Improving Science Education
    By Tommaso Dorigo | September 6th 2009 03:18 PM | 49 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    I received an interesting question today from an Alex Ziller in the comments thread of a recent post. Here it is:

    Do you think blogging actually improves Science? (I know, one should first define what "improving Science" actually means).

    I think this matter has been debated elsewhere not too long ago -where by "elsewhere" I mean "some site I sometimes visit, can't recall where". Nevertheless, I consider it a crucial question to ask, and one with several facets. Here is my short answer to Alex -of the kind of depth a comments thread is worth:

    I think blogging does not improve Science. Blogging is for scientists just another way of distributing ideas, but admittedly there are already enough such means, and blogging is marginal enough, that it provides no improvement of the situation.

    Blogging improves the communication of Science to outsiders, however. It has the potential of bringing non-scientists closer to the understanding of why Science is really important. Blogging contains features that other avenues of Science communication totally lack.

    I wish to add some detail to what I sketched above. In general, scientists have learnt long ago that a diffusion as broad as possible of the results of their work is crucial to make it count, and advance human knowledge. One could in fact go as far as to say that before the invention of the press, Science stood little chance to develop: early scientists had no organization to rely upon, no pope nor preachers. A few hundred years later, deep in the internet age, a researcher may use on Wednesday morning the result of an experiment carried out on the other side of the world on Tuesday evening; knowledge piles up rapidly but there is always somebody capable of distilling it into the essence. But a blog is not a critical instrument for that to happen: we have online journals, email, video conferencing. Blogs have a sociological value, but for Science this is not special not relevant.

    Instead, the communication of Science does benefit from the diffusion of blogs by scientists. Not so much the amount or quality of the output, although these are both important assets,  but the fact that blogs ran by scientists show outsiders that scientists -and Science- are reachable. The blog owners can be taken on in a chat window, they do answer silly questions, and they actually do their best to explain things, when prompted or even when left alone.

    Admittedly, it is a small contribution to a uphill fight. And the limitation is the fact that a scientific blog will only reach those who want to be reached. The huge problem that men of Science in our society face in the XXIst century is how to counter the increasingly anti-Science tendency one sees growing around, the lack of concern of the public for scientific advancement, the questioning of large expenses of money for experiments, and the scientific illiteracy that is spreading even among teachers, journalists, and politicians.

    One way which has been considered by many potentially useful to try and change this situation is to try and put to work in a virtuous direction the enormous power of the internet to improve Science education. But the internet, as widespread as it is, will never work wonders in shaping minds, because in the internet people seek 95% evasion and entertainment, and just 5% culture. Try offering a discovery channel program in a TV network full of hard-core sex movies or sports events, and tell me what happens.

    I think, and I said it elsewhere, that the action has to be directed at minds young and elastic enough to still manage to absorb the message. It is only by getting back to School that we can make a dent, and try to change the trend. I think every man of culture who is recognized by society as such should freely donate a part of his or her time by offering lessons in middle and high schools, to lecture on the importance of science, seen from their own perspective. We cannot put all our hopes on the good will and capabilities of school teachers, who are paid close to minimum wage in many countries, and who are evaluated on scales that have nothing to do with the message they really pass on to their students.

    Maybe Universities should "adopt" a few schools, and offer to those schools their professors and researchers for a few hours every month, with the goal of conveying the meaning and importance of Science for the advancement of knowledge and for the collective good of the human race. For a University, this kind of evangelization would have a positive return, because it would constitute good, targeted advertisement. But the biggest benefit would be to our kids, and they, of course, are the men of tomorrow.

    I would love to hear your opinion on this issue. Also, it would be nice to collect a few links to places where similar issues have been discussed in the recent past. Of course, there are whole institutes devoted to the matter, and discussions abound in the net; but one cannot read all, so here are my bids:

    • in the blog called NeuroLogica, Dr. Steven Novella wrote on "How To Improve Science Education" exactly one year ago, and the thread developed with 80 contributions. I think the discussion ended up focusing on the idea of creating a wiki of science text-books, which is just another example of how to try and use the internet for a problem unfortunately too big.

    • Carl Wieman discussed here 15 months ago (and took it on again later) the needs of the 2020 University for optimizing science education. Here the discussion focused on shaping University students, but as I said above I believe the real problem lies uphill.

    • Marla Meyer discussed the matter some time ago and came up with suggestions not too different from the one I offered above.

    Any other sites recently discussing the matter that you wish to mention ?


    Gerhard Adam
    One of the big problems is making science relevant to the majority of people.  It is not usually considered a viable career field unless one is inclined to pursue PhD plans.  Therefore when people are faced with concerns about jobs and making a living, science is often perceived as the domain of "dreamers" or those that can afford to take time away from the everyday life.

    Similarly when some of the topics move beyond ability of people to comprehend the results, it reinforces this idea that science is not something that is relevant to everyday life.  The element of curiosity which drives science has been lost on most people.  They simply don't feel like they have the time to pursue such interests when other concerns take precedence.

    It short, science suffers from the worst kind of elitist perceptions.  At least with sports, or entertainment there elite individuals but they bring some of their capabilities into the world of ordinary people and retain their relevance.  When this is coupled with sensationalist reporting as often occurs on television broadcasts or gets bogged down in the minutiae of specific research, it commits the unpardonable sin (to the public) of simply being boring.

    So it seems that one of the key issues that science must address is how to gain that curiosity to explore from people. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hi Gerhard,

    I agree, Science is, and will remain, difficult for the majority of us, and largely useless for reaching their goals in life. What I wish we conveyed more to students is the importance of scientific thinking and the scientific method.
    I am not saying that we really need more people to get knowledgeable. We however need a society where Science is understood to be fundamental for progress, and where progress is a desirable thing for mankind.

    Science (and knowledge) is only useful when it spreads beyond laboratories and to the masses. If findings aren't communicated to normal people - or if their communication is limited to stuffy science jargon - then what's the point? Blogging may not improve the actual quality of science being conducted, but it helps spread science - the process, results, procedure, purpose, lessons learned, critical thought - to many more people.
    Well, Kerr, I have mixed feelings about what you write. I think we do not need to communicate how a vaccine for Malaria is developed -it is already a huge success if one is crafted (it is in the news today that Joe Cohen will have it in 3 years, with enormous benefits for mankind: malaria kills a million children every year), regardless of our understanding of the process.
    What I think is crucial is that people realize the importance of scientific research. Then, even if few will actually become familiar with the results, all will benefit from them. That is the measure that Ford gave to progress.

    I don't completely agree with your black box approach to science. It borders on asking people to accept its fruits on the basis of blind faith&authority. Yes some details are unnecessary, just as one doesn't have to know how a battery is made to use it. However, the more transparent science is the more people will benefit from it. What happens when there is a mistake - even if it is a small one - like immunizing 40 million people for the swine flu pandemic that never occurred? Transparency is needed to save face and to win people over. If you cut the public out of the loop - or, more realistically, if you just assume that they're not interested - then the public will become disengaged and skeptical.
    What I think is crucial is that people realize the importance of scientific research.
    Harking on the importance of scientific research is empty. Sure it's important, but relative to what? No scientific research? Social security? It's like that cliche from high school English: Show don't tell. If you don't show, they you're stuck playing the adjectives game & saying things like, "But you don't realize. Research is very important. It's extraordinarily important." On the contrary, if you want to convince people that research is important, you need to show them some of how it works, the results it produces, etc.

