Let's Talk About Science History

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Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Sima Guang Hater »

So I edited the science history for VCU closed. As far as distribution was concerned, I replaced one chemistry question with a science history question.

I'm going to be honest. I don't like science history replacing chemistry. In fact, I want this trend to stop. I think people who replace chemistry with something else are largely lazy and uncreative about writing interesting questions on chemistry. Its certainly possible to write 1/1 chemistry for a regular difficulty tournament, with a minimal amount of organic chemistry word-matching (in fact you can write organic chemistry without word-matching). I went along with this because, one it was Matt's tournament, and two I'd lost so much face after Penn Bowl last year that I didn't feel comfortable speaking up about it. So let me be unequivocally clear: as one of quizbowl's foremost science editors, and as someone who has edited fairly well-received science for several tournaments of all levels, replacing chemistry with science history is not a good idea and there's absolutely no reason to do it.

That being said, if people want to write science history questions, its worth having a discussion about what's acceptable and what's not. Here are the science history questions in this tournament ([EM] indicates questions I wrote personally):

John Snow
Four-color theorem [EM]
Challenger expedition
Intelligent Design [EM]
Melvin Calvin [EM]
Horses
Institute for Advanced Study [EM]
Davisson-Germer experiment

phlogiston/Priestley/Scheele
bloodletting/ Galen/ air [EM]
Longitude/ John Harrison/ Nevil Maskelyne
Newton/mach's principle/Brans-Dicke theory
Bohr/ plum pudding model/ corpuscular theory
Manhattan Project/ Oak Ridge/ Lop Nur
Homeopathy/reflexology/meridian
Technion/ Paul Erdos/ proteasome [EM]
Prebiotic chemistry bonus [EM]
Galileo/On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres/ Al-Battani [EM]

So you have a wide range of questions to work with, from...

1. Questions that are essentially science questions (Davisson-Germer)
2. Questions on things you learn in science classes for historical background (Priestly, Galen, horses)
3. Questions on things that you actually have to outright study the history of science to know (John Snow, the IAS, Harrison, the challenger expedition), or that you have to do a little investigating about things you learn in a science class to learn about (Calvin, al-Battani).
4. Questions on pseudoscience (ID, homeopathy)

Its worth noting that the History of Science is actually a reified academic discipline (see for instance http://hshm.yale.edu/); given that fact, I would think that people would want questions to reflect that discipline whenever you can. However, people hated those aspects of the questions. John Snow, the IAS, Challenger, for example, are incredibly important subjects in the history of science (I edited an essay on Snow once for one of these classes), but people don't like questions on them because no one actually studies the history of science and so they play poorly. Melvin Calvin is a very important biologist who did groundbreaking experiments, but people think its cheap to write about the history of his work rather than the Calvin cycle (and given these two options I'd pick a question on the Calvin cycle too).

If people want science history to appear in quizbowl (I'm ambivalent about it, and I certainly don't want to see it in the science distribution), its worth talking about what people really mean when they talk about science history, and its worth noting that it will take some time before people actually try to learn some science history to keep ahead of the curve (rather than just racing at the end). If I just used Linna's old HSHM syllabi to write questions from, almost no one would enjoy any of it; no one outside of those classes actually reads the work of John Snow or Galen or about the Challenger expedition, so you get buzzer races. If I just expand on the snippets of science history that I learned in science classes it feels kind of cheap and stupid because these things are footnotes; no one looks that stuff up because we're too busy trying to actually memorize the Calvin cycle to learn about Calvin or learning about the Stern-Gerlach experiment to read articles like this
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Sam »

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote: John Snow, the IAS, Challenger, for example, are incredibly important subjects in the history of science (I edited an essay on Snow once for one of these classes), but people don't like questions on them because no one actually studies the history of science and so they play poorly.
I'm not sure this is true. While I'd be surprised if many quiz bowlers were seeking degrees in the field, there are a vast number of popular non-fiction books on the subject (I'd wager most "science" books I've read that were written for a general audience are actually science history), not to mention the things people would pick up in an actual science class, or learn by reading a more general historical work.

I agree replacing science with science history is not a good idea, but would certainly like to continue seeing these types of questions come up in some other part of the distribution, perhaps "history" or "other academic."
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Cheynem »

I learned about John Snow in my history of medicine class.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant »

And I learned about him in my introductory biomedical engineering (problems in BME) class, and I think also my microbiology class last year.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Excelsior (smack) »

Matt Weiner and/or anybody else who thinks that science history should be in the science distribution: why do you think this?

