I’ve been hearing about a number of interesting science/tech education projects recently, all approaching the topic in innovative and very hands-on ways. Just recently I met someone working for a new startup called Ardusat, which provides students with the opportunity to program and operate Arduino microcontrollers aboard satellites. These microcontrollers are connected to a variety of sensors, allowing students to design experiments and collect a variety of data. Here we are, barely 50 years after the launch of Sputnik, and space has become a laboratory accessible from the classroom.
On April 17th Rachel and Elizabeth, two young scientists and cyclists, left San Francisco on bicycles and set out for the east coast in what they call Cycle for Science. Along the way they talked with educators and classrooms about what science is and how everyone can participate. I’m a little sad that I only just heard about the trip, now that it is almost over, but it is nevertheless an interesting project, and I’m sure there will be good educational material that comes out of it.
100,000 Stars is an online visualization of our solar system’s nearest neighboring stars. It was created by Google’s Data Arts Team (see a write-up of the project here). Although it is perhaps a bit difficult to extract specific useful information from this site, it provides an interesting perspective on our place in the universe, a self-portrait of our galaxy (or at least some subset of it) that could only be possible with a computer visualization.
Comedian and radio host Robin Ince explains how science enhances the wonder he feels towards the world and argues against the idea that “you bring in science and it ruins the magic.” He goes on to give many examples of how “all the magic that may be taken away by science is then replaced by something as wonderful.”
(via The Generalist)
It may come as a surprise to some, but physics graduate students do occasionally throw and attend parties. What do we listen to? Musical numbers like this little gem. See Symphony of Science for more.
Steven Pinker’s essay from last week on ‘scientism’ obviously stirred some pots, and there have been a couple of thoughtful replies, from both scientists and humanities scholars. For the most part, people argue that he spent too much time defending science itself (which few people recognize has a bad thing) and not enough time discussing what the limits of science are (an open and interesting question).
One reply is from philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci on his blog Rationally Speaking: Steven Pinker embraces scientism. Bad move, I think. (via 3quarksdaily). For one thing, he disagrees with Pinker’s rebranding of the word ‘scientism’ as some good thing, and instead prefers to reserve it for the circumstances when science over steps its bounds.
I have begun to think of scientism as in a sense the opposite extreme of pseudoscience: while pseudoscientific notions arise from science badly done (or non-science masquerading as science), scientism is about science overreaching (or science trying to expand into non scientific domains).
Most of the response is about how Pinker did too much to drive a wedge between science and the humanities, and not enough to bring them together. He summarizes
Pinker really wasted a good chance here. He has the intellectual stature and public visibility to nudge the debate forward in a positive direction. Instead of embracing scientism as a positive label, he should have acknowledged that some criticism of science is well founded and sorely needed. Instead of telling us again platitudes about the benefits of science (while ignoring its darker side) and chastising the humanities for not embracing it whole heartedly, he could have presented a nuanced examination of where science really is useful to the humanities and where the latter are useful to the sciences – not to mention those several areas where the two can safely ignore each other in pursuit of different goals.
And physicist Sean Carroll says that a lot of this argument is just semantics (see his post Let’s Stop Using the Word “Scientism”)
The working definition of “scientism” is “the belief that science is the right approach to use in situations where science actually isn’t the right approach at all.” Nobody actually quotes this definition, but it accurately matches how the word is used. The problem should be obvious — the areas in which science is the right approach are not universally agreed upon. So instead of having an interesting substantive discussion about a real question (“For what kinds of problems is a scientific approach the best one?”) we instead have a dopey and boring definitional one (“What does the word `scientism’ mean?”).