Archive for the ‘scientific method’ Category
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 29, 2013
Often I get asked what I think is so special about science. Many times people criticize my science-oriented worldview by saying that “science is just one view” or that “science is only ‘one way’ of knowing” and so on; it goes without saying that most often I hear this criticism of science and its methodology from those who are running counter to that methodology, usually in an effort to promote some brand of pseudoscience or similar nonsense.
Well, the purpose of this post is to point out one of the most valuable aspects of science: that particular aspect of its methodology which displays the self-correcting nature of science.
First, allow me to admit, right up front, that science isn’t necessarily about finding “Truth” with a capital “T”; as much as I and my fellow scientists support science, we must acknowledge that it, at best, offers us a kind of provisional truth. That is, the “truth” (note the lower-case “t”) that science offers us is always open to revision based upon new information, and this is – contrary to what some might think – one of its greatest strengths. And, as such, what science can do is approach, however slowly and asymptotically, a more and more accurate view of the world around us as a result.
This ability of science to be open to new information, to be capable of being revised, to be self-correcting, is precisely in opposition to the kind of dogmatism which is offered by so many other modes of thought. Too often, other modes of thought, whether they be grounded in religion or some kind of rigid ideology, start with the “Truth” (capital “T”) and work from there; I like to reference the following cartoon in order to illustrate the difference…
Of course, the example of creationist pseudoscience is but one example, but I think my point is made.
Something which should be added to this discussion is the fact that, just as in any human endeavor, science is prone to making mistakes. In fact, the history of science is full of errors, failed experiments, and even outright fraud; but the self-correcting nature of modern science once again comes to bear as a great strength in these cases.
For example, it was scientists who discovered the fraud behind the cold fusion fiasco in the late 1980s, wherein a pair of researchers publicly claimed (fraudulently) that they had produced fusion in a chemical reaction on a lab bench; it was careful and persistent application of scientific methodology which pointed out the errors in the claims that “faster-than-light” neutrinos had indeed gone superluminal (it ended up, at least in part, being a mistake in the experimental design); and this process continues to this day with doubts raised (yes, by scientists) about recent claims of stem-cell cloning.
This self-correcting, self-policing nature of science to peer into its own processes, methodology, and motivation is more than admirable, in my opinion; it is vitally necessary to have a mode of thought that incorporates this kind of inquiry in our world. That is because all too often when we convince ourselves of some kind of “Truth” (note that capital “T” again), it leads to the shutting down of inquiry, doubt, and analysis so necessary to see whether or not the “Truth” is just a lie.
Give me that kind of humility over the smug, self-assuring claim to “Truth” any day.
Posted in scientific method | Tagged: cloning, cold fusion, creationism, dogma, dogmatism, faster than light, FTL, ideology, Knowing, knowledge, method, methodology, nature, neutrino, provisional, pseudoscience, religion, science, stem cell, superluminal, truth | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2013
Recently I made a blog post about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which will likely be adopted by most states in the United States over the next few years, and how these standards placed heavy emphasis on both evolution and climate change. To drive this point home further, the National Center for Science Education’s Mark McCaffrey was recently on NPR discussing just how widespread and sweeping will be these changes…
National Public Radio highlighted climate change education in a segment of its Morning Edition show broadcast on March 27, 2013, featuring NCSE’s Mark McCaffrey. “By the time today’s K-12 students grow up, the challenges posed by climate change are expected to be severe and sweeping,” the segment began. “Now, for the first time, new nationwide science standards due out this month [i.e., the Next Generation Science Standards, now expected in April 2013] will recommend that U.S. public school students learn about this climatic shift taking place.”
McCaffrey told NPR, “the state of climate change education in the U.S. is abysmal,” citing survey data indicating that only one in five students “feel like they’ve got a good handle on climate change from what they’ve learned in school” and that two in three students feel that they’re not learning much about it at all in their schools. NCSE’s recent report “Toward a Climate & Energy Literate Society” (PDF) was cited as offering recommendations for improving climate and energy literacy in the United States over the course of the next decade.
The politicization of climate change education is a barrier, however. Besides the spate of legislation, such as the bills considered in Arizona, Colorado, and Kansas in 2013, NPR observed, “educators say the politicization of climate change has led many teachers to avoid the topic altogether. Or, they say some do teach it as a controversy … The end result for students? Confusion.” And the NGSS may provoke a backlash from climate change deniers: a representative of the Heartland Institute indicated that his organization was prepared to be critical of their treatment of climate science.
Heidi Schweingruber of the National Research Council, which developed the framework on which the NGSS are based, said, “There was never a debate about whether climate change would be in there,” adding, “It is a fundamental part of science, and so that’s what our work is based on, the scientific consensus.” She emphasized that climate change presents pedagogical challenges: teachers need to avoid (in NPR’s words) “freaking kids out”. McCaffrey concurred, adding that teachers will need not only training on the science but also preparation to deal with the pressure that comes with teaching it.
