Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Posts Tagged ‘Pseudoscience

I’ve been listening to Carl Sagan’s A Demon Haunted World on tape in the car and I’m awash with new ideas.

Next year, as part of the introduction to the scientific method, I need to draw a line on the board.  On the left, I will write “Gullible,” on the right, “Skeptical.”  If someone is totally gullible, they would believe that a cat matures into a dog.  It seems silly, but the idea is that a totally gullible person takes any statement as fact without question.  For a totally skeptical person, they would doubt you on absolutely everything you say and do.  The total skeptic is so annoying that nobody wants to converse with him.  Both extremes are no good, our job is to find a happy spot somewhere to the right.

zener cardsNext, let’s talk about ESP.  Is it real?  Do you know anyone with ESP?  If we were gullible, how would we answer to the claims of a person with ESP?  What if we were skeptical?  Let’s accept the claim that ESP might exist.  How can we test it?

At this point, I want to break the students into groups.  Their job is to come up with an experiment to test some form of ESP.  They will need to write up their proposed experiment and then perform it the next day in class.  They will then write up their results and submit their report to peer review by their classmates.

Wouldn’t it be cool if they could decide good experiments from bad through the process of peer review.  I can’t wait to try this in September.

I’ve always been a lover of science and I’ve had my early bouts with pseudoscience.  I think if you talk to most science lovers, we all investigated several topics in pseudoscience.  Let’s face it, I would love for UFO’s to be space aliens.  And who wouldn’t want to have a superpower?  But they aren’t and we don’t.

As a teacher, I was originally amused by it.  Now I battle it head on.  Many people take a “what’s the harm” view of these topics.  I think that is dangerous.  We need to teach our students to use critical thinking skills.  My wife doesn’t get this.  She thinks the Eagles will lose if she is in the room where the TV has the game on.  I usually respond by telling her that the Eagles management called before the game started and they asked her to please not watch.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  If we believe in one form of hocus-pocus, we fall prey to the next one.

Check out the website whatstheharm.net.  You will get a sense of what happens when we sit by and allow mysticism to rule instead of science.  The page comes off a bit militant, but the underlying facts should at least make you think.  Perhaps one of the more dangerous trends are the anti-vaccination groups.  They want us to think there is a mass conspiracy and vaccines are bad.  What they are doing is actually causing outbreaks of diseases by reducing the “herd immunity.”  The herd immunity, if I understand it correctly, essentially doesn’t give a disease enough places to gestate and grow.  When the population reaches a certain vaccination level, say 95%, then the entire population is basically protected from epidemics.  If the population gets under that threshold, we are opening ourselves up to serious problems.  Don’t trust me, do your own research.  In other words …

Be a skeptic.  I don’t like the word because most people don’t understand what it means.  They think a skeptic is a nay-sayer.  A skeptic simply insists on proof.  The more outrageous the claim, the more proof is required.  A skeptic changes their position if the facts lead them down a different path.  My skeptical radar goes off any time someone says, “they say….”  It’s as simple as someone telling me, “they say it’s going to snow 12 inches tonight.”  Rather than take the store clerk’s weather knowledge on faith, my response is to check the weather forecast when I got home.  Not an outrageous claim for January, so it doesn’t require much proof.  I just want the facts directly from the experts, not second, third, or fourth hand.

There are a number of outstanding skeptical podcasts that are highly entertaining, educational, and just plain fun to listen to.  You can find them on iTunes for free.  If you aren’t listening to podcasts, you are missing a world of excellent quality entertainment.

I highly recommend:

  • Skepticality
  • A Skeptics Guide to the Universe
  • Are We Alone?  SETI Science and Skepticism
  • Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American

These are a few of my favorites.  There are more, but these will get you started.  After listening to a few of these shows I realized I’ve been a skeptic my entire life.  I didn’t know there was a name for it, and more importantly, I didn’t know there was a whole community of people out there just like me.

You are not alone.


What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

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