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Tag Archives: scientists

I was probably not the person who found their heart sinking  a little when they read the comment from a government adviser with regards the removal of climate change from the national curriculum.

Rather than for the sake of the topic itself,  I thought it important enough for inclusion because of how well it illustrates a couple of important issues:  science doesn’t always deliver nice pat answers and scientists don’t always agree. Some non-scientists have been known to express complete disappointment in science/scientists when this happens. Including subjects where there is still debate would seem to be a suitable way of countering this naive view of science as something that does your thinking for you, and scientists as people without opinions.

Further along in the same article, it is suggested that we need to teach content that doesn’t “…date”.  So no content based on theories then which, by definition, could be disproved? I know this wasn’t what was intended but again it seems to suggest a lack of understanding of what science is, something changing and developing.

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Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE is an astrophysicist who, as a postgraduate student, discovered the first radio pulsars.[1] Though this earned her supervisor a Nobel Prize, she was not included; far from being despondent she explains that no student could have expected to be included in such an honor in those days.[2]

Amazingly, only the second woman to be made a professor of physics in the UK, Burnell became the President of the Institute of Physics (IOP) in 2008, the first woman to hold this role.

I met Professor Burnell briefly at a IOP event where she was to give us a presentation on Project Juno[4] and couldn’t help but be impressed by her friendly manner (I was standing on my own as I knew no one there and she came over and spoke to me; it’s the sort of act that leaves an impression.)

With a lifetime of achievements and honors, including Fellowship of the Royal Society and a DBE, she nevertheless remains a modest individual; we are really fortunate to have her as our President.

References

[1] Cosmic Search Vol. 1, No. 1 – Little Green Men, White Dwarfs or Pulsars?

[2] Jocelyn Bell Burnell – Professor in Astrophysics, President of the Institute of Physics and gender equality champion

[3] Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE becomes President – IOP

[4] Project Juno

I really didn’t intend to listen to the Moral Maze, in much the same way I don’t go looking at road accidents. But it was about science and what can I say: I was weak, I listened and I paid the price. Let that be a moral lesson to me.

If you didn’t hear it (it was supposed to be about the controversy over certain climate-change emails) you have a few days to catch up with it. For those who didn’t get there quickly enough, in a nutshell: scientists are biased, follow their own interests, like attention and have opinions. My goodness, I think the panel just declared scientists to be human.

Yes, we are all that, like everyone else, and we know it but collectively we want to be something better. Because of that we have built in a system of checks and balances which includes publication of results and methods to our peers. It didn’t take a parliamentary enquiry to do that, the community did it for itself.

Because we might have been partial in our research, we use the science community to act as a check (because our vanity devotion to science means we love to catch someone else out try our hardest to ensure inaccuracies in data or procedure are eradicated.) And because of this people do get caught ‘cooking’ their data which, for the rest of us, is embarrassing and annoying because it lets us all down and worse still it lets ‘science’ down (I’d have them coated in jam and staked out on fire ant hills, I’d even buy the jam.) 

Thanks for the offer but I don’t think we need politicians to bring us the gift of skepticism, though they might employ their skeptical eye to their professions’ expense claims if they are looking for something to do. And, for reference, a scientist is not defined as someone with a PhD. Don’t see why you should listen to someone who doesn’t have one? Do you have one? 

Referring to the evidence (‘hiding behind the science’ as you so beautifully put it) shuts down the debate, yes? Er, no, it moves the debate to the evidence itself. ‘I don’t care about the evidence, I just believe in freedom’, now that’s an example of shutting down a debate.

Thankfully, before I concluded that Radio 4 were losing their claim to purvey intelligent speech, I listened to the repeat of the first episode of a new series: The Infinite Monkey Cage. What a contrast: people talking and other listening; intelligent questions and room for the audience to think. Was it biased? Yes, it was full of opinion and comment but didn’t claim not to be. Again, if you missed it you can still catch it if you’re quick.

Moral Maze

Infinite Monkey Cage