AI Won’t Destroy Tests

When calculators first started coming out, people said they would be used to cheat and students wouldn’t learn anything. Instead, we changed how testing works to focus on learning what’s important – broader concepts and implications – instead of “what is 232+47”. With AI tools, we again need to change how tests work. This time, instead of asking if a student can regurgitate information in a way that aligns with the teacher, we can start to see if students are actually paying attention to the work. The difference between AI answers and real answers is a level of understanding deeper than the surface.

How to Use ChatGPT

I’m late to the party, but maybe that’s better. I’ve forgotten some of the hype around AI, and the pace of innovation has settled down a little. Think of ChatGPT as a thinking tool with access to an internet-sized – but imprecise – database. That database was last updated in September 2021, and is imprecise because due to how neural networks work. The thinking part of this tool is rudimentary, but powerful. It does many things well with the correct input, but also fails spectacularly with the “wrong” input.

I separate the idea of what ChatGPT is from how it functions and where its knowledge comes from, because it helps me think of uses while remembering its limits. For example, I used it to help me journal more effectively, but when I tried to probe its knowledge of Havana Syndrome – a conspiracy theory commonly presented as fact by USA officials, it expressed useless information, because it has no conception of how it knows anything, or where its knowledge comes from.

Things ChatGPT is Good At

This list is presented in no particular order, but it is important to stress that AI often lie and hallucinate. It is important to always verify information received from AI. This list is based on my experiences over the past month, and will be updated as I use ChatGPT more. It is not comprehensive, but is intended to be what I find most useful.

  • Socratic method tutoring: The Socratic method is essentially “Asking questions helps you learn.” ChatGPT is very good at explaining topics, just make sure you verify its explanations are factual. (Questions I asked: Why are smooth-bore tanks considered more advanced while rifling in guns was an important innovation? Why do companies decrease the quality of tools over time?)
  • Writing: ChatGPT tends to be too verbose, but you can make it simplify and rewrite statements, and it can help you find better ways to write. (I asked it to explain the Socratic method a few times, then wrote my own version.)
  • Scripting: I created a utility script for file statistics in 2-3 hours by refining output from ChatGPT. The end result is more reusable, better written, and more functional than it would’ve been if I had worked on it alone. And that’s ignoring the fact that I got something I liked far faster than I would’ve on my own. (Just.. you need a programmer still. It can do some pretty cool things on its own, but also forgets how to count often.)
  • Planning: This is a todo item for me. I haven’t successfully used it for planning yet, but I intend to, and have heard of good results from others.

Things ChatGPT is Bad At

  • Facts & math: AI hallucinate. Check everything they teach you.
  • Finding sources: ChatGPT’s knowledge is formed by stripping the least useful data out of most of the internet, and who said what is far less important than specific pieces of knowledge – like how do you make a heading in HTML?
  • An unbiased viewpoint: While ChatGPT is fairly good at avoiding most bias, everything is biased. Removing bias completely is impossible. Discussing anything where there is strong motive to present a specific viewpoint will lead to that viewpoint being presented more often than an unbiased viewpoint.
  • Violent, illegal, and sexual content: While it is possible to bypass OpenAI’s strict handling of content, it is difficult, inconsistent, and can lead to having access revoked. Sadly, this prevents many ethical use cases due to a heavy-handed approach, and embeds the bias of OpenAI’s team into the model directly. There are ways around this with non-ChatGPT models.
  • What to do in Minecraft: I tried so many TIMES to get interesting ideas. It just can’t do it.

Things ChatGPT is Okay At

It’s important to know where AI can be a useful tool, but must be used carefully due to mixed results, so I am also including a list of things that work sometimes.

  • Advice: Similar to the Socratic method, a back and forth conversation can help you with your thoughts. Just be aware that ChatGPT can give some really bad advice too. For example, I wanted to see what it had to say on turning hobbies into jobs, and it covered none of the downsides, only talking about it as a purely positive experience.
  • Game design: I have spent too much time telling ChatGPT to design games for me. It will generate an infinite rabbit-hole of buzzwords and feature ideas, but cannot understand the concepts of limited time or scope. If you try to follow its designs, you will never complete anything.
  • Summarizing: If given text as input directly, when it is short enough, a summary can be reliably generated. If asked to summarize something extremely popular before its data cut-off, the summary can be okay. The drop-off on this is insane. Try asking it about Animorphs for example, something talked about occasionally, and certainly known about, but not something it can summarize.

