Making Portland "The City With Science"

Goals for now?
(Willamette Valley, too) 
Goals for later?
Perhaps "...A City With Science" at first?
What might work?

What surprises will we run into?
Who can do what?
 to go now?
 How might we   
Some Goals?
Prepare the ground for planting seeds of understanding:
1 Understand human perception
      it's where all our knowledge starts

Human perceptions and reasoning skills are limited: we look, but we don't see.  Science has been discovery of things we didn't see in the past -- Newton discovered the spectrum, but it's taken centuries to realize that birds see color that is vastly superior to the color we see.  Evolution sold us short.

Math can give us knowledge that a bird just looks to see.  It's best if we learn and understand some of that math, but we should at least understand that there's something we can't know by looking but can know through abstract thinking--through reasoning.  We are not "the supreme being" with no further evolutionary development possible.
Embrace usefulness of knowledge
       it's the difference beween knowing and understanding

A concept that's understood can be recognized when encountered in new places, and it can be used to our advantage.   Before we understand, we almost always misunderstand think about a five-cut solution to Martin Gardner's Buzz-Saw puzzle! Pre-science is pseudoscience.

Science teachers have only recently understood that,  "The process of science cannot be learned by reading, listening, memorizing, or problem-solving.  Effective learning requires active mental engagement" -- and then they developed ways to lead their students to true understanding.
3 Recognize the difference
   between the reasoning of science and of pseudoscience

Some very familiar things are often misunderstood in ways that reveal that it was something basic that wasn't understood.  What's "a quantum jump," "exponential growth," "the epicenter," "a parameter," "specie"? 

In crucial ways, science reasoning is the opposite of the reasoning advertisers wish us to use.  Advertisers dangle delicious desirables, and imply that the faintest whiff of proof establishes their reality.  Science works because we keep on looking.  We don't stop looking as soon as we've seen something we like. 

We must recognize the intricate weave of obvious, and of subtle, influences, and then assiduously search among them for any proof that we might be wrong in our belief. 

"The wondrous wishes that seem too good to be true probably aren't"

Relevance vs. irrelevance
       develop the skills needed to tell the difference
In the mid 20th century, Jean Piaget observed children developing the skills that reveal what's relevant and what's not.  It proved to be more subtle than Piaget realized. 

"Science is simple but subtle."

"The shortest route to disaster is to ignore the rest of the universe once we've picked out what we like."

Some possible efforts?:

New or extended efforts
Resources & Ongoing efforts
Encourage journalists to seek experts in fields that are persistently misunderstood.

Produce media:
   Produce videos
   Produce program series (Public Access TV)
   Construct, or add to, websites
   Print brochures

Organize arguments.

Produce inquiry materials, following the examples of various science teaching organizations.

Critique educational goals, which often follow the bad example set by textbook publishers

Develop pithy sayings.

Develop effective, pungent sound bites. (like "Tax & spend")

Develop exhibits for Da Vinci Days.

Help with science fairs in schools; help Destination Imagination activities

The Copernicus thru Computers items form a good overview of the way science has changed human picture of the universe: develop this as a instructional tool.

Sponsor lectures:
Oregonians for Rationality (O4R) has been presenting a lecture series for many years; for example, Wallace Sampson (founder of Quackwatch). 
Make videotapes 
Videotapes of the above lectures are (or will be) available. For example, Dr. Harriet Hall on Natural Medicines (28 Oct 04); Tom Kite, PhD, on hype in Audio systems; Mitch Cruzan, PhD on Darwin (13 Feb 04); Bill Thwaites, PhD, on Evolution in textbooks (Feb 03); and more.

Videotapes of O4R activities at Da Vinci Days, 2003, & 2004 are available.

Call attention to:

OMSI/OHSU public lectures

American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) efforts to bring understanding to physics students

Higher education's offerings in their regular curricula.

What can we make happen?   How?  When?  Who will help?  Other suggestions?  More ideas?

A central problem:
What's troubling about it?

It pressures people to oversimplify, that's bound to be harmful to society;  it erodes away possibilities for adequately confronting complex problems.  It especially erodes scientific literacy.

Of course it helps the spin-doctors of advertising and propaganda.  What's more, the modern spin doctor's scalpel is unreasonably effective in paring away our cortical functions – critical thinking, abstraction, mathematical insight, absurdity dodging... working toward leaving some minimal, uncritical, primitive-animal brain.  This lets them sell cigarettes with sex, Cokes with International Harmony, and elected leaders with...well, just how do they do that?. 


Modern spin-speak sells anything to anyone – using irresistible lures and subtle reassurances that we all are too smart to be fooled by the spin doctor.  Anything can be ours: no effort.
Modern education can lead us to true understanding of simple but subtle science and math, but we will strain hard.  We can become smarter with useful knowledge: much effort.
What to do about it?

In the 1940's and 50's critical thinking about propaganda was taught in elementary schools, and pupils laughed in ridicule at the on-the-hour ads when important programs, like the World Series and speeches by the President, were piped  into the classrooms.   The encyclopedias published then assumed that readers would understand substantive topics, such as elementary calculus, physics, chemistry and biology--stuff at least a century or two old!--and the writings of such as Shakespeare, Shaw, Cervantes and Bertrand Russell.

In the last third of the 20th century, science teachers realized that rote-and-regurgitate education had to be replaced by vigorous, puzzle-solving: it can lead to useful understanding.  The science is simple, but it's subtle.  The insights are a little hard to see, but they can be exhilarating, and the understanding generated by the hard work is empowering. This is real education.

"...and all the children are above average."
Garrison Keilor

Some people are brighter than others.
"Brighter"?  Meaning...?.

The drawing with the blue dots was made to illuminate a profound misunderstanding seen on TV: 
Follow this link  for at least 3 steps.

Consider this profound concept that led Feynman to say "...sooner or later you will need to use tensors."

J. P. Guilford's observed that human intelligence requires at least 17 dimensions to graph.

Guilford's observation is death to the put-down.  What can we devise to make this clear?

All the children are above average!

The error of the put-down
The reality of dimensions
The many colors of our auras

Illuminating tensors

"Magic: seemingly requiring more than human power."

If we realize that we miss "seeing" most of what's around us...
If we feel comfortable with stretching and making great mental effort...
Then we can become magicians.

We should not feel humiliated because we don't see.
We should be humbled by those who do see what we don't.
(The color seen by birds, the magic of Feynman, the things our students teach us...)

Though peers might push us mightily away from deep thought...
Though advertisers wish mightily that we think shallowly...
Though scalar-limited vision makes anti-intellectualism very attractive...
We can, nevertheless, become mathematicians and magicians

Don't let the ________s dumb you down!
(Fill in the blank)...........