Tag Archives: thinking

Thinking about thinking.

I’ve often taught Science as a way of thinking critically. That is, science education has (at least) two aspects. First, is the content knowledge. This is necessary because it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. If every person had to start with their own tabula rasa and fill it themselves, without the help of those who came before, progress would be non-existent. Further- and this leads into the second aspect, prior knowledge provides a proving ground for developing critical thinking.

For example, every introductory biology class spends a decent amount of time talking about photosynthesis and cell respiration. Just memorizing the pathways is not enough to actually learn anything. In fact, it’s probably the quickest way to ensure that you don’t learn. Instead, it’s useful to talk about how this pathway was discovered.


von Helmont

Instead, it’s useful to talk about how this pathway was discovered. What was the question that people sought to answer? What was known /thought / assumed initially? What were the first (apparently unsuccessful) experiments done to address the question?


Jan Baptist von Helmont did one of the first good experiments to ask the question: Where does a tree’s mass come from?

He used a willow tree for his experiment and monitored the mass of the tree, the mass of the soil, and the mass of the water he gave it. Because the mass of the soil changed very little, while the mass of the tree grew enormously, he concluded that the tree’s substance came from the water he provided. In his own words, “But I have learned by this handicraft-operation that all Vegetables do immediately, and materially proceed out of the Element of water onely. ”

(It is notable that von Helmont recognized, in other experiments, that carbon dioxide was released from burned wood. He called this ‘gas sylvestre,’ referring to the Latin term for wood / forest, silva. This is important because the majority of a tree’s mass comes from the carbon dioxide in the air. von Helmont didn’t do just one experiment in his lifetime, after all.)

The importance of these historical experiments is that it allows the student to consider, ‘if I were in this person’s position, knowing what he or she did, how would I go about asking such a question?’

It was with this in mind that I came across this video on critical thinking, which I would say is the true value of science.


The topics we ask questions about depends on our interests. Perhaps today we are interested in where the mass of a tree comes from and we’ll be biologists. Perhaps most of the time we have a driving interest in the way that molecules interact, so we are primarily chemists. Regardless of the topic, we use the same critical thinking and experimental procedures to answer our questions, so we are really all scientists.




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Posted by on September 9, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Autism’s False Prophets Questions

I’ve been having a difficult time logging into ‘Blackboard’ today to post the questions for chapter 10 of Autism’s False Prophets. Although I don’t like posting any required material here, I’d rather get it out there, so if you are in my pathology class, please spread the word to other students to check in here.

Before you start, check out this video mentioned towards the back of the chapter…

Autism’s False Prophets                                                                           Name:

Chapter 10 Questions

Science and Society

“For many parents, the advice given by heathcare professionals about vaccines is just one more opinion in a sea of opinions offered by the internet.”

-Offit, chapter 10

  1. What is the problem with Dan Burton’s assessment of what he saw at the Stop Autism Now Conference?
  1. How would you interpret the actions of policymakers at the CDC who ‘invariably give these vaccines to their own children and grandchildren’? If you have read Offit’s other book, Vaccinated, do you recall who vaccine maker, Maurice Hilleman, insisted were the first to receive the Hepatitis vaccine made from human blood?
  1. What does Offit say is even more important than reporting the source of funding for scientific investigation on? Why is this so?
  1. What is ‘the price’ of empowering parents to make medical decisions about their childrens’ healthcare?
  1. How does the ‘Scientific Method’ differ from what people often do in their day-to-day lives? How is it similar?
  1. Using the scientific method, data serves to _____________________________ the null hypothesis. What can it NOT do? Why not?
  1. Why is it evolutionarily successful to make ‘the best connections’? What flaws in logic can this leave?
  1. What quotation did Stephen Strauss, former director of NCCAM keep framed on his office wall? What is the meaning of this quotation?
  1. How many people, since 1958, have died from poisoned Halloween candy? (

Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Uncategorized


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