We can’t afford to get science education wrong

This is from one of my favorite sites in Australia

Science gives young people the tools to understand the world around us and the ability to engage with contemporary and future issues, such as medical advances and climate change. That is why science should be taught to students up until the age of 16. However, Ofsted’s recent report on the state of school science reports worrying trends in the way science is being taught.

A particular worry is the status of practical science in our schools. Studying science without experiments is like studying literature without books. Experiments are an inherent part of science and are vital for further study and employment. They bring theory to life, nurturing pupils’ natural curiosity, teaching them to ask questions and helping them to understand phenomena such as magnetism, acidity and cell division. Practical work gives them valuable skills and abilities, such as precise measurement and careful observation….there is a real danger that schools and colleges will give students even fewer practical experiences than they have now.

…According to the Wellcome Trust Monitor, an independent nationwide survey the most commonly selected factor that 14- to 18-year-olds identified as having encouraged them to learn science was “having a good teacher” (58%), and the most commonly selected factor for discouraging them from learning science was “having a bad teacher” (43%). That is why I fully support Ofsted’s recommendation that school leaders should ensure science-focused development of teachers….The future of science depends on the quality of science education today, and we cannot afford to get it wrong.

I feel the same about what is and what isn’t a well-rounded education in our public schools in the United States. Growing up in a New England factory town, I managed daily and weekly access to the basics + music and the arts + enough physical education to provide some guidance towards lifetime sports.

A lot of that could have been better – and should be with what we know nowadays. Paying teachers sufficiently to encourage the best students to become teachers is a given. So is spending enough hours in school to get this altogether.

It was women voting that defeated Albuquerque abortion ban

Earlier this week, voters in Albuquerque voted down a city-wide measure that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks, by a ten-point margin. According to voter data analyzed by ProgressNowNM, the pro-choice side has women to thank for it.

“Eleven thousand more women–almost three times more women than men, in terms of additional turnout–came out in the municipal abortion election than did in the general six weeks earlier,” said Patrick Davis, the group’s executive director…

The result also showed that Latino voters, including Latina women, weren’t swayed by the anti-abortion arguments. They make up nearly half of the city’s population, and ban supporters had pinned their hopes on Catholic and evangelical Latinos. Opponents of the ban have pointed out that their coalition included two groups led by Latinas, Young Women United and Strong Families New Mexico.

Although not all public polling shows a gender gap on abortion, the team behind Virginia governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has said the issue helped account for a 9-point gender gap in his favor earlier this month. He won 59% of voters who said abortion was their top issue.

The anti-abortiion rights crowd is still working hard trying to snatch victory from their defeat. Democracy can be a tough solution for losers who think God is on their side and that’s all they need. Perish the thought that voters pay attention to science, constitutional law and civil liberties in an election.

Daily nut consumption linked to reduced death rate

In the largest study of its kind, people who ate a daily handful of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than were those who didn’t consume nuts, say scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, contains further good news. The regular nut-eaters were found to be more slender than those who didn’t eat nuts, a finding that should alleviate the widespread worry that eating a lot of nuts will lead to overweight…

“The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease — the major killer of people in America,” said Charles S. Fuchs, MD…the senior author of the report. “But we also saw a significant reduction — 11 percent — in the risk of dying from cancer,” added Fuchs…

Whether any specific type or types of nuts were crucial to the protective effect couldn’t be determined. However, the reduction in mortality was similar both for peanuts and for “tree nuts” — walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, cashews, pistachios and pine nuts.

Several previous studies have found an association between increasing nut consumption and a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, gallstones, and diverticulitis. Higher nut consumption also has been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Some small studies have linked increased nuts in the diet to lower total mortality in specific populations. But no previous research studies had looked in such detail at various levels of nut consumption and their effects on overall mortality in a large population that was followed for over 30 years.

For the new research, the scientists were able to tap databases from two well-known ongoing observational studies that collect data on diet and other lifestyle factors and various health outcomes. The Nurses’ Health Study provided data on 76,464 women between 1980 and 2010, and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study yielded data on 42,498 men from 1986 to 2010. Participants in the studies filled out detailed food questionnaires every two to four years…

“In all these analyses, the more nuts people ate, the less likely they were to die over the 30-year follow-up period,” explained Ying Bao, MD, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, first author of the report. Those who ate nuts less than once a week had a seven percent reduction in mortality; once a week, 11 percent reduction; two to four times per week, 13 percent reduction; five to six times per week, 15 percent reduction, and seven or more times a week, a 20 percent reduction in death rate.

You can wander through the dry details over here. The findings are no surprise to anyone who approaches nutrition as an exercise in evolution and anthropology. We evolved as a species eating nuts and berries before we got round to agriculture. On the non-meat side of the ledger.

One more reason to celebrate George Washington Carver’s invention of peanut butter. 🙂