THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 9, Issue 26 – February 9, 2015
It’s Flu and Cold Season
With all the cold weather we’ve been having lately, it has become cold and flu season too. I caught a mild cold on Monday and I was pretty much rid of it on Wednesday. My wife Jill and son Mark picked up a more severe version of it on Wednesday and are only coming out of it now. It seems everyone at the College and in town has gotten it or currently has it.
It’s been cold and unusually snowy lately. Last Monday, we were only supposed to get 3-4 inches of snow, but it turned out to be 6-7 inches, and with the wind, there were drifts of 1-2 feet in places. Things were calm on Tuesday and Wednesday, but when I woke up on Thursday, there were an unexpected additional 5-6 inches on the ground, and my windshield wipers were totally frozen to the car. I had to take off my gloves to warm the wipers enough to pry them loose. Later that day, it was sunny enough to melt some of the snow from the roof, which ran down the windshield, froze, and formed two thick icicles! I had to let the car run for a while until they softened up enough to use the scraper to take off!
Yesterday, as I was driving back from Potsdam in the morning, we had something new—freezing drizzle. It was cold enough so that it would freeze as soon as it hit the windshield. Even with the blowers going full blast, they were only able to stay even with the icing. Several people pulled over to the side of the road to scrape their windshields down. This morning, there was a layer of ice on the windshield that wouldn’t scrape off, and it took 10 minutes of idling the car with the blowers on full blast to soften it enough to scrape it. We were supposed to get several more inches of snow today, but now it looks like that won’t happen. Hopefully, Wednesday’s predicted snow will also fail to appear.
Thanks to Our Donors to the Canton College Foundation
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many donors to our Canton College Foundation this past year. From our full time folks, the participation rate was a respectable 39%. By way of comparison, the participation rate in the federal government for the Combined Federal Campaign is 21%, so we did almost twice as well. With your donations, the Foundation is able to do to many important things to support our students, faculty, and facilities at the College. Your support is critical.
I’d like to encourage everyone to support the Canton College Foundation in the coming year. You can make an unrestricted donation (in which case it will be used where the need is greatest) or you can give to any specific fund. It’s not hard—you can make a one-time donation, or you can use payroll deduction. Any area that has 100% participation this coming year will get special recognition for their efforts.
To thank the folks who donated last year, we had a “Thank You” luncheon last Friday. Almost 100 people were able to attend, and our Food Service did their usual wonderful job on the meal—it was absolutely delicious.
I’ve attended two interesting admissions efforts in the past two weeks that I thought you might want to hear about.
On Saturday morning, January 31, SUNY Canton hosted 35 young men (and 6 chaperones) from New York City who are enrolled in a student success program that highlights academic greatness. The young men are all either homeless or wards of the state, but through their hard work and participation in this program, are all strong academic achievers. Their visit was part of a bus tour of several campuses, because part of the emphasis of their program is to give them exposure to college life.
Due to the cold weather, their bus broke down, just across the street from Clarkson. A convoy of cars (including mine) was quickly assembled, and we ferried them over to campus, where doughnuts and coffee were waiting. As a result, the program started a little late, but all went well from then on and they were able to enjoy a hands-on lab experience in the Canino School of Engineering Technology, dinner, and a basketball game.
Last Thursday, we hosted a group of high school counselors who were here for National School Counselors Week. Mike Newtown spoke to them about our upcoming set of activities for Engineering Week, and invited them to have their students participate. He also talked about how important it was for students to learn about STEM areas early. He said: “Even if they’re just in Kindergarten, bring them—we’ll find something for them to do that they’ll enjoy.” I also spoke to the counselors about some of the new programs we’re developing, as well as how our programs all lead to jobs and help economically develop the North Country. Our message was well received by the counselors, and is part of a broader effort to engage more strongly with our local schools that Melissa Evans (our new Director of Admissions) is encouraging.
Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?
There was an interesting article in the National Geographic this month entitled “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science”, written by Joel Achenbach. You can read the article in its entirety here.
The article starts by quoting some lines from the movie Dr. Strangelove, where General Jack D. Ripper is showing his paranoid worldview by ranting about fluoridation: “Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face?” The movie came out in 1964 and being against fluoridation was pretty out of the mainstream then, but more than 50 years later, there are still some locations that don’t fluoridate their water, despite overwhelming evidence that it is beneficial to do so. Portland, Oregon, for example, voted not to fluoridate in 2013.
