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Skepchick Quickies 9.12

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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34 Comments

  1. It’s not just scientists who are bad historians. We have similar problems in my little corner of the retail world.

    Every week, I’ve got someone who says, “Let’s revive this promotion. We haven’t done it in a long time, and it always worked for us.” Then I have to go and burst their bubble by looking up the actual results of the promotion and we find out that we stopped doing it because it didn’t work.

    You hear similar stories from good news media sources. A politician makes some claim – like Ronald Reagan was good for the US economy. Then some damned media mudslinger actually talks to economists and looks up the effect of the economic policies, and (oh noes!) the politician was wrong!

    If we were all a little better at history and a little less willing to rely on our own memories, the world might be a better place.

    …or we would be a little more efficient at killing each other.

  2. Instead of just tackling, I think we need Evolution vs. Creationism mudwrestling! Except the Evolutionist is allowed to change tactics in response to conditions like the size of the opponent, the viscosity of the mud, and increasing levels of fatigue. The Creationist gets one god-given move that must be relied on exclusively, no matter how ineffective it is.

  3. You know, even though he’s primarily known as a travel writer, Bill Bryson wrote a pretty good (and justifiably popular) science book a few years back: A Short History of Nearly Everything

    I mention it because the book not only talks about fundamentals, major theories, and even some cutting edge stuff, but also takes great pains to explore the personalities of the people involved and discuss the history of the science they did and period of time in which they did it.

    Bryson isn’t always 100% correct, though the book is probably as good a popular history of science as you’ll likely encounter. Part of what helps him is that he’s not a scientist OR a historian by training, but a journalist and author. This allows him to know how to make things accessible to non-scientists, and how to tell a good “story” without sacrificing thorough research and accurate information.

    I would recommend that book as a supplement to any general science textbook as a way of creating interest and showing that science, far from being boring, is full of characters and great stories all powered by a remarkable curiosity and the drive to discover.

  4. Well, I can’t agree with the Rev Prof Reiss that “creationism is an alternative worldview.” He makes it sound so harmless. It isn’t because of the way in which it is used. It is a pernicious religious dogma that is used to attack science and reality-based worldviews.

    That being established, creationism does NOT belong in a science class, but in a religion or philosophy class. However, the issue must be brought up in the classroom and the teacher must establish that the creationist viewpoint has no scientific validity and therefore is not taught in science classes. Students that wish to follow it up should attend the appropriate classes. Wolper, as quoted in the article, is right.

    The Rev Prof Reiss then says, “Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from the science lesson … there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have – hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching – and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion.”

    Does he mean that we should discuss Velikovsky’s inane astronomical theory as well as current fact-based knowledge in astronomy classes? Should we be teaching Lysenko’s ridiculous and discredited heredity theory as fact in genetics and biology classes?

    No, I don’t agree. Subjects like those belong in a History of Science class, perhaps. But in a class dedicated to teaching the current scientific understanding of the world? No.

  5. I personally think science teachers should ignore the evolution vs. creationism ‘debate’, and simply teach the scientific method. Seems to me like that would clear the whole thing up pretty efficiently.

    OR, how about this: Maxis teams up with schools to provide free copies of Spore to students in early biology classes. Teachers could then create homework based around getting kids to understand how the mechanics of the game incorporate natural selection and whatnot. And middle-school kids would get a kick out of the whole “push-button-to-breed” thingy. Perfect.

  6. @QuestionAuthority:

    I’ve had good luck with the “teach creationism, but as philosophy or religion” approach with most people who are outside of either camp of the Creationism/Real Science debate. The concern of most people seems to be that no one is listening to their viewpoint, and they just want a place to discuss it.

    I usually use the argument “you talk about Shakespeare in literature class not in history class”. Talking about Shakespeare as a part of history short-changes his real contributions to literature and talking about religious views as a way to explain changes in bacteria short-changes our understanding of how religion has impacted the world.

