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What Do We NOT Know?!

By Shlomo Maital

  After more than four months of nonstop news/debate/discussion around COVID-19, it is astonishing how much we do not know. And as the saying goes, what you don’t know that you don’t know — is the worst; it can literally kill you.

   So here is my attempt to list, what it is we don’t know, that we NEED to know, about this tiny virulent enemy and hopefully, scientists are working on it.

  • For those who get COVID-19 and recover, are they immune? For life? For a short time? How long does the immunity last?
  • Like many viruses, can this novel coronavirus mutate quickly and attack those who contracted an older version? Are COVID-19 cases in the US characterized by the same genetically-identical virus as say in China, or different? If so, how different? And does it matter?
  • Intubation: Are we in too much of a hurry to put people on intubation (ventilators)? If such a small percentage of those intubated, survive, should we rethink this? And how different are the various kinds of ventilators (those used by anesthetists, oxygen ventilators, standard ventilators, etc.)?
  • Why are the death rates (those who die from COVID-19, as a % of those who are seriously ill, or in general % of those who contract the virus) different, radically, between one country and another?   How much of this is due to ICU expertise?
  • How exactly does COVID-19 spread?   As aerosol (tiny droplets that hang in the air for hours?)   As big droplets (that fall to the ground fairly quickly)?  
  • Are there drugs proven to be effective against COVID-19? What about the recently-approved anti-influenza drugs? Xofluza, Tamiflu, Relenza, Rapivab ? And, of course, hydroxychloroquine? (which seems to have severe heart side-effects among some patients).
  • Why are African-Americans more afflicted than Caucasians? Men more than women?
  • Will there be a second wave? And a third? How will we know in time?
  • How soon will we have a proven vaccine, and how quickly can doses be produced, to inoculate billions of people? How much will it cost? Can it be provided for free? How can the many companies working on a vaccine, in many countries, work together, to save time and save lives?
  • What countries have managed the COVID-19 crisis best, and what can be learned from them? There have been many variations on lockdown, ranging from easy (Sweden) to draconian (China, Singapore).   Which works best?
  • Somewhere, as we speak, a new virus is brewing and mutating somewhere; this is not the last pandemic. Can we organize a world-spanning organization (broader in span than WHO, with far more resources) that will be ready to tackle the next pandemic quickly and efficiently? With massive resources?  


I’m certain there are a thousand more things we do not know. Add your own questions… for each question above, there are multiple answers online, and many of them are fake or conspiratorial.   This simply adds to the fog.

How Teachers Ruin Inquiring Minds – And Why They Must Stop

By Shlomo Maital

elevator-cover one half

Illustration by Avi Katz

    Thanks to my outstanding colleagues at Technion’s Center for Improvement of Teaching and Learning,  our MOOC (massive open online course), Cracking the Creativity Code: Part One – Discovering Ideas,  launched on the Coursera website on May 18, and has over 6,000 students enrolled, worldwide, from Qatar, India, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, among others.   The course is based in part on the book by the same name by  Ruttenberg & Maital.

   Part of the course involves “chat” forums,  organized as ‘forums’ on topics the students themselves initiate. 

   Lizzie writes:  “My 7th grade teacher’s response to many a question was ‘don’t show your ignorance by asking that’.   Which didn’t reduce my ignorance but did get me to stop asking questions and start hating school instead of loving it.”   Malgorzata responds: “Oh yes. I have suffered high school phobia because of it. Constant bullying by teachers was unbearable.”

    How many teachers encourage questions?  How many shut them off, destroying the spirit of inquiry and love of learning?  Are teacher training schools helping teachers encourage students’ questions, rather than shutting them off? 

   Javier writes about how his teacher, in Barcelona, requires the students to copy verbatim a short story.  He tried an experiment – writing with his eyes closed, to see if he could write straight lines without looking.  The teacher ridiculed him before the class.  End of experiment.  Could the teacher have responded:  Class! Javier is trying to write with his eyes closed.  Let’s all try it.  Let’s see what happens.  Javier, thank you for this interesting idea.!

     There are millions of superb, dedicated teachers all over the world, educating the next generation, overworked, underpaid, underappreciated.  But there are still too many to believe they should be teaching the laws of algebra, rather than (in addition) why mathematics is interesting and fun to explore.    

    The Nobel Laureate in Physics Isidore Rabi tells this story:  When he came home from school, his mother never asked him, what did you learn today in school? Instead she asked, Isador, did you ask good questions in class today?   He attributes his success as a scientist to his mother and to her question.   How many Nobel Prizes are we destroying, by shutting off kids’ questions?


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital