I just read this lovely discussion of how a more open scientific culture (think open-access science) could improve the collective memory of science. This was on the Back Page of APS News (subscribers only) and here is the author Michael Nielsen’s blog post about the topic too, with some additional information. His basic premise is that we don’t exchange scientific information freely, in a sort of public scientific marketplace, because there’s a lack of trust like there is in the consumer marketplace. He writes:

In science, we’re so used to this situation that we take it for granted. But let’s compare to the apparently very different problem of buying shoes. Alice walks into a shoestore, with some money. Alice wants shoes more than she wants to keep her money, but Bob the shoestore owner wants the money more than he wants the shoes. As a result, Bob hands over the shoes, Alice hands over the money, and everyone walks away happier after just ten minutes. This rapid transaction takes place because there is a trust infrastructure of laws and enforcement in place that ensures that if either party cheats, they are likely to be caught and punished.

If shoestores operated like scientists trading ideas, first Alice and Bob would need to get to know one another, maybe go for a few beers in a nearby bar. Only then would Alice finally say “you know, I’m looking for some shoes”. After a pause, and a few more beers, Bob would say “You know what, I just happen to have some shoes I’m looking to sell”. Every working scientist recognizes this dance; I know scientists who worry less about selling their house than they do about exchanging scientific information.

I just loved this analogy. It’s absurd, yet understandable, how hard it is for scientists to collaborate. But there’s a ton of stuff being written now about open access and what it can do for science, on my blog and others.


I just found out about a neat free service for science educators.  It’s mostly for those in Colorado, but those outside Colorado are welcome to use it as well.  It’s a free email servicer for teachers to ask questions directly of a science education expert, who will go out and find the answer for you.  How fabulous!

It’s called MAST WebConnect.

Here is some text from their site:

The Problem
Obviously the problem is not that the Internet does not contain enough math and science education resources, but finding quality resources can be an overwhelming task for teachers and students alike. Teachers often do not have the time to do a quality web search or seek experts in the field.

The Solution
MAST WebConnect will answer your questions and find high-quality web-based Internet resources personally for you! Supported by the MAST Institute and the University of Northern Colorado, WebConnect is staffed by math and science educators and professors with access to these resources and references.

How it works.
The idea is simple. We know that the Internet provides a wealth of information, but sorting through and filtering that information to find quality materials can be an overwhelming task.
That is where we come in. Contact MAST WebConnect with any mathematics or science question, and our coordinators will find the information either by contacting experts in the field, or finding high-quality Internet sites.
MAST WebConnect has a pool of available volunteer mathematics and science experts to help with more difficult inquiries. These include college professors and working scientists within Northern Colorado.

tt_icon_170Despite my better judgment, I invite TI staff educator Eric Muller to do one more set of activities on my Teaching Tips podcast —several things you can do with soda straws.  Listen to the episode – The Last Straw.

Holding Charge activity (PDF)
More of Eric Muller’s activities

Just got this from Bob Park’s What’s New column. Looks like Gingko has failed a double-blind study to see if it really improves memory. I’ve been taking it for a while, in hopes that it would defuzz my neuronal connections (I’m not that old, but my memory took a real hit ever since I was on crazy antimalarial drugs in Peace Corps 10 years ago).

This reminds me of when a friend told me that there’s no reason why Airborne would improve your immune system. I was really angry at him for telling me this. Airborne definitely seems to keep my colds from getting too severe. If that’s due to a placebo effect, then hearing scientific reasoning that it shouldn’t work will destroy my placebo effect. Especially since my belief structures are particularly sensitive to scientific evidence.

Here is what Bob Parks wrote. I’m a bit perturbed by what he writes at the end, that all these other remedies have failed double-blind tests. It sounds to me as if he expected this to happen, because herbal remedies are by their very nature “unscientific” or something. I don’t see why some of these “natural” remedies couldn’t have something to them. After all, we take Zinc to help our immune system. That’s just a mineral. What makes a mineral less “woo woo” than a plant (like Echinacea)?

Annual sales of the herbal remedy Ginkgo biloba in the US are at $249
million. It is alleged to prevent memory loss. It doesn’t. In its
first large trial, half of 3,069 volunteers 75 and older were given of
Ginkgo biloba daily, while the other half were given a placebo. They were
assessed for signs of dementia every six months for 6 years. Neither the
patients nor the doctors doing the assessment knew which group patients
were in. The group getting the placebo actually did slightly better,
although the difference was not statistically significant. France is
planning an even larger study. Ginkgo has a lot of company. One after
another, the most popular herbal supplements, ephedra, Echinacea, St.
John’s Wort, have failed in double-blind, placebo controlled studies.

This is from the Exploratorium — several opportunities to connect your classrooms with polar science, including via live webcast three times a week!

Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists
Webcasts at 1:00 p.m. PST
December 7, 2008–January 4, 2009
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays
Connect Live with Antarctica!
E-mail polar@exploratorium.edu or call (415) 561-0359
You’re invited to chat live with an Antarctic scientist during one of
our Webcasts! Contact us to arrange a connection online or by phone.
Or be part of our Webcast studio audience at the Exploratorium.

Watch Webcasts
In celebration of the International Polar Year, we begin a new Ice
Stories Webcast season from Antarctica on December 7. Visit explo.tv
for a schedule of upcoming shows and to watch archived Webcasts on

Follow Dispatches

We gave polar scientists cameras and blogging tools and asked them to
document their fieldwork. Follow along on their adventures and see
what it’s like to be a research scientist in an extreme environment.
Questions and comments for the scientists are invited!

tt_icon_1701I just posted a new episode of my Science Teaching Tips podcast on Mini Labs. Give it a listen!  “Zeke” Kossover is a teacher in the bay area, and he’s always posting wonderful tips about teaching — from great organizational tips to the best places to find cheap electronic components to astute tips for teaching physics.  In this podcast I got him to talk about an idea he’s used in his classroom and taught to many other science teachers — Mini Labs.  The idea is to take a science concept and write a very focussed, brief lab activity around it.  He has some concrete tips for making these labs successful and why they can be a useful addition to your class, without taking the amount of time and equipment that full lab experiences can require.

I love this… from GraphJam.


Pie I Have Eaten: http://graphjam.com