Let’s Raise a Generation of Morons

The teaching of the science necessary for understanding climate issues is now coming under attack in schools, and joining the attacks on teaching of basic biology (the parts related to evolution, of course) in a way that will continue to make Americans more scientifically illiterate than almost any developed country in the world. Way to go!

On the academic side of what I work on as a philosophy professor, I have been trying to understand this parallel distrust of science education. Both are leading the way to increasingly irrational environmental policy. Evolutionary theory is central to understanding what to do about biodiversity, and basic earth and atmospheric processes are at the core of climate science. Why the selective distrust of science? Big, complicated question.

Related to this: Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, is a good book about “how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming.” The Amazon crowd-sourced reviews are interesting, especially the vitriolic one-star posts.

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Click here for a nice blog post about the current attack on climate science in schools here.  This is another blog that is new to me. Thanks to Brad Johnson at ClimateProgress for bringing it to my attention in his post.

The full article in Science that prompted these posts requires a subscription. (Science 5 August 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6043 pp. 688-689), but here is a quick summary is available here:

Science Education: Climate Change Sparks Battles in Classroom, by Sarah Reardon

An informal survey this spring of 800 members of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) found that climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. Online message boards for science teachers tell similar tales. Unlike biology teachers defending the teaching of evolution, however, earth science teachers don’t have the protection of the First Amendment’s language about religion. But the teachers feel their arguments are equally compelling: Science courses should reflect the best scientific knowledge of the day, and offering opposing views amounts to teaching poor science. Most science teachers don’t relish having to engage this latest threat to their profession and resent devoting precious classroom time to a discussion of an alleged “controversy.” And they believe that politics has no place in a science classroom. Even so, some are being dragged against their will into a conflict they fear could turn ugly.

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Science is published by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Founded in 1848, Triple A-S (AAAS), is “an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.”

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About Scott Brophy
Scott Brophy is a philosophy professor whose work is focused on the intersection of philosophy and public policy, especially on environmental issues, law, and education. He has also taught philosophy of science, logic, and the history of philosophy. He has served as a consultant for educational programs and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad, and as an adviser to several philanthropic foundations.

2 Responses to Let’s Raise a Generation of Morons

  1. Jim says:

    What’s fascinating to me is how much impact conservative often evangelical fundamentalists are having on general conversations regarding science. I was reading a different blog this morning about Christian versus secular homeschool groups. One woman’s position was summarized by her statement “Either you believe the Bible or you don’t. Evolution has NEVER been proven and yet is taught as fact. Big Bang can NOT be proven as well and is taught as fact.”

    I believe many of waves regarding climate change are made from people holding these views. The world is often black and white and it’s the same argument about how we can’t trust science to tell us the “truth.” If we can’t “prove” something, then it must be in doubt.

    What’s astonishing is how then a good portion of the middle of our country is swept into these arguments. They may not be Rush-loving zealots, but there are many, many people who see and hear about the debate and at least adopt the “well we just don’t know yet, do we” position about climate change. I don’t think most of the living-in-a-bubble suburbanites (I grew up as one) see much difference in Fox News versus the NBC, ABC or CBS morning or evening news shows. Their news comes in 22 minutes of sound bites.

    The question isn’t how do we help biblical fundamentalists change their views, but can we at least help the middle third of the country see straight?

    Jim

  2. Sean Bender says:

    I’m wondering if a more time sensitive (i.e., useful) solution to the problem would just be to find a way to silence the voices of middle America? Perhaps a start could be to modify the voting system in the senate. With every state, including Wyoming, getting two votes, we have a pretty unfair distribution of power within an entity that can filibuster any potent climate change legislation.

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