Posts tagged " science "

Vaccine Development: Seeking Poets?

April 30th, 2020 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 28 comments

My husband and I were discussing whether the production of pharmaceuticals and other vital commodities would move back to the United States from China. He brought up an angle that had eluded me.

“We aren’t raising enough people with the education and ability to produce many of these things,” he said. “To make matters worse, not only are we not producing nearly enough design and production engineers, chemists, and people who know how to operate numerically controlled machine tools,  powerful unions have placed almost insurmountable impediments to manufacturing in America and have pushed wages beyond the economically sustainable.  Add to that all the politicians willing to buy votes with unrealistic economic promises and seeking power via unnecessary regulations, and we simply are years from returning to a manufacturing economy. That’s without even mentioning lawyers poised to attack any successful company.

With that in mind, my attention was caught by a newspaper article that was part of a series of how a variety of professionals are working during this pandemic. We have all read so much over the past few years about a renewed focus on STEM— science, technology, engineering and math—exactly those areas in which my husband was declaring our country to be deficient. This particular article featured a science teacher developing remote lessons. Although meant as a laudatory piece, it actually showed how meaningless a STEM label can be. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “A touchy-feely humanities class by any other name would still be a liberal arts class.”

As the article describes, at the beginning of distance learning, the featured 6th-grade teacher decided that it would be hard to interest the class in her planned lesson on thermal energy.  She chose to substitute a lesson on the science of social distancing, showing a flexibility that is, indeed, admirable.

However, when she described her new lesson, I was left shaking my head. Where I was expecting a lesson encompassing data, statistical analysis, and maybe even experimentation based on scientific principles, the teacher provided writing prompts for the students to describe their feelings and personal experiences and to express how they felt about government officials’ responses to the virus.

Excuse me? As a homeschooling mom, I was a big fan of integrating different subjects. For instance, mentioning how Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus during the 1666 bubonic plague outbreak from which he quarantined himself at his mother’s home in Lancashire brings math alive.  But that is not studying calculus. When we read a biography of a scientist such as Robert Boyle, I didn’t think that we were learning science. It was a history lesson that, depending on the strength of the writing, might also include some language arts. I hoped it would stoke interest in learning Boyle’s Law, and thus complement a science class, but I didn’t confuse reading a biography with studying hard science.

For our country to survive, we do need citizens who are scientifically, technologically and mathematically versed. As our infrastructure crumbles, engineers are vital.  If we intend increasing homeland manufacture of strategically important products like pharmaceuticals, semiconductor chips, and heavy machinery, let’s start by making sure that our schools don’t mistake teaching science and math with teaching about science and math. Whether we need a bridge buttressed, a vaccine developed or silicon chips manufactured, let us not confuse being able to wax poetic about those developments with the technical skills required to do the actual work.

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Unscientific Science – originally posted March 19, 2009

October 17th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

A few weeks ago, sitting in the waiting room while a relative had shoulder surgery, I read a Wall Street Journal piece about unnecessary infection rates after surgical procedures. It seems that lack of hygiene relating to surgical scrubs is relatively common. My stomach was already in knots anticipating the coming surgery, and reading the article was less than comforting. A minute’s reflection highlighted the Journal’s point. Does anyone really want doctors, nurses and orderlies to travel around town wearing the same clothing they had on in the examination or operating rooms, and then heading back to deal with another patient without changing? What use are sterile instruments if bacteria are carried around on the medical uniform? I realized that I have indeed seen medical personnel at Starbucks or other food establishments grabbing something to eat or drink while dressed in their scrubs. Haven’t you?

Previous pieces detailing the abysmal rate of hand washing in hospitals and doctors’ offices came to mind as well. Washing hands between patients should be a no brainer, shouldn’t it? The fact that the medical profession only clued in to the value of hand washing in 1847 is shocking enough. The fact that any medical professional ignores that information today is beyond comprehension and criminal.

I admit that this lack of hygiene totally befuddles me. How can people who choose a career ostensibly to serve others through healing, negate their purpose in such a primitive manner? But it is also a useful reminder that members of scientific professions can be as stupid, careless, evil and unscientific as anyone else. And if that’s the case when things are as clear and lucid as they can be, such as with hand washing or changing scrubs between activities, how much more careful do we have to be when presented with the latest social science study, perhaps on sexuality, guns, or child raising?

Like so much else in our lives, science can be a powerful force for good and a powerful weapon for evil. The aura of science is frequently employed to stifle questions or dissent, the field is incredibly politicized and often the truth is only revealed decades down the road.

Most of the time, we don’t have the luxury of waiting to see how things play out. We need to decide to buy organic or regular fruit, to have our children vaccinated or not, to expect faithfulness from a spouse or cite hormonal reasons why that is unrealistic, while the debate on these subjects in the scientific community is still raging.

How reassuring that in a faith centered life, some of these questions become irrelevant. God trumps pseudo-science and is the Creator of authentic science. I may very well need to assess health and nutritional claims about food, but at least I can choose to ignore many of the issues that grab the headlines, secure in the knowledge that eventually God’s word will emerge as the truth. 

 

 

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