Question of the Week- 2/28/2018

The Winter Olympics have come to a close, and one can’t help but wonder: What if there were an Olympics for science? Could there be a gold medal in experiment replication? Record times achieved in exoplanet discovery? What kind of events could there be in a Scientific Olympics?

Our favorite answer will win a copy of Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. Everyone who has ever made research so that so they can can make a new project, knows that such things take years. With that in mind, I think that what should be happening, is a grand event that old and young could get an interest in science. To oppose to Mr. Richard Dawkins’ opinion, I believe that science should (occasionally) be simplified. There needs to be a way to fascinate young people so they can get an interest in science. Real science is hard, but all scientists started out as young children who were interested in something simple. The stars, fire, the ocean etc. And from that we went to studying, and before you know it you have a PhD in your hands. Therefore, instead of the “Science Olympics” looking like a goofy mix between the Olympics and 90s nerd jokes, a more serious “high school science fare”, could be a gateway for people of all ages. It can be the spark people need to get an interest in the world of science. There are science exhibitions, but without the basics you cannot understand. We should be attempting to get children and people ignorant of science, to enter the world of science. Why not create a thing that can be a mix between Bill Nye’s TV show for kids, and a convention? Anyhow, that is just a thought

  2. Awards for best science teaching would be good. And here’s an approach I would particularly favour.

    A breakthrough in interest for me in History (my worst subject at school) was when I discovered how historical events impacted on ordinary folk and in their turn increasingly drove events. Then I understood the real significance of events at the time. Biographies lit a bonfire of interest in that foreign country, the past. First Johnson and Boswell (and London Diaries), Pepys, John Evelyn, John Aubrey. Soon enough I became riveted in historical men of Science and Technology, The Lunar Men (Uglow), Harrison (Dava Sobel), Hooke (Jardine) The Royal Society (Gribbin and his history of science told through biography) and on and on… And that fantastic blend of contemporary commentary by ordinary folk on the arrival of machines. Pandaemonium (Jennings).

    Rather than teasing apart the events of the past from their products, seeing them in this more realistically entangled way gives many memorable handholds and reasons to emotionally engage. The story of accurate time keeping and why it was needed for a colonial power, of springs and damping to make stagecoach travel possible as a saleable service linking minds across countries and continents, the internet of its day, and poetry, the form of the smash hit coffee table book of Erasmus Darwin bringing the first public ideas of the evolution of all life and the possibility of deep time. Answering many questions in transporting us back to why these events happened, why that science was pursued, everyone can find an angle, a way in.

    Pandaemonium (compiled 1950 published posthumously 1985), actually the book that lit a long delayed fuse in me, if you’re British you’ve seen something of it already.

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/nov/06/pandaemonium-humphrey-jennings-review

    I propose a category for the Science Education Olympics, The Pandaemonium Award, for rich, rooted narratives.

  3. Any competent autodidact can relate to your approach but why can’t this work in formal education too? This makes for the most well rounded, holistic knowledge base and one that can be expanded and built upon for the rest of one’s life.

    Two friends of mine from book group who are teachers and I came upon this conclusion after reading several books that belong in a category we call Non-fiction narrative. Two of these books we read were The Poisoner’s Handbook and Devil in White City. By the end of those books we all declared that we would love to teach a whole course around the historical events, scientific discoveries, and biographical details in both of the books. Each book serving for a separate course.

    One of those friends who teaches in a private school actually proposed this idea and the school agreed to give it a trial. She created a team with other teachers to include math, science, english and history departments and they created a curriculum that would revolve around a book like those above. It was an integrated curriculum. Oh! I wish we had that when I was in school instead of the dusty dry recitation of boring history where my real learning lesson was how to keep my eyes open and focused on the teacher while composing elaborate fantasies in my head. Grueling boredom is my lasting impression the public school experience in America.

    What I love about books like Age of Wonder by Holmes is that I gain knowledge about science but also about the people who made it happen. The lives of Davies, Cavendish, Banks and too many others to list off here are fascinating. Instead of presenting them to students as a sepia colored dull as dust photo off in the margin of the science text, why not present them as vivid realistic humans with all of the talents and dysfunctions of ordinary folks? (Perhaps magnified in some.).

    The book, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel is one of those books that we’ve mentioned before here that would lend itself well to an integrated course that would be so exciting to teach (or take).

    Yes, a science teacher of the year award would be a good science Olympics event.

  4. To me the purpose of doing a science Olympics would not be to discover something new but rather inspire, attain the mind of the people watching. It would be for children and perhaps by children. Perhaps there could a jeopardy like event where the contestants would have to conduct an experiment or solve a math equation in order to win more points. There could also be a contest to see who could solve a problem using science. Perhaps how to start a fire or fire an arrow using a self made bow.

  5. I would like to see a competition for the discovery made from the weakest signal, in different fields. This shows how science takes us into realms beyond anything we thought were possible. This could include chemistry studied using individual atoms. It could be neuroscience following the behaviour of a single neuron. And, of course, physics detecting gravitational waves with an intensity that makes atomic nuclei look vast.

  6. Gold medal to whoever takes the least time to convert a creationist to atheism, or as one might call it, remove someone from intellectual darkness. 🙂

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