Archive for August, 2009

Grabbing the 'Aha' Moment

The US isn’t the only country having trouble teaching high-school physics. Australia has similar issues.

Physics teachers not up to scratch: study

One quote caught my eye:

“The person that’s teaching them might have some competence in science but just can’t grab that ‘aha’ moment.”

Not that I’m endorsing under-qualified high-school physics teachers, but I suspect that the ‘aha’ moment for science happens before high school. There are a lot of opportunities for teachers to turn students on, or off, before the teenage distractions show up in life. And physics tends to be taught last in high school science sequences, so the potential audience has already dwindled if students are turned off by chemistry or biology.


Eerily Accurate

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: How Science Reporting Works

Not 'Ha Ha' Funny

Ozone threat is no laughing matter

Nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the greatest threat to the ozone layer, a new analysis suggests. The ozone-destroying abilities of the gas have been largely ignored by policy-makers and atmospheric scientists alike, who have focused on the more potent chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — historically the dominant ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere.

They Used Math, So it Must Be True

Flickr: Mythical Creatures

In Venn diagram format.

How Do You Feel About That?

Unit Analysis.

Skulls in the Stars: The other meaning of “dimension” and its use in physics

The use of dimensional analysis to check one’s math is a very useful, but mundane application. What is surprising and even spectacular, however, is that dimensional arguments can be used in some cases to gain a basic understanding of extremely complicated and otherwise intractable physical problems!


CT Scans Show Dinosaur Tail Was a Bone Crusher

To estimate just how hard Ankylosaurus could hit with its tail club, Canadian researchers examined CT scans of several fossilized tails from dinos of different sizes. Combining the imaging data with measurements of the dinosaur’s backbone, they determined the Ankylosaurus could swing its tail in a 100 degree lateral arc, and that larger clubs could generate forces strong enough to crush bone.

Erwin's Other Cat

Cat Experiments

I pointed out to Iain what she was doing and said, “Our cat is doing science experiments.”

If this were a Far Side cartoon, the cat would have a chemistry set, or something similar. But no, this is real life; it’s optics.

Thar She Blows!

Melt and Blow CD Bubbles

Learn how to blow bubbles with your old plastic CDs in this edition of ‘It’s Effin Science.’

Images from Landsat 7

60 Stunning Satellite Photos of Earth

I Object

U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeks trial on global warming

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” — complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

What a bad idea for science.

This doesn’t bring the Scopes trial to my mind, as mentioned in the article — that wasn’t primarily about whether evolution was valid science. This is more like the story of how the Indiana House once unanimously passed a bill to make pi a rational number (3.2; the bill died in the senate). Our legal system doesn’t get to decide what is sound science or not; if it attempts to make such a decision, mother nature won’t care at all and won’t serve any contempt-of-court sentence for disobeying the judge.

The legal system doesn’t argue the same way that science does, which is why this is a common tactic for anti-scientists. Creationists putting Darwinism “on trial” in literature is not uncommon. The absurdity of calling evolution “Darwinism” aside for the moment, these “trials” include appeals to ridicule that might sound convincing to some, because there is much about science that isn’t intuitive. In physics, one could probably convince a lay person that quantum mechanics and relativity are wrong using a legal style of argument, just by pointing out some of the counterintuitive, nonclassical (or non-Galilean) aspects (A single particle goes through both slits? Absurd! Twins can age at different rates? Preposterous!) But QM and relativity are true, regardless of how much they contradict classical experience.

It can’t merely be lining up experts, either, because there is no science so well-established that you can’t find a somebody, somewhere, who has a degree and disagrees with the mainstream. There are physicists who disagree with QM and relativity, just as there are biologists who are creationists (or cdesign proponentsists). The bench isn’t very deep of course (there are more biologists named Steve who agree that evolution is true than all who are touted to disagree), but they are out there. What matters is the empirical evidence, and the people best qualified to tell us this are the scientists who do the kind of work in question, not a judge. True, the judge might/should rule in favor of the scientists in this kind of case, but if he didn’t, that wouldn’t change the fact that smoking causes cancer, evolution is true, photons interfere with themselves, pi is irrational and humans are causing global warming. That’s what the evidence tells us.

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