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Friday, July 27, 2012

Should teachers know science or neuroscience?

This question is constantly asked at different forums, science blogs and messages about education such as specialized in neuroscience and science. I personally read each one as because is the main theme of my writings. Yes, I think and believe that neuroscience can do a lot for education and my argument is time to put the brain in the classroom, and I do not tire of saying that science education benefits to any country at all levels, especially the economic. Can you interpret my phrases as you like, there is no a recipe.

My problem arises when other writers say: teachers should know neuroscience, and that joins a long list of duties, like teachers should know physics, math, history, chemistry, biology, astronomy, so they would teach it properly to students. Virtually any topic in which someone is expert, teachers must master it, so future generations can have a scientific education.

Of course the huge list of topics that we believe teachers can be experts, are added cleaning bugers, how separate fighters, reading of hieroglyphs, decryption key, taught to read and write, how to respond to questions such as: can I go to the bathroom?, can I deliver my homework tomorrow?, how do you know that I copied this from Wikipedia?, or what will you do to help my child with writing?. 

If teachers should be experts in so many fields, they would deserve to earn a higher salary. Being a teacher would be a good profession, (it doesn't mean is not, but it would be a better profession) and they would have enough money to read specialized magazines and attend all meetings, conference and forums organized by those who claim to know how to teach better and are part expensive conferences to share knowledge. Sharing is just a say by those experts in science, because they do not speak with simple mortals, they only charge a high bill by let you see them a couple of hours, recommending to buy their books, and follow them in social networks. 

If teachers have questions or want to share any idea, they have permission to speak. It doesn’t mean those questions will be answered, those ideas are not relevant. The relevance is decided by the expert, not you.

The question is then whether teachers should know science and how much they can apply it in their classroom, in a society that isn't interested in science.

Let's  split  this question, which is not as easy as it seems. 

The relationship of science to society

Once I read that it can’t be taught something that is socially shared, because teachers work with which society gives them to shape. If socially you aren't literate scientifically, it is not possible to provide the science from the experts, those lucky ones who have taken advantage from their enormous passion for a subject, often supported at home, because everything is much easier if you have other supports, in addition to school.

When people think about scientists the image is a brilliant mind able to respond to everything and understand the complexity of the world, it's partly an image that scientist themselves have created, however, science in numbers looks far from society.

Let me share some data. Between 1996 to 2010 were published 5,322590 Scientific articles in United States, and from those documents 4.972 679 are quotable, does that sound like many articles?, well, what about if we compared them with the population of The United States, 313,967,000 persons means that they are not so many articles, and if you accept that not everyone can read them, and each article sometimes costs between 20 and 40 dollars, maybe we can begin to see some distances.

The countries that follow in the list with more scientific production are China with 1,848,727 articles, but with a population of 1,347,350,000 persons; United Kingdom added 1,633,434 articles, and has a population of 62,262, 000 persons. 

At the other extreme of the data, The Vatican City State published 4 articles in the same period, but it has a population of 800 persons. The island of Saint Helena has a population of 4,255 and 1 published article. Of course the proportion is abysmal among the countries most gifted of scientific support. 

Does it look like The United States is a scientifically literate country?, I don't think so, because one of the topics given more headache is how to make that science can have better results. 

In a study applied in 2009 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to students 15 years of age between 65 countries, United States ranked 23th in science and 31st in mathematics. 

It is not the idea of this article to discover the black wire, but I think that the problem is between the distance of science with society. To argue this point, I propose some comparisons: Carl Zimmer is followed by 922 050 persons on Google plus, Hugh Jackman has  2, 878,747 followers, Daniel Tosh has 6.2 million followers on twitter. 

But it seems that people can be a little interested in science, if you can understand it, because if we look at the most popular scientific websites is that visits that are made to them are distributed as follows:
1. How stuff works?,  12,000,000! Clearly , it's good to know, n how everyday things work and if someone explains it and you enjoy this, perhaps it's easy to understand it!.
2 NOAA 10,000,000
3 Discovery Channel 9,400,000. What teacher has not heard: I saw it on Discovery Channel?.
4 NASA 8,900,000
5 Science direct 4,500,000
6 Science Daily 2,400,000
7 Nature 1,800,000
8 Treehuger 1,700,000
9 1,400,000
10 Science Blogs 1,250,000
11 PhysOrg 1,200,000
12 New Scientist 1,000,000
13 Live 950,000 Science
14 Space 750,000
15 Network Orbit 600,000
It must be considered that these sites are not only reached in The United States, but if the world's population is estimated in 7 billion of persons, readings are reduced to very little, and one more comparison:  Lady Gaga has 27, 815 976 followers on twitter. Does this sound like she has more fans than Nature?.

But if we look again at the list, its possible to observe the level of complexity on scientific topics is inversely proportional to the audience, this means less complexity, more audience.

Why don’t people read nor understand science?

I learned many years ago there are three levels of science, basic science, where are those of highest level, sometimes in laboratories with expensive equipment, often trying to give answers to the most complex things in the universe. Between them and simple mortals, they are those who interpret those complex things and have the ability to explain them with simple words. Sometimes they are scientists, sometimes they have enough passion for some topics, but without their ability to explain in words what scientists write based on molecules or mathematical calculations, it would be difficult to understand much.

Finally there is the applied science, or those who take what the second level and put it in action. Sometimes they are mercenaries and science are expensive, but something to eat.

Many journalists and scientific bloggers are at the second level, sometimes communicate directly with scientists, although they can feel fear of scientists´ comments,  saying  simple mortals are wrong or they do not understand beyond few letters (this was Carl Zimmer's  comment of on twitter).

This is the reason why there are manual to argue with scientists as the written by Jacquelyn Gill, who explains that scientists only talk among themselves and only accepted evidence of writings that have been reviewed by peers, their peers. Even when if at some cases it has been proof that articles can be wrong or even based on false evidence. But it seems there is a tremendous competition between them and sometimes unfair. In some countries it makes sense, when the programs for science and Academy depends on limited budgets, and it is distributed among so many brilliant minds just few coins.

Gill explains that if an idea was written in a blog or in a magazine that does not have some credibility, it is simply disqualified by the experts. In addition, if simple mortals are not capable of understanding their language, means the end of any discussion. 

To this is added, as indicated by the numbers, the greater amount of scientific articles are written in English. So if you are not bilingual it can be difficult to read.

But I also learned ´many years ago to be skeptical; I was told that it was a peculiar quality to scientific minds, and which helps to look further than things appear in a first look. There are many examples in the history of science, but what I like the most it’s the apology that the New York Times newspaper, had to give Robert Goddard, who was accused of crazy to say that it was possible to build rockets, manned, powered by fuel, capable of reaching the moon. 

The community ridiculed him, and he had to wait 49 years for an apology. His idea was not only correct, but possible.

Another widespread thought is that the best ideas are written in certain magazines or do certain laboratory or academies. As if thinking were tied to a place, sometimes get me the impression they think only from 8 am to 6 pm and after that anything is futile. But for a simple mortal to write in those magazines or work at those places, need to work 5 times harder than any other and when the most important thing is eating, it is very easy to forget about the science. 

If I learned well, a knowledge or an idea is valid only if it is written by a name or a known magazine?, does perhaps no one else have the right to think?, and what if  such a blogger is a retired professor?, who cares, experts won’t ask more questions, they are busy doing science.

Is it possible to have a society that is literate in science?

The answer is complex, is needed an interested society and numbers indicate that doesn’t happen. But when we asked:  who is the most famous living scientist?, the first name in everyone's mind is Stephen Hawking. 

He has appeared in several popular TV shows (I mean with millions of viewers), for example his appearance on the Simpsons, in the chapter 22 of the tenth season, was watched only in The United States by an audience of 6.8 million viewers. Others know him for his appearance on South Park, and more recently in Big Bang Theory. I know between recognize his name to understand his theories there is considerable distance, but people recognize him, as Michael Phelps, Derek Jeter or Madonna. Only in Facebook  Dr Hawking has 209, 210 subscribers.

In a list released by a writer is said to have other four famous living scientists. We can or not agree with it, I would have on my personal list to David Eagleman, since I am interested in his ideas about the brain or Francis Crick because I am passionate about his work about the mind, and I could not miss Stanilas Dehaene, for his work with learning, but here there are the names of the original list and one of their lectures at TED:
1. James Watson TED 382 204 have seen this Video
2. Jane Goodall TED has 204,047 views
This video has been viewed 743,076 times
4. James Hansen This video has been viewed 491,350 times.
If we want a society educated in science, scientists should answer our foolish questions of their followers, they should be closer to politicians, journalists, comment in forums of ordinary people, remove the suit of arrogant and remember that one day they were normal people and they even ate popcorn while watched a science tv show. Long before Tivo.

Speaking of politicians, a year ago, during the economic crisis in the United States, I was scared reading and watching how political meetings were so long and they couldn’t find a solution to the dilemma. I could not resist and asked my husband and my father-in-law, if there are so many Nobel awards in economy at this country, why not one of them can resolve the situation?. Nobody could answer me.

I decided to write this note thanks to all articles and blogs about what teachers and politicians should know about science, in response to all and from my humble point of view. What should politicians know science?, simple, social life would be easier and economically it would add much in the short, medium and long term. 

What should scientists know about teachers,  politicians and  ordinary people?, beyond that we are objects of constant study, you must start the dialogue, or the distance between everybody  will be getting bigger.

Scientist should understand that politicians know nothing about science,they don't have to, but they allow the budgets to science programs. Is it worth talking to them and explain some of the advantages of science?.

