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TRUMP IN SPACE!!! (and the Sesame Streeting of Science Education)

No, this is NOT parody. This is from the genuine Trump Facebook Page.

Well, this is good news for science education in the United States, right? After all, you can’t do things in space without knowing a great deal about physics, astronomy, chemistry and mathematics, right? Right?

Dear Reader, YOU know that. I know that. But as for the average person, especially the average Trump voter..probably not so much.

As an educator, I see this all the time: some kid gets to college and says something about liking space and physics…but not liking science and math?

You see, we spend so much time trying to make science “appealing” to the masses, people think that science is just a bunch of cool tricks.

They see this (and yes, this IS cool)

And maybe they go on to read a pop-science book or two…and find themselves saying phrases like “collapse the wave functions”. So they try to major in physics and find that…in order to actually DO physics…it involves mastering THIS:

I remember one exchange I saw on Facebook. A national class physics professor (nuclear) made it a habit to not block anyone. So someone whose expertise consisted of a basic non-mathematical “electronics class” proceeded to “splain” to him how physics professors didn’t know “real world” electronics.

You see: we teach electricians the “electron flow” model of electrical current; they are told to think of electrical current as a “flow” of little electrons (like small marbles) and when you do that, you can get to the point where you can build (and repair) electrical devices. But it is just a heuristic that “works”; current defined in this manner is opposite of current as scientists and engineers use it. And of course electrical current is more complicated than that (I view it as the time derivative of electrical charge).

The professor tried patiently to explain to our “genius electrician” that he was really using a simplified model…but our self described expert just would hear none of it. He just knew that he was right and that those who were smart enough to work out the basic science to make the electrical components POSSIBLE were a bunch of ivory tower idiots.

Workout notes
Yesterday: 3 mile treadmill run (10 minutes of 5.2-5.6, 10 of 6.7-6.9 (19:48 at 2) 4 min walk, jog to 32:45 3, 33:41 5K. then 5K walk outside.
Today: 5K walk outside; weights (usual PT), 5 sets of 10 pull ups (good), weights (subpar): 10 x 135, 1 x 185, 4 x 185, 8 x 170 bench, 7 x 170 decline, military (struggle) 9 x 50 standing, 2 sets of 10 x 45, 3 sets of 10 x 110 rows, 2:30 plank, usual abs.

I was weaker than normal today, except for pull ups.

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June 29, 2018 Posted by | education, running, science, social/political, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

Using the “block” feature liberally…

In my day to day life, I cannot avoid the “less than intelligent”, including some of these who are so sure that they are right.

But can on social media; I have gotten to the point where I block on the first instance of self-righteous stupidity, even if the person is likely to vote the same way that I do. I have to be tolerant at my job; not so on my free time, or at least on my “optional” free time.

Discussing any issue that is the least bit technical or contains any nuance at all is also a waste of time. Here is a post about evolution (written by a genuine expert). The issue: evolution is a stochastic process; there is an element of randomness to it, as it is based on genetic mutations. But there are forces which give certain mutations a higher probability of attaining a higher frequency in a given population; this is where multiple alleles come from. One such force, of course, is natural selection (and yes, genetic drift exists..some mutations are fitness neutral).

Well, that is too much complexity for some to handle; as soon as they see “random” (as in mutation) they think “how could we have come about by a purely random process?” This is the “wind blowing parts to make a 747 argument.

So, if I like the person, I might recommend a few of my favorite books written by genuine experts and remark that it would be interesting if so many fields, such as biology, paleontology, geology, physical anthropology and biochemistry, along with every major science department, science museum and science lab were in a conspiracy to deny the truth.

But I won’t be able to convince them of anything, and frankly, the probability that all of these expert sources will be able to is also next to nil.

It just isn’t worth my time and effort.

