Daily Archives: December 4, 2016

SC 200: Question Everything You Know.

On the very first day of Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy, I knew that I would be learning principles that could be applied to my life, even after I had long completed the class for credit. Andrew made a point to say that anything can be accomplished in his class if enough effort is put forth, and now, sitting here writing this blog with only one full week left of classes, I could not agree with him more. Looking back, we were all in control of the outcome of the class, and although I learned that effort can get a person very far, I also learned two critical pieces of information that perhaps might change the rest of my life forever and alter the way I perceive the world indefinitely: question everything and a person’s intuition is unimaginably lousy.

No Matter What, Question it!

Nothing in this world is safe from the shackles of failure and falsity, and thus, everything is susceptible to the possibility of inaccuracy; a clear example is how we learned that nothing in science is actually proven and that the prospect of chance playing a role in experiments is always existent. Whether you have evidence to support your claims, or if you simply have the power of anecdotes behind a hypothesis, nothing in this world can be 100 percent proven to be the truth because there is always a possibility for error and for chance to take its role in a situation or experiment. As we learned in the early sessions of the semester, science is a formalized detection system that is exposed to criticism from others; thus, one can argue that the purpose of science is to question the work, no matter how much evidence has been gathered to prove its truth. Nothing is off limits, and scrutiny is always welcomed in the scientific community; everything is meant to be judged in science, and by extension, the rest of the world.

One of the most notable examples of a failure to question was the proposed solution to Sudden Infant Death syndrome that Doctor Benjamin Spock introduced in the mid 1900’s; in 1946, he published a book called Baby and Child Care: The Common Sense Book of Baby and Childcare that refuted the old myth that babies should not be toucheddr-spocks-book or loved as often to protect them; Instead, he replaced it with the myth that babies should be put to sleep on their stomachs to prevent them from choking on their vomit if such should occur. Of course, since he was a doctor and nobody thought to question him, tens of thousands of babies around the globe were killed, which only further magnifies that when people fail to question, situations turn awry. Perhaps an even scarier example is when we learned about how ancient people used to believe that blood letting, which was the practice of making people bleed to alleviate sickness, was an actual form of acceptable medicine; back then, doctors had no alternative or solution, and so they, too, agreed to this practice. Little did they that this actual made conditions worse, and, eventually, George Washington died from a sore throat because of it.

Fear not, however, because we also learned of the heroic actions of a woman named Frances Oldham Kelsey who questioned a drug called Thalidomide and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Instead of believing what other doctors claimed to be truth, she demanded FDA approval and refused to believe testimonials. Fortunately for America, she refused this drug because, in other countries around the globe, babies were being born without limbs and other deformities that ruined their appearances.

Lets face it: our intuition is just crappy! Every time we believe something to be truth without questioning it at all, we get let down; above are just simple examples of our world’s history when we fail to question. Thus, it is clear that our intuition is a failed response to a problem, so, although we can find faults in other peoples claims, it is nearly impossible to find them in our own.

Final Thoughts:

  • The class taught me more than to just question everything in life and that our intuition is crappy. Some of the other important things it taught me:
    • Nothing escapes the clutches of chance.
    • Nothing in science it proven.
    • Confounding variables might effect an experiment.
    • Science is a process of correction.
  • Would I take the class again? Absolutely.
  • What would I possibly change about the course itself?
    • I would probably make the exams a little bit less critical analysis and more factual based; as they are now, it is very easy to fail because many people cannot think critically. Perhaps there could be two types of exams administered in class: one based on critical thinking and the other based on facts and memorization (much how normal exams are). Thus, the critical exams could be open notes, but the fact-based exams could be administered how normal exams are without any open notes and in-class.
      • This would make the class more balanced, and thus, less extra credit could be offered.

In general, SC 200 taught me valuable life skills that I would not have learned otherwise, so I am very grateful to have taken it!

Photo Credits

How SC200 has changed my view to vaccines

I was always wondering why chicken breeders do not have this problem of diseases in their birds and even though they keep a really big number in a small cage or area. The reason I thought about it is because I used to breed birds when I was at high school, but when one of my birds coughs a disease, such as diarrhea, all the other birds in the same cage get the disease and either die or become very sick, which is not just painful for me to watch them die but is also too costly for me. I came to understand why these business owners do not suffer big losses when I learned in class about vaccination and got a deeper understanding of vaccination around the world. However, I was able to link to my aviculture business only when Andrew discussed in class how chicken industries vaccinate chickens to prevent diseases from spreading and causing chickens to die.


