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

From: George Cooper <>
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 12:52:39 EDT

I wonder if there is any person that serves in demonstrating the arguments
of what science is and what it is not than Galileo, right?

On a side note, I read (Stillman Drake, I think) that Galileo's work with
his father, a musician and musical theorists, involved hanging weights on
stringed instruments that may have lead to his pendulum views, and not,
necessarily, so much of the swinging church lamp. Any idea if this has


 -----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of George Murphy
Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:32 AM
To:; Ted Davis
Cc: asa
Subject: Re: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training in schools

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 12:53:20 2009

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