Thursday, April 2, 2015

Links: Teaching and Research

1. Fareed Zakaria in the WaPo: "Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous"
In truth, though, the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success. Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math. And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country has dominated the world of science, technology, research and innovation.
2. Teaching evolution in the University of Kentucky (James Krupa in Slate)
Unfortunately, one of the most misused words today is also one of the most important to science: theory. Many incorrectly see theory as the opposite of fact. The National Academy of Sciences provides concise definitions of these critical words: A fact is a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it; a theory is a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence generating testable and falsifiable predictions. 
In science, something can be both theory and fact. We know the existence of pathogens is a fact; germ theory provides testable explanations concerning the nature of disease. We know the existence of cells is a fact and that cell theory provides testable explanations of how cells function. Similarly, we know evolution is a fact and that evolutionary theories explain biological patterns and mechanisms. The late Stephen Jay Gould said it best: “Evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.”
3. Yet another peer-review scandal (Steve Novella at Neurologica). The line that caught my attention was:
I will note, as I have in the past, that a review of the acupuncture literature, for example, showed that 100% of studies coming out of China are positive. This is not statistically possible, even if acupuncture worked...
4. Does ESP work? Depends on whether you are a frequentist, or a Bayesian. John D. Cook gives the lowdown.

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