Biology in the modern QB era.

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Biology in the modern QB era.

Postby recfreq » Tue Nov 22, 2005 4:58 am

After hearing some rather uneventful biology questions over the last couple of years, I think I can safely say that biology question-writing in general lags behind writing in the physical sciences and math. Take the case of physics, one can find topics coming up in each of the sophmore-junior undergrad level courses in theoretical mechanics (Hamiltonian), E & M (vector potential), particle physics (Higgs boson), etc, but very seldom do you find comparable questions at the same level in the biology curriculum, like developmental bio, immunobio, genetics, etc. When questions do come up in those areas, they lack the clues that provide us with knowledge at the level of those undergrad courses.

I\'ll use examples from ACF fall, but be warned that these are already very good questions. Take a physics question:

\"In 2001, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs discovered it in an aluminum matrix doped with molten lead. A mathematical description of this Wiener process typically begins with the Langevin equation and the Stokes flow for a sphere. Jean Perrin provided evidence for the most famous formulation of this process, for which, in the limit of small times, the rms displacement is proportional to the time squared. In the large time limit, it is a diffusive process which can be described by the Fokker-Planck equation and it has a diffusive constant proportional to the temperature. Observed by its namesake in pollen grains suspended in water, and explained by Einstein using the kinetic theory of gases, FTP name this random motion of small particles in a fluid.
ANSWER: Brownian motion\"

This is something I\'d very much want to hear if I\'ve taken a course in this. It mentions Langevin molec dynamics, Wiener process, and Perrin who ever he is, and Fokker-Planck, with some very detailed clues that I\'d love to hear as a nonspecialist, b/c I feel like I could learn something just from reading this question, or if not, at least look it up.

By contrast, here\'s a biology question from the same packet.

\"Defects in these objects can cause Kearn-Sayre Syndrome or Luft Disease. They contain porins to allow for passive diffusion of selected molecules through their outer membranes. They provide evidence for Margulis’ endosymbiotic theory and are important to evolutionary and genetic studies due to their derivation solely from the mother. They allow some ribosomes in their matrix to allow for processes such as chemiosmosis and the citric acid cycle. FTP, name these organelles whose primary function is to convert organic materials into ATP, the so-called “powerhouses” of the cell.
ANSWER: mitochondria\"

I don\'t mean to pick on whoever wrote this, b/c it is a very good question, but just to pt out the difference in level of sophistication b/t this question and questions in the physical sciences, note 1st that its only really challenging clue is about diseases, and not really ones that mitochondria are really famous for being associated with (I\'d say Leber\'s optic neuropathy is probly more famous), but still the clue is fine, just not the kind that I\'d love to read about if I\'m interested in the mitochondria. Instead, I\'d rather know about say, the petite mutation in yeast, or its intron-lacking DNA coding for ND1 to ND5 of alpha F1 ATPases, or NADH-CoQ reductase. The porin and endosymbiosis clues just don\'t strike me with same force as the Fokker-Planck, not to mention that they are always used (sometimes also for chloroplast).

In general, I\'ve found myself just enjoying listening to the physics and math questions more b/c they have more depth and asks about more interesting things. I remember ACF nats last year being ridiculously hard in the physical sciences, whereas all the bio TUs were pretty darn easy off the end of the 1st sentence or beginning of the 2nd. There just appears to be a trend against writing interesting questions on, say the pentose-phosphate shunt, or neurulation, or proteoglycan, or homologous recombination, or RNA interference. Those are not grad topics; I learned them in sophmore-junior level courses, and they are reasonable to ask, just as reasonable as Franck-Condon and Stern-Gerlach. Given that biology depts are the most diverse in the country (MCB, IB, PB in Berkeley, and something like 5 diff ones at UCLA--btw another proof that biochemistry is chemistry: our Chemistry & Biochemistry dept, also, they both study structure), it\'s hard to fathom not getting a more diverse set of questions and answers.

Finally, I just want to ask if medicine is biology. If the clues are clinical, i.e. based on symptoms and effects, I don\'t see them as being biological b/c there\'s no relevant _academic_ clues. If the clues are physiological, or based on molecular genetics, I\'d be ok with it. But in general, as the USC WIT packets will attest, diseases are easy ways to dodge the bio distribution, b/c you just copy from a clinical handbook. It\'s also not very interesting. Bio players, let us know how you feel, but I don\'t need another question on gonerhea. I know what it is, and it\'s not biology. (It\'s also not really taught until med school.) In an effort to mimick the interest of the physical sciences and math crowd, we should strive for more mechanistic, molecular, physiological clues that tell us about the underlying processes involved instead of relying on memorizing viruses and diseases. I think those outside the field would prefer hearing such questions, just as I\'d prefer hearing about Liouville\'s thm and parity.
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Re: Biology in the modern QB era.

Postby QuizBowlRonin » Tue Nov 22, 2005 6:39 am

recfreq wrote:After hearing some rather uneventful biology questions over the last couple of years, I think I can safely say that biology question-writing in general lags behind writing in the physical sciences and math. Take the case of physics, one can find topics coming up in each of the sophmore-junior undergrad level courses in theoretical mechanics (Hamiltonian), E & M (vector potential), particle physics (Higgs boson), etc, but very seldom do you find comparable questions at the same level in the biology curriculum, like developmental bio, immunobio, genetics, etc. When questions do come up in those areas, they lack the clues that provide us with knowledge at the level of those undergrad courses.

<snip>

In general, I've found myself just enjoying listening to the physics and math questions more b/c they have more depth and asks about more interesting things. I remember ACF nats last year being ridiculously hard in the physical sciences, whereas all the bio TUs were pretty darn easy off the end of the 1st sentence or beginning of the 2nd. There just appears to be a trend against writing interesting questions on, say the pentose-phosphate shunt, or neurulation, or proteoglycan, or homologous recombination, or RNA interference. Those are not grad topics; I learned them in sophmore-junior level courses, and they are reasonable to ask, just as reasonable as Franck-Condon and Stern-Gerlach. Given that biology depts are the most diverse in the country (MCB, IB, PB in Berkeley, and something like 5 diff ones at UCLA--btw another proof that biochemistry is chemistry: our Chemistry & Biochemistry dept, also, they both study structure), it's hard to fathom not getting a more diverse set of questions and answers.

- Let me preface my thoughts by stating that my philosophy and preferences with regards to science questions, and even writing for ACF in general, can be seen as soft. My approach to writing science questions, and that which has been directed by the head tournament editors while I’ve been editing for ACF (Roger, Ezequiel, and Andrew), is not to go overboard with difficulty, and allow most teams, even those consisting of humanities players, to get:
    - The tossup on the giveaway
    - At least 10 points on bonuses if the team knows anything about the given topic
- I consider last year’s the editorship of the ACF Nationals science distribution a failure on my part especially on non-biology topics. Many of the top specialists in science were unable to get questions correct early in the question, when I expect those specialists to get those questions, and many questions even on the giveaways stumped those with some science knowledge. When this occurs, I as the editor have failed to differentiate those who know their subject areas from those that don’t, for the obvious reason that when nobody gets the question right, it is impossible to show who’s better in that subject area. If anything, the science, even at ACF Nationals, should be easier - I should be seeing folks who I expect know the most on particular topics make thirty points on the bonuses and get tossups early. I was terribly disappointed by the fact in the finals round that Selene, Subash, Susan, and Seth did not get tossups that I was sure that one of the three would get on the first line – this is not a reflection of their lack of skill as it is a reflection of poor editing and clue-writing on my part. (This was not exclusive to the playoffs.) Because I wasn’t able to oversee the writing of real-life gettable (as opposed to theoretically should buzz in on the first clue) questions, I may have cost Chicago a chance at the championship (most questions went dead for Michigan).
    - Therefore, tossups like Franck-Condon or RNA interference, while written in a pyramidal manner consistent with ACF values, do not successfully differentiate teams that know their material versus those that do not. There is a difference between knowing what a topic is about and answering the question correctly.
    - Certainly I personally would like to see whole tournaments full of organic chemistry and molecular biology questions, but it’s hard for me to see that doing so will educate people of all skill levels, entertain players of all skill levels, and therefore I must conclude that it is not good for quiz bowl. Such subject matter is better brought up as the hard part of a three part bonus, as IMHO should all canon expansion or infrequently asked difficult topics.
- For some then, biology will remain a ho-hum, uninteresting part of the distribution, at least as long as I’m editing it. However, I'd rather not write tossups where specialists and only specialists will know the answers, and where specialists and only specialists will get any points on bonuses.

