The American public is remarkably out of step with the findings of the science of global warming. Generally less than half of the public agrees with the statement there is solid evidence for global warming caused by human activity in contrast with the very strong consensus among scientists.1 Curiously public opinion has been fairly static for the since 2000 while citizens in the much of the industrialized world show opinions that trend towards those of science. Huge discrepancies raise interesting questions.
Dan Kahan of Yale notes most current measures of the dynamics that create conflict over risk are invalid. He studies beliefs and clustered inferences and notes that it is possible to have people with some proficiency in a subject area reject predictions that conflict with a larger world view. This illogical rejection appears across the political spectrum and can be stronger as education levels increase. His paper is fascinating, but I think his analysis misses a few points. Perhaps most important is what is scientific proficiency?
Many of the standard measures are little more than the ability to perform rote memorization. Unfortunately this is how a lot of science is presented and tested. There is a belief among many that science creates facts, but nothing is farther from the truth. What is the core of an adequate education in science for non-scientists and how much does that differ with what is being taught in school?
I had a reasonably intense undergrad education in science and math. Moving through grad school it became clear that the physics I had learned was not much deeper than becoming familiar with a few very important basic concepts and learning how to manipulate them mathematically. There was a thread of the art of asking questions, but it was largely academic and was often eclipsed by the need to gain a bit of literacy in the background. In fairness an increasing amount of the real core of the game came through, but it would be a mistake to say most undergraduates were doing science.
I don't see any reason why questions can't be asked earlier. The mentors I had as a teen often posed interesting questions - they weren't trying to teach me from a book, but wanted me to discover a few things for myself with a bit of guidance. This was the intoxicating stuff. I began to wonder if the scientific method that was taught in high school made sense. What I was doing was much more disordered. It wasn't real science, but it was closer to the real thing than some of my physics classes.2 I grad school I found myself wondering what science was and found myself coming down on the side of the English rather than the Germans.3
One of the regular readers of this blog is currently in a boreal forest learning some skills she'll need when she does serious research on her own. She's learning how to live in the wild and not injure or kill herself and the others around her, but more importantly she's learning some observation techniques. What does it mean to measure and what are your errors. She'll make a lot of mistakes and learn that perfection never happens. The statistics courses she's had will become more relevant. She's getting a taste of science.
There is no reason why this can't be done earlier. It is commonly said kids are born scientists. It isn't true. While they show the curiosity and ask questions there is little rigor and they form interesting models of the world. They're guided and learn to trust other information sources. The lucky ones retain their curiosity and are skeptical. The rest can be great students by the metrics used by much of education, but sometime is broken. I'm very interested in learning how to fix that.
When I taught undergrad physics many of the students would spend a few pages of blue book space doing step by step calculations. The meat of the problem was stating the question clearly in physics and building something you could solve. That was 90% of the grade, yet most people would get mired in the calculation - often using an inappropriate formula - and get the wrong answer to 10 significant digits.
Math is a good example of where some refocus is appropriate. Much of the teaching focuses on calculation - a narrow slice of the subject that is becoming increasingly less important. The field is much richer and allows the development of skill sets relevant to many fields outside of standard STEM world. I see an applied math problem as having four components:
° posing the right question
° real world → math formulation
° math formulation → real world and verification
A bit of effort required to understand how to formulate a question, move to an answer and see if it makes sense. Once you've done it enough you have respect for the technique. I may not know much chemistry or geology, but I know the people who are doing it are driven by the same process and, assuming their work passes peer review, I trust them. There are exceptions, but this trust is almost always well-placed. I have to wonder if otherwise educated people would trust results they currently dispute if they had a somewhat deeper understanding? I suspect this may be true of many fields.
I've had some amazing experiences working with people with deep expertise far from science. Musicians, artists, designers, film makers, athletes ... I can only hope I could give them a fraction of what they gave me. This is fundamental to my support of STEAM education (STEM + the arts). Much needs to be done and it needs to be done with both sides contributing. We have physics for poets and even poetry for physicists classes (I took one of the later), but they are often watered down versions of the core subjects and useless for cross field collaborations.
This project impressed me ..
How can we teach at a deeper level without getting lost in the weeds? Unlike some of you I'm not at the coal face, but bit of experience and my gut tells me there is great promise in STEAM. The approach, done right, can be seriously fun and that is enough to motive me. It is not the silver bullet - working silver bullets don't exist outside of werewolf movies - but perhaps it can be a bit of silver buckshot.
This shouldn't stop at graduation. Education needs to be life long experience. I've been involved with a few organizations that use something of a STEAM approach as part of their business and they use it to great advantage. We can do much better as a society.
1 The Pew Center does good work - this is representative. The figure for scientists is old and is higher now. Over 99% among citied researchers last year.
2 You all know the statement of the scientific method. For me the question never comes at the beginning - it is much messier than that. Science is much more adaptive. There are procedures that everyone uses because they tend to be efficient at quickly getting to the bottom of the matter. Mathematical rigor, peer review, criteria for statistical significance, double-blind studies and so on. These can be field dependent and vary in significance. There is even some non-empirical hypothesis assessment at some point - particularly in theoretical physics - but in the end Nature and solid measurements are trump.
3 Science is from the Latin scientia which is close to what we would call knowledge. The German word for science is Wissenschaft, which is very close to the Latin. In the day the Germans would include the social sciences, math, computer science and even the arts and humanities - the science of art is Kunstwissenschaft. The Germans basically say that almost anything that can be studied at a university is science. I can't buy that (and German scientists haven't bought it for some time). The English established the domain of science as the natural sciences. The description of Nature. That works for me, so when you hear me say the social or computer sciences aren't, that's where I'm coming from.
The growth of university science at a few English universities - particularly Cambridge, as the Industrial Revolution progressed created the distinction. Science was the description what was underneath all of the marvelous engineering that was underway.
Really simple this time - I wanted an appropriate butter for some corn bread. I've adjusted honey butter over the years and find this ratio works very well.
° 450 g (2 cups) unsalted high quality butter - softened
° 175 g (1/2 cup) honey
° 4 g (3/4 tsp) fine kosher salt
° for a fluffy consistency throw everything in a mixer or food processor. for coarser just mix by hand..