Image found Here

I also used to hear that almost all rabbit breeders vaccinate their rabbits, but I never paid a lot of attention on it. In fact, I did not really care about how important vaccinating was and did not even care if any of the animals that I would buy are vaccinated until I heard from Andrew about the chicken farm he visited to do his research. I then realized how important vaccination is and how useful it is for aviculture businesses and how it could help think of it from both a business and perspective and a science perspective.



when I was at high school, I managed an aviculture business. The birds I was breeding are called Zebra Finches. They are known to their tendency live in big groups in their original habitant. In addition, many bird breeders prefer to put a group (4-50)of them in one cage. When I first bought these birds I put them in one cage, but because of the spreadable diseases that came to many of my friends birds and because of the recommendations my friends had given me, I later decided to put each pair of birds in a separate cage, which, by the way, is very costly and takes a lot time and effort to feed them and clean each cage. But now that I have a better understanding of vaccination, I decided to a research into this topic and look for studies that suggest vaccinating bird, as If I discovered that vaccinating is “proved” to be very efficient in aviculture, I will change my breeding method from keeping each pair in a cage to just one big cage for all birds of a single species, which as I mentioned earlier will help me take care of them in a more efficient way and also prevent diseases from spreading. It will also make the birds feel that they are in their original nature.


While I was researching, I read an article that talks about the potential negative effects of using the current chicken vaccine. I was surprised to know that not only the article talked about the same topic that Andrew discussed in class, but the article has also included quotes from Andrew.

The article was mainly talking about the effects of the current vaccines that are used to deal with some of chickens’ popular diseases such as Marek’s disease.

The article mentioned that in a study done by Andrew and his group, where they studied the effects in Marek’s disease on vaccinated and unvaccinated chickens, they noticed that the unvaccinated birds died after 10 days of getting the disease. The article concluded with a quote from Andrew that said that even though vaccines could have negative effects such as causing viruses to evolve and be able to fight the vaccine, breeders should still vaccinate their birds because of the fact that the chance of an unvaccinated chicken dying from a disease like Marek’s disease is much higher than if we chose to vaccinate all chickens and that we should still vaccinate chickens because they are considered an important role in the food industry.

However, this conclusion does not necessarily mean that it is the same thing with other birds, as the article has mainly discussed Marek’s disease effects on chicken, which I later learned that is not popular with birds such as Zebra Finches. So, I decided to do more research into this topic to decide if I should or should not vaccinate my birds.


Image found Here

After an hour of research, I found out that there any many fast-spreading diseases among Finches species and that the diseases that I should worry about do not have vaccines to “cure” them. The only vaccine that many articles recommended Zebra Finch breeders to use is a vaccine called Polyomavirus Vaccine. I did not know about this disease. However, I have just discovered that the symptoms associated with this disease were almost the same that I noticed in my birds when almost 20 of them died in two to three months. I did not know what the disease was. I also could not find a cure for it even though I kept asking many professional breeders about it. But now that I read about it and know that there is a vaccine for it, I decided to vaccine all my birds when I go back home in order to prevent the disease from spreading and killing my and friends’ birds.

How SC200 has changed my life

During the first day of class, Andrew told us if we did not want to think hard we should not take his class. He also said one of his goals for this semester was to make SC200 a class we would never forget. I would say Andrew has succeeded in both, making us think critically about problems and providing us with material we will remember for the rest of our college years and beyond.

Scrolling through Facebook, you tend to see studies done that are supposedly life changing. Before taking SC200 I would often skim through the article and believe the results of the study without questioning who conducted the study and how it was conducted. After taking this course, I now look at these articles on my Facebook timeline differently. Just because an article appears on Buzzfeed does not make it true. If they say you can put honey on your feet to cure cancer I should not automatically believe it. I now recognize not every study is conducted well, and even if it is, that doesn’t mean it is correct. The biggest reason how SC200 has changed my life is how I react and evaluate studies.

Say I am reading that article I mentioned earlier about honey and cancer. Now I ask myself, is it observational or is it experimental. If it is observational there are tons of confounding variables possibly lurking. I would also ask myself could the results be to reverse causality. If it is an experimental study, I worry about how the study is conducted? Could the people involved in the study be biased? For example, if they were being tested on how fast they walk, would they walk faster or slower because they know they are being tested on this? How many people are in the study? The more people, the better the study. Is it random? It ought to be. Because randomization greatly reduces the likelihood of chance, although chance is always going to be a factor.