- As for topic choice, I cannot speak for other tournaments, I can only speak for ACF Nationals. Here was this past year’s distribution:

Image

A copy of just the biology distribution can be obtained from me at quizbowlronin@gmail.com.

I should suggest that while there are questions that are medically related, that most (but lamentably not all) questions contain clues which relate to biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy, and physiology. Questions which relate to the drug therapy of a certain disease or the deviation in plasma sodium levels or data which is entirely descriptive and has no relationship to analytical science obviously shouldn't be written.

As far as the rest of the distribution, it just is a fact of life that we're going to continue to hear questions on plants and other non-mammalian organisms. Folks, if it's in Campbell, it's kosher - otherwise we might as well determine that quiz bowl biology is actually quiz bowl human biology, and also throw out much of the first year college biology course curriculum or high school biology curriculum.

recfreq wrote:Finally, I just want to ask if medicine is biology. If the clues are clinical, i.e. based on symptoms and effects, I don't see them as being biological b/c there's no relevant _academic_ clues. If the clues are physiological, or based on molecular genetics, I'd be ok with it. But in general, as the USC WIT packets will attest, diseases are easy ways to dodge the bio distribution, b/c you just copy from a clinical handbook. It's also not very interesting. Bio players, let us know how you feel, but I don't need another question on gonerhea. I know what it is, and it's not biology. (It's also not really taught until med school.) In an effort to mimick the interest of the physical sciences and math crowd, we should strive for more mechanistic, molecular, physiological clues that tell us about the underlying processes involved instead of relying on memorizing viruses and diseases. I think those outside the field would prefer hearing such questions, just as I'd prefer hearing about Liouville's thm and parity.

More on this topic later, after more experiments.
Last edited by QuizBowlRonin on Wed Nov 23, 2005 3:23 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby First Chairman » Tue Nov 22, 2005 9:44 am

I'll let JP discuss the issues of biology and medicine editing for qb.

As for the diversity of question-writing for biology, I agree there is a lot of diversity in topics covered in "biology". On the other hand, I don't know how many evolutionary-developmental biologists there are there. I'd enjoy a question that is disciplinarily "biogeophysical chemistry" if such a thing exists (and actually I'm pretty sure there is at least one such area)... but then we're really hitting a very esoteric portion of science.

Maybe it is the nature in which people are forced to learn biology compared to the physical sciences. When it comes to learning taxa or recognizing principles with infection, there are mechanisms that one cannot really "apply" when it comes to an undergraduate education. I'm sure one could learn how to run a western blot (and you've probably seen many questions already written on WB's) but that sounds much more boring than some unsolved problem in mathematics... because it is.

Medicine should be covered under science, but obviously it should not predominate the biology portion of any syllabus (at least acknowledge botany and zoology). I guess I would prefer 1/1 clinical science and 1/1 basic science in biomedical topics to be fair. But one could go on writing an entire packet on biomedical sciences if you are dedicated to learning the literature.

Granted we don't ask many questions on pharmacy or nursing concepts, but I leave that to a different discussion.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 10:43 am

Actually, I think the mitochondria question is not very good. The Margulis/endosymbiosis clue is way too early. Of course, for all I know, the answer could be chloroplasts, but if I was playing against a team with any biology knowledge and they hadn't gotten it yet, I would be buzzing then. I would put that clue towards the end of the question since it's something well-known to non-biologists.

I think one of the factors that contributed to this gap of which Ray speaks is the fact that some of the most active science writers on the circuit are physicists. Certainly Seth Teitler and myself are far better qualified to write physics than biology. When I have to write a bio question, I almost invariably err on the side of something I've heard of, just because I have no idea if anything else is gettable.

I would love to write more sophisticated questions, but I am afraid of botching it. If Ray (or others) could recommend to me some good sources for such questions, I'll do my best to come up with more of them in future packets.
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Postby Mr. Kwalter » Tue Nov 22, 2005 12:55 pm

I guess I would prefer 1/1 clinical science and 1/1 basic science in biomedical topics to be fair.


Rather than creating a 2/2 "biology" distribution, how about lumping clinical biology in with "miscellaneous science?" You have 1/1 bio, 1/1 chem, 1/1 physics, then 2/2 whose subject is at the writer's/editor's discretion; why not just say you have to have at least 1/1 non-clinical bio? It's just an idea.
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Postby vandyhawk » Tue Nov 22, 2005 2:56 pm

As a biomedical engineer, I've taken a boatload of classes with bio in the title somewhere, but I think I've let myself fall in the trap of only writing about stuff that has come up before. It's sometimes hard for me to judge what would be gettable by someone who has only taken, say, intro bio, so like Jerry said, I tend to default to easier, more canonical stuff. That's not to say I don't try to include interesting clues, but I think I need to try harder at that.

The mitochondria question above is pretty bad. As soon as I heard "porins" and "outer membrane" I'd buzz. I honestly feel like taxonomy questions are the worst bio questions, though. Sure, a lot of people learn that info in high school, but does anyone actually cover that in college level courses anymore? I know I've never come across it here. It seems like non-science people who are forced to write science can come up with a taxonomy question pretty easily, and maybe asnwer some too, but I just don't see the value. Obviously taxonomy won't go away, but multiple tossups or bonuses in the subject in a given tournament is just too much.

As far as clinical questions, I don't mind some clinical clues in a tossup about an organ or disease or whatever, but there should be other info (e.g. molecular, structual aspects) as well, and I don't think answers should be allowed that one would only really learn in med school. In some packet from the archive I looked over recently (maybe from BOB?), there was a bonus on cancer drugs. I've taken advanced cancer biology, and I would've been able to get 10 points on the bonus for Taxol. I had heard of another answer, Gleevec, though would not have been able to pull it out. That kind of question is just unacceptable unless it's a tournament for med students. Now asking about p53, though, is a welcome trend, and mabye at ACF Nats this year I can throw in some more related things since those kinds of pathways are being taught to undergrads now too.

I think I've heard questions on RNAi and proteoglycan before at ACF Nats, but I'm not positive on that. I know I've heard a Western blot tossup a few years ago at ACF regs, and too many electrophoresis ones. I'd love to hear more questions on newer experimental techniques (RNAi, RT-PCR, quantum dots, ELISA), as well as some different biochem areas like gluconeogenesis that don't get the same coverage as glycolysis and the electron transport chain.

As far as separating clinical from basic science in the bio distribution, I don't know if that's the best idea. Often, a good question will combine aspects of both areas, and if people start trying to write truly "clinical" questions, that could lead to even more med school-ish questions, which I don't think anyone wants. At least, I don't think you guys want me to crack open our "clinical correlations" lectures from when I took physiology from the med school. A tournament editor can just try to make sure there's a good balance throughout the set.

Those are my thoughts at the moment. I'll be interested to see what Jason has to say.
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Postby Big Y » Tue Nov 22, 2005 3:06 pm

One possible reason for the difference between biology and physics questions has to do with their relationship to studies of the history of science or the philosophy of science. Brownian motion sometimes comes up as a topic outside of physics because Albert Einstein is such an interesting figure. Other physics topics from the early 20th century (which have nothing to do with Brownian motion) are used as the archetypal example of a scientific revolution. Topics from the last fifty years are important to some philosophers.

Mitochondria, on the other hand, to the best of my knowledge is a topic only useful to people studying biology.
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Postby Susan » Tue Nov 22, 2005 3:48 pm

A few comments:

-I don't see Gleevec as an unacceptable answer for the hard part of a bonus. Granted, I'm in a cancer biology program at Chicago, where Janet Rowley, whose work on the Philadelphia chromosome led to the development of Gleevec, works, so I may be biased here. I encountered Gleevec in several undergrad classes (cancer biology and pharmacology), and it's regularly mentioned by anyone talking about targeted therapies, modern drug development, and (sometimes) pharmacogenetics. It's arguable that the development of Gleevec is the most important story in the last decade of pharmacology.

-In part, at least, the reason people have been unwilling to write a lot of biology questions on challenging or otherwise new (to quizbowl) topics is that, when we've tried to do that before, other people have bitched about it. (I recall Selene Koo's ACF Nationals tossup on noted compound (mentioned in six of my undergrad classes) cisplatin being met with pearl-clutching.)

-I think a lot of the problem of weak bio distributions can be chalked up to the fact that very few people editing tournament sets are into biology. The tournaments I've attended where I was most impressed by the quality of the biology questions were Roger Bhan's ACF Nationals (2003) and Subash Maddipoti's ACF Regionals (2003), both written by players with substantial backgrounds in biology.

