Thursday, February 21, 2008

An ideal university admission system?

What will it be?

Let us take a few postulates, and derive it from those. Postulates:
1. Humans are different, and respond differently to similar situations.
2. Academic success and professional success have the same interchangeable weight.
3. Professional success can not be measured objectively, but is considerably a derivative of motivation.

In addition to these postulates, we need to define criteria to which the suggested system must answer:
1. Tests varied quantifiable abilities.
2. Allows flexibility in course study.
3. Gives chance to the candidate to display his unquantifiable abilities.
4. Allows unbiased selection based on chosen criteria.

On top of that, we have a few obligations:
1. Must be affordable for the institutions.
2. Must not discriminate culturally.
3. Must not discriminate economically.

In Israel, the current university admission method is based on, barring rare exceptions, two things - one is final matriculation exams average 'Memuza Bagrut', and the other is a university entrance test score 'Psychometry'.
The exam average represents a candidate's school background, but solely grade-wise. The Psychometry is meant to indicate a candidates academic potential and abilities, or simply scholastic aptitude. It is very similar to the scholastic aptitude test in the United States.
The admission, again barring rare exceptions, is purely numerical. A certain faculty holds 60 places, 300 candidates apply, and 60 candidates with the best overall grades (Weight distribution between the two elements varies, in some universities the Psychometry could represent 70%, in others 50%) are selected.
I will quickly display the problems raised by this kind of admission system:
1. Candidates are represented only by 2 numbers, while unquantifiable qualities (motivation, originality, social involvement) are given no consideration.
2. A matriculation grade is consisted half by school grade, and half by final exam grade. This provokes inequality - the prevalence of copying varies from school to school and from sector to sector and both the generosity and criteria by which certain teachers and schools grade is inconsistent.
3. The same matriculation average can be achieved by hard-worked extra-scientific curriculum, or by simply taking more of the "right" tests in order to maximize the average. Other than the obvious problem entailed, there is also the issue of freshman high-school students being completely uninformed about the possibility of maximizing your average with the greatest efficiency.

What kind of system will be more fair?
I would suggest something similar to the American system, of flexible admission based on testing, grades, recommendations and personal profile. My suggestion includes the following components:
1. Basic scholastic aptitude test, to be taken by all candidates.
2. Two or three advanced subject aptitude tests, to be chosen from a list of possible tests. Those who wish to get admitted to a scientific degree, have to take at least one scientific test. Those who wish to get admitted to a humanities degree, have to take at least one test from the humanities. This allows those who are interested in interdisciplinary degrees, as well as those who are undecided, to take one of each. It also allows those who have no interest in one field, to fully express their strength in the other.
3. A bi-sectioned personal questionnaire. First section will be a personal statement, to be analyzed for its consistency, maturity, originality and signs of motivation. Second section will be a short CV, to extract after-school activities, social involvement etc.
4. Non obligatory: Letter/s of recommendation.
5. Matriculation average.

The basic scholastic aptitude test needs to examine one's academic abilities: critical and logical thinking, reasoning, control of English, control of Hebrew and learning capacity. This means math out, critical reading in.

The advanced subject aptitude test needs to examine one's capabilities in a field related to chosen major, including aptitude and learning capacity. My personal opinion is that, we should have an array of subjects to choose from, but that array shouldn't be too wide, or the subjects too specific. An example array would look like:
- Mathematics
- Physics
- Biology
- Chemistry
- Literature
- History
- Philosophy
- History of Art

On a Humane-Scientific scale, the distribution is:
[Humane] History of Art - Literature - History - Philosophy | Biology - Chemistry - Physics - Mathematics [Scientific]

In my opinion, this kind of admission system will cover almost everything, and will minimize biased or unfair admission by allowing an all-round examination of a candidate's capabilities. It will also allow great flexibility for both the universities and the candidates, who can apply to several fields of interest without handicap or disadvantage.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

So what's wrong about Astrology?

