Changing the Science Distribution

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Mike Bentley
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Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mike Bentley »

There was a lengthy discussion in the chat tonight between myself, Eric Mukherjee, Jonathan Magin and Gautam Kandlikar. This forum post is a summary of the arguments that Jonathan and I made advocating a reduction in the chemistry distribution.

Some of the major points were:
The chemistry canon is uninteresting because the clues are obtuse, the answer space is small and outside exposure is limited, even in comparison to other sciences.
Chemistry questions are harder than average questions, not just to answer at the giveaway but to understand and associate early clues for.
Chemistry appeals to an extremely small niche of players, probably the smallest for anything that makes up 1/1 in the canon.

Jonathan made his points better than I did, so I'll leave it to him, but even Eric and Gautam agreed that the current chemistry distribution, as it works in practice, places too great of an emphasis on ochem.

To rectify this problem, I'd like to see the science distribution (the 4/4 that ultimately ends up in packets) to this:
1/1 Physics
1/1 Biology
0.5/0.5 Chemistry
1/1 Other Sciences*
0.5/0.5 TBD

*Tournaments that I edit at least have 1/1 Other Science, but there was some disagreement over this was the "official number". Some put this at 0.5/0.5 with the other 0.5/0.5 going to the other "big 3". I think this is too small, but that's a somewhat different argument.

I'd like to see the 0.5/0.5 TBD applied in the following manner:
Equally distributed between Biology, Chemistry and Other Sciences. If people feel this gives too much weight to other sciences, I'd be for adding Physics to this sub-distribution or removing Other Sciences. But if we stick with my proposal, the final numbers in a packet would look like:
1/1 Physics
1.15/1.15 Bio
0.65/0.65 Chemistry
1.15/1.15 Other Sciences

Eric and Gautam felt that the 0.5/0.5 removed from Chemistry should be moved to Biology to boost the Biochemistry distribution, which they argue is more interesting than the regular ochem-heavy Chemistry distribution. I agree that this is the case, but I think that this gives too much weight to biology, which is why I proposed my solution, above.

My apologies if I've misrepresented anyone's arguments.

What are people's thoughts on this? Is there some secret cabal of people besides the like of Eric, Gautam, Westbrook and Andy Watkins who really enjoy the chemistry distribution as it is now and do not want to see it diminished in favor of other parts of the science canon? Or do a majority of people agree with the sentiments of Jonathan and myself that the distribution should be shifted to make for a more interesting quizbowl experience in general.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

My only defense of the current emphasis given to chemistry (particularly organic) would be motivated by the fact that it would help me score points, not because it is the right thing for quizbowl.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Gautam »

Just to clarify, I think a lot of material that's worthy of being chem gets shoved away into the physics distribution too. A lot of the thermodynamics and quantum chem things which could easily be under the chem distro are usually placed in the physics distro.

50% ochem is too much and I strive my hardest to avoid it. However, there's really little I can do if a majority of the submissions for tournaments I edit are more than 50% ochem.

GK

EDIT: forgot quantum chem.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Lapego1 »

So, what's fundamentally wrong with including biochemistry in the chem distribution and just making it 1/1? Biochemistry might entail things from biology but the clues would be chemistry-heavy. This seems like a modest compromise between interestingness/accessability of answers and actual chemistry knowledge required to answer the questions.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by QuizBowlRonin »

i agree with this proposal on principle.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Gautam »

Bentley Like Beckham wrote: To rectify this problem, I'd like to see the science distribution (the 4/4 that ultimately ends up in packets) to this:
1/1 Physics
1/1 Biology
0.5/0.5 Chemistry
1/1 Other Sciences*
0.5/0.5 TBD

*Tournaments that I edit at least have 1/1 Other Science, but there was some disagreement over this was the "official number". Some put this at 0.5/0.5 with the other 0.5/0.5 going to the other "big 3". I think this is too small, but that's a somewhat different argument.
I have yet to play at tournaments where 50% of the other sci is devoted to the big 3. I don't think the other science currently needs any kind of bailout, really. I would much rather just see more people writing biochem questions which have good chem clues in them, or some more non-organic chem.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Crimson Rosella »

I echo Andrew's sentiments concerning bias with respect to this argument (though my deepest knowledge is more in the realm of physical and industrial chemistry), so I'll be conservative in my objections. I'd also like to see Eric and Jonathan's comments before I make any.

However, I would like to know the basis for determination of the distribution. Is it based on preferences of quizbowl players or is it meant to be a relative measure of the academic relevance of a category? A combination of these, perhaps?
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by SnookerUSF »

So...

Lying within the redistribution schemes that you have proposed; it seems that you have done some disservice to your overall goal, which in and of itself is a laudable one. Initially, you claim that the chemistry canon is "uninteresting" because of clue obtuseness and limited outside access, but then proceed to list a number of other areas: biochem, thermodynamics, p-chem, I'll add material science to the list, wherein significant inroads are made into the ostensible abyss that is the chemistry canon of which you speak. Clearly, these areas of inquiry have their own niche appeals and information could mined more robustly for clues that compose good chemistry tossups. So perhaps your real target is the preponderance of organic chemistry/industrial chemistry questions that have in recent years dominated that portion of the canon. I wonder then if the right tactic is to shift interest into other areas within chemistry rather than the partial elision of a sub-distribution.

More critically, are there some metrics you are considering to base your claim that chemistry questions are indeed "harder" on average than other questions within the science distribution, by the way, I assume by harder you mean answered later in the question or answered less often. If that were the case, then might we first seek to rectify the way in which such questions are written structurally, (I am not proposing a positive program of rectification, lamentably) rather than throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Hypothetically, if it just happened to be that the biology category was the harder-on-average one, would you offer then mutatis mutandis, that that category should be restricted in a similar fashion.

Also, what exactly do mean by "appeal" when referring to the niche of players interested. If we include: biochem, p-chem and other flavors of chem, haven't we come somewhat close to exhausting the set of natural and physical science majors that would take chemistry as a required course...OR, have I completely misunderstood your usage of the word "appeal," which I take to mean something that someone would show sufficient devotion for, such that he/she would pursue it as a program of study at the collegiate and/or post-baccalaureate level. All of this is to suggest that the numbers of such majors (in quizbowl and generally in school) would go a long way to justifying the 1/1 distribution requirement. Though to be quiet honest, I am not totally sold on this either, given the unpalatable consequences of accepting it as a standard from which to form the distribution, i.e. 5/5 marketing/advertising/accounting or some nonsense like that. But given the current distribution as it stands, the appeal factor seems hard to ignore on this basis.

Of course this is not to devalue or undermine the apparently masochistic few who pursue the study of chemistry as an avocation, but avocation aside, I don't know how you could see your way through to suggesting that the appeal of chemistry is limited in a way that biology, mathematics, or even music (excluding opera) is not, all of which have 1/1 distribution requirements. I pick music intentionally since I see some correspondence to the way in which non-operatic music tossups are currently written (with their heavy emphasis on structure and compositional characteristics), and the complaints you lodge (obtuse clues, limited access to them) regarding chemistry. I am not interested in reigniting that most inharmonious debate, but if you could indulge me a spell, and drive a disanalogy between music and chemistry that would be most appreciated.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by dtaylor4 »

SnookerUSF wrote:5/5 marketing/advertising/accounting or some nonsense like that.
Hey, what about those of us who'd actually like such a distro? Note: If I felt that I could toss up enough topics for a theme round, I'd do it, but as of right now I find it highly unlikely.

To go back on topic: After reading Ahmad's comments, I'd also like to see an answer to one question I think he's asking: If there is a problem, which from my perusal most posters have agreed exists, do you shift the focus of said subdistribution, or cut down on the amount of it? Also, those who advocate for more questions on other areas of chem, where would you get them from, and how would you introduce them to the circuit?

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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by magin »

My argument is not that chemistry is unimportant; actually, I believe that chemistry's importance requires it to be a fundamental part of the science canon. However (and bear in mind that I do not have rigorous empirical data to back up my beliefs), it seems to me that in quizbowl, chemistry is disproportionally represented by questions on organic chemistry. Furthermore, it seems that many of the early clues for tossups on chemical reactions and functional groups refer to ways to modify the reactions, ways to create the functional groups, et cetera. Considering that many of these clues sound very similar to someone without a rigorous background in chemistry (such as, for instance, the majority of the circuit) and are thus "boring," (not to all players, but certainly to many players), and considering that the richness of chemistry as a scientific discipline is, I think, poorly represented by such a large amount of those clues, I think the circuit has two logical options:

1) Keep 1/1 chemistry per packet, but emphasize parts of chemistry that are not purely o-chem. Gautam and Eric suggested biochem and physical chemistry as areas which could pick up the slack. However, it seems that many of the chemistry writers in quizbowl write many questions about organic chemistry, I don't know how practical such a transition would be. Even so, I think this sort of change would be welcome.

2) Reduce the chemistry distribution somewhat. Mike proposed a new science distribution in his post; I think a possibly useful science distribution would be 1/1 bio, 1/1 chem, and 3/3 other science, such as chemistry, earth science, geology, astronomy, math, and computer science. I'm certainly open to suggestions, though.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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2) Reduce the chemistry distribution somewhat. Mike proposed a new science distribution in his post; I think a possibly useful science distribution would be 1/1 bio, 1/1 chem, and 3/3 other science, such as chemistry, earth science, geology, astronomy, math, and computer science. I'm certainly open to suggestions, though.
That's 5/5, and I'm assuming you mean 1/1 bio, 1/1 physics, and 3/3 other science. I actually like that idea on face value (translating it to 1/1 bio, 1/1 physics, and 2/2 other science). A lot of times there's good math or CS that people want to get in, and it shouldn't be slipped in as a fifth science tossup as that ups science to 25% of the distribution. I also think this would encourage the expansion of math, earth science and geology, astro, atmospheric science, CS, and interdisciplinary science to be expanded.

