Mad About Science: Chris Cogswell and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Real Scientists community!

We’re delighted to welcome our next curator, Dr Chris Cogswell (@MadScientistPod). Chris is a chemical engineering consultant in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  unnamedChris is also the host of the Mad Scientist Podcast. Chris did his PhD work in the creation of nano-engineered adsorbents in the lab of Dr. Sunho Choi in Northeastern University, where he mentored a large number of undergraduates in research science. While at Northeastern he was also able to work alongside Dr. Lucas Landherr on the creation of methods to teach scientific thinking and engineering principles to undergraduate students, including a comic strip on the use of assumptions in advanced mathematics. This work led to the creation of his podcast, where he discusses the history and philosophy of science by discussing various pseudoscientific concepts and ideas, as well as teaching scientific principles through episodes on specific scientific questions being discussed in the news. His research interests include nano-engineering of materials for adsorption and catalysis, the philosophy and history of science, and public understandings of science.  Here’s Chris’ story.


I think the moment I knew I wanted to do work on nanotechnology was when I was in high school, and had the chance to attend an event held at Columbia University where PhD students and scientists showed off their work in that field. I loved seeing all the cool things you could do when you had control of materials at the nanoscale, and so I knew that I wanted to do something on that sort of work in college. In my first year at UNH for Chemical Engineering I had the good fortune of taking a philosophy class on Existentialism, with a pretty wonderful philosopher interested in the Mind/Body problem and philosophy of language. This led me to double major, and pretty much directly led me to doing a PhD on nanomaterials while also focusing my efforts on the way philosophy and science come together.


The public education on scientific principles, and the understanding of why the public believes pseudoscientific concepts, conspiracy theories, and other less than accurate things is extremely important in my opinion. Why does the United States lag behind in the acceptance of some technologies while simultaneously being the home for the research science that makes these technologies possible? How can we tell the difference between a pseudoscientific and scientific argument, idea, or belief? And what is the best way to convince someone to trust an expert when they say that something is an important concern, a better technology, or even that something they are doing is harming their bodies? All of these questions led me to want to start a podcast discussing these ideas and try to find some answers on these topics. What keeps me here are the emails from fans saying that while they didn’t like science or math as students, they enjoy hearing about these topics on the show. And the occasional email that I’ve changed someones mind on global warming doesn’t hurt either!


Our podcast is an attempt to teach the public about scientific concepts and ideas. We do this by discussing what science isn’t, through the investigation and discussion of the history of various pseudoscientific concepts, conspiracy theories, and other fringe topics that don’t normally get much attention from the scientific community. We also do deep dives into specific science topics that may seem intimidating or complicated, but which we try to break down for our listeners. This is really an extension of my time in graduate school, where I found the mentoring and teaching of students to be the most fulfilling part of my job. By teaching people how science works, what the scientific process really looks like, and how they can differentiate between a scientific study and a non-scientific one we are hoping to improve scientific literacy and make our public discourse more rational.


It has real consequences for what problems we choose to solve or ignore, what sorts of work get funded or are cut, and how we move forward with new technologies. The people deciding what science gets funded or how those ideas get into the world as products or services are usually not scientists. Rather they are politicians, business people, and ultimately the general public making their voices heard. So it is very important that people be given an accurate view of what the scientific process is, how it really works, and why it is different than the realm of non-scientific thought.


I collect items from the history of science and pseudoscience! I have a number of classic textbooks on ecology, quantum mechanics, and chemistry, as well as books on the philosophy of science, esoteric thought, and all kinds of other interesting non scientific fields.


Ideal Day Off? Hanging out at home with my wife and 2 cats, reading books and playing video games all morning! Then moving outside to do pretty much the same thing, but in a hammock near a fire pit. Finishing that off with a BBQ and I am pretty much as happy as I can get.)

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