Science Outreach Links of the Day

Map of the Kingdom of Wisdom, from The Phantom Tollbooth. Image courtesy of the excellent Brain Pickings blog.

I suspect applying for science outreach jobs may be affecting which things I’m linking today, but it does seem like a theme running through my newsfeeds at the moment.

6 Responses to “Science Outreach Links of the Day”


  1. 1 Porlock Junior October 14, 2011 at 04:54

    That Lauren piece on the pink science toys is really disturbing. I mean, this is even worth discussing? Explaining what’s wrong? Sheeesh, I thought that was all settled 20 or 30 years ago when the pink Lego sets came out.

    Ok, kidding. But not about the sick feeling on seeing such stuff. I can tell you, 20 years ago the sight of those toys would have had my daughter holding forth eloquently. (Some people are eloquent, especially in denunciation of bozos, at an age in single digits.)

    Plus ça change and all.

  2. 3 Porlock Junior October 14, 2011 at 06:06

    Just *have* to post here about the Triassic Kraken, because it’s very late, and I can’t post there without going through some login process that requires me to start disabling, one by one till I find the right combination, the things that protect me from spam, popups, and other malicious garbage, and I’m getting grumpy — indeed, well past that — so I need to take it out on you that somebody is wrong on the Internet.

    Anyway, in response to a couple of erudite comments on how Sagan’s Rule (extraordinary claims and all that) is Bad Science:

    Interesting. That’s the second blanket denunciation of Sagan’s dictum that I’ve seen in this thread. Also, the second ever, afaik.

    Sagan’s dictum is not an important principle, in fact, in the land of peer-reviewed science, where there’s a lot of agreed-on common ground. (Uh-oh, here come the creationists to tell us how bad that is.) It applies more to how we think about the stuff that hasn’t achieved that status. Like, f’rinstance, Triassic krakens.

    And all that the dictum does is apply Bayesian ideas: If a report has extraordinarily low prior probabilities, other terms of the report have to meet higher standards than we routinely apply. 95% confidence level isn’t much use if the rest of the story is unsupported. It’s sometimes necessary to remember that a report might have some explanations that aren’t quite respectable (and are statistically less common in peer-reviewed matters than in random reportings). The report, after all, could be based on someone’s doing somethng really stupid that didn’t apear in the report, or on outright lying. Asimov expounded this nicely in one of the Black Widowers stories.

    Where the probabilities of those off-the-wall explanations are low, they don’t usually affect our figuring of how much credibility to give the report; but the calculation changes when the report is “extraordinary” in the sense given.

    (Not that such problems are absent from the professional literature: XMRV, anyone? But the peer review process does some good in reducing the frequency of such stuff. If the reviewers had known about the AZA, Lombardi et al. could never have been published; failing to mention it was somewhere in the range from very bad science (something really stupid not reported) to serious malpractice (lying).)

    ===

    Of course, the only thing that matters is the penultimate paragraph there. Sometime when I’m awake, I need to write this up coherently.

    • 4 Matthew R. Francis October 14, 2011 at 11:24

      I hesitate to speak fully for Brian, but I think his main point is more about a credulous press. The scientists who know about the paleontology knew the press release was nonsense, but by the time they were able to write about it, the story had run through all the major media outlets.

      I’m not disagreeing with your larger perspective, however!

      • 5 Porlock Junior October 15, 2011 at 02:38

        Oh, I agree about Brian’s real point. But when he invoked Sagan’s rule, he got a couple of replies about what bad science it is, which I found odd.

      • 6 Matthew R. Francis October 15, 2011 at 06:40

        Ah, I understand — you’re responding to a critic on Brian’s blog. I didn’t spend much time in the comments, because too many people seemed to be missing his point entirely. (One of the dangers of blogging, methinks.)


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