The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘school board’

“Teach the Controversy” Argument Used by Climate Change Deniers

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 28, 2011

You may know that one of the most common arguments used by creationists as they attempt to push their fundamentalist religious beliefs in the public schools is the “teach the controversy” strategy.  In this argument, creationists claim there is some kind of scientific “controversy” about the theory of evolution, as if scientists are in disagreement about the theory when in fact quite the opposite is true – there is broad acceptance of evolution among biologists.  This style of argumentation is widely recognized for what it is: an attempt to delegitimize science in the public schools because of a rigidly held ideology.

Now it seems that recently there is another kind of anti-scientific ideology rearing its ugly head which is trying to use the same kind of “teach the controversy” approach: climate change denial.  And the use of “teach the controversy” in regards to climate change and global warming has now gone beyond mere rhetoric, because the climate change denialists are now pushing this tactic in public schools in the United States…

US school board teaches ‘the controversy’ on global warming

A school board in California has attracted headlines over the past few days for voting unanimously that a new environmental science class starting this autumn must include “multiple perspectives” on the science of global warming.

Four board members of the Los Alamitos Unified School District voted to list the class – which was taught to 15,000 public school students across California in 2008-09 (pdf of class description) – as a “controversial topic”, meaning the teacher must explain to the board annually how opposing views are to be taught.

Echoing similar efforts at school boards in other US states, the move has been criticised by some commentators. One parent of a pupil at Los Alamitos Unified School told the Orange County Register: “There is consensus in the field that we have global warming happening, it is getting warmer and it is related to what we are doing to the planet. That is not in dispute in the scientific community. It is in dispute in the political community. This is a science class. Teach science.” …

The writer of this article sat down to interview the architect of this anti-scientific move, Dr. Jeffrey Barke, and the conversation is very revealing.  I’ll include key excerpts below (the interviewer’s questions & comments are bolded and Dr. Barke’s follow) and follow them up with my comments.

What’s been the feedback since this news was first reported?

The feedback has been primarily from left-wing blogs and zealots who believe that to suggest there is a point of view to be discussed that is different to the dogma of global warming is, in and of itself, controversial. Our perspective simply was we had asked the teachers to present a balanced perspective to the children as it relates to a new course that we brought forward called Advanced Placement in Environmental Science. And this class is one that is most commonly offered at the universities, but some high schools offer it as well.
So, after reviewing the syllabus, we found a lot of information about global warming and man-caused effects on the environment etc. Our worry was the kids would be presented simply with one perspective and we wanted to make sure they had a balanced view so we simply updated a policy we already have on the books regarding controversial issues. It simply asks that when a class is taught containing potentially controversial issues that we ask the teacher not to get the kids to believe in a particular perspective or point of view, but simply that the teachers present both sides of the equation in a fair-and-balanced manner.

Ah, the “teach all views” argument.  The problem is that, in science, not all views are equal.  Science is not a process driven by simply expressing your point of view and then arguing over it, like in a high school debate.  In science, the most accepted views are those which are supported by experimental and observational evidence which can be explained by well-understood theories.  The opinion of the scientist (or in this case, the school board member) doesn’t really matter.  For example, read more here about how the climate science community is strongly in support of the consensus that global warming is happening and is heavily influenced by human activity.  When so many climate science experts are in such strong agreement, then it is a pretty fair bet the science is settled and there is no “alternate viewpoint” with any validity to present.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Creationism Coming to Your Backyard?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2011

Think that your school district is immune from the pressures of pseudoscientific nonsense such as creationism?  Think again…

This image is edited from the hilarious original :)

It can happen anywhere, and I say that with all sincerity because it looks like creationism could very well be creeping very near to my own backyard.  Specifically, there is a school board election coming up soon in a nearby district, and I was tipped off to this fact by an online pro-science group I’m part of called Darwin’s Bulldogs.

In this article in a local paper, it is outlined quite clearly that the intentions of two candidates for the school board (one of whom is the current president!) are to have their religious beliefs taught as science…

Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes

Two candidates for the Fremont School District 79 board — including the panel’s current president — believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

The revelations were made Monday morning during candidate interviews at the Daily Herald’s Lake County office.

“I think from a scientific standpoint it can be given as a viewpoint,” board President Sandra Bickley said in the interview. “(It’s) another theory to consider.” …

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow that to happen.  I’ve already written a letter to the paper which published this article.  Here it is…

Creationism should not be taught as science

As a physics teacher/professor and taxpayer, I was appalled to read your Feb. 14 article “Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes” about the Fremont school board election.

According to your article, candidates Sandra Bickley and Kim Hansen said that creationism is “another theory to consider” and that it “should be presented in a very broad type of curriculum or structure”.  They also said that “there is no right or wrong” regarding people’s beliefs.

Well, I don’t know about the right or wrong of one’s beliefs, but I can tell you that there most certainly are right and wrong answers in science.  And the evidence overwhelmingly shows that creationism, as science, is dead wrong.  If there were anything substantial, in a scientific sense, to creationism, why is it that we don’t use creationism to make modern vaccines & antibiotics, as we do with evolutionary biology?  We don’t because creationism doesn’t work as science, period.

As for the “teach all views” argument, which version of creationism should we teach?  Should it be young-Earth (the Earth is 6000 years old) or old-Earth (the Earth is billions of years old) creationism?  What about teaching non-Christian versions, such as Raelianism (they believe we were created by aliens, not God)?  Perhaps after we get done “teaching all views”, the students might have a couple of weeks left in the school year to learn real science.

They don’t waste time with this nonsense in science classes in China & India, whose populations are becoming better educated & more competitive with the United States every year.  I suggest the taxpayers consider that fact when casting their votes in the upcoming school board election.

I’m not sure if my letter will get published, but I’ll fight this thing tooth & toenail if I have to, and I have allies in that fight.  That includes regular readers of this blog, whom I encourage to contact me, most especially if you live in the area, for advice on dealing with issues such as these.  This is important because one things creationists do is track each others’ success with things like this; if they have even mild success in an area, they will make a concerted push in that area (and others).  If you don’t beat them back quickly, they’ll multiply and try to take over the school board; then, the next thing you know, you’ve got another Dover trial on your hands.

This should serve as a cautionary tale, folks: it CAN happen anywhere, and it WILL happen if those of us on the side of science & skepticism let our guard down.  So be on the lookout & watch your local school board.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers

%d bloggers like this: