Friday, December 20, 2013

Science needs to be taught more in schools

Else we're going to end up with a lot more people like this, who see danger everywhere evil, evil science is involved when there is none. I'd be willing to bet actual money that this moron actually imagines that aluminium phosphate being part of a vaccine means you're actually getting injected with aluminium foil. And seriously, why the fuck is the vaccine-autism relationship even a thing? Autism finds its roots in the person's genetic makeup, it's something you're born with and have to deal with for the rest of your life, it's not something you catch.

Seriously, this kind of thing is why the teaching of science needs to be a lot more widespread than it is now. Otherwise you'll just get more and more parents who insist that vaccines are evil... among other things. More on that later. But I can safely say that some of the stuff I learned at university should be taught to everyone, not just people who decide to pursue one of a few specific bachelor's degrees. I'm talking high school here. Sure, it probably should be dumbed down a bit compared to a university course, but this really IS something that's more useful to know than something like trigonometry. I don't know how things are where you live, but here the only science you get to learn in high school falls in two categories: the absolute basics, and optional courses. (In our last year of high school, we get a choice between two sets of subjects: geography and history, or chemistry and physics. That's what I mean by "optional".) There's only one word to describe this: unacceptable.

A subject where rampant misinformation is even more widespread than the whole vaccine thing, for instance, is genetic engineering. Understandably so, because most people have no grasp of the inner workings of a living cell on a molecular level. That leaves a lot of room for people to start believing stuff that has no scientific basis whatsoever. For example, some people seem to believe in a misconception according to which eating genetically engineered food can alter their own genome. Of course that's not going to be the case, the DNA and proteins contained within your food are broken down during digestion, whether they've been altered or not. And just because you eat chicken doesn't make you any closer to becoming a chicken, right? So why should it be any different because some genes have been altered? Your genetic code doesn't merge with anything you eat, or isn't substituted, or anything. Your food is broken down into individual nucleotides and amino acids during the digestion process, which are then used to make human DNA and proteins according to your own genetic makeup, using your existing DNA as a template.

Science isn't out to get you. Genes that are added to crops with the purpose of killing pests that may try to eat them code for proteins that are designed to be ineffective in the human body. In one of my classes at university, we were given the example of a genetically enhanced crop that results in a protein that's capable of breaking down an insect's intestine, but because a human's intestine has a different pH, the protein takes a different shape that makes it totally harmless. This is why the popularity of organic food baffles me. Pesticides can potentially be dangerous for a human's health, I won't argue with that. On the other hand, genetic engineering is developed enough for any effects on humans to range from far more limited to nonexistent. Meanwhile, organic food is made using neither, so pests have free rein to eat whatever they want - and who knows what kinds of bacteria and disease they carry, and what you could potentially get. Keep in mind, that food can get expensive, and you get a product that definitely isn't of better quality than conventional food. In any other industry, this would be called "getting ripped off", but here it's considered "looking out for your health"... or rather, you think you're doing so.

No, the problem with GMOs isn't with the notion of genetic engineering itself, but the business practices of the companies that manufacture such products. EA keeps winning these "worst company" competitions, but that's only because they have a more direct impact on the customers. In fact, they look like philanthropists compared to the likes of Monsanto. Yes, I went there. I just said it. Google Monsanto if you don't believe me. This isn't something my education tried to hide from me, either - I had a course on ethics in science, and the subject of Monsanto did spring up a few times.

And the scary part? I basically knew nothing of this going into university. The fact that you need a bachelor's degree to understand such important stuff is not normal. This should be common knowledge, and yet it's as far from it as you can possibly get. Why? Is it considered propaganda? Then this is a perfect case of ignorance spawning more ignorance. Once again, unacceptable.

22 comments:

  1. Where I live, you have to take at least three years of science to graduate. The mandatory ones are Physical Science and Biology. A lot of people take chemistry junior year. Physics is also offered, though not many take it. Though given the propaganda we are spoon fed...I can understand very well why it would be a good idea to take the courses that can allow you to back up your common sense...
    Maybe those guys are a part of those Christian fundamentalist groups everyone makes fun of. Then again, that type of Christian would be the type to do such a thing...

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  2. Maybe in Canada, here in the States we're too busy trying to keep our heads above water with the creationism nonsense.

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  3. Australia seems to be the same in terms of subjects offered; you can do chemistry, physics and biology with university courses continuing those specific degrees.

    We learnt about genetically modified foods and organic foods then, I definately recall reading a lot about Monsanto earlier this year in doing some research on a paper I was working on.