Posted in education, global warming denial, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: climate change, content, denial, deniers, education, evolution, global warming, Mark McCaffrey, national, National Center for Science Education, National Public Radio, NCSE, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, NPR, public, review, schools, science, standards, teachers, teaching, United States | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2013
Some time ago I posted about the Next Generation Science Standards (in the United States) and how important it is for teachers and those who support science and education to speak up about the NGSS. Since then I have been fortunate enough to get more involved with this process, learn more about NGSS, and think ahead about its implementation.
First of all, let me note that I got all this information first-hand from Dr. Carol Baker, who is a member of the writing team for the NGSS and who also gave me and my colleagues an excellent presentation on the topic. Some facts I think are important for everyone to know about the NGSS:
*It is not a federal mandate. The NGSS is funded by private organizations – most especially by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching - and it is a collaborative effort between these private sources and a number of states in the U.S. States may choose to accept the NGSS or not, but it should be noted that if they do accept them it will cost the states nothing. Essentially, they get the standards for free!
*Right from the outset, the people organizing and drafting the NGSS wanted to get “buy in” from the states, so they invited every state in the country to send representatives to serve on the writing team for the standards. 26 states (called Lead States) sent representatives and have been directly involved in drafting thse standards as a result. Here is some more information about these states (highlighted in blue below)
So you can see that these states have a broad demographic representation, are bipartisan in breadth, and they also account for over 58% of public school students, and most require three years of science for high school graduation.
*As the NGSS were drafted, the writing team sought feedback from educators in the Lead States, and after the second round of such revisions almost 95% of the original draft has been reworked based upon this feedback. So this is definitely a bottom-up process!
Now, I’d like to mention something very interesting about that last point: it ends up that one of the states which gave the most feedback was Kentucky (which was actually 3rd – beat out only by California and New York). And it appears the vast majority of the feedback from Kentucky educators was in support of emphasizing evolution within the NGSS.
In fact, Dr. Baker (and I agree) seems to think that this is, in effect, a reaction to the Creation Museum residing in Kentucky and the subsequent trouble it makes for science teachers in that state. It also appears that many teachers from many other states are likewise fed up with the political tactics employed by creationists and global warming deniers in their attempts to dumb down the teaching of evolution, climate science, etc.
Bottom line: Teachers are getting tired of this nonsense, and the NGSS is giving them a way to fight back in a very broad manner. The NGSS emphasizes, unflinchingly and unapologetically, evolutionary and climate change science; the states that choose to adopt the NGSS will have the most up-to-date science standards that show creationism and global warming denial to be the pseudosciences that they are. And they will be held to those standards. Good, it’s about damn time!
I would like to close by sharing Dr. Baker’s response when questioned on this topic about the fight this could create. She said, ”Bring it on!”
Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: Carnegie Foundation, climate change, content, Creation Museum, creationism, denial, deniers, Dr. Carol Baker, education, evolution, global warming, Kentucky, lead states, national, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, pseudoscience, public, review, schools, science, standards, teachers, teaching, United States, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 6 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 10, 2013
Darwin Day is coming up, and I am happy to announce a new series on the issue of evolution, science, religion, reason, and faith from our friends at The Clergy Letter Project and Darkwood Brew. The series is titled “Evolving Universe / Evolving Faith” and it starts on Sunday, Feb. 10th; check out the trailer below:
Posted in creationism, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: atheism, birthday, celebration, Charles Darwin, Clergy Letter Project, creationism, Darkwood Brew, Darwin Day, evolution, Evolution Weekend, evolving, faith, February 12, God, humanism, ID, intelligent design, International Darwin Day Foundation, religion, science, secuarlism, series, TV, universe | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 26, 2013
I just received the following alert from our friends at the National Center for Science Education about the Next Generation Science Standards. Please take action and pass this along to all of your friends/colleagues who have an interest in strong public school science standards. Time is of the essence – the deadline is Monday, January 28th!
For the last year, the National Center for Science Education has been advising an effort to produce modern and consistent Next Generation Science Standards. Dozens of states have committed to consider using these new standards instead of continuing to write their own state by state.
The effort to produce standards which can be widely implemented is coming to a close, and we want to be sure that you have a chance to weigh in. The final public review is under way now, and will close next week. The framework for the standards rightly grants evolution and climate change central roles, and we’re optimistic that the new standards will revolutionize American science education. We still worry about the harm that could come if these standards give any loopholes that can be exploited by creationists, climate change deniers, or other ideologues.
We’ve provided resources to help you share your thoughts on the standards at our website. Once there, you can learn more about how to file your own comments on the standards, how you can help make sure NCSE’s comments are taken seriously as the final revisions are made to the standards, and how you can stay involved as the finalized standards are sent to the states for adoption.
Please act by January 28 to ensure your voice is heard.
Many thanks for your help and support.
