How simplified should popular science be?

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How simplified should popular science be?

This is something that came up again in another thread, and should be very important. I know that some people are against the way advanced science topics are explained, and I agree most of the time. But how much (often pedantic) metaphor should be used, versus the arcane (sometimes pedantic) terminology the experts use?

For example, if I want to explain how artificial neural networks are constructed I might conjure up imagery of tubes, buckets, and adjustable valves instead of talking about a network of variables with values equivalent to the sigmoid of a sum of inputs multiplied by each input's weight.


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I think pretty much any

I think pretty much any metaphor is okay as long as it is completely understood that it's just a metaphor, and for the real explanation you should go to X, Y, Z articles. The only other question is how good is the metaphor? How well does it convey the idea vs. how much does it leave out and/or deceive?

I personally think that we need WAAAY more creativity put into metaphors. But I also think that it's dangerous to just put a metaphor out there and let it loose without making it very clear that it's a metaphor. A metaphor should be understood for what it is: An example taken from domain X to explain something in domain Y. It does not mean that X equals Y. To explain A, which exists in the context of B, C, and D, you give a parallel example of Q, R, S, and T, and say "A is like Q, B is like R, C is like S, and D is like T. Now, you know how Q relates to R, S, and T like this? Yes? Good, because that's similar to how A relates to B, C, and D." That's it. That's all there is to it. There's no need to say A *is* Q.

It's like a fictional novel or movie. There's no need for me to believe that Tyler Durden is a real person for me to get some meaning out of Fight Club. On a side note, the same could be said for Superman, Hercules, and yep, even Jesus. But that's another tangent.

The great thing about metaphors is that they have the power to blow your mind and spark your imagination and wonder. Did you ever see those Inner Life of the Cell videos? The team that designed them had to make certain simplifications and approximations to make the videos watchable. They had to remove elements that would clog up the screen, and tweak processes so they displayed their overall function, rather than sticking to the exact way they worked. That's a metaphor of sorts. Those molecules aren't actually red, green and blue, the colours are metaphors to help with understanding.

But the effect is that it blew my mind. That's the real power of a metaphor. It makes learning easy and fun. It triggers our sense of wonder. In fact, I would go so far as to say that no other thing triggers our sense of wonder as much as a really powerful metaphor (okay, maybe an actual person you're attracted to... but hey, maybe not... Jesus is just a metaphor, after all, and I've known many couples break up over religion).

Here's a cool metahpor that grows on you when you start to think about it. A cell is like a city. It has its border (membrane), buildings (organelles), powerplant (mitochondria), factories (rough endoplasmic reticulum), bakeries (lysosome), highways (cytoskeleton), warehouses (vesicles), garbage dumps (vacuoles), and even city hall, where all the laws are kept (nucleus).

Now, here's where this simple and rather uninspiring metaphor can really blow your mind (it did for me, when I put some thought into it). Where are the people in this city? A city's not much without people, right?

What is the real parallel here? What is the unifying concept that makes the metaphor work? A cell is run by DNA, by genes. Our cities are run by culture, by memes. Memes, such as laws, are kept in books and other media. But without people, these laws can't do anything. Even the technology of the cities can't run by themselves. It takes a person to take a meme and create a technology out of it. We are the tool makers.

Ahhhhh, we are the tool makers. We take the ideas and convert them into tools... Hmm, so where does that leave our metaphor? What are the 'toolmakers' in the cell? The ribosomes! A ribosome takes RNA (an idea) and creates proteins (a technology).

The ribosomes are the 'people' of the cell. Just let that one simmer in your brain for a bit. What does that practically mean? What useful insights can you get out of that connection?

I'll give you a few ideas, but I'll let you figure most of them out for yourself. It's more fun that way.

If ribosomes are people, what are ribosomes made out of, and what might that tell us about real people? Well, a ribosome is partly made out of RNA, and partly made out of protein. The protein 'wraps' the RNA and helps it to function. But we've already figured out that proteins are equivalent to 'technology' in our metaphor... So, do real people 'wrap' themselves in technology to make them function better? Hmmmm, indeed they do. You might even call it one of the distinguishing features of humans.

Well, if humans are like ribosomes, and they work on memes instead of RNA genes, and we know a little bit about human cultural evolution, maybe we can gain some insights about what early biological evolution was like. Isn't one of the most popular ideas of abiogenesis that there was an RNA world before the DNA world? What is the relationship between RNA and DNA? RNA is shorter-lived and more prone to decay, but it is more closely tied to the machinery of the cell. Without RNA, DNA can't really function in the cell. But DNA is longer lived and higher fidelity. Likewise, our verbal communication/language is low fidelity, but necessary for the function of the city. We use writing to store things longer term and to achieve higher fidelity. So, if we can learn more about the evolution from spoken language to written language, we may gain some insights into RNA to DNA.

I'll leave it there.

