Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

08 December 2008

Nationalizing Science Standards

I stumbled upon this little movement while perusing the internet. I also included a link in the sidebar somewhere (above "Index" and below "Qui Teneo Scaccarium"). Add your voice to the throng if you want, but I think I will sit this one out.

I'm not entirely sold on the idea that this is a good thing. I think the people behind it have good intentions, but I can easily see something like this being abused. It would also have the effect of further muddying the waters of public opinion on science. Additionally, this could be viewed as a potential violation to Amendment 10 (depending on how literal you want to read the Constitution). But constitutionality aside, I don't think we should advocate politicizing science on a national level.

I recognize that politicizing science will inevitably happen, but I don't think we should advocate it. I agree with the assertion that scientists should set the standards, but who decides on which scientists get to set the standards? I can think of few things more destructive to science education than another Shrub, or worse a Palin-esque figure, getting to appoint "scientists" to dictate scientific standards.

As it stands, it is an uphill struggle for YECs (and other pseudoscientists) to peddle their nonsense. Right now they face a state by state, county by county battle. I recognize it would be a good time saver if scientists only had to fight the stupidity on the national level, rather than constantly repeating the same battle on smaller local scales, but this would also make it easier for the ignorant horde to sneak their garbage into the classroom. Especially under the nightmarish hypothetical situation from above. Seriously, think about the damage a science-hating fundie in office could do with this legislation.

I also think implementing this legislation will have the adverse affect of confusing the public as to what science is. Intermingling politics and science will only further complicate the problem already faced by scientists arguing against lunacy. That is to say, it will give people the false impression that which scientific theories you ascribe to are a personal choice (just like your opinion on tax code, political persuasion, and civil rights). This is what the "equal-time" advocates want. However, science and reality don't take your personal opinion into consideration. No matter how much I choose to believe I will fly when I jump off a cliff, gravity will, again, prove to be a fatal law. And no matter how much individuals claim that the Earth is 6000 years old, all the evidence still says ~4.6 Ga.

In the end, I view this as needless legislation. I would rather politicians spend time on problems that desperately need to be solved (like national health care and social security). I don't want to listen to politicians arguing about something that they are woefully uninformed about every four years. Politicians already are very good, too good really, at not getting anything meaningful done. Let's not give them any further opportunities for distraction.


Lockwood said...

Response here. Nice, thoughful post. My response is not meant to be a criticism of it per se, just the result of years of frustration. If you want to see me nasty, read my comment at Pharyngula (linked in my response).

My verification word is "catedu." It would really crack me up if it had been "sciedu."

Bryan said...

No worries, I absolutely agree with what you are saying.

I think this whole movement to push nationalized science standards is overkill (over-reacting to problems that may or may not happen). In my, admittedly limited, experience on the teaching side of education, widespread reform tends to bog the whole system down. It seems to work better with fine tweaks.

I don't think getting a bunch of political appointees (because even if they are qualified scientists, they are still appointees) to essentially dictate what is science to the general public is a good idea either though (and that is my primary concern with something like this).

I'm not saying the first group would do a bad job of it, but I can easily see it becoming overly political and the next time we get a fundi-gelical politician doing the appointing, we could see a terribly rough situation for science. Think of NASA's problems, but impacting every scientific institution at once.

And if, as you point out, we already have guidelines to this effect hanging around, let's use them. As I assume most local school boards do (I wouldn't know as I haven't helped draft science standards in schools, I have had to write a few lesson plans to follow them though).

Thanks for your input.


All the Latin on this page is from my vague recollections from High School. There are mistakes in the text. I just was trying to get the point across

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM
The photo of the travertine spring was taken in the small opening in the center of the image.

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