Thursday, February 14, 2013

This Week's Big Thirsty From Horrible Meanie Prof.

Archeology/paleontology proffies have to deal with Barney-like dinosaurs.

Computer Science proffies have to deal with student who think that they will get a degree playing (and maybe designing) computer games.

Fine arts proffies have to deal with students who think that they will learn how to draw anime in their drawing classes.

Q: What important fundamentals of your discipline are undermined (and consequently difficult to teach) as a result of their (mis)representation in popular culture.

104 comments:

  1. Creationist geology majors exist. I'd say not for long but they hang around a lot longer than you'd imagine before getting the message.

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    1. That is truly mind-boggling. Then again, I knew a fundie philosophy professor who thought logic should have stopped with Aristotle. Oh, and, great Thirsty, HMP.

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    2. Sometimes they are there for a "high paying" career (oil), but usually they are there to get deep secret intelligence on the enemy. I've seen them survive all the way up to 300 level classes. Only seen the mercenary sort in it for an oil job finish.

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    3. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I'm, ah, personally acquainted with a major university that has a geology department that exists separately from the department that focuses on oil-career-related engineering. The geologists are rational-types... the other folks are all climate-change deniers. Guess where their funding comes from?

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  2. All computer software problems (hacking passwords, rewriting programs bent on global thermal annihilation, cracking bank software) are solved by pensively staring off into space, and typing something 3 times (it's usually 3).

    If that fails, there's Google. The answer will be on the first page of a Google search.

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    1. According to most of the crime shows on TV right now, computing isn't possible unless one has only the latest fancy-schmancy hardware, all of which runs a certain operating system (which just happens to be produced by one of the show's sponsors).

      Of course, one also needs a wall-sized monitor and a table-sized touch-screen tablet. As well, the computers are the fastest ones on the planet and 100% reliable, completely free of any maintenance problems.

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  3. Science advances via one great new idea after another. And that's just what we do before lunch. There's no tedious repetition of experiments to determine the amount of error in the measurements.

    Scientific research is a sham and a waste of money. Each step in the research process is politically motivated for unethical financial gain.

    Nothing good ever comes from scientific research, excluding a few curious odds and ends. If it's useful, that's because it's techology, not science.

    Although the misconceptions above are frustrating, none are particular to chemistry. That's because there aren't many representations of chemistry in popular culture (accurate or otherwise). I suppose that's the silver lining of people ignoring all the facinating work that goes on in my field.

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    1. Just curious, do you think that Thomas Kuhn contributes to the first one? I see a lot of scientists who conciously try to model themselves as "revolutionary" and not "normal".

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    2. To add to BB's list:

      Analytical tests take 30 seconds and always give you just the answer you're looking for.

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    3. Natalie, I don't see him as the real problem. Kuhn's book was interesting and I think there's a lot of good ideas in it. Though it's been a while since I read it, I don't remember him being a sensationalist.

      The public only hears about the breakthrough, never the years of careful, repetitive work that occurred prior to that press release. When students come into my lab, they do one experiment and then want to do something else. I have to break their little science-loving hearts when I tell them that's not how it works.

      Other scientists play the role of the revolutionary to stoke their own egos and get funding. They play the role that gets them the most exposure. That's annoying, especially when they overshadow the truly groundbreaking work that I could accomplish with just one (or three) more grants.

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    4. All research is 100% original and all ideas occur instantaneously to the researcher. No literature searches are required, no spinning of one's wheels, and no "standing on the shoulders of giants" as Sir Isaac Newton put it.