    Skepticism is a key trait of the scientific method. And yet when the public becomes skeptical we accuse them of bashing science as if that weren't allowed?
    Indeed, but science is not in the policy business and a small segment of scientists who fancy themselves policy experts do not damage science itself, just the politics of scientists.

    If scientists set policy, we would not need a malaria vaccine 50 years, millions of lives and billions dollars after we had a good solution; DDT.   Activists caught the public imagination who then caught the political imagination.  So public 'skepticism' in that instance was completely misplaced by social activism.

    I agree with the above comments about how Science has a "disconnect" with the masses. This is illustrated by the comment by J. Hewett/SLAC in CV:

    "Not to mention the current national environment where if you [ Scientist ] don?t put a new gadget into the average Joe/JoAnne?s hands every week [ something practical ] you are considered useless."

    "By the time a scientific discovery comes to practical fruition, you'll [ scientist ] probably be DEAD"
    -- Burton Richter/SLAC [ "From Student to Scientist" ]

    Take the anecdote by M. Gell-Mann on the show "From Student to Scientist" (targeting high school students, to get them to go into Science):

    "in 19xx, both Einstein & Botha (sp??) realized that if photons were at the same state (??)..mono-wavelength propagation, led to development of laser"

    What is it, almost a century later, lasers (resulting from a theoretical oddity by a couple of esoteric theoretical physicists) are deeply involved with so many markets, including Entertainment (CD/DVD players/recorders, et al). This is a perfect example of the LONG lag time from Discovery to Practice, why LONG TERM R&D ("Curiosity Research") has always paid big benefits. Unfortunately, the heydays of the Bell Labs (where scientists had free reign to pursue "curiosity research", e.g. discovery of transistor & red-shifted Big Bang glow: Microwave Background Radiation, both were Nobel Prize discoveries) are over, with more emphasis on Applied Research. A more directed approach to a product, with shorter (time) turnaround. I graduated w/PhD in '84 (Electrical Eng), & about this time Pure Research was being phased away towards Applied Research. We are now beginning to see the folly of this:

    Look around you. If you're like me, your life is filled with technology and tools that help you work, live, and play. New devices like iPhones, social networks like Facebook, "breakthrough" pharmaceuticals, and sleek household products are all around us. It seems like innovation in many fields -- from Web 2.0 to personalized medicine -- is accelerating at a rapid pace in the United States, right?

    Wrong. In fact, the underlying infrastructure of research, development, and application that produced these marvels -- as well as world-changing innovations like the Internet -- has drastically deteriorated in the U.S. in recent years. The decline of what I call our "Innovation Ecosystem" poses a grave threat to both the economic prosperity of our country and the security of our children's future. The state of innovation is a critical issue that should be getting more attention in the days leading up to the presidential election.

    Leading-edge science and technology have been at the foundation of our country's economic growth for more than a century. Significant inventions like the personal computer, cell phones, and the Net have all driven major cycles of our economic growth. Today, more than ever, our role in the future depends on our ability to sustain a culture that supports and promotes the ability to innovate. Along with the rest of the world, the U.S. faces major challenges -- climate change, national security, dependence on oil, and the need for affordable health care -- that threaten our future. Each of these challenges also brings opportunities - if we give innovation the attention it deserves.

    Innovation does not just happen. Like a garden, it must be actively nurtured. The once-groundbreaking technologies that today seem commonplace were all built on a strong and deep foundation of investments by business and government in our long-term growth.

    [ Judy Estrin is a Silicon Valley iconic entrepeneur, who was recruited by Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard (my officemate in grad school) to be on BoD/Board of Directors. She left the company, after Martin & others were unfairly forced out (incl Wally Rippel, famous Caltech engineer who blogged on reminiscing R. Feynman as a "curious character"). This human resources crisis, was the result of a crisis involving an R&D crisis (the 2-speed transmissions were failing Durability/Reliability testing). Perfect example of above ]

    The "HTTP" was a spinoff from CERN (Tim Berners-Lee), to address inter-organization communiction..who would have thought it is now part of the Web/Business model? (wait, "Al Gore invented the Internet"..sorry). Also, NCSA Mosaic (spinoff of NCSA/National Ctr for Supercomputing Applications @U. of Illinois, NCSA was founded by ex-computational astrophysicist Dr. Larry Smarr) via Mark Andreesen of Netscape fame (whose boss was my boss when I was at UIUC), which is the ancestor of Mozilla & Firefox browsers.

    [ another spinoff of NCSA @U. of Illinois was Spyglass Software, a 3D scientific-visualization company. Which led to what is now Microsoft Internet Explorer ]

    That's TWO major spinoffs from "esoteric science research" (CERN & NCSA), which led to BIG practical spinoffs (Web/Business model).

    "If you build a better mousetrap [ better way to make $$ ], PEOPLE WILL BEAT A PATH TO YOUR DOOR"

    What HEP needs, is a "marketing vehicle" to demonstrate the utility of Particle Acclerators (& accompanying theoretical & experimental physicists) to the Public. Enter the Tesla Roadster, the revolutioinary electric sports car. My ex grad school officemate (summer of '81, at Coordinated Science Laboratory/U. of Illinois, which was an Interdisciplinary R&D think-tank: mostly Electrical Engineers, some Computer Scientists & Physicists) M. Eberhard co-founded the company, after he sold his previous company for 180 million. Recall the Feynman anecdote about "what makes the toy car go" in the textbook. Energy is what makes it go, which was incorrectly's really "Energy Transfer". The sexy Tesla Roadster is a perfect "vehicle" (no pun intended) to demonstrate an application of Energy: chemical (battery) to kinetic (transportation).

    "They [ Washington funding agencies ] want something SEXY!!"
    -- Dr. Harold Zirin/Caltech solar astronomer (retired), personal communication to me
    [ Re: wasteful projects like Space Shuttle & Space Station, which essentially do very little in terms of's mostly a showboat thing to the Public. Groundbased astronomy funding is suffering ]

    My presence on various Physics blogs is to "feel out" the HEP community, after I dabbled in Multimedia Tests at some Physics conferences. I have some bad news for the Science Community: they don't understand the REAL strategy to make the Public *understand* the utility of Science (especially long range R&D). It involves "Entertainment" (story-telling), NOT "Information" (dissemination of Science to the, they DON'T UNDERSTAND IT!!). Sexy sports cars (Tesla Roadster), human-interest stories (Kea's multi-dimensional portfolio of Skiing, Mountaineering..including near-death encounter, Opera, theoretical physicist), personalities ("Lumo the Entertainer", wild & crazy physicist), etc...IS what Sells.

    "You have to sell yourself"
    -- Bee, advice to her by professor

    I was introduced to the A+B model (A = Information, B = Entertainment) in my initial market (racing in desert), & incredibly has found application in another niche-market: HEP (& Science in general). Classical Piano (note that Tommaso is a Pianist) has traditionally followed this model: Franz Liszt invented the piano recital (which allowed the Public to connect to music, via the Pianist). Just recently Lang Lang (famous Chinese pianist) & others, have used modern methods to enhance the piano experience.