Of the science history questions I heard, none of them were bad (well, the horses tossup sounded like "Quack quack FTP Equus", but I guess a bunch of those things were important), but most of them also seemed much more suited to history or your choice. (It was also kind of jarring hearing so much of it in a single day, but whatever)

Also, it was really awful to put questions on pseudoscience in the science distribution. I totally appreciate having a question on homeopathy (guess whose family is full of homeopaths?) somewhere in a tournament, but pseudoscience is literally the opposite of science. This would be like putting a question on the phantom time hypothesis (which all reasonable historians presumably agree is false) in the history distribution, and I hope we can all agree that this would be a bad idea.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Auroni »

I will take the opposite position and suggest that there are some very real benefits to replacing chemistry with history of science. I'm not as good a science editor as Eric, but I have edited the category for my fair share of tournaments and I've written a lot of questions in both categories.

1) Writing history of science instead of chemistry will make your tournament more accessible, if you know what you're doing. Of course, if you elect to replace a tossup on "hydrogen bonding" with a tossup on "the Luria-Delbruck experiment," or something like that, then you will actually hurt your conversion. But as it stands, history of science encompasses many topics that quizbowl players actually know about, but are not tested with any regularity. I am not going to give any examples, since I am editing history of science for an upcoming tournament, but believe me that there are MANY such topics.

On the other hand, even the most fairly written chemistry is going to be difficult to answer for generalists who haven't actually taken chemistry classes. Essentially, what I'm saying is, chemistry is much more of a topic for people who have actually studied chemistry than, say, paleontology is for aspiring paleontologists.

2) There's a much greater field for interesting questions to be written in the history of science category than in the chemistry category. I mean, look at your own tournament. Tossups on Melvin Calvin aside, you wrote interesting questions on Intelligent Design, the history of blood vessels, and evolutionary history. Because history of science is so new as its own concept, the sky is the limit for interesting questions. Compare that to chem, where the same few reactions, functional groups, and thermodynamic quantities get trotted out every tournament. I'm not saying chem is an illegitimate category (far from it), but I'm saying that there's fewer avenues for interesting questions. I would love for future writers and editors to prove me wrong, though.

3) Chemistry knowledge is often tested in the biology, physics, astronomy, and history of science categories. Because chemistry is so fundamental, it spills over to other categories. So basically, in the 1/1 chem model, there's probably going to be something like 1.2/1.2 chem because there are chemistry clues in questions from other disciplines.

Counterargument: I am not one of those people who think chem is just confined to name-reaction organic chemistry. I do think that you could work 1/1 chem for a 17 packet tournament, with lots of questions testing what people actually know. I am not mandating that all tournaments should be made to include History of Science at the expense of Chem. I am merely suggesting that such a change is defensible and feasible.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Angry Babies in Love »

Cheynem wrote:I learned about John Snow in my history of medicine class.
Geographers and GIS people claim John Snow, saying he's the first geospatial analyst.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Matt Weiner »

Excelsior (smack) wrote:Also, it was really awful to put questions on pseudoscience in the science distribution. I totally appreciate having a question on homeopathy (guess whose family is full of homeopaths?) somewhere in a tournament, but pseudoscience is literally the opposite of science. This would be like putting a question on the phantom time hypothesis (which all reasonable historians presumably agree is false) in the history distribution, and I hope we can all agree that this would be a bad idea.
The history of science is the history of more correct theories replacing less correct ones (or more cool-kid theories replacing less socially skilled ones, for all you Kuhnians). The historiography distribution in last year's College History Bowl in fact contained a bonus on the great man theory of history, a tossup on the lost cause myth of the Confederacy, and a tossup on Holocaust denial. The latter two are pseudohistory to the extent that they are an objectively incorrect view of which historical events did or did not take place, and the former is an archaic method of historical writing that has not been practiced at the academic level for many decades. In a tournament without a separate suballotment for "historiography," i.e., all tournaments ever besides College History Bowl, these questions should be and, in fact, are, written for the history distribution.

