Tag Archives: Science Education

If the Candidates Talk About Big Science Issues …

… maybe they’ll actually do something about them.

Remember the Democratic and Republican party debates that were held just before that major international meeting about climate change, participated in by every country in the world? Of course you do. Do you remember the candidates’ responses to the questions about climate change posed during those debates? No, you don’t. Not a single question about climate change, or any other big science issue, was asked.

When we think about the big science issues, climate change is often one of the main topics that comes first to mind. But there are many other big science issues that should be more openly and full discussed by candidates in the ongoing US Presidential election, as well as other state and federal elections. ScienceDebate.org has been collecting questions by interested citizens. Here is a sampling (go HERE to see all the questions and submit your own).:

  • How would you reduce our pollution from fossil fuel combustion and encourage more American jobs in energy efficiency?
  • Will you support science-based tobacco product regulation, and so stop FDA ban of e-cigarettes, a low-risk alternative that reduces smoking?
  • How should we manage global population growth?
  • What policies will you put forth to ensure scientific literacy?
  • How do we ensure adequate clean fresh water for the US in years to come?
  • Will you support substantial funding for high capacity energy storage and enhanced long distance electrical grids?
  • Will you support a person’s right to obtain genetic information about them that has been collected by government funded projects?
  • Will you bring back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)?
  • How would you address the world’s aging nuclear arsenals?
  • What steps will you take in dealing with the threat that current agricultural monocultures pose towards biodiversity?
  • What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
  • How would you ensure that government policy is based on evidence and science rather than ideology or personal opinion?
  • What actions would you support to enforce vaccinations in the interest of public health, and when should exemptions be allowed?
  • Do you believe that basic research should receive government funding, or should it all be left to the private sector?
  • Given states’ rights, do you justify a ban on stem cell research in states that support it?
  • We lack cyber security, from voting machines to governmental systems. How would you address cyber security?
  • There is a distinct correlation between “fracking” and increased seismic (earthquake) activity. What are your views on fracking?
  • How would you make the NIH a more efficient funder of government health efforts?
  • What steps should the United States take to protect our population from emerging diseases?
  • What would you as US president do to harden the American electrical grid against severe EMP events?
  • What Will You Do to Reduce The Human and Economic Costs of Mental Illness?

As Shawn Otto recently pointed out, science is central to a large number of our policy challenges, but there are almost no scientists in Congress (about a half dozen during any given term). In fact, we don’t necessarily need a lot more scientists in Congress, but we do need to have science savvy people in elected office. What better way is there to ensure a higher level of science awareness than to make science policy a normal part of our election cycles, through debates, policy statements, and the journalism that covers those elections?

ScienceDebate.Org has been pushing for an actual science debate for a few POTUS elections now. They have had great success in getting their message out … most people have heard of the organization by now. And, there have been some successes in getting the candidates to address science. For example, when President Obama was challenged by Governor Mitt Romney, the two of them produced science policy statements.

This year is different from previous years. For the first time, climate change, one of the big science issues, is part of several national level campaigns. Oddly, the US press seems to be moving very slowly in addressing the fact that more and more citizens are concerned about this and other science issues. But with a bit of a push, the big networks and major journalistic outlets can be convinced to press candidates to address these issues.

Look again at the list of science policy questions above. My impression is that when a lot of people hear about a science debate, they imagine something different, where the candidates are asked science questions, to test their science literacy. That is not what the sciencedebate.org project is about. Candidates for national office, as well as state and local office, are expected to understand economics, crime, international relations, health care, and all sorts of other academic areas. They are not tested on their ability to write the equation for Pareto Efficiency, tactical strategies for dealing with a hostage situation, to speak widely spoken foreign languages, or demonstrate that they can conduct a liver transplant. They are asked about policy, like those science questions listed above. Not only should candidates be able to do that, but the people who are considering voting for them (or not) should have a good idea of how a given candidate will address these issues, or at least, to have evidence that the candidates have more than a vague idea of what these issues entail.

Sheril Kirshenbaum notes,

On Wednesday we’ll watch another Republican presidential debate, but how much do you expect to hear about topics like mental health and climate change? Funding for biomedical research and energy? Research innovation and global leadership? Given these are the issues that will impact the way all Americans live for decades to come, why are they so often the exception in debates, rather than the expectation?

ScienceDebat.org has produced a very compelling commercial that makes this point, and if you agree (and you know you do!) please pass this around on the usual social media for people to see. Here it is:

Here is something you should know: “ScienceDebate.org and Research!America, a group that advocates for medical research, commissioned a national poll that showed that 87% of likely voters think the candidates ought to be well-versed on these issues. The group held online exchanges between President Obama and his opponents in 2008 and 2012, each time making nearly a billion media impressions. “This cycle, we’d like to see one on national television,” said the group’s chair, science writer Shawn Otto. ”

As noted above, you can submit questions to Science debate, and you can support the effort in other ways as wall (like, for example, giving them money!).

Others who are joining the call for a science debate are talking about this commercial:

DeSmogBlog: Presidential Debates Ignore Climate Change, So Children Are Demanding Answers
EcoWatch: Kids Demand Presidential Candidates Address Climate Change
Yale’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Candidates Should not Avoid Science Debate
PZ Myers at Pharyngula: Do we want our politicians to address science issues? (and here at Scienceblogs)
Eli Rabett at Rabett Run: Questions, Bunnies Got Questions
Media Matters has this writeup.

And, of course, ScienceDebate.org organizers Shawn Otto and Sheril Kirshenbaum have posts on this as well.

