Monday, March 19, 2012

Science Teachers Should Welcome "Monkey Bills"

All eight scientists in Tennessee who are members of the National Academy of Sciences have signed a statement expressing their opposition to what have become known as "monkey bills" -- legislation that would encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

I think scientists and teachers should welcome these bills -- it's a great chance to show why scientists believe what they do and why they do not accept other explanations. The Tennessee scientists write
"These bills misdescribe evolution as scientifically controversial. As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm -- along with the nation’s leading scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences -- that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals ("creation science"  and "intelligent design") and there is no scientific evidence against it."
If the evidence is "overwhelming" it should be a simple and straightforward lesson, right? Teachers could point out what that evidence is and why it's overwhelming, and what is lacking in other explanations.

Sometimes I think the real problem is that too many science teachers aren't qualified and don't themselves know the evidence for what they're teaching, and might actually have to do some research on things they can't copy out of a state-approved syllabus. For example, a 2008 study found that, nationwide, 77% of science teachers (grades 7-12) had majored in their subject; for math teachers it was only 61%.

In Tennessee, just 58% of science teachers had majored in the science subject they taught, one of the lowest proportions in any state.

You want kids to get the evidence for and against manmade climate change? Then show it, and show why alternative explanations fail to explain recent warming. Do the same for evolution and "God" and everything else. And then when administrators and their parents come in to complain, show it to them, too.


William M. Connolley said...

Your argument is tempting, but I'm not sure it is right. When people are learning, it is hard enough as it is. To have to layer on top a selection of "here are some wrong arguments, and here is how to refute them" won't make it easier. GW is the obvious example that I'm thinking of. But you could have others. The point is that to conclusively refute them you have to disappear down into very fine detail that ultimately overwhelms and confuses most people.

Dano said...

"Teach the Controversy!!!" is exactly what they want. That alone would give them propaganda for decades. Why legitimize them so they can claim victory?



aaaaa said...

The problem is that it describes evolution as scientifically controversial. It isn't. The anti-evolution forces don't want what you recommend - they want evolution to be taught as unverified speculation. You know over-exaggerating the uncertainties and implications of the uncertainties much like global warming skeptics do.

oh and spam..

Martin Vermeer said...

Good idea... and take the small hours of the night into teaching use.

Dano said...

DeSmog reports that this bill - which passed - is an ALEC template.

There you go. All the reason you need to oppose.