-To those who hate taxonomy questions, how do you propose addressing natural history/biogeophysical sciences/paleo while using askable topics? These topics are a part of biology, too.

-There are certainly questions being asked about newer experimental techniques; I know I've both heard and written questions on RNAi and ELISA. It's nice to see these sorts of things (also, p53, Holliday junctions, etc.--can tossups on Rad51 be far behind?), but on the other hand, while I've heard p53 come up more over the past few years, I can't say I've heard any great questions on it. I'd rather hear good questions than novel answers (though ideally both should be possible).

-For those looking for good biology writing sources, I'll point you towards Pubmed's Bookshelf, and AWAY from Wikipedia.
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Postby First Chairman » Tue Nov 22, 2005 3:59 pm

I would point out some of the neater, newer stuff is published with Science and Nature's News & Views sections. I would warn anyone that you do need to have a very solid basis in your science before throwing something up as a tossup there. But I would suggest that (as a study hint) any of the molecules of the year in the last 3-4 years could be really good fodder for questions in the college circuit.

But I think the dearth of biology/medical writers/editors who are knowledgeable about quiz bowl questions is an issue. Of course, most of us tend to be extremely busy [most of us are pre-med or med]. :) What I do worry about is how far away from basic biology we are moving in writing the more difficult stuff. It is a challenge to write a very good "fundamental" biology question, and as someone who has dealt with these issues before, I recognize how hard it can be.
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Postby vandyhawk » Tue Nov 22, 2005 4:51 pm

I don't see Gleevec as an unacceptable answer for the hard part of a bonus


Neither do I, but having it as the medium level answer with Taxol as the "easy" part is a bit much for anything but possibly ACF Nats.

To those who hate taxonomy questions, how do you propose addressing natural history/biogeophysical sciences/paleo while using askable topics?


Perhaps I was a bit harsh on taxonomy - it certainly does have its place, but what I meant to get across is that there are often too many cop-out "name the class common to these organisms" or similarly unimaginative or poorly written questions throughout a tournament. Fewer and better would be appreciated.
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Postby recfreq » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:44 pm

E.T. Chuck wrote:It is a challenge to write a very good "fundamental" biology question, and as someone who has dealt with these issues before, I recognize how hard it can be.


I don't think it's actually that hard. There's so much info out there. One easy for nonspecialists to write a lead-in that makes sense is just to search for a review in pubmed and skim the 1st 2 pages. Then use your canonical bio text book, although (replying to Jerry) I'd try to use the more subject specific books like Kandel's Principles of Neural Science for neurobio, or Albert's Molec Cell Bio for cellbio, or Wolpert's Developmental Bio for develbio, etc. This would be akin to using say Jackson's Electrodynamics book or Kittle's Thermal Physics book, not for the giveaways, but for what you'd put in the beginning and middle of these questions. And as opposed to some of the math and physics, the bio books are _very very_ easy to read, almost like a novel about how people discovered such and such factors by doing this and then that, so while people have an excuse (in my opinion) to write a bad math TU, they really shouldn't be writing a bad bio question, as the subject is not very dfficult conceptually.

Just to show how easy it is to write a good, in depth bio question that is still very accessible, I'll point out the following TU, which I wrote just by reading section 4.5 from Lodish's Molec Cell Bio book (5ed), pages 125 to 130. I used nothing else. If you read that 5 pages, you'd be able to write this question:

"It can be regulated by phosphorylation of a serine residue on eIF2, which inhibits exchange of bound GDP for GTP, disrupting formation of the i ternary complex. This process is initiated by eIF4E binding to 7-methylguanylate, and eIF4A scanning for the Kozak sequence surrounding the start site, recognition of which leads to eIF2 and eIF5 GTP hydrolysis, the latter recruiting the eIF6-bound 60S subunit. Hydrolysis of EF1-alpha-GTP ejects unacylated adaptors from the E site and positions the aminoacyl-tRNA in the A site close to that in the P site, but only if its anticodon matches the mRNA codon. FTP name this process by which the ribosome makes proteins from messenger RNA, taking place after transcription.
:. translation"

I think we can agree that this is accessible; there's nothing beyond sophmore bio majors stuff here. There's also little work involved. BTW if you read Ch4 from Lodish, which is actually just an introductory review of all of nucleic acids, DNA transcription, translation, replication, viruses, and whatever else of importance they talk about later in the book, you're on your way to writing good molec bio, at least on the DNA domain. Notice some of the key terms in there: Kozak seq, which should probly be a little earlier now that I think about it; 7-mG; eIFs and EFs (elongation factor); then later A site, P site of ribosome. If you just mentioned a good number of these, your question is automatically good (I didn't even refer to Shine-Delgarno, which comes up a few times, so there are many variations to be considered). And the lead-in is still nontrivial even for experts to nail down, even if she (like most good mobiologists) would know it as soon as she hears Kozak (I guess the eIF2 might be a bit early, but people'd still have to parse that to the right answer space). I wrote Davison-Germer (which was ok if not spectacular right, Jerry?) just by reading a few pages from an undergrad quantum book, so math and physics people should be able to do the same with a few pages of Lodish.

Personally, I don't like lab techniques or specific ailments as much, just as I don't like Atwood machine or questions about building bridges. If one could relate the technique or disease back to the core biological concepts, it'd be much better. E.g. trisomy or Turner's or other genetic diseases could have clues about genetic implications and physiological concepts. Techniques like micro RNAs could provide implications for the role of RNA in evolutionary terms, etc. (BTW if you write an organelle question, make sure you have enough new stuff to put in there, b/c those types of questions get very old very quickly, e.g if you do Golgi, try talking about KDEL receptors and AP proteins, not just mention them, but tell us what they do.)

BTW I'm also looking forward to Jason's post. I just want to say before hand that I didn't imply that the editing was bad. In fact, I remember the uracil question from ACF nats being one of the best ever, esp with the base clue on tRNA. I just thought that in terms of difficulty, the other sciences may have overshot the bio, and made bio seem more at the regionals level. But the questions themselves were all good. I did wish that there'd be a few less diseases that are just clinical things that one would pull out of a medical manual (I don't know if even beginning med students'd really memorize it), but I've already mention this to Jason. I was referring more to the general state of writing in biology, which I felt was somewhat low, given that the only really pretty good question I've heard this entire fall was "glutamate." A lot of them were (except some at WIT) ok, just nothing I'd remember for the rest of my life, and not much learning took place for me.
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Postby recfreq » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:54 pm

grapesmoker wrote:I would love to write more sophisticated questions, but I am afraid of botching it. If Ray (or others) could recommend to me some good sources for such questions, I'll do my best to come up with more of them in future packets.


Jerry, I think you give yourself less credit than you deserve. I remember an angiogenesis question that was quite good out of your hands. But in terms of topics, I don't want to force anything down people's throats, but there're a lot of things in cell bio that everybody takes (like the MCB 102 course at Cal) (I mean _everybody_, including physiologists, chem, biomed, IB, nursing, you name it) that don't get asked, and some of them go into considerable detail. Books like Lehninger, Lodish, and Alberts will point those out, esp when there're multiple sections devoted to them. Then there're stuff that less people take like development, cancer, and evolution, but may be we'll take this a step at a time and put them in bonuses.

Also, I will endeavor to write physics and math to the best of my ability, even though sometimes they can be comical (I recall the rayleigh scattering I tried to send to someone once), and any comments you may have on my deficiencies in that regard is welcomed, and I'll thank you in advance.

Finally, I don't think we should strive to be inherently difficult, just to step out of the high school bio we keep asking for the last few years. As long as there're in depth clues at the soph-jun bio major level at the beginning, I could care less how easy the giveaway becomes, be it Hardy Weinberg or gastrulation.
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Postby recfreq » Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:57 pm

myamphigory wrote:(I recall Selene Koo's ACF Nationals tossup on noted compound (mentioned in six of my undergrad classes) cisplatin being met with pearl-clutching.)


Yeah, I submitted the Anfinsen expt that won him the Nobel. Oh, and Eric's suggestion is good for me personally, but I don't think I can enforce that on other people; they'd just complain that medicine is bio (I disagree, but I think that's the prevailing view).
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Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Nov 22, 2005 8:24 pm

I'm inspired by some parts of this thread to remind people about the pitfalls of writing on new topics. Please do so by means of bonus parts. I'm sure that cisplatin is very important, but if most rooms at the tournament couldn't answer the tossup, then it's by definition too hard for a tossup. No amount of "you SHOULD know this" or "if there was a biology major on every team you'd find this easier" can contradict that truism.