However, I'd say that adopting the idea of keeping chem 1/1 but making sure people know that chem includes biochem would be a positive, as the non-biochem bio canon is extraordinarily expansive and sometimes underrepresented, perhaps since science students tend to touch on biochem in classes more than other areas of biology (that is, chem and even physics majors are likely to get some exposure to biochem, whereas you might really need a bio or pre-med degree to get much exposure to the other fields of biology). This also opens up the door for more tossups on warblers, which is sure to please Jeff Hoppes.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:My argument is not that chemistry is unimportant; actually, I believe that chemistry's importance requires it to be a fundamental part of the science canon. However (and bear in mind that I do not have rigorous empirical data to back up my beliefs), it seems to me that in quizbowl, chemistry is disproportionally represented by questions on organic chemistry.
I agree with this on principle, which is why I'm fine with expanding to areas like physical chemistry, polymer chemistry, industrial chemistry, chemistry lab techniques, nuclear chemistry, tossups on people like Lewis and Boyle, tossups on types of spectroscopy that are important, etc. While I agree that there's probably too much organic chemistry in quizbowl, I don't think that's a function of the canon as much as people's lack of imagination about what to write about; organic chemistry, being what it is, has lots of things with names. I'd also encourage people to write more tossups on things like acetic acid, ethylene, taxol, etc, that are both important and have tons of clues that someone with a solid grasp of chemistry would know before giveaways about vinegar or whatever.

As an aside, in 12 rounds of fall, I only remember hearing 4 tossups on organic chemistry (Diels-Alder, Grignard, alkynes, wittig), but that is probably an imperfect memory.
Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:Furthermore, it seems that many of the early clues for tossups on chemical reactions and functional groups refer to ways to modify the reactions, ways to create the functional groups, et cetera. Considering that many of these clues sound very similar to someone without a rigorous background in chemistry (such as, for instance, the majority of the circuit) and are thus "boring,"
Here's where I feel like your argument breaks down. Modifications of reactions and methods of synthesizing various groups might sound similar to someone with no background in chemistry, but that's why these things are put into the leadin; because people with a background in chemistry should and will know these things, and beat players who don't have said background. Just because the first half of a tossup on Diels-Alder sounds like noise to many people isn't a reason to get rid of these clues, its a reason for people who don't know these clues to go home and read about them (which is possible: my teammate Aaron, in his zeal, has picked up a copy of Sorrell's Organic Chemistry and has begun to read AND understand it. And it has already gotten him points).

Say I'm listening to a tossup on something from physics that I haven't studied, or an algorithm that I've never used, or an organ that I know nothing about; by your standard, the first half of that tossup will sound unfamiliar and "boring" to me because a lot of theorems and syndromes have similar names, and big-O notation and parallelization means nothing to someone who hasn't studied these things. That isn't a reason to get rid of those clues, its a reason for people to go home and learn them. There are several examples of CS concepts or effects from physics that I didn't mind reading about when I got home, and I don't see how that's any different from someone like Aaron (who's an engineer, fyi) going home and doing the same for Diels-Alder.
Coral Gardens and their Magin wrote:(not to all players, but certainly to many players), and considering that the richness of chemistry as a scientific discipline is, I think, poorly represented by such a large amount of those clues,
This is also untrue. There's plenty of active research on new modifications and synthesis methods, because these things need to be constantly improved for drug design, etc (and it shows in questions. A tossup on Grignard reagents with Tamoxifen in the leadin is the perfect example of this). Not only is chemistry well-represented by these things, chemistry IS synthesis methods and improvements on well-established reactions. Note, this argument is completely separate from the argument regarding the over-representation of organic chemistry; what I'm saying is that when organic chemistry appears, it should be written in the same way that it is now - but I'm open to it appearing less.
Coral Gardens and their Magin wrote:I think the circuit has two logical options:

1) Keep 1/1 chemistry per packet, but emphasize parts of chemistry that are not purely o-chem. Gautam and Eric suggested biochem and physical chemistry as areas which could pick up the slack. However, it seems that many of the chemistry writers in quizbowl write many questions about organic chemistry, I don't know how practical such a transition would be. Even so, I think this sort of change would be welcome.
This transition would be possible; biologists and physicists are capable of writing biochem and physical chemistry questions fairly easily, so I don't think this will be as difficult as you think. Plus, Gautam and I have a large enough hand in a lot of tournaments that we can make the transition happen.
Coral Gardens and their Magin wrote: 2) Reduce the chemistry distribution somewhat. Mike proposed a new science distribution in his post; I think a possibly useful science distribution would be 1/1 bio, 1/1 physics, and 3/3 other science, such as chemistry, earth science, geology, astronomy, math, and computer science. I'm certainly open to suggestions, though.
I think this under-represents chemistry relative to everything else, so I'd rather go with proposal I.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

So if the proposal is to transfer biochem from bio to chem, what replaces it in biology? Tossups about puppies?
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Auroni »

Of Jonathan's two proposed solutions, I'm inclined to go with the latter -- an overall reduction in the chemistry distribution. This isn't the first time we've pointed out that something must be done to deemphasize o-chem, yet roughly the same amount gets put in anyway. I think reducing it to .5/.5 is still enough for lovers of chemistry to be satisfied with the chem in the tournament.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Gautam »

JelloBiafra wrote: I think reducing it to .5/.5 is still enough for lovers of chemistry to be satisfied with the chem in the tournament.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Sima Guang Hater »

Whig's Boson wrote:So if the proposal is to transfer biochem from bio to chem, what replaces it in biology? Tossups about puppies?
Diseases, organ systems, evolutionary biology, ecology, cell biology (organelles, cell types, cell processes like apoptosis and necrosis), taxonomy (necessary evil), plant physiology, endocrinology...the list goes on.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Furthermore, it seems that many of the early clues for tossups on chemical reactions and functional groups refer to ways to modify the reactions, ways to create the functional groups, et cetera. Considering that many of these clues sound very similar to someone without a rigorous background in chemistry (such as, for instance, the majority of the circuit) and are thus "boring,"
I know Eric already pointed this out, but I'm very wary of any reasoning based on the fact that a lot of people find something boring. That same logic can apply to classical music tossups, which make many obscure references or have some theory clues in them, which are hard to understand by the layman. I certainly don't think people are walking around proposing we cut the classical music 1/1, or at least I really hope not.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by magin »

