Monday, September 28, 2015

On Being a Scientist: Ethical Foundations of Scientific Practices

Environmental & Science Education, Sustainability, Ethics

by Edward Hessler
The Laboratory at Strand House, Portugal Street, London, 1917 Art.IWMART4748
By Chandler-Thomson, Kate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A new release from the National Academies Press (NAP) is focused on the ethical foundations of scientific practices and some of the personal and professional issues that researchers encounter in their work.

The announcement of On Being A Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Science includes access to a podcast and a video "that complement the lessons in the book."  In addition there is a link to related on-line resources and related NAS publications.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Greening a Campus with a Climate Change Garden

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Heythrop College garden
By Tupinambah (Flickr: Heythrop College garden)
 [CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Syracuse University has a recently installed climate change garden which borders its life sciences complex.  This research and education garden was planted in autumn 2013.

Climate Change Garden
And it was the result of a serendipitous event.  During the delay for landscaping the life sciences quadrangle, biology professors Doug Frank and Jason Fridley heard of plans to plant it with ornamental trees and shrubs.  They proposed changing the composition of the plants so that it could be used in an ecology course and also in a global change laboratory course. They also had two requirements:

1. Plants from different climate regions
One was that species adapted to different climate regions be selected so that students could monitor plant behavior, growth, survival, and overall health over decades.  There are plans to use rooftop webcams to provide a daily, photographic record of behaviors such as leaf-out and senescence which will be compared with weather data recorded from the weather station.  There are also plans for additional instrumentation to make measurements of soil temperature and moisture, root growth and leaf photosynthesis.

2. Garden with a blocked design
The second was that it be a blocked design which allows statistical analysis. 100 trees and shrubs, planted in three zones ("replicates"), the same 33 species in each zone. Some examples of the trees and shrubs are oaks, maples, pines, birches, firs, hemlocks, magnolias, virburnums and witch hazels. Most of the design may be seen in the link below.

Instrumentation--the weather station and probes, e.g., the monitoring of plant water use in real time-- was funded by a crowd-funding initiative.

You can learn more, see a webcam view as well as find design diagrams at  Bio@SU, Summer 2015.  Just think, a field research site within a few meters of a laboratory, providing students an opportunity to learn how this kind of science works--lab and field--while practicing it.

A Framework for K-12 Science Education uses "the term 'practices,' instead of a term such as 'skills,' to stress that engaging in scientific inquiry requires coordination both of knowledge and skill simultaneously."  This, it seems to me, is what is made possible by this innovative garden site.

Source and h/t: Bio@SU, Summer 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

23 Million + Hits and a Great Definition

Literacy, Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

By Ryanjcole at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Yesterday Diane Ravitch noted that her blog, Diane Ravitch's Blog: A Site to Discuss Better Education For All had passed 23 million page views.  She is one of my "go-to" blogs on education under reform, real and faux. Her relentless, engaging and informed posting is not to be missed.

The entry noting this event describes Dr. Ravitch's aims and interests as well as concerns. She has a  definition of the purpose of an education, K-12.  I like it and am happy to pass it on for consideration and comment. Dr. Ravitch wrote: "The goal of education is to develop young people into adults of good character who can think for themselves, make wise choices, and contribute to the betterment of society."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Job Opening

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

A friend of mine sent me the advertisement below which is from High Country News.  At first she and her husband thought it just might be a spoof. However, she noted that it represents about 7 column inches of advertising space which seems an expensive spoof.

I've left the buzz-words and cliches that she high-lighted.  She and her husband couldn't think of one that hadn't been used.  Any suggestions?  I looked for a way that serving our "guests" might be used.  This term is new to me. I heard for the first time earlier this week in reference to customers!

If she hadn't said anything about its source, I would have guessed it is from The Onion.  However, it is the genuine thing, a real advertisement and may be viewed here.

High Country News (HCN) is an important newspaper.  And this is an ad not reporting.  HCN's byline is "for people who care about the west."  It is also a newspaper for people who care and want to be informed about the environment.

