Tag Archives: science…sort of

Why? Why not?

I consider myself a scientific skeptic.  I try to look at claims with a healthy dose of science and evidence.  I like to consider what the evidence says before I make up my mind about things.  I like to take a step back and ask “wait, what’s the proof for that?”  I like to doubt things it they sound implausible.

Of course, that often translates to my friends and family as being a doubter, as being contentious, as being difficult, as not believing in things.  I think my friends and family see me as being a nay-sayer to the things they believe such as homeopathic medicine, global warming, and the existence of ghosts.

I got into skepticism due to two podcasts: Science…Sort Of and the Geologic Podcast.  I wasn’t always a skeptic.  I believed in ghosts and spirits and Bigfoot and the conspiracy behind global warming.  And then I started listening to these two shows and they talked about science and skepticism in an easy-to-understand way.  Those podcasts lead to others such as Skeptoid and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and to more involvement with local skeptic groups.  That involvement lead to more research and more understanding of how important it is to examine things critically and not take claims at face value without good evidence to back it up.

This, of course, has lead to family and friends to start saying “there was a study about this” when they tell me things.  Great, I’m glad there was a study about it.  How good was the study?  How controlled was the study?  Did you actually read the study or just the reporting on the study?  What conclusions did the researchers reach?  Where those conclusions in line with the data they actually collected?  It’s a nuanced process that needs to be followed.  I understand that can’t be for everything.  I’m not going to doubt it when someone tells they hit a deer or they feel better when eating a gluten-free diet.  I just also don’t like to take everything at face value.

Sometimes it’s hard to describe why this is important to me.  I think George Hrab said it pretty well in his TEDx talk, so I’m just going to leave that link here.  The video is about 23 minutes, but it’s well worth the watch if you are interested in learning why skepticism is important.

GWC-keep-calm-and-question-everything-3Sometimes it seems like it is all pointless and why should I care.  But most of the time, I think it’s important to continue to inform people that they shouldn’t believe every miracle cure or health claim or wonder product out there.  They should stop and say “hey, wait a second, how does that work?”.  It’s okay to question how a product works and to demand that a product or procedure has been rigorously tested to ensure that it actually does what it should do or prevent what it claims to prevent.  So I’ll keep questioning and just hope that my family and friends realize I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m just trying to make them understand that science is complicated and claims should require evidence.

Image credit: www.quotehd.com and larochecollege.blogspot.com and globalwomenconnected.com

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The Interwebs are wonderful

There are plenty of trolls on the Internet.  We’ve all seen it in the comments on every social media site and every online article.  So much so that some major web publications are actually shutting down their comments.  People are jerks on the Internet.  They fight with each other.  They nitpick each other.  They are mean to each other.

And then there is a silver lining.  Amazing things can happen that make you realize that the Internet is a wonderful tool that can bring people together.  This is one of those stories.

I’ve been listening to a science podcast called Science..Sort Of.  It’s a fun podcast that deals with science in pop culture, science in academia, and fringe science.  There’s also some stuff about beer and movie trailers.  All-in-all, a fun listen.

I’ve made a few comments, left a few voice messages, and interacted with the hosts through various social media throughout the years.  I’ve developed a sort of friendship with these people that only the interwebs can create.  But that’s what makes the Internet so awesome.

About a month ago, I reached out to three of the hosts of Science…Sort Of to see if they would be interested in talking with some of my students.  I sponsor the Science National Honors Society chapter at my school and I wanted my students to get the opportunity to talk to real scientists about what they are doing and how they got into the field.  Three of the paleopals (title of the show hosts) stepped up to the plate and today my students got to interview them.

It went so well.  Much better than I could have hoped for.  My students had great questions and the paleopals had great answers.  Everything from why did you pick your major to what classes did you take in college to how is college different from high school, this interview opened up the eyes of some of my students and took away some of their worries about moving on into the big wide world of college, responsibilities and the future.

None of it would be possible without the Internet.  These are people that I started following because I like their podcast.  I follow them on Twitter and Google+, I like their pages on Facebook.  I’ve been able to interact with them through social media even though we all live across the country and have never actually met each other face to face.  Because of the interwebs, 11 high school students from a small town outside Phoenix, AZ were able to talk to and interact with two Ph.D students and an engineer in order to learn more about what options the future holds for them.  Because of the Internet, I could reach out to other who are willing to provide learning opportunities to anyone who asks.

This is a pretty wonderful thing. 🙂


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