A Newsletter of Scientific Literacy. September 2002

DVDs--the most successful electronic devices in history An Aug. 25 front page article in the New York Times was headlined "Revolt in the Den: DVD Has the VCR Headed to the Attic." Warren Lieberfarb, president of Warner Home Video claims DVD "is the most successful home entertainment device in history. In five years, it has gone from zero to 30 million households, and a quarter of those have more than one DVD player. Nothing else has come close to doing that in such a short time, not CD's, not VCR's, not personal computers, not even television itself!"

Schools, like households, are catching on to the power of this new medium. Here are some of the advantages of DVDs for teachers. (1) A single DVD can hold two or three regular educational video programs in one convenient package. (2) The quality of sound and video is better than videotape. (3) You can view the programs on computers as well as DVD players. (4) Many schools now have projection capabilities so the teacher can just slip the disc into a lap-top computer or a DVD player and project the program on a large class-room screen. (5) You can freeze frames with no loss of detail. This is especially useful for diagrams and for focusing and talking about details of any visual in the program. (6) With Hawkhill's new DVDs the teacher or student can access instantly key sections that explore key concepts in science literacy, including much neglected history of science.

Buy 3 DVDs, get a FREE DVD player

Hawkhill is offering 20 brand new 2002 DVDs in our fall catalog. We are so proud of these new productions and so sure you will find them helpful in your daily teaching that we are offering a FREE DVD player to any school that buys 3 Hawkhill DVDs. Buy six and we will send you two players! Etc.!!!

For those customers who already own and use Hawkhill videos and would like to have the programs in DVD we will honor our usual trade-up plan. You can buy the DVD at half price and you need not return the video.

Is chemistry science? The New York Science Times had an article "Odds Are Stacked When Science Tries to Debate Pseudoscience" in April of 2001. Dr. Dorothy B. Rosenthal of Florence, Massachusetts reacted with a thoughtful letter worth quoting in this Newsletter for the insight it gives into science literacy and its lack today. "After 20 years of teaching high school and college science," writes Dr. Rosenthal, "I have nothing but sympathy for the quandary posed in (the essay). Part of the problem lies in the failure of science education to deal with the nature of science. Most science classes omit any discussion of the issues that separate science and pseudoscience --the nature of scientific claims, the limits of science and the tests of evidence used by scientists.

"Although continuing attention to the nature of science throughout the curriculum might not eliminate pseudoscientific beliefs, it could at least lead to more informed debate. Further, it might avoid the absurdity epitomized by one college senior who claimed that she had never taken a science class.

"When I said that surely she must have taken chemistry or biology she responded, `Oh yes, I took chemistry, but I didn't know that was science.'"

For help in your classes try our popular program SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND VALUES, now available also on DVD, paired with WOMEN IN SCIENCE.

Sustainability, guilt and 9/11 In a conversation with a friend this summer I was shocked to hear one of her comments on 9/11. "It was terrible but you know, maybe we had it coming." I'm afraid she was not alone in this opinion, though perhaps not too many people expressed it openly. Where does this view come from? It seems to me that the guilt feelings that underlie my friend's sentiments take much of their rationale (and sting) from common environmental misconceptions like the following.

"Although we (the U.S.) contain just 4.5% of the world's people, we control 25% of the world's wealth and produce 25 to 30% of its pollution." This version is a quote from Peter H. Raven, the president-elect of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) (See p. 954, Science, 9 Aug. 2002.) Raven makes the same point even stronger later in his presidential address by claiming that because of our wasteful life styles and environmental excesses "a quarter of humanity survives on less than $1 a day. .. One-eight to one-half of the world's people are malnourished .. Some 14 million babies and young children under the age of four starve to death each year. In the world's poorest societies, women and children are uneducated and spend their time foraging for firewood or water."

But why is this? Again Dr. Raven drives in his point by claiming that "such relationships are inevitable in a world in which 20% of us control 80% of the resources, and 80% of us have to make do with the rest."

If you really believe this--that we are rich at the expense of the poor- then yes, perhaps we did have it coming. I don't believe it because it is not true. Not even remotely close to true.

A letter to the editor of SCIENCE I was moved to reply to Dr. Raven's address "Science, Sustainability and the Human Prospect" with a letter to the editor of Science that they may or may not print. For Hawkhill Newsletter subscribers at least here is my view.

"Peter Raven's Presidential Address was profoundly disappointing. The director of the Missouri Botanical Garden repeats uncritically many of the exaggerations, misconceptions and plain myths that environmentalists like Paul Ehrlich, Jeremy Rifkin, Helen Caldicott, Lester Brown and many others have been preaching for three decades. He, like them, heaps scorn on responsible experts like Julian Simon, Gregg Easterbrook, Bjorn Lomborg and magazines like The Economist for daring to point out in critical, well documented and yes "peer-reviewed literature" that these "dedicated greens" and their fellow travelers are mistaken about much of their evidence and almost all of their conclusions. And Indeed that they have surprisingly little support among working scientists.

"Just to take one whopper that has been repeated so often it is on its way to being a quasi-religious mantra. "Although we contain just 4.5% of the world's people, we control 25% of the world's wealth and produce 25 to 30% of its pollution."

where does world's wealth come from? "Does Dr. Raven seriously believe that we got wealthy by stealing agricultural know-how, communication innovation, energy technology, educational excellence, computer designs, health advances, and yes, pollution controls from the impoverished countries? This ridiculous mantra assumes that the wealth of the world is like the gold in Fort Knox, a fixed quantity. If I take more, you get less. If I consume more, you must consume less. If this were true, how come the world as a whole has so much more wealth now than it had a hundred years ago? Or a thousand? Or a hundred thousand?

"The awful truth is that sustainability is overrated as a societal goal. Insofar as it encourages efficiency and new technology well and good. Unfortunately it more often serves to make impressionable young people feel guilty and protects the haves from the have-nots by popularizing a no-growth zero-sum mentality. This mentality is at odds with the whole brave history of science and technology in our ever-challenging world. The AAAS deserves better."

Science and technology for the future To be fair, Dr. Raven does have some useful and true ideas in the second half of his address even though they often contradict the first half. He admits for instance, "It is generally accepted that advances in science and technology power the world's economy and economic progress." He goes on to suggest ways in which scientists and educators today can contribute to that world-wide progress.

The truth is the poor of the world are not poor because we are rich and have hogged or stolen too many resources. They are poor because as yet (1) they have not invested enough of their own resources in science and technology. And (2) more important, they have not as yet managed to provide a political and social environment that encourages science, technology, free trade, capitalism and democracy. We rich folks can help them progress on both of these fronts, but they have to do most of the pulling.

If you would like to make some of these science and society issues clearer to your students I encourage you to ask for a preview of our new series PLANET EARTH--THE 3RD MILLENNIUM. In six videos (available also on 2 DVDs) these Hawkhill productions explore the controversies about population, resources, ecosystems, energy, governments and biotechnology.

A pun a day keeps the doctor away For long-time readers of the Hawkhill Science Newsletter a few chuckles to start the new year.

A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two-tired.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

If you don't pay your exorcist you get repossessed.

He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I'll show you A-flat minor.

A plateau is a high form of flattery.

Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

Acupuncture is a jab well done.

He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.

A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

One final suggestion for this second on-line Newsletter. Give me your ideas by e-mail. My address is: hawkhill@charter.net,

Editor: Bill Stonebarger
Hawkhill Associates, Inc.
125 East Gilman St.
Madison, WI 53703