    "I play the piano like a multi-media website"
    -- Lang Lang, Youtube vide here

    LL has a team of NINE (?) marketing people, to SELL his niche-market classical music to the masses. He has sponsorship from BMW (?), watch company, shoe company, etc. If HE can do it, so can certain HEP physicists. Kea is probably the No. 1 candidate (outdoor specialites like mountaineering/skiing/tramping with near-death adventure, opera, physics). With the right support (requires proposal & funding), she can be elevated to "pop star" status: in a crystal ball I see Kea in a mansion (set for life) in the mountains, doing research at her own Category Theory Inst. Tommaso also has a multi-dimensional portfolio (Chess, Piano, Physics, family) which can be pushed to the Public for universal appeal.

    "What sets Oksana [ Kazakova ] & Artur { Dmitriev ] apart, is that they use the Technical Elements [ Science ] to TELL A STORY [ human interest, which has public appeal ]"
    "And, that's why they won the Gold [ won over the Public ]"
    -- Figure Skating announcers, after '98 Olympics exhibition
    [ Pairs figure-skating is probably the No 1 sport watched during Winter Olympics. They turned athleticism (olympic sport) to Art/Entertainment (costumes, choreographed with Music), which has broad appeal. Physics (& Science in general) needs to do the same, which requires some partnership with some clever Marketing/Entertainment experts ]

    The above quote summarizes the FUNDAMENTAL mistake in marketing Science to the Public. They are disseminating Science ("Information" as technical elements), not *presenting* it as a STORY. In that other niche-field I was working in (racing), there was a big documentary release to movie theatres which was a failure:

    "They presented a Documentary [ kinda like Information ], instead of Telling a Story [ drama ]"
    "Our little wonder in the Desert [ desert racing]"

    So, you have a similar situation in HEP (& Science in general). A real "Wonder in the Science Labs", which has not been properly presented to the Public (as a "drama", vs boring scientific dissemination).

    I've been diligently watching/recording the recent Science shows on the Science Channel, & I can tell you they are NOT getting it done. They are "dumbing down" the Science (to layman level), with the Scientists doing the explanations. It's still Information, albeit simplified. Dr. Michelle Thaller (who I ran into in a local eatery, since I live 2 blocks from Caltech) of Caltech/IPAC/Spitzer is in charge of Public Outreach. Her bio describes how she was inspired by "Star Wars", George Lucas' mega-successful film (drama, with villains/heros in a Tech/Space setting) to become a scientist. There you go. Science has to recruit the TV/Film artists as *partner*, to help them "push Science to the Public". There are currently such efforts.

    Multimedia on the Web will also play a role, I met a Disney researcher at last year SIGGRAPH 2008 (where I met Louise Riofrio, Kea's research buddy, Flickr photocast here), who told me Brian Green/Columbia is working with them on multimedia presentations (the NOVA "Elegant Universe" made extensive use of multimedia). I also met Dr. A. Hanson (U. of Indiana, Computer Science dept head) who is a physicist turned computer-scientist (FtM, "follow the money"), whose animations drew a past query from Lubos Motl. So, there seems to be some "convergence" amongst Physics & Computer Science/EE. The latter field produces a lot of mass-market gadgets.

    "Life is a SCAM, what's your angle?"
    -- Steve McQueen, actor

    Scientists are talking to the Public, like they are talking amongst themselves ("preaching to the choir"): "disseminating Science". (which is fundamentally wrong, since the Public by nature is ignorant/stupid). They need to "seduce" (scam) the Public, using whatever tools. Pretty Pictures (like from HST), sexy Tesla Roadster sportscar, wild/crazy personalities (Lubos Motl), human-interest stories (Kea & Tommaso, with their multi-dimensional portfolios in Music, et al), etc. Need effective Multimedia presentations (pictures, video, animations, etc), which is sorely lacking in many Physics blogs (like this one & Kea's..look at Lumo's blog for some help). There was a public outcry when the HST ("the People's telescope") was going to be turned off, since the "pretty pictures" (sexy eye candy) "captured the imagination of the Public". Note that there was not such a public backlash, when the SSC was cancelled. There is a REAL CHALLENGE on how to sell a particle-accelerator (Fermilab & CERN) to the Public, maybe it's the EV (Electric Vehicle) Tesla Roadster sexy sportscar "product": via the "energy transfer" link. EV is part of this Green Tech momentum/revolution, which is pushed by the Global Warming (scam).

    "Dear Tommaso, you start to behave like a complete crackpot that makes Kea a supergenius in comparison."
    -- L. Motl on Quantum Diaires

    Fascinating. The three names in the above (Kea, Tommaso, Lumo) are apparently some key human-interest figures who need to be "pushed to the public" by the HEP Marketing Machine:

    - Tommaso
    mutli-dimensional portfolio (Music, Chess, amateur astronomy, physics), well-liked in Physics blog community. "incomparable" (Bee), "hot blooded Italian, receptive to female physicists" (Kea), et al

    - Kea
    multi-dimensional portfolio (Opera, Mountaineering/Skiing w/epic near-death experience, Physics), who is in an epic struggle ("The Journey IS the Reward") to advocate Category Theory. "so honest, wondrous" (Louise Riofrio), "sweetie" (Tommaso)

    - Lumo
    wild/crazy Physicist with Jekyll/Hyde double personality ("charming in person" & "keyboard warrior") as part of the Villain/Hero model (as per Star Wars, see above). Multi-media adept & entertainer (Youtube singing video)

    Just write a proposal & let XXX (well known experts in TV/Film/Web Entertainment, ex-researchers, 1 guy is a fan of Feynman) handle the details. Above entities follow directions (do this, do that..etc), get a check-in-the-mail, & Save Science ("the glory of the kill").

    Science has a fundamentally "steep learning curve", so immediately it doesn't have broad appeal. See above comment, for strategies to make it appealing (Adding B = Entertainment, to A = Information, as part of A+B model). The comments above reflect a "preaching to the choir" approach (a logical argument of why Science is beneficial): talking to beginning students (& Public) who are both basically ignorant.

    "Know yourself [ Science is steep learning curve ], know your opponent [ ignorant beginning student or Public ], & you will never be defeated in 100 battles"
    -- Sun Tzu, "Art of War"

    By realizing the beginning-student & Public are fundamentally ignorant, it is immediately recognized that any logical argument will not work. (this has the unfortunate implication that Scientific community's logical approach *itself* is ignorant, of the public's ignoramus. Ergo, ignorant scientists preaching to ignorant public: WHAT A JOKE. No wonder HEP had a funding crisis last year) So, now you have to resort to "creative" (non logical) tactical techniques to win them over (as part of a general strategy).

    Just like in Fishing (you need a bait to catch the fish), Science needs to use an Indirect approach to "snag" your client. I mention some tactics above: personalities, human-interest (Scientist extra-curricular activities), association with sexy Science driven products (Tesla Roadster sportscar), etc. I went to a Curriculum Development Laboratory School (UniHi, which co-led the controversial New Math initiative which has string theorist Shamit Kachru/Stanford as alumni), whose charter was R&D in teaching methods. The physics curriculum was HPP (Harvard Project Physics), which was a product of a Harvard based physics teaching initiative:

    An expert in science education, Watson was a founder and co-director of Harvard Project Physics, a nationwide course development effort funded by the Office of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and Harvard. The project, which began in 1964, created a new physics course with a humanitarian emphasis to attract high school seniors, particularly girls, to the field. First published in 1968, the course integrated texts, tests, films, and new laboratory equipment [ today, this would include Multimedia, Web ] and raised the standards for physics instruction nationwide.

