The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘American Association for the Advancement of Science’

Speak Up for Science: Stop Sequestration!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention to the U.S. political news of late, then you know that a crucial fiscal deadline is approaching: the dreaded sequestration cuts across the board to all federal programs.  As a supporter of strong science education and scientific research programs, this alarms me quite a bit.  To make such deep and long-lasting cuts in our most basic science research and education programs would be like eating our seed corn, with the result that scientific and technological innovation and education would be starved of critical funding at a time when we need it the most.

So I encourage you to read, sign, and pass along the following petition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) imploring Congress to seek a bipartisan solution to this problem:

Petition

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we—as researchers, professionals, students and interested citizens in the science, technology, engineering and math fields—write to ask both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology. Almost every national priority—from health and defense, agriculture and conservation, to hazards and natural disasters—relies on science and engineering. As another fiscal cliff approaches, placing a significant burden on federal research and development investments, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. Support for science is support for economic growth, innovation, and technological progress. Please consider this as you seek to address our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.

Click here to sign the petition!

Posted in education, politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Climate Science Deniers Copy & Paste Creationist Tactics

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 11, 2010

I recently received the following alert from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)…

AAAS PolicyAlert — June 4, 2010

Climate Change Education Challenged. A petition has been submitted to the Mesa County (Colorado) School Board to prohibit “the teaching of man-made climate change theory as scientific fact in the students’ curriculum.” The petition, which has 700 signatures, was circulated by a movement called Balanced Education for All (http://www.members- aaas.org/ l.jsp?d=4954. 550777.654. 2aatBFCrt9Q. A), a group denying the reality of and human role in climate change, which also submitted a petition to “create and enforce a policy that prohibits teachers from applying their political views to the teaching and grading of students.” School Board members accepted the petition but took no action. The petition is part of a larger campaign by the Independent Women’s Forum, a non-profit based in Washington, DC, “challenging public schools to provide balanced education on the issue of global warming.” The group is promoting a documentary (http://www.members- aaas.org/ l.jsp?d=4954. 550776.654. 2aatBFCrt9Q. A), Not Evil, Just Wrong, that claims to “confront erroneous claims of environmental extremists,” and offers an allegedly “compelling and scientifically accurate film about the true relationship between humans and the environment. “

Here we see that climate science deniers are employing the same pseudoscientific & intellectually dishonest tactics often used in the past by creationists as they misrepresented evolutionary science: the “teach the controversy” and “teach all views” canards.  Of course, these slogans imply that there actually is a supposed controversy about climate science within the scientific community – that is, the notion of human-influenced global warming is somehow “controversial” among scientists, when in fact it isn’t.  The whole point of these kinds of arguments is to sow doubt & suspicion about climate science in particular and, among some extreme anti-science ideologues, about all of science in general.

In addition, note the language in the petition which implies that when teachers try to teach actual, substantiated science that they are actually pushing a political agenda.  This kind of argument is intended to poison the well and explicitly politicize the issue of climate change science so that anyone who, likely for ideological reasons, doesn’t like the science can just dismiss it as part of a conspiracy.

Don’t fall for it.  Fortunately, we’ve seen all these tactics before from creationists & various other pseudoscientific woo-woos, so hopefully we can recognize & fight this junk when those with an anti-scientific agenda push it.  When confronted by those who would distort & misrepresent climate science, or someone who is legitimately confused, a great way to fight back is to download the free app for the iPhone or iPod Touch called Skeptical Science!

Posted in education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

National Science Foundation Omits Evolution Polling Data from Report

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010

I found out recently, through an article in Science Magazine (the official journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science) that the National Science Foundation has released a report which has actually omitted polling data regarding evolution & the big bang.  Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?!!

Needless to say, this story is getting a LOT of attention from science supporters…

From the National Center for Science Education: What happened to evolution at the NSB?

And PZ Myers at Pharyngula chimes in: Let’s hide that embarrassing conflict in American culture

Here is the actual Science article in question:

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans’ knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang.

They’re not surprising findings, but the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs.

“Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice” that “downplays the controversy” over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom. The story appears in this week’s issue of Science.

But why is it this information, which has been part of every previous Indicators report to date, been removed at the last minute without any oversight?  Here’s a clue…

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs,” says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee. …

The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions “very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding” of the two topics.

