This is a brief guest post by Jamie Vernon.
In a stunning exchange with a young boy, a video posted by ABC News reveals Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry confirming what many scientists and science educators have suspected for years. According to the Governor, “In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution.”
So, there it is. Texas encourages teaching of creationism in public schools.
Perry has consistently appointed creationist leaders to the Texas Board of Education over the years. Each of them has denied their intent to allow teaching of creationism in science classrooms in Texas schools. At the same time, the Texas Board of Education has made repeated attempts to weaken science standards to make way for anti-evolution curricula.
I think we’ll be hearing from the Governor on this matter. The backtracking will be a sight to see.
My latest DeSmog piece is about the classroom climate for climate science teaching–and how poisonous it is getting. It starts like this:
A few months back, those who care about accurate climate science and energy education in high school classes registered a minor victory. Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.
When it comes to undermining accurate and responsible climate and energy education at the high school level, Scholastic may have been the most prominent transgressor. But precisely because it is a massive and respected educational publisher, and actually careswhat The New York Times thinks, it was also the most moderate and easy to reason with.
Although it’s hard to find online now, I’ve reviewed the offending coal curriculum, entitled “The United States of Energy.” In my view, it didn’t even contain any obvious falsehoods—except for errors of omission. It was more a case of subtle greenwashing.
What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.
You can read on here….
Last night, Laura Eilers, AKA Ms. Virginia, was crowned MS. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! The Science Cheerleaders–current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and engineering careers–are very fortunate to have Laura as our extremely talented choreographer and creative director.
In addition to being a former cheerleader for the St. Louis Rams, cheerleader and choreographer for the Kansas City Chiefs, and an NFL Hall of Fame Game Cheerleader, she’s also the creator of Going Pro Entertainment, LLC, a network of professional cheerleading and dance alumni.
In school, her favorite science projects included “creating an amoeba structure out of cookie cake and icing, researching anthropologist Dian Fossey and her work with gorillas, as well as engineering a balsa wood structure that could withstand heavy weights. My team and I tested the structure repeatedly and competed with other schools for the strongest balsa structure.”
And, yes, she “most definitely believes evolution should be taught to our children.”
And now, I’d like to turn your attention to a recent blog post written by Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas. Following up on all the chatter surrounding the Miss USA contestants’ answers to the question of whether evolution should be taught in schools, Josh writes:
I’m glad to see professional cheerleaders and pageant contestants stepping up and talking about science. It has to have been nerve-wracking for the Miss USA contestants to be asked about the question without time to prep, and I think the awkwardness and “ums” and “likes” and “you knows” in the transcript mostly just reflect how people actually talk, especially when we’re nervous. The substance of the Miss USA pageant answers wasn’t at all impressive, but the fact that the pageant thought Miss USA should be able to speak about science education is impressive.
Ms. Virginia, or “huge science geek” Miss California (now Miss USA), can go into rooms and connect with audiences that just don’t care to listen to anything said by me, or PZ Myers, or Richard Dawkins, or Eugenie Scott. So can a professional cheerleader. And if the goal is to make a more science literate society, it behooves us to make sure that women waving pom poms or wearing a sash with a state name on it are just as ready to talk about the joys of science as a doctor in a white coat or a geologist in dusty jeans.
And at the end of the day, I smile every time I see Cavalier play this video. Because why shouldn’t a little girl at a massive science festival want to be a doctor and a teacher and a cheerleader? How better to encourage all of her dreams than to chat with a former professional cheerleader who is now a doctor and cheers for science? Someone else might see that you can call yourself a science geek and a history geek and still be chosen Miss USA, and decide to take her schooling more seriously. And that’s for the best.
Read Josh’s full post here.
Whenever I speak, write, or blog (especially blog) about reasoning biases, there’s a common rejoinder. Can’t we use better education to teach people to see past their own blinders?
While I think some kinds of advanced training are indeed about bias control–good journalism, science–in general I’m skeptical that one can make much headway at this in the basic educational system. The reason is that the biases are activated automatically, pre-conscious thought. Indeed, there is published research showing that getting older and more educated doesn’t curtail reasoning biases, and also that we see contradictions and hypocrisy in those we disagree with, not those we agree with.
Yet the plea for better education still persists. Frankly, I chalk the resistance up to that old “Enlightenment ethic” (if only we could make people better educated and get them better information) that is very very hard to dislodge, even when one is citing science to dislodge it.
Now, I don’t know for sure that there is no way to educate away our biases. I’m simply skeptical of it. And I’m not the only one. Let me commit a logical fallacy of my own, the argument from authority. Here’s the University of Virginia’s Jonathan Haidt, who some think is pretty important on these matters, discussing the very point:
Why is the confirmation bias, in particular— this is the most damaging one of all—why is the confirmation bias so ineradicable? That is, why do people automatically search for evidence to support whatever they start off believing, and why is it impossible to train them to undo that? It’s almost impossible. Nobody’s found a way to teach critical thinking that gets people to automatically reflect on, well, what’s wrong with my position?
Could there be a way? Maybe. I imagine it would less involve teaching people about various logical fallacies and more involve teaching people to be cool and zen and not respond emotionally. I’m thinking more Jedi training than Bertrand Russell training. What do you think?
