The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for October, 2010

ID’s Next Strategy in the Evolution/Creationism Wars?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 10, 2010

A little over a week ago, I gave a presentation to the Illinois North Shore chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church & State about the lecture I attended in August by Casey Luskin of the intelligent designcreationist think tank called the Discovery Institute. Specifically, my presentation, titled “ID’s Next Strategy in the Evolution/Creationism Wars?” was a rebuttal to the various points made by Luskin and the intelligent design movement in general.  I recorded the audio of my talk, and I’d like to share it with you here.  Enjoy!

Click here for the audio of my presentation –

Rebuttal to Luskin ID-talk

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Challenge to the Discovery Institute’s “Design Inference” Model

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2010

In an earlier blog post, I gave a detailed rebuttal to a lecture by the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin titled “Intelligent Design: Dead Science or the Future of Biology?” – however, it wasn’t until recently that I came up with what I consider to be the real killer criticism of a basic intelligent design argument: their so-called “design inference” model. During his talk, Casey Luskin showed a picture of Mount Rushmore, which he stated the design inference model shows is clearly a product of ID, not the result of natural processes.  The implication is, of course, that much of evolutionary science is false because ID’s design inference model can prove that ID is a better explanation; but there’s a fatal flaw here.

The basic argument is simply a variation of the classic watchmaker argument, which is essentially an argument from ignorance. Not to mention, Luskin has stacked the deck in favor of the ID design inference model because every time an ID-advocate trots out their model it is in the context of a post-hoc analysis: they already know ahead of time that the object/situation they’re analyzing is the product of intelligent (human) processes.  Hell, of course Mount Rushmore is the result of (human) ID, because we have records & photos of humans chipping away at the damn rock!  So they can’t lose – in this sense, the ID folks are proposing a non-falsifiable model, which makes it NON-science.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in aliens & UFOs, creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Vatican & In-Vitro Fertilization: They Need to Enter the 21st… No, the 20th, Century

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 5, 2010

Okay, I saw this earlier today and I just couldn’t contain my disgust: Dr. Robert Edwards received the Nobel Prize for medicine this week due to his pioneering work on in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  Since the first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978 (a woman who also happens to now have her own child), over 4 million children have been born to parents through this application of medical science to the problem of infertility.  That’s not what is disgusting me – read on…

Dr. Edwards and his wife (left) along with Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby”, and her son.

In the process, we have learned a huge number of fundamental things concerning human reproduction & fertility.  Most people would call that progress, but not the Vatican…

Vatican official criticizes award of Nobel Prize to Robert Edwards

An official with the Vatican criticized the decision to award the Nobel prize for medicine to British doctor Robert G. Edwards for his work on in vitro fertilization, Italy’s official news agency ANSA reported Tuesday.

Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said giving the award to Edwards was “completely inappropriate,” according to the news agency.

He said Edwards’ work had created a market for human eggs and created problems of embryos being frozen, the news agency said. …

Apparently, the Vatican has decided to butt heads with the forces of progress & medical science on this one, even though IVF is widely accepted in society.  What’s the big deal?  Humans generated through this artificial process of procreation are just as human as the rest of us who came about the old fashioned way.  Is the Vatican harboring some secret fear of Frankenstein’s monster or something equally silly?

The thing that really bugs me about this pronouncement from the Vatican is not that they don’t approve of IVF – hell, no one is making their followers undergo IVF procedures – but that if they had their way, they’d outlaw IVF for everyone else.  And, while they’re at it, they would also probably like to do away with all birth control, since they seem to have a really big hangup about anything having to do with sex.

Ironic, seeing as how the Roman Catholic Church is run by a bunch of men who don’t know the first thing about sex… with adults, that is.

Posted in medical woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Teachers & Merit Pay: The Research Says It Doesn’t Work

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 4, 2010

There are a lot of people in the political class talking about the need for education reform.  In fact, being a teacher of over 15 years myself, I can definitely say that on the science & mathematics side of things we need to get our butts in gear or we are in serious trouble.  So, I’m all for “education reform”, but I am concerned that many who wish to make necessary changes to our primary & secondary public educational system could be pursuing ineffective solutions or even make things worse.

For example, one of the buzz phrases going around in many education circles these days is “merit pay.”  The whole idea of merit pay is that you tie the salaries of teachers to the performance of their students, either by assessing how much kids have learned via their grades or on standardized tests.  At first blush, this sounds like a great idea – the really good, energetic, and inspiring teachers get paid more and the lazy slugs get paid less.  Meanwhile, it gives other teachers an incentive to become more involved & innovative in the classroom so that – the logic goes – they get the students to learn more.

But there’s one big problem with the entire concept of merit pay: it seems that it doesn’t work. In a recent National Public Radio story it was revealed that there is now extensive research which calls into question the validity of merit pay…

Study: Teacher Bonuses Don’t Improve Test Scores

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students’ test scores in a three-year study released Tuesday that calls into question the Obama administration’s push for merit pay to improve education.

The study, conducted in the metropolitan Nashville school system by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives, was described by the researchers as the nation’s first scientifically rigorous look at merit pay for teachers.

It found that students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores registered the same gains on standardized exams as those whose teachers were given no such incentives.

That’s some pretty damning evidence against the merit pay concept.  At least, it is damning evidence against the manner in which merit pay is being proposed to be implemented the way that many education reformers wish to see it done.  Personally, though I have some ideological hangups with the idea of merit pay (full disclosure: I am a strong proponent of teachers’ unions), I am not willing to completely throw the baby out with the bathwater on the basis of this one study; I think more research is necessary.  However, I think it is worth slowing down the rush by many to push merit pay as some kind of cure-all for the broken parts of our public education system.  I like how the lead researcher of the study puts it:

“I think most people agree today that the current way in which we compensate teachers is broken,” said Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study. “But we don’t know what the better way is yet.” [emphasis added]

As I said before, I’m all for reforming education & getting bad teachers out of the profession (we need it), but we cannot simply get hung up on the latest fad to come along (and if you’ve been in education in the U.S. for any length of time, you know that such fads are a common occurrence).  In that sense, this research serves as a cautionary tale.  And, in my opinion, we cannot expect to find one solution that will fit all of the problems in our public education system which varies so widely in terms of socio-economic conditions, ethnicity, culture, etc.  We are going to have to probably find local solutions & local reforms to the specific problems of local schools – which means our education reformers should avoid the temptation to simply jump onto the merit pay bandwagon because it promises to fix everything.  Solutions to such complex societal problems are not so easy.

In closing, I’d like to finish with the final paragraph of the NPR article reporting on the study:

“It’s not enough to say, ‘I’ll pay you more if you do better.’ You’ve got to help people know how to do better,” said Amy Wilkins, vice president of the Education Trust, a Washington think tank. “Absolutely we should reward them once they do better, but to think merit pay alone will get them there is insane.”

Posted in economics, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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