Tag Archives: Earth

The Importance of Literacy in Science

A few weeks ago, I heard a parent attempting to describe to their little one what time it was in a different time zone.  I don’t precisely remember how the parent described the difference, but it got me to think about things of this nature and how we go about explaining them to our little ones. Further to that, it made me consider the importance of literacy in science.

My thought on this is that if a parent is better able to explain the science behind some things to their kids, it might make it easier for the kids to remember the concepts (or understand why things happen). The scientific explanation would replace the, “Oh that’s just the way it is,” or “Just because,” answer that kids might often hear from their parents.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if when kids ask parents why the sky is blue, parents are able to coolly and calmly explain Rayleigh scattering? Or when when kids ask parents about the sun always rising in the East and setting in the West, parents can explain the Earth’s rotation? Or what about when kids ask parents about things always falling to the ground and parents can explain the basics of gravity?

I suspect that if parents are able to offer kids a scientific explanation for why things happen, it could give kids a better rooted understanding of the natural world around them. More than that, I suspect that if it becomes the “norm” that parents (and people) have a basic understanding of scientific concepts, it might change the way we look at Science (or STEM!).

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Now, I’m not saying that parents need to go out and get PhD’s in biology, chemistry, or physics, but having a basic understanding of some of the more popular questions could go a long way towards normalizing an understanding of the world around us. Think back to when you were a kid — right in the thick of that period when you asked your parents questions about everything. No doubt, your parents were able to answer some of your questions and give you reasonable explanations, but I suspect that up to a point, the explanation probably began to fell apart. That’s not for lack of trying on the parent’s part — you can only explain so much when it comes to things you don’t understand. But I wonder if your mom/dad were able to give you the best explanation (that is, what science seems to tell us is the most current theory for why something happens), would that have maybe motivated you to test that theory?

For instance, let’s say you were asking your parents about gravity and your mom/dad explained the difference between gravity on the Earth and gravity on the moon. Might that motivate you to consider what the gravity is like on other planets or what the gravity is like in space or what the gravity is like in something that even I can’t consider at this moment? Kids are full of imagination and creativity, and I think if we foster that imagination through some of humanity’s best understand of the world around us, we just might encourage our little ones to change the way we think about the world.

 

Conflict of Interest: The Importance of Independent Inquiry

For the last couple of months on Sunday nights, Fox has been airing a documentary that will probably be watched in science classes across America (when there’s a substitute teacher or otherwise) — Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Among other things, the show has taken the viewer on a journey back to the beginning of time. In one of the more recent episodes, host Neil deGrasse Tyson explained to viewers how we’ve come to know the age of the Earth.

In short, this came as a result of the work of scientist Clair Patterson. As a result of Patterson’s journey to determine the age of the Earth, he discovered some alarming findings related to the presence of lead in the environment. Through testing, he determined that the amount of lead in the environment wasn’t naturally occurring and concluded that the increased presence of lead near the ocean surface had to be man-made. He then was able to determine that this increase in lead in the oceans was because of leaded gasoline.

You’d think that a discovery like this would be well-received by those with influence. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

At the time, there was a scientist “on the other side” of the debate who had published claims long ago that leaded gasoline was “safe.” In fact, one scientist in particular, Robert A. Kehoe. Why is this scientist significant? Because he was funded by the very people who were benefitting from the sale of leaded gasoline — oil companies.

My point isn’t to vilify Kehoe or extol Patterson. Instead, I want to highlight the fact that despite Kehoe was a scientist with credentials, at the time, it wasn’t always clear when he was speaking on matters related to leaded gasoline that he was being funded by oil companies. That is, he failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest.

This scenario perfectly illustrates the importance of disclosing conflicts of interest. If one’s funding is coming from the very industry that one is studying, then it’s important to disclose that. As an example: if you’re a chemist and you’re doing research on tobacco and you’re funded by Marlboro (or some cleverly named organization that represents a number of tobacco companies), there’s a better chance than not that your funders might not be pleased if your findings reflect “negatively” on their business.

Wanna Make a Name for Yourself: Answer One of These Questions

In The Guardian today, there’s an article that lists “20 big questions in science.” If you want to be famous (at least in some circles), answer one of the questions. Of course, there are some ‘answers’ to the questions already. Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say that there are some hypotheses or that there is some ‘general knowledge’ in the domain of the question. However, there don’t seem to be any definitive answers, yet.

Here are the questions with a few thoughts after some of them:

1. What is the universe made of?

2. How did life begin?

3. Are we alone in the universe?

If pressed to give an answer on number three, I’d probably say something to the effect of: given how big the universe is, mathematically speaking, isn’t it more likely that there is other life out there somewhere than isn’t?

4. What makes us human?

5. What is consciousness?

On number five, I remember reading a very intriguing article in The Atlantic this past winter that explored the question: what does it mean to be conscious? It approached this question in the context of anesthesia. If this question interests you, this is one way to delve into the topic.

6. Why do we dream?

While there are many theories on why we dream, one of my favorite ways for interpreting dreams is through Jeremy Taylor’s method. This method also outside the context of dreaming.