    I have this text lying 7 ft away from me, as I type. It had a bubble-chamber photo on the cover, & nice letter from R. Feynman inside. It was designed to make Physics less INTIMIDATING (all math & physics), by making the presentation more humanitarian (presenting scientists as humans w/personalities, & realizing their target audience is also human..see above Sun Tzu "Art of War" quote).

    "Physics was INCREDIBLY BORING"
    -- M. Gell-Mann, on "From Student to Scientist", Re: HS physics

    I really connected with the course, which was taught by a laid-back easy-going instructor (not high pressure). There was an addendum study booklet, which included a story (remember that phrase "story telling") about Ikeya, the Japanese amateur, who studiously searched for a comet. Ever since then, I became hooked on comets & this led to my interest in comet astrophotography. It started out as a program to assist professional astronomers (wide field tail studies, daily record) & developed a 2ndary component: artistic comet+horizon photos. This led to a lot of recognition & involvement in Astronomy outreach (which is the main role of amateur-astronomy, to help professional astronomers "deal with the Public").

    I was at an inaugural amateur astronomy expo, which was specifically set in a location to draw the general populace. Which had lecture-session designed for Public Outreach (incl talk by John Dobson, the guy who brought Astronomy to the masses with the simple/effective Dobsonian design. Tommaso has such a telescope). They brought in Shuttle specialist Story Musgrave (who participated in Space Shuttle HST repair mission), specifically to inspire people (especially non-Science aware people, who know about Space Program). Another one of the presenters (famous comet hunter) made a key observation:

    "Outreach is the 2nd most important thing to do in Astronomy. What is even more important than Outreach is INSPIRING People. Because if you don't inspire them, all the teaching & education in the world isn't going to help. That's why inspiring..that MAGIC MOMENT [ paradigm shift in one's life ] when you look thru a telescope at Saturn for the 1st time is SO IMPORTANT"
    -- David Levy, co-discovered of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

    So true. What was mindblowing that a senior member of JPL (whose role is Astronomy Outreach) talked about how "Dissemination of Science" (Information) is one of the goals. Uh, NO!! Just like what HPP discovered (& others like me have found out), you need to include an Inspiration tactic (human-interest, Entertainment, scientist personalities, etc). I discussed this with Dr. Kate Hutton (Astronomy PhD, well known public spokesperson for Caltech Geophysics), here. She is discussing education here as well.

    Dr. Heidi Hammel (Space Science Inst, formerly w/MIT) got her inspiration while looking out of the family car & seeing a meteor (while being sick). David Levy also got his inspiration by seeing a meteor at summer camp (which he didn't want to goto). Dr. Michelle Thaller (Caltech IPAC/Spitzer, Outreach head) got her inspiration from seeing "Star Wars" (an Entertainment presentation of space, with a theme of Heros/Villains). Her hero was Carl Sagan. You see her on History Channel's "Universe" & National Geographic's "Naked Science", & she her presentation is just VIBRANT (her looks & delivery). And the list goes on.. I guarantee you that most scientists did not get inspired by the dreary/dull Math/Physics. They do the latter, in pursuit of some inspiration for Discovery. There was that outstanding series "Discovering Women", which profiled leading female researchers (incl Melissa Franklin/Harvard).

    Suspenseful, dramatic narratives and sexual politics interact instructively in "Discovering Women," an engrossing six-part series narrated by Michelle Pfeiffer that premieres tonight...

    The series, executive produced by Judith Vecchione, dramatizes the thesis that, with the riveting exception of its own vivid subjects, science is a man's world to which only the strongest and most determined women need apply.

    I would rate that as the BEST I've seen, which captures the lifestyle of a Scientist. My interest in HEP, is partially due to the interesting personality of M. Franklin (who is a real character, & outspoken..kinda like Lubos Motl). If an Entertainment specialist looking for a storyline asked the HEP community "who is the most dynamic, exciting, controversial physicist in the world", that would be Lumo. You couldn't find a Hollywood script writer who could come up with a character like that!! (Peter Woit/NEW has named this style "Lubosian"). A recent commenter wrote "you [ Tommaso ] are beginning to sound a bit like Lubos". So, possibly there is a "Lubosian" character/storyline, that could envelop a number of physicists.

    Somewhere in the above, is an Idea (Physics "fight club") for marketing HEP with a killer business-model. You will note that History Channel is pushing the program "Jurassic Fight Club" (to appeal to younger demographic, who is into combat video games, etc), as opposed to "Jurassic Park". The String Wars phenomenon in theoretical physics could have some WEIRD TWISTED spinoff, as some get-rich-quick scheme for business-savvy physicists. "Combat Physics", just like you have "Combat TV" (reality shows like Jerry Springer, Geraldo, etc).

    let me ask a question: why do we assume there is a problem with science "education-teaching"? maybe the problem is somewhere else, namely, how people-young and else-perceive science: alienating? irrelevant to daily life? particularly for the young guns. we will never recruit more minds if scientists persist with their-our-current approach. 70 % of us people believe in angels. less than 40 accept evolution-despite the hollering-as a reasonable explanation. the problem is not education, neither young minds: it is us.

    Marylin, then let us call it evangelization, rather than education: does it sound better ? People are religious because they are taught it, and because they conform to society. Science does not have such strong, millenary structures, but we need to get equipped with means to try and increase the chances that our children are educated to independent thought, critical thinking, and the scientific method.

    Then, if we fail, yes, it will be because we are unable to overcome the knowledge of our mortality. But we stand a chance, now after thousand of years of obscurity. We have to try.

    caro dorigo, you are a dreamer..we all should be dreamers, let me ask you: are we-today- in darkness? people in the 'dark' latin european middle ages-didnt know they were in the dark; possibly all were aware life was though, really though, but without a referent how did they know they were in darkness? today half of us are in the dark cause dont yield to the power of god-according to the home team- and the other half is in the dark cause dont yield to the power of scientific knowledge...what utter is like apples telling oranges: surrender!!!-...oranges go: ok...we surrender: to what?. "historically classical" science education-meaning what most of us went through, and the mind power behind the ears of some makes it possible for this blog to exist....and makes it possible to reach out from our freckle of the universe. exercise change in your kids' high works. here is an exercise: native americans have ALWAYS been the lowest achieving group in all STEM disciplines -nsf nomenclature-since history has been written in english ....are they in darkness?...why does this happen? what changes in science education for them, will bridge the ever widening technoincomesocial gap between indians and mainstream? caro dorigo..we have been and still are in the dark.

    Dear Marylin,

    I have a more optimistic attitude. I do not claim that we can change the fact that a large fraction of men and women will always need religion, and will be driven in their thoughts by their unsubstantiated, irrational beliefs. What I think we can and should do is to increase the awareness of the new generations on the importance of scientific thinking.

    Blogging has been a trend nowadays, most people are involved now in blogging. So,I believe any innovations may be benefited through this. Those issues raised in this article were not new. Even a usual invidual or blogger had experience entertaining silly questions. But the point of any innovations or about any sciences here can always be justified and be given an emphasis as long as the one who will manage it knows how to handle things through the path of the real purpose of blogging in relevance to Science. Blogging has been helpful for gaining knowledge, exchanging of thoughts and social networking. I don't think there's something wrong with this.

