The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘scientists’

Save the Field Museum!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2013

I wanted to pass along to everyone a call-to-arms which hits really close to home for me… literally.  As a science teacher, I am especially concerned with seeing that public institutions that promote good science education are protected.  This usually means that I am defending our public schools from creationism or other nonsense, but there is another insitution which often goes overlooked: museums.  Case in point: the Field Museum of Natural History, perhaps one of the best public educational/research institutions in the country, is in real trouble.  Please take a few minutes to read this excellent Skepticblog post by Donald Prothero and consider taking action!

Save the Field Museum!

by Donald Prothero, Jan 02 2013

Field_Museum_of_Natural_History1-300x200

Buried in all the news of the end of the world, the “fiscal cliff”, and the holiday season was another item that probably escaped most people’s attention. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, one of the world’s foremost natural history museums, is planning huge cutbacks in their scientific staff in the next few weeks. Details of who will be cut are sketchy, but the news raced through my professional community and made us all very upset. This is not only because many people who are our personal friends will be losing their jobs because of mismanagement at the top, but also because such a disastrous move would hurt science in many ways that the general public may not appreciate. …

… Most people think a museum is just a bunch of exhibits of fossils or art on display, but don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes. As Jerry Coyne also points out in his post, a top museum like the Field is also one of the most important research institutions in the country, with curators who are among the top scientists in their area of research. Just like university research professors, these curators must pursue research grants and find funding to do important scientific projects. Unlike most university research scientists (who don’t have a place to store too many specimens if they find them), museum curators tend to focus on research that recovers new specimens, and adds to the total resource base for scientific research. Without this material, our data base for research and understanding topics in the fossil record would dry up, because there is no else out there to perform such an important role. I’ve known nearly all the vertebrate paleontology curators at the Field Museum (both past and present) for many years, and most are among the sharpest minds in our field, doing essential science that few others could perform. …

Click here to read the rest of Donald’s post

Click here to take action!

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

Save National Science Foundation Funding!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 6, 2011

I just got the following action alert from the American Association of Physics Teachers.  If you value not only scientific research but science education as well, I encourage you to contact your Senators and tell them to fully fund the NSF.  As a physics teacher/professor, I cannot tell you how valuable programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are for reaching out to the public and promoting science.  In addition, these and other similar programs are absolutely critical to helping insure that the United States has well-qualified science and math teachers in our schools; these programs also help to shuttle many students into science and engineering-oriented careers, which ultimately benefits all of us.

Anyway, read the AAPT’s press release below…

If you live in the United States, AAPT and the nation need your help. On Friday, September 16th, the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies reported a bill to Congress recommending a reduction of science funding for fiscal year 2012. Specifically, the bill recommends reducing funding for the National Science Foundation by an amount of $161,772,000 or 2.4% below the 2011 enacted level and $1,068,905,000 or 13.8% below the budget request.(See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ CRPT-112srpt78/pdf/CRPT- 112srpt78.pdf for the full bill). This is particularly disappointing because the House has recommended much higher funding amounts ($6,698,100,000 for the Senate versus $6,859,870,000 for the House and $7,767,000,000 for the 2012 requested). Particularly hard hit is the Education and Human Resources Directorate of NSF which has a recommended cut of $32,030,000 or 3.7% below the 2011 enacted level and $82,200,000 or 9% below the request. This Directorate funds many of the programs that support STEM education including many key AAPT programs such as the New Faculty Workshop, ComPADRE, and the SPIN-UP Regional Workshops.

I urge you to contact your senators and ask them to support the full requested level of funding for NSF for the 2012 fiscal year. You might mention the legislated calls to double the NSF budget as a fundamental investment in our society, but we realize that goal will be difficult to meet in the current difficult enconomic situation. This is particularly urgent if one of your senators is a member of the CJS Subcommittee. You can find your senator at the US Senate website http://www.senate.gov/general/ contact_information/senators_ cfm.cfm and members of the CJS Subcommittee are listed at http://appropriations.senate. gov/sc-commerce.cfm.

In order to make the process easier, you can use the sample letter of support and insert the date, your address, your senator’s name, and your name and credentials. If possible, personalize the letter by adding a few sentences on the impact that a reduction of this funding will have on you and your students. Better yet, write your own letter emphasizing the impact the cuts will have on physics education. You can submit your letter directly to your senators via their websites to expedite the process.

Best regards,

Beth A. Cunningham, Ph.D.
Executive Officer

Posted in science funding | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Climate Rapid Response Team: Scientists Fight Back Against Misinformation

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 26, 2010

I was listening recently to a Point of Inquiry podcast, where host Chris Mooney interviews John Abraham & Scott Mandia concerning the a new initiative called the Climate Rapid Response Team. I felt it worth passing along, so here ’tis…

John Abraham and Scott Mandia – Climate Science Strikes Back

November 19, 2010

Host: Chris Mooney

For the community of scientists who study the Earth’s climate, these are bewildering times.

They’ve seen wave upon wave of political attacks. They’re getting accustomed to a public that grows more skeptical of their conclusions even as scientists grow more confident in them.

No wonder there’s much frustration out there in the climate science world—and now, a group of researchers have organized to do something about it. Their initiative is called the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, and it pledges to organize dozens of researchers to help set the record straight. …

 

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

U.S. Public Only Seems to Like “Practical” Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2010

I just caught this post over at the Woo-Fighters blog, and thought it worth sharing.  The results of these polls give me some reason to hope, but it also shows that those of us in the pro-science community certainly do have our work cut out for us.  Read on…

Science? Only when it’s practical, please.

April 25th, 2010 | Author: Matthew Newton

When the idea of “science” is brought up, most people agree that this so-called science is a good thing. In fact, in a somewhat recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of Americans surveyed believed the science in their lives to have a positive influence on society, with only 6% indicating the opposite. 70% said they believed scientists to have a positive influence on society, which is even more than doctors!

While the magical idea of “what science is to me and not to you thank you very much” sounds preferable to your average consumer of science, the reality behind belief in American scientific progress is a bit more bleak. From the same poll, only 17% of those surveyed believed America to among the “best in the world” when it comes to scientific research, with 49% believing America to have the best scientists in the world. It’s a lot easier to deny an intangible idea, isn’t it?

Three separate Gallup Polls taken between 1990 and 2001 measured public beliefs in various paranormal phenomena. Notably, and in spite of the 84% of Americans putting their faith in science, a large portion in all three time periods (50%) said they believed in Extrasensory Perception (ESP) , with only 21% definitively certain about its nonexistence.

How do Americans, who are so sure of science’s contributions to society, have such a poor misunderstanding of such basic concepts? Principal researcher Heather Ridolfo’s recently published paper entitled “Social Influences on Paranormal Belief: Popular Versus Scientific Support” examined differences in perception of ESP based on both public and scientific opinion. What was found is that while people tend to evaluate the validity of claims based on how many other people support said claims (a cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon Effect), the support of the scientific community (or lack thereof) has no impact on evaluating the validity of claims made about ESP.

From this, the researchers concluded that their finding “may reflect decreasing trust in the institution of science”. Whatever the reason, the romantic idea of science and the reality behind science have a long way to go before they meet.

Posted in scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

 
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