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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Safe spaces: Where should the line of censorship be drawn?

Are university safe spaces killing intellectual growth?

ALICE DREGER: None of us want a learning environment where we feel threatened. So, for example, I don't want to have to be learning in an environment where there are people with semi-assault rifles around me. I don't want to be learning in an environment where I have somebody who's openly misogynistic and yelling misogynistic slurs at me all the time. So all of us want safe spaces for learning. That's not unusual, it's not a bad thing. The question is: where do we put the borders on that? And in some circumstances in universities we've reached the point where we're so dedicated to the idea of making sure everybody feels absolutely comfortable that we've shut down some people's ability to speak and to think and to go beyond where comfort zones may be, and that's where it becomes a real problem. So it is not the case that universities should be places where you feel comfortable all the time. Intellectually we're supposed to be uncomfortable; that's how we grow. As one of my graduate school professors said to me, "If you haven't changed your mind lately, how do you know it's working?" And I thought that was a really good way to think about it. He said that to me when I was stuck in a particular idea and I wasn't budging and he thought I was being obstinate—and I was—and I started thinking, "Well, maybe changing your mind isn't a bad thing."

But what's happening on a lot of university campuses is the notion you come with your preexisting beliefs about your identity, about the world, and no one is supposed to question that. And I think that's very problematic. For example, people say "Well we don't want right-wing people on campus." I do! I want everybody on campus! I want everybody having the same educational opportunities and I want the opportunity to actually have real conversations about different points of view. Getting them out in the open, airing them, being able to have conversations, arguments, thinking about data, thinking about evidence, thinking about histories of justice—it allows us to have those conversations in a way that I think has integrity and honesty and gets us somewhere.

So if people have the attitude some people are allowed on campus, some people are not, some people are allowed to speak, some people are not, that doesn't really get us forward. Certainly it is the case we should not allow people to openly abuse each other verbally in ways that are profound. So for example, using the N-word, for example, but beyond that I think we have to have a lot of generosity in terms of allowing people to air ideas and giving everybody time to do that so that we can have meaningful education.

So this oversimplification of history, this sort of idea of "everybody is good" or "everybody is evil" as opposed to "there are some people who are kind of nasty but did some useful work, there are some people who are good but did some terrible things."

Trying to inject some of that subtlety and thinking historically, thinking empirically would be a heck of a lot better than doing simplistic identity politics where everybody gets devil horns or an angel's halo, and you account for that based on current ideas of what's a good identity and what's a bad identity. It's not a good way of thinking.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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