    Sure, nothing wrong. But every tool works best on some specific tasks. Blogs are not that useful as a means of communication among scientists, but they can be used with some success to help popularize Science.
    "I think, and I said it elsewhere, that the action has to be directed at minds young and elastic enough to still manage to absorb the message. It is only by getting back to School that we can make a dent, and try to change the trend."

    I think this is a bad idea and the thought behind this is part of what has lead to a lot of the anti-science floating around. Yes young people being interested in science is important, but if =the= major effort of science education is directed at the young, the message you are sending is that science is for the young, and if you don't go into it professionally, it means nothing to you as an adult. I think the scientific and educational establishment has been very effective in spreading that exact message and that is partially why there is such a "disconnect" with the public.

    For example, I read this blog because it is NOT directed at the young. Yes youngsters can read this and perhaps appreciate it, but for non-professional adults blogs like this are about the only way to actually feel that science is an ongoing part of the culture. Honestly the only other thing that compares for me is helping at a Nature Center. TV shows are ridiculous and the 90/10 rule applies with a vengeance to other mass media. Science type blogs are breaking down the barrier that says science has no relevance to adults. From direct informational posts to a more social role of showing the ongoing science, one step forward and two step back. Blogs are quite the step up in this realm. They make science endeavors much more visible as part of our culture.

    Hi Markk,
    I may agree, but reaching adults is not as easy as reaching students. A less commercial, better choice of TV programs would do a lot of good and reach adults. But that is practically impossible. What we can and should do more is to use Schools to reach young minds.

    Masses of average people are predominantly not gifted enough to study or pursue science, they don't have the internal drive to study science, and - frankly speaking - they're actually acting rationally because they care about more down-to-Earth things and science is simply not "useful" for them to get there.

    Most students at average schools will always suffer whenever exposed to mathematics, physics, or any real exact or natural science. That will be the case at least up to the moment when the genetic composition of mankind will dramatically differ from the present one. 

    I feel that the love for science cannot really be taught - it is another example of an innate aptitude. Attempts to make someone love science or exact things is more likely to backfire, and attempts to pretend that science or mathematics is similar to the everyday ordinary things that average people care about will backfire, too. It doesn't take long for them to learn what science or mathematics actually is, and they will rightfully feel cheated.

    Science and mathematics are exactly the things that most people are disgusted by, and their beauty and strength is located exactly at the points which cause the feelings to vomit for the average people. Everyone should get used to it. The term "science" shouldn't be redefined in order to be more attractive for the people who hate science. Such attempts could only bring chaos. No one should try to hide this tension because facts shouldn't be masked. Politely, you may say that this is a problem in the relationship between the average people on one side and science on the other side. In reality, the problem hides squarely in the average people.

    So everyone who is trying to optimize the education should think twice what he is trying to achieve and whether it's possible at all. He should avoid all things that will only make everyone upset and suffer - and hate science even more than before - and he should avoid all attempted tricks that will backfire as soon as the students find out that they were not told the truth.

    On the other hand, the education is much more important for the very small percentage of the pupils and students who actually care about such things and who may also do them professionally in the future. Many of them can learn these things without the schools - and they do. But if a school can help, it's much more important than whether or not 10 other average people will suffer for a while.

    Instead of thinking how to impose science upon the average people who are naturally hostile against or at least indifferent towards science, we should be asking how science can be protected against those hostile people. The blogosphere has played a very negative role so far, if everything is summed up. The blogosphere became one of the weapons for the primitive people who hate science and everything that is "hard for the brain" to promote their viewpoint and even make an impact on the scientific community.

    Of course, theoretical physics is the queen of sciences and it makes the average brains suffer maximally among all the sciences, so it has been the primary target. The blogosphere has actually been an efficient tool for the lazy, ungifted, extremely low quality individuals such as Lee Smolin, Peter Woit, and others to hurt real science that they hate so much. They have been doing nasty things by the methods of populism that was extraordinarily successful especially on the Internet. The very intellectual bottom of the society was hired as a weapon against science. People who hate science and who have no idea about it were given the room to promote their opinions about science which has been extremely bad. These people have no business to influence science which must be a structure safely protected against all unscientific pressures - otherwise it ceases to be science.

    This influence must be stopped. The wall between real science and those who hate it must be rebuilt, and the educational infrastructure of all civilized nations must make sure that it is science and its exceptional representatives, and not the primitive barbarians who hate science, who are given the edge. If this is not guaranteed, our nations will cease to be civilized.

    And that's the memo.
    Hi Lubos,

    nobody argues that we should get more people doing Science. It would be good, however, to have more people with a positive mindset toward science and research. It is not teaching Science what we should aim at, but rather teaching the scientific method, the appreciation of rational thinking.
    I think you are a bit Don-Quixotesque in your attacks against "science-haters". The damage is done by masses insensitive to the need to advance Science, rather than by those few you seem to are up against.
    Dear Tommaso,

    those mindsets of the people that can't be modified are fixed and it makes no sense to dream about changing them; and the remaining mindsets that can be modified are being changed, ultimately by the influence of those (XY) whose opinions can't be changed. And this influence is weighted by the personal influence of XY themselves.

    When you trace all this dynamics and what is actually variable and what is not, you will find out that everything that can be influenced boils down to the "few" science-haters. It's the ultimate source of the ideology that science sucks, that everything that a given person doesn't understand must be bad or wrong, that even when one allows a term like science, maths and quantitative or exact thinking in general must be trash-talked because everything must be determined by average dishonest idiots according to their personal interests and superficial arguments, and so forth.

    You're just not right if you deny the role of "opinionmakers". Everything that is variable about the opinions in the society ultimately boils down to "opinionmakers", and whether you or someone else likes it or not, the scum that I call "science-haters" - and that you apparently call your friends - have become opinion-makers when it comes to science. If these junk people are not liquidated from the realm of opinion-making, science will inevitably suffer even more than it does today.

    It's no coincidence that America, a leader in science, technology, and innovation for over a century, is a democratic nation that values freedom where people hold their own values and can pursue a variety of careers. If you force science upon people, the quality of the science will diminish. I hesitate to make such a cliche comparison to your ideas, but Nazism was meant to be relatively scientific as well. The point however being that freedom is an essential ingredient in the pursuit of truth&science.
    Hi Jac, you're right, it is a cliche comparison. I never advocated forcing science upon people! I just said that some ideas should be stressed in high school students curricula, and the best way to do it is by offering free seminars by researchers and professors from universities to these schools. We let the forcible evangelization to the roman catholic church and similar cults.

    Hi Tom, I was moreso responding to Lubos, but the point is that given a genuine chance, the benefits of science will stand on their own. It's not just a question about good science education. It's also about keeping the public in the loop without treating them like kids - among science media that doesn't dumb it all down, it tries to take this awe-inspiring earth-is-as-small-as-a-grain-of-sand-doesn't-that-blow-your-mind approach. Descriptions of ongoing research need to be simplified for the general public, but at the same time public articles should be genuine about it, without reaching to the heavens to find a journalistic hook.
    Hi. The scientific community tends to complain a lot about the media "dumbing things down." It seems to me that they do eveything in their power to ensure that the media does "dumb it down". At best, scientists speak at the post graduate level in very technical language; the media communicates at the high school level. Who do you think is "translating" the million dollar words and the academic speak into something the average person understands or cares about? The reporter. And they are doing it in a hurry and without any particular expertise or experience in science. It's a miracle that they get any of it right. I love T's idea of scientists going into classrooms and explaining what they do . Scientists need to own up to their shortcomings - they are, for the most part, aweful communicators. What's worse, they think it is everyone else's fault. If you can't communicate effectively then you shouldn't be a scientist. That's my humble opinion anyway....

