National Science Foundation Omits Evolution Polling Data from Report
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010
I found out recently, through an article in Science Magazine (the official journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science) that the National Science Foundation has released a report which has actually omitted polling data regarding evolution & the big bang. Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?!!
Needless to say, this story is getting a LOT of attention from science supporters…
From the National Center for Science Education: What happened to evolution at the NSB?
And PZ Myers at Pharyngula chimes in: Let’s hide that embarrassing conflict in American culture
Here is the actual Science article in question:
In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans’ knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang.
They’re not surprising findings, but the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs.
“Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice” that “downplays the controversy” over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom. The story appears in this week’s issue of Science.
But why is it this information, which has been part of every previous Indicators report to date, been removed at the last minute without any oversight? Here’s a clue…
Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs,” says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee. …
The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions “very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding” of the two topics.
“I think that is a nonsensical response” that reflects “the religious right’s point of view,” says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. “Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.”
So what exactly was the offending material deleted from the report? Here you go…
The deleted text, obtained by ScienceInsider, does not differ radically from what has appeared in previous Indicators. The section, which was part of the unedited chapter on public attitudes toward science and technology, notes that 45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, “The universe began with a big explosion,” with which only 33% of Americans agreed.
So rather than report the honest truth about the state of scientific literacy in the United States on these topics, it seems the NSF has chosen to hide the embarrassing facts. But, thankfully, it didn’t work. We cannot change the poor state of science education in this country by hiding such information, either to save political face or to kow-tow to religious fundamentalists who push creationism; rather, we must face the challenge head on.