PS to “This is the nature of science.”

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Yes, I too found the solar eclipse thrilling, and a little spooky. The summer sunshine grew dim and a chill settled over the garden. Curved bites appeared in the dappled shadows of leaves. Like many others, we peered at light falling through the pinholes of a homemade cardboard box to see the image of the bright circle of the sun largely blotted out by the dark shadow of the moon. Yes, it was thrilling – even though we were not ourselves placed along the swath named so resonantly “The Path of Totality”.

On August 21, many others threw themselves much more fully than we did into the viewing experience. Have you seen photos like these delightful ones?: “Total solar eclipse across the United States – in pictures” 

Many people also posted their photos all over social media, the pictures looking, hardly surprisingly, remarkably similar! Solar eclipses happen somewhere in the world every 18 months, I’m told, so there’s a world full of people who might have their own eclipse thrills and a lot of images or memories of…  Well, actually it’s just one circle passing across another. Is that really so dramatic?

The thrill is clearly not just to our senses, in the novelty, but to our minds. On podcasts, I’ve heard how people were inspired to become scientists by their amazed childhood response to a past eclipse. Others exclaim about the wonders of science and scientific explanation:

“It is one of the most formidable testaments to the marvel and achievement of science that we can predict with great confidence, and with accuracy measured in seconds, that such an awe-inspiring phenomenon as a total solar eclipse will happen on August 21, 2017—whether the gods are angry on that particular day or not.”

As for me… I just want to add this marvel as a PS to last week’s post on conveying to our TOK students some of the wonder of science, and a sense of the brilliant human achievement that is knowledge.

I also wanted to share the laugh of this message posted on Facebook (on The Logic of Science) the day before the eclipse. You might balk as I do at their use of the word “everyone”, but, as so often, a laugh makes a point:

“It interests me that seemingly no one is taking issue with scientists predicting an eclipse. No one is saying, “scientists have been wrong before, so I’m not going to trust them about this.” No one is insisting that it is all part of some massive conspiracy. No one is claiming that they can predict eclipses better than scientists because of something they read online. Indeed, everyone seems quite content to admit that scientists are competent and have a realy good understanding of the physical world. Everyone implicitly accepts that scientists know more about science than they do.

“So then why is it that on topics like climate change, vaccines, evolution, etc. suddenly everyone thinks that they know more than scientists do?”

We can shake our heads ruefully over some of the challenges we face in educating our students, but we TOK teachers certainly do have a role in building, with our colleagues in the sciences, some appreciation of the achievements of science and some essential scientific literacy.

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Henrik Schoeneberg , “How solar eclipses illuminate the marvel of science”, Wired, August 16, 2017.

“Total solar eclipse across the United States – in pictures.” The Guardian, August 21, 2017.

The Logic of Science, August 20, 2017.

image of watchers, creative commons.