ASTR1020 Final Essay Dr. Duncan

The ASTR1020 final will have an essay question about good and bad science worth 8 points.  YOU MAY CHOOSE TO DO YOUR ESSAY AHEAD OF TIME.  If so it will take the place of the essay question on the final. The limit is one page.  Do not write more.  Be concise!  The purpose of the question is to allow you to demonstrate scientific thinking as well as to – I hope – remind you that some of the stuff you learned in this class can be useful to you in your life, after class is done.

I encourage you to refer to the common characteristics of good science and of pseudoscience that we’ve posted on the class website. Mention them specifically when you can.  Be careful to put your name on your work, or we can’t give credit!  Please use a computer or write very clearly.

Please choose ONE of the following topics. You are encouraged to do any needed research. Like a good scientist, please list any resources you use.

One choice involves using estimates or approximate numbers.  Like we did when comparing how many marbles fit in the classroom to the number of stars in the Milky Way, the idea is to help you understand which bigger, not to have great accuracy.  This can often help you make better decisions.

1.      Many people who are not scientists use scientific thinking in their everyday life (in cooking; problem solving; etc.)  Describe a use you made of scientific thinking in your life. Relate what you did to “What is Science?” and “How to Recognize Good Science” that are posted on the class CULearn website.  Did you form a hypothesis?  Did you experiment?  Did you revise your hypothesis?

2.      Many people are afraid of terrorists.  (a) Estimate the number of people killed in America by terrorists during the last 10 years (2002-2012).  (b) Estimate the number of Americans killed in car accidents during the same period. (c) Estimate the number who died of cancer during those 10 years (For estimates (b) and (c) it is fine to take figures for one year and multiply by 10.)  Do these figures affect any fears you personally might have?  Why or why not?  Find out (d) how much the US spends on the military each year, and (e) how much is spent on cancer research. Do you think this is a wise balance?  [you will not be graded on your answer, only your use of estimation] List sources of any numbers you use.

3.      We’ve discussed that scientific thinking is a way to “Avoid getting fooled or fooling yourself.” Read this very poignant article by a doctor who has an autistic child. Answer (a) what kind of conference did the doctor’s wife attend a year or so after their son was diagnosed? What kind of evidence had she seen?  Was it scientific? Why or why not?  Refer to “How to Recognize Good Science” posted on the class CULearn website, especially the parts in blue (b) What characteristics of Pseudoscience were present at the conferences the doctor began attending? Refer to ­“Common Elements of Pseudoscience” on our class website. (c)  Why do you think the doctor stopped thinking the “alternative medicine” for autism was worthwhile?  (d) What do you think you would have done if you were in the doctor’s place?

4.      Proponents of Intelligent Design say that the complexity of the universe proves that it was designed by a higher power.  Is this a scientific theory?  Why or why not?  Note that you’re not being asked if it is true, but if it is scientific. Relate your answer to “What is Science?” and “How to Recognize Good Science” that are posted on the class CULearn website. Do the proponents of Intelligent Design form a hypothesis?  Do they experiment?  Do they revise their hypothesis?

I always ask this on the final exam.  Any answer is worth a small bonus.

Has this class changed the way you think about science?  If so, describe how, and whether this is likely to affect anything you do in the future (classes you might take, your behavior, etc.)