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  #26  
Old 10-18-2012, 05:02 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Y'all need to read Asimov's The Last Question stat. He always said it was his best short story and it's very much on point.
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  #27  
Old 10-18-2012, 05:14 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

I always liked that one. Just like the one about the supercomputer that has won the war...
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  #28  
Old 10-18-2012, 05:32 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Yup, The Last Question is a good one.
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  #29  
Old 10-26-2012, 12:36 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

We are so doomed. Skynet is on its way. I can only hope that John Conner has already been born and is already off the grid learning how to blow shit up real good.

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  #30  
Old 11-10-2012, 07:08 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Scientists have discovered meat eating sponges living in the deep ocean off California's Monterey Bay.
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  #31  
Old 11-23-2012, 09:33 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

A Slower speed of light
A walk around game (dowloadable for Mac and Windows) where the speed of light decreases as you pick up orbs, allowing you to experience relativistic effects.

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  #32  
Old 12-06-2012, 04:49 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Stunning nighttime views of Earth | Fox News
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  #33  
Old 12-12-2012, 06:08 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Alan Alda & Time: Actor Teaches At Stony Brook, Asks Scientists To Explain Time

Quote:
"There's hardly an issue we deal with today that isn't affected by science," Alda said. "I've even heard from a number of people in Congress that they often don't understand what scientists are talking about when they go to Washington to testify, and these are the people who make the decisions about funding and policy."

He said many scientists have told him they have to get better at communicating.

"We see misinformation about scientific facts on a daily basis," Alda said. "Sometimes you know so much about something you assume everybody else is as familiar as you are and you tend to speak in shorthand. Even other scientists may not understand what you are talking about if they are not an expert in your field."
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  #34  
Old 12-12-2012, 06:57 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

This is a big problem, I think. I've seen that sort of thing time and time again. In discussions with my colleagues, I've often been told that only a complete idiot could possibly be so ignorant as to deny the fact of biological evolution.

And because of this attitude, they tend to dismiss Creationism as something that only a very small minority of idiots could possibly take seriously. And then they wonder why our incoming freshmen are so ludicrously underinformed -- and often outright misinformed -- when it comes to basic scientific principles like evolution.


What's all too easy to forget when you're teaching at the university level is how terrible is the state of science education in the primary schools. In my experience, an awful lot of science teachers in the public schools are afraid to tackle "controversial" subjects like biological evolution at all. And so students never learn about it. Meanwhile, the "Professional Creationists" spend a lot of time and effort to spread disinformation and outright lies.

The result is that we wind up spending an awful lot of time getting students to un-learn all the misinformation they've picked up through the years.



A complicating factor is that the students who get into a decent college or university tend to be somewhat better-educated. So, while it does happen on occasion (trust me on this!), your average college/university professor rarely encounters a student who's an outspoken Creationist or has an actively anti-science outlook. These people tend not to go to college in the first place, and even if they do, they tend to avoid science classes.

So I do think that the scientific community is partially to blame for the fact that science education in this country is so poor. So long as a large percentage of us continue to believe that anti-science attitudes and scientific illiteracy are confined to a very small group of ignoramuses, the problem is likely to continue.

But every time I visit my family [or teach an Introductory-level Science Course], I'm forcefully reminded of the fact that there are lots of decent and intelligent people out there who are shockingly ignorant of even the most basic of scientific principles.
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  #35  
Old 12-13-2012, 06:45 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Ignoramus is Latin for "we are stupid" Fact.
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  #36  
Old 12-15-2012, 10:29 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

This is kind of cool. Forensic scientists in Britain have been recording the background hum from the power grid and use it to authenticate recordings. They can tell if it has been faked by whether the hum cuts out or is broken up.
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  #37  
Old 12-17-2012, 12:11 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Isn't there some thrad here about bad science journalism?

I looked for it like five different ways already, and can't find it, so if someone else finds that thrad, please put this in it:

Language Log » More journalists with reading disabilities
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  #38  
Old 12-17-2012, 06:56 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

I've been contacted by local newspapers for comment on biology-related issues on a couple of occasions. I was never impressed with the results.

On one such occasion, the reporter asked me to explain something (about Mayfly biology) "as simply as possible." I did as he asked. He replied, "You've got to understand that the average newspaper reader* isn't going to understand what you just said. Can you dumb it down a bit?" [Yes, he actually used the words "dumb it down."]

I told him, "no, not while maintaining any can kind of accuracy; there's only so much that you can dumb down a concept before it becomes dishonesty." [To paraphrase Einstein, "The goal of good science is to simplify our explanations as much as possible -- but no further."]


What they eventually printed bore only a passing resemblance to what I'd expended a good deal of time patiently explaining to the reporter. And was oversimplified to the point of inaccuracy, in my opinion.

*I strongly suspect that he wanted me to "dumb it down" for his sake as much as for that of the average reader.



A year or so later, the same reporter (he was the "Science Reporter" for the local newspaper) showed up to report on an "Environment Camp" that several members of the Biology Department were hosting for local high school students at a state park. (We taught them how to identify various plants and animals, do water-quality surveys, construct population viability analyses, etc.)

