Archive for: March, 2006

Friday Sprog Blogging: germs!

Mar 31 2006 Published by under Kids and science

Nature study has taken a turn from the macroscopic to the microscopic. Is it a coincidence that the Free-Ride family has also been passing around a cold? While your blogger felt sure she would be able to avoid catching it, the young Free-Riders are extremely effective vectors of disease.

Dr. Free-Ride: What do you know about germs?
Younger offspring: They can make you sick.
Dr. Free-Ride: Is that why I'm sick right now, because of germs?
Younger offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: Where did I get them?
Younger offspring: (looking just a little bit proud) From me!
Dr. Free-Ride: You're sure about that, huh?

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Evaluating scientific credibility (or, do we have to take the scientists' word for it?)

Mar 30 2006 Published by under Journalism, Science and pseudo-science

In response to my first entry on Steve Fuller's essay on Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science, Bill Hooker posted this incisive comment:

Fuller seems to be suggesting that there is no good way to determine which scientists in the debate are most credible -- it all comes down to deciding who to trust.

I think this misses an important piece of how scientific disputes are actually adjudicated. In the end, what makes a side in a scientific debate credible is not a matter of institutional power or commanding personality. Rather, it comes down to methodology and evidence.

So, in other words, deciding who to trust means being able to evaluate the data for yourself, which -- according to the pullquote above -- Mooney suggests a journalist should not do. (Right here would be a good place to admit I haven't read TWoS.)

Don't get me wrong, I've been reading Chris Mooney about as long as he's had a blog, and I have a lot of respect for him. He's a welcome exception to the rule that science writers don't understand the science. I think, however, that in this case he's wrong, both about what he should do and what he does do. It seems clear to me that he does understand the science, and does evaluate the facts for himself. I don't, frankly, see how one can approach a scientific controversy by any other method than reference to the data. To me, "what makes it science is the epistemology" means RTFdata.

This is a question that bears closer examination: If I'm not able to directly evaluate the data, does that mean I have no good way to evaluate the credibility of the scientist pointing to the data to make a claim?

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Skeptics' Circle at Terra Sigillata

Mar 30 2006 Published by under Carnival barking

Has it been two weeks already?
The 31st Skeptics' Circle is now available at Terra Sigillata. Not only has its host, Abel PharmBoy, put together a delightful selection of the blogosphere's best skeptical writing, but he's given it the feel of a meeting of a smallish scientific society.
So grab some coffee on your way into the auditorium!

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Fuller on Intelligent Design.

As promised, here are some more thoughts on Steve Fuller's contribution to the Crooked Timber seminar on Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science. My last post on Fuller's essay took up his picture of the workings of science, where it seemed to me he was gesturing toward the influence of democratic politics as an antidote to the influence of an elite scientific oligarchy in steering the course of science. In this post, I examine Fuller's comments on democracy, science education, and the fortunes of Intelligent Design in the scientific community.

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Tangled Bank #50

Mar 29 2006 Published by under Carnival barking

The Tangled Bank
Tangled Bank #50 is now up at The Island of Doubt. James Hrynyshyn (the lighthouse keeper of the aforementioned Island) has put together a smorgasbord of tasty science essays from the blogosphere's many ports of call. Paddle over and enjoy!

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Lancaster follow-up: the Antelope Valley Press gets it.

You'll recall that the Lancaster(California) school district has recently adopted a "science philosophy" that calls for critical thinking about evolutionary theory ... but no other scientific theory in the curriculum.
You'll recall that the school district trustees didn't seem to view this as having anything to do with opening the door for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.
If you read the comments, though, you've discovered that Alex Branning, the entrepreneur who spearheaded this new policy, and who claimed to have no truck with creationists or ID proponents, is the registered owner of the domain evolutionisimpossible.com.

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Am I evil, or just misunderstood?

Mar 28 2006 Published by under Passing thoughts

Yes, another real post is coming soon, but the cool kids are abuzz about a new internet quiz, so ...

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Fuller on Mooney on science.

By now you have seen the excellent Crooked Timber seminar on Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science. In addition to the CT regulars, sociologist of science (and Kitzmiller vs. Dover expert witness) Steve Fuller contributed an essay to the seminar. While some in these parts have dismissed it rather quickly, I want to give it a slightly less hasty response.

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Plagiarism is bad.

Mar 27 2006 Published by under Ethics 101

My students know that plagiarism is bad. You'd think a major wire service would know it, too.
But it would seem that maybe the Associated Press doesn't know that failing to properly cite sources is plagiarism. Or perhaps the AP does know, but doesn't care. When your business is built on the premise that you are a reliable source of information, it seems to me that this is a very bad strategy.

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If you really want critical thinking, why restrict where you're calling for it?

Hey, guess what? A California school district has adopted a new science policy aimed at getting students to think more critically ... about evolutionary theory. It is not entirely clear whether members of the Lancaster School District board of trustees recognize that the policy effectively singles out evolution for scrutiny, or whether they were duped. But I'm pretty sure I've heard this song before.

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