Sunday, October 01, 2006


The Evolution of Patriotism

There is an important article in today's Washington Post, "The Education Issue" by Paul A. Hanle, president of the Biotechnology Institute.

After relating an embarrassing question he was asked by a young French graduate student, "How can you teach biotechnology in this country when you don't even accept evolution?," Hanle admits:

I wanted to disagree, but the kid had a point. Proponents of "intelligent design" in the United States are waging a war against teaching science as scientists understand it. Over the past year alone, efforts to incorporate creationist language or undermine evolution in science classrooms at public schools have emerged in at least 15 states, according to the National Center for Science Education. And an independent education foundation has concluded that science-teaching standards in 10 states fail to address evolution in a scientifically sound way. Through changes in standards and curriculum, these efforts urge students to doubt evolution -- the cornerstone principle of biology, one on which there is no serious scientific debate.

This war could decimate the development of U.S. scientific talent and erode whatever competitive advantage the United States enjoys in the technology-based global economy. ...
Hanle notes:

Thirty-seven percent of the high school Advanced Placement biology examination tests knowledge of evolution, evolutionary biology and heredity, according to the College Board. Students who do not thoroughly understand evolution cannot hope to succeed on this exam; they will be handicapped in competitive science courses in college and the careers that may follow.

By teaching intelligent design or other variants of creationism in science classes at public schools -- or by undercutting the credibility of evolution -- we are greatly diminishing our chances for future scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations, and are endangering our health, safety and economic well-being as individuals and as a nation.
Hanle denies that this is a war of religion against science or of believers against godless materialists and insists that nonscientific viewpoints, such as religion, must be respected. But it is also necessary to face the world as it is:

[A] report from the National Academies' Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century showed us a glimpse of the future. Of all the patent applications reaching the U.S. Patent Office, the report noted, the most by far still come from the United States. However, from 1989 to 2001, the rate of increase of patent applications from the world's fastest-growing economies, such as China and India, was nearly three times that of the United States. By that measure, innovation in those economies will blow past ours in little more than a decade -- just about the time the current classes of high school biology students will be starting their research careers.
Those who wear their patriotism on their sleeves must support teaching only science in science classes or admit how empty are those flags they wrap themselves in.

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