I wasn't mean about it, I hope, but I couldn't quite resist pointing out that there had been a number of ... inaccuracies ... in the most recent article that he'd published.

It's probably notable that he was also the "Sports Reporter" for the paper. It was my distinct impression that he was vastly more knowledgable about football and basketball than about science-related matters.
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  #39  
Old 12-17-2012, 07:14 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Although I don't do the science stuff, my experience with newspapers has been pretty much the same as yours. Even when I have provided them with a press release that contained all the relevant information they have managed, in the process of rewriting my press release, to get some the facts wrong. Even though they had right there in front of them in black and white. So, I don't think that this is a problem that is in anyway unique to science reporters. My experience has mostly been with small town papers, so maybe this issue of competence is confined to that level of journalism. Somehow I don't think that is the case.
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  #40  
Old 12-17-2012, 07:18 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Yeah, I have a long-time friend who's a professor of Political Science/History. He claims that the general quality of newspaper/television news reporting on these subjects is every bit as bad as is their science reporting.
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  #41  
Old 12-17-2012, 09:00 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Alexander Pope famously wrote:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

His point, of course, was that gaining a small amount of knowledge can mislead you into thinking that you're more of an expert than you really are. [Rather tellingly, you hardly ever encounter anyone quoting anything other than the first line.]


There's a joke in academia that makes much the same point. "When you think you've learned everything there is to know about a subject, they give you a Bachelor's Degree. Once you've learned enough about the subject to realize that you really don't understand it at all, they give you a Master's Degree. Once you've learned enough about the subject to understand that nobody really understands it, they give you a Doctorate."


I think this helps explain why reporting is so bad. When the reporters know just enough to have picked up a few important-sounding phrases, but have little to no understanding of what they're talking about actually means, then it's all but inevitable that they're going to do a lousy job of it.

Or, as Mencken (himself a newspaper reporter) is alleged to have written: "Never trust an ignorant man's account of what he has read. Inevitably, he translates it into language that makes sense to him, and the result is something entirely different from the original."



Someone who knows he's completely ignorant of a subject isn't likely to spread misinformation, because he'll [hopefully] be humble-enough to accept his limitations and keep quiet. It's the person who thinks he knows something about the subject but doesn't who'll be spreading misinformation.


Sadly, I'm running up against this hard right now as I grade the Final Exams in the Introductory Biology courses. It makes you want to tear your hair out when you read the confident essays in which they toss out a few key words that they've learned -- "natural selection," and "adaptation," and so forth -- and explain what these terms mean. And get it completely wrong.


Which makes me seriously wonder if some of them actually understand less now than they did at the beginning of the class. Is there such a thing as "negative knowledge"? In a strange sort of way, I think there is.

At least someone who's ignorant -- and who knows and accepts that fact -- won't be confidently trying to teach you stuff that's flat-out wrong.



ETA: I just remembered this somewhat-relevant thread from a few years back.
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  #42  
Old 12-17-2012, 04:41 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Lone Ranger View Post
I wasn't mean about it, I hope, but I couldn't quite resist pointing out that there had been a number of ... inaccuracies ... in the most recent article that he'd published.
I honestly wasn't trying to be snarky or mean or disrespectful to the reporter at all. Quite the opposite; I was working under the assumption that, as a professional himself, he would appreciate polite and well-intentioned advice from a professional in a relevant field.

But in thinking about it, it strikes me that this is very-possibly not how he interpreted my pointing out those inaccuracies. What I thought of as some gentle but necessary correction [after all, does a reporter not have a professional duty to get his facts right?], coupled with a gentle reminder that there are people available with whom he could consult on anything he's fuzzy about -- might well have been seen by him as some snooty academic trying to act all superior.
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  #43  
Old 12-17-2012, 07:02 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

If you have some area of expertise or special knowledge or something, you can see what a bad job the media does of explaining or reporting on it. The trick is to understand that they're equally as bad at everything else.

I figure it's partly that reporters are having to write about a lot of topics they don't understand, so they have to take shortcuts and kind of wing it. Also, though, the media is motivated a lot by alarmism. You get a lot more viewers or subscribers or pageviews by reporting on things in a sensational way, or by saying what people want to hear.

So if you find some correlation in something--aluminum levels and Alzheimer's, something like that--people don't have much interest or motivation to read about it if it's just a correlation. If you can establish, either directly or by implication, that it's causative, then they have some motivation to read about it, because it suggests some course of action for them. Buying new cookware and cosmetics or something. And that's pretty reasonable on the audience's part. Why would someone with a job and a family and limited time need to know some arcane fact about current medical research with no practical application for them? It's maybe a 'nice to know there's some progress' thing, but nothing they're going to click through beyond the headline, unless they have some special interest in the topic.

So the media is motivated to panic people, and to tell them surprising things that they can use in conversations or something (think about all the one billion times every day that you hear someone expressing strong opinions about things they don't understand at all, or telling interesting stories that aren't true), and to tell them things that they're going to be motivated to read about. Not "global climate change is happening and there's really nothing you can do about it." Nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear about some practical, reasonably easy thing they can do to stop it, so that's what the media is going to tell them.