Making the clues in existing tossups more real and putting things like cisplatin in second or third bonus parts in place of diseases or other disliked biology questions is great, and I fully encourage it and will try to follow the advice in this thread when writing my own science questions, but we can't lose sight of the need to write tossups that teams can answer with their current makeup.
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Postby grapesmoker » Tue Nov 22, 2005 10:02 pm

I'm not sure how useful the medicine/bio distinction is, personally. If I wrote a tossup on a lab technique that is used in physics labs, I wouldn't say that's not a physics question.

My other question is about mid-level clues. I take Ray's word for it that the question he presented is quality. Does it have mid-level clues? I thought the Brownian motion question that I wrote did; it started with a very specific formulation, proceeded to mention things like diffusive processes and RMS displacement, and ended with the pollen-grains. Anyway, it's just a thought. Most of the things in the question don't mean much to me but I'm not a biologist so that's as it should be.

I've found as I've written questions over the years that after you take enough science, whatever your specific subject, you develop an intuition for what is more or less obvious. It doesn't necessarily translate into knowing more about that subject, but you can learn to write good science questions that way.
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Postby cvdwightw » Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:14 am

recfreq wrote:It can be regulated by phosphorylation of a serine residue on eIF2,


At this point I think anyone with a minor grasp of biology should be realizing this is some molecular biology or biochemical process; anyone with a better grasp would probably start thinking about the true answer as a prime candidate for the right one at the mention of "eIF"

recfreq wrote: which inhibits exchange of bound GDP for GTP, disrupting formation of the i ternary complex. This process is initiated by eIF4E binding to 7-methylguanylate, and eIF4A scanning for the Kozak sequence surrounding the start site, recognition of which leads to eIF2 and eIF5 GTP hydrolysis, the latter recruiting the eIF6-bound 60S subunit.


Depending on how familiar you are with biology, this is either additional meaningless lead-in or a narrowing of answers. As Ray pointed out, anyone who knows and remembers molecular biology should be able to buzz correctly off of "Kozak sequence" while the "60S subunit" implies a process taking place in the ribosome, from which someone could make a logical guess.

recfreq wrote:Hydrolysis of EF1-alpha-GTP ejects unacylated adaptors from the E site and positions the aminoacyl-tRNA in the A site close to that in the P site, but only if its anticodon matches the mRNA codon.

E, A, and P sites are all well known to bio players. Any bio player who hasn't gotten it at that point is probably sitting. The introduction of "tRNA" and "codon" should start to make this accessible, or at least guessable, to non-bio players.

recfreq finally wrote: FTP name this process by which the ribosome makes proteins from messenger RNA, taking place after transcription.
:. translation


By the end of this question even most novice teams should be able to get this question.

So to answer Jerry's question, there are definitely mid-level clues in the question, although they probably don't seem that way to non-biologists.
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:19 am

cvdwightw wrote:So to answer Jerry's question, there are definitely mid-level clues in the question, although they probably don't seem that way to non-biologists.


Thanks, that's basically what I was looking for. This has been very educational for me : )
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Postby mattreece » Wed Nov 23, 2005 2:26 am

Is the situation for biology and physics questions really so different? Some will recall that I was criticized for writing a tossup with the answer "S-matrix," which is a fundamental concept that should be introduced in any undergrad quantum mechanics class. It was pretty much universally agreed that this question was too difficult. But now we're seeing various biology terms defended (at least partly) on the basis of their being taught in undergrad classes.

I'm not really sure what the correct standard is for science questions. I think we can all agree that pyramidal questions with very well-known answers are acceptable at all levels of competition. For tournaments like ACF Nationals, these should start with very difficult clues.

On the other hand it's nice to have some questions with somewhat more obscure answers. The question is how much obscurity should be allowed, and how one can get some sense of how obscure an answer is. I was surprised to learn that almost no one could answer a question on the S-matrix. Perhaps if I had searched old tournaments I would have realized that it has not been asked, despite its importance. I think it's an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the way the circuit works that relatively minor concepts in some fields can be asked frequently while major concepts in other fields are off-limits. Like it or not, there is a canon, and a writer must deal with this. In some fields it's more problematic than others. For instance, in psychology it's simply a fact that psychoanalysis is well-established in the canon, so in sticking to it one is less likely to write questions that are deemed too obscure. On the other hand it's a bit ridiculous from the point of view of what is important in the field of psychology itself.

I guess what I'm getting at is that this discussion has a wider scope than just biology questions. In many subjects (especially, I would argue, the sciences, since the canon was largely established by non-scientists), there are conflicts between the importance of ideas and their place in the quizbowl canon. This can make it very hard to tell if a question will be acceptable to a quizbowl audience.
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Postby QuizBowlRonin » Wed Nov 23, 2005 2:35 am

As for the diversity of question-writing for biology, I agree there is a lot of diversity in topics covered in "biology". On the other hand, I don't know how many evolutionary-developmental biologists there are there. I'd enjoy a question that is disciplinarily "biogeophysical chemistry" if such a thing exists (and actually I'm pretty sure there is at least one such area)... but then we're really hitting a very esoteric portion of science.

Maybe it is the nature in which people are forced to learn biology compared to the physical sciences. When it comes to learning taxa or recognizing principles with infection, there are mechanisms that one cannot really "apply" when it comes to an undergraduate education. I'm sure one could learn how to run a western blot (and you've probably seen many questions already written on WB's) but that sounds much more boring than some unsolved problem in mathematics... because it is.

Wesley Matthews and I had a discussion when going to ACF Fall about the nature of earth science questions, and found that he was exasperated that questions covered in the first year curriculum of earth science received poor receptions at tournaments. Besides proving the point that just because it’s in the first year curriculum of any subject does not mean it deserves to have questions written for quiz bowl, it shows that there are lacunae in quiz bowl where because writers and editors just aren’t interested in certain topics, people don’t ask questions about them, even though such topics are basic. The question becomes whether we should write questions on topics nobody cares about, or write very hard questions on advanced topics that some, but only very few know about. Which is more deserving, a basic topic that deserves educating the player about, or an esoteric topic that, while guaranteed to be known by some experts, is something that the non-specialist should have no business knowing?
Medicine should be covered under science, but obviously it should not predominate the biology portion of any syllabus (at least acknowledge botany and zoology). I guess I would prefer 1/1 clinical science and 1/1 basic science in biomedical topics to be fair. But one could go on writing an entire packet on biomedical sciences if you are dedicated to learning the literature.

Granted we don't ask many questions on pharmacy or nursing concepts, but I leave that to a different discussion.

The kernel of my point to be stated above is that there is a false dichonomy between medicine and biology.
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Postby QuizBowlRonin » Wed Nov 23, 2005 2:40 am

grapesmoker wrote:Actually, I think the mitochondria question is not very good. The Margulis/endosymbiosis clue is way too early. Of course, for all I know, the answer could be chloroplasts, but if I was playing against a team with any biology knowledge and they hadn't gotten it yet, I would be buzzing then. I would put that clue towards the end of the question since it's something well-known to non-biologists.

Seth sent me the biology distribution a few hours before it was due, and I had a lookover. I apologize if I didn't catch a few things and put in additional clues when appropriate - I just didn't have any of the books or the time to do some editing.
I think one of the factors that contributed to this gap of which Ray speaks is the fact that some of the most active science writers on the circuit are physicists. Certainly Seth Teitler and myself are far better qualified to write physics than biology. When I have to write a bio question, I almost invariably err on the side of something I've heard of, just because I have no idea if anything else is gettable.

I would love to write more sophisticated questions, but I am afraid of botching it. If Ray (or others) could recommend to me some good sources for such questions, I'll do my best to come up with more of them in future packets.

As suggested, Pubmed bookshelf is good, but descriptions of esoteric topics might be too difficult for some players without a basic molecular biology background. Otherwise, Campbell for basic biology, Stryer or Voet for biochemistry, Lodish or Alberts for molecular and cell biology. Physiology books vary, but Guyton is good, and for anatomy Moore and Persaud.

Folks are welcome to e-mail me at quizbowlronin@gmail.com if they need explanations of certain topics (please, don't abuse this service!).
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Postby QuizBowlRonin » Wed Nov 23, 2005 2:46 am

vandyhawk wrote:As a biomedical engineer, I've taken a boatload of classes with bio in the title somewhere, but I think I've let myself fall in the trap of only writing about stuff that has come up before. It's sometimes hard for me to judge what would be gettable by someone who has only taken, say, intro bio, so like Jerry said, I tend to default to easier, more canonical stuff. That's not to say I don't try to include interesting clues, but I think I need to try harder at that.

