Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An open letter to high school science students

Always be inquisitive about science. As Will Rogers said, “Everyone is ignorant; just on different subjects.” Even an individual with a Ph.D. in science does not know everything in science.

The reason why you need to be curious and questioning about science is that there is a lot of false science being generated because of politics. This false science is backed by billions of dollars in special interests. Unfortunately, this false science is being spread by television, newspapers and magazines. It is also spread by those who benefit financially from the false science. Sadly, many Americans do not question science as to whether it is true or false, thereby making it much easier for false science to control lives and cause the loss of individual freedoms.

Here are some examples of scientific things about which you should be curious. For a thousand years, scientists have used what is called “the Scientific Method” to solve scientific problems. The four steps to the scientific method are (1) observe and describe a phenomenon; (2) formulate a hypothesis to explain the phenomenon; (3) use the hypothesis to predict; and (4) perform experimental tests of predictions to obtain reproducible test results.

Question why so-called experts in global warming cannot get to Step (4) which is to obtain reproducible test results. There simply are no reproducible test results. Ask others why scientists who advocate anthropogenic (man-made) climate change cannot obtain reproducible test results.

Here is another scientific thing to be curious about. Energy is measured in British Thermal Units, BTUs. A gallon of biofuel contains only 61% of the energy in a gallon of gasoline. Therefore, it takes 1.64 gallons of biofuel to do the same amount of work as one gallon of gasoline. Burning that amount of biofuel emits about a pound more of carbon dioxide into the air than burning a gallon of gasoline. Therefore, using so-called “clean” renewable biofuel instead of a gallon of gasoline will emit about a pound more carbon dioxide into the air. Be curious. Ask others why anyone would want to use biofuel instead of a gallon of gasoline since it emits about a pound more of carbon dioxide into the air.

This brings up another scientific thing to be curious about. Since using biofuel emits more carbon dioxide into the air than using gasoline, and since our climate policy is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide into the air, our energy policy to switch to biofuels conflicts with our climate policy to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Ask others why we have this conflict in scientific policies.

Here is something else to be curious about. I have asked famous global warming scientists this simple question, and they have been unable to provide a scientific answer. Why is it that carbon dioxide from carbonated beverages, pets, cattle, farm animals, humans, yeast, dry ice, fireplaces, charcoal grills, campfires, wildfires, alcohol and ethanol is good, and carbon dioxide from fossil fuel is bad? Ask others to explain why carbon dioxide from fossil fuel is bad.

Here is yet another thing to be curious about. The United States does not have enough crop land to grow crops for enough biofuel to replace our current oil demand of 15.1 million barrels per day. In fact, using our entire corn crop land, we can only produce enough ethanol, after 12 more years of increasing ethanol production, to provide 15% of our current oil demand. Using the size of New Mexico, our 5th largest state, as a measurement, switchgrass would require crop land—which we do not have—2.6 times the size of New Mexico, sugar cane 3.8 times the size of New Mexico, and palm oil 4.6 times the size of New Mexico. Algae would require a controlled chemical tank 1.5 times the size of New Mexico. Ask others how renewable biofuel can replace oil when the US simply does not have the crop land to replace more than 15% of current oil demand.

Be curious about science as it relates to increasing taxes, particularly taxes on oil. All oil wells decline in production. Each oil well has an economic limit that is the producing rate below which the well will start losing money. The equation for calculating the economic limit of an oil well contains four parameters, taxes, operating costs, royalty and oil price. Raising taxes destroys proven oil reserves by raising the economic limit, thereby shortening the life of the well. Ask others to explain why they would want to increase taxes on oil since doing so would destroy proven oil reserves.

If you get a reasonable and understandable scientific answer to any of the above six scientific questions relating to climate change and “cap and trade,” please let me know immediately. The public needs to know the answers to all six questions before any decision is made.

Inquire! From inquiry comes knowledge. Question anything I have said which you do not fully understand. I will be glad to explain in much more detail.


The possibilities and limitations of educational alternatives

Last week, I wrote that we needed many more options in education than the traditional public school. In his latest column, Steve Chapman echoes that sentiment but cautions that no single alternative is likely to bring revolutionary change. For instance, Chapman looks at the lackluster results from the voucher program in Milwaukee:
In 1990, in one of the most innovative developments in modern American education, the Milwaukee public schools created a parental choice system. Some low-income parents got vouchers that could be used to send their children to private schools.

It was a richly promising idea. The new option would let disadvantaged kids escape wretched public schools. Competition would force public schools to improve or close. Students would learn more.

Twenty years have passed. Last week, researchers at the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas published their latest assessment of the results.

What did they find? Something unexpected: Kids in the program do no better than everyone else. “At this point,” said professor Patrick J. Wolf, “the voucher students are showing average rates of achievement gain similar to their public school peers.”

Although I agree with Chapman’s main point, I think he is too critical here. Voucher students score basically the same as public school students, but the graduation rate for students receiving vouchers is 77% to 65% for students without the voucher, which is hardly insignificant. Even more striking, especially in such a lean fiscal year, voucher students attain the same level of education as their public school peers for less than half the cost — $6,400 a year for voucher students against $14,000 for public school students. In other words, the private schools are doing the same job with half the resources. Cutting costs without substantially improving educational outcomes is not worthy of a standing ovation, but it at least deserves mild applause. The same point can be made about charter schools.

That said, Chapman’s conclusion is incredibly wise:
What should we learn from these experiences? Not that nothing works, but that few if any remedies work consistently in different places with different populations. We shouldn’t expect that broad, one-size-fits-all changes imposed by the federal government—such as those offered by the Obama administration—will pay off in student performance.

From the local school district to the federal Department of Education, humility, caution, and open-mindedness are in order. Because right now, the main thing we know about improving schools is that we don’t know very much.

This is why changes in the educational system should come from the bottom up. Students, parents, and individual schools and districts should be encouraged to experiment and imitate those experiments that work. Grandiose nationwide (and even statewide) plans, on the other hand, have a tendency to ignore local and individual particulars. Ignoring those particulars all too often leads to general failure.


Class size not important in education say German researchers

One of many such findings

Smaller school classes, long the holy grail of politicians, parents and educationalists aiming to improve performance, do not actually have any affect on children’s achievements, according to a new study.

And the researchers showed that a child’s social background was a very important factor when it came to whether he or she would be sent to a university track school, or Gymnasium.

Scientists who examined data from recent international primary school test results concluded the most important thing was for the teaching to be good, and for additional support lessons to be provided to children who were struggling.

“An effect from class size is not demonstrable,” the researchers write in their analysis of the 2006 data, reported in Der Spiegel on Saturday.

Working under the Dortmund educational researcher Wilfried Bos, the group examined a number of different factors including the social status of parents, and the recommendation of a school of whether a child should go to Gymnasium.

They confirmed the results of other studies which suggested that children from higher social classes had clearly better educational chances than those from worker families.

The chances of a child from a higher social class going to Gymnasium are around four times those of a child from a working class family, they said.

Even when the children have matching scores in reading and other capabilities, those from a higher social background are on average still three times as likely to get into a Gymnasium than those from a lower social class, they concluded.


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