Remember, this is pure metaphor. It can be used for both learning and speculation. For gaining insight. But it is no substitute for rigourous evidence-based research. I may use this metaphor to explore ideas in my head and make wild speculations about human evolution and abiogenesis, but it is just speculation. Still, quite enlightening even given those caveats. And *definitely* very useful.

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I'm with Carl Sagan in that

I'm with Carl Sagan in that the knowledge gained from Science should be made at least be basically accessible to the masses.  This pretty much requires that the elite are able to present analogies and metaphors to those that haven't specialised in their particular field.

Exactly how simplified it should be before it is considered essentially meaningless is difficult to quantify.  Perhaps some kind of self-correcting method for metaphor presentation somewhat like the scientific method itself could be put together?


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phooney wrote:Exactly how

phooney wrote:

Exactly how simplified it should be before it is considered essentially meaningless is difficult to quantify.  Perhaps some kind of self-correcting method for metaphor presentation somewhat like the scientific method itself could be put together?

Great idea. A more rigourous science of education could experimentally test or at least evaluate the effectiveness of different methods of conveying information through metaphor. I don't think we have such a detailed science yet, but it's something that should be developed.

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I think one thing we must

I think one thing we must take great care to avoid is drawing erroneous conclusions based on a highly simplified understanding of some complex concept. People fall into this trap all the time. That's why I wrote this:

DNA is not a language

There are so many issues of contention where people come to the table and the arguments they put forth are based upon an understanding so cut down that it essentially constitutes a strawman. I wrote my signature for a reason.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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I want 'difficult' concepts

I want 'difficult' concepts to be made interesting enough that perhaps someone will pursue the particular interest.

Obviously, if they are asking a question concerning one piece of a subject then they have an initial interest that too often I see squelched by information inundation.

In even more metaphorical terms...

If you flood the fuckers with too much data they will crash harder than a piece of shit G4 running InDesign and you won't want to ever touch them again.

 

Now... when discussing something between two or more people that have a background on the same subject then it becomes more difficult to include others.

DG gave us a try with the fundamentals of molecular biology, which I keep as a word doc and casually peruse whenever something in the HHMI quarterly journal doesn't quite make sense to me. (which happens to me twice every quarter of the year. lol.)

Honestly, how many people can say they know a guy online that maps protein folding?

Likewise, how many people can say they know a guy that plans multi-million dollar production facilities?

If they met in public would they even give a shit? If they sat down in Waffle House and each broached a subject of their own expertise would they captivate or bore the surrounding audience?

Dammit. Sometimes you have to use the condiment bottles and jars to explain the basics of high energy physics to people that have been told the world is going to get sucked up into a man-made black hole.

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Interesting. Me personally,

Interesting. Me personally, I would never find physics interesting unless I buckled down and went through the mathematics and technical intricacies first and only. Otherwise it was just....dull. It gives me exquisite pleasure to be able to say I understand Lorentz transforms and Green's functions and Gauss spheres. And it is enjoyable to be able to understand. It's wierd that its the reverse for most people. If you started talking about high energy physics in terms of bottles and jars, it wouldn't really...capture me. If, on the other hand, the discussion pertained to the employment of Green's functions over a set of n discrete charges or probability flux density in quantum system, then it would be a conversation. 

PS: You know why I haven't written anything more and placed everything under editing? Because I have to write about mathematics, physics, chemistry, first. This is time consuming.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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Darth, by any chance could

Darth, by any chance could you send me the document of the first 3 lectures that are currently under editing?  I wanted to continue with the rest of the lectures that are still up, but would need to refer back to the first ones if I was going to have any chance of following it.  I should have saved them myself, but didn't think to do so.

 

That is, if DG is ok with it as well.


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The truth is that I didn't

The truth is that I didn't like the first lecture set. The formatting was all wrong (not the aesthetic formatting, the actual manner in which content was presented). So I started from scratch. And this time, to ensure its all very tightly integrated, I'm not posting until the whole thing is finished.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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Sorry to reactivate an old

Sorry to reactivate an old thread, but I was bored and was perusing through the old posts.

From my perspective, the problem is that most people don't understand "science" beyond a stamp of approval. They'll read articles and newspapers about studies and findings and so forth, but don't have any meaningful grasp on the process (even if they do have some grasp on the actual findings) and therefore are not in a position to critically evaluate the findings. This is not some magical process where a bunch of guys get together to crack the nature of reality and explain how biological systems work or how chemical reactions proceed and then tell everyone about it. We are very hard-nosed. The biggest and most important part of this is the hard data. Lots and lots of hard data. And if you are not in a position where you can confront volumes of data and understand it in a meaningful way, then you are destined to fail in any endeavor to understand a scientific conclusion, just as you are destined to fail in an attempt to grasp scientific understanding if you don't really like mathematics. The conclusion we should draw here is completely obvious: In order to think critically about science, you've got to be in a position to analyze scientific findings in their primary forms. This is not a democracy. Your opinion matters only insofar as you can analyze the data.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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I'm in no way a scientist

I'm in no way a scientist but I know I understand science more than (I'm guessing) 90% of the American public. Unfortunately, science education in the US, to put it bluntly, sucks. In the worst places you have the creationist assholes actively undermining real science. I really think they need to start teaching the basics of logic and critical thinking in elementary school. They also need to not be so politically correct - if a science teacher is asked about ID/creationism/psychics/whatever they shouldn't be afraid of losing their job if they tell the class that these things are utter garbage (and explain why. ) And bookstores should get fined if they put books about pseudoscientific things in the "science" section (unless they are books debunking things like that of course. )

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deludedgod wrote:Sorry to

deludedgod wrote:

Sorry to reactivate an old thread, but I was bored and was perusing through the old posts.

