Re: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training in schools

From: Rich Blinne <>
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 10:57:22 EDT

On Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 4:36 AM, Randy Isaac <> wrote:

> Bill, indeed limitations of scientific theories can and should be taught in
> science classes. On the surface, the issue of teaching strengths and
> weaknesses of anything is pretty obvious. Of course it should be. But what
> is seldom mentioned or discussed is "who is the arbiter of what strengths
> and what weaknesses are taught?" Whose views of weaknesses should be taught?
> Anyone's? Everyone's? The teacher's? It seems to me that in a science class,
> all strengths and weaknesses being debated in the technical peer-reviewed
> literature should be taught. Strengths and weaknesses outside that body of
> literature may be interesting and worthy of discussion in some settings but
> not to be taught as science until it gets addressed in the literature.
> Randy

The IPCC reports had a good way of doing it. It gave a level of confidence
and a level of understanding from the tens of thousands of peer-reviewed
studies that it analyzed. A high school text should only have that which is
high in these categories. A shorthand for this is called consensus. It's not
some poll but happens when using different techniques the same answer comes
out over and over and over. What the process is should be taught in high
school stressing how important peer review and even moreso repeatability is
to science. It is the height of hubris that a student can "judge" a peer
reviewed paper. Nevertheless, they should be able to judge the maturity of
the ideas. That is, if there wasn't such a high amount of smoke blown by
many creationists and climate skeptics of what the state of the science
really is. Thus, the limitation on only using longstanding peer-reviewed
literature in science classes should be used. The Internet has compounded
this as any crank can have a blog. Until they get published in a
peer-reviewed journal in the area of question they have not earned the right
to be listened to and definitely not the right to be included in a science
class at the high school level.

Getting a scientific idea to become consensus is hard work and I admit many
parts of this process can be profoundly unfair because it's run by sinful
humans. Kenneth Miller noted in "Just a Theory" that the Intelligent Design
movement wanted to get acceptance of their ideas without going through the
necessary work that the rest of the scientific community needs to go
through. The equivalent to Intelligent Design short-circuit approach is also
found in the climate skeptical community who invariably are of the same
political persuasion. Randy you and I have scratched our heads on why many
evangelicals are climate skeptics despite the overwhelming evidence to the
contrary. I currently believe that it has more to do with politics than
religion. For example, there are creationists such as Rick Warren who are
not climate skeptics precisely because of their politics. Since YEC
proponents tend to be politically c onservative their creationism gets
conflated with their politics. It's their politics that drive their
hostility to science while manytimes it's their religion which give the
justification for their skeptism of the "elite". Corporations and hyper-l
ibertarian think tanks that don't want businesses to be regulated manipulate
the skeptism of the scientific establishment that YEC has generated.

For example, take the Marshall Institute. The group started as a pro-SDI
group and moved onto global warming after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Many of the people have been hired guns for corporations to sow fear,
uncertainty and doubt during lawsuits. The very same people who said we just
don't know enough about global warming were hired by tobacco companies to
sow the same FUD that that was a lot of "uncertainty" that cigarettes caused
cancer. The Marshall Institute and Heartland Institute deliberately avoided
the peer review route and went straight to the op-ed pages of the Wall
Street Journal and onto talk radio. Now, of course, they use the Internet to
spread their garbage.

Thus, I believe it is vitally important that the ASA as an organization
support and defend peer review and seek to have the *process* of science
taught in our schools. That way the next generation will be less susceptable
to the cynical manipulation I illustrated above. By the time they get to be
our age the facts of science will be different but the ability to understand
the process will help them navigate whatever the unpredictable issues will
be decades from now.

Rich Blinne
Member ASA

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Received on Wed Mar 25 10:57:46 2009

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