Let the kids decide

By Risa Wechsler | August 4, 2005 6:54 pm

teach both theories

Nice cartoon (which I saw here), I do love the idea of Einstein with a magic wand.
On a side note — the scientists shown here are a very diverse lot: two have beards, and two have mustaches! And one of them doesn’t even have white hair or glasses. I would like to point out that as far as I know none of the 5 authors of this blog currently have facial hair. And I think at least a few of them still do some pretty good science.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Religion, Science
  • citrine

    In today’s NYTimes I saw this article about some scientists getting together with screenwriters to produce movies with a science centered plot. The idea here is to portray science and its practitioners in a more appealing light, so that hopefully more kids in the USA will think science is “cool” instead of “nerdy” and be motivated to take more sc. classes. Apparently the defense industry – which requires US citizenship for a lot of its jobs – is facing a shortage in the homegrown employee pool.

    I don’t know how much of the crazy scientist (who is always recognizable by HIS deranged hair and glasses) figures into this phobia, but I think that actually taking students to labs, colleges and observatories to show (and talk to) scientists at work is a better motivator.

  • Benjamin

    One of these cartoons looks like John Ellis.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Hi Citrine,

    That is one of my passions: The better portrayal of scientists in the mainstream media as a means to better science awareness and participation by the general public. (See my very first post) I recently helped out on a screenplay under a program such as the one you mentioned and I hope to do more, if I can find the right people of course. Here at USC , we have one of the finest film schools on the planet and I do hope to see if this effort can be strengthened here at one of the main feeder schools to the entertainment industry. It will take time, but I’m looking out for ways to make it work. And it’s fun!


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    The one guy without either white hair or glasses is wearing a lab coat. I’m thinking of getting a lab coat myself, so that people know I’m a scientist. My lab coat will be a stylish black. It would require less care than a beard.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    No Sean. Cats are a problem with black. Remember? And as scientists doing quantum stuff, people expect that we are stuffing cats into boxes with vials of poison and various radioactive isotopes. A black labcoat would therefore cause considerable embarrasment in the faculty lounge. -cvj

  • Kev Abazajian

    That reminded me of this astute comic… —Kev

  • http://dabacon.org/pontiff Dave Bacon

    Very convenient: white lab coats for experimentalists, black lab coats for a theorists!

  • Gordon Chalmers

    It seems that chemistry is special.

  • http://www.pyracantha.com Pyracantha

    Every article about teaching science in the USA that I have ever read assumes that the students are young, either in middle or high school or just entering college. In fact that article in the NY Times quotes a scientist as saying outright that it is not worth trying to teach adults science, because kids are the future of science.
    I am 52 and just learning high school physics because I never knew it before and never was able to take courses in it, and I failed math in high school. I had to re-learn all the math I never knew before I could start physics. I hope to continue studying math and physics. I am not the “future of science,” but there may be other middle-aged types like me who want to learn, too.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Pyracantha– It’s unlikely to change, as the number of “students” will always be dominated by people in their teens and twenties. But what you’re doing is admirable, and there’s no reason why people should stop seriously educating themselves just because they’ve left school. There’s a whole virtual genre of books that are not textbooks yet teach individuals the gritty detail of some academic subject — except nobody ever writes those books.

  • Chaz

    What we really have to worry about are the Norse Creationists…

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suz

    I was always under the impression there was a glut of scientists and not enough jobs. In any case, those high school programs where they bus kids in to places like where I work and try to convince students that scientists are cool people kind of annoy me. I think of scientists as mostly socially inept and ethically challenged. Except, of course, my friends. It’s probably because I’ve been in grad school for too long.

  • Zero

    Another kinda looks like Ed Turner.


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Sean, everybody knows that the people in the black coats are the bad guys. Purple is associated with wizards/magic, so that is out. Blue, green, or red seem innocuous. I’m thinking about red myself.

