Category Archives: TOK & Pseudoscience
Ben Goldacre: What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe [TED Talk]
Here’s Dr. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science giving his TED Talk, which is an eye-opener into what happens in academic research and drug testing. A good link with TOK here:
- How do research groups and journals decide what to publish – what is publication bias?
- What are the consequences of not publishing negative results?
- To what extent does publication bias affect other academic disciplines?
This is a really interesting dilemma. Evidence-based medicine works, that’s why it is called ‘medicine’. Sometimes publication bias leads into misrepresentation of data and drugs get approved. But it’s not the same as promoting pseudoscience – ‘fake’ medicines which we know do not work and are supported by no peer-reviewed, controlled evidence.
Robin Ince and the Infinite Monkey Cage
Robin Ince, rationalist and science-minded comic, give a short TED Talk on Science vs Wonder:
He also has a radio show/ podcast called The Infinite Monkey Cage, hosted with Brian Cox on the BBC. In this episode, Six Degrees of Separation, they discuss the connections of humans with Stephen Fry, Simon Singh and Alex Krotoski.
The Language Gap – TOK, Language & Sciences
This GoogleDoc has been doing the rounds this week, based on an AGU article by Callan Bentley. It links well to the “Just a Theory?” Evolution lesson we had a few weeks back, where the basis of much confusion can be rooted in the different uses of a word within and without the scientific context.
Although not an exhaustive or authoritative list of terms, it could be a good discussion starter. It would be good to pick out some of the words we use in our class and compare what we think we know with the ‘public’ and ‘scientific’ definitions.
New posts now should appear on the facebook page and on twitter (@IBiologyStephen, #ibbio).
Stephen Fry’s Planet Word
What is language? Is communication the same as language? How have we evolved the ability to form and use language and what sets us apart from other species?
In this new BBC documentary series, Stephen Fry explores our origins of language. A good link between the sciences and languages (perhaps even history) as areas of knowledge in TOK.
More information and the discussion page here: TOK – What is Language?
Ben Goldacre: Battling Bad Science
One of MrT’s science blogging heroes, Dr. Ben Goldacre, runs the Bad Science blog and Guardian column. Over the last few years, he has been dedicated to highlighting the problems of bad science in the media and dodgy claims – by looking at the actual evidence. Some great sources for TOK and Biology, and now he has a TED Talk. Enjoy!
Remember: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” [Sagan’s Standard]
A funnier version for an American audience after the jump…
Mesolens: see thousands of cells in detail at the same time
Currently on exhibition as part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations, the Mesolens is a giant microscope that can show large field-of-view images of living specimens in incredible detail – thousands of living cells in focus and in detail at the same time. Until now, scientists have had to rely on low-mag light microscopes to obeserve living specimens, or use sections of dead specimens on an electron microscope in order to get high-mag images.
Robert Hooke first drew a human flea in his 1665 book Micrographia. Along with van Leeuwenhoek, Hooke kick-started microbiology, and so it is a fitting tribute that some 345 years later, LMB give us their flea images. You can pan and zoom across a Mesolens image by clicking here
Check out this short article from Wired.com explaining how the Mesolens works, and go to the Laboratory of Molecular Biology’s official site for the Mesolens. Can you distinguish between it and a normal light or electron microscope? What advantages will this give to researchers?
The Guardian has a gallery of images from Mesolens, and there is a short video showing image density from the LMB site, as well as a teachers guide to microscopy.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
Based on the excellent book “What’s the worst that could happen? A rational response to the climate change debate” and the accompanying videos on YouTube, this is a great foundation for some Biology and TOK linking. It fits nicely with topic 5.2 The Greenhouse Effect, and is a good introduction to the precautionary principle (though not explicitly named that way) as well as a solid, readable (watchable) and entertaining introduction to the scientific method and critical thinking.
In the video below, science teacher, author and YouTube star Greg Craven presents a refined outline of his original idea (The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See), How It All Ends:
I’ll expand on this resource in the TOK & Biology section over time, but here are some guiding questions to start:
1. What leads us to believe in authority figures and why do we give them credence? How do we distinguish reliable source from unreliable sources?
2. What is confirmation bias and how is it dangerous in the mind of the true scientific thinker?
3. How could the decision grid be used in any risk-related decision?
4. How could we apply the credibility spectrum to our decision making and assigning credibility to sources of information?
5. Is it as important to determine who is ‘right’ as it is to make a decision on the best possible action to take?
There is stacks of information and support on Greg Craven’s website: http://www.gregcraven.org/
For a nice graphic distinguishing warmers from skeptics, head on over to Information Is Beautiful.
The Memory of Water: Science or Pseudoscience?
“Can you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience”
“What separates effective medicine from alternative medicine?”
This is an activity from the ToK and Biology section.
As you grow through Biology and ToK, you should develop your critical thinking skills and become more of a skeptic. Being able to answer these two questions is a skill that you can carry through life, helping you to make sensible decisions when faced with a range of seemingly convincing alternatives.
Medicine is a system of rigourous testing, evidence collection, statistical analysis and controls to ensure that a treatment is effective when recommended to patients. If it works and it is strongly corroborated, we call it medicine – it is available to professionally-trained medical doctors to use or prescribe for their patients.
Alternative medicine is simply that – alternative to medicine. It is not rigorously tested, double-blind controlled or statistically analysed. It is built on belief without true empirical evidence. One might believe it’s efficacy based only on anecdotal or circumstantial evidence, but this is not enough.
This activity links with unit 3.1 – Chemical Elements and Water.
Richard Dawkins’ recent series Enemies of Reason tackles these issues brilliantly, as does Dr Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. Start with this short clip of Dawkins explaining the idea behind homeopathy, a bastion of alternative medicine:
- So why is it that people buy into homeopathy and alt med?
- Have you heard of the placebo effect or the powers of suggestion and how they affect feeling?
- Watch the whole episode (below) and think of reasons why a patient might feel better after visiting a homeopath than after a consultation with the doctor.
- What is the difference between complementary and alternative medicine? Which might a doctor recommend as part of a treatment? Why?
To find out more about homeopathy and it central ideas:
Homeopathy from the Skeptics Dictionary
The End of Homeopathy? From BadScience
And lots of great information from Evidence Based Medicine First
Watch the full series of Enemies of Reason on GoogleVideo:
Part 1: Slaves to Superstition
Part 2: The Irrational Health Service (includes the homeopaths)
And it’s not only homeopathy that abuses our sacred water. The oxygen-water companies are it too.
More than Water? From BadScience (download reading activity here)
Unless you have gills, it’s an expensive burp! from Chem1.com
So, when you read the magazines, watch TV or wonder about a miracle cure, anti-ageing cream, magical treatment or anything else related to unusual claims and you health, think: “Where’s the evidence?”
Now here’s a funny sketch from Webb and Mitchell: