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Posts Tagged ‘scientific

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Here is what I read into Hank Green’s rant about people either not trusting science or trusting science too much.

Being scientifically literate is not just knowing scientific information. Nor is it only about being able to read and understand published science.

Being scientifically literate is about the processes of thinking and iterating so that preliminary and testable facts emerge. It is about being comfortable that such facts can change over time as a result of such processes.

Science is not just about knowing what, it is also about knowing how. Being scientifically literate is about knowing why we need to think and act in ways that move us forward.


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I enjoy these comedic videos on two levels. The first is as a person who enjoys smart comedy. The second is as an educator with a background in science.

The purpose of comedy is to make people laugh. If comedians fail to do this consistently, they are just commentators or pundits. The problem with some of these comedic comments is that they are based on ignorance and the perpetuating of such ignorance.

For example, take the comparison of the 95% likelihood that humans are responsible for climate change to the 99% effectiveness of a condom. A comedian remarked that he should be wary about having protected sex 100 times. His implication and intended comedic comment was that there was an assured one time that the condom would fail. This is not what 99% effectiveness means. It means that a condom is effective 99% each time it used.

There are other remarks about rising sea levels and mirrors in space that could be deconstructed and reconstructed with a scientific eye while still appreciating the humour of the exchanges.

My worry is that the audiences have not heard the scientific information previously and the comedy is their source of news. This is not the fault of the show because it is not their role — it is for entertainment, not education.

Ideally educators might use such videos as a relatable way to start lessons about scientific misconceptions. These are invaluable lessons to nurture critical and curious thinkers. Part of such thinking is investigating. When I watched this video yesterday, I looked for the source of the 95% statistic. It was from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its reports are available online.

The next investigative issue was when this video was first aired. A commenter indicated that it was from Season 12 and episode 11 of Mock the Week and first aired on 3 October 2013. One other person’s reply to that comment: “I wish they would post this themselves so I don’t have to look up the episode list”. This information makes it easier to find the actual report.

YouTube comments about the show's episode date.

The show’s YouTube channel does not operate like SciShow, so it does not list its resources to back up what it says. Its audiences then take what panellists say at face value, and if such a practice happens often enough, the information becomes fact and the practice becomes acceptable.

If we are to raise the baseline of scientifically literate people, educators need to realise that this is no laughing matter. They could take the laughing matter (funny videos) to turn ignorance into information into knowledge into mindsets.


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The first five minutes of this news video was a critique of Trump’s attempt to mislead with disinformation.

Twitter and Facebook blocked Trump’s attempt to share a clip in which he reportedly said that “children are almost – and I would almost say definitely – almost immune from this disease”. The news folk pushed back with corrections, but slipped as they did so.

The news anchor said that Twitter and Facebook had blocked Trump’s misinformation. The claim that children are “almost immune from the disease” is disinformation, not misinformation. It was a deliberate attempt to convince parents that it is safe to send their kids to school so that the parents can get back to work.

Misinformation might be a result of early and incomplete fact-finding. It could also be a result of unclear or ambiguous phrasing. Disinformation flies in the face of facts. Being immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus means your body can fight it off. It does not mean that you cannot transmit it. Immune persons can still transmit the virus they are not hygienic and do not maintain physical distance.

The reporter on the ground said that “precision is so important when you are talking about peoples’ health”. Being precise is not the same as being accurate.

Accuracy is about hitting the target, i.e., getting the facts right. Precision is about being consistent. It is important to be accurate first and then precise with explanations and elaborations. If you are not accurate first, it is still possible to be precisely wrong.

This is not a game of semantics. This is about being scientifically literate. This means getting information from reputable and reliable sources, and using accurate and precise language to communicate these findings.

News agencies can be a good source of information, but they are not necessarily halls of information and scientific literacy. It is up to teachers and educators to first develop these skill and mind sets, and then model and teach these to students.

One of my pet peeves is how some people confuse correlation with causation. Sometimes I cannot blame them because they were taught to think that way.


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The SciShow video above highlights one common example. As a former biology student (and teacher), I was taught (and taught others) wrongly that aching muscles are due to lactic acid buildup.

Not only is the buildup due to lactate — a base that accepts protons — aches are only correlated to the buildup. The lactate might build up, but it does not seem to cause the aches; the actual cause is not yet known for sure.

This video is not just useful for highlighting how scientific facts change, but also how scientific thinking takes place. It is the latter that creates content and changes it. It is the thinking that needs to be modelled and taught, not just the content.

At face value the opinions expressed in the newspaper clipping below meet the basics of logic.

But lay logic is not enough if it is not informed by science.

Basic scientific literacy contributes to logical thinking. Critical elements include:

  • Not linking assumptions
  • Testing observations rigorously
  • Filling knowledge gaps with established theory and research

It takes confidence to share one’s thoughts. It takes competence to share them convincingly.

 
When I read the STcom article Chocolate may be good for your heart, I recalled an expose by John Bohannon last month.

The expose was long but nicely summed up by this io9 article which stated how Bohannon blew the lid on:

faulty experimental design, gimmicky statistics, predatory open-access publishers, unreliable peer review, a hyped press release, and the uncritical parroting of that press release by media outlets.

io9 cited the media watchdog, Science Media Centre, which analyzed the original article and the university press release. io9 critiqued the popular press articles.

Long story made short:

  • The more recent chocolate article was better designed and was careful to indicate that links and correlation were not the same as causation.
  • The press was responsible for giving readers false hope and bad information.

When I last checked, the STcom article was shared on Facebook 525 times and tweeted 206 times. That is a lot of uncritical thinking and sharing.

Very few (if any) of the Facebook and Twitter sharers are likely to read the io9 article. io9 is an international site, and as the same time I checked STcom, the io9 article was liked just 68 times on Facebook.

Laypersons making uninformed decisions about their diets off popular press articles is not a good thing. If the press is not going to stop writing or redistributing such articles, then we must teach our kids to think more critically. One way is to promote better scientific literacy from everyday articles like the ones above.

There is no real need to wait for digital citizenship curricula or materials. Wait and it will be too late. Any teacher who cares about the sanctity of their area of expertise and about how their students think should be able and willing to incorporate such articles into their lessons.

This is the bottomline: It is not about content because this is easily forgotten. It is about nurturing critical thinkers in any and every domain. Real educators understand this and need not be bribed with chocolate.


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