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    5. I know several films that do show the tedious, repetitive, frustrating nature of real scientific research. These include:

      - Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940), starring Edward G. Robinson cast against type as Paul Ehrlich, slogging through 606 experimental tests before he finds a cure for syphilis,

      - Madame Curie (1943), starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon as Marie and Pierre Curie turning pitchblende into yellowcake in their wretched, unheated outdoor shed, and yellowcake into radium in their wretched, unheated basement, both of which still exist, in Paris: the equipment in them is mostly replicas since the original equipment was too radioactive for public display even after 100 years,

      - Edison the Man (1940), starring Spencer Tracy,

      - The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), starring Paul Muni,

      - The Man in the White Suit (1951), starring a young Alec Guinness as a naive young chemist who of course repeatedly blows up several labs before discovering a synthetic fiber, this being the only film on this list that is clearly fictional.

      Notice that all these films were made before TV, which taught the '60s generation and everyone since to expect things NOW!

      Oh, all right: "Spider," the episode about Apollo 9 (which flew in 1969) of the 1998 HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon" by Tom Hanks, did depict three failures during systems integration tests of LM 3. That still ain't 606.

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    6. There's another myth that researchers are always firing on all cylinders and are always cordial to one another. The original "Andromeda Strain" (not that dreadful rubbish which was on TV a few years ago) and "Contact" are realistic examples of what really goes on.

      By the way, "Spider" is one of my favourite episodes from that series. Another is "Galileo Was Right" about how the Apollo 15 crew was trained and how, ultimately, it paid off.

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  4. I teach mathematics. Math is seen as difficult and unnecessary. Calculus seems unnecessarily abstract to many of them; they see it as a "weed-out" course.

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    1. According to Hollywood, all mathematical expressions must have at least one integral sign and at least one summation, but lots of exponents and the occasional factorial.

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    2. Oh yes, lots of Greek letters too.

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  5. Poetry is simply an outpouring of emotion arranged in short lines on the page; therefore, anyone who can emote and type can write poetry. This misconception has been responsible for enough horrible poetry to fill the Grand Canyon.

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    1. Also, the notion that analysis of poetry is the same thing as a creative writing class, and that both those things basically constitute sitting around and telling each other how the day's poem makes you feel.

      Or the opposite: that poetry is basically "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land," and thus impossible to understand and only suited for study by people who smoke and wear berets.

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    2. BLARGH. That what we do isn't a discipline. That literature is just self-indulgent navel-gazing (though there are plenty of teachers at my school all about that and it drives me BATS).

      All answers in literature, particularly poetry, are correct.

      All their feelings must be validated, and their thoughts never challenged.

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  6. Acting is easy. Just be yourself. How hard can it be to show emotion on film? Be yourself, cry, ramble, yell and be a star.

    Thanks Reality TV, American Idol, and Youtube.

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    1. Isn't that Stanislawski's fault? Or at least the fault of some of his prominent followers?

      I recall Lawrence Olivier being quite contemptuous of method acting; he thought it ridiculous, as to him the whole point of the craft was the ability to simulate well.

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    2. Popular culture teaches a deep misunderstanding of Acting training in the Stanislavski System, and the American Method.

      A careful read of Stanislavski's work will demonstrate that acting training for modern theater is based in physical training, which leads to a way to demonstrate emotional memory.

      Even the American Method technique developed by Lee Stransberg and his followers requires a degree of intellectual enagagement and scene study ( lietary analsyis) as well as physical training in voice and movement.

      There are many different acting training methods but in the end, to be a professional ( ie., effective) actor, you must learn the basic skills of movement, voice, and literary anaylsis. One simply cannot become another person, expose his/her motives, examine the resulting emotions and actions, and connect with an audience in a true way without this basic training, which may take various forms but in the end, the result is the same: a trained professional.

      Like an *natural* athlete, one may have a talent for mimicry, but only with training, can one effectively employ this *talent.*

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  7. Mental health care is either:

    > blustering home-spun platitudes in front of a fawning studio audience; or
    > the pivot point in a court case where the expert can literally see into the criminal's mind; or
    >profilers are people with a BA who suddenly have the ability to tell investigators where the baddies are so they can be brought to justice in 47 minutes.

    Oh, and that everyone can do what a psychologist can do because it's just common sense and a doctorate is nothing more than a "Master's degree with a book report" (actual quote).

