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TEDxBuenosAires - Gabriel Gellon - 04/08/10

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I hope that after listening to so many impressive talks, I can still convince you that what I will tell you is also important. 10 years ago, I had shingles. Have any of you had shingles before? Does everybody know what shingles is? It is a viral disease; actually, it is a kind of chickenpox which any adult can get, and affects your nerves. And whoever had it before, over there knows that: a) it is very painful, and b) everybody seems to agree that the best way to get rid of it is by going to see a quack. When I had shingles, I took the opportunity to talk to the people that was around me and was giving me advices all the time, and asked them: how do you know if being treated by a quack would work? And basically their answer always had the following structure. They said: "Well, my brother-in-law got shingles all over his body... ...and we thought he was going to die. However, a quack came to see him, and in 2 days, he turned into a brand new person! Perfect timing! Nothing was wrong with him anymore..." And well, it does not matter how much one loves his brother-in-law, it is easy to acknowledge that there are a few problems with this way of thinking. The main problem is that one will start thinking about what would have happened if our brother-in-law did not go to see a quack. Maybe he could have been cured from the disease as well. Then, how does medical science determine whether one treatment is more effective than the other one? Whether using the quack cure for shingles, or penicillin. And basically, what you do is the following: you take a large group of people, let's say 100 persons, who all have shingles; and you make them go see a quack. And then you take another group of people equivalent to the previous one, another 100 persons who also have shingles, but will not go to see a quack. And the key to decide which treatment is more effective consists precisely in comparing these 2 groups. The people that goes to see a quack, does heal faster or in more frequency than the people that does not go to see a quack? And this group, the one that does not see a quack, receives the technical name of "Control Group", which is very important in order to reach a correct finding. When I had shingles, and while I was talking to people, I found out that the concept of "Control Group" itself seemed to be out of their train of thought, out of their acknowledgment. And this is an example of a much broader phenomenon; which implies that some sort of thought that are characteristic of the scientific thought that are absolutely essential in order to reach a correct conclusion, but are absent from the mind of most of the people. And this is due to 2 main reasons. On the one hand, these ways of thinking do not happen spontaneously to most people. To "think scientifically", you have to be taught. And the other reason is, of course, that the educational system is not in conditions to teach most of the people how to think scientifically. What I wanted to tell you this afternoon is about an initiative from a group of scientists and educators, precisely to overcome this problem... order to develop strategies that will allow us to teach, if possible, to the majority of the people how to think scientifically. The initiative is called "Science Expedition", it is a non-profit organization, and our laboratory, where we develop and test our ideas is basically a camp. A camp that meets annually, for 10 days, and brings together 50 kids from all the provinces of Argentina with a group of scientists. That is, people with experience in doing research. And what I would like to do now is invite you all to our camp. At least in a brief and virtual way. So I will ask you to imagine you are 15, 16, 17 years old, and I came here to tell you that you have all been selected to be part of this experience, your application forms has been evaluated, and all of you are coming to our camp, ok? Moreover, for those who asked for financial assistance, good news! we have funding for all of you. You are all coming with us. We will get on a gigantic bus that will drive us for 22 hours in a long trip to the Argentine Patagonia. And when you get to the Patagonia, you will run into 2 things. On the one hand, you will see a landscape that will fill you with questions. What will I find on the other side of the lake? How do you see the world from the top of a mountain? What will we find in the deepest of the forest? And on the other hand, you will have your fellow travelers, with whom you have already spent 22 hours chit-chatting, however they are still completely strangers. They all come from different provinces, from different cities, from different neighborhoods, from realities different from yours. And these 2 things combined: your fellow travelers and the landscape, will make you feel that everything is about to be discovered. Of course, if one climbs a mountain, or say, moves a tree branch and run across a green land or area where nobody is there, is inevitable to feel that one has become an explorer who is discovering those lands for the first time. That one is Charles Darwin in the Patagonian coast. And that is exactly what we want we want our explorers to feel that the scientific activities are the main ones at the camp. We want them to be on the shoes of Charles Darwin, on the shoes of Lavoisier, Newton, Galileo. We want them to see the world with the eyes of those ones who saw it for the first time. In order to achieve this, we have to leave aside the theoretical and encyclopedic classes, we have to quit answers that seek questions, so as to focus simply on questions that seek answers. We have to let these kids have the chance to face the same fundamental problems which previous scientists