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Conceptual and unit problems with 'weight_kg' variable in Episode 1 #938

ellenkeister opened this issue Jun 21, 2021 · 2 comments
type:discussion Discussion or feedback about the lesson


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During my teaching demo, I noticed an issue that the trainer running the demo session suggested I mention as an issue for my checkout contribution. It's a small thing, but most of the programming intro sessions (including start with a variable for the weight of a patient in kilograms. I am a former physics professor, and I am compelled to note that the kilogram is a unit of mass, not weight. While this may seem nit picky, we spend a great deal of time in intro physics teaching students the important differences between mass and weight, which is actually a force. While it is unlikely that the use of 'weight_kg' in a Software Carpentries lesson is going to significantly increase physics students' existing incorrect intuition and conflation of weight and mass, perhaps this could be changed to something like height in meters vs inches. This would be consistent with the lesson story about inflammation in patients, as well as the unit conversation examples and application. I'm not sure the best way to "correct" this concept-unit inaccuracy in all of the Carpentries lessons that have it, but this is the lesson that I am most familiar with, so I started here.

@maxim-belkin maxim-belkin added the type:discussion Discussion or feedback about the lesson label Jun 22, 2021
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Thank you for raising this issue! I've usually changed this example to something like distance_in_kilometers and distance_in_miles in sessions with lots of physicists, primarily because the distinction between mass and weight can distract away from the flow of the lesson.

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Thanks for bringing this up, @ellenkeister, and for your comment, @namurphy.

As a physicist myself, I saw this discrepancy too. It is, however, so common that not only I don't worry about it, I'd be surprised if anyone ever answers to the "How much do you weigh?" question with "I weigh 800 Newtons".

But, of course, we (maintainers of this lesson) would be happy to review a PR that addresses this issue.

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