7. Why is there stuff?

8. Are there other universes?

9. Where do we put all the carbon?

10. How do we get more energy from the sun?

Number ten, while also making you famous, would likely also make you extremely wealthy unless you went the route of Jonas Salk and polio.

11. What’s so weird about prime numbers?

12. How do we beat bacteria?

13. Can computers keep getting faster?

14. Will we ever cure cancer?

15. When can I have a robot butler?

16. What’s at the bottom of the ocean?

On number sixteen: when you realize that 95% of the ocean is unexplored, it sort of gets you curious about what might be down there. More than that, 99% of the Earth is water. There’s a lot we don’t know about the planet we inhabit.

17. What’s at the bottom of a black hole?

18. Can we live for ever?

19. How do we solve the population problem?

20. Is time travel possible?

On number twenty: if this turns out to be true, that would make for some interesting ethical and moral dilemmas.

I’ll Be Ready in 300 Seconds…

“I’ll be ready in 5 minutes…”

“Be there in 5…”

“I’m almost ready — give me 5 more minutes…”

How many times have we heard someone say 5 minutes only to have them take triple that time? A very specific measurement (5 minutes) — in my experience — has lost a great deal of its validity. That is, our understanding of 5 minutes is not universal. Five minutes to you is not always 5 minutes to me — but you’re saying to me, “this makes no sense!” Indeed. It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. “Five minutes” is empirical. It is something we can measure. It has a specific ending. Though, it is rarely used in its proper form.

Michio Kaku had a great series on time for the BBC a few years back and one of those episodes had to do with daytime. In it, Kaku explores the concept and experience of time (on a small scale). He also explores it from the perspective of “life” time, “Earth” time, and “cosmic” time. If you get a chance, I highly recommend watching it. Back to 5 minutes, though.

As I said earlier, part of the problem with using the term “5 minutes” is because we all have a different relationship to time. Some people come from countries that are more polychronic, while others come from countries that are more monochronic. Typically, those who come from cultures that are polychronic tend to have a more fluid understanding of (and relationship to) time. Conversely, those who come from cultures that are monochronic cultures tend to have a more rigid and precise understanding of (and relationship to) time.

As a result, it is my supposition that when folks who come from contrasting cultures (with regard to time), there is bound to be a misunderstanding when using “5 minutes” as a term of measurement.

As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds. Of course, if we all start using “seconds” as a more frequent term of measurement (in this way), the same problem is likely to occur. Although, until then, I just may have a unique advantage in communicating as it relates to time.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before…

spaceship, space shuttle, discovery, hubble telescope, outer space, planet, satellite, Every so often, there will be an old episode of Star Trek (The Next Generation) on and I can’t help, but sit and watch. The show, in my opinion, was one of the better shows of its time and even to this day, lives on. There’s something about the show that isn’t really dated. Well, if you ignore the “graphics,” the show could just have easily run in the mid-2000’s (while it actually ran from the late-80’s through the early-90’s.

Let’s take a step back into history (but not so far back as to invoke a debate of evolution and creationism). Humans on the planet started somewhere. Let’s call this somewhere land F. From land F, these humans began to explore outward. They began to explore the lands of neighboring E and G. So, where there were humans in only land F, now there were humans in E, F, and G. This continued until humans had explored all the land that they could by foot. Then, being an infinitely curious species by nature, humans built vessels by which to explore the seas. Soon, humans had explored every piece of land and every inch of sea on the planet.

Cave man, cave men, scientific american, rhino, hunter, gatherer, forage, food, earth, walk, What was next? Well, obviously, the sky. Humans sent probes out into the sky. Once they figured out a way to get a human up into the sky, they did that, too. Humans have been exploring the limits of their existence for as long as there have been humans. Something I find a little strange — how come we haven’t “conquered” space, yet? Or do we think that we already have?

It would seem that we have grown, exponentially, in our ability to explore. With the whole walking across the land-thing, that took awhile. Then, the boats. Then, the planes. If you look at the dates for which these sorts of things have been discovered/invented, it would seem that we’d be due to figure out how to pilot a plane across the galaxy. And then I take a step back and read some of the headlines…

And then it makes sense.

Instead of using our abilities to create, instead of peacefully cooperating with each other, we, where we is us as a species, would rather get into various brouhahas. This is troubling. Open any newspaper and I challenge you to not find something about political unrest somewhere in the world. How the heck are we supposed to come together as a species, come together and represent the Earth, when we can’t get a long?

Some people believe (and some people don’t believe) that there are other species on other planets. Forget for a second which side of this debate you fall on and just consider that there are. astral connections: In the year 2424 man has no need for bodies nor gasoline stations but energy will still be needed for travel amongst the stars. Here the energy nozzles at an astral enery station await the space orbs to energize them.Consider that there are a species of intelligent beings out there who can look in on what’s happening in our world and see what we’re doing. Given that they are able to see what we are doing, there’s a good chance that their technology is far superior to ours. Do you think… as they watch us fight with each other constantly… do you think that they would want to help us out? Meaning, do you think that that they would willingly give us superior technology to help us send our people out beyond the galaxy? The answer is no. No, they wouldn’t. Because if they did, they know that our planet, or at least the majority of our species, would disappear in about 3 days. Humans with superior technology is not safe. Humans need to learn compassion. Humans need to learn empathy. Humans need to learn that killing each other is not a sanctionable act.

