Informal Reflections from Canada

To follow on from Roger’s post I thought I add the following commentary, and also invite responses from everyone on their thoughts on the project to date. Don’t hold back!!
From my perspective the project has got off to a great start and we were very impressed with the quality, and thought that went into the initial responses to our questions. We found drawing up and sequencing some challenging questions linking to current events a lot of fun, and hope you are enjoying thinking about the issues. I too have been a little surprised by the assent to some of the issues we have raised, and welcome flippant or even radical dissent as it is good to get debate going 🙂  The different backgrounds of science are part of our interest in this project, and  like the UK contingent, my sense is that philosophy of science is not covered much in the undergraduate curriculum here too. I would be keen to hear what our Canadian students experiences here have been with this.

Participation has been a challenge, and as Roger notes we knew you folks would be very busy, but nevertheless the comitment seen to date is very impressive and we hope eveyone will get into a bit of festive spirit as we approach the holiday season, and exams are over, and can contribute more of their thoughts. As roger notes brief and irreverent answers are very welcome, and also links or other ideas people think we should consider.

Aniother issues for us (apart from Roger’s strange choice of headwear and excessive interest in chocolate) seem to have been the logistics of getting the partnerships sorted and choosing which applications to use. We will be very keen to see which ones you have found most helpful. E.g. Youtube videos, Skype, Facebook or Blog postings. Anyhow it has been a busy term and we hope it is going well for you. We look forward to more irreverent science debate in the coming weeks, and I shall of course be delivering my next video without a script or any post-production as… errr… usual. Now where is that beginners guide to CGI….







Informal reflections from the Plymouth end.

The link to Question 5 follows this ramble…Just keep going down the page.

Well, the project is over half way through now and there will only be a few questions set after my present ramble about whether the laws of physics are the hard centre chocolates and the laws of biology the strawberry cups (yes well, it was late and Bernie was putting me under pressure!), so it seems a good time to reflect on my initial thoughts about the project so far.

I have kept a diary on the project, but like all my attempts to keep diaries it fell rather by the wayside as the teaching term really got going. One thing that I did record very early on however, were my concerns over whether the project would work at all. I guess that might have been based on a natural pessimism, but undergraduates are busy and I was more concerned that without the compulsion of assessment the time constraints would be too great. To my relief, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the postings have been pretty regular and very interesting to read. I am aware that a few people seem not to have taken part and I’ll be intrigued as to any problems people have faced.

In terms of the responses, they have been exclusively written, which is a surprise, as I had initially expected the pairings to record them to video. That expectation however may be predicated upon my own dreadful two finger typing.  I’d much rather speak, than thump away on a keyboard.

I wonder how many have used the video call option to discuss the question? Certainly I found found Skype a bit of a pain when talking to Bernie. Not only did he keep turning into what looked like a gas cloud, but he sounded if he was underwater – I don’t think he was either. Only when we switched to iChat did things improve in terms of picture quality and sound. Interestingly, for longer, more involved conversations we seem to have relied on email.

The blog has made interesting reading over the term, but has seemed rather like a notice board, used only for questions and answers. I thought that it would be rather more interactive with some discussions taking place between groups and it’s a pity that this hasn’t taken place really. I’m not sure that we have particularly encouraged it, but the question responses have been left unchallenged. I had decided early on not to post responses, (although Bernie has done a few) to avoid dominating the site). Any comments relating to that would be welcomed. I must admit I have avoided Facebook page. Anything I add onto it appears on my profile page which means my three Facebook friends (my wife, Bernie and someone else called Roger Cutting) can see it. Somehow, I feel privacy is important – not sure why. I prefer the blog and YouTube (although available to all, at least you’re not too easy to find on the latter).

I quite like the questions we’ve set, although I think we’ve probably put the UK students at a disadvantage in that they haven’t really dealt with the nature of science as part of their degree (not sure if the Canadians have). In the UK is an area that is traditionally mentioned (almost in passing) at the very end of a degree programme. I don’t think we really do much more than ‘encourage’ students to consider the issues of philosophy, epistemology and ontology in relation to science practice. The ethos here seems to be ‘just get on with it’! As a result Bernie’s next question on post-modernism (presumably delivered while painted green with a tea pot on his head) will be a real challenge to the UK students. We set out to deliberately pair groups of students who were not doing the same course, but faced the same issues of needing both an understanding of science and social science.  I’m not sure if that’s come across.

In terms of the international dimension to the project, the responses to the questions to date have been very much in a western liberal tradition; no pair as yet has come back really strongly on a topic (hence asking you to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the beginning of replies!), which again was something of a surprise. The topics and the questions have tried to stir things up a bit in terms of a debate but the study pairs have seemingly remained firmly in the middle ground.

Making the videos has been an interesting experience. I learnt that if I can pronounce my name correctly and get past the stuff about UoP and UBC I can then talk quite normally (that’s why I have to say all that blurb at the beginning – I need a run up.) Annoyingly, of course Bernie looks about 20 years younger than me – despite us being at university together. His videos are far more professional than mine, so I’m assuming he has a team around him including make up and styling people. I have to wear a hat to avoid bald glare. Here we see the difference in HE funding.  Of course his first was heavily edited (mine aren’t hence the mistakes – we came out of the Rift Valley 135 years ago?!) and on pointing out that true professionals do it in one take, his next effort was very impressive, until I noticed his nervous glances towards what was obviously a carefully positioned script. Mind you, I think it will be sometime before either of us gets a TV contract. Blast – another escape plan bites the dust.

Roger Cutting. Plymouth 2009

Question 5: Science and cultural selectivity

Please find the latest question on YouTube at

Once again, I have managed to move my mouth at a different time to the words (I know, it’s a real skill – took years to learn. Actually if anyone knows what I’m doing wrong please let me know). It concerns whether we can pick and choose in science. Whether we can reject something because it is culturally unacceptable. Enjoy!