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  4. Idk man, I remember taking bio and just sleeping through the whole chorse I mean I understand its important for some people to know this stuff (so we have medicine and doctors) but for every single person to know that...Im not so sure to be honest.I DO think the basics should be taught in schools (which they are, I mean where I live where required to learn biology) idk, for me personally as far as science goes Im more interested into psychology and social behavior in humans, just anything that has to do with the brain.

    To be honest, if I could say there is a subject at school that everyone should learn its government, so many Americans understand so little about government and so many people in school could give less of a shit about the class itself, which is why we have terrible congressmen and presidents being elected.

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    1. Yeah, but the problem is, if people don't know that kind of thing, they could be led into stopping their kids from getting vaccinated, which could get them killed. There's a reason why diseases that had previously been eradicated are making a comeback.

      Even so, I agree with you. People should be more aware of politics in general, despite the rampant cynicism. Regardless of the country, even. I was reading a column the other day about how people here know their representatives less than ever before, and in spite of that paradoxically trust them less than ever before, but also want to give them even more powers. Where's the logic in that?

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    2. "The Republic will be reconstituted into the FIRST! GALACTIC EMPIRE!"
      That's how democracy will die. With thunderous applause...

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    3. Well with that said, I guess I have to agree, that everyone SHOULD totally learn the important stuff, so we dont see stuff like the bird flu or the swine flu ever come back, although, I've never knew that some people never got vaccinated, and if that is true, just wow, I mean anyone with common sense, should know to take there shots.

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  5. I'm a junior in college, and I'm only just learning about GMOs, costs and benefits, and Monsanto, and from an economics course no less (World Population and Food Supply, so at least that makes sense). If I didn't take this course, though, I doubt that I would be getting that information at all, as a computer science major. I mean, I knew about it beforehand, but that's because I follow some liberal pages that frequently discuss Monsanto. I think the majority of people, even those who go through college, won't be exposed to this kind of science, but that's mostly a political thing. The government is being funded by corporations, like Monsanto, giving them an incentive to create legislation benefiting those corporations. It's sickening.

    As for the source of the vaccine-autism fraud, Wikipedia has a pretty good article for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy

    It always loops back to money and those who have it. Horrible.

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    1. Not only that, but it always goes back to the government and those amoral corporations wanting MORE money, and wanting it NOW! NOW! NOW!...

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  6. Thank you for sharing this. You are spot-on. I can't believe that this whole anti-immunization mindset is not considered criminal. It really is frustrating as a science person to try to convince people that GMOs, climate change, etc. are not scientific conspiracies of some sort. It worries me greatly that so many people I talk to seem to think that since they are ignorant about a particular subject (like biology), then everyone must be, especially the evil scientists that exploit this fact for profit. Lots of people believe in conspiracy theories, but what makes this brand of ignorance so dangerous is that it can be attractive to lawmakers, along with most other non-science people. If someone wrote a book about it, then it must be true, right?!? On a side note, I can't believe that we don't have a mandatory statistics course. It's offered as a math credit, but it astonishes me how much people fail at basic probability, let alone detecting sampling biases and logical fallacies.

    That's not to say that scientists are all without fault, however. Some of them are (have a gander at the Scientific Misconduct article in Wikipedia). But unfortunately, people tend to only listen to what they want to believe and ignore evidence to the contrary. Our school system in Texas (or at least locally) has actually been trying to educate students away from the anti-scientific trap for the most part, but that hasn't stopped Governor Perry from being a complete imbecile about education. (If you're interested, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/22/rick-perry-education-policy_n_932780.html)

    There have been a number of cases even in the US judicial system where hard scientific evidence like DNA has been outright dismissed because one lawyer or another exploited people's fear of science or likewise (see also the infamous Scopes trial). This sort of behavior just makes me sick. Some things annoy me, but this kind of fear mongering to encourage anti-intellectualism really pisses me off. Yes, I've heard of Monsanto. At one time, I one time actually read what my friends and family were advocating for via Facebook. But let's just say that I've been treated to a few too many dead baby pictures to bother with that anymore.

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  7. I'm a junior in college, studying biochemistry as well actually, and thankfully I've been very well-prepared by my high school education. In my old high school, biology, chemistry, astronomy, global affairs, world history, ethics... all of those were mandatory classes, so students came away with a broad understanding of numerous topics. We got to learn about all sorts of stuff like evolution, genetics, government structure, and corporations like Monsanto as they really were. As such, I completely agree that everybody deserves to have that kind of education, at least before freaking college or university!

