Vicki Cobb wins lifetime achievement award

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Vicki Cobb?  Well, her books, anyway. She is pretty much the queen of science writing for kids, and her royal status has been confirmed with her recent lifetime achievement award for excellence in children’s books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Subaru Science Books & Film.  They call her the “Julia Child of hands-on science.”

My Vicki Cobb picks?  The Science Play series.  I mentioned one of the titles in Kite Day (Picture Book Preschool), but the whole series is spot-on for 3 to 5 year-olds to explore science.  I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Children’s literature professor, Betty Carter says this in an essay about preschool science books in A Family of Readers (love this book, btw!):

“Look carefully at a four-volume series named Science Play written by Vicki Cobb. Both together and individually, these books get right at the process of discovery by asking youngsters to participate in a number of experiments in order to understand scientific principles.”

Start with Science Play.  Move on to one of Vicki Cobb’s 80-odd other science books for kids.  As Carter says, “Cobb knows her science, and she knows children and their abilities.”


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For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

What is a skeptic, anyway?

Guy P. Harrison has this to say about skepticism in the introduction to his new book 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think are True,

“Some people think of skeptics as cynical, negative people with closed minds.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Skepticism is really nothing more than a fancy name for trying to think clearly and thoroughly before making a decision about believing, buying, or joining something.  It’s about sorting out reality from lies and misperceptions.”

I just started reading this book, and I am impressed so far.  It covers a lot of ground in brief, accessible chapters perfect for when you only have a few minutes to read something interesting.   If you are an advocate for science literacy, a fan of Mythbusters, or otherwise interested in debunking paranormal stuff like psychics, near-death experiences, UFOs, etc. this book is for you.

Harrison believes, and I agree, that skepticism is essential for progress.  That might seem like a bold statement, and certainly some will take issue with it.  But what if we substitute “critical thinking” for “skepticism”?  Perhaps it has less negative connotation to some, but the definitions are awfully similar.  They’re both, basically, thinking about thinking.  Double checking our process to make sure we haven’t made any mistakes.  Looking for perspective.  These aren’t cynical things–they’re necessary.

Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky includes critical thinking as one of seven essential life skills that parents should instill in their children, and she ties it in with problem solving.  I know I’ve recommended this book before, but I can’t resist recommending it again to parents or teachers who want practical, science-based advice for helping kids develop the skills they need to succeed, including evaluating information, making decisions, and determining goals–all of which are related to critical thinking.

Actually, it’s a good time to pick up Mind in the Making because one of my favorite parenting blogs, Not Just Cute, just started blogging the book chapter-by-chapter.  Start here with Chapter One, and read along!

Speaking of “problem solving,” I happened to catch Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose new book Space Chronicles is out now, on The Daily Circuit earlier this week, and he said scientists and engineers are “problem solvers.”  Listening to Tyson talk, I’d say skeptics are idea people.  Skeptics are hopeful and engaged.  Skepticism, science, critical thinking, problem solving… It all sounds so exciting when he’s talking about it.

Skepticism isn’t inherently negative.  Skeptics aren’t trying to be mean when they ask for evidence.  We’re just curious.


Disclosure: links are affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

For more about science & skepticism, see my Secular Thursday page.

What does proof look like?

I’ve been catching up on podcasts again, and that means This American Life. The episode on January 16, 2011–Kid Politics–was great. Act 2, in particular, looks at skepticism by putting a scientist/activist who is part of an organization developing curriculum to teach young people about climate change and a teen who is a climate change skeptic together. At the end of a look at the evidence for climate change the teen remains unconvinced, and Ira Glass asks her a very important question: What would proof look like? (I’m paraphrasing).

Then he asks the scientist: “Do you think it’s hopeless to reach someone once they are already skeptical?”

As a skeptic on many topics (though not climate change), I think these questions are interesting. Can I be reached? Am I too certain of what I know? I suppose I will be revisiting these questions many times in my life as I try to maintain the balance between certainty and skepticism.

Let’s all do what we can to promote science literacy. Start with this video:

Or perhaps read children’s science writer, Steve Jenkins’, musings on how to present science as an authority without undermining the ever-changing/improving nature of the field in this post on The I.N.K. blog.