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    1. That every psychology professor is a mental health care professional. I am an experimentalist and unless you are a mouse, a rat, or literally a hamster, I am probably not the psychologist for you. Plus, I am terrible listener and I only have empathy for grumpy proffies.

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  8. You can't do science without beakers, telescopes, microscopes, or lab coats.

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  9. Replies
    1. "Oh, you're getting a PhD in History? That's cool. How many historical reenactments are you performing for your committee? I have some old costumes from a high school play I helped direct. Maybe you could use those."

      Yes, I'm even more thankful now that nobody pays attention to chemistry.

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    2. But Beaker Ben, don't you love the chemists in the ads for Exxon-Mobil or BP, working on "clean coal" and other "environmentally friendly energy"? They look so competent, so committed to the common good, so earnest.

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    3. Just wait Ben, until you start getting grad students inspired by "Breaking Bad"

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    4. Hell, I'm inspired by Breaking Bad.

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  10. Offhand, I'd say that the humanities--literary studies, in particular--are often portrayed in comparatively flattering ways. However, those portrayals inevitably depict "English teachers" of all kinds as endlessly entertaining, able to tap into the collective student consciousness at this very moment in time and motivate it to see beauty in the world and to be inspired to unfettered personal expression.

    The result is that these representations suggest 1) that education is best when it is entertaining; 2) that anything goes--that the literary seminar keeps company with Oprah's Book Club. Unfortunately, too many lit professors allow their seminars to be unstructured, which then gives students the notion that they can, in fact, respond in whatever subjective ways they like to the text under examination. I don't do it often, but I do relish those moments when I can stare blankly at a student and say quite directly, "No. You are wrong. There is no evidence anywhere in this book to support the claim that you are making. None. You need to do better than that. And stop saying 'race, class, and gender' just because you think it proves your point."

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    1. Usually, after I shoot down the "race, class, gender" triad, I'll then get someone who says, "Well, Foucault argues . . ." I usually just want to jump out the window at that point. But then I fear that doing so would be entertaining and that I'd just be fostering false impressions about the literary classroom.

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    2. That's a disappointing but predictable response, given your race, class and/or gender.

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  11. That history repeats itself or that those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it. Trite nonsense.

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    1. It does my wicked, little heart no small amount of good to hear you say this, since when I was in high school I had these platitudes yelled at me by an incompetent history teacher (who had no concept of historical bias or historiography, for starters), when I pointed out that while history might repeat itself, it rarely repeats itself in exactly the same way.

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    2. Someone once said that "history doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it does rhyme." Surly, is that fairer?

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  12. That watching a natural history programme is a substitute for reading textbooks or journal articles AND grounds for claiming "I could have learnt all this hamster droppings off the telly, what was the point of this module?"

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  13. That to do research in mathematics you have to be antisocial, nerdy, out of shape and super-smart (and male).

    (None of these are necessary conditions, and the combination is far from sufficient.)

    What's math research anyway? Breaking the bad guys' code in two days. How is it done? You stare into space or go for a walk, and suddenly inspiration comes, and you feverishly write down something nobody can understand.

    Much worse than that is the fact that it is not only okay, but cool even for educated people to say "I'm so bad at math", "my worst subject in school", etc. It's the first thing I hear every time I tell people what I do, and I feel like saying "oh, I'm so sorry."

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    1. Yah. We get the same thing in chemistry and physics. I just about fell over when a specialist told me that his favorite class as an undergrad was organic chem; "I especially liked synthesis problems."

      He might have been pulling my leg.

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    2. It's much the same with engineering although, when I was an undergrad, one had to be loutish and uncouth as well. Later, when I working on my first master's degree and the undergrads had their annual campus shenanigans, many of my grad students and I looked at each other and thought: "Thank goodness I don't have to do THAT any more!"

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    3. I'm a Humanities person, but I'm absolutely with you. I don't understand why innumeracy is culturally acceptable.