Workout note: I had a final and some student meetings, so I decided to just run my hilly 10K + course. It was 65 F, 97 percent humidity when I started. Yes, I was a sweaty mess when I finished. No, I did NOT even think about starting my stopwatch. At first I balked at trying; I think that my long history of failed training runs has turned me into a headcase, even though MOST of my runs turn out successfully.

This one did too..it was fine. However I did notice that I got two green lights when crossing Main and was sort of disappointed; I was looking forward to “guilt free” rest. No heel pain at all, but then again, I did little other than just shuffle in place.

May 3, 2018 Posted by | evolution, running, science, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Formulas and blank slates

In discussions about human performance, there appears to be some notion among many that talent for every endeavor is spread equally among every population group.

That just is not true; think of Samoans in football (56 times more likely to play in the NFL than the average American), the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya in distance running, or even the Bajau in underwater diving. The frequency distribution of alleles can vary between groups of people.

I thought about the above when I read this article which talks about how African American dominance in football and basketball is NOT a good thing for African Americans.

Yes, it is entirely possible that genetics plays a role; it is possible that there is a higher percentage of genetic outliers for basketball and football among African Americans (as there are among Samoans). Of course, social factors have to play a role too; witness the DECLINE of African Americans in major league baseball(related note: at a college baseball game, I was startled to see that Chicago State’s team was predominately white; CS is a historically black college with 70 percent black students).

But that was a digression from the main thrust of the article in question which was roughly this: when black people look “for a way up” in life, they are apt to see mostly black NFL and NBA teams (as well as top college teams) and think “oh, that is what we do well” and focus on that. But the reality that only a small percentage of people from ANY group will stand a chance of being a D1 scholarship athlete and a very, very tiny percentage stand a chance of a professional sports career.

The reality is that, even for black people, the probability of becoming an engineer, accountant, lawyer, college professor, teacher, computer programmer, business owner, military officer, CEO, (etc.) is several orders of magnitude higher. THAT is the way up for all but a tiny handful of genetic outliers. On that message, the article is right on point!

Workout notes: 2200 swim, then a 5 mile treadmill run..I actually felt good.
swim: 250 free (sluggish), 5 x 50 drill/swim (fins; need to get some new ones), 5 x 100 IM with free instead of fly, then 10 x 100 (pull, free, pull, free, fins, pull, free, pull, free, pull), 100 fly practice with fins, 100 free.

run: 5 minute froggy 5.1-5.8, then final mile 6.2-6.5 (33:10, 43:38, 53:21). I actually felt..good? This wasn’t that hard. My guess: I did a very easy 5K walk after weights the day before instead of a run. The damned formula keeps changing on me as I age! By the time I figure it out..it changes again!

Weight: 198.8 before swimming, 197.4 after.

Pain: weird jaw soreness (left side).

April 20, 2018 Posted by | education, running, science, swimming | , , , | Leave a comment

Trump, Mueller, Instagram science and “The Needle”

It seems as if anything can raise offense these days…well, I suppose it was ALWAYS that way but we hear more about it now. Here, a budding female scientists expresses frustration with being stuck with the “make science attractive to the masses duties” because she is female:

A lot of good comes from the work of female scientists on Instagram. But it disturbs me that these efforts are celebrated as ways to correct for the long held and deeply structured forms of discrimination and exclusion that female scientists face. I wonder whether our efforts should instead be directed toward advocating for policy changes at institutional and governmental levels.

When I next interview for a job, I won’t have an Instagram page to show that my love of science doesn’t make me boring and unfriendly. Publicly documenting the cute outfit I wear and the sweet smile I brandish in the lab isn’t going to help me build a fulfilling career in a field where women hold less senior positions, are paid less, and are continuously underrated. Time spent on Instagram is time away from research, and this affects women in science more than men. That’s unfair. Let’s not celebrate that.

And..of course…someone was offended.