I haven't looked at any job listings for environmental groups in a while but have we come to this? Apparently.

My friend ended her note by including a ps: bonus points if you have any inkling of what the heck this person will be doing....  There is a link below to the job but before you look,take a minute to consider what it might be about.

The Nature Conservancy - Deputy State Director
The Arizona Chapter is one of the largest and most dynamic in the US and in the spotlight for some of the most significant water, forest and desert work anywhere. This new leadership position is a compelling opportunity to impact Arizona's biggest conservation threats at a time when the Conservancy is poised to achieve at unprecedented scale. The Deputy State Director will lead the newly-formed statewide Conservation Leadership Group, which includes experts and programs for water, land, stewardship, science, protection, and conservation policy. S/he will partner with the State Director and Chapter Leadership to steer transformative nature conservation solutions aimed at the highest priority challenges in the state and region. S/he will focus internally to operationalize the vision by:facilitating development of high level strategy, empowering leadership and staff, trouble-shooting barriers, and communicating and coordinating efforts to ensure results. In this role, s/he will be able to shape the job, organization and impact in ways never done before.

The ideal candidate will have at least seven years conservation practice, natural resources management or related experience. S/he must have successful experience at the senior level reimaging, integrating and overseeing large complex initiatives of strategic significance, aligning and enabling cross-functional teams, serving as a catalyst for adaptive, creative approaches, with strong operational, process, program and systems management skills, and desire and know how to achieve results through others; bachelor’s degree required, nonprofit experience valuable. Salary is competitive, including excellent benefits and relocation assistance to Phoenix.

To apply or review a full job description, go to; reference job #43430, posted Aug. 20 -- application deadline is Sept. 30. The Nature Conservancy is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Women, minorities, people with disabilities and veterans are encouraged to apply.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"I Am No Einstein"

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Albert Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer
Ferdinand Schmutzer via Wikimedia Commons

In a previous post I noted that 2015 marks the anniversary of Einstein's theory of general relativity.  The September issue of Scientific American celebrates that achievement.

"Will there be another Einstein?"
A recurring question is whether there will ever be another Einstein. The title of this post is something that Einstein once said about himself. He was self-effacing, to be sure.  The quote that always comes to mind is "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." This combined with being smart about physics and persistent led to groundbreaking (perhaps cosmos breaking) contributions to physics.

For the September issue John Horgan "dusted off an essay" he had written for the New York Times a decade ago.  It is titled "Why there Will Never Be Another Einstein." His answer in short is "no" and he discusses why he thinks so.

Horgan adds an addendum to his essay in which physicist (string theorist) Brian Greene, in the same issue, offers his take on whether there could be another Einstein.  His answer is "yes" but it has a provocative twist.  An audio interview with Brian Greene on this question may be found on The Take Away with John Hockenberry.

Four Pages that Changed Human's View of the Cosmos

Environmental & Science Education, History of Science
Edward Hessler

On 2 December 2015 is marked the 100th year of the publication by Albert Einstein of the General Theory of Relativity. A mere four pages.

In the introduction to a special issue of the journal Science noting this achievement, Margaret Moerchen and Robert Coontz take care to point out the general practice of scientists, a contrast to Einstein's singular accomplishment.

The way we think science is done is not the usual way it is done except in a very few cases. To paraphrase a song made popular by Frank Sinatra, Einstein did it "his way."What he did, "his way," was develop the theory alone.

However, science requires something not done alone: empirical scientific evidence provided by other scientists. One check after another; one check leading to another. And so on. So far, general relativity has withstood the predictions it made. It is still being tested, a feature of the nature of science: hold things always in some state of doubt and test, re-test, etc.

Resources on General Relativity
You may find a "superquick, superpainless" guide to general relativity here. You are the judge on how quick and painless it is!

By Mundo de Hacker 
(Own work, investigacion de libros)

or CC BY 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

The special issue of Science includes a quiz, "Who Said It? Einstein or Not," a short note about Einstein's first publication in Science (the article itself is behind a paywall), and other things Einstein which provide us with a range of the revolution he provoked.  I noted above the relentless demand of scientists for supporting evidence and while the article is behind a paywall, there is a paper in this issue on yet another test, described as an "acid test."

