I live in the midwest area of the United States, where sidewalks in neighborhoods are a luxury, and you are a “nobody” if you don’t own a car. Or two. And a pickup truck—the bigger the better. Cars and driving are a necessity—drive-thru banks, curbside pickup of takeaway food—all part in parcel. In fact, every now and then I point at one of those long vehicles used to transport large numbers of people—yes, that’s it—a bus—and ask my children if they know what that is. They do, because there are school buses. Just no mass transit.
In any event, needless to say, I spend a lot of time in the car. I don’t mind, because our library system has a superb collection of “books on CD”, and I go through an “extra “ book a week, in addition to the one or two that I actually read. But when I’m driving with my kids, we like to talk about current events and science and math. Occasionally I am too tired to do this and drive, so I’ll turn on the radio. And in doing so, the other day a phenomenal “teachable moment” presented itself.
The radio announcer described how evidence demonstrated that sports teams (basketball, I believe) who supported each other emotionally during games by ‘high-fiving”, backslapping and friendly contact were more successful and won more games. I immediately asked my children (aged 8 and 12) whether they thought this was a valid conclusion. Proudly, for they have practically grown up in laboratories and are well accustomed to skeptical thinking, both rapidly came to the conclusion that the supportive physical contact might come as a result of the team scoring more points and winning more games—as opposed to the other way around.
Sadly, though, the same question put to various graduate students did not meet with the same skepticism. Several of the students, guessing that I had found fault with the interpretation of the radio announcer, were quick to conclude “that more controls were needed”. What “controls” was another story. But only a few were able to discern the inherent logical flaw in this thinking.
Now while every parent loves to brag about his/hew own children’s abilities, the issue here is that scientific training—true skeptical thinking—is something that needs to be developed at an early age. Sure, the knowledge of science is important, but this can be attained at any time—more or less. However, it seems to me that logical/skeptical thinking—necessary for the advancement of science—is most easily obtained at an early developmental stage and should be emphasized accordingly.