STEM in 2015: Brianne Bilyeu, Maddy Love, Greg Laden and August Berkshire

Homo naledi and the Chamber of Secrets ~ Psychology’s Inner Demons ~ Chilesaurus: The One That Went Vegan ~ Neurons Alter DNA All Day, Every Day

Popular science fans may recognize some of these colorful titles from the most recent publication of Discover Magazine’s 100 Top Stories of 2015. We at Atheists Talk enjoy a good science-ing now and then, and this Sunday we’re going to talk about some of the stories shared by Discover. It’s going to be a science smorgasboard extravaganza! Join Brianne Bilyeu, August Berkshire and Maddy Love as they nerd out about the science of 2015.

Listen to the Atheist Talk Radio podcast here:

Atheist Talk Radio is a great weekly radio show that covers a wide range of topics, and often, science. However, it costs money to put the podcast on. Consider donating.

On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit

A new paper out in the journal Judgement and Decision Making by Gordon Pennycook, James Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang. The abstract:

Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.

Keywords: bullshit, bullshit detection, dual-process theories, analytic thinking, supernatural beliefs, religiosity, conspiratorial ideation, complementary and alternative medicine.

The paper is here.

Hat tip: Stephan Lewandowsky


Check out our new science podcast, Ikonokast.
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STEM Kids Holiday Presents Ideas

I know a lot of you are looking for ideas for science-related children’s presents for Christmas or whatever holiday you like to celebrate this time of year. I have a couple of ideas, and hopefully you will add some of your ideas below. Not everything that helps encourage the skills of scientific tinkering is found in a science kit, and I’ll provide a few ideas for toys that do this. Also, some of the best science experiments are found by using things that don’t come in kits, but by following the advice in books. So I’ll suggest a few books as well. Purely science kits or tools are of course an important addition to the tool box, but not everything has to be an actual science kit. A toy that is simply a toy, but that has a pro-science theme, is also a good idea, and I’ve got some suggestions there as well.

Science Experiments for Kids

There are many items out there that are explicitly science kits, such as biology kits or chemistry kits, and I’m not comfortable making specific recommendations for that sort of thing. There are many options, across a wide range of qualities, and many turn out to be fairly disappointing. I do recommend going for kits that are very specific in what they do, and not very expensive. These kits seem to serve the purpose well enough, and not a lot of investment is made in case they are not quite up to snuff.

61HAQTA55SL._SX375_BO1,204,203,200_For many, the best option may be a book that outlines science experiments you can do with common (or sometimes less common) household items.

Vicki Cobb’s “See for Yourself!: More Than 100 Amazing Experiments for Science Fairs and School Projects,” which covers a wide range of physics, chemistry, and biology. You can extract DNA, build a charge or current detector, experiment with sound waves, and experiment with sensory processing. Many of the experiments are, as the title suggests, suitable for use in a science fair, and many of the projects are adaptable so your junior scientist can include their own creative ideas (which might include combining two or more experiments). Most of the experiments include useful context and additional notes on how to alter or elaborate on the project. It is hard to pin down an age range for this book, but with adult involvement, there are experiments that will be fun for pretty little kids, and on their own, kids from middle school through high school will find it useful.

(Also by Vicki Cobb: Science Experiments You Can Eat)

bio-coverAt a somewhat higher level are the DIY lab books. Robert Bruce Thompson has produced these:

I have read and worked with the Biology and Chemistry books, and they are excellent. These books are actually designed to meet the requirements of a typical chemistry or biology course that might be taught in high school, and for most labs, require getting some higher end gear (all of which can be ordered or acquired, with information in the books on how to do this). So these are pretty serious books.

Toys That Teach: Logic, engineering skills, experimental thinking

Especially for younger kids (pre-K), some of the skills we wish to develop in support of science learning are probably best acquired with non science toys. For example, the basic wooden train tracks (originally invented, I think, by Brio, but now in many forms including Thomas the Tank Engine, Chuddington, Imaginarium, etc.) require the development of the critical skills of patience, planning and forethought, and some basic engineering and design skills. An inexpensive way of getting started on this is to buy a set that includes massive numbers of wooden train tracks in an expansion pack . You can get at a somewhat pricy price train engines that will run, battery powered, on the tracks such as Fisher-Price Thomas the Train Wooden Railway James Engine. Designing tracks that will allow these engines to run without falling over requires more care and planning, which adds an element of learning.

350-944993-847__1There are numerous toys/games that are not explicitly science, but like the train tracks are expandable and rebuild-able, requiring the development of similar skills, using marbles and tubes and shoots etc. For his birthday, Huxley got one such toy that we were very impressed with. Rated for kids 8 and above, the Techno Gears Marble Mania Glow In The Dark Galatic Adventure Play Set can be assembled by adults for younger kids to play with. While assembly (several hours) is a part of the learning experience for older kids, younger kids still learn process, causality, sequencing, as well as fine tuning (you have to mess around with the chutes and tubes to make them all work, but in ways that teach about dynamics) even without assembling them. Uses lots of batteries.

LEGO Science

Part of nudging the offspring in a scientific direction is just about making science part of the fun they are already having. LEGO is a classic toy, and has a lot of science oriented sets, even if sometimes the science is a bit odd. For example, Lego has the LEGO City Arctic Base Camp set, which is a bit pricy (because it is big) and has many sub-components such as smaller ATVs, a research camp, and a drilling truck and helicopter. All of these components (I’m pretty sure) can be obtained as separate smaller and more affordable kits, so one can pick and chose and spread it out over a few holidays. The fact that the toy is all about scientists collecting paleoclimate data and studying melting glaciers is the reason to get this kit. Having said that, the science itself is, frankly, very funny since the mini-fig-scientists seem to specialize in extracting giant ice-enclosed crystals more likely to be found in the dilithium power sources of a Star Ship.

