Teaching “the controversy”, again

Almost a third of teachers think creationism should be taught on a par with evolution, according to the Times.

Of the 1,200 questioned, 53 per cent thought that creationism should not be taught in science lessons, while 29 per cent thought it should.

OK, a third is some serious rounding up from 29%, but the 29% figure itself is quite scary. It suggests that 29% of teachers are either stupid or batshit crazy, which isn’t encouraging. After all, these people have made their way through years of school and higher education to get to become teachers.

It’s certainly evidence for how far ID /creationism has penetrated the UK.

Hoping to find that the poll was conducted by AIG in a few church schools, I am shocked to find that this comes from Teachers TV (to which the Times added an ill-advised pedantic apostrophe, not used by the station itself.)

As you might expect from the name, Teachers TV is mainly worthy but dull (Key stage x in subject blah) but it sometimes has some fascinating content. (I’ve accidentally caught programmes on neuroscience and Turkish tiled architecture, when randomly clicking through the cable channels.) They are currently featuring “Evolution week” on their site. So these poll results don’t seem to be skewed in favour of a creationist agenda.

Which makes the 29% depressingly possible. Worse 18% of a sample of 248 science teachers (albeit a small sample, skewed by respondent bias) thought evolution and creationism should have equal status

Teachers TV interviewed Dr Adam Rutherford (podcast editor for Nature)

Dr Rutherford says that science teachers with those views need retraining or should be taken out of the classroom if they refuse to change their opinion.

That seems as uncontroversial as saying that a domestic science teacher who can’t boil an egg should be retrained or sacked.

However, it brought up quite a furious response in some comments on the Teachers TV site (among the rational ones, that said that phrenology and astrology weren’t taught in science classes either.)

For example, edinburgh4 said that his/her creation group had PHD-qualified speakers and:

the idea that unintelligent design (naturalism) can be falsified while at the same time intelligent design cannot is logically untenability [sic] and morally dubious. If a design did not come from an unintelligent source there is only one conclusion left. Excluding special creation from discussion leaves evolution as the only option this is hollow victory. More and more the public are seeing it as such.

oeditor replied, disputing the “qualifications” of these speakers:

Professor McIntosh may talk about birds but he is an engineer, not a biologist. Nor is he a geologist, as can be seen from his claim that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah’s flood – “probably in matter of hours”. He isn’t a historian or a linguist either, despite having produced a DVD claiming that the Chinese ideographic script provides evidence of the Tower of Babel.
What he is – and he proclaims this proudly – is a committed Christian who believes that the biblical account of creation in Genesis is to be taken literally and that it happened about 6000 years ago. Everything he and his fellow creationists claim stems from that one premise and nothing else.

Nullius in Verba said

The issue is not whether Creation should be taught in science lessons. The issue is how genuine scientific thought and debate should be encouraged. Stifling the debate as Adam Rutherford suggests is a recipe for tyranny and there is a great danger of insisting that atheism is the only paradigm in which to conduct science (patently not true when one considers the greats like Faraday and Boyle of earlier centuries).

It is even more disturbing that teachers don’t seem to have a basic grasp of logic than that they think it’s reasonable to teach creationism in science classes.

This “stifling the debate” is a common but deeply flawed creationist argument. There are a million to the power of a million possible theories about the nature of life.

Indeed you could produce alternative theories about anything. I could try to get a cup of coffee by standing on one leg, putting a cat on my head, facing magnetic north and chanting “Ding McChing.” It probably wouldn’t work but who knows if they haven’t tried it? If I was undergoing barista training for a chain of coffee bars, I wouldn’t expect them to allow that as an alternative to switching on the machines, grinding the beans and so on. Or if there was really relativist manager who’d let the trainee baristas discuss their own theories, wouldn’t they have to try out the sacrifice of a young goat with a silver knife, if someone else liked that idea? of course, you might have to wait a few millenia for a double espresso.

