Category Archives: TOK & Pseudoscience
The 11th Hour re-up: Human Impacts on Ecosystems
In 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio released his environmental call-to-arms, The 11th Hour. And it’s very good. It really knocks home the old proverb that we are not inheriting the Earth from our ancestors, but borrowing it from our children.
Update 2009: the whole film is available on GoogleVideo (as all good documentaries should be):
The movie contains contributions from the likes of Stephen Hawking, Nobel-winner Wangari Maathai and David Suzuki. Particularly useful is Gloria Flora‘s sentiment that we all vote, every day – even those who are too young to cast a ballot – by making informed choices about what we consume, spend our money on and throw away.
The first half of the movie is a talking-heads and imagery look at our impacts on the Earth, with plenty of soundbites and starting-points for further discussion. The political middle section describes how economic growth and interests are driving destruction. The final act is a great collection of ideas and hope – a call to arms and a realisation that the environmental movement is growing quickly and strongly. But is it going to be in time to save our species and the thousands that we drive to extinction each year?
Now here’s Leo’s video message (including the ‘vote’ quote from Gloria Flora):
For some further reading, go to the 11th hour Action website.
IB Biology students:
Here is a quick question sheet for the movie, linking some of the topics to the Ecology and Conservation option.
Higher Level students: pay attention to the parts about the role of trees in the environment, in particular through water-uptake. Also, do you understand how mycofiltration (using fungal mycelia) could be used to clean polluted soils?
For good measure, here’s Linkin Park’s accompanying music video, What I’ve Done :
Facebook gives you cancer and infantilises the population. Ahem.
“There is no evidence because it would be hard to prove…” Aduh.
BadScience hero Ben Goldacre and Jeremy Paxman take on Baroness Greenfield, The Daily Mail (always a good target) and Aric Sigman in this interview from Newsnight. For a bit of background this is all a response to this story from the Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1149207/How-using-Facebook-raise-risk-cancer.html
If you’re in my class, the page you need to comment on is here.
The Daily Mail reports Sigman is claiming (without any real evidence) that time on the computer takes you away from real people. This makes you isolated and lonely and means you are not producing the right hormones and your genes will act up – potentially leading to cancer, immune problems and impaired mental function. That’s a far reach for a newspaper article to be making, but these kind of shock headlines sell papers, or get more traffic on their website.
In this debate we see the importance of peer-reviewed research before making public claims. We see that correlation does not necessarily imply causality and we see that poor reporting of sensitive issues can lead to gross misunderstandings. If we remember, the Daily Mail was central in the reporting of the MMR vaccine scare.
When you watch this interview and read the article, can you think of responses to these questions?
– Are there parts of Sigman and Greenfield’s claims that might sound plausible?
– What kind of evidence would you want to see to support these claims?
– What is the significance of Goldacre’s comment “… you can make anything look dangerous if you are selective in which evidence you quote” ?
– Sigman makes a comment “The paper weas supposed to be a one-sided provocative feature article for The Biologist to make people think more carefully about where society is going.” How does he feel about the media attention that his words have attracted outside this publication?
– Central to Sigman’s claims were that internet use increases social isolation. He had no peer-reviewed work after 1998 to support this, yet Goldacre pointed out all these references that suggest otherwise.
– Sigman tries to re-state ‘social networking’ as a phrase meant for real-life interactions between people rather than internet-based interactions. How has his interpretation of the term led to confusion in the wider public? Who do you think is responsible for this confusion and how could it be rectified?
– Sigman tries to distance himself from the headlines and the conjectures of Greenfield and returns to his concern that internet use is having a direct and negative impact ont the lives of children. Take this opportunity to discuss the benefits and potential negative impacts of the internet with regard to childhood use.
– Goldacre makes a comment that it woudl be bad for research to prioritse what research is done based on the headlines in the newspapers. Do you agree/ disagree? Why?
– How do you think the precautionary principle might relate to the decisions parents make based on this issue?
How would you like to see this story develop? What further research would convince you of the harms or otherwise this debate?
DNA Structure (Core and AHL)
This is a short one – class presentation is here (click shadowed images for animations and movies):
Here’s a decent video from BBC AS Guru with David Suzuki:
And here’s a very stylized video of DNA structure from Hybrid Medical Animation. See if you can narrate it:
The story of the discovery of the double-helix structure is a good example international collaboration and competition, and led to the Nobel prize for Crick, Watson and Wilson (who we never hear about). You’ve got to feel for Rosalind Franklin – her work was key in their discovery and she wasn’t cited for it until after her death.
Here’s a great video, though the presenter sound like he has a mouth full of marbles:
SEED Magazine – Science and TOK, all wrapped up
SEED Magazine is another great resource out there for High-School and above.
It’s a bit like NewScientist, though with more appeal to the i-generation, with a good format and some really thought-provoking articles.
– the Daily Zeitgeist (look it up) wraps up 5 stories daily, and can be subscribed to via RSS (see the right-hand column on this blog to see what I mean).
– Cribsheets: decent in-a-nutshell posters on topics from photosynthesis to string theory. Well worth printing and sticking in the space where that Westlife poster used to go.