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Archive for January, 2012

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design in the school system

January 30, 2012 10 comments

Hey everyone! So today’s class on social influences on science reminded me of my Biological Anthropology class, and the debate we had in last week’s lab. We were supposed to read two articles, one supporting intelligent design, and one a direct response to that article, in favor of evolution. After discussing the pros and cons of both articles, we started to talk about whether or not school systems should teach one, both, or neither of these theories. Most of my class decided that evolution should be the main “creation” story taught in science class, seeing as it is the only theory with “tangible evidence”.   And when some students spoke out in favor of intelligent design being taught, the problem arose of, “Well, it’s not technically a science, so where in the curriculum can you put it?”. And, “If you choose to teach one of the intelligent design stories, you have to them all.” My school taught both evolution and the Bible’s creation story, and my teachers said the two could coincide quite easily. But, it was easy to see that some kids were relatively offended by others’ lack of respect for their various beliefs. While technically not a science, a lot of the creation stories are widely accepted beliefs on how life itself came about.

In a nation so diverse in religions and beliefs, is there a place in the school system for intelligent design? Or should they stick to the more tangible idea of evolution? And furthermore, should all public schools have a uniform curriculum on evolution vs. intelligent design? Or could the curriculum be more catered to the specific neighborhoods/areas….ex: Could a public high school with majority Christians focus more on the Bible’s creation story?

 

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Self-Introduction and a Physics Experiment

January 28, 2012 10 comments

Hi everyone! I am going to use this first post as an opportunity to introduce myself a little bit. I was quite involved in science when I was in middle school and high school, especially in physics. Physics is fun (I know some of you will object this!) and I found it very useful in my everyday life. Even though I have become an engineer now, the love of physics is still in my heart. I will perhaps in the future have some more postings about physics (sorry about that if you don’t like it >.<) since that was my cup of tea a few years ago. 🙂

I want to bring up this small fun experiment about determining if an egg is raw or boiled. You may read the detailed explanation (it is just a short one-page, don’t worry) here: http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/experiments/eggboiledraw.html. The underlying concept is the idea of moment of inertia which was normally taught in high school. Thanks be to the Almighty who has made physics works as it does and to our dear scientists who have figured out and formulated how everything works. It is now up to us to use the laws according to our creativity to do or invent anything of goodness. I have, in fact, tried this experiment to determine if the egg on my dining table was a boiled egg. And it stopped spinning when I touched it! And when I cracked the egg, bingo! It was indeed a boiled egg! YEA, THAT WORKED!

Physics teachers in schools and universities should give more real life examples of application of physics laws. There are numerous of them, we just don’t know yet. It will be more fun if the students know more real life examples of how things work and science will not be so daunting towards the laymen anymore.

Cheers!

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zOMG Science Accurately Predicts Future!

January 26, 2012 10 comments

Here's lookin' at you

In the 10:00 section of class, I suggested that one way we know science is working or theory is sound is when it can tell us what the future holds. Today Ed Yong’s post on jumping spiders and the benefits of blurry vision ends with this statement:

Nagata even created a mathematical model for the spider’s eye to predict how far it would miss its jump under different wavelengths of light. The model’s predictions matched the animal’s actual behaviour.

So there it is: Nagata does some math, the math says: the spider will jump yea-far, and voila! the spider does it.

Maybe we tend to think of “predicting the future” more in terms of catastrophe or romance (“you’ll meet a tall dark stranger . . . “), but the ability to predict even tiny things–how far a spider will jump, how fast an object will accelerate, how much effect a certain chemical will have on a biological system–is seductive, isn’t it? It gives me a little thrill, a little moment of HEY THAT JUST WORKED.

The Dangers of Trusting Scientists with Science

January 25, 2012 12 comments

Even if you’re not as ardent a fanatic as I am of Michael Crichton, you’ve at least heard of the movie, Jurassic Park, based on his novel of the same title if you’ve spent any amount of time in human society since 1993.  For you cave-dwellers, Jurassic Park, like many of Crichton’s books, begins with a fictional, but not inconceivable advance in science followed inevitably by unforeseen chaos.  Specifically, the DNA of dinosaurs is extracted from prehistoric, blood-sucking insects preserved in amber.  These genetic blueprints are then used to reconstruct the terrible lizards and fill a paleontological zoo.  But the dinosaurs cannot be contained when an unexpected hurricane hits, and control of Jurassic Park is lost by its creators to disastrous effects.

While thoroughly entertaining his audience, Crichton forces us to face our own naivety.  He reminds us that our capacity for foresight is greatly limited by pride, ignorance, and an appetite for recognition.  This lesson is particularly relevant to the sciences as discoveries are modes of societal and environmental change that may be positive or negative, anticipated or unanticipated.  The negative consequences of scientific advancements may not be as obvious or immediate as an unleashed tyrannosaur, but subtle effects can be just as devastating.  I’m sure global climate change, for example, didn’t remotely occur to the inventors of the internal combustion engine.

At its origins, science can be distilled to an attempt to understand cause-effect relationships.  We have an increasing ability to decipher causes of observable effects, but if we can’t predict the effects of our own actions, can we be trusted with this scientific power?  Negative physical and ethical consequences are never a scientist’s intention, but if he or she is blinded by the immediate gratification of fame or money or simply neglects to look, they are likely.

I think scientists, especially those in fields which attempt to control any phenomena which occur naturally (e.g. genetics), should proceed with caution.  One of the fatal flaws of the Jurassic Park project was its confidentiality.  Transparency allows for unbiased minds to predict consequences of scientific research.  Perhaps through forums like science blogs, the public should be allowed to give input every step of the way.  While a small group of scientists desperate for discovery may overlook potential consequences of their findings, an informed public is more apt to foresee them.