Yesterday, Jenny East and I went to a lecture entitled “Pseudoscience: Exploiting Public Trust”, sponsored by the Phronesis Lab for Engaged Ethics at OSU. The lecturer was Massimo Pigliucce, a professor of philosophy at the CUNY-City College, co-host of the Rationally Speaking Podcast, and the editor in chief for the online magazine Scientia Salon. Some of you may remember his name from when I mentioned in lab (a few times) about one of his books I was reading, Answers to Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a more Meaningful Life and how that got me to reflect on what years of science philosophy and the discoveries of scientific endeavors themselves can collaborate and culminate in new paradigms reflecting new research questions, new theories and new hypotheses.

The point of his lecture was to discuss, on historical and philosophical grounds, the conflicting ideas about what counts as real science and as pseudoscience (e.g. Astronomy as a science and Astrology as a pseudoscience), ideas of which culminated in the conceptualization of a “demarcation problem” – the problem of where and how we should draw the line differentiating the two. Sir Karl Popper, who we have learned about in our time here at Graduate School, offered a solution to this demarcation problem by introducing the idea of “falsification,” which suggests that science does not progress by confirming hypothesis but by falsifying them. In this sense he was trying to exploit the power of deductive logic to solve the problems of “induction.” However, as suggested by the Duhen-Quine thesis, it is impossible to test a hypothesis in isolation because each hypothesis is surrounded by background assumptions. Furthermore, Laudan introduced some metaphilosophical considerations to the hinge on the demarcation problem. Laudan discussed what conditions determine adequacy, the necessary and sufficient criteria and what judgments are implied.

Beyond the philosophical thought development made so far, the demarcation problem is still under scrutiny. Massimo talked about the scaled approach where some sciences are widely accepted as science already since there is enough empirical evidence, some are placed in transitory stages as quasi scientific fields in development and some are just simply termed pseudoscience for the lack of collected empirical data. Thinking broadly about disciplines that may or may not fit in the scientific category made me take on a more focused line of thinking within the science endeavor itself and the questions of methods and scientific process. Say qualitative vs. quantitative approaches. I would say there is a demarcation problem there too, which is fueled by conceptualizations of the steps involved in the scientific process and traditional understanding of what it means to do science. Qualitative approaches are answering different questions than quantitative, placing them at the center of paradigmatic shifts about the nature of science.

It is my personal belief that qualitative and quantitative methods are complementary for the advancement of science and our understanding of the world, almost an analogy to what Massimo discusses in his book about the complimentary nature of the scientific and philosophical fields to lead us to more meaningful observations about the world. The basis for how we separate science from pseudoscience is analogous to the basis of the latter discussions of methods accepted as scientific methods and worthy of trust. Both “demarcation problems” are cultural constructions materializing as concepts get defined, new ideas are born and naturally derived debate comes to surface as we try to make sense of things and establish rules. Like in any other dimension of social life and different social institutions (family, school, etc), we create rules and follow those rules until they are revised and changed, often by revolutionary paradigmatic shift, it is our way to avoid chaos and continue to just “be” in the world.

In its very beginning, wasn’t science a branch out of philosophical thinking anyway? But, throughout the years, it became so acculturated in its own development, rules and essence that it was separated from the philosophy field to gather the empirical ways in which we can be almost “certain” about things in the world, and it does indeed provide us with that data, like finding a needle in the pile of hay with a magnifying glass. While philosophy sets up the center stages of debate about the broader questions, the stages for agreements and disagreements the very process of “thinking” unravels in the collective mind of society, like looking at the entire barn that stores all that hay.

The questions of philosophy fascinate me just as much as the questions of science. For me the demarcation problem is a sign of healthy development in the individual minds and the “collective mind,” which ultimately establishes what we know about the world, the ways we seek that knowledge and, more importantly, the way we change those ways of knowing and seeking knowledge. For me, things get unhealthy when that social collective mind close up to these possible changes and new incorporations of thinking for reasons short of educated assumptions, curiosity and plain respect for the very capacity of science and philosophy as interrelated fields.

Oh boy…I just realized I have too much of an inclination to philosophical thinking, which may make it hard for me to be seen as a solid scientist. But I also love science and what it is all about, which does not leave much room (in practical terms) for a philosopher to stand in the current state of world affairs.