5702015119283-2The Arctic research kit is part of the City series, which matters if you are keeping track of realistic scales.

A rare LEGO item that looks interesting but that I’ve not seen is the LEGO Cuusoo 21110 Research Institute. This is one of the many LEGO science kits designed by LEGO fans and then produced by LEGO because other LEGO fans liked it enough.

Microscopes for kids

If you are going to get one science related toy for kids, and the kid does not have a microscope, then you should probably get a microscope. I’m going to recommend two types, but there are many options out there.

qx5_microscopeFirst is a USB microscope. There are many kinds out there, and which one you get may depend on age, how many different individuals will use it, and if you already have one. We have the Digital Blue Computer Microscope Digital Camera – QX7, which is simple to use, hooks up easily, is not expensive, and seems pretty sturdy. This is entry level. One thing to note: Software that comes with this sort of microscope is generally useless, may not work, and is more troubler than it is worth. Just hook up the microscope as though it was an external camcorder and use it that way. You’ll be able to use your system’s (or installed) cam software to take stills or movies.

The other kind of microscope I recommend, and you should have both kinds, is some sort of simple hand held pocket microscope. We have the Carson 60X-100X MicroMax LED Lighted Pocket Microscope (MM-200), and it is fantastic. Give it to a bunch of kids and they will run around everywhere taking turns looking at things up close. Whatever pocket microcope you get should have a light in it. (I think they all do, but check).

Go back to the Illustrated Guide to biology experiments noted above, or other references, to find out what higher-end microscope (and related equipment) you want to go beyond these entry level items. Our higher-end microscope is actually a late 19th century design using reflected light. And, now and then, Amanda brings Huxley into the lab to show him the big fancy scopes. When he is a bit older, we’ll get some real optics, such as a medium level binocular scope with a camera.

Electronics

Getting back to the basic idea that learning patience, planning, forethought, and integrating these skills with something creative and productive, as a way to start out in science, I suggest one or more electronic project kits. People of a certain age will remember the old fashioned kits, using telegraph board style wires to hook up components fixed to a large board in different ways to produce various circuits. These days, this approach is replaced with something that reflect the process of building more accurately. I suggest a Snap Circuit kit. There are many levels, and as far as I can tell, one can upgrade from a given level to several different higher levels, with upgrade kits. The total cost is less if you go for the higher level kit right away, but that is pricy, and the difference in cost between serial upgrades and getting the biggest kit at the start is not very large.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 10.29.29 AMFor this reason I recommend starting with the Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit, not the lowest end, but not very expensive. From there you can easily upgrade to a higher level kit, or, get a second specialized kit, such as the Snap Circuits Alternative Energy Green.

A few words of advice on Snap Circuits. When working with Huxley, staring at late age 3, I insisted that about every other time we played with them, we followed the instructions exactly to demonstrate this or that feature of electronics. The other times, he was free to do whatever he wanted as long as he did not make a short circuit with the battery pack, and always installed a switch in the off position while working with the circuits. In truth, there was no real danger in breaking anything (probably) or getting shocked or anything else untoward, but this helped him learn that circuits needed to be handled a certain way for effectiveness and safety. Eventually, Huxley started to design his own circuits to demonstrate complex switching, parallel vs. serial setups, etc.

Also, after observing this for a while, I realized the whole thing would be more fun with a few additional switches, so I separately ordered some of them. Then, a student of Amanda’s, hearing of Huxley’s interest, gave us his old set, so we suddenly had two of almost everything. Huxley really has learned quite a bit about how electricity works, mainly by working with the power supplies (battery packs), various switches, and, mostly, the small electric motor.

I’d love to see your suggestions, or commentary about your experiences, in the comments section!

What Americans Really Want: Science, Candidates, Debates

It is debate season for the US presidential race. As usual, science is being viewed as a debating point very differently by the two parties, at least so far. The Democratic candidates, yet to actually debate, are currently engaged in dealing policy statements about important scientific issues such as climate change. In previous election cycles, science was brought into Republican primary debates to see which candidate could make the most anti-science statements. This year it is a bit different, with climate science in particular, and one’s ability to say something intelligent-sounding about it, being a factor, though still to a very small degree.

You are probably aware of ScienceDebate.org, which has been trying to get science on the table as a standard debating topic worthy of its own entire debate among the candidates. ScienceDebate.org has commissioned a poll asking American voters what they think about science and the candidates. You can read the poll results here.

I created some graphs that re-display the poll’s results in a slightly different, and simpler, way than the original poll.

First is a set of questions about science-based challenges, the importance of science, the relationship between science and policy, and the role of journalists in advancing this conversation. I simplified the results of five distinct statements to indicate simple agreement (strong or not) vs. disagreement, across political affiliation. The result is simple. A large majority of people across all political affiliations agree with al of the statements. Variation across the statements, or across the political parties, is unimpressive. Americans, across the board, are on board with science, with policy makers dealing with science, and want journalists to address this.

Science_Debate_Selected_Poll_Results_Comparing_By_Party

The second graphic simplified the results across two questions about the importance of members of Congress understanding science and the importance of a science debate. Again, the vast majority of Americans, according to this scientific poll, agree on the importance of these things.

science_debate_questions

For more details and finer breakdowns of these results, do visit the original poll.

How To Evaluate Science Stories

I’m on my way to a taping of the Humanist Views with Host Scott Lohman. I do these now and then and have done so since I first moved to Minnesota back when it was still cold here. We’ll be talking about science knowledge, and why basic science knowledge is important. We’ll also be talking about how to go about evaluating science stories you encounter in the news, or more likely, on your Facebook feed or in other social media.

Pursuant to this, I wrote a blog post that talks about how science stories go out to the general public. I also report on a request I sent out a few days ago to my own Facebook Friends for their thoughts on which Internet sites are good science sources, and which are not so good.

