In which I encounter a "Merchant Of Doubt"


Posted: May 24 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Solving Societal Problems

Cover of "Merchants of Doubt" In the course of my work with science and environmental journalism students, I had repeatedly heard of efforts by various people and organizations to stir up doubt about the scientific evidence concerning prominent medical and environmental issues. Thus it was with great interest that I opened a new book, Merchants of Doubt, by Namoi Oreskes and Erik Conway. The book promised to tell me "How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Warming," with chapters on acid rain, the ozone hole, second hand tobacco smoke, global warming, and DDT.

A short way into the book, my interest took a sharp turn towards the personal. One of the four protagonists of the story turned out to be Dr. William Nierenberg, who had been the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography during the years that I studied there for my PhD. Nierenberg starred in two chapters: on acid rain and global climate change. More

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Does "form follows function" apply in geosciences?


Posted: Mar 18 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Spatial Thinking, Perception/Observation, Energy

"Form Follows Function." I've run across this idea a number of times, and it has tickled the spatial thinking part of my attention span. Cups, bowls, bathtubs, and spoons share a fundamental attribute--their concave upwards shape. This shape or "form" follows inevitably from the requirements of holding a liquid in the presence of gravity. Bird wings and airplane wings share a cross-sectional shape, flatter on the bottom and more rounded on the top, to perform the function of lifting the wing as it moves through the air.

I'd always considered "form follows function" to be a poor fit to most objects I care about as a geoscientist. More

Learning to Learn from Data


Posted: Feb 15 2011 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Temporal Thinking, Quantitative Thinking, Field-Based Learning, Spatial Thinking, Metacognition, Interpretation/Inference
Scientists learn from data. Learning to learn from data is obviously an essential aspect of the education of a future scientist.

These days, however, many other kinds of people also learn from data--including business people, investors, education leaders, and people who care about pollution, disease, or the quality of their local schools. My daily newspaper is rich in data-based graphs and maps--and so is the newsletter from my local library. These days, learning to learn from data is a necessary part of everyone's education.

However, learning to learn from data is not a typical part of everyone's education. This post explores what might be required to construct a thorough learning progression for learning from Earth Science data, beginning where a good elementary school leaves off and carrying on through to what an upper level college course or adult job might demand. More

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What could the President do?


Posted: Jan 30 2011 by Cathy Manduca
Topics: Collaboration, Community
Earlier this month I was invited to attend a planning meeting for PCAST, the President's advisors on science and technology. They (via a subcommittee) are gearing up to write a report on STEM higher education, which will be a companion to their excellent piece on STEM K-12 education (my favorite parts of this are the emphasis on preparation and inspiration together, and the reminder that we do need to worry about high-achieving students). You can find the report here by scrolling down to K-12 STEM Education report.


By way of introduction at the meeting, we were asked to provide three minutes of advice to the President as to how he could help improve STEM higher education and in particular the preparation of students for the STEM workforce. Here is my response. There were lots of people at the meeting who could speak to the general question, so I spoke from the point of view of helping faculty be better teachers. More

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GSA goes Metacognitive


Posted: Dec 23 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: History of Geosciences, Metacognition

Looking around the website of the Geological Society of America, I found myself on the page announcing the Society's upcoming 125th anniversary celebration. In bold print, the Society congratulates itself for: "ADVANCES IN GEOSCIENCES: Our science, our societal impact, and our unique thought processes." More

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