confronted at that time. We want them to ask themselves the same type of questions, or even new questions that may occur to them. We want them to be able to develop hypotheses about what is happening. We want them to imagine experiments to test what they are thinking about. To cut a long story short, we want to give them the opportunity to do science. Well, there are plenty of these opportunities at the camp. We do activities related to physics, chemistry, biology, and other unclassifiable things. I want to briefly share with you 2 of those opportunities. In the first opportunity, we ask the kids to imagine they are in Lavoisier's mind, the father of chemistry, who faced the following problem: He observed that there are certain materials, like metals, which gain weight when they burn, And like him, our kids ask themselves: What or where does that extra weight come from? Does it come from the fire? Does it come from the air? And if it comes from the air, how can I test that? This activity turns out to be the starting point of a sequence of real and imaginary experiments that the kids do with us at the camp, which culminate in the elucidation of 2 of the fundamental problems of the history of science. Those are: What is air made from? And what happens when things are burned? And as you see, these kids ask questions, they formulate hypothesis, they design new experiments. Those are tools of scientific thought being developed there, together with us. And the other occasion I wanted to mention is that we ask the kids to put on the shoes of the ancient greeks who wanted to figure out how the stars moved in the sky. We assign them 2 or 3 stars each, and we give them tools to use in order to see how those stars move in a period of 10 minutes. And then we put together all the data they got, and we draw a map of the sky sticking papers on the walls and ceilings of a room. Each star is being represented by a dot, and its movement by an arrow. The kids have to sit there, and look at the data again and again and try to understand and discover what is going on. It ain't easy at all. They observe, discuss, and go back to observe once again. Finally, they find out that all stars move as if they spin around a point where there is nothing. And this is not anything trivial. Imagine the satisfaction of a teenager when he or she finds out how the world moves by his or her own observations and measurements. Well, we are actually thinking about another activity in order to convince them that the sky is not the one that moves, but the Earth is the one rotating on its own axis. But oh well, that is for future camps. One would ask oneself: Are these kids learning how to think scientifically by living with other researchers and scientists for 10 days? The answer is that probably not entirely. Yet, they do acquire some tools of the scientific thought. They learn, for example, that neither scientific ideas float in the air, nor grow in trees. But have to be carefully developed through experimentation and observation. They learn how to distinguish between a solid argument from one that lacks logic or evidence. They learn to distrust difficult words and convoluted arguments, and trust more in their own capacity of thinking and resolving situations and problems. But as with any exploration, the most important thing is not where we have arrived, but the fact that we are exploring new territories. So far, I have been speaking about the experience at the camp because that is where in "Science Expedition" we develop our ideas, and where they grow. But obviously, if we want most of the people to think scientifically, we have to talk in a different way, and we have to be able to address the shortcomings of many schools and the education system The good news is that we have already started building that path that our ideas are reaching schools through science camps, through books, and articles we have published in magazines, through graduate school courses, and through training professors and teachers. But at the same time, the road is long, and the challenge is really big. Some may ask us which is the big dream in "Science Expedition", and one of you may think that our dream is to make everyone who has shingles be able to say: "No! I will never see a quack. Never, ever, I will go see a quack!" Let's make it clear: no, that is not what we want. What we do really want is that if somebody has shingles says: "This is a fantastic opportunity!" "If I get the chance to find other 200 people with shingles, I can carry out an awesome experiment!" "I have the experimental group and the control group; nothing will stop me!" Truly, we do have a dream in "Science Expedition" and that is to ensure that people can appreciate things. Just because he or she can really understand that science is one of those great works of mankind. And not only because it cures illnesses, or takes us to the Moon, or because it is a great tool to solve day-to-day problems, but because the ideas it produces and the ways in which it generates these ideas are made of such wit and depth, and formidable beauty. We want that when someone needs to address an idea he or she could say: "Wow! Quite an experiment! How could such a great idea been thought?" If you consider this dream as unlikely or weird, I will share with you what I have learned from these teenagers after all these years: Strange things do happen; however, amazing things will happen only if you let them happen. Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 12 minutes and 41 seconds
Year: 2010
Country: Argentina
Language: Spanish (Spain)
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxBuenosAires
Director: TEDxBuenosAires
Views: 100
Posted by: luciawang on Sep 22, 2010

Science Expedition: A journey to the center of scientific thought

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