Science history is a thing that is indisputably academic, can be learned in a class, can be learned through personal reading outside of a class, can be written within our existing standards of what is a good tossup or bonus, and can be answered by people playing the tournament. For those reasons, it is an appropriate thing to ask about. Using it to offset some of the things that are less answerable or writable in any set that wants to both control difficulty and produce an adequate number of packets seems like a good idea to me. It doesn't have to always replace the second chemistry question, but I think it deserves at least a similar place as, say, astronomy or earth science.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Birdofredum Sawin »

Ah, this thread is a blast from the past. For a quizbowl-historical perspective on this topic, I recommend a recap thread that followed ACF Nationals in 2005, in which I defended my decision to include some science history in the tournament, and was roundly attacked by people who felt that science history had no place in the game. I assume the arguments that were made then are still relevant to the discussion today.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Unicolored Jay »

Is there a way of integrating science history into its appropriate subjects? I do agree science history should have a place somewhere, but is it possible to have such clues and answers in tossups and bonuses while keeping everything to what is studied academically? I'm not saying that this should be the only place science history should go, but I'm just suggesting an idea that may or may not work.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Muriel Axon »

Excelsior (smack) wrote:Also, it was really awful to put questions on pseudoscience in the science distribution. I totally appreciate having a question on homeopathy (guess whose family is full of homeopaths?) somewhere in a tournament, but pseudoscience is literally the opposite of science. This would be like putting a question on the phantom time hypothesis (which all reasonable historians presumably agree is false) in the history distribution, and I hope we can all agree that this would be a bad idea.
I can see where you're coming from, but there's sometimes a fine line between pseudosciences and failed sciences. Phrenology could be called a pseudoscience of sorts, but at one point it was a real, living discipline that fell into disrepute as the weight of evidence began to fall against its basic assumptions. (On the other hand, some pseudosciences, like homeopathy, never had that kind of stature, and I don't really know what to do about those.)
or more cool-kid theories replacing less socially skilled ones, for all you Kuhnians
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:Ah, this thread is a blast from the past. For a quizbowl-historical perspective on this topic, I recommend a recap thread that followed ACF Nationals in 2005, in which I defended my decision to include some science history in the tournament, and was roundly attacked by people who felt that science history had no place in the game. I assume the arguments that were made then are still relevant to the discussion today.
I too recommend this thread, though with a grain of salt; humorous anecdotes about Ludwig Prandtl's marriage and vague statements about Josiah Gibbs's ultimately unsuccessful and unimportant work modifying quaternions are maybe not the best path to fuller adoption of science history.

Incidentally, I too see no reason why well-written questions on important historical subjects can't be allotted a part of the science distribution similar in size to earth science or astronomy or computer science.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Tale of Mac Datho's Pachycephalosaur »

I guess I will weigh in briefly. As a science expert, I'm not all that opposed to science history, as I think it tests application of knowledge to a greater extent than most other topics (i.e., putting scientific discoveries/events in their historical context).

I am generally a fan of how NHBB works their "science history," which admittedly may be because of its close operational similarity to "regular" science questions. In any case, I think it works at the high school level.

I would be a little concerned about these sorts of questions taking over the science distribution, for two reasons: first, hard science questions are quite important to the canon; and second, I find they are fairly difficult to write well, especially for relatively new writer such as myself, as they lend themselves to both meaningless high-level clues (unanswerable to all but the best) and transparent lead-ins.

Perhaps consider putting history of science in with "Mixed Academic," or even allowing the option of science history in the history distribution?

Just my two cents.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by touchpack »

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
I'm going to be honest. I don't like science history replacing chemistry. In fact, I want this trend to stop. I think people who replace chemistry with something else are largely lazy and uncreative about writing interesting questions on chemistry. Its certainly possible to write 1/1 chemistry for a regular difficulty tournament, with a minimal amount of organic chemistry word-matching (in fact you can write organic chemistry without word-matching). I went along with this because, one it was Matt's tournament, and two I'd lost so much face after Penn Bowl last year that I didn't feel comfortable speaking up about it. So let me be unequivocally clear: as one of quizbowl's foremost science editors, and as someone who has edited fairly well-received science for several tournaments of all levels, replacing chemistry with science history is not a good idea and there's absolutely no reason to do it.
Thank you! This matches my thoughts on the situation perfectly. That said, I am not opposed to having science history questions in quizbowl (.5/.5 per packet seems a little bit excessive to me though--I think the "something around the level of earth science" people have been suggesting is a good idea. However, the problem with just cramming all of them into the "other science" distribution is that "other science" is cramped already with Math/CS/Earth Science/Astro/etc. So, here is my proposal:
The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote: So you have a wide range of questions to work with, from...

