Sunday, September 4, 2011

Science: Some thoughts

The highlight of the last few days was doing a table on Magnetism at our First Friday event.  We didn't have quite as many kids as last time, but the ones who came to our table stayed and played for a bit.  We had some cool stuff from the college to show them- an electromagnet, a magnetometer, and some very strong magnets, and my son's preschool let us borrow not only the magnatiles but some other magnetic stuff.  The little kids liked fishing for magnetic fish.  In September it gets dark earlier, and I had to start cleaning up while I could still see things.

I was disappointed that there seemed to be less people at the event, but I suppose that is because school has started now, and it was very hot and humid that evening.  I was also disappointed that we didn't see any students- after all it was labeled as a college night, and we do have two, and perhaps three (not sure if the third one has its facility ready yet) of them.  We had been placed with all the other kid stuff, so I figure either college students didn't come, or they didn't come to that area.

Lately we seem to hit parents that homeschool and are part of the local Christian home schooling association.  They are very interested in our project for a science play space.  I want to work with them and have their kids participate, but at the same time it worries me.  Will they get in the way of anything scientific that might conflict with a literal interpretation of the bible?  I'm banking on the hope that they won't, and I know that most of them are dedicated to giving their children a good education that they feel schools will not get them for one reason or another. People home school for many reasons, and if you were to do it, you would probably join the local organization no matter what your views on science were.  If you are home schooling, your children still have to know science even if they don't "believe" in some conclusions scientists have drawn from data.  The idea of a science play space is, for the most part to familiarize with scientific tools and methods through play, not to teach any particular science.  Familiarity with tools and methods will require actually learning some science and drawing some conclusions or at least knowing what they are.  That's the nature of it. However, its not the plan to indoctrinate or alienate people who know the world best in ways that are not scientific.  There are many ways of  knowing: science can only tell you about the natural world, not how to be ethical.

In any case it was nice to talk to the parents and see the kids enjoying their explorations.
The event kind of took my energy- organizing, doing it, and yesterday I was just so tired all day.   That may be related to going to the gym yesterday as well. And perhaps I am fighting off my son's cold.  He came down with this evil cold a few days ago. I almsot didn't send him to playcare, but I needed the time, and I was sure he got it there anyway.  They let kids come with runny noses- and he wasn't the only one.

Perhaps it was the 90+ heat in SEPTEMBER.  I overhead this guy on the radio professing that he didn't "believe" in global warming, but football games were never played in that kind of heat.  Maybe he'll start "believing?".  is this like "believing" in evolution?  Its not about belief... according to scientists.  Its what scientific evidence concludes.  If you "believe" in all the amazing medical advances and technology, then you should not have trouble "believing" in other things that scientists have figured out.  Global climate change and evolution are not exactly crackpot fringe scientific theories.  They are backed by a LOT of evidence amassed over a lot of time (Evolution longer than global climate change).  In fact, perhaps that's the problem, both theories are backed by an understanding of geologic time, and changes that have occurred in both the climate and the biology (the biogeochemistry) of the planet over that time.

 Accepting a scientific conclusion is not like "believing" in something that you cannot share/replicate with others (a personal spiritual experience).  With science, its  not about personal experience- in science the experience HAS to be shared. It HAS to be repeatable.  You can interpret it in many ways, but eventually scientist start agreeing with a particular interpretation and continue gaining data to support it.  Its our best guess so far.  So, if you want to say, I have enough training to understand the evidence for this well supported theory, I've studied it for a long time, and now I don't agree with it- I have an alternative theory that explains the data better, and I've explained it to some other scientists and somebody published a paper on it in a respected journal- well, then it would be worth listening to.  But... "I don't believe it" really doesn't cut it scientifically.

On a (slightly) less judgmental note- we know that its really really hard to change our beliefs and world view, and it takes something pretty earth shattering and repeated to do it even when evidence is clearly against it.  We fit what we hear to our preconceived notions as best we can until its completely impossible to continue.  A spiritual experience can certainly change a worldview. Perhaps the continuing really weird weather will help change our notions as well.

Last night we were woken up in the middle of the night with thunderstorms.  I am NOT making up that we have had a LOT more storms lately than in the past and 93 degree heat in September is almost unheard of here.  However, five years is not long enough to draw conclusions.  But long term data is, and scientists have studied it.

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