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    Why Not Try A Scientific Approach To Science Education?
    By Carl Wieman | March 10th 2009 06:00 AM | 55 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The purpose of science education is no longer simply to train that tiny fraction of the population who will become the next generation of scientists. We need a more scientifically literate populace to address the global challenges that humanity now faces and that only science can explain and possibly mitigate, such as global warming, as well as to make wise decisions, informed by scientific understanding, about issues such as genetic modification.

    Moreover, the modern economy is largely based on science and technology, and for that economy to thrive and for individuals within it to be successful, we need technically literate citizens with complex problem-solving skills.

    In short, we now need to make science education effective and relevant for a large and necessarily more diverse fraction of the population.  

    What do I mean by an effective education in science? I believe a successful science education transforms how students think, so that they can understand and use science like scientists do. But is this kind of transformation really possible for a large fraction of the total population?

    Transporting student thinking from novice to expert

    The hypothesis that I and others have advanced is that it is possible, but only if we approach the teaching of science like a science. That means applying to science teaching the practices that are essential components of scientific research and that explain why science has progressed at such a remarkable pace in the modern world.

    The most important of these components are:

    •  Practices and conclusions based on objective data rather than — as is frequently the case in education —anecdote or tradition.  This includes using the results of prior research, such as work on how people learn.

    •  Disseminating results in a scholarly manner and copying and building upon what works. Too often in education, particularly at the postsecondary level, everything is reinvented, often in a highly flawed form, every time a different instructor teaches a course. (I call this problem “reinventing the square wheel.”)

    • Fully utilizing modern technology. Just as we are always looking for ways to use technology to advance scientific research, we need to do the same in education.

    These three essential components of all experimental scientific research (and, not incidentally, of the scholarship of teaching and learning) can be equally valuable in science education.  Applied to the teaching of science, they have the capability to dramatically improve both the effectiveness and the efficiency of our educational system.

    The Learning Puzzle

    When I first taught physics as a young assistant professor, I used the approach that is all too common when someone is called upon to teach something. First I thought very hard about the topic and got it clear in my own mind. Then I explained it to my students so that they would understand it with the same clarity I had.  At least that was the theory.

    But I am a devout believer in the experimental method, so I always measure results.   And whenever I made any serious attempt to determine what my students were learning, it was clear that this approach just didn’t work. An occasional student here and there might have understood my beautifully clear and clever explanations, but the vast majority of students weren’t getting them at all.

    Student reaction to my brilliantly clear explanations

    For many years, this failure of students to learn from my explanations remained a frustrating puzzle to me, as I think it is for many diligent faculty members. What eventually led me to understand it was that I was encountering the even bigger puzzle of my graduate students.  

    I have conducted an extensive research program in atomic physics over many years that has involved many graduate students, on whose professional development I have spent a lot of time and thought. And over the years I became aware of a consistent pattern:  New graduate students would come to work in my laboratory after 17 years of extraordinary success in classes, but when they were given research projects to work on, they were clueless about how to proceed. Or worse — often it seemed that they didn’t even really understand what physics was.

    But then an amazing thing happened: After just a few years of working in my research lab, interacting with me and the other students, they were transformed.  I’d suddenly realize they were now expert physicists, genuine colleagues. If this had happened only once or twice it would have just seemed an oddity, but I realized it was a consistent pattern. So I decided to figure it out.

    One hypothesis that occurred to me, as it has to many other research advisors who have observed similar transformations, is that the human brain has to go through a 17-year “caterpillar” stage before it is suddenly transformed into a physicist “butterfly.”

    Brain-development possibility: 17 years as intellectual caterpillar before transformation into physicist butterfly?

    But I wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, so I tackled it like a science problem. I started studying the research on how people learn, particularly how they learn science, to see if it could provide a more satisfactory explanation of the pattern. Sure enough, the research did have another explanation to offer that also solved the earlier puzzle of why my classroom teaching was ineffective.

    We're going to look into that reason, do some research on learning and get to some basic concepts in Part 2.


    W. Adams et al. (2005), Proceedings of the 2004 Physics Education Research Conference, J. Marx, P, Heron, S. Franklin, eds., American Institute of Physics, Melville, NY, p. 45.

    R. Hake (1998), The American Journal of Physics. 66, 64.

    D. Hammer (1997), Cognition and Instruction. 15, 485.

    D. Hestenes, M. Wells, G. Swackhammer (1992), The Physics Teacher. 30, 141.

    Z. Hrepic, D. Zollman, N. Rebello. “Comparing students’and experts’ understanding of the content of a lecture,” to be published in Journal of Science Education and Technology. A pre-print is available at http://web.phys.ksu.edu/papers/2006/Hrepic_comparing.pdf

    E. Mazur (1997), Peer Instructions: A User’s Manual, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

    G. Novak, E. Patterson, A.Gavrin, and W. Christian (1999), Just-in-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

    K. Perkins et al. (2005), Proceedings of the 2004 Physics Education Research Conference, J. Marx, P. Heron, S. Franklin, eds., American Institute of Physics, Melville, NY, p. 61.

    E. Redish (2003), Teaching Physics with the Physics Suite, Wiley, Hoboken, NJ.


    Originally presented in Change magazine, September/October 2007.


    Perhaps students might understand the scientific method more readily if they were taught about its evolution. Philosophy classes, anyone? I particularly like your choice of metaphors! "I did not know if I was a man dreaming that I was a butterfly, or whether I was now a butterfly dreaming that I was a man." The butterfly dream of Zhuangzi
    I think it is obvious - students are taught science as history and experiments as fixed set-piece adjuncts to science. When the students do experiments they follow a well-defined methodology, and are told the beginning, middle, and end result before even starting. This bears no resemblance to actual science, which involves a lot of trial and error, and a great deal of logical thought to determine the how, what and why of a process or relationship.

