“Fun” science quiz turns into religious debate

The USA Today published a nice little “Test Your Science Savvy” quiz as a sidebar to an article about scienfic literacy in the US.  The quiz is a fun test of very basic science knowledge.  Questions on The Big Bang, Evolution, and the age of the Earth set off a religious debate. 

For me, the core of the article is here

“We have in this country a major crisis of people listening to people they feel comfortable with (rather than) listening to a variety of groups and critically thinking through their messages,” says Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

I think that explains the comments from folks who appear to be getting their ideas about science from non-scientific sources. 

It also contains a lesson for those who express frustration with people who prioritize religious over scientific teachings.  Listening to religious folks will help science writers find ways to explain the world without pushing people’s buttons. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a successful example of this on their page on Influenza.  They explain that flu shots are necessary every year because the flu virus changes.  Note that they don’t use the word “evolve.”  That could be for political reasons, but it’s also good because use of that word will distract people.  The purpose of that web page is to give medical advice, not to piss people off.  People don’t take advice when they are pissed at you.

I give the quiz Five Lemmys.  It was fun, pushed people’s buttons (as something that truly rocks will), and  told us something we might not have expected to learn.

How science is like rock & roll

Here is a tip for aspiring bloggers. When you can’t find a real topic, make a list. Today’s post was going to follow up on Testament’s recent comments on the vaccine safety non-controversy. I’m going to delay my comments on Testament’s comments until they actually make them.

Today’s list-in-place-of-a-topic is

How science is like rock & roll

  1. Uniforms are required. You might mistake a college professor for a wine shop owner or a social worker for a church secretary but you wouldn’t ask Ol‘ Dirty Bastard or Slash to refinance your mortgage. You might wonder whether a tuxedoed man is a funeral director or a conductor but you would not confuse Carl Sagan with the kid who mows your lawn.
  2. Babe magnets. Good science relies on observation. Let’s ignore that and go right to anecdotal evidence. I used to work at a research lab that was affiliated with a snooty medical school. The guy who stocked the supply room wore a tie beneath his lab coat, KWIM? Single women under 30 outnumbered men under 30 at least 3:1. Most were intelligent, and friendly, quite a few were really attractive and here’s the kicker: they were NORMAL. Pearl Jam was more popular than Star Trek. They drank. They followed my band. The lab was a great place to meet cool women.
  3. Parents. The only thing that will piss off your parents more than saying you are quitting school to become a roadie for Insane Clown Posse would be to give them 17 logical reasons why it’s a good idea.
  4. You can’t get something for nothing. Perpetual motion, lead into gold, Milli Vanilli, Paris Hilton… same deal.
  5. Experiments lead somewhere. Scientific knowledge builds and builds and eventually useful technology arises. The same thing happens in rock. Hendrix did things nobody else could do. People kind of figured it out. Then Eddie Van Halen blew everyone away until thousands of teenagers who studied guitar mags in their bedrooms could play every note. The current metal guitar players like DragonForce are insane. Skip ahead to 3:23 in this video.

  6. Let’s take a moment to remember that Hendrix is still the best. DragonForce is sick, though.

  7. They help us understand the world Understanding is one of the primary goals of science. I learned more important things about the Civil War from The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” than in high school.
  8. People can participate on different levels. Whether you work in the field, teach, are a fan, or try to ignore them, the culture of music and science are all around you. Early 2007 brought Amy Winehouse and Comet C/2006 P1, the brightest comet in 40 years. You didn’t need any special knowledge to enjoy them. A deeper appreciation of soul music or knowledge of the composition of comets provides additional pleasure. Professionals may have wondered how to duplicate Winehouse’s success or how Comet C/2006 P1 reduced the speed of the solar wind out past Mars’ orbit.
  9. There is a hierarchy of involvement with science and rock:
  10. Popularizers – professionals who get other people excited about their field: Carl Sagan or The Beatles
    Avantgarde – those who push the field forward: Robert McNaught (discoverer of Comet C/2006 P1) or composer Elliot Schwartz (both rely on universities for their funding as well.)
    Supporters: National Geographic or the folks who brought us Record Store Day.
    Enthusiasts: weekend fossil hunters or garage bands
    Everyone else: people who like clean water or music fans
    Buzzkills: Ben Stein or Tipper Gore