Daily Archives: December 5, 2016

How November 3rd’s class changed my life

Many parents and adults believe that vaccines can lead to children having autism. My very close friend’s mother chose to not vaccinate any of her children with many of the  recommended vaccines that doctors see as essential for every child. One day as I sat in my friend’s kitchen, I listened to her mother as she told me about how she ” knows people who have children with autism CAUSED by vaccines. “She truly believed that vaccinating her children would increase their chances of getting autism and I thought she was justified.


As a 17 year old at the time, I had no knowledge of this matter and my friend’s mother was very convincing. I had listened to her for about a half hour as she ranted about doctors and vaccines and up until November 3rd, I had been strongly convinced that vaccines could very likely cause some kids to develop autism.

When I saw the subject matter for Andrew’s class on November 3rd I was very interested about what he had to say about the very controversial subject. I thought the class would consist of stories and studies that proved that vaccines do indeed sometimes lead to autism. I was wrong.

During that class I learned two things,

  1. I WILL vaccinate my children
  2. Adults are not always right…

The reason I came to the 1st conclusion is purely because of what I learned in class. Of course vaccines are not safe (as nothing is truly safe), however, with today’s technology and medicine, vaccines might as well be labeled as safe. Just because some children develop autism a certain amount of time after a vaccine does NOT mean that the vaccine caused the autism. CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!!

My second conclusion comes from the conversation I had with my friend’s mother. Just because she was an adult was enough for me to be totally convinced by her opinion. As I sat in science class I thought about how easy it was to sway my opinion and how I should start to have my own opinion. I felt kind of stupid that I considered not vaccinating my children in the future based off of one conversation I had with one person where I did a lot more listening than talking. I’m sure in the future I would have heard more about this subject but Andrew’s class really opened my eyes that day to how I should take people’s opinions with a grain of slat. (Especially the opinions of whom are not professionals).




Challenge Question: Question Everything

To be honest, I almost dropped SC200 before I even stepped foot in the classroom. Although I was scared during the first three weeks, keeping this course on my schedule was the best college decision I have ever made. Let me explain.

It made me question everything


The one and only Mike Mann! Photo Courtesy of Andrew Read

It wasn’t until about halfway through SC200 that I realized I had been what I call a “follower” my entire life. I was so easily swayed by people’s ideas, especially when they used statistics. I never turned around and asked my mother why I needed a coat when it was cold outside. I never stopped in the middle of a news article to say “Hey wait a minute!” For my entire life I have been following, taking people’s word for subjects in fields where I was uneducated. I am not entirely sure if Andrew’s main goal was to make us question things, but that is definitely the number one thing I got out of the course. Obviously it’s not good to question every single little thing in life, but it’s important to analyze situations and try to understand the “why” behind so many happenings in life.

This is probably considered weird in today’s day and age, but I actually read the newspaper every day. Since this course has begun I have literally found myself laughing out loud over certain articles. I pick them apart, look for possible errors or flawed reasoning. But then suddenly I stop laughing and become filled with disappointment and sometimes even anger. How could such poorly designed studies be published by national news companies? 

Andrew Read’s class was certainly the most practical class I have ever taken. Some of my classes that I currently take involve brute memorization but do not promote any type of critical thinking.  As I write this, I am filled with a feeling of joy. The best part is that the skills and materials I learned in Andrew’s class will carry on throughout my entire life. It won’t matter if the year is 2100 and 101 years old! I will always think in a different manner because of this course. And that’s what I really applaud Andrew for, he taught me something that very few are capable of doing, and he did it by changing the way I think. Not many people have done that in my life. I want to close this by saying thank you to Andrew. Thank you for teaching me practical knowledge that I will be certain to use in my everyday life. Thank you for making me question things that would have never occurred to me if I had not taken SC200. Thank you for being my teacher.

Challenge Question

Picking a subject for this post is very difficult because I have learned a lot regarding many different topics in science through this class.  As a general topic, something that I have learned in this course involves mechanisms.  More specifically, the fact that there is not necessarily a mechanism needed to explain why something works.  For example, in class Andrew mentioned frequently that there was no known cure for Scurvy, but people noticed sucking on lemons made a positive difference.  Nobody knew vitamin C was the solution until later on, but it still worked without an explanation for it.

This has the ability to change my outlook on life because things can be true without having to know the reason behind it.  For example, finding solutions to other types of life issues, falling in love, or making new friends.  There are many unanswered questions in life and mysterious meanings behind relationships and discoveries.  This class has opened my eyes to notice more about what is around me and not taking everything very literal.