1. Questions that are essentially science questions (Davisson-Germer)
2. Questions on things you learn in science classes for historical background (Priestly, Galen, horses)
3. Questions on things that you actually have to outright study the history of science to know (John Snow, the IAS, Harrison, the challenger expedition), or that you have to do a little investigating about things you learn in a science class to learn about (Calvin, al-Battani).
4. Questions on pseudoscience (ID, homeopathy)
Stuff like #1 obviously doesn't need to be "science history." You can write a perfectly fine Davisson-Germer tossup for the physics distribution.

I would not be averse to seeing #2 show up in small levels (maybe like, 2-3 questions in a 15-packet tournament) in the Other Science distribution.

#4 I think is most suited to the "Other Academic" category, considering I'm not sure this is stuff people know from science or history or science history classes (although, if I'm wrong, correct me). On the ID tossup I personally was buzzing from things I learned from watching a PBS special, for example.

#3 is a little tricky to place--I will propose that these (again, maybe like, 2-3 questions in a 15-packet tournament) appear in the history distribution.

What do people think of this?
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Sam »

touchpack wrote:On the ID tossup I personally was buzzing from things I learned from watching a PBS special, for example.
Intelligent design is something people definitely learn in science classes. Not good science classes, but still...
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant »

Sam wrote:Intelligent design is something people definitely learn in science classes. Not good science classes, but still...
A good science class might have a discussion on how creationism keeps cropping up as creation science, intelligent design etc when learning about initial resistance to Darwin's ideas.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Sam »

Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant wrote:A good science class might have a discussion on how creationism keeps cropping up as creation science, intelligent design etc when learning about initial resistance to Darwin's ideas.
I was joking because "is taught in class" is often used as a criterion for answer line or clue selection, though what you say is correct and furthers the point that there are plenty of opportunities for people to be exposed to science history.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Tees-Exe Line »

I've been thinking about the fact that quizbowl does little to treat the history/sociology/anthropology of academia as a professional category or even a society, and there's much interesting work on this subject. This article, pertaining to a group of anthropologists and other scholars who criticized a widely circulated and well-published series of economics papers (which were transparently ridiculous as I said at the time, I'll have you know) have gotten me thinking about different fields' methodologies and the consequent rivalries that develop among them. Likewise there was that case of a well-known physicist who rejected the IPCC's temperature calculations because he thought that ecologists can't do math.

http://chronicle.com/article/Flap-Over- ... ng/136947/

Anyway, the point about this for quizbowl is that, as many have said, science history is a genuinely important and interesting subject and questions about how knowledge comes to be created and the group of people nominally engaged in that endeavor ought to be written, and moreover, they could be considered social science even if the knowledge being created in a particular case is what we think of as natural science.

Furthermore, pseudoscience also has its place in quizbowl. In the myth distribution.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by AKKOLADE »

I'm in favor of science history, and I like it in the science categories, either under "other science" or as part of the appropriate sub-category.

Ditto pseudoscience; I have two courses right now where we're going to be discussing subjects related to this, and dealing with this information is going to be a big part of my practice. It's relevant information that should come up.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Nine-Tenths Ideas »

I'm a lover of pseudoscience, because I have a chance of understanding it, as opposed to real science-- I actually submitted a pseudoscience bonus to VCU Closed which apparently made it in. I actually submitted it in the "Your Choice" distro, but the A team said it likely ended up being in the science distro. It was pretty scattershot in scope; what did it end up being considered?
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Sima Guang Hater »

So it seems like the consensus is that science history is great but only when its not in the science distribution. Sounds good to me!
Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson wrote:I'm a lover of pseudoscience, because I have a chance of understanding it, as opposed to real science-- I actually submitted a pseudoscience bonus to VCU Closed which apparently made it in. I actually submitted it in the "Your Choice" distro, but the A team said it likely ended up being in the science distro. It was pretty scattershot in scope; what did it end up being considered?
What question was it?
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Nine-Tenths Ideas »

It was a question that began "Name some things Isaac Hirsch wishes were science but aren't."
As submitted, the parts were Piltdown Man/Cold Fusion/Charles Fort.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Sima Guang Hater »

Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson wrote:It was a question that began "Name some things Isaac Hirsch wishes were science but aren't."
As submitted, the parts were Piltdown Man/Cold Fusion/Charles Fort.
That made it in as your choice, because I didn't edit it.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Cheynem »

That wasn't the consensus at all!
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Smuttynose Island »

Cheynem wrote:That wasn't the consensus at all!
Eric Mukherjee can't handle the truth so he substitutes it with his own.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Excelsior (smack) »

