Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Praise of Science Friday

A year ago I caught a taxi at Reagan National Airport. The taxi driver, a young Ethiopian man, had the radio tuned to Science Friday, and I asked him if he listened to it often. "Oh, yes!" he said. "It is my favorite program!" While supporting his family and driving a taxi, this young man was also studying anatomy and physiology at a local community college, in hopes of becoming a physical therapist. Science Friday helped inspire in him the curiosity and ambition to reach for his dreams.

This afternoon I got in a dispute with my husband, who scoffed at my suggestion that Science Friday reaches a million listeners a week. So I looked it up. I was wrong: 1.3 million listeners a week tune in to hear Ira Flatow coax scientists to explain the latest discoveries and controversies. Not all those listeners are PhDs or science graduates: some of them are just plain curious adults, and some of them are teenagers who want to hear about everything from stem cells to HPV to extrasolar planets to the latest Internet technology.

Science Friday archives past programs, so if you want to find out more about, say, ice, the origins of kissing, how fleas jump, or how to build a subway, you can check the Science Friday website and download a past podcast. You can also watch videos on burrowing owls, a home-made 3D printer, fossils, or the physics of hair in Disney's animated movie Tangled. You can find science articles in Spanish and science blogs for teens on such topics as becoming a high altitude archeologist or the dangers of diet soda.

The associated "Talking Science" website includes sections for parents, teachers, and kids. There are resources for parents who want to do science activities at home, for middle school teachers who want to bring contemporary science connections to their classrooms, and for kids who want to explore science careers or just see what kinds of science other kids are doing. 'the truly adventurous among you can even explore Science Friday in Second Life.

In my opinion, Science Friday is a national treasure, one of the reasons the adult population of America is more scientifically literate than might be expected by our kids' test scores. I invite all of you to listen to the program, take a look around the website, and think about how you can use Science Friday to enrich your own science knowledge and that of our kids and neighbors.


Anonymous said...

Fridays would be miserable without "Science Friday." I could not agree more that the show is a "national treasure." Thank you for sharing my sentiments exactly.

Susan said...

I have loved Science Friday from the very first moment I stumbled upon it via the Internet almost six years ago....and firmly believe that had I found it years earlier, perhaps my life would have gone in a very different direction.

Because of Science Friday, I got an H1N1 flu shot (and learned to stop calling it "swine flu.)

Because of Science Friday I have become considerably more aware of how my actions may be contributing to climate change and have actively done things to change my behavior in the hope that I might make a small difference.

Because of Science Friday I know more about the Higgs boson, black holes, nanotubes, graphene, and carbon sequestration than I would ever have thought possible.

Because of Science Friday I have bought books like The Zookeeper's Wife, About a Mountain and In Search of Memory.

Because of Science Friday, I have been educated by watching entertaining videos, like how to de-skunk my dog (if I had one), and what kind of car I might want to drive (if I didn't use the subway ever day). I've seen permafrost defrosting, understand the physics of basketball, know what it's like to see through the eyes of an armadillo and how water balloons behave in space. I have been able to not only hear some of the scientists that are interviewed, but also see their desks! How else would that have ever been possible, if not for Science Friday?

Because of Science Friday, I have been able to hear the words of people like Jane Goodall, Eric Kandel, Carl Sagan, and Sylvia Earl, just to name a few of the many, many guests who have been interviewed. I’d like to think that if Einstein were alive, I would have also gotten to hear him too.

Because of Science Friday I know the origins of words like antibiotic, physician and comet.

It’s impossible for me to detail all that I’ve learned over the past five years of being a Science Friday listener. I have been horrified by what is happening to our planet, (and the people who don’t believe it), yet still feel encouraged that there are so many smart people out there, diligently working on ways to effect change.

Science Friday feeds my curiosity on so many different levels.

And, certainly, last, but not least, there’s Ira Flatow……without whom Science Friday would never have existed. With his unlikely sounding radio voice he has helped me and all his other listeners, to better understand the scientific world around us by bringing science into our lives for two hours every week, and on a level that we can understand. If it were not for Ira, I would not be using the phrase “Scientific evidence is NOT a matter of opinion!”

Yes, I am proud to be one of the many fans of Science Friday……..

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