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    4. "antisocial, nerdy, out of shape and super-smart (and male)."

      Well, 3 out of 5 isn't bad (in spite of my screen name, I am a male, I regularly compete in events such as marathons and 5K open water swims, and I was well to the left in the bell curve in my Ph. D. graduating class)

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    5. "I don't understand why innumeracy is culturally acceptable."

      I just let them have my old standby:

      IT DOES REQUIRE INTELLIGENCE!

      I also use this whenever I'm given shit about teaching physics.

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  14. I've had to explain, on a few occasions, the way literary criticism works. However, the word criticism seems to just shut people's brains off, and when I use Shakespeare (say a feminist critique of The Taming of the Shrew) as an example I inevitably wind up with this response:

    "So we're bashing Shakespeare now."

    So, yeah. Fundamental misunderstanding of criticism, deliberate continued ignorance of criticism, and the assumption that what we should be doing is just sitting around talking about how much we really like a work, rather than actually analyzing it in any way.

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    1. I get the two polar opposite students--those who think we're "ripping everything apart" and those who recently found out that Famous Writer was a racist and therefore want to read every word through the lens of his racism.

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  15. Pop culture has not touched my discipline, other than a short-lived TV comedy starring Andy Richter.

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  16. I've often encountered people who thought that by having an engineering degree, I was a repairman.

    My B. Sc. was in mechanical engineering. Once in a while, there would be someone who figured I could fix their car for them. My Ph. D. is in electrical and computer engineering. Sure enough, I encountered somebody who figured I could select a motor for them. Maybe he was hoping I could wire his house or something.

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  17. People who think that because I've got a PhD in biology, I can identify any plant, fungus or insect that is randomly pointed out while walking through a forest, because any schmoe working in a CSI lab can do it. I could once identify a bunch of different tree species in the middle of winter solely based on their bark pattern, and I know the difference between an oak leaf, a beech leaf and a maple leaf, but that's about it.

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  18. "How do you do original research in theology? Hasn't that already all been determined?"

    Also, Your Theology Professor =/= Your Minister or Therapist.

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  19. They think I want them
    to stand on their tables,
    reciting Whitman,
    but that is a fable.

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  20. Replies
    1. Everyone wants me to be Robin Williams. And I'm not.

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    2. Oddly enough, no one wants Robin Williams to be Robin Williams, but he just won't stop.

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  21. The middle ages is not one unbroken slog of misery, ignorance, and famine. Nor is it always chivalrous, well-lit, and spotless. Pop culture doesn't seem to get the idea that the European Middle Ages covers a huge geographical area and about a thousand years, and therefore includes an enormous amount of change and diversity.

    Showing my students that the middle ages was anything but prudish always blows their minds. I have to break them of so many misconceptions at the beginning of every semester.

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  22. Becoming a doctor is only about clinical training. No basic biology should be required and is just there to be annoying and keep the student's inherent glory from showing through.

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    1. Are you sure? Maybe you need to watch more House.

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    2. It will never be lupus if you don't know how two proteins stick together.

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    3. And you don't need to know anything about evolution to be a doctor. And the reason why you should get a flu shot every year is because it is a gov't-big pharma conspiracy.

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    4. Just what I need: a heart surgeon who thinks I have fewer ribs than my girlfriend has.

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    5. Biology? Try organic chemistry, probably the most resented pre-med course. Never mind that it's needed to really understand biochemistry (which they don't need, either, 'cause the pharma sales reps can tell them everything they need to know).

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    6. Biochem was when I finally figured out why all these chemistry classes were in my biology major.

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  23. There a zillions of great, high paying jobs out there for graduates of colleges of business who have 2.0 GPAs.