This is more or less the title of a workshop proposal I submitted for the “Public in Science” conference happening in London next July. The goal of the workshop is to align contemporary research agendas in public science communication, including ways in which Cyberlab can serve as forum for visitors as conscious active participants in the task of improving science communication efforts.

Over the past couple of years, we have written many blog posts about Cyberlab, what it is, what it does, and how we have been progressing in the task of creating a research infrastructure, which is centered on the use of emergent digital technologies to aid in the capture and study of visitor interactions within the exhibits, and to provide a platform of adaptable content to fit visitor’s needs through cyberlearning.   It has been a huge challenge and we will continue to work hard to improve our tools and resources.

However, I think it is time for us to start strategizing a component of the project that is also very important, the idea of visitors as co-constructors and taking important roles in the feedback loop to inform the research and science communication effort. We want them to see themselves as contributors in the attempt to bridge their concepts and ideas about science with the actual scientific effort taking place within the lab and the resulting ways we see effective science communication. It means not only providing a remote social laboratory for those interested in this kind of research but also an inviting place for the public to take active roles within their own scientific learning. In that sense, the goal is for visitors to start moving along with us as we learn and move through paradigmatic shifts on what counts as science, how science is developed and how it is communicated across publics and through contemporary learning arenas.

But what would such a challenging attempt actually look like? How can such a cultural shift from the ways people see and use research be facilitated? How can we define these new cultural tools we want visitors to incorporate in their experience when they come to the visitor center? And most importantly, how do we define those cultural tools to ourselves and to the broader informal learning research community as important tools?

I guess this workshop, if it happens, can serve as a source of data in support of answering these questions by offering a start into solid conversations with professionals in the field towards establishing grounds for this shift in thinking about the development and promotion of science communication efforts in museum like settings. Bring the publics truly in… after all the communication is designed for them.

So, I have a follow up to my last post about my foray into Making. Let’s return to the scene when I had gone back to the site of the first workshop I had fled, where I eventually tried my hand at Scratch and the cute, little Bee Bot. I previously mentioned that I spent some time just tinkering with the Bee Bot. I didn’t see any directions, but jumped in anyway and tried to figure it out. I did get some “peer to peer” mentoring from someone else who stopped by while I was exploring, and I was quite content to just play with figuring out how to program it to take different paths. It is a fairly simple robot, as far as robots go. It has four arrows on its’ back, in the four cardinal directions, with a “go” button in the center of those. From searching the internet, I found out that there are two more buttons, “clear” and “pause”, however, on the one I was using, those words were rubbed off, or it was an older version that had some other symbols instead of the words that were not intuitive to me. To program it, you touch an arrow the number of times you want it to go in that direction, building a sequence, and then press “go”.

There I was, on the floor, by myself, fairly happily trying to make it go in different directions and different shapes. In one of these iterations, I had it turn left and travel off the mat on which it normally runs, as I was working towards having it go in a square shape. At this point, one of the facilitators/presenters for the session walked by and noticed what I was doing. I am sure she had the best intentions of giving me more technical language about what I was doing when she commented “looks like you have a syntax error”, but the effect was to make me feel incompetent. It is pretty pathetic. I am a 46 year old woman, almost finished with my PhD, who has raised two amazing young women to adulthood, and taught elementary and middle school students for over a decade. I am a competent, relatively bright, and accomplished human being! However, I immediately shut down when someone told me, in a way that made me feel “dumb” that I had made an error with an educational toy designed for young children. So, once again, I packed up my belongings and left the room.

It has been interesting to reflect on my reaction. From the first, I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable with so many activities and materials in the room with which I was unfamiliar and inexperienced. Lame as it may sound, it did take an act of courage for me to come back and finally sit down and try some of these things by myself, not just watching others. And, I tried not just one, or two, but three new things that day. Yet, at the first sign of perceived judgment about my “failure” I felt terrible and left. I didn’t react that way when my “near peer” sat and offered suggestions to help me figure out how to “clear” the programs to make a new one, but when it was someone who was in more of a position of authority, I was shut down.

Lest you worry that it curbed my adventurousness, the universe generously offered me yet another Maker experience that day, creating the functional chair out of cardboard. This time, I didn’t even try to resist and claim the offered role of observer. Instead, I just laughed and accepted my fate and went and gathered materials.

