We Need to Talk–About Science

One might argue that science is enjoying a bit of an upswing in terms of pop culture. Science fiction movies are in at the moment, documentaries about actual scientists are also box office hits, Bill Nye is a household name, and there’s The Big Bang Theory on television (Not a fan.  Don’t have cable.  Also it’s painful to watch other people think Asperger’s is funny.)

So maybe it’s cool to be a scientist- at least in some abstract, aren’t nerds cute kind of way.  But what about science itself?  I’m sorry to say science is not sexy.  The plodding work involved in the scientific method is not glamorous. Lab work is downright tedious.  And that whole thing about having to replicate scientific results—how boring.

But we don’t all have to be scientists to appreciate what science brings to us ordinary humans—a way of understanding the world around us.  A way of possibly even improving the world around us.  This is not new, right?  From the polio vaccine to Tang to solar panels, science brings us new technology that improves the life of everyone. But we also have to have the wisdom to use what we are given.

My own personal favorite celebrity scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, embraces pop science, saying it gives him a vehicle to communicate to a larger audience.  He urges scientists to learn to communicate better, to reach people who may have other things on their minds than the physics of Star Trek. “You testify to Congress and you say they don’t get it there’s something wrong with them. Noooooo. There’s something missing in your lexicon because everybody else is fluent here.”

Well, it’s past time for learning to talk about science. We have completely failed at imparting even a rudimentary standard of scientific knowledge on the general public.  I see no other possible conclusion when the incoming Trump administration is riddled with anti-science buffoons.  This goes well beyond a Republican tendency to prioritize short term economy building over long term environmental consequences.  We have an incoming administration of anti-vax climate change deniers, and I’m scared.

Let’s take global warming.  On record as rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-created temperature increases, we have, based on my 4 minutes of research, Pence, Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Mulvaney, and Sessions.  So much for the 97% scientific consensus.  We’re screwed.

I’m not really sure how we got here.  Was it Oprah?  Was it Oprah giving platforms to anti-vax hot bod turned concerned mom Jenny McCarthy and Dr. (there really is nothing behind the curtain but I’m pretty and I have an MD) Oz? Was it evangelical-fueled anti-intellectualism insisting God and Einstein couldn’t both be right? Was it the dumbing- down of America that began once we won the space race? Reagan-era materialism over knowledge?

Is it just our own self-centered natures, unwillingness to embrace unfortunate truths, the stubborn human trait of lack of foresight?  Are we all like Donald Trump who complained that those irritating scientists were threatening to take away his hairspray? “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” If only Donald Trump’s apartment were a closed system. I’d be the first to encourage him to use all the hair spray he wants.

But none of us live in a closed system.  We’re all in it together.  Well, you people who live in Miami are going first, but the rest of us could very well suffer real consequences if scientific policies backslide over the next four years.  I wish I had some sage advice as to how to temper the impending apocalypse, but all I can say is stay angry, and stay vigilant.  And help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re our only hope.

 

 

 

We Need to Talk-About Science

One might argue that science is enjoying a bit of an upswing in terms of pop culture. Science fiction movies are in at the moment, documentaries about actual scientists are also box office hits, Bill Nye is a household name, and there’s The Big Bang Theory on television (Not a fan.  Don’t have cable.  Also it’s painful to watch other people think Asperger’s is funny.)

So maybe it’s cool to be a scientist- at least in some abstract, aren’t nerds cute kind of way.  But what about science itself?  I’m sorry to say science is not sexy.  The plodding work involved in the scientific method is not glamorous. Lab work is downright tedious.  And that whole thing about having to replicate scientific results—how boring.

But we don’t all have to be scientists to appreciate what science brings to us ordinary humans—a way of understanding the world around us.  A way of possibly even improving the world around us.  This is not new, right?  From the polio vaccine to Tang to solar panels, science brings us new technology that improves the life of everyone. But we also have to have the wisdom to use what we are given.

My own personal favorite celebrity scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, embraces pop science, saying it gives him a vehicle to communicate to a larger audience.  He urges scientists to learn to communicate better, to reach people who may have other things on their minds than the physics of Star Trek. “You testify to Congress and you say they don’t get it there’s something wrong with them. Noooooo. There’s something missing in your lexicon because everybody else is fluent here.”

Well, it’s past time for learning to talk about science. We have completely failed at imparting even a rudimentary standard of scientific knowledge on the general public.  I see no other possible conclusion when the incoming Trump administration is riddled with anti-science buffoons.  This goes well beyond a Republican tendency to prioritize short term economy building over long term environmental consequences.  We have an incoming administration of anti-vax climate change deniers, and I’m scared.

Let’s take global warming.  On record as rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-created temperature increases, we have, based on my 4 minutes of research, Pence, Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Mulvaney, and Sessions.  So much for the 97% scientific consensus.  We’re screwed.