The mitochondria question above is pretty bad. As soon as I heard "porins" and "outer membrane" I'd buzz. I honestly feel like taxonomy questions are the worst bio questions, though. Sure, a lot of people learn that info in high school, but does anyone actually cover that in college level courses anymore? I know I've never come across it here. It seems like non-science people who are forced to write science can come up with a taxonomy question pretty easily, and maybe asnwer some too, but I just don't see the value. Obviously taxonomy won't go away, but multiple tossups or bonuses in the subject in a given tournament is just too much.

As far as clinical questions, I don't mind some clinical clues in a tossup about an organ or disease or whatever, but there should be other info (e.g. molecular, structual aspects) as well, and I don't think answers should be allowed that one would only really learn in med school. In some packet from the archive I looked over recently (maybe from BOB?), there was a bonus on cancer drugs. I've taken advanced cancer biology, and I would've been able to get 10 points on the bonus for Taxol. I had heard of another answer, Gleevec, though would not have been able to pull it out. That kind of question is just unacceptable unless it's a tournament for med students. Now asking about p53, though, is a welcome trend, and mabye at ACF Nats this year I can throw in some more related things since those kinds of pathways are being taught to undergrads now too.

I think I've heard questions on RNAi and proteoglycan before at ACF Nats, but I'm not positive on that. I know I've heard a Western blot tossup a few years ago at ACF regs, and too many electrophoresis ones. I'd love to hear more questions on newer experimental techniques (RNAi, RT-PCR, quantum dots, ELISA), as well as some different biochem areas like gluconeogenesis that don't get the same coverage as glycolysis and the electron transport chain.

As far as separating clinical from basic science in the bio distribution, I don't know if that's the best idea. Often, a good question will combine aspects of both areas, and if people start trying to write truly "clinical" questions, that could lead to even more med school-ish questions, which I don't think anyone wants. At least, I don't think you guys want me to crack open our "clinical correlations" lectures from when I took physiology from the med school. A tournament editor can just try to make sure there's a good balance throughout the set.

Those are my thoughts at the moment. I'll be interested to see what Jason has to say.


Really, I appreciate a whole lot what you have to say. I'll do my best when it comes time to edit this years ACF Nationals to keep what you're suggesting in mind. However, please try to remember that I'm not only serving the specialist constituency.
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Postby QuizBowlRonin » Wed Nov 23, 2005 2:57 am

myamphigory wrote:A few comments:

-I don't see Gleevec as an unacceptable answer for the hard part of a bonus. Granted, I'm in a cancer biology program at Chicago, where Janet Rowley, whose work on the Philadelphia chromosome led to the development of Gleevec, works, so I may be biased here. I encountered Gleevec in several undergrad classes (cancer biology and pharmacology), and it's regularly mentioned by anyone talking about targeted therapies, modern drug development, and (sometimes) pharmacogenetics. It's arguable that the development of Gleevec is the most important story in the last decade of pharmacology.

Agreed, but I don't think Gleevec is tossupworthy just yet.

-In part, at least, the reason people have been unwilling to write a lot of biology questions on challenging or otherwise new (to quizbowl) topics is that, when we've tried to do that before, other people have bitched about it. (I recall Selene Koo's ACF Nationals tossup on noted compound (mentioned in six of my undergrad classes) cisplatin being met with pearl-clutching.)

As Matt Reece suggests, this is not a problem exclusive to the biology part of the distribution. Finding out that a tossup answer is something that both teams have never heard of ever just isn't any fun, regardless of intrinsic value of the topic asked.

<snip>
-To those who hate taxonomy questions, how do you propose addressing natural history/biogeophysical sciences/paleo while using askable topics? These topics are a part of biology, too.

Agreed.
-There are certainly questions being asked about newer experimental techniques; I know I've both heard and written questions on RNAi and ELISA. It's nice to see these sorts of things (also, p53, Holliday junctions, etc.--can tossups on Rad51 be far behind?), but on the other hand, while I've heard p53 come up more over the past few years, I can't say I've heard any great questions on it. I'd rather hear good questions than novel answers (though ideally both should be possible).

I know that I've written on p53 in every ACF Nationals since 2002, but I imagine is now the time to expand our horizons a little bit? Rb perhaps?

I too, work in DNA damage response but I unfortunately can't tell you much about what Rad51 does. Perhaps we should start with BRCA1/2?
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Postby recfreq » Wed Nov 23, 2005 4:00 am

Wo, hold on a minute. I'm not talking about specialist topics; don't subject us to the p75 NGF receptor or RSK, either. I was just talking about very basic stuff in very basic mobio courses, e.g. we spent a day and a half on pentose phosphate shunt. I don't know what S matrix is, but I suspect it isn't as important relative to quantum physics as pentose phosphate shunt relative to biochemistry. If it's that important, I guess I just haven't done the reading; 7/8 of my quantum book is unread, and I'll get back to you when I see the phrase "S matrix." I just think it's time to stretch it just a bit, e.g. we studied different types of transposons for a while, and stuff like LINEs and SINEs and LTRs, all with different properties, could very well make good introductory questions, if nothing else at least on bonuses. Lipid synthesis, quantitative genetics, signal transduction components, etc would all make good clues and questions, better than exhausting every amino acid or vitamin _again_. Moreover, this is stuff we should have learned, and people are learning.

No, I don't want people to write specialist stuff either. I don't want to hear more about p23, p46, p294, p1300, whatever, unless it's important (actually, something 1300 is important, I heard, I just don't remember the letter). But stuff we all had to learn in intro mobio, and found in standard texts like Lehninger and Lodish: that's askable. (Foraging the fun clues, that's the fun part.)
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Postby recfreq » Wed Nov 23, 2005 4:08 am

QuizBowlRonin wrote:
myamphigory wrote:I too, work in DNA damage response but I unfortunately can't tell you much about what Rad51 does. Perhaps we should start with BRCA1/2?


How about types of DNA repair? The mismatch repair type, the nucleotide excision repair type, the SOS type, add in some descriptions, plug in some diseases like xeroderma pigmentosum, throw in some proteins like UvrA, MutH/L/S, some helicases, whatever, I think we have a TU. We had to memorize this stuff for the intro mobio, so it should be accessible to bio majors.

I envy your research work in terms of QB compliance. I work on VMAT transporters in mushroom bodies of Drosophila (at least for these two quarters), and there's no way I'll ever subject you to any of the subject matter from my research (I promise), except in a very very tangential manner. On the other hand, I like flies more than humans, so maybe I'm not so envious. Have a good one.
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Re: Biology in the modern QB era.

Postby recfreq » Wed Nov 23, 2005 5:01 am

QuizBowlRonin wrote:I was terribly disappointed by the fact in the finals round that Selene, Subash, Susan, and Seth did not get tossups that I was sure that one of the three would get on the first line – this is not a reflection of their lack of skill as it is a reflection of poor editing and clue-writing on my part.


Jason, I don't recall them not getting the bio, but to be honest, (may be I should have brought this up when it occurred) hepB, Addison, tibia, tetanus, jaundice, and asthma sound like a lot of med. I'm sure all but one or two of those got answered. I'd just envisage one or two evolution-ecology, a bit more physiology, and may be just one question on development, one on neurobiology wouldn't hurt to diversify, but sure, it's all fair game.

QuizBowlRonin wrote:Therefore, tossups like Franck-Condon or RNA interference, while written in a pyramidal manner consistent with ACF values, do not successfully differentiate teams that know their material versus those that do not.


I guess one can argue that we'd not need difficult questions as long as the clues for questions with easy answers have difficult enough clues at the beginning, and I think that ACF nats had that, but I do think that biology != medicine also brings up embarrasing things like me not knowing WTF tibia is. In general, though, isn't it good to have a mix of questions at the nats level of both difficult and easy questions, to probe the breadth of certain players as well. E.g. one could easily write a good, clue-laden question on the glyoxylate cycle--there're at least 4 pages in Stryer. Testing for that knowledge is different from testing whether you could get Calvin cycle really early, so I don't know if it's a good idea to abandon it altogether at the nats level. (At the fall level, yes, let's ban it.)