I know Eric already pointed this out, but I'm very wary of any reasoning based on the fact that a lot of people find something boring. That same logic can apply to classical music tossups, which make many obscure references or have some theory clues in them, which are hard to understand by the layman. I certainly don't think people are walking around proposing we cut the classical music 1/1, or at least I really hope not.
Charlie, it's certainly possible to write an acceptable classical music question without using music theory clues; in fact, there are many ways to write good music tossups. However, it seems like there are few ways to write pyramidal organic chemistry tossups, all of which rely on the same sort of clues. That is what I'm objecting to, not the existence of clues many people may not understand.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

What we have to remember is that the shape of the canon of any given subject is different at different levels of difficulty. You can't ask completely green teams physical chemistry because they'll know it neither from class nor because it's a quizbowl thing you just have to know. There is such a thing as freshman orgo; there is (I hope) no such thing as freshman pchem. Consequently, when you're actively trying to recruit teams that do not play quizbowl regularly to play quizbowl, chemistry will inevitably have high organic content--certainly higher than if you have more leeway with subject area.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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everyday847 wrote:You can't ask completely green teams physical chemistry because they'll know it neither from class nor because it's a quizbowl thing you just have to know. There is such a thing as freshman orgo; there is (I hope) no such thing as freshman pchem.
But freshman teams will have taken general chemistry; lots of physical chemistry is just the underpinnings of things like orbital theory or chemical equilibria. So there's another source for leadins.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
everyday847 wrote:You can't ask completely green teams physical chemistry because they'll know it neither from class nor because it's a quizbowl thing you just have to know. There is such a thing as freshman orgo; there is (I hope) no such thing as freshman pchem.
But freshman teams will have taken general chemistry; lots of physical chemistry is just the underpinnings of things like orbital theory or chemical equilibria. So there's another source for leadins.
Sure, clue space isn't (too much of) a problem. It's answer space.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:
I know Eric already pointed this out, but I'm very wary of any reasoning based on the fact that a lot of people find something boring. That same logic can apply to classical music tossups, which make many obscure references or have some theory clues in them, which are hard to understand by the layman. I certainly don't think people are walking around proposing we cut the classical music 1/1, or at least I really hope not.
Charlie, it's certainly possible to write an acceptable classical music question without using music theory clues; in fact, there are many ways to write good music tossups. However, it seems like there are few ways to write pyramidal organic chemistry tossups, all of which rely on the same sort of clues. That is what I'm objecting to, not the existence of clues many people may not understand.
There are plenty of different types of clues for organic reactions: modifications, workup procedures, reaction alternatives, mechanism/selectivity information, famous syntheses that use said reaction, etc. For functional groups, you have: spectroscopic information, synthetic information, protecting groups, methods of detection (eg Tollens reagent), biological significance, particularly important examples (Malonic esters, the Wieland-Meischer ketone), etc. There's at least as many ways to write a tossup on ketones as there is to write a tossup on Mozart's 5th symphony, I'd wager. Just because the clues all sound like gibberish to people without chemistry background doesn't mean they don't vary.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Saiem »

Well, Chemistry is certainly important, I'm not going to argue that. Andy brought up the rather interesting point about answer space, which is certainly a legitimate concern for the expansion of the canon in that direction (at least until someone provides some evidence to the contrary, I honestly don't know). The easily accessible portion of the chemistry canon gets consumed into the physics canon. If people are bored by the clues, move it to the bonuses. I wouldn't hate that personally. 0/2 distro for chemistry?

In the context of this discussion about Science, I would certainly like to advocate an expansion of the Math and Computer Science canon, because I feel like there is plenty of unmined territory there especially. Considering Mathematics is the foundation for many of the sciences, I don't see how we cannot come up with a larger answer space for Mathematics. I'm advocating for a 1/1 Math and Computer Science split in every packet, basically. I don't think thats toooo much to ask, especially if there is some sort of change in the chemistry canon.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Gautam »

Saiem wrote: I would certainly like to advocate an expansion of the Math and Computer Science canon
Special interest groups itt.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by ihavenoidea »

gkandlikar wrote:
Saiem wrote: I would certainly like to advocate an expansion of the Math and Computer Science canon
Special interest groups itt.
I advocate for the expansion of the Qing dynasty of Chinese history canon, particularly those tossups that can be gotten by watching Chinese dramas.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by leapfrog314 »

Saiem wrote:I would certainly like to advocate an expansion of the Math and Computer Science canon
Hey, so I actually think this idea needs to be examined more closely. In high school, theoretical math and CS are converted at extremely low rates, so the science canon is pretty much just biology, chemistry, and physics (and computational math, I guess).

I would wager that the fraction of college players who actually know stuff about math or CS is fairly high, perhaps higher than the number who like to answer the 1/1 "named o-chem reactions" distribution. And this isn't exactly just a special interest group for some sub-sub-category or something; math and computer science are very active fields of science which, combined, I think need to get some amount of love from the distribution above "1/1 math and CS and geology and astronomy."