So say the study from the article is well conducted, features tons of people, is randomized, maybe even has a placebo, and does a good job of eliminating confounding variables. Now what do we worry about? Well I mentioned chance earlier. This is another crucial takeaway from the class. Even the most well conducted experiments could be due to chance. We learned about prayer being an effective healing method earlier in the class. This study was conducted very, very well. Except its results were proved to be due to chance after many studies were conducted. This is why repeating studies over and over again are crucial. If you get a false positive or a false negative you’ll know with many studies. A meta-analysis, which compiles sometimes 1,000’s of studies together, is the ultimate way of determining if a hypothesis is correct or not. The meta-analysis was able to disprove the link between prayer and healing.

Another thing I know look at is who did the study. Before I would just assume an impartial scientists did the study. Why is this important? It’s simple. If Coke published a study saying it is good for you, they reap the benefits of this. They’d get a boost of sales because of this study, so they would do everything in their power to make sure the studies benefit them. If the results do not benefit them, they could not publish them and hide them from the public until they get a false positive to show to the public. This is the File Draw Problem. This is extremely evident in studies based on medicine. This is also a reason why I also now look at scientific journals for studies and not Facebook, because these journals are peer reviewed. By publishing a study, the scientists leave the door open for other scientists to review their studies and to see if the results are true and the experiment was conducted well.

The last this class has taught me that has changed my life has been having an open mind. We suffer from motivated reasoning, which is having preconceived notions no matter what. Whenever I read anything now, whether it be politics or science, I try my best to eliminate my confirmation bias. If I thought something was wrong, I would have done anything in my power to find a reason to reject the data, or simply forget it, no matter how convincing the data is. This course has taught me to evaluate everything I disagree with, with an open mind before forming a judgment.

SC200 has certainly changed my life for the better. As I stated, I now have knowledge of chance, the cons and props of different types of studies, false negatives/positives, meta-analysis, randomization, the File Draw Problem, peer review, motivated reasoning, and confirmation bias. Before I knew about any of this I wouldn’t know how to properly evaluate something I read, and as a result, would foolishly believe any study. By knowing about all these topics, now I can properly react and evaluate studies.

How SC 200 Has Changed My Life

As a student who is a product of standardized testing and lessened recess time, I have anxiety problems. These tend to permeate in not only school, though, but also in (somewhat irrational) phobias and fears. The one that seems to perk up the most is my fear of flying. Being from the far away state of Georgia, I tend to have to fly quite often to get home and/or see family. The fear of dying on a plane only truly magnifies when I am on a small plane (thank you, State College airport) or on a plane experiencing a lot turbulence. I’ve only once gotten to the point of having an anxiety attack on a plane, and it was this August flying home by my lonesome from Chicago to Atlanta after visiting my brother. There was an immense amount of turbulence the whole two hour flight. After I landed safely on the ground and cursed the pilot, I vowed to never fly alone again. Sadly, this was a useless vow, because I attend college hundreds of miles away from any close family. Because of having had that most recent flying experience, I was a bit weary of having to once again fly alone on my way to Florida to see my cousins for Thanksgiving.

This is highly unsettling for me to look at. http://elitedaily.com/news/world/people-terrified-plane-crashes-even-though-rare/977885/

When my connecting flight from State College to Philadelphia was delayed 30 min. for de-icing, I should have known I was in for a bumpy ride. Thankfully I had a slight amount of apathy in just wanting to get away from campus. As a nice metaphorical ‘have fun on break!’ sentiment from Penn State, I dealt with my two biggest causes of anxiety in flying: being a passenger of a small plane and constantly being rocked by turbulence on said small plane.

I was saved from another anxiety attack, though, by Andrew Read who had taught me and other SC 200 students about risk. The lesson truly applied to my life experiences, and so it changed the way I approached my fear of flying. In class the week before I learned to look at risk through the two components of exposure and hazard. In the review of the lesson, Andrew asked us a question about why the risk of dying in a plane crash in the U.S. is very very low. Plane crashes have a high hazard, it’s occurrence almost ensuring death, but a low exposure, because the likelihood of a plane crash, as stated in class, is extremely unlikely in America. There is a reason you rarely see a plane crash incident being reported on the evening news. 

As I was on this plane ride, flying alone, clutching my armrest and shutting my eyes to forget the icy/wintry mix clouds outside aggressively hinting at my death, I remembered risk. To keep myself from silently crying and having a muted anxiety attack on this small plane, I kept repeating in my mind what was taught in class. Being in a plane crash is highly unlikely with modern technology and it’s a statistic of 1 in some-odd-million. The likelihood of me being on the nightly news is close to nothing. I will be in Florida soon.

My plane is not going to crash. My plane is not going to crash. My plane is not going to crash.

Viewing my phobia in terms of risk helped me rationalize my experiences, and I will continue to use these thoughts to calm myself as I experience this phobia of flying.