Thanks for the thoughts, I wasn't trying to be critical of ACF nats in any way. I just found it to be consistent with a trend of having really really easy bio (HS level in most tournies), combined with significantly harder physics and math. Perhaps other people can point out the same trends in other sciences. I think CS is pretty even, other than the fact that people keep thinking programming syntax or unix keyword is computer science. I've found chem to be b/t bio and physics, or just about.

Finally to address the knowable vs. gettable, I think if we go by a standard group of people, it's hard to go wrong. If everybody except one or two is against S matrix (sorry for using this example, Matt), then the majority'd likely rule. I'm just banking on the fact that since most bio people have taken biochem, that pentose-phosphate would still be knowable by the majority of the target audience. Now, whether it's gettable even if you know it, that sounds to me like QB skill, or at least QB communication. If you know the answer and still can't get it, due to language or whatever, then you might not be interpreting the ques correctly, or the ques can be confusing you. But if you just can't say it despite knowing it, then that's just a failure to give the answer despite buzzing in and knowing it, and it's a neg just like any other neg, i.e. it's your skills.

Sorry, I think I really should stop writing at this point.
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Postby grapesmoker » Wed Nov 23, 2005 10:40 am

recfreq wrote: I don't know what S matrix is, but I suspect it isn't as important relative to quantum physics as pentose phosphate shunt relative to biochemistry. If it's that important, I guess I just haven't done the reading; 7/8 of my quantum book is unread, and I'll get back to you when I see the phrase "S matrix."


The S is for "scattering." It's basically a matrix that connects before and after states for some quantum process. I think it was a fine question; it's just that in my class the professor never gave it a name (perhaps he called it the transfer matrix or something, I seem to remember that name). Once I realized what it was, I figured out that it was a basic concept from quantum that I had apparently never learned the name of. But it is important, probably as important in quantum as the pentose-phosphate shunt is in biochemistry, since it's the basic descriptive ingredient of any scattering process.
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Postby setht » Wed Nov 23, 2005 2:59 pm

There are many things I want to respond to in this thread; I guess I'll just wade in and go backwards, for the hell of it.

grapesmoker wrote:The S is for "scattering." It's basically a matrix that connects before and after states for some quantum process. I think it was a fine question; it's just that in my class the professor never gave it a name (perhaps he called it the transfer matrix or something, I seem to remember that name).


This question (and other ACF Nationals 2005 science questions) were discussed in the aftermath of ACF Nats last spring. The thread is still available on the second page of the College area archives.

In that thread, it was noted that the S matrix and transfer matrix are somewhat different things: the transfer matrix connects amplitudes to the left and right of a potential barrier, the S matrix connects incoming and outgoing amplitudes (incoming and outgoing with respect to a potential barrier). Various people (myself, Jerry, Jordan Boyd-Graber) shared heart-warming tales of learning/not really learning about this topic in upper-level quantum mechanics classes, some dude with screen name kws popped in with his thoughts on introductory quantum mechanics classes covering simple Hartree-Fock theory, and Jerry stated that the only reason he would have been able to get the S matrix question was that he was working at the time in a accelerator physics group.

The physical science--in fact, all of the non-bio science at ACF Nationals 2005 (from what I can remember) was harder than the biological science. Through the first 14 or so rounds, I felt that the bio was about the same level, or slightly easier than the rest of the questions (other sciences, and humanities). For the finals rounds, I felt that the bio was still comparable with or somewhat easier than pretty much everything else, while the non-bio science jumped to a significantly harder level than pretty much everything else. Was I fascinated by all the new science material that was coming up? I can't say that I was. I was playing on a team where all four players (Subash, Susan, Selene, and myself) had fairly good science knowledge in various areas. I would guess that that's one of the best science teams that's ever been assembled in terms of breadth and depth of coverage (we didn't know anything about CS, but that was about it for science holes), we were playing a Michigan team with decent but not great science coverage, and we did not derive any advantage from our knowledge (in the first game, we got 0 science tossups, Michigan got 1; in the second game, we got 1 and Michigan got 2; we did not do particularly well on science bonus questions). Any interest I had in learning about, say, the Rackett equation was pretty much entirely lost in feeling frustrated and useless--it really felt like there was little point having non-bio science players for those matches, since the humanities tossups were much more open to contention.

Ray, be careful what you wish for. Encouraging people to write bio tossups with harder answers will probably result in many more questions you will enjoy and find interesting, but it can also result in a couple rounds' worth of questions that leave you scratching your head, which can be frustrating, especially if losing out on the chance to convert your knowledge into points costs you a few key games.

I prefer asking questions with well-known answers (Orion or Orion Nebula rather than the Becklin-Neugebauer Object [yes, this was submitted once to a tournament I was partly editing]) and inserting new material as clues to well-known answers, or using the occasional hard/new answer as one part of a bonus where the other parts are gettable. I think it's important to emphasize the need to keep bonus questions from getting too crazy--it's usually fine to introduce some new, very hard answer as one part of a bonus at, say, ACF Nationals, but if you don't put something there for teams without super-specialized knowledge, it's just not a good bonus. An example that I feel went overboard, taken from the 6th Editor packet of ACF Nationals 2005: there was a bonus on galactic astronomy with parts on "de Vaucouleurs law," "distance modulus," and "Holmberg radius." These are, at best, topics that might appear in advanced undergraduate galactic astronomy courses, but there's a good chance the only people with any shot at getting points on this bonus are graduate astronomy students with a galactic astronomy class under their belts. Even then, it's far from a guaranteed 30 (among other things, de Vaucouleurs and Holmberg are both empirically-fitted quantities that have pretty much passed by the wayside in favor of better-fitting quantities). I think we can do a better job differentiating between teams than "Do you have one or more grad students studying this particular area?"

I really want to encourage people to work on improving questions and expanding the canon (including bio questions) by working on clues and bonus question selection.

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Re: Biology in the modern QB era.

Postby setht » Wed Nov 23, 2005 3:28 pm

recfreq wrote:Jason, I don't recall them not getting the bio


We didn't, according to my notes. I believe the bio tossups in the two final rounds were on asthma and hyphae; I think we negged asthma and got beat to hyphae (I don't remember whether we lost a buzzer race or got beat by a good early buzz). I don't think we felt these tossups were unfair, too hard, or otherwise objectionably (I could be wrong, but I don't remember Susan or Selene objecting). I think hyphae was one of three science tossups converted in two rounds.

recfreq wrote:In general, though, isn't it good to have a mix of questions at the nats level of both difficult and easy questions, to probe the breadth of certain players as well. E.g. one could easily write a good, clue-laden question on the glyoxylate cycle--there're at least 4 pages in Stryer. Testing for that knowledge is different from testing whether you could get Calvin cycle really early, so I don't know if it's a good idea to abandon it altogether at the nats level. (At the fall level, yes, let's ban it.)


A quick look on the internet gives me the impression that the glyoxylate cycle has some links to the Krebs cycle and acetyl-CoA, both of which seem much better-known. I could be wrong about this, but let's suppose for a moment that I'm not. Is there really anything much better about writing a tossup on the glyoxylate cycle than writing a tossup on acetyl-CoA with some clues about its role in the glyoxylate cycle? One possible objection would be that an acetyl-CoA tossup would presumably eventually move to clues about acetyl-CoA that have little or nothing to do with the glyoxylate cycle, while the glyoxylate cycle tossup would focus its full attention on exploring the minutiae of the glyoxylate cycle. However, it seems to me that a writer ought to be able to take pretty much any clue for a "glyoxylate cycle" tossup and convert it to a clue for an "acetyl-CoA" tossup, so unless you feel there's a strong need for tossups with lots and lots of glyoxylate cycle clues, or a need for tossups that fewer teams will answer at the end, I don't see the point of writing on glyoxylate cycle rather than acetyl-CoA. I also think you're much more likely to get teams interested in new information about a topic they've heard of then in new information on a topic they've never heard of.

recfreq wrote:I'm just banking on the fact that since most bio people have taken biochem, that pentose-phosphate would still be knowable by the majority of the target audience.


I'm not sure I believe the majority of the teams at most tournaments have a bio person. Also, is there a difference between "the number of teams that have a bio person" and "the number of teams that have a bio person that has taken a biochem class"? If a biochem class is part of the typical first-year curriculum in bio programs across the land, then the answer is no. But if biochem classes don't pop up until, say, the 3rd year, then the relevant question is "how many teams have an advanced bio player," and at this point I am confident that the majority of the teams at pretty much every tournament (including ACF Nationals) do not fit the bill.