From my perspective, the problem is that most people don't understand "science" beyond a stamp of approval. They'll read articles and newspapers about studies and findings and so forth, but don't have any meaningful grasp on the process (even if they do have some grasp on the actual findings) and therefore are not in a position to critically evaluate the findings. This is not some magical process where a bunch of guys get together to crack the nature of reality and explain how biological systems work or how chemical reactions proceed and then tell everyone about it. We are very hard-nosed. The biggest and most important part of this is the hard data. Lots and lots of hard data. And if you are not in a position where you can confront volumes of data and understand it in a meaningful way, then you are destined to fail in any endeavor to understand a scientific conclusion, just as you are destined to fail in an attempt to grasp scientific understanding if you don't really like mathematics. The conclusion we should draw here is completely obvious: In order to think critically about science, you've got to be in a position to analyze scientific findings in their primary forms. This is not a democracy. Your opinion matters only insofar as you can analyze the data.

Damn. I thought I was making progress in swaying your opinion with regard to 'dumbing down' the initial explanations of things.

Your post in the global warming thread the other day explaining albedo was excellent.  I was considering proposing an easy experiment with two thermometers, a white sheet of paper, and a black sheet of paper in sunlight. Or two bags of ice; one in a white cooler and one in a black cooler placed in sunlight. I might still do that in a video sometime this next summer. What do you think?

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Well, I think that

Well, I think that Albert Einstein probably said this best:

 

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

 

Which is of course a great sentiment and useful as a general guideline but when we get to details, there is the rub. Just where do you stop simplifying?

 

Einstein himself published a book on the theory of relativity for the general public and most of his descriptions rely on the interaction of moving trains and similar metaphors. For what it is worth, he was one smart cookie and he managed to make that work.

 

Of course, not everyone is going to be able to do that. Also, not all such subjects lend themselves well to the same simplifications. Sometimes, it is best to just stick to the actual facts but pare them down to the smallest amount of information that an audience needs or can absorb.

 

As an example, when people start talking about nuclear power or nuclear weapons, there are a great many raging oversimplifications out there. So many in fact that for most people, anything nuclear tends to get filed under “big and scary”. However, if they could work past those misconceptions, they might find out just how wrong they are. A couple of my favorite bullet points:

 

Chernobyl: Care to guess how many people died there? Feel free to include all of the cancer cases downstream over the years. You will almost certainly be wrong. As of the last time I check (which was just a couple of months ago BTW), the official death toll as recorded at the United Nations was 61 people and that number does include the diagnosed cancer cases.

 

The United States Mark 54 nuclear warhead: Set one off at the center of the Golden Gate Bridge and what damage should you expect? Again, if you go for OMG! Big and Scary! You would be wrong. The span would be melted in the middle but the support towers would likely be standing. If you had been standing at one end of the thing, you would have been knocked over but you would stand a very low probability of getting a lethal dose of radiation. Heck but within 48 hours, you would be safe enogh to walk right to the edge of the broken section.

 

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Answers in Gene Simmons

Answers in Gene Simmons wrote:

 

The United States Mark 54 nuclear warhead: Set one off at the center of the Golden Gate Bridge and what damage should you expect? Again, if you go for OMG! Big and Scary! You would be wrong. The span would be melted in the middle but the support towers would likely be standing. If you had been standing at one end of the thing, you would have been knocked over but you would stand a very low probability of getting a lethal dose of radiation. Heck but within 48 hours, you would be safe enogh to walk right to the edge of the broken section.

 

Oh. that's all. Just the 1.2 miles of span in the middle. That's not too scary. [/sarcasm can you tell?]

Metallurgy and types of radiation and their effects might be something to study here. This is also a term use for a certain rappers album title: The Compton effect.

It isn't the radiation on the person, but the ionizing radiation's effects on the area.

I agree that concentrating on the effects of the application of the science is bad. Focusing on the science via discussion of particles can be just as interesting as blowing up the bridge. I think there's a fine line there for sure.

However, if discussing the possible destruction of landmarks gets people interested in nuclear physics then I'm still cool with it.

