la rentrée

Weekly Science Picks

“La rentrée!”

Paris — first week of September. It’s when the city reignites again, everyone comes back from holiday and gets back to work, and — more importantly — kids go back to school. In celebration of “le bon retour” my first pick comes from right here on Australian Science. Kelly Burnes’ musings on the lack of imagination in science education in the US.

“Let’s think about the role of imagination in science. The process of imagination is on display everywhere in an early childhood classroom. But by the time they reach middle school, students seem to burn out and tire of science. Tired of memorizing facts and figures they see no point in bothering to retain because they will never use that information again. They see no purpose for being able to regurgitate that Cu is the symbol for the chemical element of copper; that 454 grams equals 1 pound; that kinetic energy is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. All of this information could be looked up if it were required in the future. Where is the imagination? What is driving the curiosity?”

Be sure to look out for the next one that explores how Australia teaches science.

Second, as we love our space science here on “Australian Scientific”, comes a story on how Voyager 1 — that time capsule sent out into the heavens to be mankind’s calling card — might not be a far out in space as we think. Kelly Oakes on Scientific American (see what I did there?) explains why.

“The Voyagers, 1 and 2, are right at this moment speeding away from us towards interstellar space. But a paper out in Nature today reports that, despite recently showing signs that suggest the spacecraft is about to leave (any minute now!), Voyager 1 could still be well inside the solar system. By now, scientists expected Voyager 1 to have reached the heliopause – the boundary between the solar system and the rest of space. The solar wind emitted from the sun is what defines the reach of the solar system. Interstellar space has its own medium that pushes back against the solar wind. Where the two meet, at the edge of the solar system, scientists expect the solar wind to be deflected from its usual path. But Voyager 1 is not yet showing such a change.”

It’s hard not to be moved by the simple fact that we sent a piece of humanity out into the unknown. The Voyagers, that Golden Record, and everything contained within leads me to the next logical question: shouldn’t we be sending our genome out into space? Why not? Maybe the genome of every living creature on this Earth (resurrected mammoths included) in some sort of sci-fi Noah’s Ark? Perhaps a topic for another day and another more in-depth blog post.

Next, the Supreme Overlord of Global Health, one William Henry “Bill” Gates, has given money to seek out and monitor the internet-based anti-vaccine and denialist misinformation that is rampant. Bill and his Foundation come under a lot of criticism. I suppose when you’re at the top everyone’s a critic. But the fact remains that without his billions no one would care about the most impoverished, and the diseases we never hear about (neglected tropical diseases). Orac on ScienceBlogs has a great post on the anti-vaxxers out to portray the Almighty Gates as some sort of… well, Almighty Evil.

“Oddly enough, it took several days for this meme to find its way to the ultimate wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery (the one that beats even the Huffington Post on that score), Age of Autism, which basically posted an excerpt from Ji’s post with a link to it. Be that as it may, the antivaccine crankosphere is now in full lather about this grant and other Gates Foundation initiatives in a way they haven’t been since they tried to claim that Bill Gates was in favor of a global eugenics program in which vaccines would be the means of reducing the global population. It’s such a brain dead take on the matter that it’s probably worth briefly explaining again, so that you don’t have to go and look it up again.”

As I said in a tweet, it would be easier and cheaper to nuke the Huffington Post.

Freelance science writer Esther Nakkazi, reporting from Uganda, has a great feature up on SciDev on the science cafés that are becoming more and more popular across Africa.

“The meeting point in the hut is the malwa pot. On a typical warm Sunday afternoon, music booms and a small television sitting on a pile of old furniture shows lightly-clad girls dancing to bolingo Congolese music. Arguments are usually about politics — or girls — and the voices of those around the pot get gradually louder, punctuated by sips of malwa. Except on one day a month, when the venue becomes a science café. Then there are more people than usual — and not because of the free malwa. “Today we shall discuss cervical cancer, and a vaccine, in the science café,” says Tiperu, as she refills the pot with hot water.”

This is a great thing to read. All too often stories that come out of Africa have the same old western-facing point of view to it. Stories of poverty and strife, and how every African country is in turmoil. When the little-known fact is that it is simply not the case.

There were many more stories, blogs and articles in and around the blogosphere. But those were some of my best. Next week there’ll be a new collection of links from another of my esteemed writer colleagues here on Australian Science. So to end, I shall leave you all with Last Word On Nothing’s Ann Finkbeiner on another take on those naive and not-so-naive questions science writers ask.

“The all-time best was over a nice business dinner full of wine and charm, and the astronomer said philosophically, “You could almost say that the future is a Taylor expansion of the past.”   I said, “What’s a Taylor expansion?”  And he said, “Oh you know, you take the first derivative and then the second derivative and so on.”  And I couldn’t help myself, I said, “What’s a first derivative?”    He said — poor guy, it just slipped out — “How did you get so far with so little fuel?”

I took it as a compliment.  I really think he meant it as one.”

Image — source


Charles Ebikeme

AUTHOR: Charles Ebikeme

Charles is a writer and former scientist with a research background in tropical and infectious diseases. He blogs at scienceleftuntitled
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