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World Science Festival 2019

Wiki: World Science Festival “Science As a Full Body Experience: Brian Greene On 2019 World Science Festival — The festival runs from May 22 to June 2 in New York City” by Doris Elin Salazar (May 22, 2019).

Greene: Yeah, it is a really quite broad audience. The goal is to make the programs accessible to someone that’s interested but doesn’t have any background in the subject. But we don’t want the programs to not be sufficiently new and exciting to someone who, perhaps, has more of a background in the subject. And we do that by covering background material, usually through well-produced pieces that we integrate into the program, so that we don’t spend 20 or 30 minutes covering basic material that may not be understandable to the general person who has not encountered the ideas before.

Rather, through the medium of film, in 3 to 5 minutes, you can really grasp the basics of genomics, you know, the very basic ideas of cosmology, of the multiverse. So, these difficult ideas can really be understood at a sufficiently fine level to then understand the conversation that happens on the [stage].

Re the Two Cultures:

Greene: Yeah, I mean, part of the philosophy of the festival from the onset, when Tracy [Day] and I started it, was to not have science be cordoned off on the outskirts of culture, but rather, to create an event that would embrace science as a part of culture. And to do that, science needs to be brought together with music and film and dance and theater in order that we no longer view it as something that’s just done by the folks in the white coats in the ivory tower. … When you encounter science in this different way … they’re not just thinking about it, they’re not just studying for an exam. They are actually embracing it as part of what makes us human. And that’s the reason why we incorporate as much of the performing arts as makes sense in a given festival.

Re communicating science: “engaging with difficult ideas, … a more full-body experience as opposed to just a cerebral experience …”

Greene: Well, it’s focused attention, where you care about the ideas that you’re encountering, and that is not often the case with science in the classroom. You know, I see it with my own kids and I remember it as well from when I was a little kid. If the charge is to memorize qualities of the cell or just to be able to solve mathematical equations, without really having a sense of it mattering in a deep, visceral way, then it’s just a collection of ideas that rattle around your brain.

But engagement is when those ideas lock into a matrix of meaning, where you recognize that it matters to know how the world works, it matters to know where the universe came from, to understand where life came from. It helps us understand ourselves. And when you can instill that sensibility, then the encounter with these ideas is completely different. And that’s what I mean by full engagement.

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  1. This old Quanta Magazine article “Why Math Is the Best Way to Make Sense of the World — To tell truth from fiction, start with quantitative thinking, argues the mathematician Rebecca Goldin” by Ariel Bleicher, Contributing Writer (September 11, 2017) addresses the interface between math-science and responsible journalism and reasoned public policy — conclusions and decisions based on facts (reality) vs. beliefs and fears.

    When Rebecca Goldin spoke to a recent class of incoming freshmen at George Mason University, she relayed a disheartening statistic: According to a recent study, 36 percent of college students don’t significantly improve in critical thinking during their four-year tenure. “These students had trouble distinguishing fact from opinion, and cause from correlation,” Goldin explained.

    She went on to offer some advice: “Take more math and science than is required. And take it seriously.” Why? Because “I can think of no better tool than quantitative thinking to process the information that is thrown at me.” Take, for example, the study she had cited. … “Turns out, this third of students isn’t taking any science.”

    In 2004, she became the research director of George Mason’s Statistical Assessment Service, … The project has since morphed into STATS (run by the nonprofit Sense About Science USA and the American Statistical Association), … Goldin and her team run statistics workshops for journalists and have advised reporters at publications …

    … Goldin’s conviction that mathematical reasoning and study is not only widely useful, but also pleasurable. Her enthusiasm for logic — whether she’s discussing the manipulation of manifolds in high-dimensional spaces or the meaning of statistical significance — is infectious.

    It’s good to see such passion about something that we need so much — quantitative literacy / savviness. It reminds me of what Carl Sagan says in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, especially Chapter 12 “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” — that “gullibility kills.”

    Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging. — Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark . Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    cf. post March for Science.

    Terms: Symplectic geometry

    More notes:

    [Rebecca_Goldin] … I study symmetries of mathematical objects. This comes about when you’re interested in things like our universe, … rotations are symmetries. … we use neat mathematical objects to think about them, called groups. This is useful because if you’re trying to solve equations, and you know you have symmetries, you can essentially find a way mathematically to get rid of those symmetries and make your equations simpler.

    Journalists were writing about things that had quantitative content, but they often didn’t absorb what they were writing about, and didn’t understand it, and didn’t have any way to do better because they were often on really tight timelines with limited resources.

    … we go to individual news agencies and offer workshops on things like confidence intervals, statistical significance, p values, and all this highly technical language.

    There’s a lot of value in giving reporters the tools to develop their sense of quantitative skepticism so that they’re not just bullied.

    [Re the importance of storytelling in learning] … if you report the statistics without the story, you don’t get nearly the level of interest or emotion or willingness to engage with the ideas.

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