Monday, May 18, 2009

Gateway Thoughts on Science

I can remember reading science books when I was in elementary school and thinking that the more science a person knew the more answers that you could give to interesting questions. What I noticed was that it was not the Trivial Pursuit questions that interested me (although I got the biggest pay back from teachers for just knowing stuff that blew them away). The questions that I liked knowing the answers for were things like why clouds are flat on the bottom and why is space black if it is filled with light.

That said it, is the stereotype circus science that seems to always be the "gateway thought" (sort of like marijuana being thought of as the gateway drug (when in my opinion it is alcohol (or caffeine))). It is important however for us in Science to remember that there has to be something that grabs children and makes them re-think becoming a fireman as a career. In chemistry it is the inevitable "Magic Show" (shudder) with faux wizards, bangs and flashes that seem to get that first response. In a horrible way it would be like a model for Christianity where you would use televangelists to do children outreach. In fact, I do a school outreach presentation entitled "Not a Magic Show" where I do the regular stuff but underpinning it all is a grade appropriate explanation for what the students are seeing. I even have a logo.


But still ...

I think XKCD caught a shadow of this idea in their most recent strip (as a disclaimer I will note that XKCD is an "adult" webcomic that explores modern life from a engineering / science perspective and veers sometimes into NSFW).

Click on image to embiggen


I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes the complete mis-understanding of what Science actually is may be our best way of promoting it to children. But then again that is a model that works for religion, politics and relationships. Does all of life have to be the Dance of the Seven Veils?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Stupid It Burns


This image was drawn by Ahren Paulson and picked up by Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy . This image deserves more circulation in the science / chemistry blogosphere and its own acronym ... TSIB (The Stupid It Burns). This would have helped Kyle at The Chem Blog in his discussions on the pseudoscience techno-babble surrounding "organic salt".

Speaking of TSIB I find it ironic that one of the most common sources of TSIB is the advertizing section of Popular Science. As just a quick example we have the good people who have this ad...and they provide this helpful table ... TSIB people, TSIB.

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.