Archive for: March, 2008

A message about science worth communicating to the public.

In light of all the recent discussion about the "framing" of the Expelled! expulsion, it occurs to me that maybe part of the reason that the argument seems so unproductive is that the parties involved haven't really agreed on what, exactly, they're trying to communicate to the public at large.
Here's my suggestion for a message worth communicating clearly: science isn't politics.

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Friday Sprog Blogging: psychoanimalists.

Mar 28 2008 Published by under Kids and science

Of all the Looney Tunes characters, I was never a fan of the Roadrunner. (I liked Wile E. Coyote well enough, and wish him well in his lawsuit against the Acme Company.) However, there was one Roadrunner cartoon where the focus pulls back from the eternal struggle between coyote and prospective dinner and shifts instead to two little cartoon kids watching the Roadrunner on their TV. If I recall correctly, at least one of these kids expresses a less-than-favorable opinion of the Roadrunner. And, one of the kids (might be the same one) mentions that he wants to be a psychoanimalist when he grows up.
It should come as no surprise that the Free-Ride offspring are already running around practicing psychonanimalysis (psychoanimalism?) -- without a license.
Younger offspring: We were playing bucking bronco, and I was the horse.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yes?
Younger offspring: And [the grandparent who lurks but seldom comments] couldn't get on my back, because that would crush me. So he put the cat on my back.
Dr. Free-Ride: I see. What happened next?
Younger offspring: Well, then I bucked and the cat jumped off my back.
Dr. Free-Ride: So, do you think the cat enjoyed this experience?
Younger offspring: Yes! She ran away, but she had fun.
Dr. Free-Ride: So you've decided it makes sense in the cat psyche that running away is a sign of having fun?
Younger offspring: She always comes back.

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Scientists call for public action in support of research with animals.

For those who have been following the activities of "animal rights" activists, including their attacks of the homes of researchers -- and the reticence of the public in the face of such violent attacks -- a recent Commentary in Biological Psychiatry [1] will be of interest. In it, a number of scientists call on their scientific peers to actively engage in dialogue with the public about what scientific research with animals actually involves and why it is important.
From the commentary:

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Science and belief.

Given that in my last post I identified myself as playing for Team Science, this seems to be as good a time as any to note that not everyone on the team agrees about every little thing. Indeed, there are some big disagreements -- but I don't think these undermine our shared commitment to scientific methodology as a really good way of understanding our world.
I'm jumping into the fray of one of the big disagreements with this repost of an essay I wrote for the dear departed WAAGNFNP blog.
There's a rumor afoot that serious scientists must abandon what, in the common parlance, is referred to as "faith", that "rational" habits of mind and "magical thinking" cannot coexist in the same skull without leading to a violent collision.
We are not talking about worries that one cannot sensibly reconcile one's activities in a science which relies on isotopic dating of fossils with one's belief, based on a literal reading of one's sacred texts, that the world and everything on it is orders of magnitude younger than isotopic dating would lead us to conclude. We are talking about the view that any intellectually honest scientist who is not an atheist is living a lie.
I have no interest in convincing anyone to abandon his or her atheism. However, I would like to make the case that there is not a forced choice between being an intellectually honest scientist and being a person of faith.

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Movie screening expulsion: whose hearts and minds are up for grabs?

Maybe you heard the news that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins went to a screening of the documentary Expelled! in Minneapolis, except that, because he was recognized, PZ Myers was barred from the screening (despite having signed up ahead of time like the other attendees). Here's the New York Times story, and Greg Laden has collected roughly a bajillion links to blog posts in the aftermath of the incident. The big debate seems to be whether Myers ought to have brought attention to the fact that he was barred from the screening, or whether he should have just gotten a haircut at the mall to pass the time until it was over.

ExpelledComic.jpg

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What students need from their professors.

Mar 22 2008 Published by under Academia, Teaching and learning

Having recently posted on professors who challenged (and frequently scared) me, I was struck by a post at the Reality-Based Community suggesting that being the cool prof is not the path to effectiveness:

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Friday Sprog Blogging: are all traits adaptive?

Mar 21 2008 Published by under Kids and science

Do you ever suspect that kids save their best questions for just before "goodnight" as a delaying tactic? Or is there some other plausible explanation for a kid regularly entering into deeply interesting territory on the way to dream time?
Dr. Free-Ride: Sweet dreams.
Elder offspring: Why are feet ticklish?

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My world is collapsing to a singularity.

Mar 20 2008 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

Well, light can still escape the gravitational pull of my world, but it does feel like it's getting noticeably smaller.
Three recent data points:

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The women who taught me science.

Since March is Women's History Month, I thought it might be appropriate to recognize some women who were a part of my history -- namely, the women who taught me chemistry and physics. (This shouldn't be interpreted as a slight against the women who taught me biology -- I simply don't remember them as well -- nor against the men who taught me science. They made an impact on me, but this post isn't about them.)

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Scenes from the science fair.

Following up on an earlier post, I wanted to say a little about the Synopsis Championship that took place last week. It's sort of a judge's-eye view of the fair -- from a very enthusiastic and impressed judge.

Welcome.jpg

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