Attempts to popularize science among the young are carried out, for example the idea of Google Science Fair, it brings together young people from all over the world scientists and the proposal of Scientific American reunite to 1000 scientists in 1000 days, that incredibly, has only brought together scientists 1552 so far, sounds very little if is considered the National Academy of science in the United States was founded in 1863 and now has 2,200 members and 400 foreign partners; the National Academy of engineering has 2,200 members more 200 foreign partners and the Institute of medicine has 1, 700 members and 100 foreign partners, and this is only the cream and cream of science in the United States.
But back to the original question:

Should teachers know of neuroscience?

I have said that there is a great distance between duty and wishing. Teachers must know from neuroscience as much as they want to, and apply both as the official educational programs allow them. Because we are always willing to say how to teach better, but we don't know what their programs indicate. Knowledge has to be purchased at an enormous speed, have to meet bureaucratic affairs, attending many children in a classroom, dealing with parents, educational authorities, and survive the traffic. Who are we to tell them how to teach?.

Because we scientists can have a lot of research about a  X neuron, but we have not been able to fully explain how the brain works. There is much information molecular, biochemical, electrical, neuroimaging, neuroanatomical, neural networks, we try to explain processes, but until now, no one raises the hand and says: works and thus learns. That's fascinating science, more studies, more question arise.

But teachers know something and very clear: Children learn when they want, how they want and what they want to, and not as plans and programs the Government and the international agencies indicate, or how neuroscientists are written in their expensive journals.

If scientists want to be heard, we must learn to listen and read each other, what  simple mortals say and think by, being in touch with journalist without making them feel that they do not know a letter, that it is true, they don't know what the expert knows, but they are trying to!. 

I think that if science touches the door of homes and offices of politicians, there will be fewer diseases, less resistance to treatments, greater acceptance of ideas that achieve progress for all, solve problems, yes I know, I'm idealistic.
¿Debes los maestros saber neurociencia o ciencia?

Alma Dzib Goodin
If you would like to read more of my ideas you can visit:


Carey, J. (2012) The neuroscience of teaching and learning: David Eagleman. Available at:

Carey, B. (2011) Fraud case seen as a red flag for psychology research. Available at

Cassadewall, A. Fang, FC. (2012) Winners Takes all. Scientific American. 307 (2) 13

Dzib Goodin, A. (2011) Cuando la ciencia sale de los centro científicos y se vuelve popular. Availale at:

e Biz/MBA (2012) The top 15 most popular science website: July 2012. Available at:

Ferguson, CJ. Can we trust psychological research?. Time Ideas. Available at:

Fields, D. (2011) Can politicians be trusted with science? Scientific American, guest blog. Available at:

Gill, J. (2012) How to argue with a scientist: A guide. Available at:

Google Science Fair (2012) Available at:

Kluger, J. (2011) Why Scienctist are smarter than politicians. Time Science. Available at:,8599,2095264,00.html

Moreno, JD. (2012) Should teachers learn neuroscience? Available at:

Omarklin. (2012) La legendaria disculpa del NY Times (49 años) después de burlarse de un científico. Available at:

Primack, P.  (2012) Science Denied. Available at:

SCImago (2007) SJR — SCImago Journal & Country Rank. Retrieved July 24, 2012, Available at:

Science Agenda by Editors (2012) Can the U.S get an A in science?. Scientific American. 307 (2) 12.

Scientific American 1000 scientist in 1000 days. Available at:

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2011) What mind, brain and education (MBE) can do for teaching?. New Horizon for learning. Johns Hopkins University School Education. Available at:


  1. Are you a teacher or a scientist? It's not clear, but I thibk you see the best of both sides of the argument!.
    Thanks for all the links, this makes it even a better post.
    I love your paragraph: Once I read that it can’t be taught something that is socially shared, because teachers work with which society gives them to shape. If socially you aren't literate scientifically, it is not possible to provide the science from the experts, those lucky ones who have taken advantage from their enormous passion for a subject, often supported at home, because everything is much easier if you have other supports, in addition to school.

    Excellent post!, we should make our own list of 5 living scientist!

  2. Hi Sandra:)

    I was professor of Higher Education, I taught during 17 years and I love science. I do research but since I am not right now in an intitution, then I am not a scientist. It's kind of funny that thought but it's good. I have oxigen and time to my thoughts.

    I admire teachers!, control kids, specially teenagers!, Wow! that's real passion!!!

    Like for reading me!!

  3. Hey!

    I want to share my list of 5 top scientists alive

    1) Robert G. Edwards for all his work in physiology
    2) Peter Grünberg
    3) David J. Gross
    4) Dan Shechtman
    5)Konstantin Novoselov.

    I hope someone can add names!


    1. Hi Sergve!

      I see Nobel Prizes here!!, let's hope someone else can add more names! Thanks for your comment!!

  4. Could you be so kind and share some links to other resources that have data about this subject of course just in case you are aware of some.

  5. THanks for reading this TTProsperity, yes, I can share you some other resources:

    THis link is very interesting:

    This is awesome:

    Here another link:

    One more:

    I like this very much:

    I have many more, but maybe these can be enough for now?

    Thank you!!