29 of us—not counting dogs!—Marched for Science here in Aberdeen this Earth Day afternoon. Neighbors from Groton, Britton, Sisseton, and Mobridge joined us to march around the center of town to show our support for science, education, and facts… things to which far too many of our elected officials and our fellow voters seem strangely averse.
Click here for my full photo album of the event, plus bonus photos from fellow marcher and Aberdonian John Sullivan! Thank you, John for those extra pix and video, and thank you, everyone on the route, for joining us to support science!
USA Today features a Boston Consulting Group report on America’s waning lead in industrial innovation. We’re still investing in and churning out more basic and applied research than any other nation, and we are home to a huge proportion of the world’s best universities (BCG says 75 out of the top 200; Times Higher Education says 63 out of the top 200, 147 out of the top 800*), but other nations—especially China, but also Germany, Japan, and South Korea—are focusing more on turning our technological innovations in money-making products.
Among the causes of “friction” in U.S. industry efforts to turn science into profits are a couple of free-market failings:
Reluctance to Collaborate. Because they view one another as competitors within an industry—rather than collaborators working to further a national interest—companies are often reluctant to cooperate to solve common manufacturing problems. When US manufacturers join research consortia, they often prefer to work in their own facilities and share little of their innovation with other members.
Uncoordinated Supply Chains. Instead of offering full suites of advanced digital manufacturing tools that are applicable to entire industries, providers tend to have narrow capabilities and develop solutions that are specifically designed for certain technologies or manufacturers. Manufacturers are also reluctant to collaborate with their suppliers on process innovation. As a result, it’s hard for US industries to establish standards that would reduce costs, speed the implementation of new manufacturing technologies, and improve efficiency throughout the manufacturing ecosystem [Hal Sirkin, Justin Rose, and Rahul Choraria, “An Innovation-Led Boost for U.S. Manufacturing,” Boston Consulting Group, 2017.04.17].
Skill Gaps. Wide-scale adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies will significantly increase demand for skills that currently are in short supply in the US, such as robotics coordinators, information technology specialists, and data analytics personnel. The US public education system is also not well suited to training production workers who are able to quickly adapt to new and evolving manufacturing technologies [Sirkin et al., 2017.04.17].
All that assumes that we want science and education to serve industry. I don’t mind if our university scientists concentrate on uncovering the mysteries of the universe and leave it to someone else to figure out how to make a buck off the Big Bang. I don’t mind of our public schools focus on making children into well-read participants in democracy and let them figure out how to make better widgets.
But if we want to stay ahead of China in industrial innovation, we need to keep investing in science. We need our great industries to adopt a more collaborative scientific spirit. And we do need to look for ways to give kids more chances to design and build things alongside (not in place of) their training in American democracy.
*On the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2015–2016, along with 63 American universities, the United Kingdom places 34 in the top 200; Germany, twenty; Netherlands, eleven; Australia, eight; Switzerland and Canada, seven; Sweden, six; France, five; Belgium and South Korea, four; Hong Kong, Denmark, Italy, Spain, three; Singapore, China, Japan, Ireland, Norway, two; Finland, South Africa, Austria, Russia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Israel, Luxembourg, one.
Children in a region of the US were born smaller after the area switched from nuclear plants to coal-fired power stations, new research has found.
…The analysis of data from the US Energy Information Administration by Severnini reveals that the loss of nuclear energy following the two closures was made up almost entirely by an increase in energy production by coal-fired power plants in the Tennessee Valley area, although the increase varied across different plants.
The result was that particle pollution increased in areas where coal use rose. Around the Paradise plant, which accounted for almost a quarter of the rise in coal-fired energy, concentration of particulates increased by 27% in the 18 months after the nuclear shutdown.
At the same time average birth weight fell. After taking into account a host of factors relating to the child, county and mother, including her age and education levels – although smoking habits were not specifically probed – birth weight in areas with coal-fired plants declined by around 5.4% in the 18 months after the nuclear shutdown. The impact was greatest in the areas which showed the greatest boom in coal-fired power plant activity after closure of the two nuclear sites.
If you plan to dig more coal, you have to plan to burn that coal. This research shows that when you burn that coal, you’ll get weaker babies who will suffer lifelong disadvantages, which will cascade into costs for the economy, federal revenues, and the budget deficit.
NPR’s social science feature on today’s Morning Edition discussed research showing that people who practice a ritual, even newly learned, seemingly meaningless ritual, show more trust for people who perform the same ritual and less trust for people who don’t practice the ritual.
Mocking individuals engaged in public prayer—yes, how neighborly.
Funny: I don’t mock the Hutterites for wearing clothes and speaking a language that clearly mark their religiously driven separation from mainstream culture. I don’t immediately mistrust people whom I hear inserting “under God” into their Pledges of Allegiance. I’m suspicious of the theology of pro running backs who incorporate kneels and gestures toward the sky in their endzone celebrations, simply because I doubt any worship-worthy deity would invest heavily in who scores more points in a professional entertainment event. But I don’t marginalize pro running backs, under-Godders, and Hutterites for worshipping differently from my traditions.
Social science may identify a tendency to feel uncomfortable with people who behave differently from one’s own customary practices. But such a tendency does not justify posting photos making fun of others’ rituals to sow and reinforce distrust and hatred.
But autism-advocate Powers apparently can’t bring himself to violate his Dear Leader principles. While Donald Trump lit the White House blue yesterday evening for Autism Awareness Day, he has lit up autism advocates with his apparent misunderstanding of autism. Yet Powers has not raised his voice alongside his fellow autism advocates to point out his President’s errors.
Cure? Believe it or not, that’s not the right word to use with autism advocates:
President Trump’s proclamation pledges that his administration will encourage “innovation that will lead to new treatments and cures for autism.” Such a goal is widely outside the consensus of the self-advocate community, which has long since concluded that the concept of a “cure” for autism is profoundly unethical and leads to dangerous and even deadly consequences for autistic people. It is also out of line with the consensus of the scientific community, which has recognized the idea of cure as scientifically implausible. Research towards “cure” does not help autistic people or our families, and after decades of protest from autistic people, the public has begun to realize that a world without autistic people is not an ethical or desirable goal. The Trump administration’s attempt to revive the idea of cure is a dangerous fringe position [Autistic Self Advocacy Network, statement, 2017.04.01].
It’s not surprising that Trump is still looking for a “solution” to autism. I doubt he’s spent much time talking to autistic adults, or learning more about their support needs. That would require a willingness to accept a different worldview, and I’ve yet to see that from Trump. But by focusing on autism as something to prevent, treat, or cure, Trump is doing kids like mine a disservice, and reinforcing the idea that who they are isn’t good enough [Jody Allard, “The New President’s Ignorance about Autism Is Dangerous for Kids Like Mine,” CafeMom, 2017.02.15].
While celebrating socialist policies supporting his autism advocacy, Powers has noted that claiming that autism is increasing due to vaccines is “crazytalk“. Yet Powers has ignored his President’s peddling of exactly that crazytalk. In February, at a White House meeting with fellow no-clue-itarian Betsy DeVos, Trump referred to the “horrible… tremendous amount of increase” in autism. That statement is bunk:
Trump is broadcasting a very inaccurate and misleading claim about autism — one that you often hear from the Kennedys and Wakefields of the world, but which experts flatly disagree with. Purveyors of this claim often point out that autism rates have increased significantly since the early 1990s, but as Steve Silberman, an autism expert and the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, told Science of Us, that has to do with diagnostic criteria and awareness, not the prevalence of the condition itself.
Trump is now using the highest office in the country to broadcast language and falsehoods that run counter to the conscientious autism advocacy of people like Powers… yet Powers remains silent on the damage the pulpit bully is doing.
Come on, Pat: I wasn’t afraid to say President Obama was wrong on issues that are near and dear to my heart, like education, or when he didn’t push hard enough for liberal priorities, like single-payer health insurance or a public option. You can do it, too, Pat: you can say, “Trump is wrong: autism doesn’t need a cure; it needs more science, more understanding… and more socialism!”
On Saturday, April 22, believers in science, logic, and facts (that should be all of us) and the foundational role of reason in democracy will rally in Washington, D.C., and around the world to protest the anti-science attitude of the Trump Administration.
Four marches are in the works here in South Dakota:
Rapid City: 9:00 a.m. MDT, starting at School of Mines Surbeck Building
Pierre: 2:00 p.m. CDT, starting at federal building/U.S. Courthouse, 225 S. Pierre St.
Sioux Falls: 10:00 a.m. CDT, starting at Carnegie Town Hall, 235, W 10th St.
Aberdeen: 1:00 p.m. CDT, starting at Central Park, across from the ARCC.
If you join me here at the Aberdeen march, we’ll walk a square through the heart of Aberdeen: Central Park to the public library, then over to Main, up to red Rooster, and back to Central Park, where we will find the Green Aberdeen Earth Day Fair in full swing at the Briscoe Building.
The bill is one of four that have been introduced so far in 2017 in state legislatures — the others are in Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas — that would allow science denial in the classroom. Since 2014, at least 60 “academic freedom” bills — which permit teachers to paint established science as controversial — have been filed in state legislatures all over the country. Louisiana passed one in 2008, and Tennessee did, too, in 2012 [Valerie Strauss, “An ‘Alternative Facts’ South Dakota Bill Sparks Fears for Science Education in the Trump Era,” Washington Post, 2017.02.05].
Strauss reports that SB 55 has drawn criticism from “the South Dakota Department of Education, the School Administrators of South Dakota, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Center for Science Education, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Council Against Censorship, the Associated School Boards of South Dakota and the South Dakota Education Association.” The National Center for Science Education offers a useful collection of commentary from these organizations.
That’s a lot of people who, unlike Senator Monroe, have devoted their lives to science and education and thus probably know how to help children learn science without any guidance from a part-time legislator.
Tangentially Related: In other news of Republicans rejecting science, the President of the United States got up this morning and declared that “Any negative polls are fake….” You know, in all of my math classes and exercises, I have never seen a theorem that says any negative number is an invalid result. But like Senator Monroe, the President of the United States can’t figure out that the proper response to a disconnect between fact and opinion is to adjust opinion, not deny fact.
The cast of characters testifying for Senate Bill 55 Wednesday supports my thesis that Senator Jeff Monroe’s bill purporting to “protect the teaching of certain scientific information is really just a ploy in his ongoing drive to force his Jesus into our public schools. Dale Bartscher, Florence Thompson, and Cindy Flakoll—fundie Dominionists all—told Senate Education Tuesday to pass SB 55, and Senate Education’s four theocrats—Monroe, Bolin, Jensen, and Klumb—said okee-dokee. Moderate Republicans Soholt and Solano and Democrat Heinert listened to the educators in the room—the Associated School Boards, the School Administrators, the Department of Education, the Large Schools, the teachers union, science teacher Anne Lewis, educator and biologist Dr. Rhea Waldman—and voted no (thank you).
…she takes issue with Monroe’s use of the language of “strengths and weaknesses of scientific information . . .”
That isn’t how scientists and science teachers should speak about science, Lewis said.
“In science, you talk about probability, you talk about uncertainty.” Such words “don’t have the value connotations that strength and weakness have, and takes scientific discussions far afield to talk about values more than data, she said. Especially for younger students, she said.
And she sees in those two terms what she calls Monroe’s “long game” to create an atmosphere in public school science classes that will incorrectly characterize scientific ideas and theories with a goal of posing creationism as a valid alternative to accepted scientific theories of evolution, or skepticism of climate change as scientifically equivalent [Stephen Lee, “Pierre Senator Sees Early Success for His Science Ed Bill,” Pierre Capital Journal, 2017.01.27].
If the House insists on following the Senate in its dunderheadedness, I propose a compromise:
If Senator Monroe is sincerely concerned that teachers are being (in the words of SB 55) “prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information,” and
Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) throws the first belch of the radical right-wing caucus into the hopper with his fourth attempt to wedge his anti-science agenda into science classrooms.
Senate Bill 55, “An Act to protect the teaching of certain scientific information,” runs one innocuous sentence:
No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.
Republican legislators are the last people we teachers need to turn to to protect open, honest, objective, analytical scientific discussions in our classroom. And that’s not really what the eleven Republican sponsors of SB 55 are after. Senator Monroe offered identical language in bills in 2016 and 2015. Each time, his intent has been the same as the two less artfully worded bills he offered in 2014 to promote the teaching of his personal religious beliefs in intelligent design and fetal personhood.
Senator Monroe’s bills on this topic have died every time, for good reason. Senator Monroe’s effort to sneak religion into science class was a bad idea in 2015. It was a bad idea in 2016. Senate Bill 55 is a bad idea this year… but it is probably just the first old nag out of the culture-warriors’ gate.