Archive for February, 2014

Retractions are useful for teaching science, say college profs

An excellent example of using past misconduct cases to teach students how to behave ethically when performing science.

Retraction Watch

j college sci teaching From time to time, we find online college syllabi among those sites referring us traffic, and some professors have told us that they use Retraction Watch in their classes. We’re pleased and humbled by that.

In a new paper published in the Journal of College Science Teaching, three professors at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, discuss why retractions are good case studies for teaching ethics and examining the scientific process in class. Stephen Burnett, Richard H. Singiser, and Caroline Clower write:

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Two Cents Tuesday – Loyalty

To me, I think of two types of loyalty. The loyalty built between two individuals and the loyalty to certain ideologies. I was always taught loyalty was admirable, but these days I’m not so sure.

A true scientist or philosopher is never loyal to an idea or theory. They remain open-minded, for they never know when what they currently believed will be proven wrong. It is far easier to prove something wrong, than to prove something right and so, regardless of what we believe may describe the world today, we know some evidence may come to light that shows an idea to have been naive or ridiculously incorrect. If science is to be done faithfully, a scientist needs to retain their objectivity to both their data and their theories. The only loyalty to be had is that of ones commitment to performing an unbiased examination of the world around us.

Unlike science, religion is an arena in which there is loyalty to an ideology. Being loyal to a set of religious ideals is not a bad thing in itself, but what if that loyalty was at the cost of accepting evidence of the world around you? I was raised as a Christian and I see nothing wrong with the religious teachings of moral values. I do, however, recognize that there is much information in the Bible that is not suitable for our time (like, if you work on the Sabbath you must be put to death) nor to be taken as read (such as the world being created in 6 days). If you talk to many religious people they are not ignorant of evidence regarding the physical universe, such as the age of the Earth, nor do they take the Bible word for word. However, there are a number who do take the word of the Bible literally. Loyalty towards an ideology to this degree can be dangerous.

The insidiousness of loyalty to an ideology was no more strongly demonstrated than in the recent Nye vs. Ham debate. If you didn’t catch it, this was a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham for Evolution vs. Creationism. The basic crux of this debate was whether Ken Ham’s creation model was correct. In his introduction to the debate Ken Ham pushed the idea that creation was the only possibility and said we should evaluate this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” He believes that the Earth is 6000 years old and will not accept any scientific evidence to the contrary. He believes, word-for-word, the history of our world as it is detailed in the Bible. He is loyal to his religion.

Loyalty and belief on their own are not an issue. People should be free to believe what they like. Even if we think they are wrong.

However, the real problem with this debate, the reason I say the loyalty expressed by Ken Ham was insidious is that in being so loyal to his religion he tried to diminish the value of science by insisting that secularists had hijacked the words “science” and “evolution”. He implied that science was it’s own religion. He said that by teaching evolution in schools we were indoctrinating our children in the religion of naturalism*. Ken Ham believes that by teaching evolution we (the secularist scientists?) are imposing our own ideologies and beliefs on our children; this belief in evolution that he makes tantamount to religious belief in a spiritual entity. Yes, there is belief in science, belief that we can deduce information about how the world works from a body of data. That is a far cry from the blind beliefs Ken Ham is trying to accuse scientists of. Ham is trying to push the idea that science is a religion itself so that he can justify superseding the teaching of evolution with that of creationism. His argument is that it is not right to allow one set of beliefs to be taught in our schools, but not the other. Let’s examine this closely.

Scientists are always looking for more information and do not just blindly believe something, there is no loyalty to their data or their theories, only a desire to keep looking and to keep discovering. Scientific theories are malleable, they change as more data becomes available. There is no religious indoctrination into certain beliefs when teaching science, there is only presentation of the current facts we have, presentation of the possible theories that could explain these facts and a clear message that scientific theories are always subject to change. In teaching science we create an environment where the support for certain theories is constantly being challenged as we attempt to discover more evidence of how our universe does and did work. Science teaches our children to think, question, test, and not simply accept everything they are told.

Teaching the creation model that Ken Ham puts forth requires asking our children to be loyal to a rigid belief system and asked to accept that the world was created in 6 days and that Earth is only 6000 years old. The only evidence they are presented with is the word of the Bible. There is no room for modification of that theory beyond what is documented in the Bible. There is no room for incorporating new evidence if it refutes this creation model.

Ken Ham’s belief in the creation model is born out of his loyalty to his religion.

Scientist’s belief in evolution is a result of constant debate over the possible mechanisms that could explain a huge body of data.

In which way would you rather have our children taught? Is loyalty always admirable, even when it means retaining a rigid view of the world regardless of any evidence presented to you?

*naturalism: the belief that only natural laws, like gravity, apply in the world and not spiritual or supernatural laws.

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Rumble in the YouTube Jungle

Until about 3 months ago I was oblivious of what was happening within the depths of YouTube. YouTube has always been a place I associated first with porn (when it first started) and then as being overrun with far more cat videos than can be healthy. Too much cuteness in one day can kill you. I, of course, knew of the science channels and would google now and then for the odd favorite movie clip. However, I was unaware of just how much interaction was going on in the comment sections of vlogs that fell within a certain set of subjects.

It appears that there is warfare between different ideologies: the men’s rights movement against the feminists, atheists against theists, evolutionists against creationists, utilitarians against Kantians. Logical thought dies in frustration at the insults from the somewhat-educated. A little knowledge becomes dangerous as wikipedia references are thrown at the feet of academics as “proof” they are wrong, even in their own field of expertise. Then there are the trolls. The trolls who are only there to provoke and incite virtual meltdowns. Trolls, who I suspect know exactly how correct others arguments and hypothesis are, but that poke and prod until someone, somewhere is sobbing silently in front of their laptop at the idiocy of it all. Trolls that can twist the mind of even the most intelligent person into a pretzel as they dance around changing the meaning of words, reframing their arguments and even your own until you’re not even sure what is going on. Arguments seem never ending as words, meanings and facts get twisted, distorted and exaggerated.

On one hand I find it awesome that there is this warfare, that ideologies are being discussed and fought over on the internet in this manner. It’s exciting to see such engagement. However, it appears that viewpoints of the few in society at large can garner a greater following in the confines of YouTube. YouTube it seems is a place where bad ideas, even insidious ideas, go to flourish. On YouTube miseducation abounds and expression of a hateful agenda can be spun as philosophy lessons. Dogma is rife. Logical and rational thought is insulted.

Luckily, there is a small sector of YouTube populated by intelligent, educated and rational human beings. I have witnessed both their intellectual conversations and their all out battles with the stupid and ignorant. But we need more!

I have found this hidden rumble in the YouTube jungle and now feel my calling is to join the ranks of the educated. I will help fight this fight! So should you.

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