December 21, 2005

Cheap Goopy Fun

The "funnest" kid activities are often the cheapest ones.

Here is a recipe for one of our recent favorites: Make Your Own Slime.

The slime recipe we have been using is the one the website above calls "Gloop" - two parts "blue gel" Elmer's glue and one part liquid laundry starch (we used a spray starch and it works fine). Just mix the stuff together in a bowl and voila, you've got Gloop.

It's a non-Newtonian fluid which is very liquidy and sticky if you let it sit, but which becomes more puttylike when you mush it around.

Piper and Anthony like making batches with different colors of food coloring. Besides mushing it, gooping it, and bouncing it, you can also blow it into gross, Gloopy bubbles.

We have made the stuff several times in the last few weeks. Today we made a batch at the breakfast table while all the grownups were eating sausage and eggs. The adults found it quite unappealing. It delighted the kids to no end.

Posted by David at 10:41 AM | Comments (1)

What is science?

In yesterday's Dover opinion, Judge John E. Jones has written a lucid definition of science that deserves to be in textbooks (p. 64):

Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth.

In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method.

Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify.

Update 12/31: Here for more thoughts from John Polkinghorne and others

Posted by David at 11:32 AM | Comments (8)

December 23, 2005

Huang Woo-Suk

Science in the news: Korea shocked by faked stem cell research...

The whole controversy is a good example of the strength of the scientific method: people tried to replicate his work, and failed; then they tried to look closer at the original experiments, and saw problems; and then the truth came out in less than a year.

Perhaps the lesson is that scientists shouldn't be celebrities. "I still want to believe," say quoted people on the street in Korea. But science is about verification, not faith. Scientists should never have a "following."

The blog has had great coverage of the unfolding Huang lab disaster for several months. They argue that the scandal shows how the U.S. should fund stem cell research, but I'm not sure I follow.

Posted by David at 07:28 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2005

Lego CAD

Piper and Anthony have been playing with virtual Legos recently.

Lego Factory is a pretty neat Lego CAD system that lets you build models on the computer. Once you design your model, you can order a kit with exactly the right pieces - plus instructions to build your model along with "alternative models" - directly from Lego.

It all looks pretty sophisticated to me, but I haven't gotten to try it myself. As soon I installed the program (it's free), the kids took over the family PC and didn't let Dad have a chance. Even though Piper is only 4, she's been able to use the program. She designed a "Narnia house" complete with a forest and a lamppost.

Lego is really an amazing toy.

Posted by David at 12:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2005

Wikipedia better?

The Wikipedia debate has been in the news lately: Is Wikipedia as good as Britannica? Is Wikipedia susceptible to bias? All very weighty and serious questions.

But it seems pretty clear to me that Wikipedia is better than any encyclopedia that has come before. Where else can you find encyclopedic coverage of nose-picking or the five-second rule?

For more gems from this repository of human knowledge, see the unusual articles page or the entry on how to keep an idiot busy.

Posted by David at 06:25 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2005

The Myth of Perfection

It's time for New Year's resolutions. Of course, nobody is perfect. Do you think we should resolve to be more perfect?

Maybe not. Actually, I think that the myth of "perfection" is one of the most damaging conceits of the modern world. Is perfection desirable? Is it possible to know what it means to be perfect? If everybody tried to be very nearly perfect, would the world be better?

Continue reading "The Myth of Perfection"
Posted by David at 09:19 AM | Comments (2)

December 31, 2005

Science and Religion

The discussion on the Dover opinion lead me on a search for credible modern thinking on the interaction between science and religion. This morning I read Science and Theology by John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist and ordained Anglican priest. The book is a short but very thoughtful survey of the topic and I recommend it.

Continue reading "Science and Religion"
Posted by David at 11:41 AM | Comments (1)