Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Refreshment Review

With headlines like “Drinking water improves exam grades”1 and “How to do better in your exams: Drinking a glass of water can boost your results by a grade”2 in all the top newspapers and news websites, it would hard to dismiss their claims. However all of the articles simply regurgitate and reiterate the exact same press release from the British Psychological Society, in which this research was presented at their annual conference this month3.

The research was interesting because it seemed to claim that by simply encouraging students to take water in to the exam with them they would be able to improve their exam grades. The BBC’s article on this research included the following statement: “Also, supplementing with water is a really cheap way students and educators can help get better results.” They went on to claim the results could be due to the benefits of hydration and stress relieving qualities of water.

This research extrapolates from an observation in a small number of subjects, and it is a typical leap of ‘correlation must mean causation.’ The study did not suggest the far more likely reason that students who take water in to their exams do better than students who don’t, which simply boils down to preparation. Students who take a mature approach to their studies are likely to study in a more structured and efficient manner, and are likely to be very prepared for the exam. Part of being prepared for an exam would be thinking of every eventuality and organising yourself to take everything you might need in to the exam with you, and that would include taking water.

This explains the observation that the percentage of students taking water increases in second and third year of university, because students are learning how to prepare for exams and are becoming more organised. If the researchers honestly thought that the water was the cause of the improved grades then they would carry out a randomised trial, where they took a group of students and randomly assigned half of the students a bottle of water to take in to the exam and then determine if there was a significant difference. What is more frustrating is that this research has taken the media by storm, but has not been critically analysed and peer reviewed before hand, as it has not yet been submitted for publication. Peer reviewing of such research would highlight the need for increased numbers of study subjects and the implementation of randomised trials, before releasing claims that water can improve exam grades, as this is likely to be a fallacy. 

E Markham (2012). Refreshment Review Blogspot

Thursday, 19 April 2012

TED Talk

The Great Exhibition of 18511 was a grand display of the advances of the industrial revolution, bringing about a transformation in the exchanging of ideas and the way new technology and developments in science are demonstrations. This included the building of the Crystal Palace2, which was a huge feat of engineering, which then spurred the series of events called the World’s Fair3, which lead to fantastical structures that we know and enjoy today, like the Space Needle in Seattle3 and the Atomium monument in Brussels5. A new TEDx lecture at Imperial College London6 last month channelled the spirit of the Great Exhibition and contained a variety of different talks and displays to delight anyone’s interest.

One of the first talks to catch the audiences imagination was the inventor of fabric in a can (Fabrican)7, which is similar to silly sting, but is versatile enough to be washed, cut and embossed, allowing for items of clothing to be created which are unique, personal and changeable. It is also a technology that can transition its application to the field of medicine, as it can be used as a plaster cast or a dressing for wounds.

This was followed by a father of a child with a rare genetic condition called AKU8, who gave a heart wrenching discussion of the work he set in motion: creating a support group, fund raising and bringing together a community or affected individuals and research scientists9. This has produced some breakthroughs for a previously little known disease and lead to the discovery that rare genetic diseases can actually act as models for very common multifactorial diseases, and so help develop improved treatments for these conditions.

Later talks included a demonstration from a group of young engineers who designed an electric car which could drive the entire length of the Pan-American Highway10, a man who played a series of gramophones with recordings of early industrial age sounds11, a talk from a geneticist musician who created pieces of music based on each musician’s genetic composition12, and a talk on reclaiming art with a focus on urban art13. Not only were the talks highly enjoyable and inventive, but there was the opportunity to discuss ideas with the speakers and get involved with their research. It was a wonderful platform to explore ideas and there was an exciting energy among the audience as they discussed the talks.

1, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Exhibition
2, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crystal_Palace
3, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worlds_fair
4, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_needle
5, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomium
6, http://tedximperialcollege.com/2012/04/tedximperialcollege2012/
7, http://www.fabricanltd.com/
8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002180/
9, http://www.alkaptonuria.info/
10, http://www.racinggreenendurance.com/
11, http://www.exhibitionroad.com/supersonix
12, http://www.musicfromthegenome.org.uk/
13, http://greyworld.org/

E Markham (2012). TED Talk Blogspot