Shawn Carlson

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Shawn Carlson
A headshot of Shawn Carlson smiling while wearing a hat
Dr. Shawn in his LabRats Uniform
Alma mater
OccupationPhysicist, science writer, and STEM educator
Years active1985–present
Known forSociety for Amateur Scientists, LabRats
"The Amateur Scientist"
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship

Shawn Carlson (born 1960) is an American physicist, science writer, and a STEM educator.

Early life[edit]

Carlson received his inspiration to become a scientist as well as his first lessons in how to do science from his grandfather, George Donald Graham.[2] Carlson describes his grandfather as "a free-spirited wild man, a person with incredible scientific creativity. But he was one of those personalities who couldn't go through the standard course of instruction. So he pursued his passion for mathematics and geology and biology on his own and he would frequently write really interesting papers that he couldn't get published because he didn't have 'Ph.D.' after his name."[3]


Carlson graduated from U.C. Berkeley with Bachelor of Science degrees in both Applied Mathematics and Physics in 1981. He graduated from UCLA with a master's degree in Physics in 1983, and with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics in 1989. As a post doc, Carlson ran the Leuschner Observatory for the Center for Particle Astrophysics at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and was chief observer for the Berkeley Automated Supernovae Search.[3]

Astrology test[edit]

While an undergraduate, Carlson carried out what is widely regarded to be the most comprehensive test of astrologer's abilities to extract information about their clients from the apparent positions of celestial objects as seen from the places and times of their clients' births.[4][5]

Carlson's experiment[6] involved twenty-eight astrologers who were held in high esteem by their peers.[6]:419 They agreed to match over 100 natal charts to psychological profiles that were generated by the California Psychological Inventory (CPI), a standard and well accepted personality test, which the astrologers themselves identified as the scientific instrument that was best aligned with type of information they believed they could divine from their art. The astrologers agreed that the experimental protocol provided a "fair test" of astrology prior to taking part in it.[6]:419

The participating astrologers were nominated by the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR), which acted as the astrological advisors to ensure that the test was fair.[6]:420 NCGR chose 26 of the 28 astrologers, the other two being interested astrologers who were vetted by NCGR after they heard about the experiment.[6]:420 The astrologers came from Europe and the United States.[5]:117 The astrologers also identified the central proposition of natal astrology to be tested.[6]:419 To avoid possible bias from either the scientist performing the study or the participating astrologers, the experiment was performed double-blind. [7]:67

The results were published in the highly prestigious journal Nature on December 5, 1985. The study found that astrologers were unable to match natal charts to their corresponding personality tests better than chance. Moreover, astrologers were no more likely to be correct even when they had high confidence that they had made a match correctly. Carlson concluded that the result "clearly refutes the astrological hypothesis".[6]:425

Society for Amateur Scientists[edit]

Inspired by his grandfather's example, Carlson left academia in 1994 and became a founder of the modern citizen science movement when he created the Society for Amateur Scientists.[2][3] Readers enjoyed his monthly column "The Amateur Scientist" in Scientific American from 1995 to 2001.[3] He was also one of the first columnists for Make magazine.[8]

LabRats Science Education Program[edit]

Starting in 2002,[citation needed] Carlson began turning his attention away from creating opportunities for adults to participate in authentic science projects to focus on, "inspiring the next generation to love learning about science and technology."[citation needed] After years of development which involved thousands[citation needed] of students online and hundreds[citation needed] of students in various pilot studies, in 2010 Carlson applied for and was granted non-profit status from the IRS to found a new organization known as the LabRats Science Education Project.[citation needed]

According to the organization's website,[9] LabRats is largely inspired by the Boy Scout model. The program features weekly meetings, a rank-based system of advancement, and a strong focus on ethics and community service. Carlson is currently the organization's Executive Director.

Engagement Education[edit]

In 2013, Carlson introduced "Engagement Education", a new system of teaching STEM.[citation needed] The goal of Engagement Education is to create strong positive emotional connections between the learner and what is being learned, their peers, and their adult caregivers, to "inspire young people to love learning about science and technology". According to the LabRats website,[9] Engagement Education is the foundation of the LabRats system of instruction.


Selected works[edit]

Satanism in America: How the Devil Got Much More than His Due. El Cerrito, California: Gaia Press. 1989. OCLC 23006862.
Core Concepts in Physics. New York: Saunders College Publishing. 1998. ISBN 978-0-03-023507-8.
The Amateur Astronomer. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 2001. ISBN 978-0-471-43699-7.
The Amateur Biologist. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 2002. ISBN 978-0-471-38281-2.
The Amateur Scientist: The Complete Collection on CD-ROM. Coventry: Tinker's Guild. 2002. ISBN 978-0-9703476-2-6.
Column Journal Years
Science On Society The Humanist 1990–1992
The Amateur Scientist Scientific American 1995–2001
The Citizen Scientist Make 2005–2007


  1. ^ "Shawn Carlson — MacArthur Foundation". January 1, 2005. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Rather, Dan (2001). "Innovation". The American Dream: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation. New York: William Morrow and Company. pp. 220–228. ISBN 978-0-688-17892-5.
  3. ^ a b c d Dreifus, Claudia (January 23, 2001). "A CONVERSATION WITH: SHAWN CARLSON; Just Like a Film Script, From Jobless to Genius". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  4. ^ Muller, Richard (2010). "Web site of Richard A. Muller, Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley". Retrieved 2015-12-02.
    "My former student Shawn Carlson published in Nature magazine the definitive scientific test of Astrology."
  5. ^ a b Smith, Jonathan C. (2010). Pseudoscience and extraordinary claims of the paranormal : a critical thinker's toolkit. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8123-5.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Carlson, Shawn (1985). "A double-blind test of astrology" (PDF). Nature. 318 (6045): 419–425. Bibcode:1985Natur.318..419C. doi:10.1038/318419a0. S2CID 5135208.
  7. ^ Pigliucci, Massimo (2010). Nonsense on stilts : how to tell science from bunk ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226667850.
  8. ^ Mohammadi, Goli (January 13, 2010). "Flashback: Kitchen Counter DNA Lab". Make. Archived from the original on September 7, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  9. ^ a b

External links[edit]