“A scientific theory is a very well-tested explanation, built from facts, confirmed hypotheses, and inferences.” — SMU physicist Stephen Sekula
An Op-Ed in the online Connecticut news outlet CTNewsJunkie.com tapped the expertise of SMU Associate Professor of Physics Stephen Sekula.
The writer of the piece, High School English teacher Barth Keck at Haddam-Killingworth High School, quoted the comments of Sekula, who spoke to Keck’s media literacy class.
The opinion piece, “Ignoring Science At Our Own Peril,” addressed the issue of science illiteracy. The editorial published April 14, 2017.
Sekula was among the SMU physicists at Geneva-based CERN — seat of the world’s largest collaborative physics experiment — in December 2011 who found hints of the long sought after Higgs boson, dubbed the fundamental “God” particle.
Sekula conducts research at the energy frontier through CERN’s ATLAS Experiment. He co-convened the ATLAS Higgs Subgroup 6: Beyond-the-Standard Model Higgs Physics from 2012-2013. He is involved in the search for additional Higgs bosons. He also is an authority on big data and high-performance computing.
By Barth Keck
Last week was a newsworthy week — at least for this high school English teacher.
In a story out of Hartford last Wednesday, the state Board of Education officially eliminated the requirement that standardized test scores be tied to teacher evaluations. The move, while controversial, was a common-sense decision that recognizes the many problems created by evaluations based on standardized tests. A newsworthy development, indeed, for anyone interested in education.
Even so, a more newsworthy event for me occurred on Tuesday when Southern Methodist University professor Stephen Sekula visited English and science classes at his alma mater and my workplace, Haddam-Killingworth High School. Speaking to my students in Media Literacy, Sekula explained in vivid detail how scientists rigorously and deliberately employ the scientific method in their never-ending search for answers. It is with similar vigilance, he explained, that individuals must consider the multitude of messages around them to become truly “media-literate.”
“A scientific theory is a very well-tested explanation, built from facts, confirmed hypotheses, and inferences,” according to the physics professor. “It is more powerful than a fact because it explains facts.”
Unfortunately, said Sekula, the word “theory” is often likened to “opinion” in public dialogue — as in “human-caused climate change is just a theory” — but there’s an essential difference between theory and opinion. Scientists know the difference, of course, but so should all citizens. Thus, a media-literate person sees a red flag whenever someone — a “pseudoscientist” — uses “theory” and “opinion” interchangeably.
“Pseudoscience readily admits opinions and equates that with the idea of scientific theory,” explained Sekula, “requiring no high quality evidence to make explanatory claims about the world.”
And there it was: the explanation for so much happening in the public sphere right now. Fake news, conspiracy theories, science-averse officials appointed to science-dependent federal agencies. Professor Sekula’s message could not be more timely and, therefore, newsworthy.