In order to stay slightly on topic: I agree with Jonathan's second solution, and think that biology could stand to include more biochemistry. But hey, if anyone's looking for other subjects to round out the science distro...(cough)...
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by grapesmoker »

Oh boy, a science discussion.

I'll say that I'm generally in agreement with Eric in saying that "this is a boring topic" is not a very good rationale for modifying the distribution. I personally find chemistry questions dull, but I also find geography dull; that's a function of personal interests rather than any intrinsic worth of either topic. I like the solution #1 proposed by Jonathan above and I would definitely encourage teams to try and be creative about what they write on. However, I think it's an inescapable fact that much of biology is going to be biochemistry (my impression is that at least half of biologists are working at the molecular level), so it's going to be part of the bio canon. Of course, people shouldn't ignore other areas of the field, like population biology, evolutionary biology, and so on, but I estimate that out of the 2/2 chem bio distribution, we are very likely to see at least 1/1 of the bio be on essentially biochemistry topics. I think that as far as o-chem goes, it should probably only be 1/0 or 0/1 of the chem distribution (as a physicist, I kind of think that the predominance of o-chem is a little like having a 1/1 guaranteed solid-state distribution in each round, which is not a good idea). There are definitely other areas of chemistry that should be explored; Eric mentioned techniques, instruments, physical chemistry, etc.

I personally would like to see the "other" distribution get a little more play; I would not be opposed to increasing it at the expense of 1/0 or 0/1 chemistry. I think that math, CS, geology, and to a lesser degree astronomy should be a larger part of the distribution. The geology/geophysics and CS canons in particular could use a little expansion; I feel that I'm hearing (and sometimes writing, to my shame) the same 5 "mantle plumes" tossups and there's lots of interesting things to write about in those fields.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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Jerry wrote:However, I think it's an inescapable fact that much of biology is going to be biochemistry (my impression is that at least half of biologists are working at the molecular level), so it's going to be part of the bio canon. Of course, people shouldn't ignore other areas of the field, like population biology, evolutionary biology, and so on, but I estimate that out of the 2/2 chem bio distribution, we are very likely to see at least 1/1 of the bio be on essentially biochemistry topics.
I have to say that this confuses me quite a bit. Are you using "biochem" to cover, like, all non-organismal biology, as your definition of "other areas of the field" seems to suggest? Because while I'm reasonably favorably inclined to including more biochem in chemistry, I think I'm working with a much stricter definition of what constitutes biochem than you're talking about here.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

myamphigory wrote:
Jerry wrote:However, I think it's an inescapable fact that much of biology is going to be biochemistry (my impression is that at least half of biologists are working at the molecular level), so it's going to be part of the bio canon. Of course, people shouldn't ignore other areas of the field, like population biology, evolutionary biology, and so on, but I estimate that out of the 2/2 chem bio distribution, we are very likely to see at least 1/1 of the bio be on essentially biochemistry topics.
I have to say that this confuses me quite a bit. Are you using "biochem" to cover, like, all non-organismal biology, as your definition of "other areas of the field" seems to suggest? Because while I'm reasonably favorably inclined to including more biochem in chemistry, I think I'm working with a much stricter definition of what constitutes biochem than you're talking about here.
Yeah, like, there ought to be made clear a distinction between biology "at the molecular level" and biochemistry. I guess an argument could be made that the latter encompasses the former, but only in the sense that physics also encompasses chemistry. So when you're referring to things that are uniquely biochem, you're talking a very specific set of stuff.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by grapesmoker »

myamphigory wrote:
Jerry wrote:However, I think it's an inescapable fact that much of biology is going to be biochemistry (my impression is that at least half of biologists are working at the molecular level), so it's going to be part of the bio canon. Of course, people shouldn't ignore other areas of the field, like population biology, evolutionary biology, and so on, but I estimate that out of the 2/2 chem bio distribution, we are very likely to see at least 1/1 of the bio be on essentially biochemistry topics.
I have to say that this confuses me quite a bit. Are you using "biochem" to cover, like, all non-organismal biology, as your definition of "other areas of the field" seems to suggest? Because while I'm reasonably favorably inclined to including more biochem in chemistry, I think I'm working with a much stricter definition of what constitutes biochem than you're talking about here.
Yeah, I'm being fairly sloppy. My conception of "biochem" is just chemistry that has to do with biological systems.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by grapesmoker »

everyday847 wrote:Yeah, like, there ought to be made clear a distinction between biology "at the molecular level" and biochemistry. I guess an argument could be made that the latter encompasses the former, but only in the sense that physics also encompasses chemistry. So when you're referring to things that are uniquely biochem, you're talking a very specific set of stuff.
I don't understand why this is necessary; indeed, I am not even sure such a strict distinction is possible or desirable. Is there a substantive sense in which molecular biology is somehow not biochemistry?
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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I don't think my position is meaningfully different from Susan's; I'm just saying that there's a substantive sense in which when you're talking about a science distribution you shouldn't conflate the two; they shouldn't just be considered "chemical stuff about molecules in biology."
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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everyday847 wrote:I don't think my position is meaningfully different from Susan's; I'm just saying that there's a substantive sense in which when you're talking about a science distribution you shouldn't conflate the two; they shouldn't just be considered "chemical stuff about molecules in biology."
Why not? I'm not being facetious about this, I just don't understand what the substantive differences are supposed to be. I asked for them, but you haven't actually answered my question, you've just asserted that they exist. Let me ask you this: is a tossup on Monte Carlo methods a tossup on math or computer science? What if they are about Monte Carlo methods used in physics or biology, does that make it a physics or a biology tossup? How about a question on the Latka-Volterra equation, is that physics or math or bio? Is a question on the Jahn-Teller effect physics or chemistry?

