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

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 12:32:15 EDT

Here's a variation on your 1st example. (I've mentioned this here before.)
The last couple of years I taught general physics the 1st experiemnt we had
them do was to find out how the period of a simple pendulum depended on its
amplitude (= maximum angle of swing). The book we used (Greenberg's
_Discoveries in Physics_) sketched a bit of the history & Galileo's
conclusion that period was independent of amplitude, & then told them a
simple procedure to follow. The experiment itself is pretty easy. The data
show quite obviously that the amplitude increases with period, although for
amplitudes of only a few degrees it's hard to see any variation. Students
were not told to _verify_ Galileo's "incorrect" conclusion but almost all of
them would manage to convince themselves that their data showed - or at
least was consistent with - no dependence of period on amplitude! Some
students thought they'd been set up but they weren't - we never told them
what their results were supposed to be. One can hope that this is a lesson
that stuck with at least some of them.


----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: "Ted Davis" <>
Cc: "asa" <>
Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:58 AM
Subject: RE: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training in schools

> Responding to Rich & Ted's posts below...
> I am acutely aware of another level of discussion that needs to happen
> that
> doesn't even have to come from ID/creation/evolution controversy. And
> that is
> this: high school students need to be aware of the difference between the
> actual practice of cutting edge science and the practice of being educated
> in
> past or established science.
> I.e. When I recently had my physics students use a pendulum to try to
> determine
> with more precision a value for our local gravity (which we had assumed as
> 9.8
> in previous physics work), they had the luxury of comparing their measured
> value
> with an "expected" value that we got from a geological survey on the
> internet
> for our locale & altitude. But I made them aware that in "real" science
> (e.g.
> determining the universal gravitational constant in Cavendish's time),
> they have
> no "expected" values for G, but instead had, perhaps, multiple
> measurements &
> methods that they must discern between to finally arrive at the universal
> gravitational constant that we now see published. We can try to design
> labs so
> that students are "thinking" historical scientists' thoughts after them.
> But in
> the end, we pull out a published value to see how we did --which is not a
> scientific thing to do. And nor can high school students be expected to
> be
> doing "real" science. Such cutting edge work is beyond most of us. But
> we can
> at least discuss these things and help our students be aware of them.
> One other item regarding how science is taught in elementary & high
> schools: I
> recently heard an excellent interview on NPR with astrophysicist Neil
> Tyson
> regarding the flak he took on the "demotion" of Pluto. He made the point
> that
> educators need to move away from having students memorize lists of "facts"
> such
> as "how many planets are in our solar system --and name them, etc." and
> instead move towards having students think categorically about objects and
> what
> makes certain objects similar? Then students will be thinking more like
> scientists who aren't so interested in a rigid "fact" that our solar
> system has
> x number of planets. They will instead observe that gas giants are a
> class of
> objects unto themselves, and other things also share similar other
> properties,
> etc. which is a more productive way to think of science. We educators do
> our
> students a disservice when we merely stock their minds with "facts" --be
> they
> evolutionary or astronomical. Even at the elementary levels we could
> probably
> be doing this differently and better. Any side that wants to insert
> automatic
> "weaknesses" or automatic "acceptances" of evolution is probably guilty of
> promoting our "facthood" attitude as if these things were set in stone.
> --Merv
> Rich wrote:
> 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
> Quoting Ted Davis <>:
>> I add this:
>> I am a former high school science teacher myself (physics and chemistry),
>> and
>> IMO we would do a better job of educating students in both high school
>> and
>> college, if we would cut some traditional scientific topics to make room
>> for
>> teaching a little more history & philosophy of science. (Given that I am
>> in
>> that field, no one should be surprised that I would say this.) IMO, in
>> such
>> a context it could be entirely appropriate to bring in some of the many
>> objections to evolution that have been raised since the mid-19th century:
>> they might at least be presented as serious objections that have been
>> raised,
>> often by scientists themselves--and, in some cases at least, have been
>> fully
>> answered by subsequent science (such as the problem of inheritance,
>> acknowledged by Darwin in his book and not dealt with satisfactorily for
>> another 70 years). It would also be appropriate in that context, IMO, to
>> discuss contemporary objections to evolution, including aspects of
>> "intelligent design." !
>> Students are not being educated as well, IMO, when such things are
>> ruled
>> out of bounds for public school science classes simply b/c they may be
>> religiously motivated. We wouldn't rule out teaching students about the
>> controversy among scientists themselves, about the use of the atomic bomb
>> against Japan in 1945, even though some of those objections were
>> religiously
>> motivated; we wouldn't rule out teaching students about the controversy
>> among
>> scientists themselves, about how to interpret QM (Copenhagen vs other
>> possibilities), simply b/c some might hold a given view partly for
>> religious
>> reasons or express a view in theological terms ("God does not play
>> dice").
>> Likewise, we should not bar discussion of the fact that some scientists
>> do
>> not find Darwinian evolution fully convincing, and why.
>> Ted
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Received on Wed Mar 25 12:32:49 2009

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