I’m not really sure how we got here.  Was it Oprah?  Was it Oprah giving platforms to anti-vax hot bod turned concerned mom Jenny McCarthy and Dr. (there really is nothing behind the curtain but I’m pretty and I have an MD) Oz? Was it evangelical-fueled anti-intellectualism insisting God and Einstein couldn’t both be right? Was it the dumbing- down of America that began once we won the space race? Reagan-era materialism over knowledge?

Is it just our own self-centered natures, unwillingness to embrace unfortunate truths, the stubborn human trait of lack of foresight?  Are we all like Donald Trump who complained that those irritating scientists were threatening to take away his hairspray? “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” If only Donald Trump’s apartment were a closed system. I’d be the first to encourage him to use all the hair spray he wants.

But none of us live in a closed system.  We’re all in it together.  Well, you people who live in Miami are going first, but the rest of us could very well suffer real consequences if scientific policies backslide over the next four years.  I wish I had some sage advice as to how to temper the impending apocalypse, but all I can say is stay angry, and stay vigilant.  And help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re our only hope.

 

 

 

We Need to Talk-About Science

One might argue that science is enjoying a bit of an upswing in terms of pop culture. Science fiction movies are in at the moment, documentaries about actual scientists are also box office hits, Bill Nye is a household name, and there’s The Big Bang Theory on television (Not a fan.  Don’t have cable.  Also it’s painful to watch other people think Asperger’s is funny.)

So maybe it’s cool to be a scientist- at least in some abstract, aren’t nerds cute kind of way.  But what about science itself?  I’m sorry to say science is not sexy.  The plodding work involved in the scientific method is not glamorous. Lab work is downright tedious.  And that whole thing about having to replicate scientific results—how boring.

But we don’t all have to be scientists to appreciate what science brings to us ordinary humans—a way of understanding the world around us.  A way of possibly even improving the world around us.  This is not new, right?  From the polio vaccine to Tang to solar panels, science brings us new technology that improves the life of everyone. But we also have to have the wisdom to use what we are given.

My own personal favorite celebrity scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, embraces pop science, saying it gives him a vehicle to communicate to a larger audience.  He urges scientists to learn to communicate better, to reach people who may have other things on their minds than the physics of Star Trek. “You testify to Congress and you say they don’t get it there’s something wrong with them. Noooooo. There’s something missing in your lexicon because everybody else is fluent here.”

Well, it’s past time for learning to talk about science. We have completely failed at imparting even a rudimentary standard of scientific knowledge on the general public.  I see no other possible conclusion when the incoming Trump administration is riddled with anti-science buffoons.  This goes well beyond a Republican tendency to prioritize short term economy building over long term environmental consequences.  We have an incoming administration of anti-vax climate change deniers, and I’m scared.

Let’s take global warming.  On record as rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-created temperature increases, we have, based on my 4 minutes of research, Pence, Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Mulvaney, and Sessions.  So much for the 97% scientific consensus.  We’re screwed.

I’m not really sure how we got here.  Was it Oprah?  Was it Oprah giving platforms to anti-vax hot bod turned concerned mom Jenny McCarthy and Dr. (there really is nothing behind the curtain but I’m pretty and I have an MD) Oz? Was it evangelical-fueled anti-intellectualism insisting God and Einstein couldn’t both be right? Was it the dumbing- down of America that began once we won the space race? Reagan-era materialism over knowledge?

Is it just our own self-centered natures, unwillingness to embrace unfortunate truths, the stubborn human trait of lack of foresight?  Are we all like Donald Trump who complained that those irritating scientists were threatening to take away his hairspray? “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” If only Donald Trump’s apartment were a closed system. I’d be the first to encourage him to use all the hair spray he wants.

But none of us live in a closed system.  We’re all in it together.  Well, you people who live in Miami are going first, but the rest of us could very well suffer real consequences if scientific policies backslide over the next four years.  I wish I had some sage advice as to how to temper the impending apocalypse, but all I can say is stay angry, and stay vigilant.  And help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re our only hope.

 

 

 

We Need to Talk-About Science

One might argue that science is enjoying a bit of an upswing in terms of pop culture. Science fiction movies are in at the moment, documentaries about actual scientists are also box office hits, Bill Nye is a household name, and there’s The Big Bang Theory on television (Not a fan.  Don’t have cable.  Also it’s painful to watch other people think Asperger’s is funny.)

So maybe it’s cool to be a scientist- at least in some abstract, aren’t nerds cute kind of way.  But what about science itself?  I’m sorry to say science is not sexy.  The plodding work involved in the scientific method is not glamorous. Lab work is downright tedious.  And that whole thing about having to replicate scientific results—how boring.

But we don’t all have to be scientists to appreciate what science brings to us ordinary humans—a way of understanding the world around us.  A way of possibly even improving the world around us.  This is not new, right?  From the polio vaccine to Tang to solar panels, science brings us new technology that improves the life of everyone. But we also have to have the wisdom to use what we are given.

My own personal favorite celebrity scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, embraces pop science, saying it gives him a vehicle to communicate to a larger audience.  He urges scientists to learn to communicate better, to reach people who may have other things on their minds than the physics of Star Trek. “You testify to Congress and you say they don’t get it there’s something wrong with them. Noooooo. There’s something missing in your lexicon because everybody else is fluent here.”

Well, it’s past time for learning to talk about science. We have completely failed at imparting even a rudimentary standard of scientific knowledge on the general public.  I see no other possible conclusion when the incoming Trump administration is riddled with anti-science buffoons.  This goes well beyond a Republican tendency to prioritize short term economy building over long term environmental consequences.  We have an incoming administration of anti-vax climate change deniers, and I’m scared.

Let’s take global warming.  On record as rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-created temperature increases, we have, based on my 4 minutes of research, Pence, Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Mulvaney, and Sessions.  So much for the 97% scientific consensus.  We’re screwed.

I’m not really sure how we got here.  Was it Oprah?  Was it Oprah giving platforms to anti-vax hot bod turned concerned mom Jenny McCarthy and Dr. (there really is nothing behind the curtain but I’m pretty and I have an MD) Oz? Was it evangelical-fueled anti-intellectualism insisting God and Einstein couldn’t both be right? Was it the dumbing- down of America that began once we won the space race? Reagan-era materialism over knowledge?

Is it just our own self-centered natures, unwillingness to embrace unfortunate truths, the stubborn human trait of lack of foresight?  Are we all like Donald Trump who complained that those irritating scientists were threatening to take away his hairspray? “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” If only Donald Trump’s apartment were a closed system. I’d be the first to encourage him to use all the hair spray he wants.

But none of us live in a closed system.  We’re all in it together.  Well, you people who live in Miami are going first, but the rest of us could very well suffer real consequences if scientific policies backslide over the next four years.  I wish I had some sage advice as to how to temper the impending apocalypse, but all I can say is stay angry, and stay vigilant.  And help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re our only hope.

 

 

 

In Memory of the Challenger

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  It was 1986 when the Challenger was launched, carrying the “First Teacher in Space,” Christa McAuliffe.  She never made it.  Seventy-three seconds after launch from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral something went wrong.  While many people remember an explosion, and some news sources even added explosion sounds to the news footage, what actually happened was the solid rocket booster caught fire and detached, leaving the shuttle to crash land in the ocean.  It was this impact that killed the seven crew members although whether or not they were conscious at this time remains unknown.

As a Florida kid, I’d seen a bunch of shuttle launches.  Up close is great, but the 150 mile trip to Cape Canaveral often left us disappointed as launch delays were common.  We could often see shuttle launches from our backyards or school playgrounds. It was something we took for granted like orange trees and alligators.  So I wasn’t watching the shuttle launch on TV or out the window at the time of the disaster. I was sitting in Spanish class trying to grasp the subjunctive tense.

Some kid whose name was Brian, I think, was skipping class and gazing at the sky through a haze of weed when the shuttle broke apart.  He burst into the classroom in a panic.  “It exploded!” he said, excitedly.  “It’s falling in the ocean!” The teacher didn’t believe him at first, but he managed to convince her, and we all went outside.

It was cold out and clear. I strained to see if there were bodies falling from the sky.  There were none, of course. By the time I saw the wreckage in the sky, the astronauts were sinking in the Atlantic Ocean.  It all seemed so macabre, though, as if we witnessed death up close even though we were so far away.  It was messy, gory, graphic if only in our minds.  I have a hard time remembering how I felt past the gut reaction of horror. I still can’t bring myself to post a picture of the debris. Please enjoy this picture of Christa McAuliffe.

Those of my generation are likely to have strong memories of the disaster, especially for those of us who witnessed it in real time in person or on TV.  One study shows that in children, memories of the event were recalled years later in much the same way as personal traumas full of colorful, specific, and mostly accurate details.

Nothing else got done at school that day, or for the rest of the week.  Our teachers turned into counselors.  We were encouraged to share our thoughts, our grief.

The greatest tragedy of the shuttle disaster is of course that it could have been prevented.  It was later discovered that the O-rings that held the rockets together were made brittle by the cold temperatures, and some engineers knew it and even tried to halt the launch. Space travel is of course inherently dangerous, but it appalling to learn that risk factors could have been mitigated and were not.

Since then, there have been changes at NASA.  The shuttle program was grounded for several years while an independent investigation was conducted, and changes were made.  I can only believe that the astronauts who sacrificed their lives contributed to the future safety and prosperity of the Space Program.

Please share with me your memories of that date as I pay tribute to the crew of the Challenger.

Christa McAuliffe

Francis R. “Dick” Scobee

Michal J. Smith

Judith A. Resnik

Ronald E. McNair

Ellison S. Onizuka

Gregory B. Jarvis