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Thoughts re Isolation of Sciences in Society:

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#1 SteveMushynsky

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Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:43 PM

I was educated in the post-Sputnik period in Scarsdale, NY, an excellent school system at the time. In fifth grade, the schools 'typed' those of us that had math and science aptitude and put us in an accelerated series of classes that continued through eleventh grade, when we were all shunted into 'regular' classes. [If calculus in eleventh grade was a drag, taking the same class over in senior year 'cause they had no follow on class to offer truly sucked]

Along the way through ninth grade, we took the regular non-STEP classes, too. For the last three years, we took a core curriculum of non-step classes while more advanced and AP courses were available in the STEP areas. In junior and senior years, we all took quarter-year classes in humanities, languages and arts as per curriculum requirements and as per our own choices, followed by more intensive follow on courses.

When I arrived at a science and engineering college, I was amazed at the accuracy of the 'I are an ingineer' joke. Science and engineering enthusiasm abounded, but interest in the humanities was absent [other than voluminous beer and plentiful young women at the state university nearby].

I was and am an bit of an oddity - Sort of a science and humanities 'polyglot', speaking both 'languages' at least well enough to empathize with both sides.

I see the big divide between the sciences and the humanities across our society, to our discredit and great harm.

For instance, how can the issue of facing climate warming's effects be constructively addressed when one side decries the validity of scientific method and the other cannot get beyond offering more and more scientific truths at their opponents? Neither side speaks the other's language.

The same goes for issues of scientific research funding, space program support, teaching evolution in schools, etc.

The state of Texas has specifically outlawed the teaching of "critical thinking" as being a threat to the rights of parents to imbue their children with their own beliefs without the 'destructive' influence of teaching the ability to think independently. Such is ignorance perpetuated. Burning science texts can't be far behind.

These days, I would add focus on the primacy of corporate business concerns as a third divide. When it serves to protect or enhance profits, huge amounts of financial and media leverage are applied to overcome science or humanitarian concerns. In response, opposing advocates do not sufficiently consider societies need for thriving commerce. The perversion of valid concerns to achieve and protect an obscene concentration of wealth in a few cannot be constructively discussed in this landscape of entrenched oppositions.

In this milieu, it's no surprise that amateur astronomy lacks general recognition and enthusiasm among the general public. Unrecognized to its practitioners; 'frivolous' to many others. A drop in a roiling ocean.

I would be very interested in the opinions of the folks here at CN on this general topic, as well as any remediatory ideas anyone might care to contribute.

:question:

#2 kw6562

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 10:32 AM

Hi Steve - I agree with your sentiments completely, but I was shocked by the Texas "critical thinking ban" that you mentioned, so I looked it up. As far as I can tell, that is part of the Texas GOP platform, not actual policy. But that doesn't change your basic premise, I know.

--Keith (I hope to comment further but right now is not a good time...)

#3 daveCollins

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 12:05 PM

My educational experience was quite different. When I graduated from high school I was illiterate. I could read and that was about it. So I ended up going to a community college for my high school education and eventually graduated. I then went to the University of Florida and graduated with a BS in physics and finished up with an MS in math. I found that I had a passion for learning.

At one of my commencements, the speaker told us that our graduation was the inauguration of the cessation of our learning (more or less). That remained mostly true for me as I was engrossed in work and my various hobbies.

I’ve now come full circle with my learning experiences and now study Chemistry, Physics, and Neuroscience on my own. I use the latest colledge texts (from Georgetown University), but I do it all on my own. I try to fill my life with things I find meaningful. I am on a mission to understand how the world around me works and in particular, understand what I am.

I only get news from Nature and Science magazines. I haven’t watched a minute of TV in 2 years (TV resides in my closet). Also as a lifestyle choice, I gave up drinking alcohol.

One observation I have is that the people I come in contact with do not study science and seem to spend significant portions of their free time watching TV (one co-worker claims to watch 20 hours a week). Since I’ve stopped watching TV and taken up serious studying, I feel like I think more independently and with more critical thought than at any other time in my life. Critical thought in general seems to be missing from most people I come in contact with, as well as independent ideas. This is one of the things I like about amateur astronomy. I like coming in contact with more independent types of personalities.