    Model the scientific method in class in easy to follow chunks, and you will at least teach them how to be scientists, even if they do not know the science. How exiting and empowering to find out that your own little brain can actually do the same sort of feats that real scientists do! You formulated a theory, and then found a way to prove or disprove it using rigorous methods.

    I can't imagine a better way to get kids interested in science, and if this was done at an early age, then by high school they would be well versed in scientific method and would have no trouble understanding advanced concepts, or maybe even coming up with their own original ideas.

    I think the greatest lack in our current society is a poverty of logical or critical thought, not understanding of science itself.

    Alternate Allele
    I am absolutely an example of a transformed scientist; a phenotypically ugly duckling with horrible grades into a beautiful molecular biologist swan-creature of some sort. I honestly didn't even understand basic mechanisms of evolution until upper division education in science.  If my laboratory advisers had seen my grades, they may have thought twice about keeping me on a project.  Class room learning was ineffective but thankfully grades were not an indicator of my capacity to understand science or my potential to conduct science; clearly there is a flaw in scientific education. 

    The act of memorizing definitions and performing short structured laboratory experiments with expected results, were minimal in my occupational success as a scientist.  By far the most useful opportunities in college were internships where I could engage myself in applied science.  Ironically, when actually attempting science you fail the most but tackling the unknown and troubleshooting in my opinion is the best way to learn and exercise scientific reasoning.

    I look forward to part II in hopes of understanding why scientific education failed me.  Also, I do want to teach science some day, so hopefully I'll learn some take home lessons.
    Gerhard Adam

    I think there are a lot of good ideas, but the fundamental problem is that you cannot teach most of these concepts to people that are not motivated.  In short, there can be little motivation for people that largely don't want to be there in the first place.

    While there may certainly be exceptions, the larger majority of people that are exposed to science and math aren't remotely interested in being there, but are required to simply fulfill an obligation.  Not much of a recipe for success. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, I was waiting for Carl's ideas for several months. It was worth the wait.

    Carl has REINVENTED the idea of learning by doing. That was the basis of the apprentice/master learning relationship--and is the main idea of having a PhD advisor. It is also the main idea of the highly successful correspondence school method, used for decades to train quality electronics techs.

    I have been suggesting this for decades. But, nobody listens. Maybe, if a NOBEL laureate says it, SOMEBODY will listen.
    I hope so!! But RIchard Feynman also said many of these things--and he was basically shouting into the wind.

    Carl's point about reinventing the wheel is new to me, and well said. If the professor REALLY does reinvent that wheel--in a better, more fundamental form--then, it is a good idea. But, not every prof is able to do that. Not every
    Prof is Richard Feynman or Roger Penrose etc.

    As to elementary education: The main problem is that we don't teach children to be scientists--we teach them science.
    The point is that scientists QUESTION authority--and I suspect that is a threat to the teachers ( and, perhaps to the politicians who set the school system).

    I have said for decades--in fact, since childhood--that the framework in elementary science education should be:
    The star Vega is x-light years from the Earth.

    One other issue is that we try to cram too much into every course--and make students take too many courses.
    Most students can't handle this--which is why we give PhD qualifiers--because the students can take a few extra semesters to learn first and second year graduate coursework properly.

    Another point is that we teach physical ideas too early--before students have the math--and then we LIE to them. Hence, elementary school classes where electricity is badly taught . We teach science in a historical way--and then the students have to unlearn a lot of wrong ideas. These ideas have penetrated into the unconscious--introjects--and are very hard to get rid of. It's science--it isn't history.

    I await more posts from Carl.

    p.s. I learned a lot of my elementary nath--algebra, geometry, trig, calculus from excellent programmed instruction books ( when I was still in elementary or JHS). These also covered proofs. Every kid should have a copy of
    "Quick Calculus, a Programmed Guide", which covers three terms of calculus ( with proofs in the back) in around 100
    oages. It was written for MIT freshmen who didn't have high school calculus--and was designed for FAST but good learning. No nonense.
    However, Teachers were threatened by Programmed Instruction--saying such things as " It doesn't work for the bright students" ( It does if they use a program on bright students that is DESIGNED for bright students.).

    The main problem in reforming education is not the invention of better methods. The main problem is political.

    One point: Do we NEED to get more kids interested in science?
    We have a global glut of scientists--many can't find jobs or are badly underemployed etc. Most never get tenure, never get a decent wage, and are treated like dirt.
    Science has wrecked the lives of may hopeful starry eyed kids.

    I think we need to DISCOURAGE more kids from being scientists. We need to find the most creative and most brilliant
    (which are different) kids who have already become interested in Science and encourage them--and explain to the others that Science is generally a terrible career.

    Prof. Wieman is not saying we need to make more kids into practicing scientists, he is saying we need to have people better educated on science issues in order to make rational policy decisions.  Citizen scientists.

    I have said this many times; I am continually stunned at how much science people out in the world, beyond our admittedly more educated confines here, know.   And I am also continually stunned at how much of that science is filtered through ideology and politics.  A better science education would allow them to see beyond just picking science positions that reaffirm their politically-based beliefs.

    A better science education is no different than teaching kids to read or write better; we shouldn't worry that book authors will be out of business if we teach kids to write well, we should be happy that in an intelligent ocean, all of our mental ships will rise.
    We DEFINITELY need more scientists to become teachers. I am sorry that so many scientists are having difficulty finding a job, but... wait..! I WAS one of those scientists until I decided to start teaching high school!! It's not that there is no use for students who have a good physics, chemistry, or math background, just that so many of them refuse to 'bow down' to the high school level. I have a Ph. D in nuclear theory, and I felt the same way until I needed a job in a certain locale and was unable to find anything in academia. Now, I don't think I will ever stop teaching. It is extremely rewarding, though the pay could by higher.. :), and it really is important for us to get our youth interested in science and mathematics - even if they don't end up teaching or doing research at MIT. It's not science's fault that there aren't more jobs... it's still very interesting, and if we have a more informed public then funding situations may change...