So, here goes…

How a scientific finding comes to you

A first year graduate student comes up with a project. The idea is that change in A causes a change in B, and this could be important, although in truth the natural phenomenon being studied is a bit esoteric. After a year or so of experimentation, learning, literature search, and thinking about the problem, the graduate student comes to understand that a change in the level of disorder in the state of A is associated under certain conditions, some known and some unknown, with a threshold change in B, but it doesn’t always happen. The threshold itself is as yet unmeasured, but seems like a threshold. In the end, more questions have been raised than answered, but also, more is known about A and B and related things than before.

Eventually, there is a paper, peer reviewed, and about to be published. The University Press Office is informed. The University writer who covers this area of science is on vacation, so a different person not so familiar with that area of science takes on the job of writing the press release. An interview with the graduate student doesn’t go too well, because scientists have dialects that are sometimes more difficult for a non-specialist to understand than are the diverse dialects of a widely spoken language (like English) by someone unaccustomed to them.

During the conversation the writer presses the graduate student for more on the significance of the study. The graduate student claims the study results are significant. But the writer is thinking “cures cancer” or “a better mousetrap” significance, and the graduate student is thinking about statistical tests and p-values. But, during the conversation something is said about something that sounds significant to the writer. The paper is about statistical variation in ATP use in a muscle fiber, and muscle fibers are what’s messed up in many different diseases, as well as in aging. So now the writer contacts a couple of scientists unrelated to the exact research project and asks about its significance. During that conversation it is made clear that curing heart disease is important, even though this research really has little to do with it. But it could be related in the sense that the more we know about muscle and ATP in muscle fibers, the more we know in general, and that can’t be bad when it comes to heart disease, or a long list of other problems.

So the writer writes up the story, and focuses on the value this new research will have in curing heart disease and multiple sclerosis. The real meaning of the original research, which is that we should be measuring the order and disorder of the state of a particular molecule in muscle fibre, instead of measuring, for instance, how much the muscle twitches in a test tube, is not even mentioned in the writeup because it is too difficult to understand and too esoteric.

Under deadline, the writer asks the editor if the near final copy should be run by the graduate student to see if it is right. The editor says no, explaining that “we don’t let the people we interview see the copy because it would not be fair to the other people you interviewed,” or some such excuse. So the copy moves along in the process. The editor creates a title that makes the research look sexy. The writer, feeling the title might be misleading, asks that the title be toned down a bit, and the editor agrees. But the process of putting the press release onto the University web site has already begun, and the original, overstated, title is still in the HTML Metacode where it will show up as the title on a Facebook post about the research.

Then, somebody spots the research and posts it on their Facebook feed. It gets shared and shared and shared and shared, with the original bogus title on top of every share. Almost nobody reads the text under the title; had they done, they would notice a conflict between the title and the text. Even fewer people click through and read the original text of the press release, so almost no one notices that there may be more, or really, less, to the story than the title suggests. Even fewer people, maybe one in 1,000, have a look at the original article, and if they do, they don’t understand much of it because the process of publishing peer reviewed papers also involved making science being reported less, rather than more, understandable. Also, it is only an abstract because the paper is behind a firewall.

Everybody is now stupider than they were before this whole thing started.

(See a cartoon version of this here, hat tip: Michael Tobis.)

And, importantly, this is how science gets muddled even when there are sincere efforts to not muddle it, and in the absence of nefarious muddling by anti-science operatives.

This is not how it goes with all scientific stories. Many scientists, often those once or twice burned, are more careful in dealing with press offices. Many press offices are actually pretty good, and have great writers, and the press releases they produce are better. Many stories get picked up by crack science writers and bloggers who bother to read the original paper, talk to experts, contact the author with questions, then do a good job of presenting the material. But often, something like the above, or a subset of the above, happens. Stupider, many become.

How does the average person who is interested in science, or a particular topic important to them because of something in their life, avoid becoming stupider, and maybe, just possibly, become even smarter? Here are a few guidelines, most of which have to do with encountering this information on the Internet.

1) Do not assume that a title reflects the research. It often does not.

2) Do not assume that a third party writeup is not messed up. It often is.

3) The internet is made of tubes. Some of these tubes are little more than conduits of original press releases, scraped from myriad sources and turned into what look like news stories. These are good places to find out about newly published research. They are entirely unreliable to find out what that research is about. They are like search engines that lie.

4) Find interpretive outlets you can trust. There are many science writers and science bloggers (overlapping entities) who regularly do a good job of describing current or recent research.

5) Time is your friend. Often, even among the better interpretive sites, mistakes are made and research is accidentally mis-represented. But usually, eventually, corrections are made. An absolutely fresh report of new research may be misleading, while just a week or so later, the reporting gets straightened out.

6) In some fields, there are people who are involved in the research (specifically or generally) who also write about it in a blog. The best example I can think of has to do with climate change. RealClimate blog is written by climate scientists. Very often, the blog posts they produce are written by the actual authors of the new papers. They write these blog posts specifically to inform the general interested (and at least somewhat field-aware) public of their findings. Sometimes they write blog posts specifically designed to address misunderstandings that have emerged, as described above, or as is often the case in climate science, because nefarious science deniers have muddled up the message on purpose. Similarly, there are science based medicine sites that write about health and medicine related news, though in my experience these bloggers are experts in their fields but not generally the authors of the work they are writing about, as is often the case with RealClimate.

PLEASE NOTICE THE TWO SPECIALIZED SEARCH ENGINES IN THE SIDEBAR TO THE RIGHT, ONE FOR GOOD SCIENCE SITES IN GENERAL (SKEPTICAL SEARCH ENGINE) ONE FOR CLIMATE SCIENCE SPECIFICALLY!!!