I am criticized by others for my lack of understanding of “current issues”. It is true there is a whole dimension to society that I do not contribute to. But I haven’t been exposed to violence or bad news since I gave up TV and reading news (other than science journals). That is what I want to do with my life. I have a positive attitude and passion for what I do. I have all but eliminated negativity from my life.

#4 simpleisbetter

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 12:34 PM

Well I'll be the dissenting voice here but I would agree with TX idea behind the "critical thought" ban. Because it's not really a ban but a choice by the parents which are the only ones who should say what's best for their children.

That said I agree with everything else said and commend those who make the effort to learn and advance. But be cautious and don't spend so much time you ignore cuurent events or take for granted what is in current teaching curriculum.

#5 MikeBOKC

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 01:29 PM

I always follow these posts on the decline of scientific literacy and the conflict between science and religion with some interest. In his excellent book "Rocks of Ages," the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould proposed that there need be no such conflict because the two fields do not and should not overlap. They are, in his term, separate magesteria.

The truth is that scientific literacy has never been widespread. Even a basic rudimentary understanding of scientific principles has never been common, because most people simply have little or no reason to acquire that knowledge. In fact, there is reason to believe that it is better today than at any time in human history. It was just a few hundred years ago that many people believed in witches; a few hundred more than most of humanity assumed that the sun and stars orbited the earth, that the position of the planets at the time of your birth ordered your destiny and characteristics, that lead could somehow be transformed into gold, that sailing west from Europe would take you over the edge of the world or into the realms of dragons.

With the possible exception of the astrological delusion, few people believe those things today. I am often struck at outreach events how many people will mention that they avidly watch science shows on television. Scientific literacy may still be somewhat rare as we would define it, but gross scientific illiteracy of the kind that afflicted most of humanity for eons is confined today to primitive third world societies.

As for a focus on "corporate" matters, such has it always been. The Phoenicians learned to navigate not out of scientific curiousity but to trade. Like Gould with science and religion, I fail to see any conflict between what we might loosely call business and the sciences. Accountants focus on tax law, and a good thing, too, because they provide a needed service. So too with garment makers and their trade. I am always a little tickled by posters who decry such supposed evils as materialism or commerce sitting behind a computer made by Dell in a house built by a conractor wearing clothes bought from Penney's in climate controlled comfort provided by the local utility company with a Ford in the driveway and a refigerator stocked with groceries. They are clearly not living in a hand-built yurt foraging for food and wearing animal skins.

It is a simple truth that most of humanity lives longer, more comfortable, healthier and better informed lives today that at any time in human history, thanks to a happy convergence of science, technology and commerce. Doom is not ours; let the good times roll!

#6 HiggsBoson

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Posted 16 March 2013 - 01:51 PM

I read of your concerns with great interest.

I hold a physics degree and one of my major hobbies is film making. One can only imagine how different these worlds can be. Most in my work environment are incapable of imagining the mindset of a typical film maker and vice versa.

While in college, during the late seventies, I took a course in computer music. The class was a mix of electrical engineer, computer scientist and musicians. I was the only person in the class who understood the digital logic in the computer and could read musical notation. The professor indicated that he had a great deal of difficulty in finding students with an interest in both worlds.

#7 SteveMushynsky

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 02:43 AM

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#8 SteveMushynsky

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 03:21 AM

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#9 FirstSight

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 08:06 AM

A huge part of the problem is that the majority of the population (including college-educated population outside science or perhaps economics majors) are math-illiterate beyond rudimentary algebra and bookkeeping principles, or the required stat course for a psych degree. They take only as much math as they're absolutely forced to take, and promptly relegate most of what they learned into the mental dustbin within hours after they walk out of the final exam in the last course. Law schools are overwhelmingly populated by mathphobes, and the method of "rigorous" thinking taught therein focuses on logic-and-argumentation by-analogy (or deduction-by-analogy), which is very different from scientifically rigorous analysis. The legal concept of "evidence" is also quite different from scientific notions of "evidence".

#10 Qwickdraw

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 12:44 PM

I am just curious which scientific "facts" should be taught in the schools. The one where it was once believed as fact that the smallest particle to exist was a spec of dust? Lord Kelvin's published calculations that fixed the age of Earth at between 20 million and 400 million years?
Geocentricity which was universally embraced by polymaths, scientists and philosophers alike until a new "fact" arose?

