In case you missed it, the New York Times has just published an opinion piece aptly named “Is Algebra Necessary?”. The title basically says it all: the 3 pages of the article boil down to the argument that math is hard and students don’t like it, so we should cut it out from most school and university programs, replacing it by “citizen statistics” or something like that.
Think of math as a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions? Thus far I haven’t found a compelling answer.
Let me try to help. A friend has linked to this page describing the new British NHC policy on availability of testing strips to people with diabetes. I don’t have diabetes myself, but I know folks who do, so here’s a little bit of background based on what I know from talking to them and reading up on it.
When you have diabetes, your body either does not produce insulin at all or does not produce enough of it to metabolize sugar properly. To maintain blood sugar levels within an acceptable range, diabetics need to monitor strictly their food intake and inject insulin when necessary. This is a tight balancing act. Not enough insulin, and your blood sugar level skyrockets, leading to serious complications. If you inject too much, your blood sugar level drops too low, with diabetic coma and death as a possible consequence. So, the amount of insulin has to be just right, relative to your metabolism and food intake.
How do you know when your blood sugar level is within an acceptable range? Mostly, you don’t. You can only find out by testing. That’s where the test strips come in. You prick your finger, smear the blood drop on a test strip, put the strip in a meter, and read the results. Each strip can only be used once. Frequent testing is essential, not only to know whether your blood sugar level is acceptable at a given time, but also to figure out how it depends on your food and insulin intake over time, for example how quickly it increases right after a meal and decreases afterwards. With that knowledge, you can better time your meals and insulin shots.
Fortunately, I have not had the experience, but here’s what the Female Science Professor had to say about it:
I had a little booklet in which I recorded my blood sugar level, but I also started keeping track of the results in a spreadsheet and I graphed the results every day. I got interested in the shape and magnitude of some of the blood sugar highs and lows, but my initial sample spacing (in time) was too rough to get a satisfactory graph of these spikes, and there were other aspects of the data that I didn’t understand when I did the minimum number of recommended tests.
So, despite my loathing for jabbing myself in the finger with a sharp object, I started collecting more data. I tracked the blood sugar spikes so that they were defined by more than one point and I could really see their shape and I was certain of their maximum values. I collected data day and night. I dreamed of a device that could provide a continuous readout of my blood sugar and make perfect graphs. Even with my primitive data collection techniques, however, I made beautiful graphs and I did things with the graphs in terms of how I analyzed them over different time periods and how I displayed the data. I was obsessed with these graphs.