  7. I don’t think science teachers should teach creationism, but to ignore its existence is ridiculous. And if teachers just dismiss creationism as superstitious nonsense, then their students who come from certain types of religious backgrounds will shut down and not be open to learning about science or the scientific method at all. I don’t think this author communicated his ideas perfectly, but I think he is definitely onto something that should be considered thoughtfully and not ignored or laughed at or dismissed automatically.

  8. @writerdd:

    I agree, to a point. I also agree with durnett’s approach, teaching creationism along with religion in a historical context, instead of a scientific one. I think that, combined with an added emphasis on teaching the scientific method, would solve pretty much everything.

    Also: lol @ cock-burg

  9. Hi writerdd,

    I agree up to a point. However, I still think that the students need to be informed that their view is not a scientific one and does not belong in a scientific forum. Creationism does not meet the basic criteria of the scientific method. It is not testable, repeatable or verifiable.

    The teacher also must ensure that the students understand the scientific definition of the word “theory.” A scientific theory is NOT a wild guess. It meets stringent requirements and is revised if new data contradicts it.

  10. I think the biggest problem with science education is that is doesn’t teach the sceintific method. I agree with everyone who has posted that. Don’t require children to memorize the periodic table. It is written down for a reason. Don’t make kids memorise the color order of the rainbow. Rote memorization and regurgitation kills the joy and excitement of science. Teach the method and then go explore what it means. If the excitement of science can be kept alive then we will have many more scientists. The best chemistry classes always include explosions. The best biology classes include living things. The grosser the better. I include college and high school in this. I loved comparative anatomy and phsiology of vertabrates because of all of the animals. I loved genetics because of the fruit flies. Teach the method and expirement. Give credit for failed experiments. Be safe but blow shit up. and then find out why it went boom.

  11. @Gabrielbrawley:

    HELLS YEAH! I’m actually watching the latest episode of Mythbusters right now (at work). Isn’t it sad that American television is doing a better job of cheerleading for science than most science teachers? At least that’s my impression… I hope I’m wrong.

  12. @Ooxman:

    I think that your statement implying that science teachers aren’t doing a good job cheerleading for science is overly broad, and I will take this opportunity to call out three excellent local science teachers who communicate the scientific method, their specific course focus, and a wonder and enthusiasm for science to their students:

    From Germantown High School in Memphis Tennessee I give you:
    Dr. Victoria Johnson, Chemistry/Biology
    Jenny Levi, Physics
    Ms. Stone (whose first name I am embarrassed to admit that I do not know), Chemistry

    These three have helped my daughters and many other students to appreciate and enjoy science. If any of you guys have an extra McArthur grant lying around, give these three a call!

  13. @durnett:

    The smiley-face was to indicate that I was happy about your post, not at all offended by it. Nothing makes me happier than to hear that the world -isn’t- as bad as I think it is. Which reminds me…

    You’re right. I think Rebecca is gonna have to start swinging the ban-hammer for excessive agreement. This kind of behavior can’t be tolerated on the internet.

  14. Yes, I agree with everyone too… creationism is not science and that needs to be made clear. Students need to learn what science is and is not. They also need to learn that there are scientists who are believers and they can decide when they are older what they believe in. They can learn things even if they don’t “believe” them and then they are able to choose for themselves when they are mature enough to do so.

  15. The essential problem with teaching about creationism in any form is that if you are teaching factually — and hopefully you are — you are forced to conclude in that class that creationism is nonsensically inaccurate at every step, in every particular. At best you’d have to conclude that it only made sense to people at one time because they were, but modern standards, woefully ill-informed. Does anyone here seriously think that would be acceptable in classrooms in the USA?

  16. Durnett,

    Good for you girls. You are quite lucky. I haven’t seen any that are good outside of the university system. Too often “SCIENCE” is seen as a collection of facts. That isn’t science, science is a way of investigating reality. It’s how we made mother nature our bitch.

  17. @Gabrielbrawley:
    It’s how we made mother nature our bitch.

    In 25 years when my neighborhood in Philadelphia is beachfront property, you can come over. We’ll sit under our Ozonator brand anti-UV tent, look at pictures from my snorkeling trip to New Orleans, and talk about who is whose bitch. =)

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