You know how they used to peddle orange juice by saying, “It isn’t just for breakfast any more?” That’s how I feel about informal science education. No, silly: not that it isn’t just for breakfast any more. That it isn’t just for kids any more. (Unlike Trix, silly rabbit, which are just for kids.)

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The mission of NCSE has never been to teach everyone science. So how do we help improve understanding of evolution, climate science, and science as a way of knowing while simultaneously steering clear of the broader business of teaching science? Ann Reid and I had a breakthrough that has clarified the balance we need to strike.

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I’ll get back to misconception Monday posts next week, but when Genie Scott sent me this idea for a post, I couldn’t resist it. If you’ve been following the news, you may have seen reports that a potential Ebola therapy, cultured in tobacco plants, has been used on two Americans that contracted the disease. And chances are, you didn’t think much of the fact that the drug is coming from a plant, after all, we get drugs from plants all the time. But the treatment in question is not a naturally occurring plant compound, or even a modified plant compound—it’s a mammalian antibody. That’s right—tobacco plants are producing mammalian antibodies. Weird, right?

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I did a fair amount of photo research when
Photo by newlow via Wikimedia Commons I worked for an educational publishing company. On one occasion, I needed a nice photograph of a scientist “at work” to decorate our introductory chapter on science methods. You know what I found? Photo after photo of people in lab coats looking at or holding flasks or test tubes of colored liquids. It was almost comical, but not unexpected. I have a friend who works for a pharmaceutical company, and he once told me that when the board of directors came in for a visit, the staff members were told to fill up some containers with colored water so they’d look busy—apparently, their incredibly scientific jobs weren’t showy and sciency-looking enough! This stereotypical idea of what science looks like embodies this week’s misconception:

All science is done via experimentation.

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Don’t get me wrong; I love it when fossils make the news. Paleontology is my first intellectual love—frustrating, illuminating, amazing, and did I mention frustrating? Seriously, you don’t know frustration until you spend weeks chipping sandstone away from a rock, grain by grain under a microscope. It’s excruciating. If I ever meet Steven Spielberg, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind regarding that Jurassic Park scene where the scientists, like, blow gently and expose a perfectly preserved dinosaur. If only! But I digress…

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