“I think that is a nonsensical response” that reflects “the religious right’s point of view,” says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”

So what exactly was the offending material deleted from the report?  Here you go…

The deleted text, obtained by ScienceInsider, does not differ radically from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

So rather than report the honest truth about the state of scientific literacy in the United States on these topics, it seems the NSF has chosen to hide the embarrassing facts.  But, thankfully, it didn’t work.  We cannot change the poor state of science education in this country by hiding such information, either to save political face or to kow-tow to religious fundamentalists who push creationism; rather, we must face the challenge head on.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Real Scientists vs. Wanna-Be’s

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 16, 2009

I just got finished attending a couple of days of the joint AAPT & AAAS winter meeting in Chicago, and I must say it was an interesting couple of days! It’s always nice to attend these conferences so that one can connect with the wider scientific & teaching community out there.

While I was at the conference, I attended a fascinating series of talks on some of the latest research coming out of FermiLab, the perfect material for a total physics geek like me. The most interesting stuff at that symposium was the work being done at FermiLab on attempts to detect the Higgs boson and even dark matter!

fermilab

Briefly, the Higgs boson (also called the Higgs field) is a fundamental particle of nature which is believed by particle physics theorists to exist “beneath” all other particles. All the other fundamental particles of nature – from leptons to quarks to gluons and photons (plus many more) – interact with the Higgs field in a way which determines the mass of the particle. Those particles which interact more strongly with the Higgs have a higher mass. And the Higgs boson forms the last, big missing link in what is called the Standard Model of particle physics (kind of like a periodic table for the fundamental particles of nature). In order to complete the Standard Model, experimentalists need to find evidence of the Higgs in particle accelerators.

The speaker on the Higgs research openly stated at one point in his talk that if scientists at FermiLab or the Large Hadron Collider couldn’t ever find evidence of the Higgs, then that would be more exciting than if they did find such evidence. This is because if no evidence of the Higgs could ever be found, then it would call into question the entire structure of the Standard Model. This would then, in turn, lead to a new revolution in physics, just as Max Planck’s quantum hypothesis in the early 20th century led to the (then) new field of quantum mechanics.

The next really interesting moment came when I was listening to the scientist trying to detect dark matter at FermiLab. Briefly, of all the matter in the universe, only about 3% of it is what we call standard luminous (or baryonic) matter. Most of the rest, about 85-90%, is so-called dark matter (not to be confused with dark energy) – which is matter that emits no electromagnetic radiation at all. The only manner in which we can detect dark matter is through its gravitational influence upon normal matter. Incidentally, three big lines of evidence converge to convince us that dark matter is a reality – gravitational lensing effects, peculiar behavior of galactic rotation curves, and the motion of galaxies in galactic clusters.

However, for the physicist researching dark matter, this isn’t enough. In order for dark matter to really be established as the real thing, he and others in the scientific community want to find it in the lab. So he’s undertaking a series of bubble chamber experiments at FermiLab in an attempt to directly detect dark matter particles. And all physicists acknowledge that dark matter, as yet, has no place in the Standard Model – so this means the Standard Model only describes about 3% of all the matter in the known universe!

I’m not going to go into any more of the details of these talks, but I just wanted to mention something very important that I noted in them. In both cases, the scientists involved in this cutting-edge research were very clear to point out how little we really knew about these subjects. They also made a big point to note that they were perfectly happy to have their experiments fail to detect the Higgs and dark matter, because that would mean we have to completely rework many of our theories of physics.

Far from being rigid dogmatists, as many inaccurately portray the scientific community, these people displayed what real science is all about – putting your hypothesis on the line and letting the observations & experiments be the final arbiter of what’s right and what’s wrong. Real science continually questions its assumptions.

It has been my experience that the real dogmatists are the pseudoscientific cranks, who are basically wanna-be scientists. They latch onto an idea they think is cool, but in spite of all evidence to the contrary they’ll hold onto these discredited ideas. And, in many cases, after they are unable to offer proof of their ideas, the cranks will attack the scientific community for being “dogmatic” and – sometimes – even accuse it of a conspiracy to hide the “truth”. Worse yet, some pseudoscientists propose ideas which aren’t scientific at all – because they can never be falsified – yet they want these notions to have the elevated status of science anyway. They think that by putting on a lab coat and calling their ideas science, that somehow it magically becomes science!

No amount of woo will ever interest me as much as real science. Even if these attempts to detect the Higgs boson and dark matter fail utterly, we’ll have learned so much in going through the process of scientific exploration that it will have all been worth it. And that’s what makes real science so exciting – we don’t know what nature has in store for us!

In closing this post, I’ll reference the words of a great skeptic & advocate for science, Dr. Phil Plait – astronomer & the president of the JREF – when he said: “The universe is cool enough without making up crap about it!”

Posted in scientific method, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers

%d bloggers like this: