Archive for October, 2009

Statisticians do not see global cooling trend

This story by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, is sure to create a lot of heat from those who dispute global warming.  Without revealing what the numbers represented, his news organization gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends.  They found no evidence of any decline – only a long-term increase over the last 130 years, thus taking away fuel for the fire that the world is now cooling.

I like the idea of this being a blind analysis, although I wonder if these four statisticians might’ve seen through this.  Also, what is a good sample size for statisticians?  Four seems meager.  Do you pick statisticians at random, or what?

Anyways, I am more concerned about my Minnesota Gophers going to a new outdoor stadium in what will turn out to be one of the coldest Octobers ever in this region.  They play Saturday night, which is Halloween – scary enough on a college campus –but it might be wickedly cold as well.  Fortunately I have a good collection of Gopher shirts, sweats and jackets to put on layer-by-layer.  I noticed something funny about being outdoors after so many years of under the Metrodome: People clapping with mittens on just doesn’t work as well for cheering purposes.

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Experiments for school now safer, but less educational

A colleague in our field of experimental design told me today that he will be making a big career change by moving out of industrial research to teaching high-school science.  He may think twice about this after seeing this thread from TheScientist Community that educators’ caution is killing science fun.  Actually, being a bit squeamish about blood and guts, I like the idea of dissecting a jellybean rather than a frog.  That’s sweet!

The blog stemmed from this TimesOnline article detailing how School lab health and safety rules ‘could stop future scientists’ .  I like their picture of students in a high school chemistry lab who are clearly thrilled by their production of a huge flame-ball.  That seems very educational!  Unfortunately, this sort of thing, such as making volcanoes, can no longer be tolerated.  That’s a pity, I think.

On a brighter note, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, an independent charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science, report that kids are keen to do more experiments, according to this SchoolGate blog.

“When things are taught without true experimentation, students don’t understand it. And that needs to change. Children can do science at school, but they don’t necessarily learn what a real scientist is – planning an experiment, needing to repeat things, having a clear hypothesis and testing it.”

— Baroness Susan Greenfield. Director of the Royal Institution

I enjoyed many fun and educational experiments in my school career, back when the teacher ruled supreme.  All of them impressed on us the importance of being safe and we learned first-hand how to handle hazardous chemicals and biological materials.  My favorite in-class experiment, which I doubt would be allowed nowadays, was a fermentation reaction that my team of high-school honors students ran as our final project for senior biology class.  The alcoholic product, albeit not of vintage quality, served very well, we judged.  I do not exactly recall the consequences, but they must not have been too bad, because the teacher gave us a pass.

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NASA shoots the Moon

I got up a bit earlier than usual to set up my 8-inch reflector telescope for a view of the 6:31 AM CDT collision of NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).  The weather was ideal – clear skies with no wind.  Never mind that we had our first frost – Minnesotans like me don’t mind temperatures at the freezing point (knowing full well that soon this will be considered balmy!).  However, despite a spectacular view of the Moon’s South Pole, I saw no evidence of the “man in the moon” getting ‘goosed.’  To placate the alarmists who thought the Moon might be destroyed, NASA likened their crash to an eyelash hitting a jetliner.  From what I could see myself and the video by NASA, that is an apt analogy, assuming the eyelash came off a gnat.

So LCROSS proved to be a lot less dramatic than us skywatchers hoped for.  However, if the follow-up satellite sensed water blown up by its self-destructive predecessor, the mission will be a big success.  This will take a while to decipher as noted by Wired magazine’s GeekDad blogger Brian McLaughlin.  If you are geeky like me, you will keep an eye out for the final outcome of this shoot-for-the-moon experiment.

PS. All this is mindful of the book by Jules Verne From the Earth to Moon posted with illustrations from an 1886 edition by NASA in their Space Educators HandbookJules Verne's Moon shot (“One small click for all mankind.”).  It’s fantastic!

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