Monday, April 23, 2007

Framing Science: a teachers viewpoint

It has been a contention of mine for a long time that "professional" scientists (say ones who do research at an institution like the University of California where I live) do some great science. But I get lambasted by my colleges when I recommend that some of my students NOT go to the undergraduate programs at the UC. "But these are such great institutions. Why wold you make such a recommendation?" My answer is pat, "Because they are not interested in the teaching of the average undergraduate student. These professors are researchers and the higher end UC campuses are really only suitable to self-starting students who can handle a Chemistry Lecture with 200 students and hopefully have good teaching assistants. The professors are not hired to be instructors but researchers. This student needs to go to an institution where the professors have honed their teaching skills and put an emphasis on their skills as an instructor. Many, far too many, don't do that." I consider the problems of most scientists in the public arena to be a similar to this situation; they do good science but are poor at educating the public and capturing their attention.

One of the major practicalities that scientists must learn to embrace is an ability to communicate with the general public on an emotional level equivalent to a preacher but not with the same agenda as a preacher. I think a good example of an early scientist who might fit the bill would be the late Carl Sagan. His COSMOS series was a great introduction for a vast number of people to the joys and vast majesty of astronomy and evolution. It is a point of fact I will contend that most people are not reasoning individuals for a myriad of reasons but that the catching of a person's curiosity and sense of serenity, majesty, and wonderment is the"back door" which can allow science to overwhelm the 'greatest story ever told' with "THE GREATEST STORY OF ALL" that science has to convey.

Perhaps the best place to start is a the blog of Matt Nisbet who is one of the co-authors of the Framing Science hypothesis. From there, follow the discussions and consider what the Framing Science hypothesis has to offer. Philosphically, I have a problem dealing with anyone who attacks the goals of science, but practicality tends to override my own emotions since the goal of putting science ahead of religious belief is paramount.

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