Wednesday, May 04, 2005

dishonesty in evolution debate

People are entitled to their opinions, but not their facts.
(I'm not sure who said it first. I know Al Franken says it every now and then.)

One of the things I'm concerned about is the war between science and pseudoscience. One of the front lines is evolution. CBS has a halfway decent article on this very subject.

The sidebar from the article includes this little gem.

The archaeopteryx. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds - even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?
Source: Discovery Institute
If I remember this story, the archeopteryx (lots more on this fossil critter here) is no longer universally considered a transitional species between dinosaurs and birds. I don't know the level of disagreement, but not everyone agrees on this. There appear to be some issues in archeopeteryx being a transitional species, and some other species that may be better fits, but my real beef with the above quote is simple, and one I'm sure the scam artists at Discovery Institute know. It takes a few years for a college textbook to get through the publishing process. High School textbooks tend to take even longer, and are often written with less detail about current scientific discussion than there could be. Why any thoughtful individual would expect a high school textbook, which itself may be five or six years old, would enter into a discussion on the questions regarding archeopteryx is beyond me. A discussion in the scientific community that is only a few years old wouldn't be in a textbook written 10 years ago.

Alan D Gishick has a great website on the value of just about every part of the sidebar from CBS. FYI, Wells is part of Discovery Intitute, and is probably the author of the points in the CBS sidebar. From his website

In order to get a "good" grade from Wells, that is to portray a piece of evidence for evolution "accurately" (in Wells's opinion), one must mention it and then proceed to criticize it. This is not standard pedagogical practice; if an example is that bad, it should be removed from the biology curriculum, rather than introduced and then criticized. What we see is a pattern of grading to create bias rather than accuracy. Rewriting textbooks to criticize evolution serves no teaching purpose (teaching is a positive endeavor, not negative), yet it is clear from the grading that this is the goal of the author. What's worse is that the grading criteria are not even consistently applied. There is no pedagogical or factual basis for these grades, and they should not be taken seriously. To follow Wells's advice would not only result in mis-education about evolution, but about all of biology and other sciences as well. Good teaching may value critical thinking, but it does not value wanton criticism for the sake of criticism.
I strongly agree with Gishick's commentary. However, I think that critical thinking is lacking in the teaching of all subjects. I would like to see some of these items used as teaching points. Students need to learn how science works. A formative idea like Darwin's theory, originally presented with evidence is examined and combined with more supporting evidence or is rejected. Darwin is not thought to have even opened his copy of Gregor Mendel's formative teatise on heredity. Someone else did, and put the two together. Since then, more and more has been added to the story, and some parts have been replaced by better evidence. The null hypothesis, that evolution isn't real, has no evidence. It only has criticisms of evolution, some valid, some outdated, most worthless.

This is what makes Inteligent Design pseudoscience. There is no evidence, no advancement, no ongoing research good enough to get published in a journal. ID is just creationism with lipstick. Humorously, Raelians and Scientologists havemade supporting comments regarding ID, because it doesn't say what the guiding intelligence is.

The problem is faith and belief does not rely on evidence, and can actually be reinforced by evidence to the contrary. A student who has been indoctrinated in ID may not be able to accept a challenge to faith. This student may then impede the learning of others.

by Robster @ 5/04/2005 09:51:00 AM PERMALink