I hope that in my lifetime, if there are intelligent beings on other planets, we get to meet them.

What Will They Think Of Us?

I don’t really remember much of the history I was taught in grade school or high school for that matter. Having been raised in the , I was taught a lot about the history of Canada. From what I remember, there was something about and , and that’s about all I can remember. Oh, one more thing. I remember one of my 8th grade teachers being really passionate about . Some may think less of me for not knowing the history of one of the countries I am a citizen in (and more importantly, grew up in), and to some degree they may be right.

During my undergrad, I took one in history that was called, “.” So, for 16 weeks, 3 hours a week, we covered everything that happened in the world up to the year 1500. Needless to say, I’m sure some things were brushed over. I do, however, remember talking about , , and . I remember covering the , the various kings, and even the . As a class, we really went through the material quite quickly and out of necessity. I wonder what future generations, say, 9 or 10 generations from now, will be studying when they look back on our time?

Will the scold us for being too concerned with our technology? Will they look back and laugh because we killed each other because we wanted money? How about if we killed because we looked different from each other? Will they wonder how we ever lasted so long working 40+ hour work weeks? Will they laugh at the idea of a “work week”? Will they be confused as to why we didn’t treat each other as equals? Will they be confused at how we live with nature? Will they look at our relationship to nature and wonder how we were ever able to get nutritious food from the Earth? Will they read with terror about how we didn’t treat the Earth (read: ) with more care? Will they wonder if we really knew what we were doing this whole time? Will they think we were “that” generation?

I didn’t realize the value of a survey course until long after I had taken it. The very definition of a survey course is that you’re getting a brief overview of a lot of material. I think it is important to have this overview of information to be able to make better decisions about things. Having an overview affords one the ability to better recognize how things interact with each other. For instance, one example from this could be the drive to make more money causes the 40+ hour workweek to be not only pushed from bosses, but welcomed by employees (as they can make more money).

As I remember back to these times I’ve had thinking about history, I wonder what future generations will think of us. How will we fit into the bigger picture of history? Will we be viewed favorably? Will we look foolish? Will we be commended as the generation that ended hunger? What about as the generation that ended war? How about the generation that in one felt swoop, lifted every man, woman, or child, out of poverty, and into a state of abundance? I believe that we can do this. I believe that we have the power and we have the technology.

Given that we have the ability to solve so many of the world’s problems — I wonder what they will think of us… if we don’t.

Earth Day is Every Day

Forty some odd years ago, United States Senator from Wisconsin, called for an environmental to be held on April 22nd, 1970. During that year, over 20 million people participated. Many great things happen each year on Earth Day, most of which all have to do with the Earth in some way. It is estimated that over . I think it’s great that we have a ‘day’ dedicated to the Earth, but shouldn’t everyday be Earth Day?

In doing some research for this post, I found something rather interesting that speaks to humans being . When Earth Day was first organized in 1970, it coincided with the centenary of , who established the world’s first officially socialist state. In some of the news reports after the event, Time has a quote from a delegate from Mississippi of the Daughters of the American Revolution: “” How off-the-wall is that? “…Live in an environment that is good for them…” Oh, the humanity, right? It just goes to show that people searching for a conspiracy will always find a conspiracy.

Given that it was Earth Day, I decided to go and take the to see what my carbon footprint was like. I remember doing this several years ago in a globalization class I took during my time as an undergraduate. I was a little disappointed to see that the number of Earths it takes to live my lifestyle has gone up (even slightly) and I would rate myself on the low-end of most Americans, in part, because I live in Hawaii.

When was the last time you ? I haven’t planted a tree since I was in grade school and that’s a little embarrassing coming from someone who prides himself on “loving” the Earth. If you haven’t planted a tree, have you done something else for the Earth today? When I used to live in a city, I would often pick up trash that I saw circling the streets. I know, it’s not much, but it was my way of contributing to the health of the planet. More than that, if I saw something that was recyclable on the top of the garbage pile, I would pick it up and place it into the proper bin, (which was usually a few steps away). I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Independence Day near the beginning of the film where one of the protagonists is an environmental buff who keeps finding one of his co-worker’s coke cans in the garbage when the recycling bin was a few steps away.

Today’s post has been a bit of a potpourri of thoughts about Earth Day. I wanted to end this post with a “hat tip” of sorts to a quote that I always remember when someone tells me that “today is Earth Day.” To my knowledge, every day is Earth Day. We just happen to celebrate it this one day out of the year. I think it’s great that there is a whole day dedicated to the Earth, (there’s also , and a whole , too), but I really think we need to remember that we should “celebrate” Earth Day every day. Buy the product that has “greener” packaging; pick-up a product that is healthier for the environment; hang dry your clothes; take the bus; walk; use the dishwasher; recycle; reuse! There are so many things we can do, every day, to ‘befriend’ the earth.