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  24. That philosophy is "those 'deep' thoughts I have during a three a.m. 'study' session." That philosophy is just telling us what you think or - worse - feel. That philosophy is useless, is opposed to science, and/or "whatever I want it to be." (actual quote) The worst is the idea that philosophy is supposed to be abstruse, though English departments share at least some of the blame for that one. (Kidding! Well, sort of. That is true of some English departments. DERRIDA IS NOT A PHILOSOPHER STOP TELLING PEOPLE THAT YOU ARE SCARING THEM. Jumping Jeebus, people...)

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  25. Nub3rs and that math can be applied to every problem imaginable, no matter how obscure. And how it's possible to use said math and code up a simulator in a couple of hours with full graphics that gives you a flawless result.

    Never mind that in the real world it would take a team of coders a couple of weeks to actually do this.

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    1. On most of the crime shows currently on TV, all one needs to make a case is fragmentary evidence and a lot of fancy computing, largely using portable or desktop machines. The whole situation is explained with only fancy graphics without any need for any basic chemical or physical principles.

      Needless to say, all the data used is perfect, the code compiles with no errors whatsoever, and the results are unambiguous. Case solved.


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  26. The Patriot.
    Pocahontas.
    300.
    Troy.
    Braveheart.
    Pearl Harbor.
    Rambo.


    But mostly The Patriot.

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    1. How about "King Arthur" from a few years ago? By comparison, I got the feeling "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" might have been more accurate.

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    2. Much of the movie was reasonably accurate. Salieri and "Wolfie" didn't particularly like each other and Mozart was rather uncouth. (He wrote dirty songs and I remember hearing one of them performed on the radio a few years ago. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.) He also gambled and was frequently in debt.

      However, Salieri was no hack, as hinted in the movie. The death scene was, for the most part, made up from what I understand. To the best of my knowledge, they kept their distance from each other and didn't collaborate.

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  27. If you mention race, class, gender, or sexuality as a possible analytic axis, you are a (pick one) Black Panther, whiner, feminazi, or member of the gay agenda.

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    1. I know of a proffie who told a classroom full of students discussing colonialism that a racial analytic was a "cop out".

      He was white.

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    2. Now do all four at once ... Though I still suck at using race; am really working on that. I grew up in a whiter-than-whitebread neighbourhood and I now live in another one, so it doesn't come naturally to me. But then sexuality didn't used to come easily to me either and I'm beginning to get that one now. I think.

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  28. I've got one for Froderick. A few months before I quit my teaching job, I bought a second-hand reflecting telescope.

    Apparently the previous owner, a schoolchild, insisted that she had to have it, so she received it as a Christmas gift. I was told that she soon lost interest and it stood in a corner and gathered dust.

    I never found out why. Maybe she figured that no matter where she pointed it in the sky, she would have seen something comparable to the pictures taken by Hubble or the telescopes on Mauna Kea or at the European Southern Observatory. If that was indeed the case, I doubt that she would have understood that each of those instruments has a different field of view and focal length and that the pictures that are presented to the public often required very long exposure times. Unfortunately, her parents had no idea whatsoever about astronomy.

    By the way, the telescope isn't terrific but I have seen the cloud bands of Jupiter and Saturn's rings through it and it's not bad for lunar observations.

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    1. This sad tale is all too common. Space is very big and very empty. If one takes a telescope and points it in a random direction in the night sky, one will see approximately nothing: maybe a few faint stars in lots of black space. Astronomical telescopes therefore have fairly steep learning curves. Learning to use one is more like learning how to sail a sailboat than how to use a TV set, which entertains passively upon throwing the on/off switch.

      This is compounded by there being few consumer protection laws concerning telescopes. It's perfectly legal to put an image from a billion-dollar spacecraft on the box of a department-store telescope. This gives the misleading impression that this telescope can show that image. This is why I like Orion Telescopes and Binoculars: they make sure that every image of a celestial object shown in their catalog was taken with the telescope shown on that page.

      As you know from using the telescope, few schoolchildren today have the patience or the small-motor coordination to be able to exercise the care needed to point an astronomical telescope accurately, even if it's a computerized model---actually, especially if it's a computerized model, since they never read the manual. I recently gave my 9-year-old nephew some Estes model rockets. They sit in their boxes, untouched. He's a smart kid, but with his hyperscheduled lifestyle, he'll never find the spare time to build and fly them.

