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Rational Inquiry -Volume 7 Number 2

SDARI Winners at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair

By Lucia K. B. Hall

The SDARI judges came, saw, and judged, and are pleased to congratulate the 2002 award recipients for the "Third Annual SDARI Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair Awards" at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, held from March 20 through the 24th.

First place award of $100, a SDARI membership, and a subscription to either Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic Magazine (student's choice) in the junior division went to John Michael Corrao, from Santa Sophia Middle School for the project "The Truth About Synthetic Oils."

Three second-place awards of $50, a SDARI membership, and a magazine subscription went to Jennifer Michelle Rosenthal from Pershing Middle School for her project "Are Herbs as Effective Against Bacteria as Common Prescription Antibiotics?"; Elizabeth Marie Tauscher, from Thurgood Marshall Middle School, for her project "Does the Strength of the Parent-Child Relationship Affect Grades?"; and to Luis Manolo Montoya, from Keiller Middle School, for his project on "Generic vs. Brand Name Acne Cleansers."

All four students will be invited to attend a SDARI meeting this spring to accept their awards and display their winning science experiments. Special thanks go to Robert Zeps, chair of the SDARI Science Fair Committee, and the judges who donated their valuable time to represent our organization at this event.

Despite these fine achievements by young San Diegans (and rational thinkers), the overall results of the GSDSEF were not what we had hoped. Among all the student experiments, there were no entries in the senior division that were appropriate to our selection criteria, so SDARI was unable to give any awards for skeptical research. Rather than grant the newly created "Ernie Ernissee" award to an inappropriate project, the first place in the senior division went unawarded.

To avoid a similar paucity of projects in 2003, the SDARI panel of judges suggest that our organization announce the SDARI awards very early in the next school year—perhaps as early as September! If we sent out an announcement to all the science teachers at junior and senior high schools next fall, perhaps SDARI will find more entries appropriate to its award criteria at GSDSEF in 2003.

But maybe there is a fundamental conflict between SDARI’s goals and the GSDSEF. SDARI would like to award students for challenging controversial ideas. However, many of the topics of interest to skeptics (e.g. astrology, graphology, pyramid power, the effect of just about anything on plants, etc.) are classified as "projects not likely to be approved" on the GSDSEF web site. Most of these have purportedly been "done to death" so it's not all that surprising that they are excluded from the county-wide competition. However, this policy has narrowed SDARI’s list of likely entries to those that challenge consumer claims or that look at the antibiotic effect on herbs. There's not much in those categories to really flex any skeptical muscle. Perhaps an early announcement of our fairly lucrative awards might get some more students interested, but it may be that the GSDSEF is simply set up to make giving awards for skepticism fairly difficult, if not effectively impossible. SDARI welcomes any ideas members have to widen the range of acceptable projects without compromising its own standards of skeptical inquiry by science fair participants. That said, the entire event was fun regardless, and we were able to welcome new rational thinkers to the SDARI fold. Congratulations to all the students and teachers around the county who participated in this scientific exhibition.

Lucia Hall is SDARI’s Member-at-Large, and a frequent contributor to Rational Inquiry. She was a SDARI judge at GSDSEF.

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