    Dear Hunk,
    Well yes. We should teach science better to the masses. But, the main problem in doing that is actually political, as we both have said.
    One problem also is that there a direct conflict between how a scientist thiinks and how a liberal artist is trained to think. Here is an anecdote:
    A few days ago I got roped into a discussion with a Sociologist--and he ended his comments with " I respect disciples and I respect experts". I replied that as a scientist and mathematician I was educated to NEVER use Authority as an argument. This concept was new to him and strongly resisted.

    Sometimes, I get so frustrated with the 14th century mindset of liberal arts people that I start to agree with Dick
    Feynman---that the liberal arts education should be abolished. It does all kind of harm. Then, I recall that those who are ignorant of the lessons of history are doomed to reproduce its worst errors.

    It gets worse when one is dealing with the ways of thought of religious people etc.

    It is important to educate CONGRESSCREATURES to understand something about how science is done. They have many science related issues to consider. That is the job IMHO of the National Academy. But, instead, they use the NA
    as a bunch of experts to quote--when convenient. That is the result largely of their expert worshipping liberal arts mindset.

    Hank, if there was a glut of book authors, and they were paid practically nothing for their work, and if their lives were horrid, I just might suggest that we should stop trying to encourage kids to become career authors

    If every young science oriented child could be assured a decent career in science, I would be the first to suggest that we encourage more people to do science--but, based on the job situation--as it has been for decades--I advise caution.

    This is true in other fields too. i personally know a number of musicians who graduated the Julliard School, who cannot make a living at music and are suffering greatly.

    So if we teach people to write well, and don't have enough jobs for writers etc. Maybe, we are not doing such a good thing.

    Now, if we could develop a mass passion for science--ensuring good careers for scientists---we would be in good shape. But, that is very hard to do.

    Part of the problem is that we have a cult of worship for "geniuses", ": Prize Winners": etc. So, most people are terribly intimidated by science. It lets them off the hook. They also figure--incorrectly--that we only need a few "Einsteins".

    I wonder why people don't respond this way with respect to sports? " Don't expect me to play a sport, I am not
    Magic Johnson!"

    Maybe, we have something to learn from the people who push Sports?

    A mass passion for science would also encourage the average person or congresscreature to actually learn to think a bit like a scientist. Just as people who play golf study the moves of TIger Woods.

    Maybe, we need to worry more about generating passion,. lowering intimidation etc., ?

    I am waiting for Carl's comments on all of this.

    Gerhard Adam

    I agree with Hank, that I don't think teaching or learning math and science has much to do with career decisions.  Some people may work hard and not be able to make a living, while others may do well for themselves, but it isn't a foregone conclusion how any of it works out.  In addition, there is the other part of it which suggests that many people will never be anything but mediocre at anything they do, so they also shouldn't hang their hopes on becoming Nobel Laureates, or superstars.

    There can be no harm in the general populous becoming better informed about any subject.  I would also disagree that the liberal artist was trained to think in any particular way, but rather that it becomes a convenient excuse because many liberal artists can't actually do any of the things that they have studied.

    I don't know where people got the idea that simply selecting a major in college became the equivalent of being guaranteed employment afterwards.  Where does one go for employment with a degree in Medieval History?  In the end, as people, we are not the jobs we hold.  Whether it be sweeping floors or working on cancer research, we can all benefit from knowing more from disciplines outside our immediate sphere of experience.  I've personally known PhD's that I wouldn't trust to tell me whether it was day or night, as well as people that are so narrowly focused, their expertise is practically worthless since they can't relate to anything outside their discipline.

    BTW ... people (with sense), do respond that way to sports, as well as music.  Since any informed individual should know that for every 100 (or 1000) people that participate, there might be ONE that actually succeeds at it.  With those kind of odds, I certainly wouldn't be advising them on sports/music as career choices.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    "i personally know a number of musicians who graduated the Julliard School, who cannot make a living at music and are suffering greatly."

    I personally can't think of any musicians I enjoy that graduated from Julliard ...
    Mundus vult decipi
    Dear Carl

    I don't think it's a good idea, it could be the repetition of the mistakes of the Age of Enlightenment. See, the scientific method and thinking based on objective data as oppose to common sense, tradition etc. is a tool for scientific research. It's a tool for the disinterested analysing and understanding of Nature. It's a great tool for that purpose. It's a great tool for this purpose.

    It's not a good tool for other purposes, for other purposes, we need tradition, common sense, intuition, and wisdom, not objective reasoning. Especially in civic matters (politics) and handling people in everyday life - it's not a good tool. The mistake of the Age of Enlightenment that they tried to introduce scientific reasoning into civic matters and everyday life.

    Giambattista Vico, Descartes's great opponent in the 18th century criticized this mistake of Enlightenment excellently:

    "Vico’s humanism and professional concerns prompted an obvious response that he would develop throughout the course of his writings: the realms of verifiable truth and human concern share only a slight overlap, yet reasoning is required in equal measure in both spheres.

    One of the clearest and earliest forms of this argument is available in the De Italorum Sapientia, where Vico argues that “to introduce geometrical method into practical life is ‘like trying to go mad with the rules of reason,’ attempting to proceed by a straight line among the tortuosities of life, as though human affairs were not ruled by capriciousness, temerity, opportunity, and chance.

    Similarly, to arrange a political speech according to the precepts of geometrical method is equivalent to stripping it of any acute remarks and to uttering nothing but pedestrian lines of argument.”


    I've seen my own father live a much less happier life than he could have lived because he too wanted to use this straight-line, objective, fact-based scientific reasoning in everyday life. It went like this: every time my mum was angry for any reason, she vented it on my dad by some fake arguments, like, telling him he never does any housework. My father is the same kind of fact-worshipper as this article suggest people should be so he always went like no, fact is that I did X at yesterday 17:30, Y at today 9:00 etc.

    Guess what he achieved with his objective reasoning? All he achieved was to make my mum more furious and make her chew him out even worse.