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    2. During one lunar eclipse a few years ago, I set up my telescope downstairs and offered passersby a chance to take a look. Quite a few accepted and several even thanked me for it. One, I remember, called her friend on her cell phone and told her to come over. I got a kick out of parents who were with children and who lifted them up to the eyepiece to that they could see.

      When Comet Hale-Bopp passed by, I was outside one evening taking pictures of it and someone in a nearby townhouse asked me about it. When I told him it actually was the comet, he rushed in and brought out his kids to show them. I bet they'll remember that night for years to come.

      You're right about there being lots of black space, but that's what made my first viewing of Saturn so significant. It illustrated to me just how vast the distances are out there in comparison to what we're more familiar with here.

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    3. Your comment about how telescopes can be marketed reminds me of how computers used to be sold, one brand in particular. The ads hinted that if one bought that machine, one could compose music and fly through the universe. That was about a decade before the Internet as we know it came along.

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  29. I get a lot of advanced English majors--seniors, in some cases--who are disturbingly naive about the difficulty and "boredom factor" of a lot of the reading we do. I know that the English discipline attracts a lot of flakes who "like to read" and can't handle anything with math, but you'd think that they would have figured out by senior year that reading is not always a relaxing, "enjoyable" activity, and that the major requires you to slog through some truly tedious books (Middlemarch, Tom Jones, Ulysses, Letters from an American Farmer). (And, truth be told, most classes these days don't even require them to read the entire book but just selections in an anthology.) I teach the not-fun literature, and I find myself having to reiterate--even to upper-level majors--that this is not a book club, we don't sit around and read "Eat, Pray, Love" and talk about our feelings, and that beginning every discussion with "I found this book totally boring" or "I hated this book" is unproductive.

    I'd like to think that "Dead Poet Society" is responsible for the attitude, but I think that fellow TAs are somewhat to blame. I constantly find myself compared to other gradflakes who get the "special topics" classes and design classes about terrorism, cannibalism, science fiction, comics, etc. I get evaluations every term that say something like, "This class didn't compare to TA Jim's. In his class we got to read The Hunger Games and watch The Matrix. Then we wrote papers on Watchmen. You made us read boring books, and we actually had to read them, which sucked."

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    1. "...terrorism, cannibalism, science fiction, comics, etc..."

      Oh boy, all the fun topics! And with the way they pay TAs, I wouldn't bring up the subject of cannibalism: you don't want them to get any ideas.

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    2. But - I loved Middlemarch! Also Tom Jones.

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  30. – It is a myth that Earth has seasons because it’s closer to the Sun during summer.

    – It is a myth that the Moon’s phases are caused by Earth’s shadow.

    – It is a myth that accidents and crime are worse during Full Moon—even though many smart, reliable people such as doctors, nurses, and police believe this.

    – It is a myth that astrology makes predictions that are more reliable than random chance. In fact, in any fair, objective test, astrology just plain does not work.

    – Notice that the world didn’t end in 2012, contrary to the prediction that the Mayans didn’t make. There is also no validity to prophecies of Nostradamus.

    – It is a myth that Mars will ever look “as big as the Moon.” This is an Internet hoax: the unaided eye can see the planets (except for Neptune), but to the eye they look like bright stars (except for Uranus), unless one uses a telescope.

    – It is a myth that a planetarium is the same as an observatory. A planetarium is a special theater that shows what the sky looks like. An observatory is a housing for a telescope. (I probably shouldn't be so adamant about this one, though, since to a large extent I owe my job to it.)

    – It is a myth that astronauts on the Moon could see the Great Wall of China. (They couldn’t.) It is also a myth that the Great Wall of China is the most visible human-made object from orbit. (Farms and city lights are.)

