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For my Twitter conversations to clarify my use of terms.
OBSERVATIONS. Examples for climate change include temperature, temperature changes, circulation patterns of atmosphere and ocean, energy input from sun, energy losses, back radiation, energy distribution, changes in atmospheric and ocean chemistry and heat content, etc.
DATA. Any series of observations or measurements that are used to create descriptions of trends, relationships, models, cause and effect relationships, or test hypotheses. This example is a series of CO2 atmospheric concentration data from the Mauna Loa observatory shown plotted over time.
In general people think in arithmetic terms. We are very good at extrapolating if things expand by adding. So if something is piling up by having a certain amount added each day, it is pretty simple to estimate how long it will be before the bucket is half full. For example, if a bucket has a capacity of 100 items and you add one each day, it is a pretty simple calculation to know that in 50 days the bucket will be half full. Here is a good question to illustrate how much more difficult it is to estimate when the addition is exponential. Let’s suppose we have a strange and dangerous organism in the bucket. If we feed the thing it will split each day and make two of itself. Then if we continue to feed them they will each split and make two more of themselves daily. Let’s also suppose that if the creature escapes from the bucket you will be in serious trouble. The nasty creature cannot escape by climbing out, it has to spill over the top. If I tell you that the bucket will be full in 100 days, can you quickly tell me when it will be half full, and how much time you have left to stop the creature from escaping? Now let’s also suppose you have a business meeting that will require you to be away at day 100, but you know you will be back for Day #106 when you can handle the problem. In the five days after day 100, some of the nasty beasts will spill out of the first bucket, so you know you need a second bucket to handle the problem. Can you tell me how big that bucket should be to handle five days growth after day 100?
This is the nature of population growth, it is an exponential rate of change. So while it may not look like much at first and for a long time nothing much seems to be happening, if you let it go until the change is half way, you may not have as much time left as think you do.
The answers to both questions are here.
Although this little blog outlines a possible plan that can change the course of science funding and science literacy, it is not possible to implement this plan overnight. It will probably take years to turn the system around. Academics interested in effecting changes in the system to enhance its funding base, capabilities and acceptance by the general public through increasing science outreach, must remain and succeed in the system. Therefore it is imperative to continue to play the academic game and be certain to uphold the standards of excellence demanded for moving through the ranks.
Statement of the problem
1) The general public has an appallingly low level of understanding of the universe and the world around us as well as basic biology, natural history, and fundamental principles of ecology and sustainable anything. Effective decision-making in a political or business-driven arena about the natural world and our relationship to it is thereby made almost impossible. The consequences of poor decision-making for world climate, renewable resources, finite resources, general health issues, and pollution to name but a few can be severe in the present and devastating in the future.
2) Science education in public and high schools is poorly informed and there is also a creeping anti-intellectual and anti-science tendency which results in education largely omitting or scrambling science principles in a student’s education.
3) University-level teaching of science is restricted to actual university students who enter a science course. While there is a potential to offer general understanding of science principles by science outreach or interacting with news media, in general this is discouraged in favour of refereed science papers that are used to rank hiring, promotion, and tenure candidates, and internal institutional committee work.
4) Museums are ignored by universities or at best are considered to be scientific service organizations to the university needs. In fact, museums have the only institutional mandate to offer science education on a popular basis to the broad general public from a base of actual research through to professional level interpretation and exhibits as well as outreach programs.