Having been the person who raised the point of pseudoscience, I'd like to clarify that I did not mean that there should not be questions on pseudoscience. Rather, questions on pseudoscience should both 1.) exist; and 2.) not be in the science distribution.
Shan wrote:I can see where you're coming from, but there's sometimes a fine line between pseudosciences and failed sciences. Phrenology could be called a pseudoscience of sorts, but at one point it was a real, living discipline that fell into disrepute as the weight of evidence began to fall against its basic assumptions. (On the other hand, some pseudosciences, like homeopathy, never had that kind of stature, and I don't really know what to do about those.)
I fully agree with this distinction. Phrenology, having been at one point a "science", is worthy of treatment in the science history part of a distribution. Homeopathy, never having been any sort of science whatsoever, fits into history or other academic or whatever (or, as Marshall has indicated, the myth distribution, though I imagine people would throw fits if we did that instead, despite the fact that more people probably believe in homeopathy worldwide than e.g. Cao Dai).
Matt Weiner wrote:The history of science is the history of more correct theories replacing less correct ones (or more cool-kid theories replacing less socially skilled ones, for all you Kuhnians). The historiography distribution in last year's College History Bowl in fact contained a bonus on the great man theory of history, a tossup on the lost cause myth of the Confederacy, and a tossup on Holocaust denial. The latter two are pseudohistory to the extent that they are an objectively incorrect view of which historical events did or did not take place, and the former is an archaic method of historical writing that has not been practiced at the academic level for many decades. In a tournament without a separate suballotment for "historiography," i.e., all tournaments ever besides College History Bowl, these questions should be and, in fact, are, written for the history distribution.
homeopathy : phrenology :: phantom time : Great Man theory, is basically what I'm trying to say here. The things you cited were part of legitimate academic discourse at one point (holocaust denialism wasn't, but it's a movement that is itself of historical interest), and so should be fair game, whereas the phantom time hypothesis was not (right?), and so should not be. Similarly, phrenology is a legitimate topic in the study of the history of science; homeopathy is just a topic in the study of history in general.
Matt Weiner wrote:Science history is a thing that is indisputably academic, can be learned in a class, can be learned through personal reading outside of a class, can be written within our existing standards of what is a good tossup or bonus, and can be answered by people playing the tournament. For those reasons, it is an appropriate thing to ask about. Using it to offset some of the things that are less answerable or writable in any set that wants to both control difficulty and produce an adequate number of packets seems like a good idea to me. It doesn't have to always replace the second chemistry question, but I think it deserves at least a similar place as, say, astronomy or earth science.
Rob wrote:Incidentally, I too see no reason why well-written questions on important historical subjects can't be allotted a part of the science distribution similar in size to earth science or astronomy or computer science.
Fred wrote:I'm in favor of science history, and I like it in the science categories, either under "other science" or as part of the appropriate sub-category.
Again, why should history-of-science go in the science distribution? It is a field of history; it is studied using historical methods; nobody would ever call Yale's HSHM program a STEM major.

Also, Matt Weiner's argument is bizarre, as it seems to indicate that we should just wholesale rewrite the distribution in such a way as to replace "less answerable or writable" questions with things that are "indisputably academic"/etc. I propose that most science questions are either less answerable or less writable than, say, large swaths of literature and history. Should we start replacing biology with poetry and math with history now?


In sum, I take Eric's stance that science history should 1.) exist and 2.) not be in the science distribution. Billy's four-part classification of science history seems reasonable to me, and I also agree with that. Marshall's proposal to file certain types of science history under social science seems eminently reasonable as well.

Note also that it's not like this tournament invented the notion of science history in the science distribution - science questions have always (or at least, for the past three years) had a tendency to contextualize scientific things in terms of their historical context, especially in bonus parts. This will still be the case even if we nominally remove science history from the science distribution (i.e. status quo ante VCU Closed). I don't think that we can do anything about this, and it doesn't particularly bother me in any case (particularly in bonus parts).
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Matt Weiner »

The only reason we know what is pseudoscience is because of science. I don't anticipate that there will be a huge upsurge in tossups on "homeopathy" in the future; maybe in a tournament with 15 science history questions, 1 or 2 will be on pseudoscience. That seems reasonable to me.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

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Excelsior (smack) wrote: I fully agree with this distinction. Phrenology, having been at one point a "science", is worthy of treatment in the science history part of a distribution. Homeopathy, never having been any sort of science whatsoever, fits into history or other academic or whatever (or, as Marshall has indicated, the myth distribution, though I imagine people would throw fits if we did that instead, despite the fact that more people probably believe in homeopathy worldwide than e.g. Cao Dai).
This seems like a really silly distinction to make. First of all, I'm not even sure it's true; homeopathy persisted in India and in Europe for centuries during time periods when there was actual science going on in those places. There was at one point no scientific consensus united against homeopathy, that would seem to suggest that it was, at one point, considered a science.

