Saturday, February 23, 2008


Weird Science

Brandon Keim's science blog at Wired is host to some strange goings-on.

Carl Woese, the famous microbiologist, who is credited with the latest rearrangement of taxonomy into the three kingdoms comprised of Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryotes, when asked about the Florida standards flap, said:

My feeling is that evolution shouldn't be taught at the lower grades. You don't teach quantum mechanics in the grade schools. One has to be quite educated to work with these concepts; what they pass on as evolution in high schools is nothing but repetitious tripe that teeachers don't understand.

I certainly don't want any intrusion of religious ideas in the name of science -- but I don't want this bland soup that's taught as evolution in the name of science, either. It's not science -- it's catechism. Let's hold off until college, then hire some teachers who really know what to teach them. You have to go to the higest levels to find people with an understanding. That whole setup isn't there at all; all that's there is teaching the same old pap for 150 years, modfied by neo-Darwinists but not in an useful way.
Asked if neo-Darwinian evolution still explains, for example, the primate family tree, Woese said:

I don't know, when you put it that way ... you'd have to teach this stuff with the understanding that these are just the facts we can learn, and they don't have a religious explanation.

[Mainstream neo-Darwinian evolution] doesn't begin to talk about the evolution of the brain, and I think that's what the whole difference is. Man is working now on a higher level of organization than you can get form any other biological organization on the planet, and it doesn't do you a damn bit of good to say that the complex brain was a product of natural selection. It just doesn't help you.
Right. And teaching the Theory of Relativity's modification of Newton's mechanics is beyond grade and high school students, so we shouldn't teach that the planets orbit the sun? Last time I looked, education is necessarily a gradual process of building more sophisticated knowledge on top of a more basic understanding. Neither Rome nor an education is built in a day.

Abbie at ERV has a typically sedate and respectful dissent: "Has Carl Woese lost his friggen mind?"

I guess this goes along with the mathematician who said we shouldn't teach the kids fractions until they were ready for calculus.
... and historians who don't think we should teach kids about the US government until they are able to understand the full panoply of Supreme Court constitutional jurisprudence ...

We could make this into a game.
I've heard that they're teaching things now in the lower grades that they did not teach when I was a pup, although listening to some people, I would not have guessed.
This makes me think of the common whine, teach both sides and let the students decide which to believe, a mantra I find ridiculous--how can they come to a decision when they are only beginning to receive introductory concepts? There are a lot of things that must wait, but I'm sure there is a lot of material that can be introduced in the earlliest science classes.
This makes me think of the common whine, teach both sides and let the students decide which to believe ...

I don't know ... shouldn't we be allowing third graders to decide whether or not to believe the germ theory of disease?
... or whether or not the Holocaust really happened....

... or which religion is the right one..

.. or....
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