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How to teach *accepting* science's way of knowing, and how to provoke resistance...

Two days ago, 1000's of kids were helped by their science teachers to catch sight of Venus passing as a little black dot across the face of the sun. They were enthralled & put in awe of our capacity to figure out that this would happen exactly when it did (their teachers told them about brilliant Kepler and his calculations; & if it was cloudy where those kids were, as it was where I happened to be, the teachers likely consoled them, "hey-- same thing happened to poor Kepler!").

We should expect about 46% of them to grow up learning to answer "yes" if Gallup calls and asks them whether they think "God created the world on such & such a date."

But if they have retained a sense of curiosity about how the world works that continues to be satisfied -- in a way that continues to exhilarate them! -- when they get to participate in knowing what is known as a result of science, should we care?  I don't think so.

But if they learn too that in fact they shouldn't turn to science to give them that feeling -- or if they just become people who no longer can feel that -- because they live in a society in which they  are held in contempt by the 54% who have learned to say "of course not! I believe in evolution!" -- even though the latter group  of citizens would in fact score no better,  and would more  than likely fail, a quiz on natural selection, random mutation, and genetic variation -- that would be very very sad.

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Reader Comments (3)

This is really good: Short and precisely on-target. I have followed your research relating to climate change communication, and it is most insightful. I do a fair amount of communication on climate change, and research by you and other social scientists has been most helpful to me. My challenge to myself is to seek ways to bring people with highly divergent worldviews into the discussion on how to address this problem. Among publishing scientists, the fundamentals on climate change are well-settled, as you know. But we scientists will fail to promote discussion on solutions to climate change unless we sincerely and respectfully strive to bring all Americans into the discussion, including those who don't think like us.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Vincelli

I agree with you in spirit. But what about if the issue was whether 46% of the country believed in the cosmology of Domenico Scandella (of the amazing book, the Cheese and the Worms). It's true that science is defined by a set of commitments to curiosity, and that on many issues science educators should be careful not to be dogmatic. What is the limit of that principle?

June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdave hoffman


consider these hypos:

It's June 6, 2062. The new Gallup poll shows that the fraction of Americans holding "creationist views" has finally reached 0%. But a study like any of the ones I cite in this post shows that the % of people who comprehend the basic elements of evolution (natural selection, random mutation, genetic variation) is "just as low as it was 50 yrs ago."

Question: Would we be able to say in that situation that "science education" has improved in the U.S.?

Here's another:

It's June 6, 2062. A study like any of the ones I cited shows that comprehension of the basic elements of evolution has reached an all-time high -- 99%. But on the same day, a new Gallup poll shows that the fraction of Americans holding "creationist views" remains "just as high as it was 50 yrs ago-- 46%."

Question: Would we be say in that situation that "science education" has not improved?

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

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