NORMAN — David Pogue has donned lab coats, goggles, army gear and more. He has been placed in a number of unusual situations and served as an experimental guinea pig in the name of scientific discovery. Yet Pogue isn’t a scientist. He’s a writer, a technology enthusiast and the host of “NOVA ScienceNow” on PBS.
Pogue spoke about his uncomfortable and extraordinary experiences as the host of “NOVA ScienceNow” and how STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education has struggled in the U.S. to engage and challenge as many students as in other countries at a lecture Thursday afternoon on OU campus.
Pogue spoke as part of the Cathey Simmons Humphreys Distinguished Education Lecture Series. He covers consumer technology for Yahoo and is also a technology correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning.”
Previously, Pogue wrote a weekly technology column for the New York Times and a monthly column for Scientific American. And Pogue has launched a series of computer how-to books called the “Missing Manual” series.
Pogue described a decline in STEM education in America and said he believed there were four main contributing factors to this decrease in STEM professionals, including cultural stereotypes, K-12 education, political factors and higher education. He said programs like “NOVA” were fighting to keep science relevant and an educational priority and that the success of the television series suggests that STEM fields are of interest and importance to the public.
During his time as a “NOVA” host, Pogue has worked with bee venom that can be used as an anti-cancer drug, MR Fluid, which looks like motor oil, but solidifies when put through a magnetic field and robotics like alpha dog that are being developed to carry military supplies.
He studied whether other animals besides humans laugh and tickled penguins. He studied gecko feet, which can support 200 times their weight and the slime produced by Hagfish.
“Once while in Alaska studying a permafrost problem, I tossed around a frog like a ball. The frog freezes solid in winter, and in the spring it thaws. It has antifreeze in its cells,” Pogue said.
“NOVA Science Now” demystifies science and entertains, Pogue said. Yet fewer and fewer students study STEM subjects. Pogue said part of the problem was culture and that when many think of scientists, they think of nerds like the characters from the television show “The Big Bang Theory.” Additionally, women are often turned away from science professions due to sexism.
Secondly, Pogue said lower education continually cuts science programs, which also occurs in government budgets.
“Science is one of the first things to go,” he said.
Lastly, Pogue said even higher education is a problem. One of four college students plan to major in STEM subjects, but 75 percent of those students drop out of STEM subjects.
“Tough ‘weed-out’ classes and the sink or swim mentality at the very beginning discourages students to stay with STEM majors. Programs with outside-the-box thinking, group projects and experiments from the get-go have a higher STEM subject graduation rate,” Pogue said.
Pogue said the effort to make science a priority in the U.S. is a battle, but he believes a lot of people are tackling this problem from multiple angles and groups like the Maker Movement, which encourages people to learn to be masters of technology, are on the right track.
Pogue also said when he gets discouraged, he remembers his young fans. He read a letter from an Oklahoman fan.
“This is what makes all the work on the show we do worth it, ‘My 7-year-old daughter, Eva, may be one of your biggest fans. Last spring when PBS aired ‘Making Stuff,’ she got hooked on the series. We had to buy it, and we’ve watched episodes so often several times a WEEK for the entire year ... Today we found out that you would be visiting our home state of Oklahoma, and for five hours she talked about nothing but science, elements and getting your autograph.’”
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