The bigger issue with your argument is that you're calling for a breakdown of disciplines that is really unnatural to how knowledge actually works. You could learn about homeopathy in the context of history, in the context of rigidly scientific or medical courses where it's ridiculed in a five minute aside, or in the context of "history of medicine." Thus, you should be able to submit a history or a history of science tossup on homeopathy. Doesn't it make more sense to say that if a certain topic is relevant to a field, then that justifies an attempt to write a tossup on that topic for a field? You could write a physics tossup on Albert Einstein, of course, but you could also write a history of science tossup on him or even a history or literature tossup on him. In each case, you'd have to choose different clues. But the thing is that a topic like Albert Einstein is important to multiple fields, much like a ton of other topics across the spectrum of human knowledge.
Again, why should history-of-science go in the science distribution? It is a field of history; it is studied using historical methods; nobody would ever call Yale's HSHM program a STEM major.
Again, this statement is simply not true unless you have a really narrow view of what "history of science" actually encompasses. You can write a tossup on the "lumineferous ether," for instance, with clues about different perceptions of it and the final experiment that disproved it; all of which are presented in a scientific manner. There are some things in history of science that are studied as a process of a theory being made, modified, disproven, rinse, and repeat. There are other things in history of science that are studied using historical methods. What ties them all together is the theme of scientific progress. That's why history of science is justifiable as a unified thing, and because there is so much more of it out there that's acceptable than people can imagine, it can justify its place as a guaranteed part of the distribution.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Excelsior (smack) »

Auroni wrote:This seems like a really silly distinction to make.
Conceded, I guess.
You could learn about homeopathy in the context of history, in the context of rigidly scientific or medical courses where it's ridiculed in a five minute aside, or in the context of "history of medicine."
Also true, but, again, I'm not trying to call for the complete excision of history-of-science from quizbowl (again, I liked almost all the history-of-science questions I heard at VCU Closed, taken in a vacuum). I'm asking for it to be removed from the science distribution.

Following your line of argumentation, we may as well put questions on witch-doctory and faith healing and the electric universe idea (and hell, to exaggerate a bit, why not Time Cube?) into the history-of-science distribution, which in your scheme falls into the science distribution. I find this immensely aesthetically displeasurable, and I guess I'm not doing a good job of articulating why. Hopefully someone else can.
You can write a tossup on the "lumineferous ether," for instance, with clues about different perceptions of it and the final experiment that disproved it; all of which are presented in a scientific manner.
As Billy noted above, we have, in quizbowl, for a long time, called this kind of tossup just "science", and I'm not really complaining about that. It is my concern that reclassifying this kind of tossup as science history and specifically allocating space for it in the distribution will lead to greater quantities of "Questions on things that you actually have to outright study the history of science to know" and "Questions on pseudoscience" being written and occupying space in the science distribution.
Matt Weiner wrote:I don't anticipate that there will be a huge upsurge in tossups on "homeopathy" in the future; maybe in a tournament with 15 science history questions, 1 or 2 will be on pseudoscience.
I don't know about that. I feel like people will jump at the chance to write questions on pseudoscience instead of science, because the former is tremendously easier to write than the latter. Perhaps good editorial discretion will prevent this from manifesting in tournaments. Perhaps.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Matt Weiner »

Well, we required history of science in the submissions to this tournament, for the first time in a long time, and I don't think an enormous number of pseudoscience questions were submitted.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

Tokyo Sex Whale wrote: 3) Chemistry knowledge is often tested in the biology, physics, astronomy, and history of science categories. Because chemistry is so fundamental, it spills over to other categories. So basically, in the 1/1 chem model, there's probably going to be something like 1.2/1.2 chem because there are chemistry clues in questions from other disciplines.
This is not a particularly strong argument. Physics is also "so fundamental" (it would be hard to argue that it is less fundamental), so perhaps there is 1.3/1.3 physics in the 1/1 physics model. This is not necessarily a reason to reduce the physics distribution; it is a factual statement about the way science works. Similarly, some of the most exciting applications of physics and chemistry both are fundamentally biological; thus, perhaps there is 1.2/1.2 biology in the 1/1 biology model. Depending on how you decide to assign a clue to one academic discipline or another, you could declare a tournament of the 1/1-for-everything model to contain plus or minus some fraction of a question per packet to any subject. If you choose to take questions from chemistry, fine, but this isn't a reason to choose to diminish the chemistry distribution.