    He didn't understand that when a furious housewife states fact X is Y, that doesn't mean at all that she really means fact X is Y. It just means she is furious. So instead of the fact-based approach he should have taken a psychological, common-sensical, intuitive approach: ignore her "facts" and just ask her what made her angry. Thus, introducing scientific kind of fact-based reasoning is very dangerous in everyday life. This is not how it's supposed to be.

    Keep the scientific method for scientific research and leave it out from everything else.

    I am interested in seeing the author's idea of how to learn a way to teach children science.

    But I'm also amused at the tendency of alleged scientists to have no idea what the scientific method actually is.

    It is, most decidedly, not simply observation, experimentation, verification.

    In fact, many physics disciplines have effectively abandoned the scientific method completely, starting with the Copenhagen interpretation, which was "won" by instrumentalists, who attacked the hard science methodologies of the scientific realists like Einstein and Schroedinger. Niels and Heisenberg were not real scientists, but were a glorified sort of pseudo-scientist; they were the contemporaneous equivalent of alchemists and astrologers, using observing, coming up with hypotheses, making predictions, and then checking if those predictions could be matched to results.

    Hard science, as laid out by its fathers Pierce and Popper, requires that one observe and hypothesize, but then that one produce a means of proving one's own hypothesis WRONG, in an experiment, at which point one actually graduates to having a theory, and then one executes the experiment. If the theory is not validated by the experiment, it is discarded. Even if SOME version of it is true, it is re-examined at a fundamental level, essentially started over.

    Many physicists, as with other junk scientists, produce an experiment, and then try to prove it TRUE with experimentation. They simply make a prediction, then see if it matches observation. This does not produce reliably accurate results. It is how pre-science philosophers worked, not actual scientists. It supports grandly false hypotheses.

    One who believes willow trees are inhabited by life-giving dryads can prove it using what amounts to the methodology of modern "scientists". The believer can hypothesize that they should see life-giving properties in the trees. They can suggest that the trees might make animals and plants feel good, because the dryads impart life. They can observe that, indeed, willow shoots can be used to make an extract that makes pain go away in people, and makes plant cuttings grow roots. They can adjust their "feel better" hypothesis (which they surely call a theory) so that it's now "feel better", and call their guesswork "fact".

    This is, in essence, what is done in much modern "science". A physicist, for example, produces some model. He looks for real-world observations that would match that model. He ignores that there are alternative causes that could produce the same results. If experiments fail to produce the expected results, he does not even discard his hypothesis-called-theory, but adds adjusting equations to hammer it into line with the results, and calls it fact. He is no more a scientist than a believer in dryads. He is following the precise methodology of alchemy and astrology.

    Even if a theory survives experimentation, the rules of hard science say it should never be considered fact, but only the best approximation so far. Fallibilism is essential to true science. The idea of some theories being more "established" than others, so that claims challenging them need special standards of proof, is also junk science. What the author above seems to be decrying is exactly THAT sort of problem, in education. What is accepted has a special, protected place, as does conventional wisdom in many scientific disciplines. Black holes versus MECOs, the plains ape theory over other means of acquiring human traits, the asian land bridge hypothesis of inhabitation of the Americas, et cetera...they are the modern version of the laughing dismissal of continental drift via Occam's Razor.

    Yes. In fact, best is to use mathematics to make a precise prediction to disprove. Not " If falls to the ground" but,
    "It falls to the ground in 2.34 \plus minus .002 sec."

    This method is due not to Popper or Pierce, but, to Galileo -via Al Hazen.

    I agree with every sentiment here. In fact I blogged about it here a long while back. Digg way down in my articles to find it.

    One thing he did not address that I did was the role played by stereotypes of scientist.  The stereotypical scientist according to many psychological studies is a wild haired man in a lab coat holding a beaker full of bubbling liquid.  Why should a little girl want to become that?

    Then the way we teach science especially in elementary schools is through rote, memorization and repetition.  As I remember it grade school science class was devoid of actual experiments.  Except for the science fair's which were invariably won by a model of the solar system.  While actual experiments were looked on with suspicion of parental help. In short the way schools work in so many places is to teach kids to color inside the lines.  This does not work for a creative, and investigative task like science.

    Sure in science there are strict procedures, and priciples for how experiments should be done and theories constructed.  But there is an infinity of ways to combine those tools, and you can even innovate your own. We do not teach children that these are things they can do.  We do not teach chidren how to do science, just how to read about it.

    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Strawman stereotypes that do not exist. Whatever.

    Straw man stereotypes?  Are you serious?  Take a look at this research. "American Stereotypes about Scientists: Gender and Time Effects"  and "Breaking down the stereotypes of science, by recruiting young scientist."

    Read those.  I am not the only one who sees those stereotypes and preconceptions of just what kind of person makes a good scienist as detrimental to science in the USA.  We cannot afford to have science be a masculine preserve for white Anglo-Saxon Protestatnt males anymore. We cannot rely on brain draining other countries forever.  We need to produce our own scienist and engineers if we are to remain prosperous and dare I say dominant.

    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    HI Hayley,
    Yes, the female version is the Wicked Witch of the West--with her bubbling cauldron.
    I must admit that sometimes that seemed a rather appealing image--other times appalling.

    But, I was lucky to have a biography of Lise Meitner, when I was little. Not to mention the women mathematicians of science fiction--such as Caroline Martin of "The Cosmic Engineers".

    Yes, the female version is the Wicked Witch of the West--with her bubbling cauldron.
    I must admit that sometimes that seemed a rather appealing image--other times appalling.
    Let me guess; Halloween, right?   It's always either sexy witch or sexy nurse.   I am not sure why women think those are the only two costumes they can wear.    There's also pirates.  And ninjas.    And now, thanks to the Japanese having had enough of bandits on the high seas, honest-to-goodness pirates versus ninjas in the news.
    Dear Hank,
    The wicked witch of the west is NOT a sexy witch--that would be her enemy Glewynda ( Glinda).
    The WWOTW is ugly, unsexy but powerful, and angry.
    Yes, a costume party--but not Halloween. It was all about expressing a dark side not permitted to me as a goody two shoes little girl.
    I was eleven years old.