I hope I remember the deeper lesson I learned that day – even when I am giving what I think might be helpful language or advice, if a learner does not want it, I might do more harm than good. And when someone is at the edge of their own boundaries, even if it might just be baby steps into something new, that is a vulnerable place and they need extra space and support. Lastly, even grownups, who are competent in lots of other ways, can be insecure learners in that space of trying something for the first time too.

Since I am interested in the Maker Movement, I have been focusing on the “DIY, Maker, Hacker” strand at the SXSWedu 2015 conference. It is exciting to see so many innovative programs and projects happening all around the country, and around the world. However, today I came face to face with one of my own hypocrisies. While I have been involved with this movement for the last four years, presenting on the topic at conferences, even being a Maker at the MakerFaire in San Mateo two years in a row, as well as local mini-MakerFaires, I tend to avoid a whole slew of Making experiences. I do describe myself as a crafter, I have been knitting at most sessions I attended this week. However, I have yet to solder anything, connect any circuits, or program even simple projects. But the fates were conspiring against me today. My first glimpse of this was the session, “Maker Mash-up”, where the tables were full of a variety of hands-on projects. After the twenty minute intro, we were invited to explore. I watched someone try to figure out Makey-Makey for a few minutes, and then made my escape.

Fortunately there was another talk from this strand right next door called “DIY Tech: Creativity Through Transformed Teaching”. It sounded safe. Yet, after about twenty minutes in this session they asked us to make a musical instrument using a plastic cup, paper clip, and length of jewellery wire. There were some parameters, but not knowing much about music, I wasn’t sure what they meant, but since I had already run away from one session, I figured I might as well give this one a go. So, I made something that produced a song. I was feeling pretty good about that until we got the next assignment to choose a song from a list and play it using our instrument in front of the group. At that point, I made for the door again.

I peeked back into my first room and as the numbers had lessened, I felt a bit more courage and thought that I should really get over my resistance and try something new. I went to an empty table that had an iPad with Scratch Jr. loaded. Since this program is designed for 5-7 year olds, it felt like a safe place to start. I did play around with it for ten or so minutes until I understood most of what it is capable of, and then progressed on to the Makey-Makey Scratch spot. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the Makey-Makey part, but I was emboldened to play with the Scratch program a bit, and made some more progress. Since there was still time left, I thought I would give one more tool a try and messed around with a programmable robot bee shaped thing. It was cute, and through trial and error I discovered a few things. Once someone else showed me how to “reset”, I even had some fun with it.

Then it was time for my next session, “Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning”. After an intro to the speakers and their work, we were given the challenge to build a functional chair out of cardboard and brads. Each group was to have a few “doers” and a few “observers”. When we went around the group to say what role we wanted, I admitted that I tend to prefer the observer role in these types of activities, but that today it seemed the universe wanted me to engage in some “doing”, do I helped build the chair. And, it was fun. I enjoyed the teamwork and the way we easily negotiated the design and the roles –and at the end of twenty (!) minutes, we did have a chair that could support weight. While it was more of a stool than a chair- we met the parameters of the challenge.

Furthermore, I had met the challenge for me- to break out of my comfort zone and do some making! Watch out- you might soon see me with a soldering iron in my hand and then there will be no stopping me!

I am taking a break from writing about Cyberlab today, since I have been in a work retreat this past weekend and trying to move forward with my research project. I am getting ready to dive into data collection, and one of my methods includes a focus group composed of professionals in various fields and organizations that have some relationship to the conservation mission. The goal is for us to develop a rubric for what counts as conservation talk when you are watching family discourse at live animal exhibits.

With that in mind, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about conservation, what it means, how it is talked about, where it happens, what mission it carries, and what does it really mean to different public audiences in Free-Choice Learning settings. While doing so, I stumbled across Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud” show about the value of Nature. Guest speakers were Michael Nelson (Professor of environmental ethics and philosophy at Oregon State University) and Cathy Macdonald (Oregon Director of conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy). They carried on a short but interesting conversation that added a whole new dimension to my thinking as I design a conservation message intervention for one of the activities my recruited families will go through.

The main discussion revolved around the intrinsic versus utilitarian value of nature, how such values align with the conservation message and which would be best used to deliver a resource conservation message to various audiences. Nelson is a co-author on a recent paper emphasizing the point that, when given the opportunity to express intrinsic value, people tend to really do it. The problem lies in cross-disciplinary confusion about what intrinsic value means; therefore, the professional conservation community is missing out when they do not incorporate an intrinsic value component to their framework of thinking.

