Get yourself a proper science education

June 17th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, very basic science | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday June 17, 2004
The Guardian

· It’s hard to know who to trust in these dark days. Although an article in Physics Today by Dr John Hubisz suggests that US school science textbooks might not be your best bet (www.tinyurl.com/2l3dk). Ever heard the 50Hz low bass mains hum coming through your crappy stereo? Me too. So you’ll be surprised to hear that elephant vocal sounds occur at 400Hz, and so can’t be heard by humans. Middle A is at 440Hz after all, and there are about 40 notes on the piano below that. Pictures of prisms bending light the wrong way; Van de Graaff generators that store charge in their base; lamps that supply voltage; and absolute zero defined as the temperature at which molecules are so cold they don’t move. It’s enough to drive you to the humanities.

· Not strictly bad science but, as reader Catherine Moulton points out: if you really want to get kids experimenting with science for themselves, you could try www.geekdiy.com. Allow me to illustrate the depths of my childish irresponsibility. Capacitors are the big round things you see on circuit boards when you pull electronic stuff apart. They store the potential energy of accumulated electrons in the form of an electric field, across two metal plates. That’s how the little batteries in disposable cameras can build up enough energy to set off a big flash from the bulb on the front. The page on geekdiy is down now, but frankly, if that isn’t enough information for you to construct your own stun gun for £8.99 then you don’t deserve one. Suffice to say, when the oil runs out in 30 years and modern civilisation is annihilated in a hideous nuclear war, and we’re all fighting each other tooth and nail for tins of genetically modified baked beans … I don’t rate the chances of the humanities graduates much.

· Meanwhile, on geekdiy.com you can still find all kinds of useful tricks to help you reconstruct a post-enlightenment society after the holocaust, including a powerful high-quality Dobsonian telescope from an old record player and some household bits and pieces; a full-sized remote controlled car for those hit and run shopping trips; an android head to guard your booty; and a mountainside covered with fake snow, so you don’t have to miss out on those snowboarding holidays just because the aeroplanes are all being lived in by extras from Mad Max. Get yourself a proper scientific education: it’s later than you think.


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