    Dear Hank,
    There is also Ayesha: She who must be obeyed, from the novel "SHE" by H.Rider Haggard. But, not when you are eleven years old. More like 14.
    Ayesha is powerful, sexy, immortal and also has a FIRST rate knowledge of chemistry. I certainly identified with her as a young teen.

    But, Caroline Martin was a mathematician, who solved problems in general relativity: Fictional, to be sure. I wish I had known as a teenager that the Cauchy Problem for the Einstein Field Equations had been solved by Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat. Now, there is a role model!!

    Hank: If TOM SWIFT were a girl, and smarter--he would be Nancy Drew.
    Nancy Drew solved puzzles, Tom Swift just gave "ideas" to his dad's engineers to make real.

    I wonder how many girls became graduate students in physics because they grew up on emulation of
    "Anika Hanson"---also known as Seven of Nine--?

    Ideas require greater intelligence than puzzle-solving. Solving puzzles only seems like a real intellectual feat to the mildly intelligent or lower. This is why games like Tomb Raider bore me; no matter how difficult they make the puzzle, I know I'll eventually solve it. Inventing things can be more abstract, certainly more intellectually challenging. Swift not only solves problems and mysteries, but also invents, whereas Nancy Drew is barely inventive at all.

    Personally, though, I find the idea that people need role models, especially ones of the same sex/race/whatever, in order to become specific things to be more than a little pathetic. If you can't become a physicist because of your own interest, but need someone to imitate, then you're probably not much of a contribution to physics, anyway.

    Of course, I meant "TOM SWIFT jr."--the TOM SWIFT of my generation.

    in an intelligent ocean, all of our mental ships will rise.

    Poetry! An elegant turn of phrase, Hank.

    The stereotype of a scientist as a manic male meddler is due in no small part to the daughter of the philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft - Mary Shelley. She was inspired to write Frankenstein by the writings of Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin.
    It is different for girls--because when all the pictures and bios of successful scientists in books are of men, the girl tends to think--" I will never get success here--it is sexism." And, indeed, as every female scientist knows, there is indeed extreme sexism in the physical science workplace ( at the top places).

    Boys, ( except perhaps for afro-american boys) don't have these issues.

    I was actually told by a physics teacher to lose interest in becoming a theoretical physicists because there were no
    women who did Nobel level theoretical physics. As it turns out, there were several--and Maria G--Mayer won the Nobel for her work in nuclear shell models. It helped to discover that Lise Mietner worked out the theory of nuclear fission ( with a junior male co-author).
    I was told in uni that no woman could do first rate math research--and, it shook me--until I found a few women counterexamples.
    So, for girls--it matters.

    Yes. But, Frankenstein--who was based on her science interested husband Percy Shelley was no shock haired kook.
    He, and his creature ( by the way) were brilliant and highly cultured, like Percy.

    Hollywood is more to blame.

    Tom Swift Jr invents with a lot of help.
    Some puzzles are pretty hard--and solving puzzles well is a big part of scientific research and a bigger part of math research.

    Both Nancy Drew and Tom Swift made it cool to be a smart kid. That is also important, I think.

    Albert Einstein was inspired by hero worship of Max Planck, Lorentz , Newton and Maxwell.
    Gauss was inspired by emulating Newton and Archimedes.

    Einstein and Gauss made some non-pathetic contribution to physics.

    A number of students of Robert Oppenheimer won Nobels--and they tended to imitate his personal style ( when young) including even his vocal and physicial mannerisms.

    John Nash did the same with Norbert Wiener.

    And these were MEN.

    If an idiotic game like Tomb Raider bores you, might I suggest a more interesting game like chess. Chess is full of interesting puzzles--try some endgame studies, like those in Pal Benko's books. You WILL NOT be bored.

    Some puzzles are really hard--such as proving the existence of infinitely many pairs of prime integers that differ by two.
    Now there is a puzzle!!!!

    You are correct--Swift solves mysteries too. I had forgotten that part!!

    Anyone here old enough to remember the Carl and Jerry stories in Popular Electronics? These boys solved mysteries and were inventors and every story taught some electronic concept.

    Chess has the same problem, though obviously it's better than Tomb Raider. It is too finite. The only reason I enjoy it is that there's a human opponent, that is the one analogue factor.

    The premise that GIRLS (or blacks, or left-handed, blind homosexual dwarves) need special role-models, because they're too dim-witted to be able to decide they can do something unless they see someone who looks like them doing it first, is (as my wording had already made clear) foolish and bigoted.

    All people need is a developmental environment that allows them to learn self-respect and self-discipline (note that I do not say self-esteem, a term that education bureaucrats seem to use to mean unconditional, baseless self-absorption), so that they can choose to do what they value. They don't need to depend upon monkey-see, monkey-do "role models" who happen to resemble them in some unimportant, contexually superficial way like color or genitalia.

    No, Frankenstein wasn't a brilliant, sophisticated guy. He was certainly "cultured", a concept with few redeeming qualities, but was a sociopathic fool. The monster is, clearly, the hero of the book, far more intelligent than his creator, who never manages to grasp the humanity of his creation, causing the whole crisis in the first place.

    I don't credit Galileo for the invention of modern hard science, because it wasn't laid out, methodologically, in a sufficiently sound way until Popper and Pierce. Take the positivist methodology, for example, or the post-Copenhagen instrumentalism of the modern physics pseudo-scientist.

    Modern physics is nothing but epicycles. If your observation does not match your prediction, you adjust your prediction to match, and call it correct.