The boundaries between the sciences are not rigid; certainly the difference between something like molecular biology and biochemistry strikes me as a splitting of hairs well beyond what is useful to do. Of course, I hail from the Ryan Westbrook school of distribution division, which holds that beyond subdividing the distribution beyond the main sub-blocks and giving the directive to be diverse in your answers there is not much that can be done to make sure people write on this or that topic.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

grapesmoker wrote:
everyday847 wrote:I don't think my position is meaningfully different from Susan's; I'm just saying that there's a substantive sense in which when you're talking about a science distribution you shouldn't conflate the two; they shouldn't just be considered "chemical stuff about molecules in biology."
Why not? I'm not being facetious about this, I just don't understand what the substantive differences are supposed to be. I asked for them, but you haven't actually answered my question, you've just asserted that they exist. Let me ask you this: is a tossup on Monte Carlo methods a tossup on math or computer science? What if they are about Monte Carlo methods used in physics or biology, does that make it a physics or a biology tossup? How about a question on the Latka-Volterra equation, is that physics or math or bio? Is a question on the Jahn-Teller effect physics or chemistry?
No, you're right; I totally dodged your question because I don't know much of anything and I can't defend my position as well as other people can. I was hoping they'd step up to the plate! As it is, though, I'll just try to mumble through an argument that while a tossup on p53, say, certainly qualifies as molecular biology, it probably doesn't have clues that might be called "chemistry." On the other hand, a tossup on the Calvin cycle cannot be done well without "chemistry" clues, so it's necessarily molecular biology that we WOULD call biochemistry.
The boundaries between the sciences are not rigid; certainly the difference between something like molecular biology and biochemistry strikes me as a splitting of hairs well beyond what is useful to do. Of course, I hail from the Ryan Westbrook school of distribution division, which holds that beyond subdividing the distribution beyond the main sub-blocks and giving the directive to be diverse in your answers there is not much that can be done to make sure people write on this or that topic.
I suggest this splitting of hairs not because I think tournaments should advertise a distribution of .5/.7 molecular biology, .4/.3 organismic/population biology, .1/.5 biochemistry, and .9/.5 chemistry. That's obviously a terrible idea. I'm saying that we as packet writers should recognize that when we are being told to be sure to be diverse in our answers, we don't have to shy away from molecular biology just because our chemistry tossup had tons of biological relevance. (I believe but am not sure that reductive amination happens naturally, and it's a fantastically useful reaction in synthesis; you could write a chemistry tossup on it that was faintly biochemistry, but that shouldn't stop you from writing another one about kinases.)

The whole point is precisely that because the boundaries are naturally so ill-defined, we have to be very precise about how we arbitrarily define boundaries for the sake of a distribution, or else we risk making rules that are both arbitrary and bad, as opposed to arbitrary and neutral.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Susan »

Andy wrote: No, you're right; I totally dodged your question because I don't know much of anything and I can't defend my position as well as other people can. I was hoping they'd step up to the plate! As it is, though, I'll just try to mumble through an argument that while a tossup on p53, say, certainly qualifies as molecular biology, it probably doesn't have clues that might be called "chemistry." On the other hand, a tossup on the Calvin cycle cannot be done well without "chemistry" clues, so it's necessarily molecular biology that we WOULD call biochemistry.
Argh--this is incorrect.

I will explain further this afternoon or evening; if anyone else wants to jump in and explain how it's primarily clues and not answer selection that dictate whether something is biochem or molbio while I try to finish this paper, be my guest. If I'm feeling especially whimsical I will post a biochemistry question on p53.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

myamphigory wrote:
Andy wrote: No, you're right; I totally dodged your question because I don't know much of anything and I can't defend my position as well as other people can. I was hoping they'd step up to the plate! As it is, though, I'll just try to mumble through an argument that while a tossup on p53, say, certainly qualifies as molecular biology, it probably doesn't have clues that might be called "chemistry." On the other hand, a tossup on the Calvin cycle cannot be done well without "chemistry" clues, so it's necessarily molecular biology that we WOULD call biochemistry.
Argh--this is incorrect.
Next time respond faster before I ruin life! :sad:
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Well, of course, I'm going to skip over the substantive science talk, and make a few general points. I think we need to realize that there is always going to be a gap between the "ideal distribution" and the distribution that appears in quizbowl packets. It's fine to say that we should write on certain things, like pchem or whatever - okay, if there are interesting unmined golden tossups in certain areas that you think should appear, then write them. But, I think it'll have to be primarily people who are pretty familiar with those areas who write them first.