This draft sat around for about 2/3rd of a month nearly complete. I would like it to have even more information, but I would like it more for it to be public. Apologies if it was a little short for you, but hopefully someday I’ll make a better version.

Fluoridated Water & Toothpaste Are Safe

Is fluoride bad for you? No. (Updated 2023-04-19. See footnotes for update history.)

I am not a medical professional, this article is the result of personal research, and it should not be considered medical advice. Additionally, this article is written for American audiences who are concerned with fluoride in drinking water. Unfortunately, fluoride exposure is far more common in less privileged countries (especially India and China)1, 15. In these countries, it is not from drinking water.

I’m going to get straight to the point: The worst possibility for the average person is exceedingly rare joint pain and brittle bones. This is called skeletal fluorosis1, and is caused by the body absorbing too much fluoride into bone tissue, which causes it to be brittle. It is difficult to consume enough fluoride to cause skeletal fluorosis – unless you’re eating toothpaste.

For children/teens (6-17)2, there is an increased risk of dental fluorosis, which is discoloration of teeth, and very rarely structural damage can also occur (in less than 0.25% of the population3). This is because children and teens are more likely to swallow toothpaste, and more likely to use too much toothpaste. See “How To Use Toothpaste” for more information, and please do read it because most people use too much toothpaste and don’t know it (including me before researching this article).

My Bias & My Sources’ Bias

I choose to use the worst possible case as presented from available data, because that level of caution tells me if danger is even a possibility. As a result, most of the sources I am using are from organizations against the use of fluoride in drinking water4, 6, 15, 17, and likely includes conspiracy theorists.

Ironically, the worst case data presented is that fluoride is not dangerous to the average person, and the benefits of fluoridated water outweigh the risks. This is despite several of my sources not distinguishing between dental and skeletal fluorosis4, 6, 15. Dental fluorosis is almost entirely harmless, while skeletal fluorosis can be crippling.

How Much Fluoride is Dangerous?

This is a difficult question to answer, and the average person does not need to worry about it. If you have poor kidney function, you should probably talk to a doctor about it. It is also more likely to affect you if you have a calcium or vitamin D deficiency5.

Most studies I looked at are of populations with medical problems that leave them susceptible to fluorosis. The lowest consumption I can possibly link to the average person developing any kind or amount of fluorosis is 10mg/day every day for 6 months4, 15, and this estimate is based on the most rapid onset fluorosis study I could find combined with a more reasonable estimate for the magnitude of consumption required6.

In order to consume 10mg/day of fluoride, one would need to drink 8 liters of highly fluoridated water7, 14, or eat 4 liters of raisins8, 17, or eat around 3-5 times as much maximally fluoridated toothpaste as should be used per day9And you would have to do these every day for 6 months or longer.

How Much Fluoride Am I Consuming? A Worst Case

Dental fluorosis occurs while teeth grow, and is the most common risk of fluoride. I set out to figure out the worst case consumption for a child around age 6, but these numbers can be easily extended to older or younger people.

Children 4-11 years old consume 2-2.2mg/day fluoride, of which 0.2-0.3mg is from toothpaste10. Assuming the worst case in these factors, this means children are getting 1.9mg/day from non-toothpaste sources, and spitting out 2.4mg/day from their toothpaste. But this is not the worst case. This estimate means children are drinking less than a liter of water per day and no food with fluoride in it, which is definitely not true.

A child 4-8 years old should be consuming 1.18 liters of water per day11, and is definitely getting fluoride from food as well8, 17. To make the worst case, I’m going to add 1.18 liters of maximally fluoridated water (1.42mg), a liter of the most fluoridated food (raisins, 2.34mg), and assume they’re using twice as much toothpaste as they should, using maximally fluoridated adult toothpaste, brushing twice a day, and swallowing it all. That’s 6mg/day from toothpaste alone!