I can’t see the difference here at all. Some theories have been proven to work through experiment. Until there are theories that work better, it would be slack not to teach people the ones with the empirical backup.

I think Terry Pratchett has at least one (science?) degree. In his Diskworld books, a flat earth is carried on the backs of giant elephants standing on the back of a turtle. What if some of his readers don’t understand the concept of “fiction”? (Not unlike the average fundy) Surely this theory should be discussed in science classes? Respectfully, as a legitimate alternative to geography, in case any of the students’ parents believe it, of course.

Read more about this on the excellent Opinion of a Minion blog

Gore, Nobel Prize and the BBC…

On the BBC editors’ blog, Craig Oliver discussed Al Gore’s Nobel prize, in the context of the BBC’s decision to lead Wednesday’s night’s news with a judge’s ruling that there were 9 errors of fact in “An inconvenient truth.”

Oliver says the Nobel prize is “controversial” as the award raises the question “What does climate change have to do with world peace?”

Well Craig, there’s this little thing called an ecosystem. All our lives depend on it. When it gets too damaged to support life, we are going to have to fight over the dwindling store of global life -supporting goodness.

I’m not a judge or a scientist, so I would have thought that 9 “errors” was about normal for a documentary. It’s a truism that, if you know about any topic, you will always find any media reports about that topic to be full of gaping holes.

I would have thought, in this context, that a more suitable topic for the BBC News to consider would be why would anyone spend the enormous sums required to take such a case to the High Court to stop schools showing a documentary? Hadn’t they thought of contacting the school or the local education committee, if they were that stressed about it?

How much did this little exercise cost “school governor Stewart Dimmock, from Dover, a father of two, who is a member of the New Party.”?

The judge awarded Mr Dimmock two-thirds of his estimated legal costs of more than £200,000, against the government.

Are there many parents/school governors out there who are so rich beyond the dreams of avarice that they will spend a sum that would take about 15 years to earn at a minimum wage rate on telling teachers what documentaries they can show in schools?

The New Party? Who are these legally minded philanthropists? Given the sums of money at their disposal, cosying up to them looks like almost as canny a financial move as a brief marriage to a former Beatle.

The Rise of Creationism

Oddly, until a few years ago I had never even heard of Intelligent Design or Creationism. I put this down to having gone to a good, high quality, school and having as my main circle of friends intelligent and educated people.

I can honestly say that prior to discovering the American madness, I was blissfully unaware that anyone really thought there was any grounds for this to be thought of as sensible, let alone a legitimate scientific topic. I think my first encounters with the madness idea called ID came around the turn of the millennium. How things have changed in the last seven years.

The idea that, in 1999, there was a mainstream awareness of ID / Creationism in the UK is laughable. It was certainly never even alluded to while I was at school – it might have been hinted at in Religious Education classes, but even then it was done with an understanding it wasn’t “real.”I have friends who have gone on to be teachers and university types – who all studied around the end of the 1990s, and they support my recollections that ID/Creationism was virtually unheard of in the UK at that time.

Now, however, things are different.

Reading the BBC Education news draws a frightening picture, with an article titled “Teachers Fear Evolution Lessons.” The BBC piece is well worth reading, and begins:

The teaching of evolution is becoming increasingly difficult in UK schools because of the rise of creationism, a leading scientist is warning.

Head of science at London’s Institute of Education Professor Michael Reiss says some teachers, fearful of entering the debate, avoid the subject totally.

This generates two reactions in me. Sadly for teachers (and my closest friend is a biology teacher), neither cast teachers in a good light.

First off, since when have teachers been “fearful” of entering a debate with their students? What crazy world is this we live in. If a teacher is incapable, or unwilling, to debate with a student who disagrees with what they are saying then they are not teachers. Do teachers want to simply teach robotic children who soak up every single thing they are taught without question or challenge? I honestly hope not.

