Saturday, November 18, 2006

Eugenie Scott: Part 2 - Morning Q & A

Q1. You are on a mission to improve science education. Have there been any improvements?

A1. The first Bush did a big service to science education by starting to centralize standards. All standards, however, were only advisory, but because funding was tied to them, most often, schools followed the national standards. Centralizing the standards was important because without it, the decisions were up to local school boards who, while well meaning, have no expertise.

Then came No Child Left Behind (NCLB), or as she put it “No Child Left Untested”, which required high stakes tests. Because of this, the tests drove the curriculum. Creationists realized that since the national standards (on which the tests were based), included evolution, it would be on the test, and thus, would be taught in the classrooms. This is why they’ve began trying to teach “criticisms” along with evolution.

The largest place science education still stands to improve, is on the delivery. All experts recommend teaching science as a method of inquiry, not as a list of things to learn. It should be made experiential. Eugenie pointed out that you don’t teach music by reading about it, and similarly, you shouldn’t teach science that way.

Unfortunately, NCLB has forced this aside because it takes too much time and it’s difficult to test experience.

In California, they featured the “Golden State Exams” for which teachers developed a test with a bag of leaves and students were required to come up with a dichotomous key. Unfortunately, good tests like these are hard to make, to administer, and to grade. All of this adds up to make them expensive. Thus, we get bubble in tests. And with education, you get what you pay for.

Q2. On the topic of NCLB, are there any coordinated efforts to undo it?

A2. Many schools don’t like it. Fortunately, it’s up for renewal. Unfortunately, it’s guaranteed to pass, but not necessarily unmodified.

Q3. What hopes are there for scientific education given the “teach the controversy” approach?

A3. The “teach the controversy” slogan works well because it plays on the sense of fairness. Even some teachers fall for it. But while we must validate the underlying principle, the issue is not really about fairness, it’s about “What do we teach in science classrooms?”

The answer should (obviously) be SCIENCE. This means teaching the scientific consensus and not the “fringe” ideas like ID. To allow ID to cut to skip the actual work of making itself fit the scientific consensus would be the height of unfairness.

The scientific community has reviewed ID, and found that it doesn’t meet the standards.

Q4. Since ID is clearly not science, should it be diverted to philosophy classes?

A4. This was first tried in the 1980’s. Teachers brought creation “science” into history and tried to pass it off as true history. Thus, it’s still not a good solution. It must be taught as comparative religion. To not compare it would be advocating it, which cannot be done in any class.

This past summer in El Cajon, CA an intersession class called the “Philosophy of Intelligent Design” was taught. The teacher used propaganda videos from Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research (which upset the Discovery Institute. How could someone possibly confuse ID with creationism!?) This was found to be unlawful.

But this wasn’t the first time it happened. It was first done in Cobb County in the late 70’s to the early 80’s. The teachers revolted because they didn’t want to teach such poor material. But the class was eventually canceled because no one cared. This just demonstrates that those pushing creationism don’t truly believe the “teach the controversy” mantra, they just want to preach.

Q5. Both Behe and the Wedge Document say that the goal of ID is to change the definition of science to make it include the supernatural. Why do they have this goal?

A5. Polls in America show that Americans (despite not knowing much about it) are extremely positive about science. We recognize that it makes our lives better and easier. Creationists are desperate for this legitimacy.

The reason is that they wish to establish a theocracy by an attack on materialism. Science has is materialistic (methodologically), which draws the ire of creationists. Evolution is the most visible materialistic part of this, which is why it’s attacked. Thus, they must try to make it religious.

As the Wedge Document states, the goal is to reform society to a theocratic (Christian) status. Thus, through evolution, they wish to rewrite science and through science, reform society as they see fit.

Q6. Debates about creationism often paint religion as the enemy (eg. Dawkins). Fundamentalists are scared that science’s position of being amoral is the same as being immoral and thus, somehow is the “same” as materialism.

A6. The morality of science and its practitioners are unrelated. Science is neutral. It is just a “methodology and collection of facts.”

Q7. Dawkins would disagree with that and say that ethics can be explained naturally through science. Therefore, morality is not the sole domain of religion and that it comes from parents, not religion.

A7. While many cultures do not have religious ethics, and the idea of scientific ethics is interesting, we should not commit “the naturalistic fallacy.” While science can inform ethics, it doesn’t in and of itself provide them. Again, science is neutral.

Q8. Given the monumental defeat in Dover, is ID over as a national movement? If so, given that the past several generations of biology have been conducted while under attack, could scientists lose public face while not being united against a common enemy?

A8. Debate and knock-out drag-outs are a part of science. Creationists don’t understand this. They seem to have a perception of science as a process in which you amass a ton of facts and the “truth just floats out.” We need to show this reality of science to the public.