Most everything that is currently labeled as "scientific fact" today is a replacement or refinement of an earlier hypothesis that was thought of as "scientific fact" when it originated.

#11 Joad

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 01:30 PM

The problem is solved by using the phrase "scientific knowledge," and avoiding the word "fact." Scientific knowledge has accomplished many many things that are manifestly verifiable, so such knowledge is reliable. There does not need to be any claim for absolute "factual" certainty.

As a professional educator and writer on the nature of critical thinking, I can also say that few people, whether in favor of critical thinking or against it, are prepared to define just what it is. I attempted to provide such a definition for my university but was politely ignored.

#12 ColoHank

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 01:37 PM

I am just curious which scientific "facts" should be taught in the schools.



There's a big difference between facts and opinions. Anyone who's unaware or unsure of the distinction might start by Googling "scientific method."

#13 davidpitre

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 02:02 PM

The state of Texas has specifically outlawed the teaching of "critical thinking" as being a threat to the rights of parents to imbue their children with their own beliefs without the 'destructive' influence of teaching the ability to think independently. Such is ignorance perpetuated. Burning science texts can't be far behind.

I'm not sure where you get your information, but just to be clear. This is not true. It is a part of the state Republican Platform. That is more than a long way from law, or curriculum.
I do not see such rhetoric as influencing a general decline in interest and education in the sciences (if there is indeed such a thing presently). For hundreds of years there have been outspoken people fearful of the effects that an education in the sciences might lead to.
Certainly there was no shortage of this during the 20th century in America, even during the 60's and 70's heyday of American interest in Astronomy and Space.

#14 Jarad

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 02:56 PM

I am just curious which scientific "facts" should be taught in the schools. The one where it was once believed as fact that the smallest particle to exist was a spec of dust? Lord Kelvin's published calculations that fixed the age of Earth at between 20 million and 400 million years?
Geocentricity which was universally embraced by polymaths, scientists and philosophers alike until a new "fact" arose?

Most everything that is currently labeled as "scientific fact" today is a replacement or refinement of an earlier hypothesis that was thought of as "scientific fact" when it originated.


Quite frankly, what should be taught is the scientific method. And that should include teaching how Lord Kelvin came to the conclusion that the earth was between 20 and 400 million years old, and what new observations were discovered that resulted in the current age estimate.

Every theory in science has to explain all of the current observations, and every theory in science is subject to revision based on new observations. One of the toughest parts about science is getting comfortable with that reality. We don't look down on the excellent scientists like Lord Kelvin and Sir Isaac Newton who came to incorrect conclusions - they actually made amazing progress based on the available observations. We try to be as rigorous as possible in evaluating every theory against observations, with the rule that whenever there is a conflict, the observations win. The end result is that we end up with better and better theories, even though we know that those who come after us will have access to results that we don't yet and will revise our theories accordingly.

Jarad

#15 Qwickdraw

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 03:20 PM

I am just curious which scientific "facts" should be taught in the schools.



There's a big difference between facts and opinions. Anyone who's unaware or unsure of the distinction might start by Googling "scientific method."


I believe your comment is an opinion :grin:

Anyways, I was only using the OP own word.

#16 SteveMushynsky

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 08:20 PM

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#17 SteveMushynsky

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 08:56 PM

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#18 simpleisbetter

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 10:39 PM

School systems should teach the best, most verified knowledge available and not allow alternative views to be taught as science. Knowledge and knowledgeability advance through science, good curricula and good teaching. Knowledge and knowledgeability are degraded by teaching of unverifiable ideas as "science" or as "fact".


Okay, timeout. The paragraph above, if you remove the {unnecessary references already removed by moderator}, and follow Jarad's guide, I agree wholeheartedly. But that's as far as it needs to go, no further.

But once you insert inflammatory terms to some non-descript event, with no frame of reference or specifics, and without allowing those parties to defend themselves (i.e. - fearmongering), then it is not only narrow-minded, but it makes (at least) me wonder if you have another ulterior motive or agenda to this thread. And if it's to attack an ideal or another field that some of us here believe in but aren't allowed to defend ourselves on here, than I find the choice of words and methodology used here inappropriate.

