Teach Your Children Well

September 27th, 2010

A line from a song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash that speaks volumes to the report that is out this week on the worsening state of science education in America.

Why is it that we can argue about immigration, health care, the Tea Partiers and whether or not President Obama is a citizen, but stand by idly while the public school system deteriorates?

Is that where the voting public really wants this country to go? Is ‘Idiocracy‘ the future of our country?

I hate to even entertain such thoughts. Thankfully, I know many, many hard working people who care deeply about the education of our country’s children, and who will keep working to see that improvements to the educational system are made, with or without such a report.

Is the situation really as dire as the report makes it out to be? Maybe, maybe not.

In a USA Today article discussing responses to the report, there is a quote from one B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown:

“It’s easy to understand with the America COMPETES Act up for renewal why advocates would frame the situation this way. But it seems less helpful to frame things in a voice of crisis rather than a more reasoned response. Things aren’t as bad as this report paints them.”

Mr. Lowell issued a study in 2007 that concluded there were more than enough science and engineering graduates for the jobs that were available. So, ok, there are lots of graduates, but are they qualified, Mr. Lowell? That could be part of the problem. Just because people are graduating does not automatically make them able to perform a job.

Also, why are there fewer jobs than graduates? Why isn’t our country exploding with technological industry? Wouldn’t funding R&D through the America COMPETES Act lead to more jobs in that sector?

In this issue, as in all others, it does help to try to see as many sides of the issue as possible. But, the side I keep coming back to is the side with the children who are going to be our future. If the children are not educated well, there is not much hope for the future of this country. Shouldn’t protecting the future be something of a priority?

So, Mr. Lowell, I do think that framing this issue as a crisis is necessary. How else will it get the attention it deserves when there are so many loud mouths clogging up the media?

Since when has a reasoned political debate worked to fire up the public (and thus the politicians) in recent history?

Where is Whitney Houston when we need her most!?! (And, I mean pre-crackhead Whitney who sang with such conviction, I almost believed she believed what she was singing)

Michio Kaku on Why

June 5th, 2009

In this segment, Dr. Kaku discusses with Dr. Kiki why communicating science is so vital to research, and why he spends so much of his time talking to the public.

 

Distributed by Tubemogul.

Michio Kaku on Politics

June 1st, 2009

Excerpt from Dr. Kiki’s 2008 interview with Dr. Michio Kaku. Here he discusses selling science to politicians.

Michio Kaku on the Big Bang

May 14th, 2009

Dr. Michio Kaku talks about the Big Bang and the Large Hadron Collider… and Elvis.

Should Newspapers Be Non-Profit?

March 25th, 2009

This article in ZDNet suggests that it might not be such a bad idea. Says Mr. Diaz,

“What we’re not doing is sitting in on city council meetings on the lookout for changes to the zoning ordinances or hikes to property taxes. We’re not investigating environmental impacts from the new airport expansion or looking into motives of a developer who’s suddenly hanging around city hall regularly. That’s local stuff that should be covered at the local level and offered to local citizens. I imagine there are probably potential donors in cities and regions that would be willing to invest in local “journalism,” instead of “newspapers.””

Newspapers could subsist on donations rather than advertising. It’s an interesting idea, and there are some groups delving into the idea of donation based journalism.

However, the political biases of some newspapers are so obvious, it is hard to imagine them as non-profits. I can’t help but equate this idea to allowing churches to have non-profit status and promote political agendas.

Oh, wait. We already do that.

How Science Got Its Groove Back

March 9th, 2009

Today’s declaration by President Obama makes me very happy. Not only did he reverse the Bush administration’s limits on federal funding for stem cell research, but he made the statement that science is valuable.

“This [Stem Cell] Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let’s be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources - it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient - especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda  -  and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”By doing this, we will ensure America’s continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.”That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals — to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.”

Today marks a very public and official change for the relationship between science and politics in the United States government. This makes me very, very happy.

A Response to Cali’s Weekend Twitter Circus

February 16th, 2009

So, this past weekend Cali Lewis twittered the following statement:

It’s so sad that smart people don’t pay attention to the science that proves global warming is a hoax.”

It created a thunderstorm of responses (I’ll admit to my own raised eyebrows.) to which she ended up replying in a blog post. Her post is quite a bit more carefully worded than the initial tweet, and addresses the initial feelings that led her to (unintentionally?) spark an online debate.