I mean, let me just use geology/earth science an example, since I know something about it. The reason we keep hearing the "same 5 mantle plumes tossups" is because it's pretty difficult to find new and exciting things that make for good tossups...it's difficult for me, and I think of myself as reasonably knowledgeable about earth science-type things. The same goes for pchem - I can remember times when I've spent a good while looking for a non-organic chem tossup to write and finally given up and just written an orgo tossup, out of a desire not to write another silly Arrhenius Equation tossup. I generally dislike having both the tossup and the bonus in a packet being organic chemistry - I think that's too much, and looks funny. But, it's just so much easier to write orgo tossups, especially for me since I have some exposure to orgo and it's not too hard for me to figure out what's going on.

So, here's what I suggest: let's do what a lot of people are already doing with the "religion" subdistribution. If you think there are "tossup-able" or "bonus-able" ideas for chemistry which skew more toward bio or more toward physics, or touch on interesting unmined areas of chemistry - then write them as part of your chem distribution. Once you write them, someone like me (who would otherwise struggle to find good science topics in areas I'm not that familiar with) will be able to see what's important by reading the packets and doing a little research on those things. People who have the knowledge and the ideas have to be the pioneers in writing, and then others can follow.

But, yeah, I'm also wary of Jonathan's line of reasoning on how certain chem tossups are boring. I'm pretty sure I could use the same logic for most biology questions - nothing sounds more like an incomprehensible mess of gobbledy-gook to me than biology. Actually, I think that's true for most non-science generalists - who find the clues in a lot of biology tossups to be fairly "indistinguishable." Certainly, a great deal of math and comp-sci questions have clues that are basically prohibitively "indistinguishable" to anyone who doesn't know math and comp-sci. I don't think there is an answer to this other than: you either overcome the barrier of knowledge so that the clues don't sound so indistinguishable or you continue to feel helpless during those questions.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by magin »

Well, in retrospect, "boring" wasn't the best choice of words. It seems to me that chemistry (especially organic chemistry) is the subject the fewest quizbowl players enjoy (not "can answer," but "enjoy"). Additionally, it seems that organic chemistry, with its large number of tossupable answers with names, is disproportionally represented in the chemistry canon, just because it's easier to write those questions than, say, physical chemistry. Certainly, organic chemistry should be part of the chemistry distribution, but I think it's squatting on a lot of the space for other chemistry answers. I don't think it's healthy for the canon to feature increasingly more and more early clues about organic chemistry in chemistry questions in lieu of clues about other areas in the chemistry canon.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:Well, in retrospect, "boring" wasn't the best choice of words. It seems to me that chemistry (especially organic chemistry) is the subject the fewest quizbowl players enjoy (not "can answer," but "enjoy"). Additionally, it seems that organic chemistry, with its large number of tossupable answers with names, is disproportionally represented in the chemistry canon, just because it's easier to write those questions than, say, physical chemistry. Certainly, organic chemistry should be part of the chemistry distribution, but I think it's squatting on a lot of the space for other chemistry answers. I don't think it's healthy for the canon to feature increasingly more and more early clues about organic chemistry in chemistry questions in lieu of clues about other areas in the chemistry canon.
I think this is absolutely true, however much it may pain me. That said, you beg the question by not defining the idea of disproportionate representation, and I contend that organic chemistry needs to be present in similar proportions to the status quo (ditto for physical chem) in the novice canon, for example, because more novices are taking organic chemistry than there are novices taking physical chemistry. That's why there's also 2/2 high school chemistry at easy tournaments. Consequently, while I would be grimly disappointed if the 15/15 chem at ACF Nationals were 7/7 orgo, I would be worried about an ACF Fall set that doesn't contain 4/4 just because it'll be so much more answerable than the 3/3 statistical mechanics that would have to take its place.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by grapesmoker »

Someone correct me if this turns out to be another instance of me being either a source or a conduit for a lie, but doesn't organic chemistry typically come before physical chemistry in most college curricula? I was under the impression that p-chem was generally an upper-division class (a poor man's quantum mechanics, if you will) while most of the lower division content was o-chem.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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grapesmoker wrote:Someone correct me if this turns out to be another instance of me being either a source or a conduit for a lie, but doesn't organic chemistry typically come before physical chemistry in most college curricula? I was under the impression that p-chem was generally an upper-division class (a poor man's quantum mechanics, if you will) while most of the lower division content was o-chem.
General (inorganic) chemistry comes first, then organic, then, and only for chemistry type majors, you would have p.chem.
Westbrook wrote:I can remember times when I've spent a good while looking for a non-organic chem tossup to write and finally given up and just written an orgo tossup, out of a desire not to write another silly Arrhenius Equation tossup. I generally dislike having both the tossup and the bonus in a packet being organic chemistry - I think that's too much, and looks funny.
This kind of sums up my experiences in editing tournaments. I pretty much always try to make sure that if the chem tu is orgo, then the chem bonus is inorganic, and vice versa. I think it's just a fact that writing orgo tossups is easier than inorganic ones, and there are more things to write about. Organic reactions, functional groups, etc. all have nice names attached to them, while a lot of inorganic stuff is balancing equations, stoichiometry, and other such things that you really can't ask about in quiz bowl (though pretty sure Ill. qb used to have chem rxn balancing bonuses). Maybe a solution is to have some sort of rule that thermo and other things on the chem-physics border count for chem, and if you write about that, then make the physics something very different.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

vandyhawk wrote: General (inorganic) chemistry comes first, then organic, then, and only for chemistry type majors, you would have p.chem.
Depends on the school, apparently. Our inorganic chemistry class is generally taken after at least one term of organic. (Granted, it's more than what you'd call general chemistry; the textbook talks about ligand field theory stuff and I'm sure most gen chem classes would not.)
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by cornfused »