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What's your point? Nuclear

What's your point? Nuclear weapons are not designed to be set off at ground level, or in the middle of a large expanse of water. The Mark 4 (there is no Mark 54. That's a type of artillery) is a 50s era bomb. It's payload could flatten an entire city if employed correctly (airburst over the city, with the kill radius centered on the area of highest density). Although it has long since been discontinued, it could easily kill more people than the blast at Hiroshima. Modern nuclear weapons, however, are a different story. Many of them are loaded into MMRV, and so can easily destroy multiple cities, and the most powerful ones have payloads measured in megatons, not kilotons.

Chernobyl, though, I wish people would stop bringing up. The number of corners the Soviets cut was appalling. You could never have impropriety of that magnitude in a modern nuclear power station. The risk of a meltdown of that severity is extremely low with the safety features that came after the accident. It was to the industry what thalidomide was to the pharmaceutical industry. Now, thankfully, it takes 15 years of research and trials to get drugs on the market. You could never have impropriety of the sort that thalidomide caused today. The reason that it slipped through the cracks was because the deformation was caused by one of the hardest things to detect in organic chemistry: Optical isomerism. One of them was fine. The other, unfortunately, was teratogenic. Today, however, you better make damn sure that the other optical isomer is harmless before you put something onto the market. That sort of thing will not happen again.

Quote:

Damn. I thought I was making progress in swaying your opinion with regard to 'dumbing down' the initial explanations of things.

I appreciate your concern, but try to see this from my perspective. You know, when I read yet another post from someone barely literate attempting to explain to me why evolution cannot be true because of thermodynamics, the thing that irks me most, isn't the fact that he's wrong. It's that the word probably wasn't even part of his vocabulary until he spent a few minutes on a website. Now, I put my whole life into this subject, ever since I was 16, so, how do you think that makes me feel? I guess I think that the problem is that people don't seem to appreciate the fact that an explanation is dumbed down for a reason. If you actually want to get into an argument on the matter, you can't rely on such an understanding. For one, without the proper background understanding, you're certain to draw erroneous conclusions, and for another, if the explanation is actually more complicated, then your erroneous conclusion probably will be defeated by the details. The devil, my friend, is always in the details. If your understanding of thermodynamics constituted a vague grasp of entropy never decreasing, you'd draw the wrong conclusion. If you knew about statistical mechanics, that wouldn't happen. That is why I am always so unfriendly towards concepts that have popular support but not the support of those whose discipline the concept pertains to. Even if I myself am not necessarily familiar with that concept in enough detail to participate in any contention, I know, invariably, who I should more likely side with, and this is exactly why. Look, I deal with pseudoscience all the time. Our discipline is fucking magnet for it, and in my experience, when a group claims that a large chunk of the scholarly community pertaining to that discipline is involved in some sort of conspiracy (or caught in one) that's a very, very bad sign for their credibility. That's why I always look to see who primarily they are trying to convince and that is where the problem comes in. Because if the people you are trying to convince are not trained in the discipline, the dragnet that catches and destroys erroneous arguments isn't necessarily there. Popular level understanding and conspiracy leanings is a nasty combination, because then the guy shows up thinking he's an expert and that he's the only critical thinker around (because everyone else agrees with the "mainstream" opinion). What he doesn't understand is that he's not thinking critically because in order to think critically about anything scientific, you need a very precise set of skills which require a lot of training, like anything else, which are usually left to atrophy in popular science. It's like a said above. This is not magic. Even if you don't trust the "mainstream authority", you are still getting your arguments from somewhere, and unless you're actually in a position to evaluate them, you're just trusting the source. My rule of thumb is this: If you aren't actually reading journal articles for yourself, then you're just trusting the source, and can't actually think critically about the science itself, because the journals are what contain the experimental procedure, the data, the analysis, the processing and the conclusion (the only scientific information I've ever accessed online is online journals and university course material. Nothing else. I wouldn't trust it). You've got to be able to look at a journal article, read and understand the numbers, and synthesize the conclusion, and then you can say "I can think critically about this subject". That's always my acid test. And if you can't? Then just acknowledge that you are trusting a source (I never said there was anything wrong with doing that. you can think critically about sources in lieu of argument, but just realize that the process is probably less reliable), but don't be pretentious enough to think that you are thinking critically about the subject, because like I said, if you can't do that with the source's argument, then you have no way of knowing whether or not you are drawing an erroneous conclusion (or whether your source is).

