Spring 2019 Introductory Mechanics (PHYS 1303)

A “Marvel Studios”-style pre-roll I made for class. This is the excitement I feel when I think about teaching or researching in physics, and when I think about some of this people and history of our department.

Tomorrow, my spring teaching begins. Again, I am teaching “Introductory Mechanics” (PHYS 1303), our 1st-semester introductory physics course. Inspired by the Marvel Studios movies, the theme this semester is “ASSEMBLE!”

Enjoy my little fan art below. Many thanks to my undergraduate teaching assistants, and course veterans: Chase, Lauren, and Andrew!

Dog Whistles: Phrasing that Encodes Anti-Science

A “dog whistle” in a political sense is a code phrase that stands for an idea other than the one used in the phrase. Let’s look at a dog whistle in the discussion about science education, one intended to weaken science in the classroom.

President Trump’s candidate for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was approved today by the Senate committee that conducted her hearing. During her hearing, a question was asked of Mrs. DeVos by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about whether or not she would work to keep “junk science” (such as “Intelligent Design” or efforts to erode climate science) out of the public school classroom. Rather than a simple “Yes,” she replied that she would support “especially science that is, uh, that allows student to exercise critical thinking…” [1]

This sounds innocuous, and even supportive, but in the long fight to keep anti-science forces from degrading US science education efforts, “critical thinking” has been appropriated by anti-science forces in public education conversations to mean “promote non-scientific views in the science classroom about established scientific frameworks.” Let’s explore this a little to understand it better.

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Acts of Discovery Require Failure

All of the speakers at the TEDxSMU-sponsored "Loyd on the Lawn" event. Rain drove us into a breezeway but the power of Loyd Commons drew a crowd for a fun night of ideas!
All of the speakers at the TEDxSMU-sponsored “Loyd on the Lawn” event. Rain drove us into a breezeway but the power of Loyd Commons drew a crowd for a fun night of ideas! Photo by TEDxSMU.

The following is the underlying text I wrote as the basis for a talk at the TEDxSMU-sponsored event, “Loyd on the Lawn.” It was held at Loyd Residential Commons at SMU, where I was invited to give a short (~10-minute) talk last Sunday night. Enjoy!

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Bad Science Writing: College Paper Edition

A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.
A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.

Writers are born young. Good writers learn their craft through practice, trial, and error. Failure is the best teacher. Given my view of writing, there is much my own University’s weekly campus paper, the SMU Campus Weekly, can learn from this recent article that claims to assess the “Paleo diet.” [ARTICLE] I got so upset about this article and its complete lack of scientific assessment, I actually wrote a letter to the Editor of the paper. This is not the first credulous diet review article in our campus newspaper, but it is the last straw for me – a professor who teaches a class in the scientific method and how to construct a good assessment of a claim. This article represents the worst kind of science writing. Check out the article. Then read my letter below. I marked typos that I wish I’d caught before sending the letter with “[sic].”

UPDATE: I updated this after receiving a response from the Editor. I summarize her response, print my own email reply to her, and then document an assessment of the claimed “experts” used in the article.

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