It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own world view, seeking out information that reaffirms the beliefs you already hold and discounting any material that challenges them. But that’s a dangerous intellectual place to be, especially when it comes to science, Marshall Shepherd told the audience at the sixth annual TEDxUGA on March 22 in the Classic Center.
“Science isn’t a belief system,” said Shepherd, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences. “My son—he’s 10—he believes in the tooth fairy. And he needs to get over that because I’m losing dollars fast.”
No one asks scientists if they believe in gravity because it’s accepted as fact that gravity is a force that exists, said the director of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences Program. But when it comes to weather issues such as more frequent and intense storm systems, much of the public seems skeptical.
“When we expand our radius (of scientific understanding), it’s not about making a better future, but it’s about preserving life as we know it,” Shepherd said. “So as we think about expanding our own radius and understanding of science, it’s critical for Athens, Georgia; for Atlanta, Georgia; for the state of the Georgia and for the world: Expand your radius.”
Shepherd was one of eight presenters at TEDxUGA 2018, which featured notable alumni, professors and students from across campus telling their stories of inspiration and intellectual curiosity. This year’s theme was “connect,” focusing on the progress that can be made through unconventional collaborations.
For speaker Nick Fuhrman, an associate professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication at UGA, it only took 45 minutes for one person to change the course of his life.
Also known as “Ranger Nick,” Fuhrman was still in grade school when “Ranger Bill,” an environmental educator from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, came to his school with a turtle, owl and vulture, among other animals, in tow. Suddenly, Fuhrman knew what he was going to do when he grew up.
“Even though most of us in here might not be educators, every one of you is a teacher,” he said. “So the next time you have 45 minutes with somebody or even four minutes with somebody, what are you going to do to show them that you care?”
As far as UGA alumnus Godfrey Powell Jr. is concerned, some of the easiest ways to connect with those around you are also some of the hardest for this technology-centric society: Put down the phone or iPad and talk to people. Be highly cognizant of interactions with technology. Go off the grid sometimes. It’s too easy to become dependent on technology, Powell said, but it’s healthy to disconnect.
“I still get anxious at the rapid pace of innovation … It’s enough to leave us constantly terrified,” he said.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“As people who are using and creating technology, people like me, people like you, let’s ensure that the human spirit will never be subjugated by any technology,” Powell said. “For while it is wise to acknowledge our fears from steam engines to books to cars to smart phones to the as-yet unknown, it is human to confront them and overcome for the greater good.”
Other speakers at the event included Katy O’Brien, an assistant professor in the College of Education; Faiz Ali Saulat, a senior in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Elizabeth Hardister, a senior in the School of Public and International Affairs and College of Public Health; DeRetta Cole Rhodes, chief human resource officer of metro Atlanta’s YMCA; and Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop.