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E=mc2 Pop Science for public waste of time?

  1. Jan 17, 2016 #1
    I'm posting this one in Relativity as a couple dozen of you gave excellent considerate answers in my other E=mc2 posts, so I'm hoping to get your personal opinion on Pop Science for curious kids and adults.

    From your posts I'd say most of you (probably all teachers) have been very patient offering me simple explanations to complex concepts. A few are aggressively dismissive of the whole concept of a humanities teacher like me daring to even mention E=mc2.

    Don't worry, no one in hell would allow me to teach a physics course. But I do address physics in my unpaid volunteer science tutoring to curious citizens who would never pay for a science class. So my stuff should at least be relatively accurate, albeit incomplete.

    My curious citizens would never tolerate your classes. They would walk out the door after first half hour. But they could never test into your class anyway. My audience are math illiterate and science illiterate who are curious about our world, who feel they have an inherent right as citizens to enjoy a broad understanding, albeit incomplete.

    How important is Pop Science for public policy? A few of you seem to view physics as a sacred language that should be spoken only by elite monks.

    Most Americans are math illiterate and science illiterate, including me.

    How do you address America's severe Class, Race, Sex Inequality in Higher Education? A few of you (surely not most of you) are happy to let the white boys horde specialized knowledge, perhaps throw in an occasional Mumbai Indian boy to study physics.

    I favor the exact opposite: Democratize all sciences. I'm a huge fan of pop scientists like Carl Sagan and Neil Degrasse Tyson and Steven Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Their mission is to bring science to the masses, including every girl in the Oakland ghetto and every convict in San Quentin.

    We're not asking homeless bums to build a nuclear power plant. But if someone is curious, why not educate them a little bit just to quench their curiosity?

    I am one of those ghetto folk. My single mom could barely add 2+2 and hated math. I failed high school math and made it into teachers college only by taking remedial math in summer school. I never knew free high school math tutors existed until a decade later when I taught junior high humanities in a rich white suburban school district that provided tutors to any kid for free. I sure could have used some tutors in high school.

    Besides Race and Class is the Left-Brain/Right-Brain schism which I do believe exists: My egghead friends all seem to be Left-Brainers who dream math. I'm Right-Brain and dream only in pictures and emotions. I was an art major. I'm an expert in art history and world history. I'm also neurotic and emotional.

    Carl Sagan's COSMOS gave me a lifelong fascination for cosmology, astronomy and astrophysics. I consider science more important than art history. I'm comfortable teaching field biology and most astrophysics. Kepler and Newton are easy. Only Einstein gives me headaches.

    If I cannot picture it, I cannot understand it. I'm entirely visual. I could not understand Black Holes by reading about them. Then I saw paintings of black holes and finally understood how incoming matter spirals into the event horizon equator while outgoing matter is shot out the poles. I will not understand Dark Matter or Dark Energy until I see a painting of them.

    When I ask what you see when you think of E=mc2, one of you Left-Brainers replied, "I SEE NOTHING!" As a Right-Brainer, I find it impossible to think only in terms of whiteboard math equations.

    I agree math is essential to science, so I'm never going to fully understand any science until understanding the math behind it. Math has always been painful to me. Math is painful to most Right-Brain Neurotic Ghetto Folk like me. No I'm not black, just stranded in their hoods.

    90% of Americans are scary stupid. Remember Jay Leno's Jaywalking videos when he stops strangers on the street to quiz them? Most could not name the Vice President. They thought Iraq was in South America. They didn't know Jupiter was a planet. And they weren't faking it.

    Most Americans are SCARY STUPID. Try living in my hood. Their illiterate ignorance is FRIGHTENING. Remember, a few of these dumass Americans VOTE and can influence Public Policy. YIKES!

    How much education should you give a barnyard animal? Perhaps NONE. Unless they request it. But if they do request it, I feel we have an obligation to provide it.

    I'm guessing some of you have no use for Carl Sagan's COSMOS as it barely explains real science. Sagan was not trying to teach science, but to develop an appreciation for the beauty of the Universe, same as Neil Degrasse Tyson.

    It is easy to teach a subject you haven't mastered yourself; at least you can introduce it to get students interested enough to pursue it further on their own. John Dewey says "Education starts on the day we are born and ends on the day we die."

    Just giving you my opinion about the role of Public Education. What's your opinion?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 17, 2016 #2

    PeterDonis

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    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Pop science is not science. Bringing science to the masses can help raise interest, but it very seldom teaches any actual science. So you need to decide what you want: do you want people to just be interested in science? Or do you want them to actually learn science?

    If you just want people to be interested in science, then by all means point them at popularizers like the ones you mentioned. But if you are honest, you should also tell them that they will not be learning actual science. That is, they will not be able to take what the popularizers say and reason from it on their own. They will only be learning a bunch of disconnected "oh, wow!" sound bites; they will not be learning generative models--consistent logical systems on which they can build further understanding.

    If you want to learn science, you need to learn actual science: the actual generative models that scientists actually use to understand how the universe works. Learning actual science can be done without math, but it is a lot harder; scientists use math not because they want to keep science a secret from everyone else but because math is the best tool for the job. As Feynman said, if you want to understand Nature, you must learn the language she speaks in.

    Edit: after discussion among the mentors, this thread will remain closed
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 18, 2016
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