A couple of days ago, someone raised this question.
To be more accurate, she raised it in the context of 'What's wrong about mentioning Astrology in a date'. She asked that after some guy said that he is sick and tired of people asking him what his zodiac sign is.
Well, what's wrong about Astrology really? I'll give you my (as a man, though this opinion's relevance is probably unisex) opinion:

First of all, you don't have to be a bimbo in order to believe in Astrology. It's not a necessary condition.
True, most bimbo's believe in Astrology, but that's only because the low IQ typical of superstitious belief characterizes them.
Not everyone that believes in Astrology is necessarily mentally challenged, there are few but rare cases of people believing in it due to lack of insight and thorough thinking, which is also a problem but a different one.
The question is, as an intelligent woman, why believe in something that was examined repeatedly and found false, which is based on superstition and pseudoscience?
There's nothing about "Just interested in it" here, this isn't the sports news or the weather, this is a theory (if you can even call Astrology a theory) that claims humans taxonomize into 12 different types, and that this taxonomy is derived from birth dates, those birth dates being pretty much arbitrary, and that our lives are influenced by the stars and their energy. Yeah, sure.
Whoever reads this thing and doesn't automatically flinch from its inherent stupidity, shouldn't be surprised when she is being rejected by intelligent men, and that if those have any philosophical interest, it is more in the direction of Kant and Hegel, or if they have any biological and conscious-related interest, it is more in the direction of Dawkins and Dennett. To be honest, one doesn't have to be an avid philosophy reader (I certainly can't define myself as one) in order to rule out Astrology as (and forgive me for my rudeness) idiotic mumbo-jumbo and a waste of time.
If Astrology does provide us with any sort of indication, it is more of a "If the woman you are talking to believes in Astrology, end the conversation now" kind of indication.
So, coming back to the original question, what's wrong about Astrology is that, leaving a 1/1000 case, believing in it shows lack of skepticism, superficiality, lack of depth in reality's perception (well, that might fit under superficiality) and in many cases lack of education and/or lack of intelligence.
Yes, one in a ... might believe in Astrology and still turn out to be worthwhile, but the contradiction between faith in Astrology and intelligence or true thorough thinking is so monumental, that the chance for this is infinitesimal - so it is just better not to waste time.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Heading for a Destination

This post is about visualizing a target in your sight, and reaching it.
Setting a task that you know and believe you can accomplish, and doing just that.
Getting admitted to studying Medicine in Israel is considered very difficult. There is a relatively small number of open spots, and the competition for each spot is extremely high. So high, that some candidates improve their grades for a few years before they succeed in getting admitted.
A few months ago I already knew what I wanted, and I knew there is only one way of achieving that - which is scoring highly in the university entrance exam (the psychometry as it is called here).
When you have a target in sight, and you have a destination to reach, you know that you must accomplish that by small steps. First take a test, and do well. Then take another test, and do well in that one also. Each time you plan a few steps ahead, always remembering the "big picture" in your head, always knowing what you have accomplished thus far, which gives you confidence, and what you have yet to accomplish, which is a derivative of your aspirations.
Today was the end of another step, a big one, and it is a happy ending. I scored 783/800 in the psychometry test. Next stop: Clinical aptitude tests, in June. See you down the road!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Intelligent Falling

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New Intelligent Falling Theory

The Onion

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

TOPEKA, KS-Evangelical physicists are now asserting that objects fall because a higher power is pushing them down.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Atheism

A book I read recently raises a good point. If Theists would stop to ponder and reflect about why they believe their god but have no faith in any other god, of any other religion, they would quickly realize exactly what is the reason that us Atheists share a lack of belief in any god/s at all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

American Idol


Did you notice how always candidates in the "initial screening" stage of the competition always wear a "serial number" on their shirt?
I mean, I'm sure that logistically the judging crew could be informed in advance for the number of the next candidate, or they could write the candidate name instead.
I guess that it sheds a certain kind of "light" on the show, one desired by its producers, when every candidate in the beginning is just a "number" in big ol' America. That is, of course, until he makes it big and goes to Hollywood. In Hollywood they wouldn't introduce "Number 555753 now on stage!", in Hollywood you have a name. You made it big, you deserve a name.
One reason I noticed this fact is that in the Israeli parallel to "American Idol" people do not wear numbers when they audition.. Cultural difference I guess.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Plan

I have decided not to waste any time, so on the first day of the Blog's existence, the first post will have to do with a political issue.