    – It is a myth that objects float weightless in spacecraft because “there is no gravity” in space. If this were true, the spacecraft wouldn’t orbit Earth at all.

    – It is a myth that global warming is a hoax. Climate change is real, and it is caused by humans. Vaccines don’t cause autism. Cell phones don’t cause cancer.

    – It is a myth that any high-energy physics experiment could create a black hole that could swallow Earth. If one could, natural high-energy cosmic rays would have done this long ago. Black holes are real, but it is a myth that they “suck.”

    – It is a myth that there is any reliable, physical evidence that alien life is visiting Earth, or that there were ever “ancient astronauts,” or that any human was ever abducted by a flying saucer, or that the so-called “lost” continents of Atlantis or Lemuria ever existed, or that crop circles are extraterrestrial activity. Don’t get me wrong: life in space may exist, but I don’t think we’ve found it, yet.

    – It is highly implausible the U.S. (or any other) government or military has a crashed flying saucer that it’s hiding from the public.

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  31. Creativity comes like a thunderbolt. Hard work has nothing to do with it.

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    1. It also comes at a time and place of one's choosing. By comparison, sometimes the solution to a problem I'd be struggling with might come to me while doing something mundane, such as washing dishes.

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  32. It is not the case that all one needs to be successful in the field of rodent medicine is a true love of hamsters.

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    1. It is also not the case that all one needs to be successful in the field of education is a true love of children. I dread it whenever told this by a denizen of the education school.

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  33. Studying religions is about understanding individual private experience, or, only slightly better, their faith commitments. So historical, sociological analysis has no explanatory power. Tradition is that which doesn't change not that which does.

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  34. Research involves nothing more than thinking of lofty ideas. Once in a while, one conducts an experiment or formulates a computer simulation to prove oneself right. Real researchers never do anything mundane such as checking results by hand or debugging software.

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  35. That we all get paid and have offices and sex lives like the guy on "Californication."

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  36. The spouse occasionally teaches chemistry to students of a nearby college for naturopaths (they have no qualified Chem labs/instructors (well, duh!)

    S/he has a standing offer: $100 to any student who can show peer-reviewed evidence showing the efficacy of homeopathic remedies. Several students have insisted they would find the evidence and win that money. No successes yet.

    And yet they continue in their studies, AND continue to insist that homeopathic remedies, and are not impressed by the large body of peer-reviewed evidence that they do NOT work.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. What would (s)he do if someone brought in a study on the placebo effect (which I believe has been measured by some studies)? I suspect that's the explanation for any efficacy homeopathic remedies do have.

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    3. I believe that "efficacy" is in this case taken to mean 'efficacy beyond placebo effect."

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  37. There's such a thing as an "unbiased" source.

    Statistics reflect unfiltered reality (I ran into a student who hadn't heard the phrase "lies, damn lies, and statistics" yesterday -- and yes, she was also the one who wanted to argue that coverage of a certain issue is "biased," and thought that statistics would give her the necessary neutral ground on which to stand and take pot shots at her intended target. It's going to be a long semester, I fear).

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    1. The really sad thing is that she probably learned to look for "unbiased" sources not so much from popular culture as from previous teachers and professors.

      And no, I don't think she's taken statistics. If she had, she'd presumably have a more sophisticated understanding of what they represent.

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    2. But I've heard the diametrically opposite claim: that, given a data set anyone with some statistical training can present a rigorous-sounding analysis tailored to support a preexisting (usually politically motivated) claim. In other words, that unless you have both the training and access to the raw data yourself, any claim (about anything of consequence) made by anyone and "supported by statistical analysis" is inherently suspect.

      I am unnerved by this position, but rationally find it hard to argue with. It could be true that (unless you're an academic statistician) the person paying for the analysis in most cases calls the conclusion, and if the consultant's analysis does not support it, it goes in the trash bin. But if all published analysis is suspect, statistics itself is no more "applied" than (say) topology.

      (Is this comment 100?)

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