Altogether? 9.76mg/day of fluoride, which is not good, but amazingly, is still below the worst threshold I could possibly link to fluorosis (10mg/day).

The most important take-away from this is: Don’t swallow toothpaste. Don’t use too much toothpaste.

How To Use Toothpaste

This is actually fairly simple, but please consult with a dentist, especially for young children. A “pea-sized” dollop is all you need. Children are at the highest risk of having dental problems, and so the right balance for them is most difficult.

If one has a hard time spitting or rinsing out toothpaste, consider finding a toothpaste with lower fluoride concentrations. This is more common in children’s toothpaste, but there is significant overlap in fluoride concentrations between adult and child toothpaste12.

(I was under the impression that children’s toothpaste should have lower fluoride than adult toothpaste, but lower concentrations are associated with worse dental outcomes, while higher concentrations are more likely to only cause mild fluorosis. Additionally, fluorosis matters far less for a child’s first set of teeth – and its presence or lack thereof can be used to guide changes in their fluoride use.)

Sources, References, Footnotes

  1. Wikipedia states this with a dead link to an article from UNICEF. However, multiple sources of similar information can be found via search. In the interest of time, I did not research more details.
  2. I am combining data from many sources to state the range of “children” at increased risk. Different sources give different ranges, and are primarily focused on pre-teen ages. Dental fluorosis can occur any time teeth are growing, and thus this includes teens.
  3. Prevalence and Severity of Dental Fluorosis in the United States, 1999-2004. (CDC)
  4. Fluoride Action Network discusses and links to many studies. However, they do not distinguish between dental and skeletal fluorosis – instead claiming that all fluorosis cases are dangerous and crippling. Additionally, they do not clarify which studies are of a sub-population (such as the many studies on kidney disease and kidney failure), and they do not clarify the difference between very rare occurrences and reasonable risks to the average person.
  5. Fluoride does not replace calcium in enamel (for teeth) and bone, but a lack of calcium increases how much fluoride is absorbed by enamel and bone.
  6. Estimated Thresholds For Fluorosis. Warning: This page appears to be misleading, as it is part of the Fluoride Action Network4, and intermixes studies across a wide range of locations & causes without clearly distinguishing between types of fluorosis.
  7. Water has been fluoridated to 0.7-1.2mg/L. At the maximum concentration, one would need to consume 8.33 liters per day to receive 10mg/day, which is not really possible14.
  8. FoodData Central. (USDA) (Originally, I used a different source17, but they are not reliable.)
  9. Adult toothpaste contains 1,000-1,500mg/L fluoride, adults should use no more than a “pea-sized” amount of toothpaste (approximately 1mL)citation needed, which means that swallowing adult toothpaste gives 1-1.5mg fluoride per swallow.
  10. Fluoride – Health Professional Fact Sheet. (NIH)
  11.’s page about hydration.
  12. Study highlights fluoridated toothpaste use in children.
  13. 1 ppm is equivalent to 1 mg/L. For consistency, I used mg/L within this article.
  14. Drinking more than 1 L/hr of water for more than 2 hours leads to water toxicity. It is likely one could die from water toxicity before they could consume enough fluoride to cause harm.
  15. Most studies “linking fluoride to negative health effects” are in India and China and based on high levels of contamination of multiple materials. These do not distinguish between lead, arsenic, and other toxins more likely to be the cause of these issues. Note: I did not do this analysis myself, and am relying on Professor Dave.
  16. In 2015, the US Department of Health & Human Services recognized that fluoride should be limited to 0.7mg/L for an optimal balance between dental protection and risk of causing dental fluorosis.
  17. Largest List of Foods That Contain Fluoride. Warning: This website is promoting pseudoscientific claims. Specifically, they claim to be able to remove fluoride from one’s body in 28 days, which is impossible due to how it bonds with bone and how slowly bone is reformed.

2022-01-20: Additional sources, footnotes; minor corrections/edits.
2022-02/03-??: Title changed to reduce likelihood of misunderstanding/spread of false information.
2023-04-19: Grammatical corrections, better word choice.
2023-08-17: Title was still too potentially misleading, changed again.