“Last night Neal and I took a break from a movie to grab a snack. The radio was on (NPR - like always), and I heard another yet political pundit talking about how we’ve caused global warming and what we need to do about it.”

Fair enough, the science of climate change has been politicized. I’m weary of the zealots on either side of the socio-political debate on this issue. However, in the next sentence Cali goes on to explain her position a bit further, and this is where I begin to diverge from her opinion.

“This person’s emphatic belief in man-made global warming was so over-the-top different from what climate scientists are saying that I tweeted my frustration.”

I don’t know what the person on the radio was saying, not having heard it myself, but I’ll guess that they were simply parroting the IPCC report conclusions that current climate trends are due in large part to human activities in order to give scientific credence to whatever environmental plan they happened to be espousing. Again, an annoying use of the science because it doesn’t take into account the complexity that scientists are dealing with, but not altogether wrong. I don’t know that it is “over-the-top different” from the majority consensus.

Cali goes on to say:

 ”We’ve all heard about the 600 scientists who signed on to the UN’s global warming report. The media doesn’t readily share information about the thousands of scientist who disagree:”

This is manufactured controversy. There are always going to be individuals with varying opinions. I spend my time paying attention to as much of the science media as I can, and the reality is that the reporting on climate change is dominated by the few scientists who disagree with each other. The rest of the science world is doing what they do best… their jobs. And, the science supports the consensus.

The links Cali provides seem at the outset to provide evidence to her statement that there there is a big cover-up going on. However, a little digging reveals that the sources of the information aren’t necessarily trustworthy. The petition is served by an institution called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. The initial run of the petition was discredited as misleading (see the preceding link) for various reasons. The senate link is a minority report provided by Senator Inhofe’s press blog. Inhofe is known for making misleading statements about climate science. And, the interview dishes up a fair bit of misinformation, which I’m not going to focus on here.

My final disagreement with Cali’s opinion is where she recommends Dr. Roy Spencer as a single source for information on climate. She says:

“His research corresponds with the work of other climatologists.”

Yes, he has done some very good work, but he’s not the only person doing climate research. Interestingly, according to RealClimate.org:

“… what he gets through peer-review is far less threatening to the mainstream picture of anthropogenic global warming than you’d think from the spin he puts on it in press releases, presentations and the blogosphere.”

I just want to remind people that science is never based on the work or the opinions of one person. Science is not a petition. It is based on data-based consensus over time. So, while it might be useful to read Roy’s book as Cali suggests, it is also good to look for other books and articles by many other authors before forming an opinion.

Unfortunately, the issue has been so politicized that people do have opinions whether or not they know anything about climate science because of the emotions involved. I have a basic understanding of the science involved, but I leave the details to the experts, those working on the science. I try to temper my own opinion with the understanding that I don’t know everything on this topic.

In this, I agree with Cali:

“Here’s the problem and the reason I’m willing to be a little controversial and publicly talk about my skepticism: The politicians sound like apocalyptic preachers who doom us to all kinds of disaster if we don’t believe their message.”

The politics have gone overboard. It doesn’t matter which news stations you listen to, because of ratings and poll results, pundits and politicians have forgotten about moderation.

“Climate scientists sound like rational adults seeking the truth. Science is all about skepticism. I’m skeptic, and science says I have a real reason to be one.”

It is good to be skeptical, but not to the detriment of reason. Sometimes skeptics forget to poke holes in their own arguments. I don’t think science is about skepticism. It is about critical thinking, which is necessary for proper support of skepticism. Yes, be a skeptic, but look at as many sides of an issue as you can, and remember that there are probably others that you have not considered. An opinion is just that, an opinion, not a statement of fact. We all have them, but that doesn’t make us experts.

The issue of “global warming” is a complicated one, which is why it is so easy for people to muddy the waters of public opinion. I find it sad that people have become so polarized over wording and not the crucial issue of humanity. Will humanity survive a dramatic period of climate change? Probably, but at what cost? And, given what benefits?

I agree with Cali that blue skies and clear water are of utmost importance. Let’s try to get past the politics and name-calling. They will never get us anywhere.

And, I suggest that anyone who called Cali names apologize.

The Debate Continues To Rage

September 5th, 2008

I received a press release today from an organization called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank located in Washington DC and committed to “free enterprise and limited government.”