    If you can't communicate effectively then you shouldn't be a scientist.
    If you replace 'scientist' in that sentence with 'baseball player' or 'firefighter' you see how it makes no sense.  The job of scientists is to produce excellent science and nothing else, just like baseball players play baseball.    Sports has commentators and journalists who are better at fostering discussion and explanation.   I don't want to watch some guy batting .100 because he is a better speaker than Albert Pujols.
    Communication is crucial to the scientific method. When a baseball player doesn't communicate well he can still hit the ball. When scientists don't communicate well then it doesn't matter what they discover or what they learn because it will mostly be understood - and the societal impacts are incredible. Climate change is an example. Scientists let others frame the issue and now we're seeing the results. Many scientists insist on sitting on the sidelines, letting other non-credible sources have the floor and then have the temerity to complain about it. They have to step up. It is their responsibility to their profession and their society. As Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

    This just makes no sense.    No scientist can explain a magnetic field to a PhD in electromagnetics much less an 8th grader yet you contend the $250 billion semiconductor industry should not exist because a magnetic field can't be defined.    Climate change was the opposite problem of what you claim - scientists were creating media talking points themselves and letting working groups issue policy recommendations for concerns that were not evidence based.   As a result, they lost the trust of the public.   Had they stuck to the data and not tried to 'frame' the issue as communicators we would be a lot farther ahead.

    Tasking scientists with being the best communicators simply means we will get lousy science, no differently than if we said the only good scientists are the ones who can hit a curveball.    Science is about excellence in science, not excellence in writing or speech or bowling or anything else.

    You seem to be interested in promoting the ones who talk pretty, as opposed to the ones who do great science.   Luckily we have both here but that is rare.
    My point is that lousy science and poor communication go hand-in-hand. Why do scientists react so viscerally when they are asked to explain what they do and what they've found to their fellow citizens? It is not impossible to explain what you do in everyday language. Is it because they can't or they won't? Is it arrogance or laziness? Is it because they feel threatened when their knowledge becomes accessible? Is it the possibility of peer sneer? I just don't get it. You don't have to be a great speechwriter, you just have to dain to talk about what you do and what you've found. It's fundamental to the scientific method (a good link on this is at: - check out the Benefits and Outcomes bubble).

    Gerhard Adam
    Why do scientists react so viscerally when they are asked to explain what they do and what they've found to their fellow citizens?
    Depends.  Is it information or is this another "gotcha game"?  We've all seen how once information gets into the media everyone gets a chance to spin it in whatever direction they like.  That's not a game anyone wants to engage in. 

    After all, the controversy surrounding global climate change occurs precisely because enough talking heads have managed to hijack the discussion to twist it into their own political agenda.  This is what happens when there is "plain talk".  It's little wonder that scientists act with hostility to those whose only purpose is to generate a story, rather than to convey information.
    Mundus vult decipi
    But that's reality isn't it? It's not going to change. So the decision before scientists is to leave the field and deal with the ramifications for science and society or (the option I recommend) get better at it. Don't go on Fox News. But do launch websites, take interviews with responsible journallists, go into schools and talk about what you do - explain, explain and explain again. This is not a fluffy add-on to science, it is one of its core elements. Just because its challenging doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

    Gerhard Adam
    Who do you think is "translating" the million dollar words and the academic speak into something the average person understands or cares about?
    I have a problem with this perspective, because it suggests that such "million dollar words" are chosen arbitrarily to be obscure or difficult to understand.  While many professions have jargon that exists for no particular reason other than convenience, it is equally true that many words are intended to provide a degree of precision that is often missed by simple "translations".  As a result, when a technical or detailed discussion occurs, it cannot simply be presented in overly simplistic terminology  because it often causes the significance to be lost (not to mention the introduction of some arbitrary vagueness which misses the point).

    It doesn't matter whether the average person understands or cares about science.  If they are interested then they need to expend the energy to become reasonably competent to engage in the more technical presentations.  Otherwise, there are certainly enough books and magazine articles that present the broad outlines of scientific information to the interested layman.

    Mundus vult decipi
    It doesn't matter whether the average person understands or cares about science?

    That has to be a joke, right? Can scientists really not "observe" the real-world, concrete outcomes of this lack of science understanding and scientific illiteracy? Can they not see what it does to their profession? I'm not saying others don't have a responsibility here (politicians, media, etc.) to do a better job. I am just saying that it begins with scientists. If they can't help us little people understand it then they shouldn't complain when we little people ignore their results, their funding requests and perhaps even villify them. Scientists do not work in a vacuum even though they wish they could.

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not suggesting that scientists work in a vacuum.  However, it is incorrect to assume that it is the responsibility of scientists to engage in the political  and social decisions that "average" people need to make.  Specifically I'm opposed to the idea that scientists should wield that kind of power or authority, so it is up to people to take that information and do with it as they will.

    As in your previous example mentioning climate change, the real issue isn't what the scientists explain, as much as it depends on what the average citizen determines is the necessary criteria for taking action (and what action that might be).  Science can only provide the raw information.

    People routinely ignore technical and scientific advice and it is incorrect to chastise the researcher or scientist because people remain willfully ignorant or pursue political agendas.  If people formulate their opinions based on what Keith Olberman or Glenn Beck say, then it doesn't really matter how articulate a scientist may be.
    If they can't help us little people understand it then they shouldn't complain when we little people ignore their results,...
    You see, this is precisely my point.  If global climate change is a real concern for humanity, then it is up to the individuals in the society to determine how they want to deal with it.  The scientist can only convey information and if people choose to ignore it, then the onus is on them and not the scientist.  Scientists are not humanity's baby-sitters.

    Bear in mind that if people are truly interested, then there are plenty of opportunities to educate themselves and to ask questions, but the unfortunate reality is that the majority would rather advance their own biased political agendas and spend endless hours researching the grassy knoll than pay attention to information that might actually be relevant in their lvies.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yeah, we're not going to agree on this. I don't believe scientists should become humanity's babysitters and become policy advocates. You say that "the scientist can only convey information and if people choose to ignore it, then the onus is on them and not the scientist." I do believe the onus is on the scientist if they convey that information poorly - which is often the case. Scientists must convey information clearly or their is no point in generating it. Part of being a good scientist is being a good communicator. Part of being a good communicator is knowing your various audiences and knowing how to communicate with them. My opinion (and I underscore it is just my opinion and people obviously can disagree with it) is that a scientist who can't communicate clearly with all affected audiences is a poor scientist.

    Gerhard Adam
    You're right that we probably won't agree.  You would have a point if the controversies today were the result of overly complex information being uninterpretable by the lay person, but that isn't what's happening.  Instead we see people's opinions colored by the political bias' they have.  They would rather spend hours on end listening to their favorite propagandist than thinking intelligently about what science says.

    The critics of global climate change aren't arguing that the information is too complex, they're arguing that the scientists are wrong and accusing them of conspiracies.  This has nothing to do with how information is presented, it has everything to do with the spin that individuals place on it. 

