Tag Archives: natural sciences

“Evidence Based Medicine”: WOK Language and AOK Natural Sciences

150720 doctor(by Theo Dombrowski) When we depend on language to mediate scientific knowledge, the field is ripe for misunderstanding and abuse.  And when life and death are involved, as they often are in medical science, getting it right is important. Hence the attempts of prominent figures who straddle both fields — medical science and communication (e.g. David Gorski, Stephen Novella, John Byrne) — to change terminology when current terminology has created problems. In fact, these medical writers/doctors have created a whole society and web site on the issue: Science Based Medicine: exploring issues and controversies in science and medicine.

The need for one particular new term, though, may seem surprising. “Evidence Based Medicine” is a term that should hardly need changing.  Right?  After all, evidence is exactly that–evidence. And evidence has always (in “modern medicine”) been and should always be the basis of medical science. Right?

Well, apparently, not.   Continue reading

Mathematics and Scientific Methodology: example Malaria

insect-158565_640(by Theo Dombrowski) The statistics are horrifying.

 Every minute, a child dies from malaria.

In 2013, 90% of the world’s malaria deaths occurred in Africa and over 430,000 African children died before their fifth birthdays.

And there are plenty more statistics where these came from:

In 2013, there were about 198 million malaria cases (with an uncertainty range of 124 million to 283 million) and an estimated 584 000 malaria deaths (with an uncertainty range of 367 000 to 755 000).

According to yet further statistics, this horrifying number is not as bad as it was just a few years earlier. Why the improvement? Mostly, it seems, from two causes: increased availability and use of both insecticides and mosquito nets over sleeping areas.   Medical research still has not led to a vaccination.

Malaria research as an example for TOK class

The research and experiences of IB graduate Dr. Miles Davenport provide excellent insight into the methods currently being employed in the biological sciences to combat this huge health issue faced principally by the world’s poor.

Two aspects of current malaria research are most helpful to bring to a TOK class. The first concerns those elements absolutely basic to gaining scientific knowledge–making observations, collecting data, making assumptions, and formulating hypotheses. The second, Dr. Davenport’s specialty, is less obviously fundamental–applying mathematics.

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Myths of scientific discovery


Newton, here it comes!

“The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.” So writes Leonard Mlodinowmay in an article in the New York Times forwarded to me by my co-author and friend Lena Rotenberg.  It’s a good article for any TOK reading list, taking aim at  myths of scientific discovery and their implications for understanding any complex field: Continue reading

newest technology + oldest subject matter = new knowledge (and it’s amazing)

(by Eileen Dombrowski) How do scientists know so much (and so little) about galaxies far, far away?  As we fly at high levels of general overview, surveying and comparing the methodologies of the areas of knowledge, we need stories to bring our discussions to life —  stories of people on the ground actively engaged in the process of building knowledge and news releases of research breakthroughs or shifts of interpretation.  For a news release that illustrates general points about technology and methodology but may also bring a moment of amazement and wonder, I recommend the latest image of the faraway Andromeda galaxy. Continue reading

electrocution and marriage rates: correlation or cause?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from TOK OSC blog)  The comic charts on the website Spurious Correlations are already familiar to many TOK teachers. But if you’ve missed this resource till now, you won’t want to miss it any longer. Did you know that the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets correlates with the total revenue generated by skiing facilities in the US – or that the number who were electrocuted by power lines correlates with the marriage rate in Alabama? Would you infer that one causes the other?  “I created this website as a fun way to look at correlations and think about data,” says Tyler VigenContinue reading

Earthquake trial acquittal: scientific prediction and responsibility

earthquake01(by Eileen Dombrowski) “Today we have an earthquake after the earthquake,” declared a grieving relative of a victim of the 2009 earthquake in Aquila, Italy,  as charges against six earthquake scientists for failing to warn people of the quake were dismissed by an Italian appeals courts this week.  The case, distressing though it is, provides a gripping example for TOK knowledge questions that surround scientific prediction and its relative uncertainty in different sciences, and, more urgently, the relationship between expert knowledge and social responsibility.

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“Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”

09 23 climate march(by Theo Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog September 23, 2014) On September 21, more than half a million people in 166 countries (approximately 400, 000 in the New York flagship march alone) marched to demand that world leaders act to tackle climate change. Their demand was directed in large part to the leaders converging today for an emergency UN Climate Summit. Will their huge numbers have any effect on the attitudes–or beliefs–of those who have not already accepted the conclusions of 97% of the world’s climate scientists? Continue reading

Shared knowledge: a moment of “Wow!”

14-08-01everest-screenshot(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC Blogs Aug 1, 2014) You HAVE to watch this video from Discovery Channel! Watch it, and then rotate your screen for the view at the end. First, just enjoy it. And then we can link it to TOK.   Mount Everest in 3D: Experience the Trek to the Summit. Continue reading

TOK and the “real world”: How do we engage most appropriately when knowledge claims have been politicized?

enbridge-map-1(by Eileen Dombrowski, OSC TOK blog June 27, 2014) As a TOK teacher, do you feel you can be “political” in the classroom?   I’d love to have your thoughts on this topic. (Please use that “comment” feature!) I’d love to know how others walk the line between being relevant to the world – and hence engaged in its issues – and being neutral in order not be accused of being an ideologue, inappropriately, in the classroom. Continue reading

how wolves change rivers: variables and causation

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from TOK OSC blog Feb 22, 2014) This four and a half minute video, with splendid filming of animals in Yellowstone National Park in the USA, could be effective in a TOK class on the topic of the search for cause in the natural and human sciences: Continue reading