When Taking SC200 Finally Made Me THINK

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-2-37-45-pmWhen scheduling classes in August, I dreaded the thought of taking a general science course, as I did not know what to expect. From the first class, I got a feel for the way Andrew Read concentrated solely on what we take away from his lectures rather than how we can memorize the information and go great on tests. I did not think that a single class would effect my thinking, and cause me to have a new perspective on the world I live in. However, I was completely wrong in this assumption and in for a rude awakening.

Poor Learning Habits

Coming from the Philadelphia Public School system, the schools I attended were so focused on achieving good grade averages and standardized test scores, that we were not taught to learn material, but to memorize it for the test. I never really had a class in my life that caused me to reach a higher level of thinking, so high to the point that even the smartest scientists couldn’t answer these questions. I’ve never taken a course that required me to hold myself accountable to THINK about the possible answers and reasons for an idea. Honestly, I can say that I have not learned much from past professors and teachers, because they

Image taken from http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/10/02/school-choice-insider/

Image taken from http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/10/02/school-choice-insider/

expected me to go home and memorize the material, rather than requiring me to think about it, in order to fully understand it. When I look back on this fact, it explains why I did so poorly on my Class Tests in this course. I was so used to having the answers right in front of me by simply referring to my notes, but that is not the case in this class. I found what I thought to be the right answers, but I did not think hard enough to eliminate minor details that make it wrong. Another anecdote for why I believe my first Blog Assessment Period received a D is because I did not yet acquire this higher level of thinking, and thought what I wrote was enough, without exploring all possibilities, or other third-causal variables for the topics I chose. This is all a direct causation to the poor teaching habits I’ve endured for twelve years.

When Andrew Is Added To The Equation 

I knew for a fact after just my second class with Andrew Read that I would have to really buckle down and take the course seriously, with much more effort than my other classes. Andrew made it clear that this course can only be what you make of it. We also saw testimonies from previous SC200 students that regretted not putting more effort into blogs, tests, and thinking about the material. When I read those, I assured myself that I would not have those regrets come Week 15. Now here it is Week 14, and I’m writing this blog the same day it is due. Well, Andrew also did say that procrastination is a big factor in this course and that is something I’d have to work on myself.

Nice Picture! Image taken from http://news.psu.edu/story/355637/2015/05/04/research/andrew-read-elected-fellow-royal-society

Nice Picture! Image taken from http://news.psu.edu/story/355637/2015/05/04/research/andrew-read-elected-fellow-royal-society

All in all, I firmly believe that this course with Andrew has enlightened my critical thinking. Things that I have believed for so many years I now can question thanks to Mr. Read. I always believed “studies” and “statistics” on news websites and blogs, but now I know that everything is questionable. There is a difference between concrete facts and science. Science will always have error, so there is no definite, 100% right answer. Without Andrew elaborating on this idea so heavily throughout the course I would not have thought of things this way. I always thought “well they’re scientists so it has to be right”, when in fact that is the complete opposite. A main attribute of science is finding error, and creating new knowledge from it. So how could I possibly think that all science was correct? Concepts Andrew taught us such as the File Drawer Problem and Texas Sharp Shooter Problem helped me think critically when evaluating science on the internet, allowing me to spot what is likely to be crap science, or biased.

I truly believe that this course has deeply effected my perspective on the world. Also, I can connect the concepts to my life decision making. Andrew taught us that our intuition is lousy, and I always thought what I initially think to be the best way. But this conclusion that human intuition is lousy, changed my thinking. For instance, the Monty Hall Problem is a prime example of how humans think their intuition cannot fail them.

Image taken from http://www.grand-illusions.com/articles/monty_hall/

Image taken from http://www.grand-illusions.com/articles/monty_hall/

Instead of thinking, 50-50, there is always a strategic answer to the problem. This caused me to think deeply about the situations I make in life. When I weight out the possibilities of being in situations, I now know that it is not always so defined as going one way or the other, there is always more to the problem. What my intuition tells me to be good for me, may not always be, but critical thinking cannot fail me.

Also, knowing the risk versus the danger of things and situations helps me decide what I deem as “safe” and what I refuse to do. When learning the risk of death by car accident compared to other everyday things such as getting vaccinated it made me really think deeply. Why would I rather endure the risk of getting in a car than getting a shot to prevent me from getting sick in the future? Little everyday things, such as getting on the Blue Loop to class can put me at risk. These are little things I never would have thought about had I not taken SC200, which is why I am grateful for Andrew Read and Penn State University for offering this course.

Image taken from http://news.psu.edu/photo/146051/2013/02/08/blue-loop-cata-bus

Image taken from http://news.psu.edu/photo/146051/2013/02/08/blue-loop-cata-bus