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Postby selene » Wed Nov 23, 2005 5:41 pm

I was going to reply to this thread yesterday, before the thread had approximately doubled in size. I had several things in mind to say, but now I'm no longer sure if they've already been discussed. I'll say them anyway, and hope that I'm not being too redundant.

- I feel like a lot of the complaints about the relative lack of difficulty of bio questions compared to that of physical science questions is not necessarily so much an issue of "the state of question writing in physical science is so much higher/more advanced" than disparities in the goals of editors of these categories. For example, ACF Nationals last year seemed in general to be plagued by questions that were both challenging and not very accessible (I like to believe that the goal of ACF is to write challenging but accessible questions, but that's the topic of another thread, I suppose). On the other hand, the biology questions continued to be both fairly challenging and accessible throughout the tournament. This unfortunately meant that the biology questions were significantly more gettable than the other questions, including the physical science questions, which could lead one to complain that the biology questions were "too easy," and thus perhaps "too boring/uninteresting" (by a gross oversimplification of Ray's argument). Similarly, with the ACF Fall set this year, the physical science questions seemed to have more difficult pyrimidality than the biological science questions; the "mitochondrion" question is *way* more gettable in the middle than the "Brownian motion" question. This isn't necessarily an issue of "the state of biology question writing is not advanced enough," so much as two editors having different ideas of what "ACF Fall difficulty" means.

- Please please don't write questions based on the first one or two pages of PubMed articles. I work in a biological science lab. The only papers I look up regularly on PubMed are those related to my research. Writing tossup leadins from PubMed will help perhaps one person in the whole nation (the one doing research in the field) to get the tossup; for everyone else, it's just more tossup verbiage to listen to before getting to the actual potentially gettable part of the question. It'll make tossups longer, but not actually more substantive.

- I'd also like to reiterate what people have already said, about how it's better to expand the canon with a bonus part or tossup clue, rather than a tossup answer. Yes, I wrote the "cisplatin" tossup, and it was not well-received. It's not one of the best question-writing decisions I've ever made. That was also the ACF Nationals that featured the "Gilman reagents" tossup that I believe no one in the whole tournament got (I didn't write that one). Now, there may be some off chance that someone will find the tossup interesting despite not getting it. Mostly, though, it just leads to pained silence and groans of frustration. Also, we don't want to start making questions gettable only by specialists (as would, I think, start becoming the case if the science writers wrote significant numbers of questions on stuff they learned in their second or third year of undergraduate coursework, which is already starting to get into the realm of "specialized," since the people taking those classes are mostly majors in the field), at least not for an invitational or ACF Fall. I'd rather hear challenging questions on easy topics, than "easy" questions on challenging topics.

- Instituting some kind of arbitrary separation between medicine and biology is not a good idea. Just keep in mind that you can write a biology question that doesn't involve medicine in any way. To some extent, a medically-related biology question is more widely interesting than a biochemistry question that rambles on and on about making some polysyllabic molecule from another polysyllabic molecule, since it ties in with things going wrong, and, well, maybe you know someone with the disease! Thinking that most biology questions need a medical component, though, results in a rather dull question-writing style in which every biology question starts with "It malfunctions in x disease and y disease blah blah blah." Bringing up something that Ray mentioned in his initial post, I learned about gonorrhea in high school sex ed. Granted, I learned about it again in med school. OK, in some sense it isn't "biology" because I didn't learn about it in a class that existed in the "biology" department. I don't think that kind of logic is reasonable, though.

I'm afraid I may have rambled for too long without saying anything new or interesting, so I'll stop here for now. I may actually think of something new and/or interesting to say later, but don't hold your breath.

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Postby mattreece » Wed Nov 23, 2005 6:01 pm

Mostly I agree with what Seth and Selene have said. Harder questions on answerable things are good, questions on completely unknown things are bad. Simple enough, in principle.

But in the interests of helping to calibrate what is gettable and what is not, I have some questions.

selene wrote:Similarly, with the ACF Fall set this year, the physical science questions seemed to have more difficult pyrimidality than the biological science questions; the "mitochondrion" question is *way* more gettable in the middle than the "Brownian motion" question.


Is this really true? Yes, the mitochondria question gives away the answer pretty early even to a non-specialist. But Perrin is mentioned really early in the Brownian motion question, and I think of Perrin as almost a giveaway for Brownian motion. This isn't because I'm in any way an expert on Brownian motion, by the way; for one thing, I'm not, and for another, I think for me this is quizbowl knowledge possibly dating back to high school. I thought it was fairly well-known. Maybe I'm wrong.

Next, since several people have been saying that the physical sciences questions at ACF Nationals 2005 were much harder than the biological science questions: to what extent was this true within physics? I am aware of the complaints about "S-matrix" and "fluctuation-dissipation theorem," and I admit those were poor choices for a tossup. Were there a lot of other examples, or did these two just stand out? I want to make sure I don't cause similar problems at future tournaments.
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Postby recfreq » Wed Nov 23, 2005 6:31 pm

selene wrote:That was also the ACF Nationals that featured the "Gilman reagents" tossup that I believe no one in the whole tournament got (I didn't write that one). Now, there may be some off chance that someone will find the tossup interesting despite not getting it.


I don't recall seeing Gilman reagent, but have certainly gotten it somewhere, practice or otherwise. I thought the o-chem from ACF nats was solid: Birch reduction, Hunsdiecker rxn, Canizzaro rxn, etc alls seem at about the nats level when you consider what is asked at the regs level, so I was quite happy. But there's no real change in answer space for the biology, when I expected something a bit harder; still I was fine with it b/c it had more difficult clues (not just somewhat difficult, but ACF nats level difficulty) at the beginning. (And also, we shouldn't be 30ing a glycolysis bonus at nats.) It's fine just to have more difficult clues, I just think there're niches for a few things here or there that _really_ are very well known that gets ignored, akin say to the Casimir effect or Josephson junction for physics (e.g. there're more than just Krebs, Calvin, and glycolysis). b/c people don't write on them, we think they're hard, when in fact they're more than well represented in standard bio curricula comparable to the physics curricula. (And not even doing borderline stuff here.)

OK, I don't think I"m saying anything new either, but thanks for all the discussion, everybody.
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Re: Biology in the modern QB era.

Postby recfreq » Wed Nov 23, 2005 6:54 pm

setht wrote:I don't see the point of writing on glyoxylate cycle rather than acetyl-CoA. I also think you're much more likely to get teams interested in new information about a topic they've heard of then in new information on a topic they've never heard of.


acetyl coA is involved in _everything_, including beta oxidation, lipid synthesis, etc, whereas glyoxylate cycle is it's own process. It'd be like writing glucose vs. glycolysis, they're just different things, even though one happens to appear in the other. E.g. glyoxylate cycle uses diff enzymes, some of which are analogous to Krebs, but some not, and converts Krebs intermediates into carbohydrates, basically another shunt. Also, we have questions on both author and book she's primarily known for, right? So given glyoxylate is semi-well-known, I don't see inherently why it shouldn't come up as TU answer, but only at, say, ACF nats. But I _do_ think for usual tournaments, it's better to have the easier thing come up, and in this case, either acetyl coA or Krebs.

setht wrote:But if biochem classes don't pop up until, say, the 3rd year, then the relevant question is "how many teams have an advanced bio player," and at this point I am confident that the majority of the teams at pretty much every tournament (including ACF Nationals) do not fit the bill.


At UCLA, people take it their 1st two years. At Berkeley, it varies, but I had both sophomore and junior classmates. But I think that applies to every other discipline like physics and math. How many people have taken analysis before junior year? Probly not many, still "compact," "closed," "metric space," "Stone-Wierstrauss," etc come up, and even at regs level. In fact, for QB terms the amt of training you require to get bio questions is the _least_ among all the major sciences, you just need to get through HS. (This is a plug for new QB players to study bio, b/c you'll catch on faster.) The amt of training required for physics is just greater (quantum, solid state, particle). Bio is such that if you took the intro bio and intro mobio, you could become one of the better bio players out there.

