The fundamental reason for Tilde Café's existence is to demystify science and to make it more accessible to all.
We meet in Branford, CT, about once every 4-6 weeks and topics discussed range from physical sciences, to life sciences and social sciences. A knowledge of the topic being discussed is not required, nor is there any membership requirement or age restriction. Perhaps the only requirement is curiosity and a thirst for knowledge! Science and technology are integral to every aspect of life - history, geography, humanities, music - everything.
Mathematics Awareness Month
October 16, 2013
Now for a piece of excellent news for Tilde Cafe: as of January 23, 2009 you can find a link to us on the science cafes website maintained by WGBH Educational Foundation - WGBH is the public television station out of Boston, and produces NOVA among many other fantastic shows. Tilde Cafe is the only listed science cafe in CT, and the only one between NYC and Boston!
As of July 2014, the IRS has recognized Tilde Cafe as a 501(c)(3) organization. Gifts are deductible to the full extent allowable under IRS regulations.
© 2009 Deepti Pradhan and Tilde Cafe
Facts and theories are different things
Pop quiz: What do Johannes
Kepler (1571-1630), James Ussher
(1581-1656) and Isaac Newton
(1642-1727) have in common?
- They were all physicists
- They were all natural philosophers
- They all estimated the origin of the universe dated
to around ~4000 B.C.
If you chose
option [c] as your answer, then you are right. This was one of the many
things we learnt at the most recent Tilde Café discussion led by Professor
Salman Hameed from Hampshire College. Although we had a smaller than usual
gathering on a brisk fall afternoon, it was nice to welcome new faces.
Professor Hameed started the afternoon with a different pop quiz with two
pictures - the exterior of a natural history museum; and the interior with
a mastodon skeleton – which museum was this? The person with the correct
answer would receive a DVD on Evolution, produced by PBS. After many
guesses, we had a winner – it was the Pakistan Museum of Natural History,
an institution overseen by the theocratic state. This then highlighted the
question about whether Muslims accept biological evolution, and led into
more than an hour long conversation and discussion about evolution in the
context of religions and cultures, among other things.
In the course of the afternoon, we heard and perhaps considered some
matters for the first time – for example the words ‘science’ and ‘scientist’.
In Professor Hameed’s research, when surveying medical professionals who
are Muslim in Pakistan, with regards to evolution, he found a mixed
response. While the majority acknowledged that humans are products of
evolution, a subset of these also noted that in the context of their
religion it was not the case. Without going into the details here of his
extremely interesting research which he described and which you can catch
on the video of the café (click link below), it is clear that Muslims, like
any other religious group, are variegated in their acceptance and opinions
on biological evolution.
And regarding the word ‘scientist’, it is a fairly new term coined by William
Whewell, in 1833. Even the venerable publication Nature accepted it
only 60 years after its inaugural issue; until then those who studied
science were mostly called ‘natural philosophers’ or even 'sciencers'. You can search the internet for "Nature scientist
substitute word" to see some of the spirited arguments for and against
the word in that journal, reflecting the upheaval it caused at that time. Here's an excellent essay about this topic from
science historian Melinda Baldwin - https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/the-history-of-scientist/.
Despite scientific evidence, there seems to be no lull in whether or not
the topic of evolution can be included in school textbooks; and included
without caveats. Perhaps Stephen Jay Gould has put it most eloquently in
saying “…facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy
of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are
structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away
when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of
gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in
mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors
whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to
be discovered.” (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html).
Another resource that distinguishes scientific fact from scientific theory
can be found at the National Academies website and is worth sharing with
those who may conflate the non-scientific use of the word
"theory" with the scientific one (http://www.nas.edu/evolution/TheoryOrFact.html). At
least in light of the clarity of this, one wonders why there is any debate