7) In some fields, there are relatively reliable web sites that cover everything encyclopedia style. Again, with Climate, SkepticalScience.com covers every aspect of climate change, as well as denial of climate change science. If something isn’t there, it is because it is so new it hasn’t been covered yet, but will be. You can even contact the authors of this site and ask for more, or for clarification. Other sites are more like topical sites. This is trickier. There are bogus health and diet sites and there are good health and diet sites. Nature News is crap according to everyone I know (I don’t track that site). WebMD tends to be reasonably good, The Mayo Clinic’s site is very reliable. The CDC does a good job of covering disease. These sites will be less current, and very cautious. They won’t say stuff if they are afraid you will misuse the information, but they go out of their way to address common goofs people make in their thinking about the issues they cover.

8) This should be number 1, but in fact, applies to very few people for various reasons, so I put it down here. If you want to be able to evaluate new scientific research in a given area, learn all about that area and become an amateur expert on it. That is not easy. People will tell you it is easy, and claim they have done this. It is not and they did not – if they thought it was easy they missed something. But if your sources are good, you are honest with yourself, have a bit of training or experience with thinking about things in a scientific way (and haven’t simply told yourself you can do this) then you can make this happen.

9) Pursuant to number 8, use sources like Google Scholar to find actual peer reviewed research of interest to you and read it. Many peer reviewed papers will not be easily available to you because they are behind firewalls, but many are OpenAccess. Others, probably all others, can be obtained at a good library, though that can be a lot of trouble. For something really important, where your need for a paper goes beyond your own interest – maybe you are a teacher teaching about the topic – go ahead and contact the paper’s “corresponding author” and ask for a copy. If the paper is an older one, go first to the authors’ web sites and see if there is a downloadable copy there, often this is the case. Try Googling the entire title of the paper, in quotes, followed by the words “download” and “PDF.” Every once in a while this works, just like magic.

There are some great science communicators some of whom are also scientists.

A couple of quick tips on how to tell a good communicator:

  • They communicate in the field they work in, or at least, communicate a lot in. So they know stuff.
  • When they talk they make sense (by itself not a good clue, but helpful).
  • They manage to use some big words or concepts but make them fully understood.
  • They are often interviewed on comedy central, the only really good news network.

Caution: self styled skeptics are often bad sources because they really do think they understand the science, but may not.

  • As a rule if a non-specialist or highly experienced writer tells you that a certain area of science is simple to understand, check your wallet.
  • If a skeptic tells you that “many peer reviewed studies” have proven/disproven something, check your wallet. Then check for the studies.
  • If an argument is the counter to the argument that the science is controlled by big business, chances are both the original argument and the counter argument are worthless.
  • Notice how self styled skeptics often follow a party line that is as much derived from authority as any other argument they may reject because it is derived from authority.

So what are some good science sources, and what are the bad ones?

A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends to suggest what they thought were good, vs. bad, sources on science. Below I’ve placed their recommendations, without links. That is partly because I don’t want to have links to bad sources on this site. If you enter the term supplied here you can find the referenced resources easily.

If you disagree with anything on this list, or want to add to it, just drop a comment below.

I have not included sites like Physorg and other science news aggregator sites. See above for my opinion on those sites. Interestingly, these sites were listed by Facebook friends as either bad or good. In truth, they are probably either bad or good depending on what you do with them.

Not everything here is exactly a science site but you can see where those listings are still relevant.

Science Sources People Say Are Good

The Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook Page
RealClimate
SkepticalScience.com
Science Based Medicine
Bad Astronomy
PolitiFact
Christian Science Monitor
Wikipedia (Especially as a really smart search engine)
Talk Origin
SCOTUSBlog
Federation of American Scientists
Cultural Cognition Project
Questia
Mayo Clinic
Carl Zimmer
XKCD

Science Sources People Say Are Bad

Whats Up With That
Briebart
InfoWars
Natural News
The Truth Wins
Thunderbolts.info
Answers in Genesis
Discovery Institute
Real Science
Dr. Oz
Mercola
Collective Evolution
Food Babe
Spirit Science
International Medical Council on Vaccination

Should the Smithsonian and Other Museums Blow Off Big Fossil?

Let me start off by saying something you may not know. The big corporations and the 1%ers you have learned to hate fund many of the projects you’ve learned to love. I have not checked lately, but Murdoch and FOX corporation for several years in a row funded at a 50% or 60% level virtually all of the National Geographic specials produced. Major museums known for their great exhibits are often funded by the very corporations or individuals that the people who love those exhibits are (often justifiably) suspicious of. The great importance of private corporate or individual funding is also a factor for art museums, cultural entities like the Opera or Symphony, and of course, sports teams.

This is also true of educational institutions. You see this most obviously at schools of business or management. Say you want to visit the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. It is named after Curtis Carlson, who was Chair of the Carlson Companies (Radisson). Curt also owned TGI Fridays. You might park in the Toyota Parking lot. Perhaps you are going to a meeting at the Medtronic Dining Room followed by a lecture at the Honeywell Lecture Hall. Later, for entertainment you might catch a game at Target Field, or Target Center, or the Xcel Energy Center. Or perhaps you’ll visit the Opera or Symphony. While you are there, be sure to check out the Wall of Donors to see the numerous large companies (mostly Minnesota based) or wealthy individuals who make big donations there.

Well, OK, you probably already knew that large corporations and wealthy individuals are footing the bill for many of the trappings of our civilization, including educational enterprises, and ranging from academics to high culture to sports.

Lately there has been concern that the mix of large donors and missions of various institutions represents a conflict of interest, especially with regards to climate change and global warming.