And, while free enterprise and limited government are not inherently bad, years of bad politics and close-minded agendas immediately put a bad taste in my mouth when I read the phrase.

Still, I was interested in what they had to say this time around.

… a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute calls into question whether, ethics aside, stem cell research is even a sensible expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

 Government stem cell research programs, such as California’s Proposition 71, are bureaucratic, wasteful, and mired in political controversy And, because stem cell research is inherently speculative and politically controversial, the public would be best served if governments left it to the private sector.

 “This is not a question of whether the research should be conducted, but whether public funding for it is justified,” said Fry-Revere. “It is impossible to know how successful this research will be or whether any individual projects will produce genuine medical treatments, and it is not the place of government to gamble with taxpayers’ money.”

I can see the argument here; stop government funding of the research because private groups will do the work anyway, and public funding comes with beaurocracy that almost negates the benefits of the research itself. It is true. Publically funded labs have to comply with incredibly strict regulations that make doing the research nearly impossible… not to mention the restrictions on cell lines.

However, this is not what I see as their main point. They primarily argue that the nature of the research is too speculative. Why should the government fund research that might not amount to anything? Sure, fair enough. Why should it?

But, then again, why shouldn’t the government be a part of promoting science and the search for knowledge? The government can help the economy by putting taxpayer money back into industries like scientific research. Not only will that money increase the number of jobs in that sector (something that is good in this time of a 6.1% unemployment rate), but the result could also be something that will help mankind.

Whether or not cures actually come from basic research is not the point of supporting science with taxpayer money. Besides, didn’t the California taxpayers decide to set a certain amount of money aside for stem cell research? It’s not as though the decision was made by someone other than “the people” in this case.

I am amazed to think that supporting science is “gambl[ing] with taxpayers’ money.” The arguments made in the press release are emotional at best, and not supported by fact in the least. If supporting things can be considered gambling one might as well say that public funding of the educational system is a gamble because we have no idea how any of the kids are going to turn out. They might all end up drug addicts and thieves. I’d like to counter that financial support of science and basic reasearch is rather an investment in the future.

Finally, if they really have an issue with the speculative nature of stem cell research, why bring up this question only for stem cells. Why not bring into question funding of science in general? Take the argument to its logical end. It seems that this focused approach belies an underlying agenda.What that agenda is I can only guess at, but I feel that their argument against stem cell funding in this case was disingenuous at best.

Science Doesn’t Start Wars

August 25th, 2008

Nina Fedoroff is my new favorite scientist ever. This interview makes me happy.

Thoughts Over Greenland

July 31st, 2008

This was written while I was on my flight back from Russia and heading over Greenland. Listening to Cut Copy. 6 more hours in the flight. I’d already watched 2 movies, and I only had 3 hours of battery time remaining on my beast of a laptop.

——————–

The beauty of the pristine environment below just makes me think of the unseen effect that we are having on the environment. I look at the glaciers flowing to the sea and the many icebergs floating upon it, and I just wonder how and if we will survive the changes ahead.

I know that many people are not convinced about the climate change situation facing us, but I think many more people are thinking about the possibilities than 30 years ago.

My grandfather, over 90 and well intentioned, didn’t believe the speculation about the population problem, and he doesn’t believe that climate change is an issue either. Well, in his lifetime, we have not observably exceeded the limits of this planet.

However, we are not able to feed millions of people in the less resource rich areas of the world. Is Africa succeeding? Is India succeeding yet? The rich are doing fine wherever they are, but the poor are doing ever poorer. Is that a failing of the planet? I don’t think so. It is a human failing. A political failing.

Cold, cold,
Deep blue hue.
The ice water resembles
A cocktail sipped poolside in
Miami heat.
Hot, hot,
Red, orange.
The earth dark brown
Like chocolate in a silver wrapper.
Shivering with enjoyment,
The snow ever moving
Ever slipping off the edge of the pool
In a white bikini showing
More skin than the prettiest girl.
Ice, ice,
Water, ocean.
Land.
Earth.
Our earth.
Here at the northern pole
The atmosphere wraps it in clouds
And fog like the most demure maiden.
It sizzles and burns openly further south,
But here, here,
It is the ice queen.
The snow maiden
Vasilisa the Fair.
We watch,
Helpless,
As she gives herself to the sea.