So, the East Coast is in the middle of a record heat wave. How come we haven’t heard any hyperventilating media types announce that this “proves” global warming is true? After all, when we had a little snow in February, it was declared “snowmageddon” and offered as the final nail in the coffin of the “global warming conspiracy”. So now that the thermometer is over 100 several days in a row, all those people will admit they were wrong, won’t they?
‘Cause otherwise, it’s a tacit admission that they made those statements only to score political points, degrading our discourse and endangering our children’s futures for nothing more than transient political advantage. And a disingenuous selfishness of that magnitude is too awful to be true, isn’t it?
I know I’m not going to convince anybody, and this is far from the most important place to make this point, but I feel like I have to weigh in:
Record snowfall does not “disprove” global warming.
To advance the opposite proposition seriously, you’d have to do one or more of the following:
- Fail to understand the different between “global” and “local”. Being cold here says nothing about the global aggregate.
- Fail to understand that “weather” is not the same thing as “climate” and that transient variations in daily conditions do not equate to long-term large averages.
- Be in the pocket of Big Oil and other industries with a vested interest in making sure we do nothing, ever, because it might someday mean that they reap only ridiculous profit levels rather than the truly obscene ones they get now.
More than likely, most people braying that this is God’s message to Al Gore are committing all three mistakes at once.
I regret the simple me-too-ism of just posting a link to an article, but this piece over at Project Syndicate is a nice, short reflection on how jokes scientists make (about their own profession) illuminate the two distinct views we hold of science (as relating to truth and utility). Short, easy to read, and worth the time.
As an aside, doesn’t “Project Syndicate” sound like an effort to produce an open-source organized crime gang? Crime 2.0, baby!
(Part I gives the background.)
Since the date to order a textbook has long since passed, I’m pretty committed to not going with one for “Space Science & Astrophysics”. I’ve taken the plunge. The problem is, I don’t know exactly what the course should look like now. Most especially, I don’t know of a good way to evaluate the students. I do not want long papers to grade every week! Also, although Scientific American articles are written for “the intelligent layperson” and so should be within the reach of 12th graders, there won’t be the same organized, coherent narrative that a textbook can give. In other words, when you know that you’re going to cover tides in detail in Chapter 5, you can arrange Chapter 3 more intelligently.
I won’t have that luxury. It would seem that that would lead to more lecturing, a proven-bad way of teaching. I will have to lecture somewhat but I want to minimize how much. One thing I’ve considered is throwing it back onto the students. There are tons of sites dedicated to popular astronomy and astrophysics. Perhaps I can give them weekly worksheets with terms and ideas they need to research. Certainly class participation is going to carry a lot more weight than usual in my class, because a lot of what we handle is going to have to be tailored to what they bring to discussion. There will almost certainly be papers of some sort. I am also considering weekly quizzes just to ensure that people have read somewhat. Finally, each quarter will conclude with some sort of group project/presentation. What’s worked well in the past have been things like The Pluto Prosecution as well as a detailed project on Exobiogenesis.
An intriguing possibility is that I will have functioning laptops for each student. This opens up the chance to do actual web-based instruction — but what would that look like? How can it be used to enhance the course? Most especially, web-kits often take a lot of time to develop, and I’ll be doing this largely seat-of-my-pants.
What has me concerned most is tests. How much objective stuff can I put, when their sources are likely to be wildly divergent? And what would be the most effective way to assess the objective content? For the past two years, I’ve used a mixture of multiple-choice and fill-in questions, and (I have to admit) I’ve been immensely dissatisfied with both.
So… anyone have any thoughts on how to assess this class? All suggestions will be deeply appreciated.
(You can skip to Part II.)
Some of you might remember that this is nominally a blog about education. It’s time again to shunt aside all the personal and political things I like to blog about, and to instead post about my classes. I do this in part because school starts soon and I am still up a creek regarding one of my classes, and thought that the great wide Internet community might offer some ideas.
Here’s the situation: For the fifth semester I will be teaching “Space Science & Astrophysics”, a 16-week overview of the discipline intended for seniors at my prep school. Due to the vagaries of our curriculum, many if not most will be taking this course to complete their science requirement — and hence will not have taken regular HS physics beforehand. For the past two years I’ve used The Cosmic Perspective by Bennet, et al. (I’ve been using 4th edition but I see they’re up to 5th now.) I really liked the book, actually, and still think it’s a fantastic textbook for its audience … but its audience is not survey-level 12th graders many of whom have not had physics. As I observed even my best students falling behind in the reading, and as I considered the $125 price tag, I grew guilty and frustrated. So I decided to shake things up.
More below the fold.
Anyone checking the frequency of blogging for this site need not be told that I am not a natural diarist. I keep trying to start a regular compilation of my thought but never quite get in the habit. I have a journal I’ve carted from DC to Stanford to Bensalem to Princeton. With my recent move still unfolding in slow motion in my new apartment, I came across that book, which I have not touched since (at latest) 1998.
Only two pages have any writing, dating from late 1992(!) with the interesting heading “Thoughts on Teaching”. Since that means that those two pages were, in some way, the progenitor of these blog entries — that this little blue notebook is the ur-Mongrel Dogs, I thought it appropriate to record them here, before ditching the book that’s been dogging me for fifteen years.
More below the fold.
I experienced something today that I’ve heard a lot about but never quite believed in: the infamous green flash. I’d read that, sometimes, during sunsets, just at the moment the Sun sinks below the horizon, it flashes green. However, the conditions are hard to meet and the occurrence somewhat rare. Tonight as the Regal Princess continued steaming east-northeast, I happened to be out on deck during sunset. (I’ve been missing these because I’m slated for “first sitting” dinner and usually it wraps up just a few minutes too late. But today for whatever reason we were done and gone five minutes before rather than after sunset.) The sky was crystal-clear and, though there were some low-lying clouds, they hovered a bit above the horizon. Knowing these were the conditions for the semi-mythical flash, I dug out my camera and took continuous shots of the sunset.
Much to my amazement, I did in fact see the green flash.
It’s not so much a “flash”, really. The sky doesn’t light up green or anything. Rather, the Sun momentarily turns green. The change, from the usual red of sunset, is unmistakable, although the transformation lasts only a moment. Now I’m really interested in what causes this. I suspect it’s a refractory phenomenon having to do with the atmosphere – perhaps something about the color of the Sun’s limb compared to the bulk. I really did not think the story was true; now I have to understand it. It goes to show you that the world is always ready to throw a surprise at you when you think you know what’s going on.
Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it. I had to choose between watching it on camera and watching it by eye. I was pretty sure that, if the effect was real, I’d still end up missing it in the camera. My camera is just too slow and awkward to capture an instantaneous elusive optical sprite. Also, although I love my digital camera, I’m beginning to worry that I am experience too many things through its mediation and missing out on the real events – as if preserving the memory of a thing was more important than actually experiencing it. If conditions are good again tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll try to capture the flash, though I don’t have high hopes.
Seeing the flash speaks to me, though I’m not sure what it’s saying. It’s another chunk of life to throw in the broth that is my Convocation speech.
… to a webcomic (“xkcd“) that I just stumbled across. It’s kinda odd but has the occasional math/science bent that endears it to me. (“Dr. Elizabeth? I accidentally took the Fourier transform of my cat” or “Schroedinger’s Comic“) It also has a flash of geek-inspired sentimentality (“My normal approach is useless here.“) that tugs at my own well-buried heart strings.
It’s worth a look, in my opinion.