We’ve seen the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as a conduit for moving money from Big Fossil (large corporations that depend, we presume, on the rejection of climate change science) to scientists who produce roundly criticized work used by climate change denialist in Congress (via the mechanism of Congressional testimony) to avoid implementing science-sound energy and environmental policies.

It has been argued that the David Koch human evolution exhibit at the Smithsonian inappropriately downplays the critical role of human caused climate change as a problem facing our species. The exhibit does mention future challenges, and a warming planet, but conveniently leaves off the anthropogenic part.

A couple of years back, the University of Minnesota bailed out of showing a documentary on the Mississippi River, which included quite a bit of material on pollution of the river caused by agriculture, allegedly because Big Ag interests pressured the administration. It has been suggested that was only one of several examples of The U bending to the agricultural industry.

Recently there has been a move to ask natural history museums to reduce or eliminate funding from Big Fossil, and to ask folks like the Kochs to not be on their boards of directors. This makes sense because of the potential conflict of interest, but it could also be a form of institutional suicide if the funding from those sources is both very important and irreplaceable.

How much of the science done by major academic institutions is influenced by funding? It makes sense, for example, for Big Ag to fund laboratories, graduate fellowships, and research at these institutions because they benefit from the training and research. But it might also make sense for Big Ag to influence what research is done, perhaps who gets the results, and most importantly perhaps, what research (or results) is NOT funded, or repressed. Same with Big Fossil. Same with Big Pharm. Same with Big Whatever.

And, of course, the same can be said of large museums. I can name one large museum (but I won’t) that totally avoids human evolution (but not necessarily evolution in general) because there are private donors who don’t think humans evolved. The aforementioned human evolution exhibit funded by Koch is probably a mild example of bias. I’ve seen a lot of human evolution exhibits, and so far the few that are quite willing to challenge visitors’ religious or other anti-science beliefs were entirely state funded, as far as I know.

I think it is appropriate to ask the Smithsonian to dump the Kochs and their ilk as donors and board members, because such stark request can form the core of an activist approach that could cause positive change. But I also think we need to recognize the difficult position these institutions are in. We need not only to tell them to change how they do things, but to suggest alternative approaches and facilitate those approaches. Big educational exhibits at museums should routinely be funded by public money, as many already are. Perhaps private donations should be funneled through third parties that are devoid of nefarious intentions and shady ties. One approach in the US might be to tie tax benefits to such a thing. You can get a tax benefit from donating to a museum to produce an exhibit, but you get a better tax benefit if you donate to the NSF or NIH museum exhibit and educational endowments, which are in turn distributed via the usual mechanism of carefully developed requests for proposals with peer review. That would let the Kochs have part of their cake and we (the citizens) get to eat the other part.

The way research, education, and public engagement is funded has become a problem. What do you think? How should we solve this problem?

Publishers Remove Climate Change Denialism From Texas Schoolbooks

I just got this press release for the Texas Freedom Nettwork, passing the good news on to you:

PUBLISHERS REMOVE CLIMATE CHANGE DENIALISM FROM TEXAS TEXTBOOKS; PUT EDUCATION AHEAD OF POLITICS

Texas State Board of Education must still vote on adopting the revised textbooks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2014

Publishers have agreed to correct or remove inaccurate passages promoting climate change denialism from new social studies textbooks proposed for Texas public schools, a coalition of science and education groups announced this afternoon. This news comes as the State Board of Education prepares for a second public hearing on the proposed textbooks and a final vote on which texts to approve for Texas schools. The textbooks will likely be sold in other states as well.

Publishers Pearson Education, WorldView Software and Studies Weekly Publications had already submitted to Texas education officials revisions to textbook passages that included inaccurate information about climate change. The original passages cast doubt on the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that climate change is a real and growing threat and that human activity is the primary driver of the problem. Today publisher McGraw-Hill confirmed to the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) that it will remove a deeply problematic lesson that equated unsupported arguments from a special interest-funded political advocacy group, the Heartland Institute, with data-backed material from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a Nobel-winning organization of scientists from around the world.

“We applaud these publishers for responsibly listening to scholars and the tens of thousands of people from across the country who have signed petitions insisting that the textbooks put education and facts ahead of politics,” TFN President Kathy Miller said today. “We hope they will stand firm in their decision and resist pressure from politicians on the state board to lie to students about one of the biggest challenges facing our planet.”

Petitions calling on publishers to correct their textbooks collected more than 116,000 signatures. The petitions were sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, National Center for Science Education (NCSE), Climate Parents, Daily Kos and CREDO Mobilize.

Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director at NCSE, also praised the publishers’ decisions to remove the scientifically inaccurate information from their textbooks.

“Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and other publishers did the right thing by making these changes,” Rosenau said. “They listened to us and the nation’s leading scientific and educational societies, ensuring that students will learn the truth about the greatest challenge they’ll confront as citizens of the 21st century. These publishers should be proud.”

Lisa Hoyos, director of the national organization Climate Parents, noted the importance of telling students the truth about climate change at a time when the science is under political attack across the country.

“There is a dangerous attack on climate science in our country, from Congress to the classroom,” Hoyos said. “We are thrilled that Pearson and McGraw Hill chose to stand with students, and to remove misinformation about the causes of climate change from their texts. These publishers need to resist any pushback from climate deniers on the the Texas State Board of Education and to commit to tell nothing but the truth in the materials they produce for our kids.”