It's certainly true that history of science is interesting; I like the subject myself. But given that we already have a distribution for topics like philosophy and social science (and, in many tournaments, "other academic," I think it works quite well as one of many topics in the history of human thought.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

Nobody would ever call Yale's HSHM program a STEM major.
I've already committed myself to not arguing directly for either side here, but I don't see why this matters. Although quizbowl questions should strive to reward academic study, quizbowlers do not get most of their buzzes from classes they've taken and generally know plenty of material they have never encountered in class. The way your university has decided to approach the history of science is only tangentially relevant to where we should put it in the distribution.

Also, the phrase "STEM Major" must be purged from the English language with fire and sword.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Muriel Axon »

Excelsior (smack) wrote:I fully agree with this distinction. Phrenology, having been at one point a "science", is worthy of treatment in the science history part of a distribution. Homeopathy, never having been any sort of science whatsoever, fits into history or other academic or whatever (or, as Marshall has indicated, the myth distribution, though I imagine people would throw fits if we did that instead, despite the fact that more people probably believe in homeopathy worldwide than e.g. Cao Dai).
The point I was trying to make was more that you can build a dichotomy between, on the one hand, pseudosciences that are essentially failed sciences, and on the other, pseudosciences that might never have been scientific - but there's no clear distinction between them, and so wherever you draw the line it's bound to be a little arbitrary. I see now that I wasn't really clear.
This is not a particularly strong argument. Physics is also "so fundamental" (it would be hard to argue that it is less fundamental), so perhaps there is 1.3/1.3 physics in the 1/1 physics model. This is not necessarily a reason to reduce the physics distribution; it is a factual statement about the way science works.
What do you mean by fundamental? For that matter, what does Auroni mean by fundamental? I think the key argument is that you may be more likely to hear chemistry clues in biology and physics questions than you are to hear physics clues in biology and chemistry questions, which seems like a reasonable assumption to me.

Also, I'm curious as to what science history topics Marshall and others argue could belong in social science.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Tees-Exe Line »

Vernon Lee Bad Marriage, Jr. wrote:
Also, the phrase "STEM Major" must be purged from the English language with fire and sword.
I'm afraid you will have lost that battle if the predictable-but-disappointing immigration reform proposal for green-carding anyone with a bullshit STEM major goes through. (As opposed to green-carding everyone, the correct policy.)
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Cheynem »

I guess how I look at it is that science history is a good topic, worth coming up, and should be used in appropriate parts of the distribution when feasible. I've written questions on space exploration for the history distro, questions on like scientific inventions and discoveries for the "other science" distro, and just general questions on science history/pseudoscience for social science or your choice. Judicious editors should probably decide when and where to utilize these questions. I would think lower difficulty (however you define that) and high school tournaments should use more science history in the science distro because there just isn't as a large of pure chem or other science topics to ask about, but it's probably up to the individual editor. For instance, an Eric "Double E" Mukherjee tournament would probably not feature science history in the science distro, which makes sense because Eric is perfectly capable of writing on lots of pure science topics. For MUT, I occasionally had to bend that and put in some science history because my editors, however talented, were not as wide-ranging in science knowledge, so a few science history questions filled some gaps.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Tees-Exe Line »

The Eighth Viscount of Waaaah wrote:Also, I'm curious as to what science history topics Marshall and others argue could belong in social science.
Certainly all sorts of things related to the "evolution debate," as it were. For instance, I wrote a bonus part for Peaceful Resolution on a Whiggish reading of the Scopes Monkey Trial, a critique from the otherwise-crazy historian Edward Larson. That's historiography, but also social science.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Cheynem »

Hey, I like Summer for the Gods!
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

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Cheynem wrote:Hey, I like Summer for the Gods!
That's exactly what I'm saying (and said, in PR) was correct. However, wikipedia reveals that he simultaneously held the Herman Talmadge Chair of Law and the Richard Russell Chair of History, which vindicates my view. And also the decision to write a bonus on Georgian senators in the same tournament.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