Or look how the CDC did that, with that zombie preparation guide they did. They motivated people to read about preparing for epidemics by making the story less scary and sort of cutesy and compelling, by making it about something cartoon scary rather than about something that might really happen in real life. A straightforward, factual, practical guide to disaster preparation would not have gone viral the way that did.

And this is very very likely getting worse, now that people consume media piecemeal, by clicking through individual stories rather than just subscribing to a single paper. Rather than having media outlets just competing with each other, you've got individual stories competing with each other, too.
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  #44  
Old 12-17-2012, 07:39 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

And thus I find myself constantly having to explain to students that no, there is not such a thing as a "gene for breast cancer" or a "gene for alcoholism." And no, science is not "constantly changing its story" about whether or not cholesterol is bad for you.


:doh:
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  #45  
Old 12-17-2012, 08:01 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

On a different but (hopefully) related note that thus means I should make a separate post -- does anyone still listen to "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me?" on NPR?


I used to really enjoy it, but over the years, it has been slowly growing more irritating to me. Why? Because it seems to be slowly but very clearly descending into outright anti-intellectualism.

It's to the point that practically every episode now features them ridiculing some science-related story that supposedly illustrates the cluelessness of scientists and/or money that was wasted on pointless research.


The problem is that many of these "pointless" or "wasted" studies that they're making fun of are actually perfectly rigorous, carefully-designed, and potentially very important studies.

Take the infamously-mocked study of "shrimp running on treadmills," upon which half a million dollars was supposedly wasted. What hardly anyone in the media bothered to do was spend 30 seconds' worth of time actually finding out the truth about this "silly" and "wasteful" study.

First, it was only a small component of a much larger group of studies regarding a vitally-important food species. (Only about $1,000 was "wasted" studying shrimp energetics.) Did I say "wasted"? Well, how the hell do you think we measure an animal's energetic expenditure? That's right: we convince it to expend a measurable amount of energy -- say by putting it onto a treadmill -- and measure its oxygen consumption.

Pretty-much every animal physiology lab in the world does this. And guess what? If we want to find out how well your metabolism is functioning -- a rather important thing to know, when trying to figure out how to keep you from dropping dead of a heart attack at age 40, you will surely agree -- guess what we're going to do? We're going to stick you on a treadmill and measure your damn VO2.

So don't tell me that this research is silly and a waste of money. All you're doing is demonstrating that you don't have the first idea what you're talking about.


[Full disclosure: I got my master's by measuring animals' VO2s.]




Paula Poundstone is the worst, though P. J. O'Rourke can be as bad at times. There are times when she outright celebrates her ignorance and anti-intellectual attitude.


I've actually written to the show on more than one occasion, pointing out that while I understand it's a comedy show, if you don't understand a study and why it was done (and have no apparent interest in learning) this is not -- I repeat, not -- evidence that the study is superfluous, pointless, silly, or a waste of money.



I've never received a reply.


I've actually seriously considered calling the show and trying to get onto the quiz, on the off chance that I'll get the opportunity to tell them this on-air.
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  #46  
Old 12-30-2012, 10:10 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Macro Quantum dynamical effects.
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  #47  
Old 01-03-2013, 04:49 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Incidentally, the 'pilot-wave' they are talking about is another way of interpreting quantum mechanics.

You can rewrite the equations completely, to gives some simple new equations. One describes the motion of the particle - yes, a point particle, just like old Newtonian mechanics. That equation also includes a new 'force' - dubbed the quantum potential. And the quantum potential depends on the second equation: a wave equation. The solutions are waves, and they're called 'pilot waves' because they push particles around (via that quantum potential term), 'piloting' them.

The dynamics of these waves is horribly non-local: the quantum potential depends (and is changed instantaneously) by what every other particle is doing, anywhere in the universe. This is quite bad from a relativistic perspective, though given we can't observe the pilot wave, not impossible. But that's why Bell's Theorem does not apply, and you can get away with classical properties being 'real' properties.
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  #48  
Old 01-03-2013, 06:27 PM
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Default Re: Drive by science

Bohm's pilot waves are slightly (or infinitely) better than Copenhagen, in that they even make any sense at all. Apart from that, it's just many-worlds in denial.
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  #49  
Old 01-04-2013, 01:42 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

There is an article on Yahoo about how astronomers have discovered a baby star system being born. :aww:
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Old 01-04-2013, 06:23 AM
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Default Re: Drive by science

TLR, are you familiar with the Dover HS case a few years ago, where a Creationist school board tried to force creationism into the science curriculum and ended up costing the school system a lot of money. Even though the board was voted out and replaced the busy-body group pushing the suit went after the school and not the members who were responsible.

I also ran into a problem when I was talking to my older daughter about her school work and tried to explain that there was more to the subject than she was learning. Apparently the teacher, in an effort to stave off endless questions that he/she couldn't answer, said that what they were presenting was the end all, be all, of the subject. It was a subject I was familiar with and my daughter wouldn't listen to me since her teacher had already taught her everything there was to know. Some HS teachers tend to oversimplify and then state that that is all there is and there is no point in further research. If Hubble had believed that he would never have investigated the nebula.
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