  • Matt

    I went to a christian school for my elementary->high school years, and I am still trying to dig myself out of the math/science hole that experience put me in. Evil evolution, no labs (no proof no problem!), and no rigourous math/logic were par.

    This is all to say that this is painfully humourous to me.

  • Zero

    Then again, I went to a Christian school for my elementary->high school years, and I am a moderately successful astrophysicist today (and still very much a Christian).


  • Matt


    Do you remember which curriculum was used (e.g. ACE, A Beka)? I actually had no teachers using the ACE curriculum. I sat at a desk with work booklet in hand. This was a great way to learn Maths (for me anyway), but it didn’t go far enough. I didn’t know what an integral was until my second year of college.

    I’m currently only a Senior working on my B.S. in CS (PHYS minor). So mayhap there is still hope for me…

  • Zero

    Matt: I have never even heard of “ACE” or “A Beka”. Maybe they did not have such designations back when I was in (Catholic) school. In any case, I thought that I received a pretty good education in science and math — certainly enough to get started with some serious physics once I got to college.


  • Matt


    Ahh… Catholic school. I completely forgot about those. My brain associates Christian with evangelical (which is the type of school I attended). My mistake…

    It is my understanding that many Catholic schools are top-notch in their curriculums.

  • Saucy Wench

    Sean went to a Catholic university for his undergrad. :)

  • http://dftuz.unizar.es/~rivero/research/ Alejandro Rivero

    I can not get the point of the cartoon. Looking at the astronomer only, it seems to say that astrology has become as absurd as to be uneffective even as a theory of the sequence of astronomical phenomena. But then, why do magic and phrenology get different status than astrology in the cartoon?

    Secondary questions for a good discussion could be why Physics is shown against Magic instead of, say, Aristotelism? Surely Magic as a whole is closer to Medicine. Mythology could be related to physics, but mostly to astrophysics… And what about alchemy? The failure in alchemy are quantitative aspects, but the main postulate of alchemy is the use of dualities to classify reactions, and this is still taught in chemistry courses.

    (If you are going to tell me that alchemy has also qualitative failure because the transmutation from mercury to gold is not exothermic, please check again the table of stable isotopes before clicking the Submit button)

    Last, Risa, are you sure that the guy in the first square dress as a scientific? Er what university do you work in? I’d like a position there!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Saucy — why do you think I want the black lab coat?

  • the one Intelligently designed

    Well just to let you know I do teach my students about astrology in my astronomy class and let them decide.

  • http://dftuz.unizar.es/7Erivero/ Alejandro Rivero

    And what kind of astrology do you teach? The problem with all these arts in their non-degenerate form is that there was a coexistence of scientific and supersticious approaches.

    Let me to quote Vitrubius for a good example of this:

    The precepts of the ancients, in this respect, should ever be observed. They always, after sacrifice, carefully inspected the livers of those animals fed on that spot whereon the city was to be built, or whereon a stative encampment was intended. If the livers were diseased and livid, they tried others, in order to ascertain whether accident or disease was the cause of the imperfection; but if the greater part of the experiments proved, by the sound and healthy appearance of the livers, that the water and food of the spot were wholesome, they selected it for the garrison. If the reverse, they inferred, as in the case of cattle, so in that of the human body, the water and food of such a place would become pestiferous; and they therefore abandoned it, in search of another, valuing health above all other considerations.

    Well, perhaps the translator exagerates by upgrading “experÄ«rÄ«” into a modern “to experiment”, but the thing is that even the activity of a seer can happen to be scientific. Then, what about mathematical operations such as looking for orbit periodicities or even to decide about a notation to divide the sky in equal parts?

  • Pingback: The Quest for Better Science Education | Cosmic Variance()

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/06/trigger.html Plato

    I of course seen this cartoon earlier and had to remember where I had seen it, because like correlations we might see sometimes in terms of a certain landscape, I found this picture relevant in this way. Maybe this cartoon sketch set the course for this photograph? Speculating of course.


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