But anyhow, Seth, I am being very careful what I wish for. I'd rather get stumped on a mobio question than not hearing anything beyond the usual Calvin cycle Krebs cycle stuff. May be this is b/c I found the Hunsdiecker and Birch amusing from nats, so anything remotely approaching those things would be cool for me. I still can't get over the greatness of the glutamate question, though, and if you're responsible, I'd just like to give you a big warm hug. It even mentioned the loop pore structure and stuff, though skipped some of the TM terminology. Having sat through a kainate receptor (another glutamate receptor) lecture during SfN, I asked myself why I waited so long on that question, and then I realized that I got to hear most of the wonderfulness. Given that no one complained of its difficulty, I'd just like to label the ACF fall "glutamate" question as the quintessential model for all future bio questions, what ever that means, b/c it had most of what you'd look for in a bio question: the mechanism, the structure, applications, research, etc.
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Postby setht » Wed Nov 23, 2005 10:19 pm

mattreece wrote:Next, since several people have been saying that the physical sciences questions at ACF Nationals 2005 were much harder than the biological science questions: to what extent was this true within physics? I am aware of the complaints about "S-matrix" and "fluctuation-dissipation theorem," and I admit those were poor choices for a tossup. Were there a lot of other examples, or did these two just stand out? I want to make sure I don't cause similar problems at future tournaments.


I don't have a very clear memory of much of the tournament. From what I do remember, the science tossups for the first 14 rounds or so seemed generally fine--I'm guessing the non-bio science tossups were a bit harder than the bio tossups, but I don't think we were struggling to convert science tossups. Those last two rounds just had a sudden concentration of significantly harder non-bio science tossups (not just the physics, either). I really don't remember how we did on science bonus questions throughout the tournament, but I'm told we actually had reasonabe conversion rates in most of the physical sciences (with the possible exception of chemistry) for the first 14 rounds. I don't remember too much about the science bonus questions in the 2 final rounds, other than a pair of really hard astro and earth science bonus questions (one of them being the de Vaucouleurs/distance modulus/Holmberg radius bonus I alluded to earlier).

My general impression was that the bio set was pretty acceptable and appropriate for the audience. I think the non-bio science for the first 14 rounds followed the trend of the rest of the questions: pretty good, pyramidal tossups on reasonably gettable topics, with bonus questions that were too hard (I remember Andrew noting afterward that if he'd had a bit more time, he would have gone through and changed 10-12 hard bonus parts per round; certainly the science bonus questions weren't the only ones with this problem, but I also think they didn't avoid the problem [with the probable exception of biology]). I don't know if Andrew asked for harder questions for the finals packets; the humanities seemed to ramp up a little bit, while the non-bio science jumped up quite a bit (again, we weren't struggling to convert science tossups in the first 14 rounds--I don't remember any match prior to the final rounds where 2 or 3 science tossups went dead [which happened in both final games], and I'm pretty certain we didn't go 0 for 4 on the science tossups in any round prior to the first final match).

Those were my impressions, hopefully you'll get feedback from more people.

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Re: Biology in the modern QB era.

Postby setht » Wed Nov 23, 2005 11:25 pm

recfreq wrote:acetyl coA is involved in _everything_, including beta oxidation, lipid synthesis, etc, whereas glyoxylate cycle is it's own process. It'd be like writing glucose vs. glycolysis, they're just different things, even though one happens to appear in the other. E.g. glyoxylate cycle uses diff enzymes, some of which are analogous to Krebs, but some not, and converts Krebs intermediates into carbohydrates, basically another shunt. Also, we have questions on both author and book she's primarily known for, right? So given glyoxylate is semi-well-known, I don't see inherently why it shouldn't come up as TU answer, but only at, say, ACF nats. But I _do_ think for usual tournaments, it's better to have the easier thing come up, and in this case, either acetyl coA or Krebs.


If acetyl CoA really is involved in everything, all the more reason to prefer writing a tossup on it to writing a tossup on the glyoxylate cycle (unless that has similarly wide-ranging importance). Also, I don't think I believe your premise that glyoxylate cycle is semi-well-known (unless you mean that in the sense of "the glyoxylate cycle is semi-well-known to people who have completed multiple years' worth of coursework in bio/biochem," which is clearly very different from "the glyoxylate cycle is semi-well-known in the quizbowl community").

Having thrown that out there, I'll ask: suppose you come up with a juicy clue about the glyoxylate cycle; if you can think of a way to reword things so as to use it as a clue towards an acetyl CoA tossup, why would that be at all worse than using the clue in a glyoxylate cycle tossup? A player that knows about the glyoxylate cycle will beat players that don't to your acetyl CoA tossup, just as they would beat players to your glyoxylate cycle tossup. The difference between the two is that, in matches where both teams have never heard of the glyoxylate cycle, the acetyl CoA tossup has a chance of being converted. I think a fairly large fraction of players on the circuit have heard of acetyl CoA but not the glyoxylate cycle (which sounds like the sort of thing people generally study after multiple years of bio/biochem coursework).

recfreq wrote:I still can't get over the greatness of the glutamate question, though, and if you're responsible, I'd just like to give you a big warm hug.


The credit for that tossup lies entirely with some team and/or Sudheer. I'm glad you enjoyed the question, and I'll ask: if all the bio tossups at ACF Nationals were of similar quality, but on similarly widely-known topics, would that be such a bad thing? Personally, I'd rather see writers strive to write great ACF Nationals-level tossups on "the Earth's mantle" or "electric field" than on "the D'' layer" or "Jefimenko's equations."

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Postby recfreq » Thu Nov 24, 2005 12:28 am

Seth, I agree with you, not much would be better than an in-depth question on acetylcholine, or gastrulation. (I mean glyoxylate is somewhat known in the qb community.) But a couple of arguments why glyoxylate would still work at the ACF nats or regs level:

1. Actually, glyoxylate cycle is covered in basic biochem metabolism section, usually after Krebs and before light and dark reactions of photosynthesis (although that could be switched around). I remember a whole discussion section just about glyoxylate cycle, and I don't think people go on to study it in any future classes, except possibly for those doing research in the area. I think everybody who took say the Cal MCB 102 (Biochem and Mobio in one semester) will have heard of it and discussed it by the time the class is over. It's also in its own section in Lehninger, Stryer, etc. Competent bio majors will be all over it (aside: I remember this is what Raj Bhan told us once about o-chem).

2. I agree that such an acetyl coA question will be very good, but that doesn't mean we should never write the glyoxylate ques. Just b/c I could put a cool Crime and Punishment clue in the beg of my Dostoyevsky TU doesn't mean I couldn't also ask Crime and Punishment in its own TU _as long as I had enough for a good ques_. What I'm contending is that there's _a lot_ on glyoxylate just from no more than a few pages of Lehninger (akin to the way I wrote that translation ques from Lodish, just a few pages). I think you'll agree that the translation ques was good enough, and I think you can do the same with glyoxylate. Also, there's too much on glyoxylate cycle to just summarize in a sentence in front of the acetyl coA (glyoxisome, btw are named this way, you could bring in peroxisomes and various other processes). And also, how about "I already wrote an acetyl coA and I want to write something else."

But anyways, I think we're just arguing about not very much here. I just think that like you, I'd like to hear in-depth questions on basic things (much like your philosophy on writing the myth tourney--BTW we'll try to read that at some pt so Charles and Dwight can give you feedback), but I'd also like to hear a few questions testing players' breadth _once in a while_ in regs and nats tournies, much as we like asking Jean Rhys once in a while even though we'd like to ask Dickens and James most of the time, and Hunsdiecker in addition to Wittig. (I'll point you to my social science packet from TTGT11 for the confirmation of my belief in that easy-but-in-depth philosophy.)

BTW happy thanksgiving.
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Postby cvdwightw » Mon Nov 28, 2005 3:53 pm

Two things:

(1) At UCLA no one can take biochemistry until at least their second year. I am a third year and will finally be taking it next quarter.

(2) Had I been paying attention during the Brownian motion tossup (I still have a tendency to miss hearing important clues from time to time), I would have gotten it at "Wiener process," but only because I've read ahead in my probability textbook. This begs the question: is it good to have people answering biology questions based on things they learned outside biology (also e.g. Selene's example with "gonorrhea")?
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Postby grapesmoker » Mon Nov 28, 2005 4:32 pm

cvdwightw wrote: is it good to have people answering biology questions based on things they learned outside biology (also e.g. Selene's example with "gonorrhea")?


Sure it is. Why not? After all, it's not like you're answering based on a "sounds like" clue or something stupid; you're answering based on real knowledge that you acquired in another context. Doesn't seem like there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it's good.
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Postby QuizBowlRonin » Mon Nov 28, 2005 5:33 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
cvdwightw wrote: is it good to have people answering biology questions based on things they learned outside biology (also e.g. Selene's example with "gonorrhea")?


Sure it is. Why not? After all, it's not like you're answering based on a "sounds like" clue or something stupid; you're answering based on real knowledge that you acquired in another context. Doesn't seem like there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it's good.


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