engine you must pass a specific type exams (often 4 three hour papers) on each type where you can always expect a question such as “detail how to change a wheel” (or brake) on the particular aircraft. Replying in “accordance with Chapter 32-40-00 page 101 of the manual” (the correct answer in the USA) is a fail.

    The first time I changed a wheel on a 727 I was not licenced on the type but my supervisor knew I could do the job so he said he would certify the task.

    I went to the microfilm manual, printed the pages and set about the job. The final task involved tightening the axle nut to 800 ft/lb. I went to store to get the correct wrench and was told they did not have one so I asked the supervisor. He said I was wrong, the tension was 400 ft/lb. I showed him the manual with the page date 8 years previous and he immediately put in train purchase of the correct tool, updating the training manuals, and retraining of all staff licenced on the type.

    *This is the danger of remembering details that may change* — and why I value my Australian (and similar licences) the least.

    It is also the reason that particular operator suffered from cracked wheels while other operators did not.

  21. The stereotypical lawyer’s office has a wall of reference books. It used to be common for a doctor to have a copy of the PDR — Physician’s Desk Reference — right there on the desk; right there where it says in the very title that is its intended location.

    I had an instructor in a computer class who encouraged us to use Google on our tests. “You’re gonna do it in the real world, anyway,” was her rationale.

    It’s not just knowing the answer. It’s knowing that you don’t know the answer to a particular question, and knowing where and how to look it up.

  22. That explains the billboards on I-95 in Georgia advertising for State Troopers. I just wish I took a picture when I drove through today.

    Yeah, they apparently now have a shortage of troopers. -rc

    • There’s a shortage of law enforcement officers all across the nation. No surprise when you see what they get paid and how they’re treated. The growing demand leads to lower standards which results in many who are not the caliber of candidates needed. Throw in poor training (in many, if not most, places) and the picture is not pretty.

  23. Randy, you mention the old Johns Hopkins study that medical errors account for 250,000-400,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and that they are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The number of deaths may be inflated by as much as a factor of 10. I get this from an article about both the Johns Hopkins study and a much more recent Yale study on the subject; said article was posted on the Science-Based Medicine website back on 3 Feb.

    Interesting, and indeed the article you link to sounds quite rational. Right in the intro: if those numbers were correct, “it would mean that between 35% and 56% of all in-hospital deaths are due to medical error and that medical error causes between 10% and 15% of all deaths in the US. The innumeracy that is required to believe such estimates beggars the imagination.” (emphasis from the original)

    While the number of medical errors, particularly the easily prevented drug mixups, do injure and kill many (“just” 1/10 is still too many), it’s smart to even double-check studies from “respectable” institutions. It’s very surprising Johns Hopkins (the institution) would back such a suspect study. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Ed! -rc

    [Jump back to that section.]

  24. I have a master’s in education and have worked as a substitute teacher, long-term sub, grade 1-4 math tutor, and private tutor for math, science, and GED. The first thing I try to instill in students is, “does this answer make sense?” That is the one concept that gets lost as technology replaces a lot of common sense. “It must be right. The computer/calculator said so.” In the old days of computers we had an expression: GIGO (garbage in-garbage out.) When I was student teaching in a 4th grade class, students math homework answers were accompanied by a letter, C for calculator, M for mental math, and P for pencil and paper (on the honor system.) Frequently the students would put a “C” next to their answer and the answer was still wrong. So much so I created a rubber stamp, “Ask me about GIGO.” Also, if one saved a document and could not find it later, it was said to go into the “bit bucket.” So in this same class I took and old mailbox and put it in the corner and labeled it the “Bit Bucket.” When a student forgot to put their name on their work, and asked me where their homework was, I asked, “did you check the Bit Bucket?” Knowing the basics without technology aids, though, goes a long way to answering the question whether an answer makes sense or not.

  25. love your answers using some very appropriate computer terms from the past.

    When computers were new in business, one of my coworkers was typing numbers into a 123 sheet on the one PC for our department with no calculations being done. I asked why use 123 for it instead of having our secretary type it up and was told that they would believe it more if it came from a computer.

    I remember a story from that era about a law office that bought a cheap dot matrix printer (daisy wheel printers were available for better quality) because people would recognize that it came from a computer and take it more seriously.

  26. The sad thing about this discussion is that the majority of posters have turned it into a referendum on “When in doubt, look it up”. The issue isn’t whether someone should memorize or whether they should know where to find the answers — it’s that an entire class of police cadets cheated. They betrayed the trust of the state, of the department, of the people they were tasked to serve.

    My observation is that most of what drives this sense that memorization of useless facts is a waste of time is laziness. “Why should I have to learn all this stuff? I can just look it up.” Well, if you’re an EMT you’d better know how to perform CPR without looking it up. If you’re a pilot you’d better know the emergency procedures without looking it up. If you’re a driver you’d better know basic traffic law without looking it up. If you’re a thoracic surgeon you’d better know how to perform basic surgery without looking it up. If you’re an accountant you’d better know basic finance without looking it up. If you’re a mathematician you’d better know basic functions and arithmetic without looking it up. If you’re an artist, you’d better know how to use the different types of medium without looking it up. If you’re an historian you’d better know the basic facts of history without looking it up.

    I suspect that part of the social and political polarization in America today is driven by the use of Google. The problem with relying on the Internet for all of your (intellectual) shopping needs is that any idiot can post any kind of twaddle on the ‘net, and someone will believe that “If (what reinforces my cherished beliefs) is on the Internet it must be true”. So millions of people believe the Earth is flat (proof that it isn’t is fake). And that vaccines cause autism (proof that they don’t is fake proof generated by Big Pharma). And that climate change is a hoax (proof that it’s real is fake proof generated by environmental snowflakes). And the Moon landings never happened (proof that they happened are fake). And that 9/11 was an inside job (proof that it wasn’t is a fake scenario generated by the Clinton Administration). And that the Earth was created in its present form 6,000-10,000 years ago (proof that everything is the product of evolutionary change is fake proof provided by Satan).

    There’s nothing wrong with looking something up on the ’net. The problem is verifying whether it’s true. And with finding the necessary information when your computer crashes.

    In the end, this issue isn’t whether it’s better to memorize or to know how to look something up. It’s that 33 cadets, entrusted with the sacred responsibility of protecting the people they serve, betrayed that trust. That, in the end, is the important thing.

    To be fair to those who commented on the “When in doubt, look it up” aspect, they were replying to the part of the editorial about why the Public Safety Commissioner is wrong in his proposed “solution” brought up by this incident. -rc


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