The other thing I think (and this is just a personal taste thing) is that the whole business of popular science approaches things the wrong way. The good thing about scientific understanding is that the process is quite formulaic. You can build on it, and even if the initial model is incorrect, or overturned, you still need it to understand the one that takes its place, and its empirical justification. Relativity might have overturned Newtonian mechanics, but you can't understand the former without the latter first. This is true of any shift in understanding, and you get to the point where you build your data collection on inferred theories and use that data to infer new things. Because of this, you can very much construct your understanding brick by brick (unlike, say, in history). When you start with the first bricks, the conceptual notions and (more importantly) the empirical reasoning it is derived from is quite simple. The experimental establishment of Newton's laws and the ideal gas laws (the first physical concepts to be formalized by the modern scientific method) are quite straightforward and it takes only very basic training in statistics and data processing mathematics to understand them. As you go up, it gets harder, but that's fine because you just build on it. And you will find that the process is very satisfying, and you can't get that satisfaction by learning about the most cutting edge things in popular science format. I never liked reading about cutting edge science from popular science because I would always find my mind wandering back to what it would be like to possess a "real understanding", so eventually I stopped reading pop sci altogether and traded it for course material. That was a lot more fun.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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If I had to pick between

If I had to pick between Hitchens or Dawkins to teach me ANY subject, Dawkins seems to always take into account that the person listening does not have the same thinking pattern as he does. Hitchens has a "sink or swim" attitude.

Dawkins to me, has no problem explaining "meme"s  with his moth to the lightbulb explination, whereas, with Hitchens, as much as I love Jefferson, Hitchens acts like if you are not a Harvard grad, you are not worh throwing a life boey to.

 

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deludedgod wrote:The Mark 4

deludedgod wrote:

The Mark 4 (there is no Mark 54. That's a type of artillery) is a 50s era bomb.

I beg to differ.  The Mark 4 was a  revised version of Fat Man, you have that much right.  However, there very much was a Mark 54.  In the link below, please scroll down to Operation Sunbeam.  Not the relatively tiny effects from Little Feller 1 and 2.  See the photographs?  Note the bomb loaded onto a recoilless rifle for firing.  It (the launcher) had a maximum range of about three miles.

 

http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Storax.html

We now return to the thread already in progress...


 

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Very well, I stand

Very well, I stand corrected.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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 Anyone else find the usage

 

Anyone else find the usage of the word 'plowshare' to be rather disconcerting? Certainly couldn't seem to avoid the old 'swords to plowshares' reference there could they.

 

 

 

DG.

I completely agree that all of the problem that you mentioned with popularizing science is true.

No one could ever denigrate your hard work in getting to be where you are now or where you will be.

I know exactly which reference to misunderstanding thermodynamics that bothered you. I do this occasionally. Pieces of things to keep them looking up information for themselves. Adding an adjective here and there causes them to become irked and sometimes (not even often) it causes them to focus on the actual meaning behind the assertions they're preaching. Philosophy used as a bait for science. Perhaps duplicitous, perhaps inefficient, but nearly always fun.

Systems => Examination => Time => Examination => Energy => Examination => Mass => Examination => Space => Examination => Space-Time-Mass-Energy => Systems

The entire time the numbers appear with the words they go through: cerebral cortex => dorsolateral prefrontal cortex => memory => back to cerebral cortex => rinse and repeat

If you just run through Gibbs yourself for them then they read it and disregard it without ever asking who was Gibbs and what the hell is he talking about. Or even worse for some of the older ones because they hear 'big bang' and 'Maxwell' and start singing the Beatles song. lol.

Ok. I'm done with the sermon. lol.

Just two points in the form of questions:

At 16, was there a special event that was the impetus for the lifelong quest you're on? Not prying, just a yes or a no.

What particular scientific subject/field have you found to be the most appealing to others you have come in contact with?

 

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No worries dude. We all

No worries dude. We all learn from each other and grow stronger thereby.

 

Honestly though, I suspect that you missed the point that I was trying to make. Reference back to the Einstein quote here.

 

A fundie preacher gets every point based on “obey because I say so”. We get points based on what makes people think about stuff. Even so, some topics may be so complicated that no justice can be done by making things simpler than they can reasonably be.

 

Hence the reason why I picked nuclear physics. I could drone on and on about the density of the neutron gas and other relevant material but to what end? By the time I get to “and this is why the events at Chernobyl cannot happen in the West”, I would likely have lost any audience.

 

Here, I think it best to bring home a specific point such as “you know, there are tiny nuclear weapons that are not much worse than the largest conventional bombs we have built”. At best that serves as a bullet point. Hopefully, it raises questions that can be taken as they come.

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Quote:I know exactly which

Quote:

I know exactly which reference to misunderstanding thermodynamics that bothered you. I do this occasionally. Pieces of things to keep them looking up information for themselves. Adding an adjective here and there causes them to become irked and sometimes (not even often) it causes them to focus on the actual meaning behind the assertions they're preaching. Philosophy used as a bait for science. Perhaps duplicitous, perhaps inefficient, but nearly always fun.

Systems => Examination => Time => Examination => Energy => Examination => Mass => Examination => Space => Examination => Space-Time-Mass-Energy => Systems

The entire time the numbers appear with the words they go through: cerebral cortex => dorsolateral prefrontal cortex => memory => back to cerebral cortex => rinse and repeat

If you just run through Gibbs yourself for them then they read it and disregard it without ever asking who was Gibbs and what the hell is he talking about. Or even worse for some of the older ones because they hear 'big bang' and 'Maxwell' and start singing the Beatles song. lol.

