Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Blight: Could It Happen?


The future of the Earth is a big concern for most of our people. We begin to think a time in which our planet will be an improbable place to live in. Indeed, the 2014 movie Interstellar depicts interstellar travel brilliantly, but the movie has left various questions among the audience. Most viewers are intrigued about the gravitational singularity, the people who are called as “they”, the “Tesseract”, and other nebulous things. One of the most intriguing yet ambiguous thing is the Blight. Though the movie does not explain anything about the cause of the emergence of the Blight, there is one big question: are we ever going to be in danger — in the most extreme and speculative sense — of ever having just corn and okra to eat? In my opinion, the Blight depicted in the film will hardly happen because such pandemic will not occur easily, even if the Blight is caused by either a contagious disease or global warming.

The Blight depicted in Interstellar is possibly a widespread disease, but it might be better to consider the fundamental tenet of plant pathology called the disease triangle. It says that for any disease to spread widely it needs three things: a susceptible host, a pathogen, and the right environmental conditions. Take any one away, and the disease won't spread.[1] If the disease triangle is true, then the Blight in the Interstellar is completely erroneous. According to Dr. Kleinhenz, a professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at The Ohio State University (2014), “… it's very unlikely that a single superbug would spread across our diverse planet, or even do as well in Alaska as Peru.”[2] First, each pathogen affects different types of hosts. Not all pathogens can attack a specific plant. Also, each pathogen has different adaptability. Most pathogens cannot stand cold climate, so Alaska should be just perfectly safe for the crops. The plague in the movie, if true, is indeed as worse as zombie virus’s spreading.

Some people argue that a widespread disease is still the most possible cause of the plague. They point out that Dr. Brand’s remark about the Blight which breathes nitrogen might happen in real life. Of course it would be logical that if the Blight were existing, the Blight would surely win because the Earth contains 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Nonetheless, the depiction is very unscientific. I wonder what kind of Blight is known to consume nitrogen. Until today, no viruses consume nitrogen, and only very diminutive amount of bacteria consume nitrogen. Even if the Blight does exist, and it annihilates all plants on the mainland, Lawrence Krauss, a notable physician, stated that there are still many other options of food source. He even ridiculed the nitrogen-consuming Blight in the movie by stating “… humans can just live with the ocean. We can subsist on seaweed and fish and — little known fact — the ocean produces most of our oxygen. No nitrogen!”[3] Thus, according to his statement, the Earth will die only after the disease can find a way to infect the oceans.

What about the global warming? Is Dr. Brand actually referring the nitrogen-consuming Blight as extreme climate change caused by global warming? Many viewers argue that this might be the cause of the disaster because global warming is really happening. In fact, just from the 20th to the 21st century, the Earth’s temperature has risen around 0.3 to 1.7 °C, and the oxygen’s availability has decreased around 0.2%[4]. Nevertheless, even though Dr. Kleinhenz accepted the idea that climate change is probably the possible cause of the plague in Interstellar, he further stated, “I've always been impressed by the resilience and adaptability of [our] community." He gave an example of how Michigan farmers were able to exchange their bad apple seeds caused by climate change with new adaptable apple seeds with the help of technology.[2] Moreover, astrobiologist David Grinspoon points out that even with a voracious climate change it would have taken millions of years to draw down the atmosphere's content of oxygen.[5] Therefore, the Earth would need an extremely long time to change to an uninhabitable planet.

In conclusion, the chance of the Blight attacking the Earth is ultimately small. I believe that we should not believe a film entirely without researching the films’ facts first. Our environment is maybe getting worst, but technological developments are always invented simultaneously. Of course, we should not fully rely on the scientists out there either. Though the chance is small, we people should begin to learn how important a good condition of our environment is. Conserve our environment, and we will preserve our lives.

References:
[1] Agrios, G. N. 2005. Plant Pathology (5th edition). Elsevier-Academic Press. San Diego, CA.
[2] Durand, Faith. 2014. What’s the Deal with the Idea That Corn and Okra Are the Only Crops Left in the Future? Let’s Ask a Scientist. <http://www.thekitchn.com> [6 November 2014]
[3] Smith, Andrew. 2014. Lawrence Krauss Interviewed, Talks Interstellar and More. <http://www.bubblews.com> [22 November 2014]
[4] Climate Change 2013. Technical Summary [PDF Document] <http://www.climatechange2013.org>
[5] Corn, David. 2014. What's Wrong With the Science of "Interstellar"?. <http://motherjones.com> [12 November 2014]

            

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why Standardized Test Is Essential

The fact that many countries use standardized test as the final evaluation has enraged many students across the globe. One of them is an American student, Suli Breaks, who questioned, “why unique individuals tested by the same means?” Similar remark came from an Indonesian student, Nurmillaty Abadiah, who wrote an open letter criticizing the 2013 difficult national exam. Nevertheless, there is indeed a reason why the US’ best universities require standardized tests along with GPA results and why national exam is used in Indonesia for applying to higher educational institutions. Standardized testing is ultimately important because it holds schools accountable, guides teachers to determine their teaching procedure, and is the most objective academic assessment.

To ensure all schools’ accomplishments are as what the government expects, a standardized test is needed to assess schools’ accountability across the country. In Indonesia, every high school has the same curriculum, but each has different standard on measuring the GPA of a student. With a standardized test, which is the national exam, the government can evaluate each school’s performance with equal method. Consequently, the national exam results from year to year have shown that prestigious high schools, although some of them only give small GPA, score better than unpopular high schools. Rural schools are also known for scoring very low at national exam. Therefore, the government will know which schools fail to accomplish what the curriculum expects, and it can allocate appropriate educational aids to these schools.

Standardized testing gives teachers guidance to help them determine what to teach students and when to teach it. Indonesian teachers are able to arrange a schedule and deadline to finish national exam’s curriculum effectively. They will also give attention to subject chapters that are covered in the national exam more intensively. Some creative teachers also invent fast formulas to solve particular problems that are absolutely helpful. In addition, when the students’ results of national exam are bad, teachers are the responsible ones. They will introspect why their students score badly, and they eventually will fix themselves to be better teachers in the future.

Some students believe that standardized testing is very unjust because it merely evaluates student’s progress for years just in a one day-test. Some also believe that most students cheat in the test. However, these remarks actually contradict the truth that standardized testing is perhaps the only available objective assessment. Take Indonesia’s university admission as an example. The “SNMPTN” admission route, which selects students based on their high school GPA, is indeed unfair because universities are very biased. They only favor particular schools. As a result, unpopular schools, usually are located in rural areas, do not have the chance to enter their students’ dreamed universities by “SNMPTN” route. Conversely, with an equal university entrance exam, known as the “SBMPTN”, all high school students are seen equally based on the test results, no matter from which school they are. In addition, who can guarantee that GPA results are not cheated? There are many examples of transactions between a student and a teacher to increase the student’s score.


To summarize, despite the disagreement over standardized testing, it is evident that standardized test is very important. Standardized test is not merely used for a student’s assessment; it is used to evaluate the country’s education to decide further movements by the government to improve the country’s education. It is crucial for every student to receive fundamental education and to be assessed by the test regardless of how good or bad students will score the test,. I wish that students would let the ‘standardized test’-phobia away because as what Suli Breaks said, test results are not the only factor for a great future.