On good science, tickling and peer review.

This is where we have got to with my daughter, Arianne (8):

  • She knows the basics of evolution.
  • She thinks the Big Bang is God’s way of starting the world. That’s good enough for me, for now. Most of the time she thinks there is a God, but she doesn’t think he can be that important. That’s fine by me, too.

The important thing is that I don’t impose my beliefs, or lack of belief, on her. Let’s give her the thinking skills and the confidence to decide for herself.

I am showing her how to think as a scientist. This is quite easy because she has a genuine interest in science anyway, and a mind that is critical and organised.

Only the last week we were designing an experiment together. The question was: ‘Are people more likely to feel ticklish if you make silly sounds while tickling them’? Her hypothesis was that tickling someone with tickling sounds would enhance the tickling experience. We set up control conditions and experimental conditions. I explained the concepts of sample size and statistical significance. She sort of got the gist of it. So far so good.

But then she came up with this question:

Mummy, if we made a discovery and wanted to share it with other people, how would others know it is true? We could have made a mistake.

So I explained about peer review: how important it is that others, who are good at science, read the research and point out any mistakes, how scientists write up their results and submit them to be published, and how sometimes it takes a lot of rethinking and rewriting to get things right. And that it is important to do this, otherwise others may read work that is wrong, and believe it, and when this happens it is very dangerous sometimes.

I was so pleased with myself.

And then The Conceptual Penis came along and ruined everything.

But a penis deserves its own post. Especially if it’s conceptual.

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