I can't really decipher this. What are you attempting to say?

Quote:

At 16, was there a special event that was the impetus for the lifelong quest you're on? Not prying, just a yes or a no.

Not really. That's just when I realized I was good at this. I think the skill I really found that I had was the ability to assemble information from the ground up to construct a rigorous scientific understanding. By the time I was 17, I was playing with Fourier transforms and manipulating tensor fields. It was obvious to me that this was what I wanted to do.

Quote:

What particular scientific subject/field have you found to be the most appealing to others you have come in contact with?

I wouldn't be able to say. Every scientific field has discoveries that can easily dazzle. The number of intellectual miracles that can be churned out is endless.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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MattShizzle wrote:I'm in no

MattShizzle wrote:

I'm in no way a scientist but I know I understand science more than (I'm guessing) 90% of the American public. Unfortunately, science education in the US, to put it bluntly, sucks.

Not that I doubt you, Matt, but I'm willing to bet the vast majority of the public thinks they know more than the other 90%, regardless of the topic at hand. Virtually nobody thinks they are ignorant, and even fewer people are willing to admit that they are - and that's the problem.

Part of the problem is, popularizing science is a double edge sword. On one end, you have guys like Sagan, Hawking, Kaku, Tyson, Dawkins (with the exception of his books that are not exclusively on biology, which are many) and Bill Nye the Science Guy that reach out and get people interested. These our some of the folks who I think do or did the popularizing thing right. They make efforts not to stray seriously from the subject matter, usually point out when they are giving you the watered down digestible version of things and will tell you where to get more detailed information. They also seldom make value judgments.

So, great, everyone is interested in science! So the masses watch documentaries and read books on giant squids and elephants and evolution and the moon landing.....and time travel and Bigfoot and UFOs and the DaVinci code and the moon landng conspiracy.

And here we see the other edge of the sword. In the minds of the vast majority of people, if a book or Discovery Channel show is presented as scientific, it is. How else do you think Ben Stein got to make his movie?

What is lacking in most people is the bullshit detector most of us here have. Without training in critical thinking, the lines are blurred, and popular science only blurs it more.


 

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deludedgod wrote:Quote:I

deludedgod wrote:

Quote:

I know exactly which reference to misunderstanding thermodynamics that bothered you. I do this occasionally. Pieces of things to keep them looking up information for themselves. Adding an adjective here and there causes them to become irked and sometimes (not even often) it causes them to focus on the actual meaning behind the assertions they're preaching. Philosophy used as a bait for science. Perhaps duplicitous, perhaps inefficient, but nearly always fun.

Systems => Examination => Time => Examination => Energy => Examination => Mass => Examination => Space => Examination => Space-Time-Mass-Energy => Systems

The entire time the numbers appear with the words they go through: cerebral cortex => dorsolateral prefrontal cortex => memory => back to cerebral cortex => rinse and repeat

If you just run through Gibbs yourself for them then they read it and disregard it without ever asking who was Gibbs and what the hell is he talking about. Or even worse for some of the older ones because they hear 'big bang' and 'Maxwell' and start singing the Beatles song. lol.

I can't really decipher this. What are you attempting to say?

Oh. I thought you might have been referencing the 'prime mover' thread.

 

Quote:

Not really. That's just when I realized I was good at this. I think the skill I really found that I had was the ability to assemble information from the ground up to construct a rigorous scientific understanding. By the time I was 17, I was playing with Fourier transforms and manipulating tensor fields. It was obvious to me that this was what I wanted to do.

Bummer. I was hoping it was one person mentioning something to you that piqued your interest.

Quote:
Quote:

What particular scientific subject/field have you found to be the most appealing to others you have come in contact with?

I wouldn't be able to say. Every scientific field has discoveries that can easily dazzle. The number of intellectual miracles that can be churned out is endless.

Particles and stem cells have been the two subjects that most of the people I have become acquainted with in real life find the most interesting.

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 I guess I'll weigh in on

 I guess I'll weigh in on this, even though I sort of don't want to.

Yellow has hit a nail square on the head, and it's the centerpiece of my Philosophy of Science for Dummies.  Anyone who's read most of my author pages knows that I'm not afraid to write about science, but they should also note that I typically keep my science writing confined to general principles and fundamental ideas.  It's been my observation that there are two major problems with the general population's scientific beliefs:

1) They never learned critical thinking skills.

2) They misunderstand the fundamentals of science and scientific disciplines.

This is where I believe I am doing a service.  Though I try to spend 90% of my time listening while in the presence of scientists (DamnDirtyApe, you keep your mouth shut.  All bets are off when I'm drinking),  I am competent to explain the basic principles of most of the science that people are generally interested in.

DG brings up a solid point about evolution.  Most people genuinely have no idea how evolution works.  Even people who believe in it think it says we came from apes or chimpanzees.  They think the theory of evolution addresses abiogenesis.  They don't understand the simplest implications of the laws of thermodynamics.