The State Board of Education will hold its second public hearing and take a preliminary vote on the proposed textbooks on Tuesday (November 18). The board is set to take a final vote on Friday. The textbooks will go into classrooms beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

Climate Smart and Energy Wise

Climate Smart & Energy Wise: Advancing Science Literacy, Knowledge, and Know-How by Mark McCaffrey is a book written primarily for teachers, to give them the information and tools they need to bring the topic of climate change effectively to their classrooms. It addresses the Climate Literacy and Energy Literacy frameworks, designed to guide teaching this important topic.

The book provides basics on climate and energy, approaches to teaching about climate and energy, and of special interest for teachers, syncing the topics with existing standards. The main point of the book is to get teachers up to speed, but this is not restricted to teachers at a certain level, or for that matter, a certain topic, in that climate change and energy can be incorporated in a very wide range of electives and mainstream classes. The goal of teaching climate literacy is developed by focusing on the “seven essential principles”:

  1. The sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system.
  2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
  4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and human processes.
  5. Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observation, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.
  7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

And, similarly, there are seven organizing concepts for teaching energy:

  1. Energy is a physical quantity that follows precise natural laws.
  2. Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow through the Earth system.
  3. Biological processes depend on energy flow through the Earth system.
  4. Various sources of energy can be used to power human activities, and often this energy must be transferred from source to destination.
  5. Energy decisions are influenced by economic, political, environmental, and social factors.
  6. The amount of energy used by human society depends on many factors.
  7. The quality of life of individuals and societies is affected by energy choices.

There is a chapter on countering denialism, and a chapter on mainstream activism.

Mark McCaffrey is the Programs and Policy Director for these topics at the National Center for Science Education, and this book is an NCSE project. McCaffrey has blogged about the contents of the book on the NCSE blog; his first entry is here. In his own words:

…if well presented and handled with creativity and care, climate and energy issues are ideal interdisciplinary and integrating themes, potentially linking the sciences with mathematics, language arts, geography, history, arts, social studies and civics, and at the college level, bringing in psychology, sociology, writing and rhetoric, philosophy, business…. You get the picture.

Most importantly, climate and energy are topics that are imperative to teach if we are going to effectively respond to these challenges, and make informed climate and energy decisions.

Climate Smart & Energy Wise: Advancing Science Literacy, Knowledge, and Know-How is well written, well laid out, a good read but also an excellent on-the-shelf reference book for educators designing or updating courses. It is coming out later this month and costs only $25.00. A great gift for your favorite teacher!

The figure at the top of the post is from the book.

Who Are The Most Influential African Americans, Ages 25-45?

The Root 100 2014 is seeking your nominations. DEADLINE IS MONDAY. They are

…just about ready to celebrate the innovators, the trailblazers and the influencers in the African-American community who have caught our attention in the past year. [They] will announce The Root 100 of 2014 and celebrate these 25-45-year-olds who are paving the way in politics, entertainment, business, the arts, social justice, science and sports. Right now, it’s your turn to submit nominations for those you think deserve this coveted honor.

There will be many well-known figures on the list, but, each year, The Root 100 seeks to recognize those whose accomplishments may have gone unacknowledged on a national level. Our honorees are ranked according to a scoring system that measures reach and substance. Last year, our No. 1 honoree was then-NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, with about-to-be U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in second place. Both men’s public profiles have changed, so stay tuned to see what happens in 2014.

Other 2013 honorees included MSNBC’s new host Joy-Ann Reid, chef Marcus Samuellsson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson.
We will spend the next weeks collecting names, debating our choices and putting all the names through the stringent criteria we use to determine the best of the best.
The deadline is June 30th for you to weigh in. Submit the names of those you believe are making a difference in the black community. Just fill out The Root 100 2014 nomination form below.

Go HERE to nominate. I suggest a STEM related person.

"Science education should be based on our economy" Wut?

Republican lawmakers and their kin are opposing the acceptance of National Science Standards. Why? Because those standards are based on science. What they prefer is that the standards we use to guide curriculum in America’s public schools be the hobgoblin of the Koch Brothers and the rest of the petroleum industry. Way to ruin the country, man. Civilization too. Nice move.

As Chris Hays points out (see below) the anti-science industry in America is leaving Creationism behind and shifting towards the denigration of Climate Science, much to our detriment.

The following interview from All In covers this, and includes Mary Mazzio, documentary film maker, and Michael Mann, climate scientist. Watch it. Then get mad and do something about it.

While you are at it, have a look at this All In segment on the GOP ordering the Pentagon to ignore climate change. Including the Navy, which will be losing ALL OF ITS BASES if they ignore sea level rise.

An Interesting Gift Idea (for others or yourself)

There’s this new thing. Quarterly.co has this thing that when I first heard described I didn’t quite understand, and was not sure if I liked it or not, so I dug a bit deeper and it turns out I think it is cool. Here’s the idea. Quarterly has assembled a bunch of people they call “Curators.” These are famous people among whom you are likely to find someone you admire or respect or perhaps stalk in your own Internety way. The curators then work with Quarterly to assemble a box of stuff. Then, you, as Quarterly’s customer, arrange to have the box sent. There are four a year (quarterly!). You only pay for them one at a time, so you can extend or cancel your subscription depending on your likes.

Cool Compass
Cool Compass
Quarterly contacted me to let me know about their service because I had been writing about Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Bill is one of the curators. They sent me one of the boxes arranged by him so I could get an idea of what it was all about. It turns out it was pretty cool.

The box contained two kinds of items. There were some commercially available items selected by Bill Nye, and a few other items that were home made or printed up just for this box, including some documents written by Bill, one with a personal autograph.

The retail items were a salt water fuel cell car kit, a solar powered robotic bug, some zany color changing beads, a nice pen, and a carabiner compass. The home made items included the parts and instructions for making a sun dial.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 10.59.23 AMThis particular package costs $50. When I calculate the retail costs of the items available for purchase, it comes to over $50. When I search around for the best price I can get it down to just below $50 not counting shipping. So, it seems to be the case that you get pretty close to what you pay for, with respect to just those items alone. The additional things, the personalized stuff from Bill Nye and the sundial kit obviously add more value. And, the idea is that this collection of stuff was put together by someone you admire (or stalk).

