‘Simple’ science

Quick – who first measured the circumference of the earth?

This is only seven minutes long, but in so many ways it encapsulates human potential, our ability, when provoked, to investigate and seek an answer. The video is really two simple stories of people’s investigations, but the results, considering many factors, are impressive.

Btw – it will answer the question asked at the beginning of this entry.

Something to ponder…

Just in the process of reading my blogs tonight I came across this nice, short and inspiring video about humans and knowledge. I encourage you to watch it, and ponder what it means for any of our knowledge, not just the knowledge of extra-terrestrial being.

  • Will we ever truly know?
  • Are we looking in the wrong places?
  • Is it ever possible to know too much about a particular subject?

Altruism – Do you believe in helping others?

Before beginning this exploration, think about the following questions and be prepared to discuss them.

  • How important is it to help others?
  • Do you think that most people think it is important to help others?
  • What value does our society place on helping others?

Watch this video which looks at the nature human altruism?

Please contribute to the conversation by answering the following questions.

  1. Did anything stand-out about the nature of human beings helping one another?
  2. Do  you agree with the main point of this video?
  3. What are some counter-claims that might be made to the position taken in the video?

Are we in control of our own actions?

I found this wonderful video that really speaks for itself. How much are we in control of our own actions? How much can we be manipulated by others who know what choices to provide to us? What can this mean for the way that we learn things? Our ability to control our own actions is not quite as clear cut as we would like to think.

Can science go too far?

Today while I was reading the newspaper I across this story about the scientists who have created a deadly form of avian flu in the lab. In the article it describes how a debate has been sparked about whether or not the scientists who developed this potentially lethal variant should keep their information secret or whether it should be published in order to aid in finding a potential solution to this disease. The article succinctly describes this question as: ‘At what point does potentially life-saving data become reckless bait for would-be bioterrorists?

Ultimately this is a great debate in scientist one that emerges often in world that deals with national security and patents among other reasons that prevent the free flow of information.

Famously J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb for his role in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in WWII, came to feel that his actions in developing the super weapon, that the world was not ready for an arms race which, ironically, he helped initiate. He hoped a world body that would help ‘stifle the arms race.’ Yet despite the incredible destructive power of the Atom bomb many other developments that have furthered scientific development have been linked to the work initiated by Dr. Oppenheimer and his colleagues.

  • So what do you think, how should scientific developments that are potentially harmful to human beings be treated. Should they be shrouded in secrecy, or should the light of day shine on them?

Here’s what some scientists think about the concept of ‘Open Science’, do their arguments make a difference?

What did you base that claim on?

“There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”

Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1874-1880

People often make claims and support their ideas using statistics.  Statistics seem like such a safe and realiable way to do so.  As we say in our reading last class, not all studies can be considered equal, and it turns out, neither can the statistics on which they base their claims.  Today I would like to look at three different elements of statistics and the problems that surround their use.

  1. To start with let’s look some examples of statistical abuse, they are very heavily centred on the United States, but you will still understand them.  Why do you think the statistics are often shown in a manner that distorts them?
  2. What, in  your mind, do you think is a commonly misused statistic?  This web page asked that question and received a couple very interesting responses.  What do you think?
  3. Now let’s look at some of the common ways in which statistics are abused.  Can you think of any examples where you have seen this take place?
  4. Lastly I would like you to turn to a major newspaper, like the Toronto Globe and Mail, the New York Times, the Ottawa Citizen, the Manchester Guardian.  Or go to a News TV piece from any news source (CBC, NBC, CNN, etc.), watch it and listen to the statistics that are being used.  Can you find any examples where statistics are being used in a questionable fashion?  Comment on these below and think about why these statistics are shown this way.

To what extent should we trust others?

I came across this very interesting YouTube video today while I was surfing around the Internet today. It speaks to what the nature of people is. This is a brief clip from a talk by Viktor Frankl who survived 3 years in concentration camps in World War II and yet still has a remarkably positive outlook on humans as individuals.

I ask you to consider this simple question as you watch him: Is he right?

Infallible – I think not!

One of the great discoveries of the last half century was that of DNA. It certainly opened up all sorts of avenues for investigating human (and other species) backgrounds and activities. One place where DNA has begun to play a very important role is in the field of criminal prosecution. It is fairly easy in any brief period to find news stories discussing how DNA was used to assist in prosecution as in this one where DNA is seen as the key to solving more crimes. Conversely you can also find stories like this one about how DNA might be used to assist in determining someone’s innocence. We often seem to accept DNA evidence without question.

But what if that shouldn’t be so. According to this article from the Economist it’s possible that in up to 25% of cases the way the evidence is collected, and importantly the way it’s presented to the humans who have to analyze it. This raises important questions about the way we interpret information. A couple of questions that I had after reading the article:

  • Do we trust the ‘science’ too much?
  • How important is the human element in determining science?


The Truth? You can’t handle the truth!!!

Happy New Year! Things were definitely slow in December so to being with let’s look at some fun facts. Here are some interesting stories from the ether, and they things that we often see, but do we really think about what we’re seeing? Are we really conscious of the details. As you read these stories think about the truth that lie behind them.

Please read the following (sometimes fun news stories):

Answer the following by creating a list for each of the stories:

  • Identify which facts are likely true
  • Identify which facts could be true, but there is reason to doubt
  • Identify which facts are likely untrue – those doubted out of hand

Write about these in your blog and defend your choices. When you are done with everything find your own news story (whether video, print or other) and consider the answers to the questions here (if you want this could easily be split into two blog entries).

You might be very interested in watching this as well. Consider the following – are we really interested in the truth – or only what we want to know? Do we create our own bubble and take the knowledge that we find and fit it into what we already know for fear that it might really cause us to rethink what we are doing (think of our society’s approach to environmental issues for instance).


Language and its importance

Consider the following two questions.  Think about the language (or languages) that you know.

  • To what extent does language determine how we know things?
  • In what ways do you think the language we know influences how we perceive things?

The importance of languange is something that can be easily overlooked (witness the fact that we have spent a long time talking about a lot of things but never the role of language in their transmission).

Consider this article.  Do you agree with what it is suggesting?  What does the thesis of this article mean for the basis of knowing?

Watch this video, I have discussed the Académie Française before, considering the importance of language in what we know it could prove an important discussion point for a blog (remember that you have to do at least one on language as ‘way of knowing.’