There is general agreement that science education has its problems, but much less agreement about what those problems are. A helpful review has appeared in Science and it deserves to be widely discussed. Everyone in the science community is aware that critiques, peer review and reasoned argument are essential to the health of our discipline. Consensus has to be earned by this process of critical examination - which does not stop when theories become widely accepted.
"Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible. Whether it is the theoretician who is developing new models of phenomena or the experimentalist who is proposing new ways of collecting data, all scientists must subject their ideas to the scrutiny of their peers. But what of science education?"
Children learning science: these 7-year-olds were tackling chemistry in 1948 (source here)
The problem with much science education is that often these intellectual skills are not developed in the classroom. Students are taught an authoritative body of facts and theories in a way that encourages submission rather than critical appraisal.
"Science education, in contrast, is notable for the absence of argument. Although instructors and teachers may offer many explanations, these are not arguments. To offer an explanation of a fact is to presume it is true. An argument, in contrast, is an attempt to establish truth and commonly consists of a claim that may be supported by either data, warrants (that relate the data to the claim), backings (the premises of the warrant), or qualifiers (the limits of the claim). Some or all of these elements may be the subject of rebuttals or counter-arguments. [. . .] Consequently, science can appear to its students as a monolith of facts, an authoritative discourse where the discursive exploration of ideas, their implications, and their importance is absent. Students then emerge with naive ideas or misconceptions about the nature of science itself."
This problem is so serious that it deserves to be analysed using worldview concepts. What is our understanding of science? What conceptual model leads to a "monolith of facts" and "an authoritative discourse"? It is a "consensus" perspective of science, where 'teaching the controversy' is excluded because only uncontested science is on the curriculum. However, this version of consensus science is a betrayal of basic principles and is highly vulnerable to being steered by political, ideological or business agendas. Teaching based on this consensus model may lead to students adopting "reasoning strategies with a confirmatory bias rather than using logical criteria". Students come to realise that they are rewarded for reaching the 'right' answers rather than developing transferable critical skills.
"The common explanation of the absence of argument is that it is a product of an overemphasis by teachers, curricula, and textbooks on what we know at the expense of how we know. Deep within our cultural fabric, education is still seen simplistically as a process of transmission where knowledge is presented as a set of unequivocal and uncontested facts and transferred from expert to novice. In this world-view, failure of communication is the exception and success the norm. However, in reality, education is a highly complex act where failure is the norm and success the exception."
This week has also seen a stimulating review in the US Chronicle of Higher Education of "the latest of a now common genre of science patriotism, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science From Bunk (University of Chicago Press), by Massimo Pigliucci, a philosophy professor at the City University of New York." The reviewer, who is himself a philosophy professor, writes of science warriors who have a view of science that is 'authoritative' and 'true'.
"The problem with polemicists like Pigliucci is that a chasm has opened up between two groups that might loosely be distinguished as "philosophers of science" and "science warriors." Philosophers of science, often operating under the aegis of Thomas Kuhn, recognize that science is a diverse, social enterprise that has changed over time, developed different methodologies in different subsciences, and often advanced by taking putative pseudoscience seriously, as in debunking cold fusion. The science warriors, by contrast, often write as if our science of the moment is isomorphic with knowledge of an objective world in itself - Kant be damned! - and any form of inquiry that doesn't fit the writer's criteria of proper science must be banished as "bunk." Pigliucci, typically, hasn't much sympathy for radical philosophies of science."
So, opportunities for argument and the use of critical thinking skills are urgently needed in science education. This is the take-home message of the paper in Science. For years now, scholars open to the detection of intelligent design as a product of scientific research have sought to contribute to the debate about education. 'Teaching the controversy' has been recommended as good educational practice, providing opportunity to develop arguments and to develop critical thinking skills, only to be met with hostility and rejection. There is no controversy, opponents said, evolutionary theory is robust and has achieved the status of consensus science. Evolutionists want to present their favoured ideas as "unequivocal and uncontested". The reason they get away with such shallow reasoning is that there is a wider, more general malaise within science. This is why the Chronicle review (above) is relevant: there is a vocal group of science warriors who are largely advocates of positivism, secularism and atheism that are using science to promote philosophical naturalism. This is why these issues affect us all. This is a struggle for the freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and to resist those who come to us with deductive claims about the way the world is. It is also a struggle for real education instead of indoctrination by secularists.
Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse
Science, 23 April 2010: Vol. 328, pp. 463-466 | DOI: 10.1126/science.1183944
Abstract: Argument and debate are common in science, yet they are virtually absent from science education. Recent research shows, however, that opportunities for students to engage in collaborative discourse and argumentation offer a means of enhancing student conceptual understanding and students' skills and capabilities with scientific reasoning. As one of the hallmarks of the scientist is critical, rational skepticism, the lack of opportunities to develop the ability to reason and argue scientifically would appear to be a significant weakness in contemporary educational practice. In short, knowing what is wrong matters as much as knowing what is right. This paper presents a summary of the main features of this body of research and discusses its implications for the teaching and learning of science.
Science Warriors' Ego Trips
By Carlin Romano
The Chronicle Review, April 25, 2010
1st paragraph: Standing up for science excites some intellectuals the way beautiful actresses arouse Warren Beatty, or career liberals boil the blood of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. It's visceral. The thinker of this ilk looks in the mirror and sees Galileo bravely muttering "Eppure si muove!" ("And yet, it moves!") while Vatican guards drag him away. Sometimes the hero in the reflection is Voltaire sticking it to the clerics, or Darwin triumphing against both Church and Church-going wife. A brave champion of beleaguered science in the modern age of pseudoscience, this Ayn Rand protagonist sarcastically derides the benighted irrationalists and glows with a self-anointed superiority. Who wouldn't want to feel that sense of power and rightness?
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Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
A blogger from New England offers his intelligent reasoning.
We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the "Inherit the Wind" movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial. View 37 clips from the movie and decide for yourself if this movie is more fact or fiction.
Don Cicchetti blogs on: Culture, Music, Faith, Intelligent Design, Guitar, Audio
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Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at