Sunday, April 21, 2013

Science Knowledge/Teaching

So this weekend I volunteered to judge a Chicago High School science fair/competition. The people participating were all mostly affluent it was enjoyable and an interesting experience. What I want to comment on is that state of scientific teaching that it appears these kids have had.

Science is not easy. Most Ph.D. scientists have been studying science for around 12 years before they even receive their Ph.D. There are so many people out there who think that science is easy. That one can just make up scientific theories in their spare time if they are "smart" enough. I don't really believe greatly in intelligence though. Just as in sports you have people with lots of natural talent, I am sure there are people that have lots of natural talent with their mind. However, that doesn't mean that someone who trains can't be at the same level or better. Someone who learns and thinks and takes care of their mind just like an athlete would their muscles and body. So what is scientist then? To start out being a scientist one needs to accumulate knowledge. That is the way it is for everything. Is there a chance that someone will be able to write down a random proof that proves P != NP or some such? ( Maaaaybbbee but in all likelihood that will never ever happen.

So back to the science fair. These kids know nothing about science. Instead what they are taught is that they should try and "Reject their Null hypothesis." It is sad. Scientists don't sit around trying to reject Null Hypotheses. People don't even mention a Null hypothesis in college besides perhaps a statistics course. The lack of scientific thought and knowledge was somewhat appalling. I am not saying it is this way all across Chicago or even all over the US but for an affluent Chicago competition I expected more. I volunteered with FIRST robotics for two years and it was quite impressive. The things kids can program these days and their computer knowledge and skill is advanced. We have only had personal computers for the past ~20 years and people have been doing molecular biology for the past 50.

Myself as an example. I started programming in High School on my own. Eventually by my senior year they had a C++ class for advanced students. Our biology labs however didn't even have a basic electrophoresis setup. Why? This makes no sense to me. Why are we not teaching younger people advanced science techniques or exposing them to advanced science it is the only way they will learn. Instead of having kids drop out of college to start the facebook. They will drop out to start their own biotech company. "Smart" takes time and it seems in science we are all starting a little further behind everyone else. We are not "allowed" to learn about real science until college. I think this is a big issue. I think science needs to be more accessible. Science knowledge needs to be more accessible.

I don't think this is something that can be easily fixed but requires many/all scientists to believe this is something we need.

There are 16 year olds programming video games and websites and robots and they don't even know what DNA is. I think that is a problem.