I see both intrinsic and utilitarian values as equally useful tools in spreading the conservation message, but how do we accomplish that? Say in live animal exhibits such as the touch-tanks I will be doing my research on. Light bulb went on! I think I can have a most focused way to create a background for my rubric as I watch the families’ discourse and can classify what kinds of values they are expressing, intrinsic or utilitarian, and use that as baseline data for our focus group discussions. If adding intrinsic value to an animal is an indicator of some conservation awareness or a firm component of conservation mission, then we can’t disregard that kind of discourse during family interactions.

That brings me back to my dilemma now as to what kind of intervention to design so as to purposely expose participating families to a conservation message. Do I focus on the utilitarian aspects or intrinsic aspects or both? How can we combine it all within this rubric-creating exercise? Moreover, how can it all relate to the literature suggestion that experiencing live animals in exhibits generates a level of conservation awareness in visitors? I am sure the nature of qualitative work will help guide the phases of research based on the collected data itself. I am super excited to start putting all these thoughts into solid research activities to generate solid and novel tools to be used within the same research and to generate original results about what family conservation talk looks like in free-choice learning settings. That would add an exciting new dimension to what we already know about biological talk at touch-tanks by previous research from Shawn Rowe and Jim Kisiel, and add conservation talk to the body of knowledge out there. At least, I hope so.

What about you? Do you think that the conservation field can benefit from incorporating intrinsic value in their activities a little more and making it a solid component for their mission?

So, after giving my colleagues a bit of a hard time because I have been the main contributor to the blog for that past few months, I somehow managed to forget to write a post last month (Sorry everyone!). Sigh… karma is a harsh mistress sometimes. I am in the thick of writing for my dissertation, which I somehow did not realize needed to be given to my committee quite so soon, and have been a bit distracted.

However, karma takes and she gives. I have had a couple of lovely moments of asking for what I want, and just flat out receiving it since I last wrote. I am a big proponent of the “just ask for what you want/need” philosophy and have attempted to pass this bit of wisdom on to my own children and those I have taught over the years. My attitude is that if you don’t ask, the answer is automatically “no”, so you might as well ask. On one level, you have nothing to lose, besides a bit of pride. Therefore, I encourage them to reach out to the world and make their wishes known. Otherwise, they are much less likely to get what help they need along the way.

My first recent example of asking had to do with the date for my PhD defense. As a student who does not live in, or even frequent, Corvallis, I tend to be out of the loop with how this whole grad student process works. I haven’t really seen others go through it, and am a bit lazy when it comes to digging around on websites. So, I decided to call my trusty friend Deb and ask her if there were any deadlines I should be paying attention to regarding graduating this spring. Turns out there was! If I want to walk in June, I should defend my dissertation by May 1. Oops- I really thought I had more time. However, May 1 is a lucky day in my world. It is the birthday of my life partner and best friend and happens to be one of my favorite holidays in the Celtic calendar- Beltane. So, I took a risk, emailed all 5 members of my committee and told them that was the day I hoped to have my defense. And by some small miracle, they are all available that one day! Yay!

My next example regards a conference I heard about last year, and wanted to attend, SXSWedu. It could be my Austin past, the whole SXSW industry has taken up a good part of the calendar there. However, it seems to be a conference that promotes a lot of exciting new things happening in education, particularly in my area of study- the Maker Movement, and (in one of life’s many ironies for a Luddite like myself) technology and social media. And I am still invested enough in being “cool” to want to attend this “cool” conference. I had vague ideas about submitting a proposal for this year’s event, but am not on the right listserves to hear about the appropriate deadlines, and missed that. I was still interested in attending, so checked into prices. However, the $450 early bird price was a bit of a shock, so I resigned myself to missing it again this year. Yet, within days, I had an email that some group (TES Global) was giving out free conference passes to educators who tweeted innovative things happening in their classrooms. Well, I am not actually teaching, so I tweeted a few photos from my research project, which does look exciting and innovative and techie, and I was lucky enough to get one of the passes. While I think they had lots to give out, and I don’t feel too special for having “won” one- I would not be going this year without it! I am very excited to go next week, and hope to make up for all of my missing blogs over the years while I am there! Keep your eyes peeled!

So my friends- just ask for what you want! Even if you are not sure you deserve it, you might just get it!