    The simple reality is that, taking a subject like global climate change, the individual's perspective is almost exclusively based on political leanings and has little or nothing to do with science.  One can be fairly accurate in asking an individual's political leanings to determine what conclusion they've likely reached regarding this topic.  So, this isn't about science communication at all.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yep, we let the wack jobs seize control of the discussion.I'm not saying science can win that fractious public discource, I just think they have a responsibility to at least try. When they just shrug their shoulders and say it is political and has nothing to do with them, or when they use the language of work in the wrong context, then there are serious consequences. If there is going to be growth, rather than a reduction, in critical thought and rationalism (isn't that the scientist's stock in trade?) then it will take the scientific community stepping up and just clearly explaining what they do, how they do it and what they've learned. Is an ivory tower in a land of religious zealots and political no-minds really worth inhabiting?

    Anyway, nice sparring with you!

    So that little m in men wasn't deliberate, then? Shame on you, Tommaso.

    Kea, I'm a tourist of English writing, give me a break :)
    Chimp, your support is appreciated ... but you should probably look for a woman who is comfortable pandering to the 4 inch heel culture.

    carisimo dorigo and all: what passion!!! i mean for rational agents, like your-our-selves, notwithstanding amartya sens' flattening "rational fools" argument...tomasso, im an optimist also, but in a different manner to what it is argued in the postings: i hope for education-science- supporting the full intellectual achievement of free spirits on their pursuit...and hopefully on behalf of all..what more optimist than this? the path of science shouldnt be imposed, evangelized, as you said, on anyone, let each one follow their lights or choose, anything else is a bad idea leading to what we stand up against: ideologies and totalitarian behaviours.. do we choose the paths we follow? when 99% of all scientists say, in the lunch interview with seed magazine: "since i was a child i was fascinated by..[here the subject changes] " they are just saying what all say. some are fascinated with poetry, some with dance, music, stars, laundry, insects or nothing..yes nothing...however, im not talking about this path, im writing about about how does anyone choose to be neruda, sylvia plath, einstein, jung, pauli!!-he certainly didnt-lee smolin, weinberg, witten, tomasso doing deep physics, nureyev, saint francis, santa rosa de lima, madame curie, gandhi? you think they chose their path? having one track minds-as i think j. watson argued-makes life meaningful and more tolerable-more so -but again do you choose this one track path and devote your life to it, beyond and above? dr motl suggestion a few are chosen among the masses is horrendous, untestable, and possibly false. the gift you have and the ones i mentioned before-and dr motl included is-was- yes, a gift-grace if you will-so dont go around pontificating you belong to the coolest clicka-following us gang nomenclature-and are indispensable.. thence, lets go the classrooms and teach-and learn-how to unfold our students and our intellectual potential: science follows. it does..this is the limit condition of course, beacuse if you send students to raelian university....people, the masses, dont hate science, they "hate" the idea in front of the scientist-a violent idea-case in point: what if the LHC never works-unlikely but possible you have to admit, it hasnt yet-and the higgs and else have to wait.... from somewhere in the universe we will get a petacosmic laugh pointing how ridiculous we are as rational agents.

    I seem to have expressed myself poorly, since everybody equivocates on the real proposal I have made in the post, and further explained in this thread.

    I am *not* suggesting we should force a scientific thinking in youngsters! I am saying we should provide them with the tools! Too often do I see them coming out from School unarmed and oblivious. It is a problem with the formation of the human resources of this century what I see in the cards. The anti-science culture is a result of poor education (along with the action of other agents which are unfortunately unsteerable, like television programs).

    caro tomasso: how can we equivocate answering an argument it wasnt there? i dont want to read as a nag, but you dont have evidence that anti-science 'culture' is a result of poor education. and who defines poor education? we? in US, the anti-science culture is fueled by ideologies-religious- fanaticism-religious- and importantly, our irresponsible behaviour as science citizens. in the US, examplar democracy, antiscience is raw and brutal, the driving force that allows practice any form of religion here, including cuasi religions, KKK, and white separatism, eg, drives the repudiation of science explanations for life: evolution, climate change, supernatural phenomena and others. people dont want science saying anything about-their-lives. should we worry? of course, but lets stop the hollering and ranting, as some of my indian friends say: dont get mad, do your homework and also, turn tv off. i dont diminsih your argument, im saying we parents have LOTS to do with our children education. your question is perhaps one of the most important questions when considering the horizon

    Though I'm coming a bit late to this discussion, I thought I'd weigh in and share my work in this area. I hope this message is not taken as an advertisement or as having too much of a promotional element. I am very interested in sharing ideas and hearing from others who are interested in reforming science education.

    For the past fifteen years I've been working directly on the problem of helping premedical students prepare for the MCAT, and I am in the process of releasing this work as a creative commons open source project. A few years into the project, the work developed into something a lot more ambitious than creating a test-prep course, that is, I began the long journey to create an alternative curriculum for undergraduate science education. Helping premedical students has been a vehicle for me to make progress which I hope other educators will find beneficial. Because the students preparing for the MCAT are responsible for both the undergraduate physical sciences and biological sciences, it was only natural to use the disciplines to shine light on each other in my course, and over time these practices developed into a set of methods. I've taught over fifty cycles with small groups of students in Atlanta Georgia, devoting over the years approximately twenty thousand hours in the creation of my course, and I am working on posting the entire project as The WikiPremed Video MCAT Course.

    WikiPremed is a unified curriculum covering physics, chemistry, organic chemistry and biology. It is the work of my life really, which I have performed to improve access to science education around the world. By unified curriculum, what I mean is that the chemistry grows out of the physics in the course, and the biological sciences out of the foundation of the physical sciences. I guess as it stands the curriculum functions as a critique of current practices in undergraduate science education, in which the undergraduate courses are taught as disconnected modules. Because a student can take chemistry before physics (most students do!), there is no way for the professor to use the language of work & energy and electrostatics with any depth to help students understand energy change in chemical systems. This is ridiculous. In my opinion because of deficiencies like this, the treatment of Chemical Thermodynamics at the undergraduate level is hopelessly superficial, so most premedical students never really understand energy flow in metabolism, even the most advanced. This is a fact. Learning atomic theory, chemical bonding, and intermolecular force within the more general field of reference from physics establishes the understanding of chemistry upon a much more solid conceptual foundation than is possible within the traditional college 101 curricula, building the conceptual understanding of chemical energy change out of physics, not as physics 101 and chemistry 101 unmoored from their common reality.

    In the next phase, I think thermodynamics should be approached for undergraduate students from the perspective of both physics and chemistry, so that heat & temperature, the laws of thermodynamics, thermochemistry, chemical thermodynamics, equilibrium and chemical kinetics are taught together. Gibbs developed the idea of free energy by interpreting the equilibrium state in the light of the Carnot cycle, but the Carnot cycle is taught in Physics 101, so no chemistry professor can refer to it in Chem 101, but if a student can't grasp what it means for heat flow to be reversible between a system and its surroundings, they will never understand what drives chemical change toward equilibrium, so modern undergraduates rarely get within a mile of understanding these things because they don't really even understand internal energy change much less they enthalpy or entropy. The vast majority really don't, at least not the premedical students of Emory, Ga Tech, and Ga State with whom I have worked.