Now THIS is a reasonable response..sort of. I don’t think saying “I am not going to do this and this is why” is shaming. If you WANT to do this, fine. But the author of the article was saying that she felt pressure to do that, and she shouldn’t. Disclaimer: I love my camera and my Instagram does have some “math selfies” or at least photos of math department members doing “mathy” things. But that is ME; I enjoy doing that.

Speaking of math: “The Needle” (Upshot’s day of the election forecast needle” is explained here. And yes, it DID predict a Trump victory long before it became apparent to others; I followed it. Roughly speaking: it looks at what vote has been counted, which areas have not been, what the turnout was and historically, how the outstanding areas have gone. It is a bit like this (about 6 minutes into it)

Trump and Muller Trump cannot fire Muller directly, and firing him indirectly will be harder than it might appear at first…and even if he does, that doesn’t mean the investigation gets stopped.

But this doesn’t mean that Congress ..or the people will see the full results of the Muller probe either.

I am not sure as to what is going on or what is happening. I do know that the Russians have made fools out of us in many ways. As far as the election stuff: yeah, some of the Russian ads were…well…”shit posting” quality. But campaigns are forbidden to consult with people who are putting out ads on their behalf unless they are an official part of the campaign, and foreigners aren’t allowed to collude, period. So there is some potential violations of election law.

Workout notes
Swim, then running. Swim: I was disappointed that the lifeguard showed up and I was awful (bloated, etc.) 4 x 250 free, 100 back, 100 breast, 100 back, 200 drill, 2 x 200, 1 x 100 (3:36, 3:42, 1:52), 2 x 50 (54), 2 x 25, 50 back.

run: treadmill 5.1 and up .1 every .5 miles (33:50 for 3, 34:55 for 3.1, then walk to 47:25 for 4 miles. Foot: was starting to work so I had to talk myself out of doing more. That is a good sign.

March 20, 2018 Posted by | 2016, politics, politics/social, science, social/political | , , | Leave a comment

Confusing the individual with the aggregate

One of the things that fascinated me was radioactive decay. If you were given a certain amount of a radioactive isotope, you can deduce how much will be left (not decayed) after a certain amount of time. In fact, you can do this so accurately that you can base a precision clock on it.

However, it is impossible to determine WHICH atom will decay, no matter how much information you have about it. I don’t mean that it is practically impossible but rather that it is literally impossible. And the individual atoms will decay at different times.

In short, you have information about the aggregate but not about the individual. Of course, in this example, we are in the range of quantum phenomena.

But this principle, (aggregate vs. the individual) applies when one attempts to make inferences about what will happen with a population in which there is a high level of variance within the said population, and people often get confused.

Example: suppose you have two groups of students who are, say, starting a program of study in engineering. One group is the group of students whose math ACT scores are 22, and the other group has math ACT scores of 30. The harsh reality is that the group of students with a score of 22 will have very little success; there may well be a few individuals who make it, but the vast majority won’t. And yes, the group with a score of 30 will have some failures, but they will have many more successes.

So, the ACT score matters and has predictive value. But if you bring this up, someone will remember the person with a 30 who flunked out, and someone with a 22 who made it and claim that means that the “ACT is meaningless”. Psst: that isn’t true.

So yes, there are smokers who live a long time, there are those who drive while texting who don’t get into accidents, etc. But smoking does harm longevity and driving while texting increases one’s risk of having an accident.

Application to Illinois Football Illinois football is starting MANY true freshmen and, well, the record so far is grim (2 wins over weaker non-conference opposition, followed by 5 straight losses against “power 5” caliber opposition (USF isn’t “power 5” but they are an undefeated, ranked team). And prospects for another win this season are grim, with 2 Top 10 teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State) and 3 improved teams (Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern) left to play.

So the PR department is playing this “the future is bright” angle:

And yes, the team is playing a lot of freshmen.

But: how good is that class? I went on ESPN and looked at how the Big Ten 2017 recruiting classes were ranked:

Top 10: Ohio State, Michigan
10-25: Penn State, Maryland, Nebraska
26-39: Michigan State
40-49: Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern
50-59: Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue.