I don't propose that most people ought to try to argue (or even form solid opinions) on most matters of science.  However, I do propose that even the most basic understanding of science is better than not understanding it at all.  Especially when it comes to humans, I do my best to explain why we act the way they do, and I use evolutionary language to do it.  The difference is small, but profound, in my opinion.  If the majority of people are essentially ignorant, but understand the basic principles of evolution, the creation movement will die.  Gay marriage bans will die.  It really doesn't take much understanding to look at the simplest principles of evolution and make accurate decisions about religious claims.

This brings me to my second point.  I think it's far more important to teach good critical thinking than specifics of science.  If you put ten bad critical thinkers in a room with ten perfectly accurate science books, you'll end up with ten versions of Discovery Channel specials on the paranormal.

Actually, I'll give you a great example.  One of our members (EXC) has the ability to read almost anything scientific and come to the wrong conclusion.  He sees something about the aquatic theory of primate evolution and decides it justifies racism.  He reads a little bit about game theory and decides that welfare destroys society.  He's a poster child for what a little science and a lot of bad thinking can do.

Before people attempt to understand science, they need to know their epistemological rights.  When do they have enough information to make a decision?  How strongly should they hold to that decision?  What kind of evidence should cast doubt on that decision?  Once they understand how knowledge and belief work, they need to know how to properly form arguments, how to test them for internal consistency and validity, and how to apply them to empirical claims.

I've said it before, and I'll repeat it.  I'm a big fan of Dawkins -- not because everything he says is correct, but because of the lengths to which he will go to try to make sure everyone understands exactly what he means.  He does not assume that you know good critical thinking, nor does he assume you know what every word means.  Though his books require substantially more reading skills than many American high school students possess, those who can read them are almost certain to understand them.

This, in my opinion, is the most necessary element in science writing for the public.  Scientists are often guilty of a form of elitism of which I do not approve.  They have an attitude of "Well, if someone isn't going to spend half their life learning everything I know, I'm not going to explain anything to them."  Well... duh!  If they spent half their life learning what you know, you wouldn't need to explain anything to them!  Ninety nine percent of the public simply has no interest in learning how to do advanced physics or biology.  However, they're curious about the conclusions reached by those who do.  This leaves us with two choices:

1) Tell them to just trust the scientists and not bother with trying to learn unless they become scientists

or

2) Find a simple way to explain the broad principles such that the truth of the conclusion will be evident enough for them to believe.

Clearly, I believe option 2 is better.

Finally, I'd like to make it very clear that I do support a certain position of elitism -- that is, if you're not qualified to talk about science, you should keep your mouth shut, or at the very least be completely honest about your ignorance.  I'm careful when I write about science to either write only about those things of which I am sufficiently certain, or to pass my article off to someone who knows before posting it for public consumption.  If you notice, I virtually never enter discussions of 9/11 conspiracies and jet fuel.  That's because I don't do physics.  I completed one physics course in college.  That's all I know, and I haven't cracked the book in well over a decade.  Physics makes my head hurt.

There are those who will suggest that I'm trying to tell people they can't talk to me unless they know as much as me.  Of course that's not what I'm saying.  However, there's a basic principle of critical thinking that seems to be lost on most people:  If you don't know, ask.  Don't argue.

 

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Hambydammit wrote:However,

Hambydammit wrote:

However, they're curious about the conclusions reached by those who do.  This leaves us with two choices:

1) Tell them to just trust the scientists and not bother with trying to learn unless they become scientists

or

2) Find a simple way to explain the broad principles such that the truth of the conclusion will be evident enough for them to believe.

Clearly, I believe option 2 is better.

I agree, and I might make it a bit stronger. I believe that option 1 is a very dangerous option, and unfortunately is the option used by typical science education. It is dangerous because it does lends weight to the argument from authority fallacy. Either people continue to hold on to this fallacy but allow their religious teachings to displace the science they learned (creationists), or they reject the fallacy but, having no alternatives to it, decide that nobody really knows anything (postmodernists).

With that in mind, I'd say that option 2 is not only better, but something we should actively seek to promote. In other words, we should actively seek to explain science accurately, but in simpler ways.

This means that we ourselves need to become better communicators. I don't think it's enough to leave the job to the scientists. First, they are not motivated, and second, there are too few of them.

People like Thunderf00t, QualiaSoup, and cdk007 on YouTube are good exemplars of this. It's amazing how much understanding they can cram into a 10 minute video without suffering from incomprehensibility. While some of these people actually are scientists, one does not need to be a full-fledged scientist to be a lay-expert on particular findings.

As you said, what we are looking to do is communicate the foundational principles that make the conclusions make sense. Using analogies and metaphors is not only useful, it is necessary. By definition, since we can't communicate the entire scientific research corpus that supports a finding, there needs to be a 'boiling down' process. And to get it into lay-people's ears, it will require a translation into everyday language.