    My feeling is that the first half of undergraduate general science, for all but the strictly physical science oriented, should take as its end-point bioenergetics. I think a two year 10 unit integrated course taught by a team would be much better than four 5 unit courses in physics, chemistry, biology and organic. The approach I take to this problem is by sequencing topics from the different disciplines in the following order in the first half, so this would be the first year of a 10 unit reformed, undergraduate course in general science.

    Newton's Laws
    Work, Energy, and Power
    Momentum and Impulse
    Harmonic Motion
    Elastic Properties of Solids
    Fluid Mechanics
    Atomic Theory
    Periodic Properties
    The Chemical Bond
    Intermolecular Forces
    Functional Groups in Organic Chemistry
    Temperature and Heat Flow
    The Ideal Gas and Kinetic Theory
    The First Law of Thermodynamics
    The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Heat Engines
    Chemical Thermodynamics and the Equilibrium State
    The States of Matter
    The Physical Properties of Organic Compounds
    Chemical Kinetics
    Acids and Bases
    Organic Acids and Bases
    Nucleophiles and Electrophiles
    Intramolecular Cationic Rearrangements
    Reactions with Radical Intermediates
    Conjugated π Systems and Aromaticity
    Reactions of Alkanes
    Reactions of Alkenes
    Reactions of Alkynes
    Reactions of Alkyl Halides
    Reactions of Allylic and Benzylic Conjugation
    Reactions of Aromatic Compounds
    Reactions of Alcohols and Ethers
    Reactions of Aldehydes and Ketones
    Reactions of Carboxylic Acids and Derivatives
    Reactions of Amines
    Reactions of Organic Phosphorus Compounds
    Reactions of Organic Sulfur Compounds
    Nucleic Acids
    Biological Membranes
    The Prokaryotic Cell
    The Eukaryotic Cell
    Coordination Chemistry
    Oxidation/Reduction in Organic Chemistry
    Bioenergetics and Cellular Respiration
    Biosynthesis of Macromolecules
    Integration of Metabolism

    The atoms of a mitochondrion, those within and surrounding it are physical, electrodynamic entities. When a student can see the wheel of physics turning within the cell, they understand the natural world in a new way.

    In the second year, students should study molecular biology, cell biology and human physiology having the conceptual basis to interpret living systems as complex, emergent phenomena within the unity of science. In the second year there would also be more advanced work in the physical sciences, with calculus based electricity & magnetism, light & optics, and modern physics.

    So there you go.

    If you are interested, here's a link to my open access MCAT course. (working hard to get all of the video up and need to re-cut some of the first videos, which are really too slow).

    WikiPremed Video MCAT Course


    Jeff Sherry
    Dr. Wetzel have you and your students had success with your MCAT course at Georgia State?

    Does your sytem change the course load of an undergraduate and extend the undergraduate degree to 5 or more years?
    Thank you for your questions Jeff. I've taught many GA State students over the years. As a group they have done very well on the MCAT averaging about 30 or 31, but I can't take too much credit because so many GA State premedical students are post-baccelaureate, and they are a different breed when it comes to the MCAT. I think the younger undergraduate premeds at GA State get a rough deal because they take classes with so many older students.

    As to your second question, if a college decided to try to implement what I am suggesting for the undergraduate curriculum, it would be to replace the 40 semester hours of physics, chemistry, biology and organic chemistry with 40 semester hours of a combined, spiraling curriculum, so there would be no need to extend the length of the undergraduate years. Of course, the people currently using my learning program are approaching this curriculum as a review course prior to the MCAT, and it takes about 4-6 months of dedicated study to get through it. I think MCAT preparation should be an opportunity for students to get their knowledge base to a deeper level before medical school. I think the MCAT is a well designed test because it encourages this.

    Aside from MCAT preparation, in thinking of how a college might try to reform undergraduate science along the lines I'm proposing, to make it more interdisciplinary in a fundamental way, there may be problems for the students who may not need the entire general science curriculum, future electrical engineers, for example. There may also be problems for students who don't complete the program and so don't have a transcript that can satisfy the application requirements of graduate school, with half of physics being taught in the first year and the second half in the second year.

    When I daydream of these ideas actually being implemented, it is along the lines of a program I learned about when I was an undergraduate at Stanford, a special humanities program for the most ambitious Freshmen there called SLE, structured liberal education, which was a ten hour, year long, intensive program providing a survey of the world history of art and ideas, instead of a standard five hour course. The students lived together in a dormitory and were taught by a team of professors from various humanities departments. I think it might be feasible to design a program of structured science education in that way, maybe with a premedical focus. Maybe it is being done already! If a dean somewhere is contemplating this, maybe the work I have done will give them some ideas.

    Jeff Sherry
    Dr. Wetzel, thank you for your quick response. Recently my nephew passed his MCAT as an undergraduate at U of Georgia and my other nephew will be taking the MCAT next summer as an undergrad at Georgia Tech. Chances are both know of your program.

    Again thanks for the glimpses into possible future and present undergrad curriculae of premed students.
    so mr-ms-dr-? wetzel what does your advertisement do for improving science education? you help students pass a premed test, and to assume that " When a student can see the wheel of physics turning within the cell, they understand the natural world in a new way" are u sure about this? are u sure premed students would see the natural world-is there another one-in an enlightned way ? i never have been. i was not raised in us and i can assure u thar the scientific knowledge of many practioner mds around here is..rather dantesque

    I am coming to this discussion as someone who has worked as hard on the problem of how to teach undergraduate science to undergraduate students as pretty much anybody I think, but no I am not a pHD. Frankly, there was no professional groove for this work when I decided it was what I would do. MCAT preparation is the wild west. Building what I have, as unfinished and deficient as it is, has been a hard road, but I passed the 10,000 hour rule for expertise year's ago. People may choose whether I have anything to say about science education based on the quality of my arguments. As far as my background when I started teaching small groups of students in 1994, I had the best premedical education the United States had to offer from Stanford and Ga Tech, where I spent my last year of high school and a 38 MCAT. I basically had what people call a breakthrough helping other students which led to this calling.

    So I have gone through about fifty cycles of reviewing the premedical curriculum with small groups of students over many years, usually about 4-6 students at a time. This means I have directly asked hundreds of students in small group discussion question after question, so please you are not revealing any news to me about the population of doctors and their understanding of science. I am well aware of the pure product of premedical education in this country. Former students of mine are doctors all over the country. I truly believe they are better doctors because they worked with me. I am proud of whatever it is I have accomplished all these years.

    I don't think it is fair to minimize MCAT preparation as getting ready for some test. MCAT preparation is generally a six month process, often more, that involves reviewing and mastering the entire undergraduate general science curriculum. Students at the beginning of this process have a huge collection of disconnected facts and concepts from the test-of-the-week two years ago, and at the end they are meant to have a structured, fluent knowledge base. The MCAT is a good test. The process of preparing for this test is a necessary step to preparing for medical school.

    As to the most idealist educational goals, I don't know that I would use 'enlightened' to describe what interdisciplinary science education can achieve. What I mean is more concrete. Students just don't see the mitochondrion in the way they should. They don't understand the thermodynamics. Helping them understand makes the world around them more coherent. The sense of an expanding field of coherence is what people have described as enlightenment, a mirror and a lamp, but I wouldn't use the word because of the philosophical connotations. Whether a person becomes thunderstruck or gob-smacked or just keeps their head down on the row they need to hoe to get rich or make their mom proud really just depends on the individual.

    Stumbled across this article titled what is science. It's a very interesting read.