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    1. Exactly! I've taken major science classes since the 6th grade(I am currently a junior in high school). I took a World History class last year and I have currently finished the first semester of U.S History. I'm so glad that I'm attending a great high school because I do not want to act like a fool and then be embarrassed by someone who actually knows a thing or two about a subject like the unfortunate example in the blog.

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  8. As a high school student from Sweden: this legitimately scares me. I've had biology since middle school, and while it's nothing complicated, we learn the basics of the human body. I thought that was something everybody knew, but I guess not...

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    1. Tell me about it. I have been taking main(as in a certain subject)science classes since 6th grade with Physical Science. I always took them seriously because I had a feeling that I would need the knowledge someday. I am currently a junior in high school and I have just finished the first semester of Physics. Even though I want to major in computer science and/or mathematics, I don't treat any information I learn in school as useless. To see someone make an ignorant statement just because he or she doesn't have a working knowledge of science saddens me as well.

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  9. I can't be bothered to write anything witty so here's a picture
    http://www.quickmeme.com/img/dc/dc8d9a2c20e6ba5ba343f5b6a383ffbed537e4d82f6875e14ccb5f73795ea52f.jpg

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  10. Here in wisconsin, Biology Chemistry and Physics are all required classes to take.

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  11. An argument for organic food is that buying locally in-theory prevents the economic and environmental expenses required to transport food (the reality right now is the food will keep being transported just to be wasted unless they decided to stop doing it, and I don't see that happening unless there's significant boycotts), and improper use of pesticides could make soil permanently infertile (that's what it was like last century, maybe things have improved since then).

    As for vaccinations, I actually know people who think that flu vaccines are administered so the government can collect the population's DNA from the syringes and do.... something. Yeah, it makes no sense. With XBOX One's kinect, the NSA can scope out what all their users say and what goes on in their home, but what use would the government and/or the national security association have for the millions of used syringes?

    Also, some people I know have gotten flus shortly after getting vaccinated, and they blame the vaccination for giving them the flu. Well, maybe the influenza cells weren't dead, but what's the chance of that happening compared to getting the flu WITHOUT getting vaccinated? What if they happened to have gotten the flu virus shortly before they got their shot, before noticeable symptoms cropped up? Since you work in the field of science maybe you can tell me if it's too late by that point for the vaccination to give you immunity if you already caught the virus.

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    1. First off, I'm going to be anally retentive and point out that viruses don't have cells. On a more serious note, it's possible to catch the disease through a vaccine, but vaccines are typically made of either components of the bacteria or virus that induce a response from the immune system, or attenuated forms that won't make you nearly as ill as catching the real thing. Either way, it's still a far more preferable option than rolling the dice and hoping you don't catch anything.

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  12. This topic is very frustrating for me, even as someone who only did High School Biology. I can't even comprehend how someone thinks that genetically altered foods will alter their own DNA; that makes about as much sense as being worried that you might turn into a hamburger from going to McDonalds. To be completely fair though, the issue that I have with GM foods (or modern food production in general) is that the genetic similarity of plants and animals may make an entire food source susceptible certain diseases, rather than merely a local population. But I trust that scientists have contingency plans for these sorts of things and eat my GM bread contentedly.

    I'll admit that I'm no scientist (French/History major), but even my basic knowledge tells me disease = bad; prevention = good. To be completely fair, my aunt is an immunologist for the CDC, so I have better access to facts than a lot of people, but it's still a disgrace that people are ignoring the safety of their own AND OTHER children because of an unproven correlation with autism. Even IF it were true (which I know it isn't), surely the risk of 1 child in a million getting autism vs. thousands dying of preventable illnesses is a risk worth taking for the greater good?
    /rant

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  13. In my school destrict you are required four years of science biology, chemistry, physics and a 4th one of your choice but, I have to say even if it is taught how many people pay attention, I'm currently taking Physics as my 3rd year science and I feel I'm the only who even bothers to pay attention, the same thing can be said with almost every other required class, the thing is teaching it is pointless because no one's going to listen, even if there grades depend on it, regardless we've touched on the basics of virus and the likes but, I can't say most people even remewber that we did

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  14. Hey Slow, you doing alright after the storm?

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  15. The Huffington Post posted a article about the Global Warming, since it's extreme cold in America right now. As I'm typing this it is -13F with Wind Chill, -34F.
    The comments on the article said Global warming is not true, since it's this cold.
    Some people said this cold weather balances out the past 5 years, that Obama lied about 97% of scientist believing in Global Warming to get reelected, and that Al Gore is completely wrong since it's so cold. Most of the people were Americans from the deep south.

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