Archive for December, 2013

The disconnect between citizens and science, Part II

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The Lakeland Ledger published a second part to their story on the disconnect betweens citizens and science today: Public, Private Schools Diverge in Handling of Biology, Cosmology. (My post about the first article is here.)

There isn’t anything new revealed in either yesterday’s or today’s articles. Public schools are supposed to teach evolution while private religious schools can teach creationism. The insights provided in today’s article by some religious school students who have gone on to science related careers are interesting. But the reality, as they demonstrate, is that you can learn and retain what you must in order to perform in your chosen field, but you can also easily discard what you don’t believe if it isn’t something necessary to your daily work. Sad but true. Notice how one such person who is in the immunology field accepts some parts of evolution but not others:

Rice said he knows his acceptance of the Bible as the ultimate authority sets him apart from most scientists, but he said it “presents far fewer challenges in my professional life than one might think.” He stressed that it would be “foolish” to ignore the evolutionary nature of cells, viruses and organisms in his work as an immunologist, noting that each year’s development of an influenza vaccine relies upon an understanding of how the flu virus mutates and adapts.

Rice said he doesn’t consider acceptance of all the dominant scientific theories mandatory for being a good scientist.

“They may help a scientist form a particular approach, but I do not think he must hold fast to the tenets of natural selection above all else in order to achieve his goals and answer the questions that deeply interest him,” Rice said.

Other than one glaring error in yesterday’s article (that might have been just a simple typo that changed the whole meaning of the sentence), I think the reporter did a decent job on these articles. What do you think?

Disconnnect between citizens and science

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

The Lakeland Ledger published a lengthy article about the disconnect between many citizens and science: Science and Skepticism: Amid a Push for More STEM Training, Many Reject Key Elements of Science

Even as politicians and educational leaders pledge allegiance to science, many Americans are skeptical about key tenets of scientific orthodoxy. On such issues as human evolution, the formation and age of the universe and, more recently, climate change, many Americans reject the dominant views of the scientific community.

Paul Cottle, a longtime physics professor at Florida State University, said deep skepticism toward science carries other costs.

“In a technological society, having half the population with such a profound distrust of science, it does seem like it would be an economic disadvantage,” Cottle said. “So I wish there was something we could do about it, but it’s not clear to me you can educate your way out of that. You can’t fix that in the classrooms of public schools. These are beliefs that are implanted in families, and it’s not clear there’s anything the rest of us can do about it.”

“On the one hand, you’ve got kids going to Sunday school, and they’re telling them that God created them, and then they go back to public school and they’re being taught that man evolved from an ape,” [Carol] Murray said. “No wonder the kids have problems.”

Lithia resident Jonathan Smith, vice president of Florida Citizens for Science, said some Americans are illogical in rejecting certain elements of science while accepting the rest.

“You don’t hear people talking about, ‘We don’t believe in gravity; we don’t believe in germ theory,’ or stuff like that,” Smith said. “But evolution probably conflicts with people’s religious beliefs, and so does climate change. …

“We use our cell phones, we drive in our computerized cars, we rely on antibiotics — anything science can provide for us, as long as it’s convenient. If it’s anything that might alter your view of the world, particularly from a religious perspective, they reject it.”

I don’t get this, though:

The prime example is the theory of evolution. Though ample evidence exists to support the theory, gaps still exist. Fossil records have not yet been discovered for some animals that served as transitional species between known species, leaving a “missing link,” in the phrase used by skeptics.

Scientists say the absence of complete proof does disprove a scientific theory, whether it’s evolution or another matter. Cottle said a lack of absolute certainty is part of science, but he said scientists get defensive when skeptics cite uncertainties as proof the entire theory is wrong.

Perhaps there was a typo. Shouldn’t it say “Scientists say the absence of complete proof doesn’t disprove a scientific theory, whether it’s evolution or another matter.”