If you are interested in a carefully researched book on what Einstein said versus what he is purported to have said, Alice Calaprice's The New Quotable Einstein is invaluable.  It is a joy to read and it is organized for reading--it is in chapters.  There is a lovely introduction by Freeman Dyson who knew him well. Additions (400 of them) to this book are found in a revision--The Ultimate Quotable Einstein--but its content cannot be examined on-line as it can in the original.

It is easy to overlook the very difficult work the general theory of relativity required given our popular view of Einstein as a genius, especially as a mathematical genius.  He was a genius and a very good mathematician but this theory didn't happen in one of those "Aha" moments. It took about a decade to develop. Today terms such as persistence and grit describe this grinding work.

Einstein didn't work alone
By Dsmntl (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (
or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Over at BackReaction, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder writes about Einstein this way: So the historians pointing out that Einstein didn’t work in isolation, and that he met frequently with other researchers to discuss, do not give honor to the frustrating and often painful process of having to work through a calculation one doesn’t know how to do in the first place. It is evident from Einstein’s biography and publications that he spent years trying to find the right equations, working with a mathematical apparatus that was unfamiliar to most researchers back then. There was nobody who could have helped him trying to find the successful description that his intuition looked for.

(The blog entry linked to immediately above is about the idea of the "lone genius."  It has a bonus.  In it you will find a description of how a contemporary physicist--Robert Nemiroff, Michigan Technological University--goes about writing a paper. Confusion. Frustration. Cul-de-Sacs. Contradictions.)

Einstein had to to reinvent a considerable amount of mathematics with the help of a friend, Marcel Grossman. Einstein approached the task from many angles and used every available tool available to him: physical and intuitive. He made mistakes, took wrong turns (and sometimes even went backward), made guesses and developed ad hoc ideas to support them (later recognized as wrong) as well as used one thing he is noted for, the Gedankenexperiment. Here is one,

"I was sitting on a chair in my patent office in Bern (1907). Suddenly a thought struck me: if a man falls freely, he would not feel his weight. I was taken aback. This simple thought experiment made a deep impression on me. This led me to the theory of gravity."

Einstein's Life
By The original uploader was N2100 at Chinese Wikipedia
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to know more about Einstein's life and his contributions to physics there are two recent books. One is written thematically and the other chronologically.  Here are two reviews of both books to help you make a choice. One is by Corey S. Powell and the other by Dennis Lythgoe.

The Guardian has a 2011 piece about general relativity that describes some of the relevance of the theory to us.  And for a primer on general relativity see here.

UNESCO has designated 2015 as The International Year of Light, another take on the General Theory of Relativity.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What a Lake and Painstaking Research Can Tell About Native History

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Lake Calhoun-Minneapolis-2005-10-14
By vix from Minneapolis
(Down by the slip, or whatever it's called)
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

Grant Two Bulls recently completed his senior year at Breck School, a pre-K-12 private independent school in Minneapolis. In summer 2014, he could be found for a short time in a canoe collecting sediment samples from Lake Calhoun and for a much longer time--hours--looking through a microscope counting pollen from those sediments.

The Dakota name for the lake is Mde Maka Ska--Be-DAY MahKah Ska). White Earth Lake.

The kind of scientific work Grant Two Bulls did is known as paleoecology. The sediment samples are known as cores because they are collected in tubes which vary in length depending on lake and sediment depths.  Jacquelyn Gill who writes "The Contemplative Mammoth" blog makes some thoughtful comments on the value of pollen analysis (palynology) in this era of Big Data.