#19 ColoHank

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Posted 17 March 2013 - 11:36 PM

This for sure: The folks in Texas are going to decide how best to handle this matter without regard to any input from the people who visit this forum.

If indeed the Texans opt to ban the teaching of critical thinking skills in the public schools, then the results of that decision will eventually be reflected in ACT and SAT scores and in the later college performance (if any) of the kids who are schooled under the ban. Since such scores and performance could be measured and compared with attainment levels measured pre-ban in Texas and of course with such measures in other states, the Texans are perhaps setting themselves up as the unwitting subjects of a very revealing scientific study. Let the games begin!

#20 SteveMushynsky

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 01:24 AM

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#21 Jarad

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 07:03 AM

Okay, let's settle down a bit.

I have edited a number of the posts above, and removed a few. I know there are strong opinions on both sides here. Let's avoid using inflammatory phrases and treating people as just a part of a group (right-wing or left-wing), or attributing motives. Let's also avoid dragging political parties into it.

This discussion can continue as long as everyone stays respectful. Try not to assume that you know what the other person "really" means, ask instead.

Jarad

#22 simpleisbetter

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 10:13 AM

This for sure: The folks in Texas are going to decide how best to handle this matter without regard to any input from the people who visit this forum.

If indeed the Texans opt to ban the teaching of critical thinking skills in the public schools, then the results of that decision will eventually be reflected in ACT and SAT scores and in the later college performance (if any) of the kids who are schooled under the ban. Since such scores and performance could be measured and compared with attainment levels measured pre-ban in Texas and of course with such measures in other states, the Texans are perhaps setting themselves up as the unwitting subjects of a very revealing scientific study. Let the games begin!


You might be quite right Hank; but there could be another outcome. Many of those who opt out of such likely never go into the scientific fields anyway, preferring other avenues and careers. I know many who either opted out or took only what was required and are still quite successful. One of my friends fits this model, taking only the science required of him in college, but when it comes to math, don't challenge him... And his math and business knowledge allows him to have a pretty good, successful speed and engine shop, with many customers who race short and dirt tracks nationwide. And like me he has a complete distrust and dislike of politics, regardless of party.

The situation above is also where many successful and accomplished individuals in the humanities, or even the language and history fields fall. That's why I don't see an issue with science being isolated, or being a problem.

The other possibility I see and have witnessed, is those who participate in such curriculum or home schooling, that have an interest in sciences and study those fields too, accepting and learning both sides, being more open-minded of all ideas and willing to investigate both.

Overall, I remain hopeful that the latter two possibilities would prevail.

#23 simpleisbetter

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 11:01 AM

Hi Steve,

Well, I don't feel I was protesting too much, just asking for clarification, and approaching the subject from a different POV. As I said in an earlier post (might've been mod'd or removed) I don't see a problem with isolation of science from other fields, and I expanded on that thought in my reply to Hank above.

Re your examples (thank you for them):
When it comes to DM/DE being taught, I suppose we both agree here those should be relegated to advanced higher-level college courses. Also, there is much disputed in the "evidence" here. I for one don't believe much of it, preferring, (like CN user deSitter) to look at the works of Rosenstock and others, instead of those who don't seem to have as good an understanding or grasp of Einstein.

As for evolution (from a strictly scientific view) I don't agree with it and never have to the extent it's applied currently. One example would be that just because scientists have found that dinosaurs bones share similar structures to birds, birds must've evolved from them. Too much conjecture is drawn here, many animals share similar characteristics between different species yet are totally unrelated to each other. This is the very basis of where I think that field takes too much liberty in its conclusions, which are essentially a "leap of faith" that this is how things are, for lack of better wording.

Forgive me if I've glossed over on my explanations above, typing at length on issues requiring deep thought and explanation using a smartphone isn't easy. I've done my best to approach this from a strictly neutral (non-religion or political) POV, especially since discussion of such is not allowed here. Yet it seems those two areas are exactly what you're complaining about; I could cut and paste repeated comments of yours (at least half a dozen just in your last reply). Let me just repeat my answer to the title of your thread, I don't see why science should NOT be isolated; that's the only way to be objective without external influence. I agree with your statement about funding, but it has to come from somewhere. Money doesn't grow on trees, and public funding isn't affordable since the governments that provide the funding aren't for-profit agencies. And even public funding is politically motivated; I spent nearly 30 years in government service and know first hand how public funding research works. And much if not most of the research done at university level is publically funded and often politically motivated. My sister is a genetic chemist who works at CSU in the bioresearch, specifically, TB and other biotoxins. We both have experience with govt research, funding, and external influence on it. There's no simple answer or way around funding.

