Monday, July 19, 2010

The fruits of accomodationism?

PZ and Jerry Coyne have both discussed the PLOS paper on a survey of high school biology teachers in the US.

The graphic I want to discuss is here:

If we remove those who failed to express an opinion (the same in both surveys - 9%) we can do a "triangle plot" or Ternary plot, showing the three other percentages:

On this plot, moving up is "more creationism", moving (roughly) southwest is "more acceptance of evolution" and moving southeast is "more acceptance of ID".

We see that the general public (in blue) and the high school biology teachers (red) are not in the same place. We can't from this tell for sure whether it's the training of biology teachers and the materials and curricula that they have to work with that makes a difference or whether those who might become biology teachers are a priori different from the rest of the population, but numerous anecdotes (which attest to the fact that education does change people's opinions) suggest that training and the teacher's available teaching materials (like textbooks and so on) and curricula will have a substantial impact on what positions they will endorse. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful motivator.

Since training at a university level will generally tend to be based directly on evolution rather than be ID-oriented, while school-level teaching materials and curricula will tend to be more influenced by (for example) NCSE policy, one has to wonder at the overall effect of the two.

If we attribute the shift between the red and the blue points largely to effects other than pre-disposition, we must say that these have produced a shift away from Creationism... but not even slightly shifted toward the position of actual biological science relative to ID.

The suggestion that I take away from this is that this may be in part to the effectively accomodationist stances of influential organizations like the NCSE - by openly tolerating, sometimes even advocating unscientific positions like ID (that God "guides evolution", rather than the scientific position of evolution operating by natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift and so on is basically ID), they merely succeed in replacing one load of unscientific nonsense with another.

This is not science education.

Enough with accomodationism. Let's advocate actual science, and get everyone's favourite god(s) out of biology class.

Even though I am in Australia, this sort of thing has particular relevance for me because the Australian school curriculum in under review right now... and while the science curriculum is safe, look what's in the senior History curriculum:

UNIT 2A, pg 8


Students develop their historical skills in an investigation of TWO of the following controversial issues:

a) human origins (e.g. Darwin’s theory of evolution and its critics).

b) dating the past (e.g. radio-carbon dating, tracing human migrations using DNA)

Yep. Maybe if we looked at the controversy itself as historical, this would count as 19th century history. But this is the Ancient History curriculum... as if human origins and radio-carbon dating are actually substantially in doubt now as being useful for informing us about the past - as if we don't really know these things quite well, and as if actual human origins (and carbon dating, for crying out loud) were at issue.

If these are controversies, why not look at the flat earth/round earth controvery, and while we're at it, germ theory too?

I think accomodationism is poisoning our education, by trying to make us accept as equally reasonable points of view that have nothing to do with the actual science.

I think it's insidious. I think it ruins everything it touches.

If it doesn't work, try something else.

Here's an idea - why don't we try NOT being accomodationist for a decade or so. Try actually insisting on science as science - no holds barred. Actually advocate for science. Insist that we teach the accepted scientific positions (and even the parts where there's some actual scientific disagreement if you like) as is. Without trying to fit in everyone's pet unscientific ideas as well, just because it makes them feel all warm-and-fuzzy.

Let's see what happens.

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