    Galileo's struggle for hard science was lost with the Copenhagen Interpretation, Popper and Einstein having been the last bastion against the junk science that has reigned since. Abject belief in things that fail every test of prediction and have never even risen to theory status, like the Big Bang and black holes, are a sign of how little real science is left in the discipline.

    Gerhard Adam
    Of course, we're all familiar with the miserable failure that represents quantum physics. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Quantum physics is IMHO a big success--and I am sure Carl, who used it to make Bose-Einstein Condensates ( predicted by QM) would agree.

    There are subtle issues with Quantum Field Theory--such as the non-perturbative version of QCD, but generally even Quantum Field theory is a success.

    Gerhard Adam
    That was my point ... made tongue in cheek.  Kaz was suggesting that everything is pseudo science, so I made the absurd assertion that quantum physics was such an abyssmal failure (based on Kaz's comment that the last real science was done by Einstein).
    Mundus vult decipi
    Are you saying the chess is too simple for you? If so, then you ought to consider becoming a grandmaster--there are big cash prizes. I find chess quite hard, and I barely play at the master level.

    Go is even harder, and may be more to your liking--it is finite, but that finiteness is immense.

    It is not about being dim-witted, that girls need role models--as I pointed out, it is about fear that --in the real world--not in school--the sexism won't allow even brilliant girls to succeed. I lived this, you didn't. And, I am not dim-witted, indeed I am a former member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and The Max Planck Institute.

    Maybe, a more supportive educational environment would help--but girls still need to know that sexism will allow
    some chance at real world adult success. Hence, Lise Meiter etc.

    I agree with your appraisal of Dr. F. He was brilliant and cultured--but he was also a sociopathic fool. There are plenty of real scientists like that, such as Dr. Midgley ( who gave us Tetraethyl lead) and Dr Haber ( who gave us Poison gases in warfare). Some might include Edward Teller--father of the SDI aka Star Wars
    ---and cheerleader for Ulam's invention of the H-bomb. He was a part inspiration ( along with Hermann Kahn) for the character Dr. Strangelove. Teller was highly cultured--indeed, he almost became a concert pianist.

    Mary Shelly was prescient--and later HG Wells ( Dr. Moreau) as well. It isn't much of a step from these to Dr. Mengle
    and his experiments.

    I say that the negative image of the mad scientist was largely amplified by Hollywood--after the horrors of WWI Poison Gas ( Haber), Mengle's experiments, and--of course--the Atomic bombing of two cities.

    And, maybe, there was a real point to this--but we have IMHO gone too far.

    Sadly, there is good experimental evidence for the Big Bang--consider the cosmic background radiation---and happily, there is very good evidence for black holes. I liked the steady state universe--because the idea of matter being created out of the quantum vaccum in perturbative Quantum Gravity seemed nice to me---until I learned enough math to see how awful the theory of Perturbative QG was. But, reading Hoyle's papers on it was still sort of fun.

    Inflation, and Dark matter are on weaker ground, but even there some evidence exists. Space-time is mostly uniform--and inflation gives a mechanism for that. Dark matter was motivated by experimental data --the motion of visible matter in our own galaxy.

    Dark Energy is a poetic expression for the dynamics implicit in the Einstein Field equations with Cosmological term.
    We don't need to assume every term in an equation is some kind of matter or energy. If so, what is the plus sign and the equal sign particle?

    Newton, Maxwell, Gibbs, Faraday did physics and modern science quite well without Popper and Pierce. The latter were Johnny-come-latelys.

    Modern physics is a lot more than just epicycles. Consider the discovery of the Laser: based on Quantum Mechanics.
    Some aspects of high energy physics ( Perturbative QED) are epicycles.

    Funny, that you should praise C.S. Pierce and pan Logical Positivism--as C.S. Pierce was one of the major fathers of
    logical Positivism. And that is the "pragmatic" truth ( smile).

    Anyone want to return to the original thread?
    How about Carl Wieman?

    We got lost in silly tangents, I think.

    I get it.

    Kaz, what about Einstein etc, on my list of MALE physicists who profited ( by their own admission) from role models.
    Were they dimwitted fools?

    More importantly, what happened to the original thread?
    Where are the female scientists who posted before?

    The use of an example of a QM "prediction" as proof that it's successful is a perfect example of how rudderless and pseudoscientific this sort of theoretical physics is.

    Even with me citing the actual criteria/methodology of hard science, someone attempts to claim that a prediction fulfilled is proof of something.

    But, as I noted originally, the hypothesis that dryads live in willow trees predicts that willow shoots will make people healthier, and plants grow. Fulfillment of predictions as proof is junk science.

    Hard science requires that you come up with an experiment that will DISPROVE your prospective theory, and test that. No amount of successful prediction counts...until you have a solid way to falsify your hypothesis, it is NOT a theory at all. "X predicted this, so it's science/valid" is the thinking of parascience...it is alchemy and astrology, not chemistry and astronomy.

    The rules of actual, hard science say that QM is a complete failure, as a theory. It cannot pass the methodological rules. Not only can it not be screened for falsification, but every time it fails even a basic rule of prediction, its advocates fail to discard it, but add epicycle equations and predictions to "adjust" it to fit.

    The fact that the terminology of Galileo's earth-centered-universe detractors fits modern theoretical physics perfectly says it all.

    Chess: I never got to the point of a grand master...I could only think perhaps eight moves ahead with real consistency, which I believe just barely counts as a conventional chess master. But it's just a matter of effort and practice. One can, by that time, see the way it'd be done, and it's just a question of whether one's willing to put the time and effort into it, just like solving a Tomb Raider puzzle. It's far more fun, and challenging because another human is involved, but it's still a sort of puzzle game.

    "Role model" worries for women/whatever is not about sexism holding people back, it's about the people needing "inspiration". In the real world, racism, like sexism, is far overblown by people with victim mentalities, while other people of the very same race/sex succeed just fine. It exists, but is less of a real career challenge than, say, having long hair or being obese.

