Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

Feminist and Aboriginal science with Lillian Dyck #AAASmtg

// February 28th, 2012 // Comments Off on Feminist and Aboriginal science with Lillian Dyck #AAASmtg // Science Communication

Hon. Lillian Dyck, first female and Aboriginal senator in Canada, took the stage at the AAAS conference to discuss western science, feminist science and Aboriginal science.

Subjectivity is inherent in the western scientific method, she said. We use inductive reasoning, interpret data, and models that are not ideal (eg. animals). A hypothesis may be generated by hunches, mistakes, or serendipity, as well as logical questioning. This, she said, is something we don’t usually acknowledge.

In fact, people try to hide it. In writing up a paper, the sequence of experiments and even the thinking process can be adapted to fit the prescribed, logical process of SCIENCE. We leave out illogical sources of ideas, even if they were important. We remove ourselves by using the third person, and our experience by using the passive voice.

Thus we perpetuate the notion of purely rational, logical science.

However, facts do not exist in a vacuum. Scientists are subject to cultural bias. Though numbers don’t lie, we do interpret what they mean.

Her example of bias in scientific thinking was the Thrifty gene hypothesis describing genetic causes of diabetes in First Nations people. For a long time it was believed a faulty genetic ability that stored extra calories in case of famine was responsible for the disease. Actually, there wasn’t any proof of it at all. You can read the story at “How the diabetes-linked ‘thrifty gene’ triumphed with prejudice over proof” from Globe & Mail, Feb 2011.

How can we correct the bias in science? She says, by knowing and acknowledging it, even taking advantage of human bias.

Feminist science does this, she says.

Feminist science
– is openly biased (doesn’t pretend to be unbiased)
– exposes male bias and the patriarchal nature of western science
– is non-hierarchical
– is by, with and for a community, collaborative
– this pdf article Can there be a feminist science? may be a useful reference.

She says feminist science has changed science as a whole, moving it to a point where collaborative, team research is now the norm.

What about different ways of thinking in different cultures? Not only do different cultures have particular traditional knowledge of areas like astronomy and medicine, they also have particular processes to gain knowledge.

Her heritage is Chinese and Cree, and she mentioned ways of knowing that emphasised listening skills, elders, and a holistic world view (rather than analysing pieces at a time.)

People have claimed only people with Indigenous minds can solve the problems of quantum physics, she said, then pointed out that person was Aboriginal. I recommend reading Dialogues between Western and Indigenous science if you’d like to know more.

ChemWiki, free textbook for University students

// March 3rd, 2011 // 4 Comments » // Science Communication

This week, thousands of Australians went back to Uni starting a new semester of study. For some, science is their bag and they’re picking up a chemistry class or two. I’ve been there, and they’ve got a big year ahead.

There’s nothing quite like studying chem. Is it the nerdiness? The lab work? The elegant complexity and simplicity of laws? Perhaps its the joy of pushing electrons, pure love of a benzene ring, cherished conjugated systems or perfectly balancing equations.

But it takes a while to get to that state of love, like dating an attractive person with a terribly annoying habit. Don’t drop out, seek counseling at the ChemWiki.

An open access textbook, ChemWiki is a collaborative approach towards chemistry education. Students and faculty members write and rewrite sections to make it accurate and easy to understand. It’s been in development for two and a half years, and over 2000 people have contributed.

I first heard about it when it was still an infant wiki in swaddling clothes from Kyle Finchsigmate at The Chem Blog, which is now sadly shut down. Kyle is the reason I started blogging, being the first blog I subscribed to after his Nacho Average Cheesecake post changed my life.

Since those small beginnings, $2000 and a handful of uni classes spreading the news, it has grown pretty huge. It’s at the stage where it could replace paper textbooks for Uni chem courses, which is a saving of at least $150 per student. It’s ideal for Universities who are embracing new technologies in the classroom, like the University of Adelaide who gave a free iPad to every new student this year.

Unlike paper textbooks (and most hypertextbooks too,) the ChemWiki is designed in a non-linear way. You can jump from topic to topic with hyperlinks, so knowledge is constructed to suit the student. For me, chemistry only really came together in third year when the separate subjects wove together like a tapestry. It suddenly ALL made sense. But with non-linear learning, its easier to see patterns and connections and build up a frame of understanding as you go. I’m a fan.

I can’t recommend the ChemWiki enough. It covers coursework about analytical, biological, organic and inorganic topics, and is perfect for Chemistry students at Uni. Get involved and spread the word!

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