Additionally, Eugenie states that, while she thinks the creationist movement has lost steam, it’s not dead. It’s all the product of an underlying cause: Perceived and actual problems between some Christian sects and science. Until we resolve this problem and get conservative Christians to “evolve”, the problem won’t go away.

Q9. Where does the NCSE stand now that the Dover trial is complete?

A9. The NCSE will continue, “handing out the fire extinguishers.” Eugenie says their goal is to be more than just a fire department for creationism and seeks to become a source for better teaching. They just hired new staff to help develop this. Also, a new staff member has been hired to develop an outreach program to the faith community. They seek to connect to mainline churches that don’t adopt anti-scientific ideologies.

Q10. The NCSE is the primary voice for science education. The Discovery Institute has more than twenty conservative groups providing massive funding. But the NCSE doesn’t even get funding from organizations like the NSF. Where does your funding come from and how can we support you?

A10. Professional societies are starting to take more interest. The AAAS especially, but they’re looking for more. In the past 20 years, the NCSE has only hired 12 staff. They now have an annual budget of around $700,000.

Q11. Why aren’t scientists out waging these battles?

A11. Many are! The NCSE was founded because scientist organizations couldn’t get the scientists to show up for school board meetings (which might have been just as well since many aren’t good at communicating).

However, it’s still important that scientists don’t participate in mock hearings like the so-called “Kangaroo Court” recently in Kansas. Debate, but do it publicly and with rules. In Dover, rules were provided by the court of law. When these rules are followed, science wins.

Avoiding the “science hearings” was a lose-lose situation, because not showing made them look scared, but showing up would have been worse. What this did show was that scientists aren’t stupid enough to walk into a bear trap.

Q12. The ID crowd is typically portrayed as Christian in nature. Do other religions weigh in and if so, how much?

A12. Not much. In America, Christianity is the predominant religion with no faith being the second largest group, followed by Jewish and Muslims. No others are well represented.

Q13. How do social scientists factor in? What’s the definition of “scientist?”

A13. Some social sciences are more scientific than others. Some have guiding principles that follow the scientific method well while others are impressionistic.

Q14. Public awareness of science is poor and it isn’t transmitted well. The media plays to sound bites, which doesn’t work with science. The literalist view is the only one that conflicts with science while ones that have gotten past this are just fine with science. (I’m not sure where the question was either)

A14. The conservatives just need to evolve. They got over Galileo; they’ll get over Darwin. But it’s not just literalists that are the problem. Also those that believe in a personal god will have conflict with a personal God that allows 99% of all species to go extinct yet is supposedly benevolent. Natural selection is brutal.

Q15. If you look out and see things dying off, this is natural selection. So couldn’t we just say that diversity is the byproduct?

A15. Conservatives let God off the hook for responsibility of his creation by invoking sin that separates him from us. Non-literalists must place the blame on god, but invent new reasons. While theologically difficult for many, it can be done.

Q16. The NCSE has mostly focused on evolution. Are there other battlegrounds you fight on? How do they factor in and how do you deal with them?

A16. The NCSE doesn’t fight those other battles. It’s a “one trick pony.” However, many pseudoscientific problems are all the same. The attack on evolution is just a textbook case of bad science and we can’t let ideologies rewrite the output of science and subvert empirical answers.


Thorsten said...

"Evolution is just a textbook case of bad science and we can’t let ideologies rewrite the output of science and subvert empirical answers."

Now I'm confused. She said that?

A Reasonable Kansan said...

The "objectivity" of science, and the "neutrality" of the observer has long ago been establish as a philosophical myth.

The observer, with his fallible senses, cannot help bringing his own perspective and assumptions to the event.

Eugenie's agenda is NOT just about good science education.

Jon Voisey said...

Oops. That should have read "The attack on Evolution".

And RK: The only people that believe it's a myth are the ones that have never had any training in sciences.

Not every scientist is able to seperate their ideologies from their practice. This is where we get people like Behe.

But many people out there are able to make this distinction whether it be in science, the courtroom, or political office.

Just because the creationists make this mistake, don't assume that everyone is incompetant as your lot.

aka...Forthekids said...

Ugh...someone just used the handle "reasonable kansan". That is not me, though my blog is named "Reasonable Kansans".

This is the third time I've found someone using that handle.

Jon Voisey said...

FTK: Good to know that someone else is using a similar handle. Thanks for clarifying.

A Reasonable Kansan said...

The "objectivity" of science, and the "neutrality" of the observer has long ago been establish as a philosophical myth.

The observer, with his fallible senses, cannot help bringing his own perspective and assumptions to the event.

Eugenie's agenda is NOT just about good science education.

Thorsten said...

"Evolution is just a textbook case of bad science and we can’t let ideologies rewrite the output of science and subvert empirical answers."

Now I'm confused. She said that?