    No, there is no solid experimental evidence for the Big Bang. There is only circumstantial evidence, and even that is mostly because the big bang hypothesis is retro-fitted to appear compliant. The background radiation is not uneven enough? Here's a new spin that allows for that. This is, once again, the way homeopathy is "science", not the real thing. When a prediction fails in real science, you discard the hypothesis and come up with a new one on a fundamental level, although it could resemble the old one in higher ways. Changing something higher and keeping the fundamental premise is anti-scientific.

    Your mention of inflation and dark matter, of course, are prime examples of this sort of junk science. Our theory fails...how can we add an epicycle to make it appear to work? We stretch the fabric of the universe, we add matter we have no observational reason to think exists, et cetera.

    How about black holes? On a fundamental level, the entire model is a failure, but it keeps being "adjusted", or observations ignored, in order to maintain the illusion. We find major evidence of magnetic effects, but we just figure it must somehow mean the accretion disc is more magnetic than we expected, in a way we cannot explain, rather than supposing we're looking at a MECO, or other black hole alternative, for example.

    Citing the laser, again, is a sign of failure to understand the basics of scientific methodology. Aspirin and plant rooting hormone can be based on a belief in dryads. It doesn't make nature worship "science".

    Gerhard Adam
    An obsession with arbitrary rules is simply nonsensical.  You're abusing Popper's position to create some artificial criteria that has is seriously flawed and that Popper himself didn't accept.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I have had enough.

    "Chess: I never got to the point of a grand master...I could only think perhaps eight moves ahead with real consistency, which I believe just barely counts as a conventional chess master."

    Your understanding of chess is as limited as your understanding of physics, Kaz. Your really don't have a clue. Nor, do you wish to learn from us.


    It's not an "arbitrary rule", it's a set of principles. Principles must be obeyed absolutely, or the system is rudderless. And surely you're aware that Popper, along with Einstein, and any other real advocate of hard science, fought the junk science of the Copenhagen interpretation and subsequent abandonment of the scientific method, to the end of his days.

    Just as one cannot abandon the principles of justice, claiming they are an "obsession with arbitrary rules...artificial criteria" just because one wants to torture a few people to get quick info, or spy on homes to make us safer, so one cannot abandon the principles of hard science, and still have science.

    My examples, in fact, illustrate this. You end up with supposition touted as "science". You end up with alchemy, not chemistry, astrology, not astronomy, metaphysics, not physics. Hmmm...is there one I can pair with our hoax of a science of "climatology"?

    Gerhard Adam

    You might try actually reading Popper ....  The point was only to be specific regarding what could be considered scientific "facts", and did nothing to assert that any information or theory that could not be falsifiable was "junk science" or not useful.  Popper is quite specific about the fact that his only criteria was to determine whether something could be called "scientific" in an absolute sense.  This was NOT a judgement about the theory, only a classification.

    In fact Popper goes out of his way to be clear that he is not suggesting or recommending a method for scientists to use in originating or developing theories, but only in how they should be interpreted as to their scientific certainty.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Absolutely. One of the ways modern "science" is junk is insofar as it's often touted as theory or law, when it is nothing more than hypthesis, speculation. 
    Quantum Mechanics, for example, is often called Quantum Theory, but does not fit the strict criteria for a theory. String "Theory", worse, cannot even make predictions to be verified (so far)...but QM can't be experimentally validated through attempts at falsification. 

    What's more, as I noted, when something fails even the test of prediction, it should be considered disproven, and reworked at a fundamental level, not adjusted with epicycles...THAT is a way in which modern physics not only departs from sound science, but becomes truly pseudoscientific. 

    In case anyone here doesn't know, "epicycles" refers to the pseudoscientific Establishment's defense of an earth-centered universe, used to condemn Galileo.

    When the idea that all planets circled around the earth did not match the observed motion of the planets in the sky...because the earth circles the sun, causing each planet to dance forward and back as it progresses...rather than admitting their hypothesis wrong, the earth-centered pseudoscientists claimed that the planets, in their transparent spheres, had smaller discs upon which they were fixed, that spun back and forth in smaller circles; epicycles.

    As observation showed ever more anomalies in the movement of the planets, sun, and stars, they simply added more epicycles, one to adjust their hypothesis (or, as they'd put it, Law) to fit observation.

    So, by the time of Copernicus, astronomy was a laughable rube goldberg set of adjusting equasions, epicycles.

    The problem was their methodology...in sound science, when your prediction fails, you treat your hypothesis as wrong on a /fundamental/ level, and rework it entirely. You never just throw in an adjustment to make it appear to predict correctly.

    But that's what modern, pseudoscientific disciplines of physics do. They follow the methodology of alchemy and astrology, homeopathy and dryad worship...not hard science. Philosophers who believe in dryads and planet-controlled personality honestly work toward the truth. They perfectly are on par with science, even having the same motivation...but they lack the rules/principles that allow them to SEEK the truth, and measure the likelyhood that they're finding it. If they stumble upon the truth (as often happened in metaphysics in the late 19th century, for example), it's by coincidence, DESPITE a lack of sound methodology.

    That is how too much of physics works, today. We treat the Big Bang and black holes as fact, for example, when they don't even rise to the level of a valid Theory. I consider both hypotheses to be entirely plausible...the junk science is in declaring them theory, fact, or even probable.
    Absolutely. One of the ways modern "science" is junk is insofar as it's often touted as theory or law, when it is nothing more than hypthesis, speculation. 
    Actually, laypeople using the word 'theory' colloquially do this, not scientists.    People who have a theory that "modern science is junk" don't understand science and certainly do not not understand the history of it.  I agree that next-gen physics has more questions than answers but claiming all physics is junk just sounds like you have an agenda.

    Scientists do not attach a literal meaning to a 'Higgs boson' or 'God particle' other than as a reference point, nor do they have pretend to have knowledge of literal 'dark matter' because we don't know what it is, we just know something has to exist or we are wrong about gravity.