Benny Elon is a Knesset Member (MP) in Israel. Recently he started a new initiative (yozma) aiming for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, his entire initiative is flawed.
I do not know exactly what went through his mind when he thought about it, but I'll explain exactly all the reasons I have to think it is wrong, and will not solve a single issue of the conflict.

First of all, you can read about the initiative in the official website: Hayozma.

Now concerning the flaws of the initiative, as deduced from the website:

1. Israel will annex the West Bank. Note that there is no indication of partial annexation whatsoever, so the conclusion, until written otherwise, is of full annexation.

2. Palestinians will "be allowed" to remain there. Even the hint that it is in Israel's moral jurisdiction and responsibility to decide what non-Jews remain in the area after it was occupied militarily smells of fascism. I do not need to remind you that settling Jews in the area after 1967 was illegal to begin with?

3. Palestinians will become "Jordanian Citizens". Last time I checked, Jordan has no jurisdiction over the West Bank, no military presence there, and no political aspirations of controlling the area. So what do we have here? A proposal to make the Palestinians citizens of a nation that does not desire them, giving them voting rights to a government that has no jurisdiction over the territory they reside in, and deny Palestinian independence due to egotistical ideals. If Israel annexes the West Bank, why not make Palestinians Israeli citizens? Because he wants to conserve the Jewish majority. Understandable. But to occupy land and deny basic rights in order to conserve a religious majority is non-democratic, no matter which way you look at it.

4. Hundreds of thousands of refugees will get financial assistance etc. Oh, but now he mentions it, along with his plan of annexing the West Bank? Surely we missed until this day Elon's deep humanitarian concerns. Or is it a pathetic attempt, a wolf in sheep's clothing?

5. He (Elon) suggests it is possible to convince King Abdullah II of the plan. What does he base this on? Abdullah has shown no interest in accepting the West Bank before, and Palestinians were not granted citizenship when the West Bank was under Jordanian rule [2/1/08 correction - they were granted citizenship, but Jordan renounced any intentions of keeping the West Bank and acknowledged the PLO as the sole representatives of the Palestinian people in 1988, -Eyal]. In addition, no word is said about the national aspirations of the Palestinians. Did he forget there are millions of people who desire independence here? I guess it didn't cross his mind.

6. He asserts the establishment of Israel did not deprive the Palestinians of a state, because such a state never existed. True, but irrelevant. Just because it doesn't exist doesn't mean it shouldn't be established. The Palestinians exist, they define themselves nationally today, and they have shown national aspirations. The past is irrelevant, typical rightist populism.

7. He asserts UN Relief and Works agency failed. I think it is against his interest asserting such a thing considering it is the Israeli security forces (who should be blessed every day, don't get me wrong) that prevent them from doing their work on a regular basis. That, and Israeli government policy in the territories of preferring 1 Jewish settler over the basics to the well being of 100 Palestinians.

8. He says his path is beyond politics. That would be true if his campaign was solely based on aiding the population. However, he wants to give a political solution to a political problem. Which makes his statement populist and purely demagogic.

These are the outlines of why Elon's plan is detached, insincere and plainly unjust.
An anecdote: The Hebrew slogan for the initiative reads "What is good for Israel", while the English slogan for the initiative reads "The Right Road to Peace". Did someone say insincerity?

To further bring it home, I think the Jordanians made it quite clear they do not want the Palestinian burden just as much as we do. In fact, they would only sign the peace treaty with Israel after it was made clear that with the Oslo accords, Jordan will be not held responsible to the territory, and might be left out of the game.
It's the basics of the plan which make it absurd and irrational, ignoring reality, and having no foresight or hindsight at the same time. Trying to pull back Jordan into the game this way is not only idiotic, it's also endangering the Israeli-Jordanian peace. However, I wouldn't expect better from Elon.