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Science is a life tool and scientific thinking is a life skill

Monday, April 4, 2011

Editor’s Note: Amidst the flurry of activity around the final day of submissions for the Google Science Fair, we invited guest blogger Tierney Thys, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and one of our finalist judges for the Google Science Fair, to talk about how she believes scientific thinking is a life skill.

When I’m not hammering away at my computer, chasing small children or catching up on sleep, I’m in the ocean searching for one of nature’s giants, the infamous ocean sunfish, Mola mola. This decidedly odd behemoth is the world’s largest jellyfish eater, produces an estimated 300 million eggs at a time and is the world’s largest bony fish.
I’ve always had a penchant for animals. My childhood home was filled with dogs, fish and the occasional bird but, aside from our dogs, I’ve always preferred being with animals in the wild. And the weirder the beast, the better. It’s a passion I’ve carried with me ever since I was a little girl.

Photograph by Mike Johnson

I think we are all born little scientists and as we get bigger some of us just become increasingly stubborn about answering the torrent of questions our brains ask every day. I think stubbornness or, shall we more diplomatically say perseverance, is a very handy trait and one that you should cultivate if you’re interested in pursuing a science career. It will see you through the tough times and deliver you into the rewarding territory of discovery. As you are finishing up your application (due today!) let this push you through to your conclusions.

Science is a life tool and scientific thinking is a life skill. If I had one morsel of advice to give you as you wrap up your application, I’d say, “Be a critical thinker with a healthy dose of skepticism. When someone delivers you information, ask yourself, “How did he/she get that information? Was that a legitimate experiment? What and where is their evidence? Is it robust? Is there an alternative explanation and has that been tested? Who is paying for the research and do they have an ulterior motive? Keep in mind that these are questions I will also ask myself as I review your application.
We’re living in a time of phenomenal, mind-blowing discoveries--from investigations that unveil the dynamics between our oceans, our actions and Earth’s climate, to enhancements in computer interfaces and technology, to explorations into the life of ocean giants, to a better understanding of the evolutionary processes that lead from single-celled blobs to keyboard-clicking bloggers.

What a spectacular time to be alive! We are truly rocketing ahead on the shoulders of giants. Yet simultaneously, we are being deluged by a relentless onslaught of junk science and crazy misinformation--all presented in a frighteningly authoritative manner. How many of us
have read recently about “scientific studies” claiming to help you loose 20 pounds in 2 days, or cure acne forever with just one pill?
Science is the ultimate tool against such bogus claims. Learning how to ask questions, how to read data, conduct data analyses and how to figure out what claims are supported or refuted by legitimate evidence are all critical life skills. My science training has given me this powerful way of knowing and served as my reliable guide through today’s gauntlet of quackery and false promise.

So now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go drink some orange juice. The carton scientifically claims it will take just two glasses per meal to reduce my cholesterol level! Hmm I wonder how the evidence is supported.

Watch this video to learn more and see Tierney swimming with the great Mola.

Posted by Tierney Thys, National Geographic Emerging Explorer