mcgra285: October 2011 Archives

What Kind of Learner Are You?

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learning_styles.jpg We've spent the majority of our education being told everyone learns differently (which is true to a certain extent, as no two people think exactly alike) and that everyone has a different learning style. The three most common broad learning style categories are:

Visual, in which one prefers to learn through the use of cues they can see - for example, presentations with charts, colors and pictures as opposed to just text; these learners have the generalized reputation of sitting at the front of classrooms and benefiting from an instructor's body movement and hand gestures.

Auditory, in which one learns almost strictly by hearing; according to the common generalizations, their classroom seat doesn't matter so long as they can hear what's happening, and these learners benefit from reading aloud to themselves.

Tactile (or Kinesthetic), in which one learns through touch - these learners learn best by "doing," that is, participating in hands-on activities.

Though these are the most common categories, many "studies" have developed countless other learning style groupings with narrower definitions. This website (where you can also take a quiz to find out what kind of learner you are) suggests seven fundamental learning types.

But how reliable are the studies that provide evidence for these categories? As the Lilenfield text and this article suggest, little to no scientific evidence exists to support the claims that people are either entirely one type of learner or another, and studies have found that teaching to a student's specific learning style didn't result in any sort of enhanced learning. Furthermore, many studies conducted that yielded evidence for these supposed learning styles were not nearly controlled enough to be called scientific. Most of the tests are not reliable either, that is, they aren't consistent from study to study, and the fact that no one agrees 100% on the types of categories for learning styles is pretty suspicious if we're looking at this scientifically. The above article suggets also a method in which the studies would have had to be carried out to provide scientific evidence.

The learning styles myth is still prevalent today, despite having been debunked by several scientific studies. This website even suggests teachers of English as second language in foreign countries should be sure to cater to their students' unique learning styles by using a variety of teaching methods.

I know I've spent most of my life assuming I was a "visual learner" as they call it, though strangely enough, I've always benefited from hands-on learning as well, and in fact, I sometimes read aloud to myself just to emphasize what I'm reading. So really, I just have my own way of learning things, just like everyone else has theirs. Hopefully, learning styles will eventually become a thing of the past, just another silly popular psychology fad that everyone will laugh about years from now.

This article discusses the case of a man who developed lung cancer, supposedly caused by consuming butter-flavored microwave popcorn. While it's true that diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial butter flavoring used on microwave popcorn, is harmful when inhaled in large amounts and has been linked to lung disease in workers of manufacturing plants that produce microwave popcorn, no significant evidence has been found to support the idea that consuming microwave popcorn is a cause of lung cancer.

The workers who developed lung cancer were continuously exposed to large amounts of diacetyl in their working conditions, inhaling large amounts every day at the manufacturing plant. The man discussed in the article consumed excessive amounts of popcorn, reporting that he ate something like two bags a day for ten years. Therefore, he is not an accurate representation of popcorn consumers, and one cannot infer that the amounts of diacetyl in the artificial butter flavoring of microwave popcorn cause lung cancer. Correlation does not necessarily equal causation here.

Doctors can find no other explanation for his lung cancer, that's true, but his ailment could have been the result of any number of other factors. He may be genetically predisposed to cancer. Perhaps he was overweight or had some hidden genetic or medical condition that made him a higher risk for cancer. Or perhaps the diacetyl in combination with something in the makeup of his body chemistry was the cause. We cannot know for sure, but there is certainly not enough conclusive evidence to say that the microwave popcorn itself caused his cancer.

I'd say it's highly unlikely you're going to develop cancer simply by enjoying a bag of buttered popcorn now and then. The diacetyl in the artificial butter flavoring may be harmful, but in such minuscule amounts present in a single bag of popcorn, it's probably not much of a health risk. Just don't eat two bags a day for ten plus years, and you'll probably be just fine.

soap_under_the_sheets_for_rls_leg_cramps.jpg This article discusses the claims that a "reliable" cure for leg cramps is putting a bar of soap between the sheets of one's bed as they sleep. According to many who have tried this remedy, it works. The problems that arise when viewing this "cure" scientifically, however, are numerous. Not to mention, this "study" commits multiple logical fallacies.

As far as I can tell from the few minutes of research I did, no one seems to agree on precisely what brand of soap to use. The aforementioned article states that Dove and Dial are the two most commonly suggested, but this video claims Dove is the only soap that can't be used.

Personally, I think the whole buzz surrounding this "cure" has more to do with the placebo effect than anything else. These people are desperate, looking for some way to ease their pain, and when they hear that putting a bar of soap in their bed worked for other people, it sounds so crazy that it just might work. My opinion in this area was cemented by the comment section of this article, where after scrolling through multiple "It really works!" messages, one can come across several "It didn't work for me" posts. Perhaps those who didn't experience any improvement with the soap were simply of a more skeptical mindset, or maybe the people who were "cured" were so desperate for relief that they were willing to try just about anything, and their mindset made this one extremely unlikely cure work. Who knows?

Lastly, this claim is guilty of more than one logical fallacy, the biggest one being its over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. No scientific data exists stating a bar of soap is a legitimate cure for leg cramps; everything I've learned is from others' personal experiences. And on that same note, they've managed to combine anecdotal evidence with appeal to authority. This video shows a (supposed) pharmacologist outright endorsing dubious home remedies for leg cramps:

Overall, putting a bar of soap in your bed to cure leg cramps seems like a rather extraordinary claim, and so far I haven't seen any extraordinary scientific evidence that suggests it works. There doesn't seem any way to falsify these claims either. But hey, if you have leg cramps, feel free to try it out.

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This page is an archive of recent entries written by mcgra285 in October 2011.

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