Achenbach notes that the word is full of real and imaginary hazards, and telling them apart isn’t easy. The recent panic over the Ebola virus is a good example. Despite the fact that it is only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids, there are lots of people who are afraid that it will somehow mutate into an airborne super plague, despite the fact that no virus has ever been observed to completely change its mode of transmission in humans.
Marcia McNutt, editor of the journal Science, says: “Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” The article goes on to say that the scientific method doesn’t come easily or naturally to most of us. Even people who understand and accept scientific theories still cling to their intuitions. In a recent study by Andrew Shtulman of Occidental College, he found that even students with advanced science education still hesitated when asked to affirm or deny that humans are descended from sea animals or that the Earth goes around the sun. Even when they marked these questions as true, they took longer to do so than when they answered questions about whether humans are descended from tree-dwelling creatures or whether the moon goes around the Earth (more intuitive responses).
Lots of people rely on personal experience and anecdotes, rather than science and statistics. We constantly think that coincidence is the same thing as causality, and see patterns where none exist. We’re all prone to “confirmation bias”—the tendency to only look for evidence that supports what we already believe, and to ignore everything else.
Politics, of course, has made this much worse. We’re now able to live in a world where we can filter any idea that we don’t want to hear, and only let in those views that we already believe. There are lots of people (and politicians pandering to them) who believe that global warming is a hoax, and that there is a scientific conspiracy to mislead the public. The news media tends to focus on the kooks who will give them an exciting story, instead of the more boring people who are actually doing the research.
A research study by Dan Kahan of Yale University found that higher scientific literacy was associated with stronger views on climate change—on BOTH ends of the spectrum. More literacy led to more polarization of views, not more consensus. He concluded that this is because most people use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs they already hold through their worldview and politics, and ignore facts that would force them to question their own beliefs. While science appeals to our rational brain, our beliefs are formed through our emotions, and our strongest emotion is to belong and fit in to our “group”. “We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”
McNutt says that scientific thinking has to be taught, and sometimes it’s not taught well. That has certainly been my own experience. I taught General Chemistry for many years, and one of the first things covered in the class is the scientific method. Most students have encountered it before, in high school and in other science classes, and should have been familiar with it. Yet, almost invariable, students think that a scientific law is something of a higher order of certainty and importance than a scientific theory. Part of this is because the way we use words in science is different than the way we do in everyday speech. In everyday language, a theory is something that is uncertain, whereas a law is set in stone. In science, a law is a statement that summarizes experimental results (without needing to explain why those results occurred), and a theory is an explanation for what happened that has held up to rigorous testing (but that those tests could have proven to be false).
Very few students are aware of how difficult it is to conduct a proper experiment, and the way that our biases can affect what we perceive the results to be. Almost no students are aware of the strongest defenses science has against error—the peer review and publication process. Science journals require scientists to publish exactly how they carried out their experiments in a way that allows anyone else to repeat them. Some journals actually have testers repeat the experiments to see if the same results were obtained. The article is reviewed by other scientists in the same area to make sure that the methods followed made sense, and that the conclusions drawn are reasonable based on the evidence presented. Even after publication, other scientists will reproduce and test the experiments and results, trying to disprove or extend upon them. In science, new things are proven and older things are disproven all the time. It is this constant testing and revision that allows science to “march on”.
Very few of us would like our lives and ideas subjected to the scientific methods continuous testing. Can you imagine a world where political ideas were subject to this kind of rigor? As the article concluded, “We need to get a lot better at finding answers, because it’s certain the questions won’t be getting any simpler.”
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s trivia contest dealt with winter. Our winner was Rhonda Rodriguez. Others getting all five right included Christina Lesyk, Janel Smith, and Melinda Miller. Here are the correct answers:
- They were held in Sochi (Russia) in 2014, and in Vancouver in 2010. WINTER Olympics
- Christmas song that begins “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening.” WINTER Wonderland.
- Title of the most recent Captain America movie. Captain America: The WINTER Soldier.
- American comedian, he co-starred in the show Mork and Mindy and in the movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He had 11 grammy nominations for best comedy album, and was the voice of Papa Smurf in the 2011 Smurfs movie. Jonathan WINTERs.
- 2014 movie about a burglar who falls for an heiress as she dies in his arms. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her. WINTER’s Tale.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
This week’s challenge deals with advertising slogans—I give you the slogan, you tell me the product. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!
- Things go better with ________.
- Plop, plop. Fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it is.
- The quicker picker upper.
- Let your fingers do the walking.
- Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.