I was going to write a post about how hard it was to find what grades mean at different schools (e.g., at UMCP W (for withdraw) means the student dropped the course, but at UT Austin its Q (for Quit?)) but then I found that my Googling
Name of school grade key
I could find it. Okay, so grade keys are not that hard to find.
However, course descriptions are. Both questions (what grades mean and course desc) came up when I do admissions for my REU program. If a student has a course in Discrete Mathematics that could mean a course where you learn how to prove simple things OR it could mean a course where you proof the graph minor theorem (actually I doubt that) or something in between. Similar for Principles of Programming languages and Software Engineering in that they could mean a variety of things. I think math and physics are more standardized, but even there you have the problem that Advanced calc could be either multivar or a course with proofs or something else. There is a great related XKCD here.
PEOPLE USING THE WEB BADLY:
Fellow blogger Scott Aaronson recently posted about Vivek Wadhwa's Washington post column on quantum computing (the post is here) The article by Vivek told the tired and utterly false story that QC can be used to solve TSP by looking at all possibilities. Should Vivik have known better by looking at the web? At first I thought YES he should know better. But then I thought -- I should try to see what he might have done. Maybe the web has this one wrong. In fact, some of my students Iwho, I should add, are not writing articles on QC for the Washington Post) tell me that they don't need to learn the proof of the Cook-Levin theorem since Quantum Computers can solve SAT anyway. So I decided to pretend I didn't know anything about QC and went to the web to see what I could find. First stop: Wikipedia. I found the following quote in the QC article:
BQP is suspected to be disjoint from NP-complete and a strict superset of P though this is not known.
So, the first place I look I find that BQP is suspected to NOT solve SAT or TSP or... Realize that Wikipedia is not some obscure source of hidden knowledge. It is literally the first place one would look. Hence, no excuse, even if other experts told him otherwise (which seems to be the case, though `experts' should be in quotes) the Wikipedia quote should at least give pause.
So even when Wikipedia gives the right information, not everyone looks there.