Secondly, why are teachers allowing these ideas to spread in the first place? It seems teacher-spokespersons (often self appointed I presume) will regularly come up with some news worthy diatribe about how teachers are being prevented from teaching because parents are allowing their kids to be unruly, eat the wrong food, watch too much TV etc. Surely this is really not something the teachers can blame others for. If teachers were doing their job properly, then people would understand how creationism is nonsense and could get on with the task of learning science.

Anyway, going back to my original point, when did creationism become such a big thing in the UK. We were once (as social “scientist” Heather will keep reminding me) a more secular nation than Communist Russia where religion was outlawed. This is now, obviously, consigned to the dust bin of history, but I am curious as to when / why this change took place. Did the internet and Americanisation of our culture cause it? Does the vast amount of Polish immigrants cause it? Does any one know? Read the article and let me know what you think.

[tags]Education, Teachers, Biology, Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, ID, Darwin, Dawkins, Science, Religion, Belief, Madness, Society, Culture, Secular, Christian, UK, Michael Reiss, London’s Institute of Education, Teaching, Educational Standards, Nutcases[/tags]

Teaching Bad Science

The levels at which bad science has penetrated our society are breath taking. Even teachers, who you would hope were able to teach the principles of good science to our kids, are falling foul of the woo and nonsense. Almost makes you despair for the human race.

Today, the BBC have reported that the Professional Association of Teachers are…

seeking an inquiry into safety concerns surrounding new wireless technology.

Shockingly, there have already been studies, inquiries and the like. Is the PAT unable to read the studies? Were there no science teachers available to explain the nature of scientific research? The mind truly boggles.

The BBC mention that the former Education Secretary pointed out the Health Protection Agency guidance was that there is no threat. Like all good woo-ist scaremongers, the PAT General Secretary replied with:

Mr Parkin said: “There is a view out there that you have no right to express concerns on such issues and that if you do, you are scaremongering or promoting so-called bad science.”

But he said that because some scientists were concerned about the risks, an inquiry was necessary.

Blimey – he may not know any science, but he is certainly an expert in woo, nonsense and debating skills.

Lots of people will start a sentence saying “I dont want to cause offence” then say something very offensive, “I dont mean to be rude” then say something rude and so on. Here Mr Parkin has started off saying “I dont want to scare monger with bad science” then scaremongered with bad science.

The first sentence is simply not true. People always have the “right” to be concerned about issues. Just because they are concerned does not mean it is not scaremongering or it is not bad science. Mr Parkin can express all the concerns in the world for all I care. For example, there is greater reason to worry about teachers abusing their pupils than the dangers of WiFi. Which concern should get priority?

As for the second sentence. Well… Because “some” scientists are concerned is not justification. This just shows Mr Parkin does not understand science. I could probably search through journals and find scientists concern about any topic, subject or technology he chose to mention. I am sure Mr Parkin is happy for children to be driven to schools – yet some scientists are concerned this is bad for their health. Some scientists are concerned that mixed sex schools inhibit children’s developments, conversely some scientists think the opposite.

Research has been carried out on the dangers of WiFi. It is valid research and presents little evidence of any risks for children. If future research shows differently, then the situation can be revised. Forming an inquiry every single time “some” scientists had a concern over things would be ludicrous in the extreme. If they are so concerned, the PAT can fund the necessary research… Unless they just want the government to reduce the education budget to carry out pointless inquiries…

This wonderful line from Mr Parkin really messed with my mind:

I have heard and read enough to make me concerned and I had been made aware of an accumulation of evidence which suggests that the non-thermal, pulsing effects of electromagnetic radiation could have a damaging effect upon the developing nervous systems of children.

The frequently-quoted current safety limits in operation refer to the thermal effects of such radiation and not the non-thermal effects.


Oddly, I am not sure if this is a result of the BBC’s editing or the way things were talked about at the conference, but it seems like the dangers from WiFi have been conflated with the risk of asbestos… Now that would be bad science.

[tags]Science, Bad Science, Scare, Woo, Nonsense, Teachers, School,Education,Health, Wifi, Electromagnetism, EM, Radiation, Asbestos[/tags]