Eugenie C. Scott
P.S. NCSE relies on your support to be able to participate in efforts like NGSS, while fighting threats to science education in legislatures across the country, and guiding teachers and school districts away from science denial. You can help us stay active and effective by donating $10, $35, or $100 today
Posted in education, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: content, education, national, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, public, review, schools, science, standards, teachers, teaching, United States | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2012
While at Dragon*Con 2012, I gave an incredibly well-attended lecture (standing room only!) on the recent “discovery”(?) of the Higgs boson and our modern theories of particle physics (known as the Standard Model). The lecture was followed by a very fruitful Q&A session which was made all the more interesting because attending the lecture was an engineer who actually works on a detector at the Large Hadron Collider and a theoretical particle physicist!
I recorded the audio of the lecture in order to share it, and I have embedded that audio into the PowerPoint file I used for my lecture. Enjoy!
Posted in philosophy, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: 2012, antimatter, atom, atom smasher, black hole, boson, CERN, collider, con, DC, Discovery, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, energy, field, God, God particle, hadron, Higgs boson, humor, Large Hadron Collider, LHC, mass, Matt Lowry, matter, molecule, nature, particle, particle accelerator, philosophy, physics, protons, religion, science, science track, scientific method, sigma, skeptic, skepticism, Standard Model, statistics, TeV, theology | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on August 6, 2012
I, like many of my fellow humans on planet Earth, am simply bursting with joy, excitement, pride, anticipation, and (pardon the pun) curiosity after the successful landing of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory on the Red Planet. This was a big deal, for a number of reasons outlined at this link, but for me this remarkable acheivement can be summed up in one quick phrase:
Science – It Works!!!
Image source and caption: In this image from NASA TV, shot off a video screen, one of the first images from a second batch of images sent from the Curiosity rover is pictured of its wheel after it successfully landed on Mars. The video screen was inside the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California August 5, 2012.The rover landed on the Martian surface shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (1:30 a.m. EDT Monday/0530 GMT) to begin a two-year mission seeking evidence the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life, NASA said. REUTERS/Courtesy NASA TV/Handout
Image source and caption: Aeolis Mons (unofficially Mount Sharp), as seen from Curiosity.
And if that isn’t cool enough, check out this Youtube video of the descent of the MSL towards the surface of Mars taken from the lander itself!
**Note: I want to give a shout out to my FB friend Rob for inspiring the title of this blog entry
Posted in scientific method, space | Tagged: astronomy, curiosity, descent, engineering, landing, life, mars, Mars Science Laboratory, MSL, NASA, Red Planet, rover, science, space, technology | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2012
During Day 2 of Convergence/SkepchickCon, I was fortunate enough to (once again) be on the “Ask a Scientist” panel for the third year in a row
The whole point of this particular panel is to get a small team of scientists from a variety of backgrounds (physics, geology, biology, mathematics, medicine, forensics) together to hold an hour-long Q&A session with the audience. And boy what an audience it was – the room was packed, standing room only, with roughly 400 people in attendance! I recorded the entire discussion and you can access it all at the link below – enjoy!
A general Q&A with expert scientists from a variety of fields. Panelists: Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Brianne Bilyeau, Matt Kuchta, Robert Smith?, Mirian Krause
Posted in scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: 2012, answer, audience, Brianne Bilyeau, con, Convergence, Convergence 2012, discussion, humor, judgement day, judgment day, Lori Fischer, Matt Kuchta, Matt Lowry, Minneapolis, Mirian Krause, panel, question, Robert Smith?, science, scientist, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, skeptic, skepticism, zombies | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 12, 2012
Astrophysicist and science/skeptical activist Neil deGrasse Tyson is working on a re-release of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and this nicely autotuned Youtube video clip from melodysheep clearly shows why he is the right person for the job
Posted in scientific method, space | Tagged: astronomy, astrophysicist, astrophysics, autotune, autotuned, Carl Sagan, Cosmos, music, Neil deGrass Tyson, science, space, star stuff, stars, Symphony of Science, Tyson, universe, video, We are star stuff, youtube | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 18, 2012
From the fine folks about at ScienceDebate.org come some important results from recent survey. Long story short: even the vast majority of religious voters want the 2012 presidential candidates to talk less about religion and much more about science and technology issues! I couldn’t agree more; read on for the details…
Consensus among Protestants, Catholics for science debates, science-based policies; Twice as many think the US not spending enough on alternative energy as do defense
Click for larger image
WASHINGTON (April 3, 2012) — In a surprising rebuff of recent political wisdom that Republicans and religiously affiliated voters are becoming “anti-science,” eighty-two percent of Catholics and eighty-three percent of Protestants say it is more important that the candidates for president debate the major science challenges facing the United States than it is they debate faith and values, according to a new national public opinion poll (PDF) of attitudes about science, faith and public policy commissioned by ScienceDebate.org. …
Click here to read the entire press release
Posted in politics, religion, scientific method | Tagged: 2008, 2012, candidates, congress, Democrats, God, GOP, humor, investment, issues, politics, poll, president, President Obama, presidential, questions, religion, religious, Republican, Romney, science, Science Debate, Science Debate 2008, science funding, submission, submit, survey, technology, United States, voters | Leave a Comment »