Linking to one's heritage while studying science and history
For Two Bulls, a member of the Oglala-Lakota tribe, it was his idea of a perfect project. He was interested in exploring a link in his heritage, one which allowed him to join the study of science and history. In the early 1800s, the Mdewakanton Dakota lived in a settlement on the shores of Lake Calhoun known as Eatonville or Cloudman Village.
By Krzysztof Ziarnek (Kenraiz)
(Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

The scale of corn production surprised me--a 1000 bushels a year. This level of production led Two Bulls to wonder about the impact of such production.  Pollen grains are the perfect study object since they provide a record of past events. Two Bulls is the first person to document the existence of ragweed at this site.

Kim McQuire, Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote about Two Bulls' work and awards. I was so glad she included this quote: "This work (analyzing the samples) is not fun." Not all science is. It has its moments/hours/days/weeks. I was reminded of a biomedical researcher who referred to the analytic phase of her studies as "chopping wood". It is work, though, that must be done in the process of sense making.There is no escaping it.

McQuire quote of Two Bulls shows how a research study often becomes a door to yet further research and certainly wonder. Two Bulls notes that the site is "a kind of historical anomaly. It was sedentary and agricultural, which was not what the Dakota were about at all."

An interview by Tom Weber of Minneapolis Public Radio adds further details and insights about the study and also about this young scientific researcher, student and athlete. Two Bulls is headed to Dartmouth College, Fall 2015.  His interests, based on the McQuire piece, are in the areas of economics, government and native study.

It was good to see so much attention paid to a science fair study as well as one which provided some insights into what science is and one of its practices. Something Charles Darwin said about himself and his tenacity of purpose and persistence, strikes me as very true of Grant Two Bulls, too: "It's dogged as does it."

By Bobak Ha'Eri (Own work)
[CC BY 3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Grant Two Bulls: Awards and Distinctions
The Breck School research research program is directed by Lois Fruen and is described here. Ms. Fruen is a past-president of the Minnesota Science Teachers Association (MnSTA). She has received many awards and acknowledgements of her contributions to secondary science education.  The most prestigious is the 1986 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

In an e-mail, Lois noted that she gave Two Bulls "a hard time about his saying that counting pollen was boring. He said he likes that people laugh when he says that." Coring may be boring (at times) but these kinds of results provide satisfactions.

The May 2015 issue of Rising Scientists: A Journal of the Breck School Advanced Science Research Program includes this information about Grant Two Bulls. Dr. Matthew Beckman at Augsburg College provided guidance during the research. "Grant was named an Intel ISEF finalist and an International Sustainable World Engineering, Energy, Environment Project Olympiad (SWEEEP) finalist. At the Twin Cities Regional Science Fair, he received the Ecolab Gold Sponsor Award. He was named and American Indian Science and Engineering Fair finalist.  At I-SWEEP, he received the Second Grand Award." In addition, he was named a STEM Communicator Award finalist, a Young Naturalists National semifinalist, a Minnesota Scholar of Distinction and was a speaker at the Scholar of Distinction ceremony.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Science and Being a Mom

Environmental & Science Eduction
Edward Hessler

Picture from
More than 30 years ago science educator Rodger Bybee wrote two stimulating papers on what he thought was coming: an ecological society. One was on science education and the emerging ecological society; the other on aims and goals of science education policies for an ecological society (Science Education 63(2), 1979).  Neither paper gained much traction.  And I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only one who remembers them!

Bybee noted that this transformation would require science educators to incorporate human issues into their teaching in a deeper way than we were used to doing.  This was because of what we face. Problems of lifetime, lifespace and lifestyle.  We still face (or look away from) them.

I thought about those two papers--I still find them compelling--when I heard about a new book on motherhood. Alice Callahan has been blogging about the science of motherhood at Science of Mom: The Heart and Science of Parenting for several years.  I love the phrase in the subtitle "heart and science." Being a mom (and a dad) require passion and reason.

Callahan holds a Ph.D. in nutritional biology and also held a post-doctoral fellowship in fetal physiology.  She left scientific research to be a mom, write, blog and teach college.  The book is published by Johns Hopkins University Press.  The book is about hype and evidence.

NPR's Rachel Martin interviewed Dr. Callahan and you can listen to it/read it here.