vandyhawk wrote:(though pretty sure Ill. qb used to have chem rxn balancing bonuses).
It still does. Helloooooooo, computational science.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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everyday847 wrote:
vandyhawk wrote: General (inorganic) chemistry comes first, then organic, then, and only for chemistry type majors, you would have p.chem.
Depends on the school, apparently. Our inorganic chemistry class is generally taken after at least one term of organic. (Granted, it's more than what you'd call general chemistry; the textbook talks about ligand field theory stuff and I'm sure most gen chem classes would not.)
We have gen chem and then two semesters of organic, which is usually where sane people stop. But if you decide to major in biochemistry, mol biology, straight chemistry, and I think straight biology, you have to take inorganic chem and physical chem after that.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
everyday847 wrote:
vandyhawk wrote: General (inorganic) chemistry comes first, then organic, then, and only for chemistry type majors, you would have p.chem.
Depends on the school, apparently. Our inorganic chemistry class is generally taken after at least one term of organic. (Granted, it's more than what you'd call general chemistry; the textbook talks about ligand field theory stuff and I'm sure most gen chem classes would not.)
We have gen chem and then two semesters of organic, which is usually where sane people stop. But if you decide to major in biochemistry, mol biology, straight chemistry, and I think straight biology, you have to take inorganic chem and physical chem after that.
Same here with organic followed by biochem, then p.chem, then inorganic in the traditional route.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by manary »

Our bio majors have to take gen (inorganic) and then orgo. P-chem is strongly encouraged (but not required) "for those who want to pursue graduate work in biology." We also have to take a lot of biochem.
We also take quantum and thermo though.

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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

Post by setht »

Apologies for resurrecting a possibly-dying thread, but I wanted to
a) register my disagreement with most of the original post (except the claim that packet-submission tournaments often wind up with an overabundance of organic chemistry questions relative to other chemistry topics), and
b) ask whether people (especially chemistry types) consider geochemistry and astrochemistry to be legitimate sources for clues and maybe even answers for chemistry questions, or feel that those subtopics should be classified in the earth science/astro portion of the science distribution. What about atmospheric chemistry?

Most of the stuff I can think of in geochemistry and astrochemistry that I'd consider putting into a question lends itself most naturally to questions on elements, but I feel like the clues I'm talking about are worthwhile and interesting, unlike clues on the molar volume and Vickers hardness. There's probably some non-element stuff in there too, maybe even some good new answers.

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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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setht wrote:Apologies for resurrecting a possibly-dying thread, but I wanted to
a) register my disagreement with most of the original post (except the claim that packet-submission tournaments often wind up with an overabundance of organic chemistry questions relative to other chemistry topics)
Hooray!
setht wrote:b) ask whether people (especially chemistry types) consider geochemistry and astrochemistry to be legitimate sources for clues and maybe even answers for chemistry questions, or feel that those subtopics should be classified in the earth science/astro portion of the science distribution. What about atmospheric chemistry?
I'm not sure what geochemistry or astrochemistry questions would look like (perhaps you could point some out), but I'd be completely fine with them showing up as parts of the chemistry distribution on equal par with things like physical chemistry. I think its somewhat inevitable that the distribution will be something like organic chemistry = biochemistry > physical chemistry = inorganic chemistry = astrochemistry = geochemistry = atmospheric chemistry, if only because the former two are more extensively studied by more people. But that's definitely a place to search for new clues and answers.
setht wrote:Most of the stuff I can think of in geochemistry and astrochemistry that I'd consider putting into a question lends itself most naturally to questions on elements, but I feel like the clues I'm talking about are worthwhile and interesting, unlike clues on the molar volume and Vickers hardness.
Definitely; element tossups with earth science clues are great.
setht wrote:There's probably some non-element stuff in there too, maybe even some good new answers.
Hooray!
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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As someone who is really interested in things related to geology, astro, and atmospheric science (but knows relatively little hard scientific stuff about those things), would Seth/anyone else mind listing a small group of potential answers that would be dubbed geo/astro/atmospheric chemistry? I'm curious as to what those terms exactly mean.
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Re: Changing the Science Distribution

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The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
setht wrote:Most of the stuff I can think of in geochemistry and astrochemistry that I'd consider putting into a question lends itself most naturally to questions on elements, but I feel like the clues I'm talking about are worthwhile and interesting, unlike clues on the molar volume and Vickers hardness.
Definitely; element tossups with earth science clues are great.
This is a really, really fucking important point. Element tossups are not inherently bad. They are just done wrong about ninety percent of the time, because someone thinks that tossing up neodymium is a hilarious, good idea (this happened on our TV tournament in high school; good thing the second time it came up verbatim, I remembered the tossup from the first time) and so we're stuck with quack quack strong magnets quack quack for ten points, list knowledge.

But element tossups can be done well; if you write a tossup about the many uses of sulfur in organic chemistry or whatever (you make epoxides from carbonyl groups with sulfur ylides, they're fune times for cheletropic reactions, yadda yadda thiols) then you've done something that isn't the year's fifth Friedel-Crafts tossup, and that's pretty cool. If you bust out clues from multiple chemistry subfields, so much the better.
Andrew Watkins

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