So, based on talent, we *might* be able to hang with Rutgers, Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue, youth or no youth.

Now yes, measuring recruiting is tough to do, and there is always that individual “lightly regarded” recruit who blossoms into an NFL player. It does happen..individually. But a team composed of lightly regarded recruits is rarely, if ever, successful.

Workout notes: yesterday, wet 10K walk (untimed). today: weights. Pull ups were a struggle, so I did a couple of 5-5 sets then 2 sets of 10, one of 7-3 (50 total). (switched grip), usual PT, incline presses: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 6 x 150, military (dumbbell: 10 x 50, 10 x 45) 10 x 180 machine (90 each arm), rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110. Then a chilly 5K walk outside.

October 25, 2017 Posted by | college football, education, football, science, statistics, walking, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

It isn’t that simple…

Ah, I remember when I was a kid.

I was in grade school and was introduced to a table top model of the solar system.

Then I remembered reading that solar eclipses were rare..and happened every time the moon passed between the sun and earth.
I looked at the model and asked my teacher: “if this model is accurate, why don’t we get a solar eclipse every orbit?”

Of course, she didn’t know.

By the time I got into high school, I found an astronomy book that explained why (short answer: the orbits are not in the same 2 dimensional plane).

But the moral: the solar system was vastly more complicated than a table top model can model.

I also read up on “how we might go to Mars” and wondered why the scientists just didn’t go in a straight line path; things like momentum, fuel considerations, etc. just did not compute in my little pea brain.

It was more complicated that I realized at the time.

Now of course, I was a kid. But the “simple answer to a complex problem lives on..and we see that when, say, Trump supporters, Sanders supporters and libertarians try to discuss a topic like healthcare. That trying to get something that works from where we are right now is hideously complicated …well, that is just lost on many.

August 1, 2017 Posted by | science, social/political | Leave a comment

I’ve never seen anything like President Trump but…

It is weird. On one hand, I see President Trump as being a disaster. But, at least for NOW, my personal life is going well…for NOW…there are potential land mines ahead. But enough about that.

I work in education (mathematics) and Trump is a potential distaster at many levels. His nominee for Secretary of Education doesn’t even know the basics:

and yet is likely to be confirmed. I sure hope that the Democrats are united in opposing her, though if it looks like she will win anyway, I can see giving a few red state Senators a pass for local political reasons.

Higher education will not be spared; a creationist is being appointed to lead a task force in higher education.

And do not think that our lead in science/engineering/mathematics research is a “given” either; remember that in the 1930’s, Germany lead the world. They ran many of their top people out and the US took command.

Even worse, Trump appears to have no grasp of reality. He thinks that Islamic terrorism is being under reported and provided the media with a list of 78 “under reported” events…(and yes, the list had egregious misspellings in it, including of the word “attacker” in places!”

And just read some of President Trump’s tweets: do these sound presidential to you?

As someone pointed out, Trump is like a “boy’s idea of a man”. Oh sure, there are times when I have fantasies about being well off enough to tell anyone to “f*ck off” without having to worry about the consequences, but I realize that my having those fantasies are the result of my incomplete growth as a mature human being; it is my goal to get to the point where I don’t have those thoughts. I certainly do not admire someone who acts that way…especially the President of the United States.

What to do about it:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/how-to-beat-trump/515736/

February 7, 2017 Posted by | education, political/social, politics, politics/social, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Weather aches, hypocrisy and football

Paul Krugman noted that economic conditions are different (no longer zero interest rates..and companies are interested in borrowing and employment is up) and so we should look at deficits differently. Yes, public investment should be done, but not upper end tax breaks. OF COURSE, the right wing is calling him a hypocrite. And OF COURSE, they are wrong.

The idea that the best thing to do often depends on the situation is not a subtle concept. Why do conservatives have so much trouble with it?