By Jon Winsor
I’m a bit late on this, but honestly, when I wrote this post I hadn’t heard about Sarah Palin’s US history gaffe last Friday:
Later, apparently, Palin’s supporters took to Wikipedia and Conservapedia, where I understand Paul Revere is getting a makeover.
In the last thread about my upcoming show with Michael Shermer, Sean McCorkle asks a really deep question, or set of questions. Let’s take them in sequence:
What about science education at an age level before undesirable beliefs “set in”? Can something positive be said about early intervention? And what about the quality of education (not just the level)? I’m sure there are a lot of studies that back up #10, but do they treat education as a binary value: yes, person has it, or no they haven’t, tacitly assuming that all individuals have been exposed to the same level of instruction on average? If so, I think that’s a problem. Somewhere on Panda’s Thumb or someplace there was a survey that revealed a high percentage of HS biology teachers who didn’t believe in evolution themselves. So how can we expect their students to receive proper exposure to evolution? I know education quality questions are hard to deal with quantitatively, but I feel they are important, especially before we dismiss science education as a possible cure. Maybe its the disparity of quality of education that really needs to be addressed.
Educational disparities certainly do exist–and they should be addressed. But educational improvement (especially K-12) will not serve the goal that Sean seems to hope for. The evidence simply doesn’t suggest that as we get more educated or acquire more intellectual abilities, we get better at detecting reasoning fallacies and false beliefs, and fall for them less. There is actually research on reasoning biases and youth development. For instance, Klaczynski, “Bias in Adolescents’ Everyday Reasoning and Its Relationship With Intellectual Ability, Personal Theories, and Self-Serving Motivation,” Developmental Psychology, 1997, Vol. 33, No 2., pp. 273-283:
The author presented 60 9th- and 12th-graders with hypothetical arguments that contained logical fallacies. Read More
The NSF GK-12 program is an outstanding example of an initiative tackling science illiteracy head on. It prepares graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to be better communicators by bringing them into K-12 classrooms. They work closely with students and teachers through hands-on activities and make science real and relevant for the communities where they are instituted. I’ve worked with many students and professionals involved in this wonderful program over the years and have been extremely impressed. Many colleagues and friends who have participated say GK-12 has had a tremendous influence on their trajectories beyond graduate school. As I visit universities to talk about improving science communication, many professors bring up their own experiences with this initiative and praise the way it brings science to students around the country. The only aspect I do not like is that funding at each institution only lasts a few years, so successful programs are unable to continue past the term they are allotted. That said, according to the website, GK-12 has benefited over 10,000 STEM graduate students, 11,000 teachers, 5,000 schools, and as many as 600,000 K-12 students.
I am shocked to learn that NSF has decided to cancel the program. According to Science, the decision has been made because graduate student participants do not outperform their peers in research. But as Miriam points out, GK-12 fellows do become better teachers, communicators, and advocates for science education–which was the entire purpose of the program!
So I am calling on every reader to stand up for science! Chris and I care deeply about this issue and it’s the subject of our book, Unscientific America. Please write a letter of support for GK-12 imploring your representatives to restore funding for the program. Everything you need to know is here, including templates and more information about what we may lose.
“What are the best books for my daughter?” “What kinds of extra curricular programs should my son be enrolled in?”
You send so many emails asking, “How do I encourage my child to pursue science?” It’s a noble endeavor, and of course, there’s no end to possible responses. Much depends on what each individual is interested in from marine science to space. While I welcome these inquiries, here’s the best suggestion I can offer: Rather than science specifically, focus on critical thinking!
No matter how advanced a student’s math skills or laboratory technique, it will be her ability to work through problems and develop creative solutions that sets her apart from peers. In other words, parents should do more than going through the motions for standardized test preparation, and begin early. Foster her natural curiosity about the world. Perhaps most importantly, she needs to believe in herself and recognize what she is capable of.
Sure, it sounds a bit cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. More than ever before, our culture poses formidable social obstacles to success. Joe’s is right that “It’s okay to be Smart,” but “smart” doesn’t always seem adequate. Kids are bombarded with billboards, music videos, television shows, advertisements, and films telling them that they also have to look and act a certain way to be accepted. A cultural firestorm of unrealistic expectations damages self-esteem and, in turn, academic performance. Of course there’s no simple way to counter these harmful false messages, but building confidence is the place to begin.
So that’s what I hope moms and dads will continue to emphasize. And if you’re still seeking a good book to start with, my vote for elementary schoolers goes to Free To Be You And Me. (DVD and audio are even better!). For young adults, books like Tracy Kidder’s outstanding Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer will help them recognize how one individual can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.
1. Playboy article online. My piece on the spirituality of scientists has been put online. Warning: clicking this link may yield a bit in the way of Playboy-type…visuals.
2. Successful Science Communication. Cambridge University Press is preparing a new volume on science communication, and I’m one of the contributors with a chapter on “Dealing with the U.S. Media.” (Tough, I know.) The book won’t be out til September, but you can get a sense of the contents here. Andrew Revkin is also a contributor.
3. Why Johnny Can’t Do Science. There was a spectacular two part series on the problems of U.S. science education in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Mark Roth. I strongly encourage you to read both pieces, here and here.
That’s all for now….