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Dave Palmer
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
Dave Palmer   6/6/2012 1:05:46 PM
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@Chuck: While the statement "a linear system can't work on a finite planet" seems unnecessarily jargon-y, the point seems to be that since natural resources are limited, a process which leads from extraction to disposal (instead of recycling or reuse) will eventually use them up.  This is clear enough; in fact, it borders on a tautology.

The problem, as you point out, is what to do about it.  I think most people who have thought about it realize that many aspects of modern consumer society are not sustainable.  On the other hand, most people also realize that a return to a small-scale agricultural or hunter-gatherer society is neither possible nor even remotely desirable.  And, in fact, for the majority of the people in the world, the problem is not too much "stuff," but not enough "stuff" -- not enough clean drinking water, not enough sanitation, etc.

There aren't any easy answers to this, but you're absolutely right that, if we are going to find the answers, we need logical thinking and discussion, not just denunciation.

Charles Murray
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
Charles Murray   5/31/2012 8:26:57 PM
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I agree on all counts, Dave. Yes, there are environmental consequences to all industrial activity (this is hardly a secret). And, yes, the video's tone, as you so accurately say, is hysterical. The problem is that it comes off as an indictment, rather than a serious effort to solve any problems. It's also shot through with a lot of meaningless expressions ("a linear system can't work on a finite planet") that can't be challenged because they, in point of fact, make no sense. It seems to me there must be a way to get this point across in a balanced fashion that would make college students think logically about the issues, rather than react on an emotional basis.

williamlweaver
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
williamlweaver   5/31/2012 10:09:09 AM
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Hi @Dave Palmer -- I agree with your points. "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."

I can conceive of opening up a semester-long course with this video, assessing the student's thoughts on production and technology, spending the next 15 weeks examining the responsible use of technology, and then measuring their thoughts on the same video at the final examination. As you suggest, for some, The Story of Stuff can serve as the beginning of a rewarding career. For many others, it's a statement of how our culture is not an emergent melting pot, but designed and controlled by a nefarious 1% that seeks to maximize their gain at the expense of the 99%.

We didn't invent these schools of thought. But the increasing availability of communication tools has amplified the rhetoric of both sides. 


Dave Palmer
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
Dave Palmer   5/31/2012 9:48:49 AM
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@williamlweaver: Although the "Story of Stuff" video is full of cringe-inducing moments (e.g. "resource extraction... is a fancy word for trashing the earth"), its overall point that every form of industrial activity has social and environmental consequences is undeniable. And I can show you places where resource extraction, unfortunately, has meant trashing the earth -- not because this is inevitable but because the companies involved were irresponsible in their actions. The conclusion of the video actually promotes science and engineering (green chemistry, zero-waste manufacturing, etc.) as solutions to the problems which are mentioned. So it's at least possible that some stufents might be drawn to science and engineering as a result of this video. However, I agree that the hysterical tone doesn't contribute to a reasonable discussion of the issues which the video brings up.

Charles Murray
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
Charles Murray   5/30/2012 9:00:29 PM
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I strongly agree with you on both points, Bill. Bad teachers (or profs) can ruin a student's passion for a subject through lifeless presentation of the material. Regarding the "story of stuff:" If this is what our high school kids are watching, it's no wonder we're having trouble getting American kids to major in engineering. For some reason, though, kids from other countries seem to come to the U.S., major in engineering, and ignore that kind of "stuff."  

Dave Palmer
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Re: Engineering Ethics
Dave Palmer   5/30/2012 6:07:29 PM
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Drinkable tap water is another engineering marvel, which is not available everywhere.  Where my wife is from in El Salvador, tap water is not available on a daily basis (more like a few hours every other day), and is not potable.  It's okay for bathing, washing dishes, etc.  Since the water only runs part of the time, people fill cisterns when the water is running, and use the water from the cistern the rest of the time.  You need to treat the water in the cistern with larvicide on a regular basis, so that it doesn't fill up with mosquito larvae.

Although bottled water is available, most people drink water from bags, which typically cost 5 cents each (or less, if you buy more than one at a time).  It's much cheaper than bottled water because there is much less packaging.

This type of packaging is common in developing countries -- not just water, but all kinds of beverages are served in plastic bags -- but I've never seen it in the U.S.

williamlweaver
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
williamlweaver   5/30/2012 8:57:47 AM
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Chuck...  I should have included the link to this YouTube video "The Story of Stuff". My kids were shown this video in their high school science class and is the type of propaganda I am talking about. Many of my undergraduates do not arrive as a blank slate -- they already have a negative bias toward science, engineering, and business.

The same organization, storyof stuff.org made follow-up videos called

"The Story of Bottled Water (2010)"

"The Story of Electronics (2010)"

"The Story of Cosmetics (2010)"

 

 

williamlweaver
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
williamlweaver   5/29/2012 9:14:38 PM
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Chuck, my report was a generalization, but not an exaggeration. Unless the student has a parent that works as a scientist or engineer, technical concepts are too often topics that were covered in high school but didn't stick. I teach "deep behind enemy lines" at a private, liberal-arts school that does not offer engineering. Students that make their way to our little integrated technology management major often have not considered a career in the sciences, have had no exposure to engineering, and their high school experiences with physics, chemistry, and biology did not engender fear, but hate. I'm having a very bad day when I hear any student regardless of major commiserate with their fellow students while walking in the halls with phrases like "I hated physics in high school" or "I'll never use chemistry again. Why do they make us take it?". It's one thing to lose promising students, but it is another when they are asked to comment or vote as citizens later in life when it comes to a question of technology. When the majority of our students get their technology education from the media and political action organizations on campus it is quite an uphill battle against the talking points.

I will second your call for good teachers. It's OK to discover a student does not have a passion for the subject you teach. It's not OK to present the material so rote and rigorously that you increase the ranks of the opposition.  


Charles Murray
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Re: Engineering, Science & Math in a Water Bottle
Charles Murray   5/29/2012 8:17:52 PM
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Bill, it's a little scary to hear that the initial reaction of students to the word powerplant is "dirty, resource-consuming, global warming, dangerous, asbestos, radiation and pollution." I suppose to some degree all those words are pertinent, but I would hope your students would also consider the words "light, heat, cooling, communication, transportation and imaging," among others, which are equally as applicable as "dangerous and pollution." That's why we need good teachers.

Jon Titus
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Re: Engineering Ethics
Jon Titus   5/29/2012 7:34:56 PM
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Hi, Ricardo.  Good point, but probably more morality than ethics, although we could argue back and forth.  If I have time I bring up ethics, but that topic is probably over the heads of junior-high students.

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