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by Clark Glymour

What did the trial of Galileo share with the trial for fraud of the foremost investigator of the effects of lead exposure on children’s intelligence? In the title essay of this rollicking collection on science and education, Clark Glymour argues that fundamentally both were disputes over what methods are legitimate and authoritative. From testing the expertise of NASA scientists to discovering where software goes to die to turning educational research upside down, Glymour’s reports from the front lines of science and education read like a blend of Rachel Carson and Hunter S. Thompson. Contrarian and original, he criticizes the statistical arguments against Teach for America, argues for teaching the fallacies of Intelligent Design in high school science, places contemporary psychological research in a Platonic cave dug by Freud, and gives (and rejects) a fair argument for a self-interested, nationalist response to climate change. One of the creators of influential new statistical methods, Glymour has been involved in scientific investigations on such diverse topics as wildfire prediction, planetary science, genomics, climate studies, psychology, and educational research. Now he provides personal reports of the funny, the absurd, and the appalling in contemporary science and education. More bemused than indignant, Galileo in Pittsburgh is an ever-engaging call to rethink how we do science and how we teach it.
Download Galileo in Pittsburgh epub
ISBN: 0674051033
ISBN13: 978-0674051034
Category: Politics
Subcategory: Politics & Government
Author: Clark Glymour
Language: English
Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 15, 2010)
Pages: 168 pages
ePUB size: 1564 kb
FB2 size: 1859 kb
Rating: 4.5
Votes: 413
Other Formats: doc mbr lrf txt

… and the title intrigued.

I made a point of walking across the bridge pictured on the cover in 2008, during a much belated visit to the city of my birth. In the days of my youth, when I lived in Pittsburgh, it was known simply as the 6th Street Bridge. In the 1950’s, and early ‘60’s I was an avid Pittsburgh Pirate fan, and their right fielder, Roberto Clemente was my favorite player. One of the biggest thrills in my life was being given a box seat ticket to see Clemente and the Pirates play at Forbes Field, which had ivy growing on the outfield walls, and if the ball got stuck in the ivy, it was ruled a double. Box seats were $3.00 then (and one could get into the bleachers for 50 cents.) Clemente would die, far too young, at 38, in a plane crash. The plane was overloaded with relief supplies for Nicaraguan victims of an earthquake. The supplies on the prior three planes were stolen by the Nicaraguan dictator, Somoza, and Clemente felt if he was along, an additional theft would be less likely. And then there is the book title itself: What is Galileo doing in Pittsburgh, of all places?

The author, Clark Glymour, is a Professor of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (it was called Carnegie Tech in my youth). This is a collection of 13 of his essays. They are grouped into three broad categories: Education, the Environment, and Science. The collection was published in 2010. But some of the essays were obviously written over a period of time, and the specific date of each is not indicated (For example, in one essay, he says that the world’s population is 6.3 billion, obviously true a bit before 2010.) He is provocative, opinionated, and a bit of a gadfly.

I found myself largely in agreement with the content in his four articles on education, and his willingness to “tell it like it is.” Glymour states that: “…only 15 percent of American adults believe that Darwin had it about right. The intellectual dishonesty begins with history and its fundamental theorem: nobody reads.” In the chapter aptly named: “The David Koresh Middle School,” (I had to verify that he was the leader of Branch Dravidian at Waco, Texas), Glymour says: “The majority of homeschooling families are religious nuts. Very right-wing pundits want the entire system privatized, generally on grounds of their fundamentalist belief in the superiority of markets to solve every problem.” The solution for our schools, much like for health care, Glymour says is: “…one payer, one set of standards, all-day and all-night schools for every age, a rational system of accountability. But we probably won’t because, as the art teacher said, that’s socialism.”

In the section on the environment, I found a couple of Glymour’s essays fascinating and informative. “The Greatest Chemical Engineer There Ever Was: A Cautionary Tale” concerned Thomas Midgley. He was the one that discovered that placing lead in gasoline eliminated “the knock.” He also discovered that chlorofluorocarbons proved to be an excellent refrigerant, which became the standard in household refrigerators. We now know that there were problems both with lead and chlorofluorocarbons, and they are no longer used. “Galileo” was the metaphor used to describe the “trial” of Herbert Needleman in Pittsburgh who published a seminal paper on the effects of low-level lead exposure on the intelligence of children.

In the last section, on Science, with a question mark, there are essays on Sigmund Freud (remember him?), as well as Admiral Poindexter (remember him, redux?). The latter had a program on total information awareness (gulp!), and how the government could learn everything about everyone (and this was before 9-11!). And in a separate essay, there were some fairly sophisticated explanations on how “nonmonotonic reasoning” could be used in mineral identification on Mars.

I had some problems with some of the essays as well as points made. In particular, his essay on “Bert’s Buick – A Conversation on Climate Change,” I found myself mainly agreeing with the points that “Bert” raised, and that was NOT the point of the essay. In particular, Bert stressed that population growth – that we will not talk about, was the main impetus behind global warming. Through a later essay, “Where software goes to die,” Glymour seems to agree with “Bert” when he says: “Bert’s complaint that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change willfully ignored the role of a major factor in global warming, human population growth, seems correct.” Glymour says that he has “…no solution to collective scientific censorship except yelling.” I also had some problems with the article on low-level lead exposure and IQ reduction. Specifically, is it really possible to measure someone’s IQ (whatever that really means) to within one point? Finally, Glymour seems to be a real bigot concerning Saudi Arabia, a country that he almost certainly has never been to.

Overall, Glymour has provided some informative and stimulating essays, and provided a brief nostalgic trip back to the city of my birth. 4-stars.
Although I can't find it now, I believe that Clark Glymour once described himself as cranky. Whether that's true of not, it's the impression I came away with after reading this book. The tone is a bit too smug, too opinionated, and with an air of I-shouldn't-have-to-be-talking-about-this-stuff-any-more. Of course I agree with him about most things. But I would have hoped for a somewhat lighter hand. Given his achievements, perhaps Glymour has earned the right to be cranky. It still makes this book less fun to read.
This book is good for what ails you, and me, and all of our friends if not enemies. It is by a philosopher who can cut through the smog of silliness and dunderhead thinking out there on topics of everyday importance, from educating your kids to thinking about climate change matters. Glymour is a philosopher of science who wants to make a difference, if not a dent, in our ways and means of thinking about, well, what we yammer about so much, say, oh, creationism/intelligent design and the above mentioned topics. And more. Science is about our universe, and a philosopher of science like Glymour tries to give us better methods for doing science and thus for doing our lives up in a rational, and, one hopes, better fashion. The book is short, pulls few if any punches, names names, and tells jokes, too. What more could one want? I say buy a copy for home and another for the car. Give copies out for Xmas presents, graduation presents, and make it one of those required reading books for all frosh. It sure beats the touchy feely, nonthinking pabulum they assign now. Do yourself a favor and buy this book today.
Provocative essays ranging over varying areas though mostly on U.S. education or lack thereof. Main topical areas: Education, Environment and Science.
Most memorable chapters: Galileo in Pittsburgh; Total Information Awareness; Where Software Goes to Die.