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The Eighth Viscount of Waaaah wrote:
This is not a particularly strong argument. Physics is also "so fundamental" (it would be hard to argue that it is less fundamental), so perhaps there is 1.3/1.3 physics in the 1/1 physics model. This is not necessarily a reason to reduce the physics distribution; it is a factual statement about the way science works.
What do you mean by fundamental? For that matter, what does Auroni mean by fundamental? I think the key argument is that you may be more likely to hear chemistry clues in biology and physics questions than you are to hear physics clues in biology and chemistry questions, which seems like a reasonable assumption to me.
This is not really a true assumption--biology clues come up in chemistry questions all the time. (For example, I don't think I've ever seen a well-written hydrogen bonding tossup that doesn't contain any bio/biochemistry clues). In many harder tournaments, pure biochemistry questions are thrown into the chemistry distribution (such as 2012 ACF Nats' tossup on iron/sulfur proteins or several tossups I've seen on terpenes/terpenoids). Chemistry and physics frequently overlap when you see tossups on things from thermodynamics or statistical mechanics. (for example, I'm pretty sure I've seen tossups on "Helmholtz free energy" packaged as both chemistry and physics before). Sciences overlap--and there are definitely many chemistry questions that are gettable from biology/physics knowledge.

As for the word "fundamental," biology, chemistry, and physics are often considered the fundamental sciences due to the large number of different topics contained within them and the fact that many other disciplines can be reduced to being a sub-field of one of them. Of course, this is the type of thing people on the internet can argue about for pages after pages without coming to a consensus, so I wouldn't go around using the word like it's a term of art. (for example, questions like, is earth science a fundamental science? or is astronomy its own fundamental science, or is it just a subset of physics?)
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

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I guess my word choice of "fundamental" wasn't that great. The point that I was trying to make is that chemistry, out of all science categories, as it stands, has the highest chance of appearing in science questions outside of the chemistry category.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

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Anyway, I don't want the pseudoscience issue to become a stalking horse for opposition to science history in general. If we're not asking about it outside of GK, no huge deal; that doesn't change the fact that science history is a real thing that is a valid part of understanding science.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

The Eighth Viscount of Waaaah wrote:
This is not a particularly strong argument. Physics is also "so fundamental" (it would be hard to argue that it is less fundamental), so perhaps there is 1.3/1.3 physics in the 1/1 physics model. This is not necessarily a reason to reduce the physics distribution; it is a factual statement about the way science works.
What do you mean by fundamental? For that matter, what does Auroni mean by fundamental? I think the key argument is that you may be more likely to hear chemistry clues in biology and physics questions than you are to hear physics clues in biology and chemistry questions, which seems like a reasonable assumption to me.
I think Auroni's model of "fundamental" basically refers to whether a given field of study incorporates underlying truths also relevant to another field of study. Thermodynamics questions are comfortably asked in chemistry, but thermodynamics is just as much physics--where did you first hear of the Three Laws? "Quantum chemistry" questions (formal MO theory and the like) are basically just straight physics-type QM questions, but with the word "orbital" occasionally popping up where "wavefunction" might otherwise.* You could write a medicine tossup on MRI that could draw on the physics of why T2-weighting makes water light and fat dark... and hey, I'll point out that one big difference between fats and water that probably has to do with a magnetic technique might be their dielectrics, which is one of many measures of polarity...


*okay, spin-orbital
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by AKKOLADE »

So, I've just started reading a book about homeopathy & scams for one of my classes.
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Re: Let's Talk About Science History

Post by Fond du lac operon »

Alliance in the Alps wrote:Is there a way of integrating science history into its appropriate subjects? I do agree science history should have a place somewhere, but is it possible to have such clues and answers in tossups and bonuses while keeping everything to what is studied academically? I'm not saying that this should be the only place science history should go, but I'm just suggesting an idea that may or may not work.

Yuuuup! Eric's indicated that the four-color theorem tossup was meant to be science history, but I honestly thought it was straight-up math, and wouldn't have blinked an eye if you told me it was submitted as such. Were there some issues with that tossup? Sure. Could one write a solid and pyramidal 4CT tossup for a tournament of this level, and one that would fit in the math distribution while having lots of history-of-science clues? Absolutely, and I think Eric's came reasonably close.

Similarly with the Davisson-Germer experiment tossup -- or tossups on Stern-Gerlach or Pound-Rebka or whatever other doubly eponymous physics experiments you can name. (Michaelson-Morley! Okay, I'm through.) Experiments get asked about all the time, usually with a mix of history and "real science" clues.

I don't know how successful just suggesting that people try to write a question in the 5/5 that incorporates some history would be. And I don't know if it would lead to math or physics or chemistry getting crippled by everyone writing history questions in those subjects rather than questions on concepts. But I imagine it would lead to far less griping, and would increase science history without changing the distribution all that much.
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