Oral Exams Are No Panacea

In "A Solution to Cheating?" (E-mail, October 2000), I believe Mr. Berezin is somewhat naive regarding the use of face-to-face oral examinations as a solution to cheating. Other than a university's honor system, there is nothing to keep the first few students from coaching the remaining students regarding the exam questions. The instructor can counter by varying the questions being asked, but in addition to the process of a face-to-face exam tying up an inordinate amount of the instructor's time, developing the additional questions will take up even more time-not to mention opening issues of fairness and equality. The only way this method would prevent cheating is to have all students sequestered either before or after taking the oral exam. We have investigated a myriad of testing methods and so far have found none better than a written exam administered by a seasoned proctor.

John Hackworth
Old Dominion University

The Score on Home Runs

The article by Ray Bert about the recent surge of home runs (" Stepping Up to the Plate", October 2000) was very interesting. The article is quite correct in saying that many things were probably involved in the increase in home runs, but the trend goes back much further than 1990. Babe Ruth started the trend in 1919 when he hit a then-record 29 home runs. When someone pointed out to Ruth that in 1930 he made more money than President Hoover, Ruth is said to have replied "I had a better year." Home run hitters began having "better years" financially than those who hit singles with higher averages. When someone told Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Ralph Kiner that he could raise his average by choking up on the bat, Kiner replied "Cadillacs are down at the big end."

In the book Keep Your Eye on the Ball by me and Terry Bahill (W.H. Freeman, 2nd edition), we present home run per team data that is very similar to that presented in the Prism article. But we also found that more home runs per game correlate with more strikeouts per game. Hitters are not only stronger and better-conditioned, they also "swing for the fences."

We also noted a big jump in both strikeouts and home runs after 1992. The following season, an expansion year for the National League, the Colorado Rockies came on board and home runs started going out of the park with frequency in their mile-high stadium, where the air is slightly less dense and the drag coefficient is smaller. Miami's ProPlayer stadium, home of the Florida Marlins, and the Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards are also "hitter's parks," in part because the seats along the sidelines are very close to the foul lines, so that fewer pop-ups are caught, perhaps giving hitters a few extra swings.

Rule changes are also important, as Terry and I point out in our book. Many claim that the umpires chose on their own to reduce the strike zone, and began calling anything above the belt a ball-a decided disadvantage for pitchers. But I believe that the bottom line is that stronger, better-conditioned batters are swinging for the fences. Finally, the weight of the bat is not a very important parameter in how far the ball can be hit. Our calculations indicate that using a heavier bat (with more mass) is just about compensated for by greater bat speed. Batters are choosing lighter bats because it gives them better bat control.

Robert G. Watts
Tulane University

The Dragon Slayer Revisited

No, Suzanne E. Franks (E-mail, September 2000) did not take Kerry Hannon's article on Constantine Papadakis "a bit too literally." This male reader had much the same reaction. Indeed, the article went beyond even the sort of content-free hero worship common in publications like Business Week. And Hannon's response, though somewhat relieved by its defensiveness, came across as a put-down.

John A. Alic
Retired member

What do YOU think?

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