Archive for February 6th, 2021

Thoughts: Science & Facts

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

A dilemma of sorts has arisen for one of the students in my NIFTI-SEWSS program. She is looking into the benefits of houseplants in indoor spaces. Could a houseplant make your bedroom space healthier? There was a study ca. 1989 called the “NASA Clean Air Study” which reported quantitative data on the removal of certain airborne chemicals in the presence of certain plants. There is also a TED2009 Talk titled “How to Grow Fresh Air” by Kamal Meattle. But there are also thoughts that plants may be chemically harmful indoors because they stop producing oxygen in the dark and actually net consume oxygen in the absence of photosynthesis. Further, there is competing literature (scientific and non-scientific) on whether plants have air purification abilities. Sorting through this controversy is a great experience for any student…especially a YCISL student. Believe it or not, this type of controversy is woven into science. The prime examples are climate science and currently virus science (this term is intended to include virology and all other connected sciences).

There are three YCISL skills to remember in such a context:

  1. Remember Jef Raskin’s article “Holes in the Histories” where we have to trust our own instincts and interpretations and not ride the wave. We look for evidence of “sloppy scholarship”, “mis-representation” and “the halo effect.” In science, we have to trust original sources and understand that the “facts” can get distorted the farther away and as the volume gets turned up.
  2. Recognize that there are knowledge gaps everywhere (remember Salman Khan’s TEDTalk?) and that science is about interpreting data and phenomena…with a hint of well-intentioned speculation. There may be gaps in the original study; we just have to consider them when deciding how to use that information. Subsequent interpretations or even studies probably have gaps as well. This does not make the original study fully false. Bottom line here is whether NASA would trust the original study enough to include certain plants in the payload for the trip to and settlement on Mars.
  3. There is an element of “glass half-full vs glass-half empty” here. Refresh your understanding on the benefits of positivity from Alison Ledgerwood’s TEDxUCDavis talk “A Simple Trick to Improve Positive Thinking” from which we learn to avoid loss frames. Stick with gain frames. That is to say to interpret the available information in a gain frame – what can we do with the information? “Nothing” is not an acceptable answer.