Quote:
There are those who will suggest that I'm trying to tell people they can't talk to me unless they know as much as me.  Of course that's not what I'm saying.  However, there's a basic principle of critical thinking that seems to be lost on most people:  If you don't know, ask.  Don't argue.

If there were such things as sins of critical thinking, I would put at the top of the list: Don't pretend you know what you don't really know. That's the sin that nearly all of the religious, woo woo, postmodern type people commit. They spout bullshit they really have no clue about. As long as they would admit they are speculating, or just making shit up for comfort, I'd have no problem with it. But they pretend they *know*.... That's when it becomes dangerous.

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I agree the lack of critical

I agree the lack of critical thinking is the main problem. I remember there were chapters in late elementary school/Jr High Reading and English classes on critical thinking and logic in the later parts of the books - which the teachers never got to or maybe spent a day skimming it. I used to look and found that part way more interesting than the other stuff. Maybe the fact I was interested in critical thinking at such an early age helped me to become an atheist.

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Quote:1) They never learned

Quote:

1) They never learned critical thinking skills.

2) They misunderstand the fundamentals of science and scientific disciplines.

I agree with this.

The way scientific discovery and science in general is presented via this medium, I would be unsurprised if people thought that we discovered new things through some form of magic. No attempt is made to communicate concepts like data collection and processing, elimination of alternative hypotheses, confirmation of auxiliary hypotheses, falsification criteria etc. Although most people understand science like a huge, unseen authority telling them what atoms are made of or how stars work, it is in fact a deeply rational process which is rooted in empirical and logical principles. Having a disjoint collection of scientific facts in your head is completely useless.

Quote:

He reads a little bit about game theory and decides that welfare destroys society.  He's a poster child for what a little science and a lot of bad thinking can do.

There's nothing particularly rare about it. People need to understand that an explanation is stripped down for a reason. The purpose of these explanations is to communicate concepts. If you want to form your own conclusions and actually attempt to analyze the science, you should probably start reading peer-reviewed literature.

Quote:

If you don't know, ask.  Don't argue.

There is something I despise even more than people who cannot follow this principle. Namely, people who can't follow this principle and think that their answer will be found on the back of a bumper sticker.

Do you ever notice something? If someone comes on wanting to debate, say, evolution or some scientific concept, doesn't really understand, thinks he does, thinks he has an unbeatable argument, and acts like an asshole, then I shall respond in kind. Usually I will construct a response I know they cannot decipher. This is because I know he is not particularly interested in the answer (if he was, he wouldn't be such an asshole). I merely wish to impress upon him that maybe he should slink off. I also wish they wouldn't ask questions that they know damn well will take 100 pages to answer in full. "So, can you explain to me how evolutionists account for the complexity of cells, huh?". Sure. Just grab some popcorn. You're going to be here for a while. My job is to answer questions and correct mistakes within the reasonable bounds of the fact that this is an internet forum. For a question like that you should probably consult a molecular biology textbook. See that guy who just came (L0ather)? He's doing it as well! There are 60 or so textbooks he should consider consulting and if he has further questions then he should come back.

If, on the other hand, someone is polite and actually asks questions, you will be suprised at how much time I can find to go through everything in detail and start from the beginning and the simple concepts.

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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 Quote: Having a disjoint

 

Quote:
 Having a disjoint collection of scientific facts in your head is completely useless.

If there is a list of critical thinking cardinal sins, I think this is slightly below the number one cardinal sin I mentioned earlier.  I can't count the number of people who have read Hawking and think that because they memorized a bunch of interesting facts, they are qualified to talk about cosmology.

Put another way, it's entirely possible for a person to win trivial pursuit "Science Edition" every time they play and still have no clue about the scientific method.  These folks are deceptively easy to believe, unfortunately.

Quote:
There's nothing particularly rare about it. People need to understand that an explanation is stripped down for a reason. The purpose of these explanations is to communicate concepts. If you want to form your own conclusions and actually attempt to analyze the science, you should probably start reading peer-reviewed literature.

Herein lies the cardinal rule of critical thinking about science.  We must realize that grasping a concept is only the first step towards being able to draw a scientific conclusion.  Once the concept is understood, the specific mechanisms within the concept must be learned and mastered.  Related research must be digested and understood.  To some degree, closely related disciplines must be understood.  Too many people believe they are qualified to make guesses because they learned the equivalent of a "Science 101" college course.

There's a reason all 101 classes are called "Introduction to Something-or-Other."

Quote:
If, on the other hand, someone is polite and actually asks questions, you will be suprised at how much time I can find to go through everything in detail and start from the beginning and the simple concepts.

Precisely.  The opposite end of the elitism spectrum is the wrongheaded notion that anybody with "common sense" can make sense of science.  This, I believe, is where a lot of people go wrong in thinking of evolution.  Although much of evolution is very intuitive, there are things that simply don't make intuitive sense.  Just look at the debate over group selection.  What seems intuitive is often dead wrong.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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