Think of it this way: ask ANY football fan “what is the best play for a team to run” and they will tell you: “it depends on: down, distance, field conditions, time in the game, the score, the defense, the strengths and weaknesses of the respective teams, etc. Obviously, 3’rd and goal from the 1 with 1 minute to go in the game is different from 2’nd and 15 from your own 20 in the middle of the second quarter.

Of course, there are different philosophies; some teams are option teams, some are running teams, others are passing teams, and the play call also depends on the philosophy of the team (pass on 3’rd and 1 vs. run on 3’rd and 1). But the call is very situational. No one disputes that.

So why is this hard when it comes to economic policy?

Speaking of hypocrisy, why is hypocrisy bad? After all, if a coach has a good reputation for developing an athlete, I won’t call the coach a hypocrite for being a bad athlete and a workout slacker himself.

The article I linked to offers the following answer: those who say one thing and do another often use their moralizing to bring credit to themselves; a kind of PR. So when they don’t live up to their preaching, we get angry for them for putting up a false front. In the “out of shape coach” case, the coach is NOT billing himself as a good athlete when he coaches you. The moral scold who is themselves immoral IS billing themselves as a moral person, and that is where the resentment comes in.

Weather Yes, at one time, I bought into this “knee aches with weather changes” stuff. But more studies have been done…and I’ve come to understand I’ve run reasonably well during some very rainy days. It turns out there is no solid evidence that weather changes causes joint pain.
runtoremembercrop1

January 14, 2017 Posted by | economics, economy, science, social/political, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Trump, “Real America” and all sorts of “Political Correctness”

I am on the road and we stopped near Columbus, Ohio for the evening. We are about 6 hours out of Peoria.

I have time for some political posting.

So, Donald J. Trump will be President. Oh yes, there might be a “faithless elector” or two, but that won’t stop him. We need to engage in very basic politics to stop him. That doesn’t mean that we take Russian interference lying down; Sen. Lindsey Gram offers some good suggestions.

Paul Krugman offers suggestions on how to channel that “cool anger”. I agree: we should really make the case that Trump really represents wealthy interests and little else; he won’t help improve the normal lives of the “rank and file” nor will he level the playing field so as to empower the rank and file to improve their own live (which is what most really want anyway).

Though America is NOT the GOP, America is NOT a liberal college campus either. The average American is not going to get the vapors if Trump doesn’t speak according to some approved “PC” script. We can show that Trump is making the playing field more unequal though…he is lying about big manufacturing coming back, he is going to try to take away people’s health insurance and he will do nothing to “Make America Great Again.”

We have to make him pay a political price for that, and that means nominating those with the political skill to do it.

About political correctness: Yeah, I get tired of all of this nonsense that says that “rural, Trump voting” people are the “real Americans” and that the rest of us (close to 3 million more!) are, what?

But, I will continue to call out liberal political correctness, which sometimes can be so pervasive that it actually attacks well established scientific results.

Workout notes: easy 3.1 mile walk (5K) on the treadmill yesterday; 39:10.

December 15, 2016 Posted by | political/social, politics, politics/social, science, social/political, travel, walking | , , | Leave a comment

Thinking about thinking: critical thinking, empathy (and its limitations), faulty memories, etc.

Memories: yeah, our minds fill in the gaps, and so some of our vivid memories…never happened, or didn’t happen the way that we remember them. That is one reason I keep this blog; I often revisit what I did..and once in a while, find that I didn’t do what I thought that I did.

I still “remember” an epic workout that I once did: 8 x 400 in 75 each..back in 1982. Trouble is: I never did that. When I read my old logs, I did one workout where my LAST 400 was in 78 (others were 82-83) and I did a few 10-12 x 200 in 37-38…very different. I had written that 8 x 400 in 75 was my GOAL. Goals are not facts. 🙂

Empathy Yes, compassion for other humans is a good thing. But sometimes empathy for an individual can override doing greater good for more people. So empathy for individuals might lead to policy that might actually be harmful for more people (or do less good than it might otherwise). This book is on my reading list.

