22 January 2012

An Odd Post: Science Advocacy

If you play The Sims 2, I may have a treat for you in the form of a custom career, Science Advocacy. I wrote it  in part to pay homage to the important role of science popularizers like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Phil Plait. I attempted to create a logical progression of jobs, being guided sometimes by the aforementioned gentlemen's own careers. As I haven't learned to use the necessary software yet, another user (lientebollemeis) and I collaborated to insert this track into the game. I included quotations which stress the beauty and importance of science and science education at the end of every job description; you may recognize many of them if you've listened to "The Poetry of Reality", my favorite Symphony of Science production.  If you would like to download the career, it is available at ModtheSims.com.

For those who play the game:  the skills most needed are Charisma, Creativity, Cleaning, and Logic. Chance cards are currently being added. Here are the job descriptions.

Gift Shop Employee
Motivated by both the need for money and an interest in science, you've taken a job at a science museum's gift shop. Along with the usual retail duties of working the register and stocking shelves, the gift shop provides the more interesting challenge of explaining some of the items sold (including science experiment kits for children) to the families who enter. Your enthusiasm and communicative skills could very well ignite a spark of wonder that changes a life.

"Science is the best tool ever devised for understanding how the world works." - Michael Shermer

Student Worker
Now pursuing a degree in the scientific field of your choice, you've begun working for the school's science department. Duties include assisting the departmental secretary when not aiding professors during their lab classes. Sometimes you may earn some extra cash on the side as a tutor. Keep an eye on students mishandling microscopes or 'sharing experimental data' with their classmates, and remember -- if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

"Science is a very human form of knowledge; we are always at the brink of the known." - Jacob Bronowski

Teaching Assistant
Now a graduate student beginning work on a thesis, your work keeps you in the classroom where you have taken on greater responsibilities. These include grading papers and preparing for the afternoon lab sessions. You'll be expected to take a more active role there, teaching in addition to checking student work. When class isn't in session, you can also expect to help your docent with his own research experiments.

"Science is a collaborative enterprise, spanning the generations. We remember those who prepared the way -- seeing for them, also." - Carl Sagan

Museum Guide
Though still a PhD candidate, your classroom studies are over: all that remains is thesis work. Moving away from the university requires a more steady paycheck, and so you've returned to where you began -- the science museum, where now you give guided tours, play movie presentations, and assist in the preparation of exhibits. Being able to explain concepts to a lay audience will be a boon here, so practice your communication skills.

"If you're scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you -- and that understanding empowers you." - Neil deGrasse Tyson
Assistant Professor
Congratulations, doctor: your thesis completed and successfully defended, you are now a scientist and an educator. Chiefly you are responsible for freshman-level introductory courses in your field, so bear in mind the audience is largely disinterested in science and hostile given that they are taking your class only as per the requirements. It may be discouraging at times, but put in a few productive years and you may be hired on as a full-time instructor with license to teach your specialties.

"There's real poetry in the real world; science is the poetry of reality." - Richard Dawkins

Scientific Journalist
After a letter to a newspaper editor addressing careless scientific reporting on their part, you have been given the opportunity to write a weekly science column explaining to lay readers various new developments in science and outlining their potential. Introducing science to the public and interesting new minds in the field excites you, and so building on that you've begun to establish a web presence via a blog. Continue to work on those creative-writing skills if you really wish to shine.

"We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster." - Carl Sagan

A publishing firm saw the material on your blog and offered you a book deal, one which has proven to be a surprising success. The university is beginning to realize what an asset you are; look forward to a promotion in your near future. In the meantime, the public interaction you've achieved with your blog is quite satisfying and picking up traffic. If you attain enough name recognition, more book deals may be yours for the asking.

"The quest for the truth, in and of itself, is a story that is filled with insights." - Carolyn Porco

Associate Professor
Ah, tenure. The university has officially accepted you as one of its own. While still teaching the odd freshman course, the majority of your course load now consists of classes of particular interest to yourself, and which attract only serious students. Teaching like spirits is much more fulfilling than attempting to reach annoyed freshmen, but at the same time you find contributing articles to magazines and to your own blog even more exciting.

"I think that science changes the way your mind works, to make you think a little bit more deeply about things." - PZ Myers

At last you've reached the esteemed rank of full professor, a badge of honor which indicates expertise in your field, an esteemed reputation among your colleagues, and years of experience in helping succeeding generations understand and marvel at the world. Your blog is a roaring success, and you've started a twice-monthly podcast that has caught the attention of the national media -- and two more book contracts.

"It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works — that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it." - Carl Sagan

Celebrity Scholar
Host of an award-winning educational television show, author of no less than eleven books, and the news media's go-to expert for all science-related questions: you are The Face of science in the nation. People of all ages know your voice, and you've never been more popular. Through your work, adults have discovered a newfound appreciation for the world around them, and parents love your show for its ability to stimulate their children's imagination. More than a few young people have written to tell you that you were their inspiration for going into science. You're fulfilling your greatest ambition -- isn't life marvelous?

"The story of humans is the story of ideas -- ideas which shine a light into dark corners." - Jill Tarte

20 January 2012

Freethought Friday: the Measure of a Man

(Robert G. Ingersoll, 1833-1899)

From "Civil Rights", since we in the United States observed Martin Luther King's birthday this week. 

I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample under foot. Men are not superior by reason of the accidents of race or color. They are superior who have the best heart -- the best brain. Superiority is born of honesty, of virtue, of charity, and above all, of the love of liberty. The superior man is the providence of the inferior. He is eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenseless. He stands erect by bending above the fallen. He rises by lifting others.

06 January 2012

A Reading on Selfish Genes

From Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, p. 44

The confusion between our goals and our genes' goals has spawned one muddle after another. A reviewer of a book about the evolution of sexuality protests that adultery, unlike the animal equivalent, cannot be a strategy to spread the genes because adulterers take steps to prevent pregnancy. But whose strategy are we talking about? Sexual desire is not people's strategy to propagate their genes. It's people's strategy to attain the pleasures of sex, and the pleasures of sex are the genes' strategy to propagate themselves. If the genes don't get propagated, it's because we are smarter than they are. [...] Just as blueprints don't necessarily specify blue buildings, selfish genes don't necessarily specify selfish organisms. As we shall see, sometimes the most selfish thing a gene can do is to build a selfless brain. Genes are a play within a play, not the interior monologue of the players.