Archive for the 'Lay Science' Category

Lay People Can Debate Science

October 20, 2007

The James Watson IQ Intelligence in blacks and the third world debate has brought up the question of whether lay people can talk about science and its implications for policy and action. Some say Watson can’t talk about IQ and genetics because he is not a narrow expert in just that. Those making these comments are often even less familiar with the material.

Lay people can do math and science. The way we teach in school is to try to get people started doing something as soon as possible. Teachers, parents, bosses, the computer guy in the office all find this out by doing, its best to get someone to do something if you want them to learn it.

There really is no magic state of being a scientist as contrasted with a non-scientist. Many discoveries and inventions are made by non-entities. So are social movements and even empires. Some are destroyed by non-entities too.

Science is the recorded activity of non-entities that turned out to be right after the fact. This is what makes it more egalitarian and equal than politics. Anyone can play. Anyone can contribute. Being a famous entity doesn’t necessarily mean you can tinker better than the blogger. Just as being one race doesn’t mean you are necessarily better or luckier than someone of another race in tinkering.

Tinkering isn’t just for mechanical work. In math, we tinker with definitions. In the case of calculus, it took from the 17th century to at least the mid 19th century to get decent definitions. If we start from the Greeks it took 2 millenia.

When debating James Watson’s comments, its best to get at least one science related link and quoting from it before spouting off. If you haven’t read any of these or read any recently, this is a good way to transition from ill-informed ranting to making a contribution to the discussion.

Its easier for lay people to debate science because you can get so much information so quickly from the internet. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand everything in a link. Find what you can understand and start with that. That might be in the middle or end.

You can also look at articles on statistics and probability. These can help build understanding of this subject and give you something as a takeaway to use in your job or school. A good debate like this is a learning opportunity. Don’t blow it by shouting bigot, when you could be reading the Wiki article on statistics.

The following image of the Bell Shaped Curve with annotations and numbers is one of the best ever. For old and young alike its a good diagram to peruse closely. Try to understand what each part means from the article.

There is no right age to get started, only wrong ages to stop, all of them. High IQ helps, but motivation matters. You can get something out of browsing advanced articles even if you are in the dog box, low IQ, low motivation. You may find you can raise your motivation and work around the low IQ, perhaps not all the way to the star box, but surprisingly close.

Don’t go past this emotional debate without channeling it to learn some math and statistics.  Even to look at the diagram and some formulas is a start.  Browsing hard stuff without learning it is a worthy activity.

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