    Of course, you may think Newton was wrong too.
    Gerhard Adam

    "..when your prediction fails, you treat your hypothesis as wrong on a /fundamental/ level, and rework it entirely."

    So when Newton failed to account for the precession of Mercury, then all those theories should have been discarded at the "fundamental" level and started over?  I'm sorry, but that position is both untenable and unnecessarily restrictive. 

    You're attempting to apply an absolute standard which will result in nothing more than a fundamental paralysis of all progress because ultimately the standard of "scientific" truth is what works.  There is absolutely no question that there may be many elements of understanding that are incorrect, partially incorrect, or suspect, but to argue that they need to be discarded makes no sense. 

    I agree that simply showing positive results doesn't "prove" a theory, however, showing a single negative result doesn't necessarily disprove a theory either (witness the Newton example).  This is becoming even more evident when we examine chaotic systems and the effect of initial conditions on predictions.  Your point about epicycles illustrates a good example.  The collapse of that explanation was that it became overly complex and couldn't account for all the observed data.  The fact that adjustments were made wasn't, in and of itself, a bad thing (except that we are amused in hindsight).  Instead it demonstrated that regardless of how badly one wanted to adhere to a particular viewpoint, ultimately a simpler, more accurate one would take it's place.  This is precisely what Popper considered in his evolution of scientific ideas, in that the more accurately (or riskier) the predictions made, then that scientific idea would gain precedence. 

    If you want to argue that this is primarily a semantic argument in which we determine which "facts" are rigorous enough to withstand the criticism of being "scientific" or whatever other name, then that is a different point.  However, it is simply incorrect to label them as being useless (which is what "junk science" suggests). 

    In truth, the problem is ultimately that science cannot be complete, so, by definition, every theory must be incorrect at some level (or at least incomplete) since it cannot be complex enough to truly model nature.  Do a Google search on Theory of Relativity and you'll find a dozen sites that all purport to prove Einstein wrong and indicate how this theory is fatally flawed. 

    If a theory can be shown to be false at a fundamental level, then clearly it is unworkable.  We may suspect that when a theory becomes overburdened with adjustments, that it's probably incorrect, or that something more fundamental is being overlooked.  But, in the end, that's part of the evolutionary process by which science progresses.  The primary principle that needs to be considered (and there is plenty of legitimate criticism that can be leveled here), is that science's primarily responsibility is to be critical of its own ideas, rather than becoming dogmatic about them. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    The problem with a hypothesis or theory failing at all, that makes adding adjustments to it dangerous, is that the adjustments apparently do not derive from the underlying principles. A theory should be a core premise, or set of internally consistent premises, and then a sequence of conclusions based upon those premises. 
    If the core premise predicts X, and !X (not X) occurs, this therefore implies that something is wrong with the premise. To simply adjust the prediction to allow for the new result is to deviate from the core premise, effectively rendering the premise false.

    The snowballing evidence of magnetic properties tied to black holes, for example, imply that the core set of ideas includes some serious flaws. Obviously, re-examining alternatives, like magnetospheric, eternally collapsing objects, or even approaches that dispute the inductively reasoned "eternal collapse" premise itself, made sense from a hard science perspective...yet the overwhelming response has simply been to continue with black holes as an assumed fact.

    The same with the distance-based red shift that seems to imply an expansion of the universe. To simply say "well, we'll just assume there's more mass we cannot see" is to ignore how the underlying assumptions are brought into question.

    Gerhard Adam
    I think you're overstating the issue.  There are plenty of people that aren't satisfied with current explanations, so I'm not overly concerned that any of these concepts are particularly dogmatic.  I'm also not convinced that making assumptions is necessarily bad, because it's often based on the need to follow a particular idea to its logical conclusion. 

    There is clearly work being done to determine issues surrounding "dark matter" and "dark energy", so there is an attempt to see whether this can be falsified, since it is quite fundamental.  However, merely stating that this is what is expected is not "pseudoscience", it's precisely what you would expect of science.  Create the hypothesis that it exists, and then attempt to devise tests to determine whether it does or doesn't.  If experiments show that there is no "dark matter" or "energy" then it is time to go back to examine the underlying assumptions.  Before that, it is unnecessarily premature in the absence of a more attractive alternative. 

    I also think you're trivializing the point about "assuming more mass", because the essential point is that modern models indicate that for our current theories to be correct then there must be this additional "mass".  This IS a prediction of theory and is precisely the element that is falsifiable according to your own requirements.  To criticize it in the absence of a completed set of results is unnecessarily harsh.  I don't think anyone (except in the popular imagination) has elevated this idea to the level of a "law of nature".
    Mundus vult decipi
    I am a student at a university where your ideas are being implemented. This is a report from the students perspective on the effects of such an approach.

    The one thing I and other students have noticed is that the person teaching makes an even bigger difference in this approach. For example, in class exercises. I have seen these sorts of things in high schools years ago so I am used to them. However it seems clear which professors are really used to them. Let me give you an example.

    Professor A: administers quick little questions based on what he/she has just lectured, or a brief reading assignment, and says we can talk to eachother about it. However inspite of what she says their body language and demeanor bespeak more of a proctoring behavior. She will react in a somewhat derogatory and humiliating manner to questions which are verbally answered in an incorrect fashion. (To things that have just been lectured on and haven't had time to sink in.) The result was lower average % performance for the whole class.

    Some people have dropped a elective class offered in this manner by professor C because professor A so soured them on it.

    Professor B: Administers quick questions based on what he/she has just lectured on, or a brief reading assignment, and says we can talk to eachother about it. Their demeanor and body language match their words and they don't show a proctoring behavior. They do not humilliate someone who comes up with a incorrect answer. Simply telling them they are wrong, and explaining how and why. The result has been better average performance for the whole class.

    I realize that someone who blogs here might also go to a school where this is being tried, and where you may have given a talk though they totally did not recognize you. I'm not that person and will deny making this comment if asked.