Family Science Club

Pointing to the Author of Science

 

Heidi Weaver about to launch a model rocket, 1999

Image: Launching a model rocket, 1999, taken by Kevin Weaver

What Are We About?

How do “family” and “science” fit together? Are not those concepts fairly distant, if not contradictory? Is not family about times of warmth, comfort, maybe a bit of commotion, and reminiscing about bygone days? Loyalty through blood ties, regardless of differing opinions or education? On the other hand, is not science about cold, hard facts and natural laws that only a small number of people can understand? Commitment to reality as proven by the careful, objective study of clear evidence?

While we would hope that most families do fit the preceding description, we believe that the preceding description of science is quite flawed. There are grains of truth in it. In practice, though, science is not colder (or duller) than any other field of study or profession. Science can be very fun for even young children. Watching a child’s face brighten with understanding of a scientific concept is a delight.

More important, science is rarely objective. For example, scientific studies were used as justification for the continuation of slavery in the United States, then later for discrimination of African Americans in the workplace. As late as the Vietnam War, some now-discounted scientific studies were still being used to keep African Americans out of some military roles. We believe that many of those studies were just plain bad science, propped up by people who wanted any evidence they could find to support their preconceived opinions. We also believe that much bad science is harder to spot and far more widespread than most people think.

Academic science functions much like other aspects of society. The theories that are supported by the most well-connected people in a society are called proven. Then, when the opinions in that group change, or another group is able to gain the majority of influence in that society, the previous theories are discounted as foolish or old-fashioned, and a new set of theories are declared to be proven. Is not proof of something supposed to be a once-and-for-all discovery? But we digress…

The teaching of basic science in a family environment is fun. Parents need not be afraid that science is too complicated or that their children will think less of them because they cannot answer questions about details from the top of their head. Looking up answers to the posers the kids come up with is a good exercise, and it can also be done together.

Further, the parents can teach their children that everyone has a perspective from which they view the world. Many scientists and science teachers seem to forget that fact, and therefore teach as if they are somehow neutral, when in fact their personal perspectives inform their science at point after point. Parents need not prove that their perspective is the right one. If their perspective makes sense, the children will respect it. Over time, if that perspective holds up well, the children should embrace it of their own accord.

Even if some children do not embrace their parents’ perspective in their own study of science, at least they will be able to see how the perspective of others informs their claims about what science proves. In our current day of bitter argument about climate change, energy policy, and similar scientific issues turned political, the ability to see the perspective behind the supposed scientific proofs on all sides is crucial. If we can pass that ability on to the next generation, we will accomplish a great deal.