Back a while ago I got some info about a kid named Aidan Dwyer doing some work with solar power collection. Do you remember that article? The kid, a 13 year old kid, was testing whether a flat solar panel array was as efficient in collecting solar power as a tree-based Fibonacci-sequence-spaced “tree” array that Aidan had designed. The results that were posted all over the freaking Internet were that Aidan had figured out there was something to the Fibonacci sequence and Aidan’s solar arrays based on it. Gizmodo posted, the American Museum of Natural History gave the kid an award, and it was generally pretty awesome. How could you NOT be proud of it?! When I was 13 I was just a big ball of emotions who was good at whining.
Then this guy posted on his blog that Aidan’s experiment was a no-go, and that there was no real way that any of it could be plausible. Oh whoa, Nellie. As you would expect, when the Internet finds a crack in something, the vultures come out and they start to pick. People tore the research apart, hellfire and brimstone and treacle, and yes, there were even some people who acted dickishly in comment threads. I suppose we should expect nothing but the best, but that’s not good enough in this situation. There were even arguments of religious flare. Gimme a break.
In the beginning before the “debunking,” a pretty good quorum of blogs and magazines (and the American Museum of Natural History, no doubt, who gave Aiden an award and a provisional patent on his design) posted about Aidan’s discovery. They reposted. And reposted. And reposted. But what happens when the debunking took place? It got reposted. And reposted. And reposted.
Did anyone think to check the findings in the beginning before rushing the news out the door? No, as is the way sometimes in journalism. Maybe we’re just so stressed and in need of some uplifting news about our young people that it didn’t get fact checked. People called this poor kid out on his shoddy research et al, and generally acted in a pretty demeaning/discouraging manner. Not everyone, not a large percentage, but enough to make me think to myself – “how dare you discourage a young man who took an initiative to improve upon a design he discovered in observation. who do you think you are?”
What happened was the media reposted what they discovered without fact checking. Then they slammed Aidan for posting wrong information. That’s stupid. There were some very nice articles though – people were also pointing out the flaws in the research and data collection, and the data as measured. It’s ok, everybody – Aidan’s experiment was flawed. Now he knows it, we know it, and now he can get to figuring out the next connection between Fibonacci-derived structures and solar arrays. Edison, the entrepreneur that he was, said that he did NOT fail at inventing the light bulb, he discovered 2,000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. Aidan, you keep looking for the connection, even if you discover it’s not there. We’ll only know if you keep looking.
Some additional reading, mostly articles about how Aiden was mistaken:
This is Where Bad Science Starts @ Optimiskeptic
This is here Bad Science Starts @ Optimiskeptic
Was Our 13 Year Old Beloved Genius Just Proved Wrong? @ Gizmodo
Aidan’s Solar Tree Gets A Reality Check @ EarthTechling
Let me point out that there are a few things we need to keep in mind here about this whole situation before I write any further:
- Aidan, you are one smart dude. Way to go for having an idea and charging after it like a champ.
- Aidan’s a 13 year old kid who’s in 7th Grade. Cut him some slack, where’s YOUR Fibonacci-based solar collector array?
- Aidan drew some conclusions about data that might not have been really connectable connections, but this happens when you’re 13 and still learning about science. I gotta believe that there are kids who still think that science projects about how farts are fart-smelling are acceptable science, and teachers give them a grade to shut them up and pass them on. I’d also be interested in seeing statistics on how many 7th graders even know what the Scientific Method is and how many of them think it’s a Matt Damon movie. Aidan’s experiment had real zeal, which is a lot more than I can say for an unfortunately large number of “science” I have read lately.
- Our teenagers rank 17th in the world for science, and we rank 25th of 30 countries in math. Aidan wasn’t glued to The Jersey Shore, he was out there trying to make sense of the actual world around him.
Yeah, Aidan was perhaps misguided for whatever reason, he is learning science, and he is a 13 year old kid, albeit a pretty sharp one. But he’s applying as he goes. I am so proud of him for that. Instead of talking about how wrong he was, let’s do what real teachers do and help the world understand how Aidan is a pioneer. Make a mistake loudly, and the world will see it as beautiful music someday. Let me know how I can help you keep a solid interest in what you’re learning, it’s of the world’s most vital importance. And don’t forget – there is a huge consortium of people out there who are equally proud of you as I am!
There is something I have noticed over the last five years that makes me really sad, and I keep hoping that my enthusiasm for science and light will rub off on the planet. Every single time someone discovers something – an idea, a design, a way to improve something – a fundamental flaw is discovered, usually very negatively, and then the media has a field day proving how wrong the thing discovered is on all levels. When you criticize instead of thinking constructively about a problem or challenge, you shut people’s enthusiasm down. This leads to a lot of really potentially amazing solutions gone forever because the world was too interested in proving how right they were that someone else was wrong. We need to stop this, and post haste. People, we need to get excited about science and math again. Being wrong can no longer be a punishment, our mistakes need to be celebrated so that we can remember that mistakes are stepping stones to achievement (thanks for that by the way, Dad). There is a very, very large margin between the number of the world’s children I’ve seen do absolutely amazing things and the number of the world’s children I’ve seen do completely detrimental things. We have to teach by example. Ideas can be wrong, designs can be improved, but we can only improve when we all come at a problem with an honest intent for improvement.
Again, congratulations for the initiative, Aiden. Let us know what else you discover. Now that we know you can, we need you to keep doing it.
Interesting bit of news on where the US ranks in some of the STEM fields here, get ready for depression though.