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Archive for the ‘Learning Science’ Category


It Does Take Some Thought

Posted by jns on September 30, 2010

“Think of a single problem confronting the world today,” says Bill Bryson, in full rhetorical flow. “Disease, poverty, global warming… If the problem is going to be solved, it is science that is going to solve it. Scientists tend to be unappreciated in the world at large, but you can hardly overstate the importance of the work they do. If anyone ever cures cancer, it will be a guy with a science degree.” There is a fractional pause, then a sheepish smile. “Or a woman with a science degree.”
“You don’t need a science degree to understand about science,” [Bryson] insists. “You just need to think about it.”

[Max Davidson, "Bill Bryson: 'Have faith, science can solve our problems' ", Telegraph [UK], 26 September 2010.]


Pseudo-Science & Schools

Posted by jns on March 29, 2005

Some things just make you want to throw your hands up in the air, or scream and punch a brick wall or something. Somebody kindly pointed out this transcript of a report on yesterday’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer called “Creation Conflict in Schools“, reported by Jeffrey Brown.
Here were a few comments made by students — high-school students, in Kentucky:

I believe that God created the Earth and put life on this Earth. I don’t really believe in the whole evolution theory.

I believe that God also made us. I just think it’s a lot easier to believe than the big bang theory, or any of the other theories about apes.

I believe God molded man from the dust and he breathed life into it, and I believe we came out with two legs and thumbs and the thought capacity better then any other animal.

To say that this was all some big cosmic dice roll, and we went from fish to frogs to monkeys and monkeys to humans. It’s just kind of almost ridiculous.

I don’t think a human body could have just come about. I think God definitely had everything to do in it, it’s so complex, I don’t think it could have just come.

These were students in a science class. I am breathing deeply right now, and keeping my hands on the keyboard. There are some things I don’t understand, and then there are the things that I really, really don’t understand, like this whole anti-rational, anti-science, Darwin-spawn-of-Satan stuff.
In another post I might make clever, ironic comments about how it’s science, and not the bible, that keeps the IPod playing, keeps the cell phone transmitting and receiving, and keeps the airplanes from falling out of the sky. Later. This? This I just don’t understand.
Later in the piece (as reported in the transcript), neo-creationist Ken Ham (I’m sure he’d insist on being called an “Intelligent Design Advocate”, further insisting that ID has nothing to do with creationism) says some stupid things about the unknowable past. We even get a preview of his “creation museum” where one of the dinosaurs has a saddle on it, because how can we really know that humans and dinosaurs didn’t coexist?
You know, when I read that statistic that revealed that nearly half (42%) of Americans “can’t answer correctly when asked if the earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs” (2001 National survey conducted by the California Academy of Sciences & Harris interactive), I thought that maybe they just got confused over the issue, despite the fact that it was a rather noticable 65 million years after the last dinosaur died before humans appeared (unless one is a young-earth creationist, then it’s still true, just not noticable). I didn’t know until today that some people actually promote the idea that humans and dinosaurs actually coexisted. All trying to cast a “shadow of doubt” over Darwinianism, I guess, as though they were amateur debaters fantasizing themselves making closing arguments in a cosmic courtroom of science.
Fortunately, there were some sane voices in this piece as well, but one despairs whether they will be heard and heeded.
First, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education , remarks on the absurd notion that “Intelligent Design” should be taught as though it were an actual, credible scientific opponent of evolution, so that students could decide the issue:

“Teach the controversy” is a deliberately ambiguous phrase. It means ‘pretend to students that scientists are arguing over whether evolution took place.’ This is not happening.

I mean you go to the scientific journals, you go to universities like this one and you ask the professors, is there an argument going on about whether living things had common ancestors? They’ll look at you blankly. This is not a controversy.

Exactly. It is manufactured pseudo-controversy, a non-scientific controversy, stirred up to cast doubt on science.
Finally, Chris Barton, biologist at Centre College (also Kentucky):

Part of it is a failure to really understand the scientific process. Unfortunately, the United States falls far behind in terms of our scientific appreciation and scientific understanding.

Soon, the IPod may stop playing and the cell phones may go silent (metaphorically speaking, of course, since we’ll always be able to import technology from other, far-less God-fearing countries who still practice basic research and technology development).
It’s one reason, maybe the main reason, that I founded Ars Hermeneutica (see the links) last winter: to enlighten the public about the methods and meanings of science. The task looks bigger and bigger every day.