To the point of your message of curriculum, I don't see an issue with schools choosing what to teach or not, it's their choice for what they feel is best in their state and their right, and the parents in those districts, to decide. Your original complaint about your high school seems a complaint about just that, your school district when you grew up; don't assume that the fixes for it apply elsewhere.

Thanks for your time, but I feel I have to bow out here, as the only way to discuss further or defend my own views, which I do feel you have indeed challenged or attacked based on your own words/complaints are not allowed here on CN. Therefore I have to bow out as I can't defend or discuss further here.

#24 llanitedave

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 12:30 PM

You might be quite right Hank; but there could be another outcome. Many of those who opt out of such likely never go into the scientific fields anyway, preferring other avenues and careers. I know many who either opted out or took only what was required and are still quite successful.


And this to me is actually the best example of the problem.

It's the underlying belief that the fundamental purpose of education is to enable financial success. Not only is that a near-universal attitude in our society, but I think it's also the one that sows the seeds of its own downfall.

Prosperity should indeed be enabled by education, but it's a mistake to think that should be its sole or even primary purpose. The ability to succeed financially should be a happy and expected side effect of education, not its fundamental goal.

In a democracy, the purpose of an educated population is to make wise social decisions, to allow the society to prosper as a whole, to guard against hucksters and demagogues who would use the ignorance of the people to enrich/empower themselves at the public's expense, and to find new and effective solutions to the new and unfamiliar problems that inevitably accompany social and technological progress.

In a nutshell, only educated voters are informed and wise voters. This should be the major goal of education, and all else should be secondary (although certainly not neglected). This means that both science/technology AND humanities subjects should be covered well and as deeply as possible. We can't succeed as a society by monopolizing one pursuit at the expense of the other.

Yes, individuals can neglect a major field of knowledge and still succeed mightily in business. But that doesn't mean they're really "contributing to society" in the sense that participants in a democracy must do if it is to avoid an inevitable collapse into eventual tyranny.

#25 simpleisbetter

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Posted 18 March 2013 - 12:50 PM


You might be quite right Hank; but there could be another outcome. Many of those who opt out of such likely never go into the scientific fields anyway, preferring other avenues and careers. I know many who either opted out or took only what was required and are still quite successful.


And this to me is actually the best example of the problem.

It's the underlying belief that the fundamental purpose of education is to enable financial success. Not only is that a near-universal attitude in our society, but I think it's also the one that sows the seeds of its own downfall.

Prosperity should indeed be enabled by education, but it's a mistake to think that should be its sole or even primary purpose. The ability to succeed financially should be a happy and expected side effect of education, not its fundamental goal.

In a democracy, the purpose of an educated population is to make wise social decisions, to allow the society to prosper as a whole, to guard against hucksters and demagogues who would use the ignorance of the people to enrich/empower themselves at the public's expense, and to find new and effective solutions to the new and unfamiliar problems that inevitably accompany social and technological progress.

In a nutshell, only educated voters are informed and wise voters. This should be the major goal of education, and all else should be secondary (although certainly not neglected). This means that both science/technology AND humanities subjects should be covered well and as deeply as possible. We can't succeed as a society by monopolizing one pursuit at the expense of the other.

Yes, individuals can neglect a major field of knowledge and still succeed mightily in business. But that doesn't mean they're really "contributing to society" in the sense that participants in a democracy must do if it is to avoid an inevitable collapse into eventual tyranny.


That view (yes it's political rhetorical talking points - BS) I can't agree with. Note that I never said financially successful, just successful; you assume too much Dave. I wasn't speaking financially beyond the ability to provide enough for his home and family and set aside some for retirement.

As to your last comment and the somewhat backhanded suggestion that just because someone is successful in a business means they don't contribute to society, I submit my friend contributed to society and our welfare.






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