Lies, Damned Lies and Science

by Robert Pondiscio
January 8th, 2010

Let’s face it, writes Stephen Battersby at the New Scientist, science is boring.  Discoveries of new planets, medical advances and potential environmental disasters leave the impression that science is exciting and cutting edge.  Not so. 

It is now time to come clean. This glittering depiction of the quest for knowledge is… well, perhaps not an outright lie, but certainly a highly edited version of the truth. Science is not a whirlwind dance of excitement, illuminated by the brilliant strobe light of insight. It is a long, plodding journey through a dim maze of dead ends. It is painstaking data collection followed by repetitious calculation. It is revision, confusion, frustration, bureaucracy and bad coffee.

Science may be boring, but Batterby’s essay is a hoot.  Especially his description of his own inglorious research career, which involved months of sifting data from a telescope and finding…nothing.

I tip my hat, though, to New Scientist‘s San Francisco bureau chief, who spent nearly three years watching mice sniff each other in a room dimly lit by a red bulb. “It achieved little,” he confesses, “apart from making my clothes smell of mouse urine.” And the office prize for research ennui has to go to the editor of NewScientist.com. “I once spent four weeks essentially turning one screw backwards and forwards,” he says. “It was about that time that I decided I didn’t want to be a working scientist.”

Let’s keep this to ourselves and not mention it to the children, shall we?  After all, our economy and national security are at stake.

Update:  Not bored yet?  Joanne Jacobs asks “Do children need to be bored?”  Insightful Willingham response in the comments.

Overweight? Inactive? Maybe It’s Your Gym Teacher’s Fault

by Robert Pondiscio
January 8th, 2010

Another potential hazard in the minefield of teaching.  A new study says humiliation in gym class can turn kids off of physical fitness for life.  Science Daily quotes one of the study participants:

“I am a 51-year-old woman whose childhood experiences with sports, particularly as handled in school, were so negative that even as I write this my hands are sweating. I feel on the verge of tears. I have never experienced the humiliation nor felt the antipathy toward any other aspect of life as I do toward sports.”

According to Billy Strean of the University of Alberta, good or a bad experiences in gym can be “based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor.”  For example, negative experiences may come from a teacher who has low energy, is unfair and/or someone who embarrasses students,” says Science Daily.  Ed Week’s Debra Viadero points out the research is qualitative and based on 24 accounts from adults looking back on their childhood gym experiences.

Crime Pays Royalties

by Robert Pondiscio
January 8th, 2010

Two men who went around the country correcting typos on signs in public places–and ended up being convicted of vandalism for their good works–have been rewarded with a book deal about their exploits.  Jeff Deck of Somerville, Mass. and Benjamin Herson, of Virginia Beach, Va blogged about their grammar-driven crusade as TEAL, the Typo Eradication Advancement League.

The pair were banned from the National Parks for a year and fined over $3,000 after using whiteout and a permanent marker to edit a sign on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2008.  “The overreaction of the government probably helped us a lot in terms of getting this deal,” Herson tells UPI. “It’s one of those true lemonade-out-of-lemons stories.”

They reportedly landed a $150,000 advance to write “The Great Typo Hunt,” which will hit bookstores this summer.