Thursday, January 15, 2009

Meet our new Advisor, Dr. Scott Moody

Dr. Scott Moody from the biology department here at OU recently signed on as our group's adviser. As a fellow skeptic he was glad to see a student organization committed to critical thinking and scientific inquiry. I've posted his teaching philosophy below, in order to give you an idea of what he's all about:

Scott M. Moody – Brief comments on my teaching philosophy

“My Mom takes me to church every Sunday; my Dad gives me all the science books he can. Personally, I don’t know what to think.”

This is a quote from 15 year old Jeremy Hurst of Lebec, California, January 2006. His father is suing the school board of his high school for offering a course on creationism although they called it “philosophy of design.” And what is wrong with his statement philosophically? Actually, he should have concluded: “I don’t know how to think.”

I teach two general education courses here at Ohio University as well as several major-only courses:
BIOS 103 Human Biology I which is a Tier II natural science class
T3 420d Biology thru Biography which is a capstone Tier III synthesis class
BIOS 364 Forensic Biology primarily for majors in the Forensic Chemistry Program

The primary goal of my teaching is to help students develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. Hopefully, I am able to show them how to recognize and correct logical fallacies when evaluating ideas, hypotheses, theories and models presented in textbooks, lectures, documentary films, newspapers and magazines, discussions with other students and faculty, and so forth.

I really enjoy having contact both with mostly incoming freshmen in the first course and then later with the soon to graduate seniors in the second course. Personally, I would love to be able to teach all freshmen to help them with the transition from high school (which in most regards doesn’t prepare students for independent learning) to college. I would also love to have all of them again four years later in a senior capstone course emphasizing synthesis such as my T3 course.

Unfortunately the nature of secondary high school education leads to the failure to educate students on “how to think” but instead focuses on spoon-feeding content to memorize and regurgitate as “what to think.” In addition, many students simply are afraid to think for themselves and are not rising to the challenge when in college to learn how to think critically and to understand the process of science which is a way of learning. Perhaps what George Orwell wrote in his thought-provoking book 1984 about the social programming of the masses is now becoming true in the USA:

"War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength."

A good college education and indeed the philosophy of a “liberal education” as originally intended by the academic professors who taught at the great universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Heidelberg, Crakow, Prague, Florence, Bologna, Amsterdam, Vienna, etc., during the latter part of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, is designed to challenge beliefs, ideas, hypotheses and theories, in all disciplines: philosophy, economics, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, etc.

"Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. "
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The questions of scientific hypotheses and theories must be based on:

1. Logical inquiry following the rules and definition of scientific reasoning, which are:

a. Guided by observation and study of natural phenomena, living and non-living
b. Explanatory, logical and bounded by natural laws, not supernatural hocus pocus
c. Empirically measurable & testable through observations and experiments
d. Tentative, never fully proven, as hypotheses and theories
d. Falsifiable as explanatory hypotheses and theories if data doesn’t fit the model

2. Factual information and evidence, not beliefs based on anecdotes, lies, distortions, wishful and whimsical thinking, misinformation, bias, prejudice, hatred, mythology, etc.

Statement made by Dr. Barbara Snyder, executive vice president and provost, on the introduction of Senate Bill 24 (so-called academic bill of rights) in 2004 in the Ohio General Assembly: "Universities adhere to fundamental values of academic freedom and open inquiry so that students learn to become independent thinkers. To that end, we support and encourage wide-ranging and robust explorations of the universe of ideas. The Ohio State University has long been committed to principles of academic freedom and responsibility in carrying out our missions. Further steps by the General Assembly to codify academic freedom, such as those outlined in proposed S.B. 24, are unnecessary. Such a move also calls into question the professionalism and integrity of academics who have devoted their lives to teaching and to the principles of free expression and the open exchange of ideas."

The following quotations hopefully guide my teaching:

“Those who think they know what in fact they do not are not wise at all.” Socrates, Greek Philosopher

“Most of our so-called reasoning consists of finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.” James H. Robinson, historian

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questioning.” Antony Jay, philosopher

"The only difference between a problem and a solution is that people understand the solution."
Charles K. Kettering (1876-1958) American Engineer, Inventor

“What we observe is not nature itself, but merely nature exposed to our method of questioning” Werner Heisenberg, physicist, early 20th century

"In the fields of observation chance favors only those minds which are prepared."
Louis Pasteur, chemist and biologist, France 19th century

“Theory dictates how we should interpret observations” (NB, this is a sarcastic tongue-in-cheek statement) Albert Einstein, 20th century theoretical physicist

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." William Arthur Ward, author, editor, pastor, teacher

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
Confucius (551-479BC) Chinese Ethical Teacher, Philosopher

“Read not to contradict and confute, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.” Sir Francis Bacon, English Renaissance Scientist

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” President of the USA: Thomas Jefferson, Scientist, Architect, etc.


Eric G. said...

First, I think it's awesome Moody is our adviser, congrats. Second I like this quote:

“Most of our so-called reasoning consists of finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.” James H. Robinson, historian

Usually when people think they "know" the solution to an experiment they only run experiments supporting their assumption. The true thinker tests how to disprove or falsify their assumption before concluding. Example is from a book I recently read ("The Drunkard's Walk" by Leonard Mlodinow).

Suppose I gave a set of numbers: 2 4 6. Then I asked you to guess my "formula" for my pattern. If you guessed sequential even numbers you may test the sets '4 6 8' or '10 12 14'. These trials only support your hypothesis, and most would go about this way of thinking. But really you're not finding ways to falsify your assumption to eliminate your way to the right "formula".

Btw, the formula is just to make sure the next number is higher than the next, but by choosing those three numbers your mind makes the assumption it has to do with even numbers where in fact in only appears it does.

ANYWAYS, looking forward to Moody's assistance!

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