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View Diary: Why People Distrust Science (250 comments)

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  •  it boils down to 2 things: (4+ / 0-)

    1. our schools don't educate anyone, and aren't intended to--they're simply there to produce the next generation of minimum-wage workers.

    2. science itself does a very poor job of communicating to the public. There are of course a few very good science writers and popularizers, but nowhere near enough.

    But I console myself with the simple fact that reality is a stubborn thing, it never sleeps, and in the end, reality always wins.

    •  Teaching scientific method (1+ / 0-)
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      at the high school level is hard because students need a requisite amount of background science knowledge before laboratory work, statistical analysis, logics of probability, etc can even be meaningful to them.  It's really not until the upper undergraduate level where enough basic knowledge is in place for the laboratory and construction of experiments to really be understood.

      •  I don't agree (1+ / 0-)
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        The basic scientific method can be taught in grade school, and should be. You don't need a lot of knowledge to work with the ideas of it.

        New educational standards do put it there, but we don't have many adults educated that way yet.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 02:40:27 PM PDT

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        •  I also don't agree (2+ / 0-)
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          elfling, LilithGardener

          with JK74.  Many of the basic skills of a scientist (or scientifically literate person) could be taught at an early age.  Interpretation of graphs, coming up with hypotheses and designing simple tests of those hypotheses - these skills can be taught with simple subject matter and then developed over time.

          "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

          by matching mole on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 03:19:09 PM PDT

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        •  What you're talking about (1+ / 0-)
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          is taught from a very early age.  I'm talking about something far more complicated and sophisticated.  The "scientific method" is a kind of simplified myth.  It doesn't really describe hypothesis building, experiment construction, nor the laboratory.  Americans tend to have a very poor understanding or laboratory work, hypothesis construction, and experiment construction.  This isn't so much because a massive failure of education, but because these things require pretty advanced knowledge to be done well.

          Take hypothesis construction.  In school you're taught that the first step of the scientific method consists in proposing a hypothesis or explanation for a particular phenomenon.  But that's not at all how hypothesis construction really works in the sciences.  Formulating a hypothesis always requires advanced knowledge of the scientific discipline in question.  It doesn't consist in proposing just any old explanation, but a proposal within the theoretical paradigm of the science.  That requires expert knowledge within the paradigm.  Constructing the experiment is an even more complicated task.  It requires the creation of instruments and technologies (which itself requires all sorts of knowledge), the creation of closed environments (where possible) to unambiguously trigger events, and so on.  Then there's the issue of compiling, measuring, and interpreting the data which can take years as in the case of super-colliders and drug trials.  It's not until relatively late in education that one has the requisite knowledge and training to do these things.  What's taught as the "scientific method" in school is a kind of pedagogical myth that gives people an inkling of what's going on in science, but which isn't truly reflective of what real science is about.

          •  I think you overcomplicate it (1+ / 0-)
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            (And for the record, I do have advanced training in Science™)

            You need expert knowledge within the area to do publishable science. Not to do science.

            It's perfectly reasonable and appropriate that kids are doing experiments where the result is well known and not publishable.

            Learning what assumptions are safe to make and not safe to make, and figuring out ways to make fewer assumptions, is in fact the core of what makes a proficient scientist, mathematician, or engineer, and it's really an ongoing process.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 04:41:39 PM PDT

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            •  I wasn't suggesting (0+ / 0-)

              otherwise. I was trying to outline why scientific literacy is so abysmal in the general population.  You'll find similar illiteracy in other first tier countries.  It's not restricted to us.  Why?

      •  Yep (1+ / 0-)
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        High school science experiments kind of drive me crazy.

        1) This isn't a very interesting question. We already know the answer. I could Google it in 2 seconds. And it's in the textbook.

        2) I can't even pretend that it's an interesting question, because you've given me an 8-page lab packet with a complete set of instructions for doing an experiment, complete with dozens of leading questions making it blatantly obvious what I'm 'supposed' to find.

        3) Even if I were to somehow manage to pretend it's an interesting question, I wouldn't be able to answer it with this experiment, because it's poorly designed; the sample sizes are far too small, and I can right now on the spot identify about 10 confounding variables that we're not controlling for.

        4) Even if the question and the experiment design were given a pass, I wouldn't be able to conduct this experiment properly with this equipment. I can't even get the same result twice in a row.

        5) If I reported the results I actually did get and tried to interpret them as if they were meaningful, I'd get marked down because my answers would all be 'wrong'. I know because I've tried before.

        So basically, you want me to go through the motions of doing this fake mini-'experiment' and then BS some answers to your questions as if the process actually gave me some insight into the subject we're studying, when really I just looked it up and/or guessed the 'right' answers from the way the questions were worded. And this is how you want to introduce me to the scientific method?

        As an adult, I now understand that the purpose of grade-school science labs is actually to teach kids to recognize and use basic lab equipment and understand experimental-science-related vocabulary. As a kid, though, I found the whole process ridiculous and insulting. And if that were all I'd known about how science works - if my dad hadn't been a scientist - I'd have come out of high school with far less trust in science than I started with.

        I don't necessarily think there's a perfect answer, given resource constraints, but I do tend to think that if we do want to introduce experimental science at the high school level, kids would benefit more from the exercise of designing experiments they can't conduct than from conducting experiments that aren't designed well. If the lab equipment still has to be introduced, I think it would be of more value under an exploratory framework than an experimental one.

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 03:12:09 PM PDT

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        •  Changes needed, but mini-experiments have value (0+ / 0-)

          There are obvious limitations to doing mini-experiments with high school science students (or grade school or college even). But there is still value in going through the process, provided some pitfalls are avoided.

          For number 1) Yes, this is usually not ideal (shoot for unknown possibilities), though it's worth pointing out that the googled answer may just be crap, similar but not identical experiments, or something that can vary even if everything is done "right". 2) This sucks, and I'd like to see this avoided at all costs. Originating hypotheses, even with limited knowledge and background reading, is a skill that should be practiced and is part of why science is so cool. The other stuff can be picked up along the way usually. 3) Good, you are learning problems to look for in any experiment. And for real credit, maybe you can suggest creative ways to deal with those on our budget and equipment, or at least how to analyze the results with those limitations in mind....4) No kidding. Of course, that happens with top equipment too in many areas of science, especially biology. But wait until you really have to conduct that experiment with less funding than you had planned. Better practice minimizing error with less than ideal conditions. 5) Well that's just poor assessment. There may be reasons the instructor did this, but I bet they were also utilizing problem #2 and should instead favor dealing critically with the results at hand.

          I think the answer could be a little bit of both, hypothesizing no-constraints experiments and mini-experiments with constraints. But the process of designing and executing experiments is an important skill that needs to be developed, nurtured, encouraged (provided the instructors allow the students to be creative, learn from mistakes and experiences, etc). Partly because a) very few scientists ever actually experience no constraints so you have to learn how to deal with sub-ideal situations, b) even the no-constraints experiments will be severely limited due to students' limited background reading and experiences (unless you give them a couple years to read everything they'd need to know to be an expert), so it's still got its own limitations, c) developing hypotheses, designing good experiments, and careful execution all need practice to become better, and d) it's a bad idea to plop someone down into an important project if they've never had to execute their own experiments, think on their feet when something goes wrong, and analyze real data with limitations.

          I've seen d) several times before, and it can be a tough learning curve under heavy pressure, in college and even in graduate school (some science programs have little independent research opportunities even in college).

    •  We teach a lot more science than we used to (2+ / 0-)
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      LilithGardener, wishingwell

      and we teach it much better, too, at least here in California.

      We'll see if it helps.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 02:38:59 PM PDT

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