Critical thinking: Yes, I am for it, but effective critical thinking requires a context and a detailed knowledge of the facts and principles for the context. So teach history, teach physics, teach chemistry. But forget this “course on critical thinking” stuff.

Challenging beliefs and the “regressive academic left”. This article has given me something to chew on. Some of it is very good: one can’t challenge absurd beliefs without talking about underlying assumptions:

Malhar Mali: What in your opinion is the best way of fostering critical thinking when it comes to religious and supernatural beliefs?

Peter Boghossian: I think the whole way we’ve taught critical thinking is wrong from day one. We’ve taught, “Formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence.” But the problem with that is people already believe they’ve formulated their beliefs on evidence — that’s why they believe what they believe. Instead, what we should focus on is teaching people to seek out and identify defeaters.

What is a defeater? A defeater is:

IF A, THEN B, UNLESS C.
C is the defeater. We should teach people to identify conditions under which their beliefs could be false. This is profound for a number of reasons. If I’m correct, then it would be the holy grail of critical thinking. The problem with traditional notions of critical thinking is that most people believe what they want to believe anyway. They only look in their epistemic landscape for pieces of evidence which enforce the beliefs they hold — thus entrenching them in their view of reality. Eli Pariser has a vaguely related notion and talks about a technological mechanism that traps us in a “filter bubble.”

There are attitudinal dispositions that help one become a good critical thinker and there are skill-sets. If you don’t possess the attitudinal disposition then what’s the point of the skill set? A skill set could actually make it worse because, as Michael Shermer says, you become better at rationalizing bad ideas.

By teaching people to identify defeaters, which is a skill set, we may be able to help them shift their attitudes toward responsible belief formation. We may be able to help them habituate themselves to constantly readjusting and realigning their beliefs with reality. In the philosophy literature there’s a related notion called doxastic responsibility, which basically means responsible belief formation.

MM: So if you had put that formula into action with “If A, Then B, Unless C” what would that look like?

PB: A pedestrian example could be when someone thinks they see a goldfinch in their backyard. The traditional route here is to say, “Formulate your beliefs on evidence. What evidence do you have to believe that’s a goldfinch?” and they say: “Well I see the bird is yellow. I know there’s a high incidence of goldfinches in this area, so by induction I can see that it’s probably a goldfinch.” But unbeknownst to them it’s not a goldfinch but a canary.

So instead of saying, “formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence,” we should say: “how could that belief be wrong? Give me three possibilities how the belief that it could be a goldfinch might be in error.” This type of questioning — applied to any belief — helps engender a critical thinking and an attitude of doxastic responsibility.

The author then goes on to lose his way when he discusses the “regressive academic left” later in the article. Yes, they exist. Yes, some are nasty people. And yes, they are a threat to free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Yes, they are a threat to critical thinking skills.

He says:

Here’s what is surprising: with very few exceptions, and there are exceptions, Christians are very kind decent people all over the world. I do talks and we go out afterwards for drinks etc., and we talk with civility.

The far Left in contemporary academia is not like this. These are viciously ideological and nasty people whose goal it is to shut down discourse and indoctrinate students. I think we’ve spent too much time on Creationism. The problem is less with creationism and more with radical Leftism. For example, if you’re a professor who teaches in the biological sciences, creationists have substantive disagreements with your work and they’ll try to demean it. But they’re not going to harass you or your family. They’re not going to try and get you fired. They’re not going to call you a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a homophobe.

That may well be true, but creationists get on school boards and have seats of political power. Climate change denialists have seats in Congress:
inhofesnowball

You really can’t compare the power and money behind the right wing variety of nonsense.

Sure the idiots in academia are annoying. But they aren’t the threat to science that the science denialists are, and they have nowhere near the degree of institutional support.

December 10, 2016 Posted by | education, science, social/political | | Leave a comment