The sundial kit comes with all the parts and things you need to make it work, but every one of those parts is a common classroom item. It comes with instructions to use the sundial in a teaching setting, either with your family or in a classroom, and since the items are commonly available, the project is extensible and can be redone again and again. Also, the sundial kit comes with a well thought out list of links between specific national educational standards and the things learned by using the kit, which covers several items in science and a bit of history.

I’m not sure if I would personally subscribe to this, because I’m more of a curator type than a curatee type. But I can think of several people to whom I would like to give at least one box as a gift. Considering the range of curators, there is actually quite a range of possibilities. Bill Nye is The Science Guy of course, so that’s for sciencey people and science teachers.

Do you know Ted Vadakan, Angie Myung, Jon Shook, Kristian Bush, Sean Bonner, Viny Dotolo, Q-Tip, Amanda Hesser, Merril Stubbs, Book Riot, Megan Collins, Brandon Long, Pharrell Williams, Andy Dalton, Siobhan O’Conner, Alexandra Spunt, Charles Tillman, or Coco? Those are some of the other curators representing design, art, style, cooking, sports, entertainment, and other things many of which I know virtually nothing. There’s also technology stuff and a home organizing box. But I have friends and relatives who so, and some of them might be getting Quarterly boxes as birthday presents this year. (Too bad most of my extended family breeds seasonally and most of the birthdays have just passed!) There’s also technology stuff (e.g. Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing and MAKE) and a home organizing box. There’s even a blogger that is not me (Jason Kottke) and a Viking (Brian Robison). A full list of curators is HERE. Most of the boxes are $50, but a couple are $100, shipping included in the US.

Here’s a video that Bill Nye made to go with this kit (If it does not load properly here, you can watch it HERE.):

#NYE01 Video from Quarterly Co. on Vimeo.

This is an interesting idea and I hope it does well. If you get any boxes, let us know how it goes!

Amanda's Wayzata High School Science Bowl Team And Their Amazing Captain.

One of our local news stations, WCCO (Channel 4) CBS, has this story.

Blindness Isn’t Stopping This 15-Year-old H.S. Senior’s Quest For Knowledge

WAYZATA, Minn. (WCCO) – When the Wayzata Science Bowl team practices, they mean business. They just won the state championship, and they are now getting ready for nationals in Washington, D.C.

They’re all smart kids, that’s obvious, but one of them stands out — team captain Nathan Stocking.
“The other team gets intimidated,” said teammate Jayant Chaudhary, “because he doesn’t even need paper for pretty complex complications.”

Stocking is a high school senior, even though he’s only 15 years old.

“Whether it’s speaking Spanish or Chinese, or if it’s programming computer scripts, or if it’s knowing every detail about a science subject, he excels in all of them,” said teacher Amanda Laden.
But something else is different about Stocking. He can’t see.

“I think he was born smart,” says his mother, Karen Cotch. “He just thrives on knowledge…and we’re just the ones who try to find ways to feed it.”

Stocking lost his sight when he was only a few months old, but he’s been amazing people ever since.
“At around 8, he started taking middle school classes,” she said. “His first A.P. class, he was 11, and he went to the high school for that.”

Now, he’s only at the high school for science bowl. His college-level classes are all online or through special instructors.

“I never really had a formal grade until this year,” he said.

And then there’s his music….

Read the rest here.

Creation Science Homeschooler Science Fair

Every year the Twin Cities Creation Science Association puts on a science fair which is sometimes called the Home Schooling Creation Science Fair. It used to be held at Har Mar mall, which was great because it is always a pleasure to stop in at Har Mar. But for the last two years, including last weekend, it was held at a local Bible College. I haven’t gone every year, but most years, as does The Lorax at Angry By Choice and a variable handful of others. This year, PZ Myers also attended. (Speaking of PZ I just noticed that his book is now available as an audio edition, just so you know.)

Over the years, the number of entries has gone steadily up (this year was down from last year, but both years are up from previous years) and the quality of the entries has skyrocketed. In the old days, many of the entries would be about things like “How did Noah build the Ark” or similar topics such as how fossils are fake and evolution is too. But increasingly, the entries are about real things, and despite the required presence of a “relevant” Bible quote on each poster, most of the entries are not about “creation science” (sic) at all, but rather, about something interesting, usually science relates. Many entries are descriptive, really demonstrating how a student has learned about a particular topic, while others are reports of an experiment or set of experiments to test one or more hypothesis.

Back in the day when the fair was all about actual (fake) creation science, I did not approve. I regarded this as an attempt to brainwash innocent young children to have a very incorrect and even damaging view of the world. But now I like the Creation Science Fair for the very reason that the exhibits are of better quality and often demonstrate a child’s engagement with thinking about the world around them from a scientific perspective.

The typical visit by those of us who get get to the fair and who come from the science community involved us walking around and chatting to the students about their work. We don’t impose or cajole or make fun or anything like that. We simply contribute to the conversation, and don’t even identify ourselves as scientists. One wonders if a visit by a half dozen interested people who have a good science oriented conversations helps. I think it does.

I hope the Twin Cities Creation Science (Maybe Homeshooling) Fair keeps going. It is a good thing in a questionable context and I think it has a positive effect on the up and coming future scientists.

Also, I got a great idea for how to make a ketchup bottle that actually pours out ketchup. I also met the family I used to buy sheep from. But that’s another story.


Above photo stolen from PZ Myers.