Thursday, May 17, 2012

Being good for goodness' sake, and the public (mis)trust of atheists

Epiphenom is well worth a read if you want to know why some people believe in gods, and what the psychological and social consequences of those beliefs are.

Taking a break from lesson planning, I saw Tom's latest post. It's been shown that "...atheists in North America are disliked because they are distrusted, and that untrustworthy people are often assumed to be atheists."

A follow up study by the team that made the above discoveries has now found that the distrust religious people have of atheists can be eased by subtly persuading them that the police are effective in stopping crime.

People claim to be trustworthy if they think they're being watched, and probably assume the same of other people. Us atheist types, of course, feel entirely unwatched by supernatural entities, and so are assumed to be untrustworthy.

This new evidence seems to back up that line of thinking, as it suggests that if religious people feel there's an effective secular agent that can do the watching, it can keep us heathens in check.

This is a shame - wouldn't it be nice if people could assume people are trustworthy for the sake of it, and not because they fear the punishment if they're not?

Despite the lawlessness following police strikes, I think the majority of people are good for goodness' sake though (I do hope there isn't evidence out there that proves my suspicions wrong) - this video quite clearly shows that most Christian's morality, for example, is actually separate from the Bible (and also lets us reminisce about the West Wing, what a great show), even if there's quite a lot of catching up to do in some quarters:

One day, wouldn't it be nice if people naturally assumed that people are good for goodness' sake too though?

Monday, May 14, 2012

I resolved to never lie again. But today I lied. To children. Let me explain...

When magnesium burns in oxygen, magnesium oxide is formed. The magnesium oxide is heavier than the magnesium you started with. You can burn the magnesium in a crucible, and see this for yourself. One of the problems with this though, is that for the magnesium to burn, it needs oxygen, and this doesn't take long to get used up in the crucible. The lid needs to be removed periodically to let more oxygen in. Magnesium oxide is a solid, but it's quite powdery, and in opening the lid, you risk magnesium oxide escaping.

Such an occurrence happened to day. So I faked the results that I gave to the children.

It is true that I could have gone into why the end result was lighter, but there wasn't the time left in the lesson to do this, and the key point the children had to learn today was that chemical reactions can result in a change of mass.

They had seen how copper (II) sulphate pentahydrate crystals, when heated, lose water, and get lighter (and in so doing go from a lovely blue, to a white powder). The magnesium was a demo to show that things can get heavier, and thus, they will (hopefully) see that the mass can change (and ultimately realise that the mass of reactants and products is the same, but that the gas that escapes, or air that reacts, isn't getting way).

Now, I fudged the result on the spot. Had I been cleverer, I could have used the relative atomic mass to make up a plausible result. As it is, I didn't, so my deceit can be easily worked out. In retrospect, I should have been prepared for this, so that, even if I did have to fudge the result, a realistic figure could have been given. Currently it looks like there's twice as much oxygen there as there should be.

In future, I may well have to fake results again - this is because equipment isn't always accurate, errors can creep in, and I could just have poor technique on my part. If I am to make up results so the children can learn, then they should at least have a bearing on reality. In addition, doing so in this fashion doesn't seem like a lie to me - I am not trying to get children to form beliefs that are not true, quite the opposite.

I doubt any of the children in the class are thinking about the quantities of oxygen and magnesium involved, but if they are, they would be getting a misleading impression about how the universe actually works.

It's always best not to lie.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Supermoon with Phil Plait and added Dr Who

Just a quick post:

Firstly, go read this by Phil Plait. It's a cool post about the "Supermoon", and scale.

Go on, read it!

Right, now that's read, it will then put this classic Dr Who clip into a nice little bit of context:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

5th International Capoeira Festival, Cheltenham 8th - 10th June

Capoeira is one of my favouritest things in the world (I have probably mentioned this before). If you can make it to Cheltenham for 8th - 10th, we (Oficina da Capoeira UK) are having our fifth festival, and you're invited.
Here's a wee taster of what capoeira is:

Here's what's going on:
Friday - capoeira workshops, an open roda and a social (food and drinks).
Saturday - street roda, capoeira workshops, maculele and a party.
Sunday - breakfast, street roda, capoeira workshops, grading and social.
If anyone's into capoeira, and knows the film "Besouro", then there will be a screening of that too, with some of the film's stars.
Everyone's welcome - even if you don't play capoeira, come to the party and/or watch the street rodas!
If you want any more info leave a comment, join on Facebook or email me.
Abre a roda meu povo!

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