Friday, October 3, 2008

Luskin Weaves Fiction on the Texas Science Standards Debate

The Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views website has an "About This Site" that remains the most laughable Freudian slip on the web:

"The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site. Unfortunately, much of the news coverage has been sloppy, inaccurate, and in some cases, overtly biased."

Right on cue, Casey Luskin comes on to give us a sloppy, inaccurate, and overtly biased summation of the battle in Texas over the science requirements, and the push to remove the phony stealth-creationist "strengths and weaknesses" standard.

"To reasonable people, it is apparent that investigating the “strengths and weaknesses [of scientific theories] using scientific evidence and information” is exactly what scientists do all the time. Discovery Institute believes that if scientists can dispute the core claims of neo-Darwinism (as these scientists do), then students can learn about those views."

One must wonder what sort of standard the DI is using to conclude that students getting an introduction to biology are capable of examining scientific theories as professional scientists do. The latter group goes through many years of study, from high school, through college, and years of graduate courses, to get to the point that they are competent to examine and revise scientific theories. Most high school students don't know their ass from an allele, and are quite incapable of "deciding for themselves" what is and is not sound science. This of course, is part of the DI strategy: catching the kids when they are too inexperienced to be able to discern the difference between creationist shit and scientific shinola.

"Discovery Institute believes that a curriculum that aims to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories (rather than teaching an alternative theory, such as intelligent design) represents a common ground approach that all reasonable citizens can agree on. Texas Darwinists reject this approach because they will accept nothing less than the one-sided dogmatic presentation of the pro-Darwin-only position in public schools. Thus, the NCSE and other Darwinist groups have developed arguments to convince people that when science standards say teach the 'strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information,' they’re really conspiring to teach religion."

That is because, per the Wedge Document, that is exactly what they are trying to do. The head of the Texas Board of Education, Don McLeroy, has made this very clear. The so-called "weaknesses using scientific evidence and information" are nothing of the sort. They are merely rehashed and restated creationist arguments that have existed, and been soundly refuted, for decades. This is one reason these weaknesses are rarely expressed explicitly in these discussions, for they would stand out immediately for what they are. Texas scientists (there is no such thing as a "Darwinist". That is merely a pejorative label invented to paint science with a religious brush) and science supporters believe that an education, not just in science, but in all subjects, should present students with the best information available, and should not waste time with material that has been nearly uniformly rejected by our highest academic institutions. Ether, N-rays, the planet Vulcan, and creationism (including its neutered variant intelligent design) do not belong in classrooms.

The DI is using a common tactic of appealing to our sense of fair play and academic freedom to confuse the issue. Yes, working scientists need such freedom to entertain whatever ideas they conceive, and should study those strengths and weaknesses. But that is not what students in secondary education should be doing. They are there to learn the basics. The in depth analysis will come later when they are adequately prepared to deal with the information.

"For example, a recent NCSE press release states that learning about the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinism will 'dilute the treatment of evolution.' Not only is this a false claim, but it isn't even an argument: this merely shows that what the NCSE wants is the dogmatic presentation of only the pro-Darwin viewpoint in schools. For the NCSE, allowing students to learn about scientific critiques of neo-Darwinism will 'dilute' their dogmatic approach."

This has nothing to do with dogmatism, and everything to do with limited class time, and appropriate treatment of the topic. Every moment spent on the DI's bogus weaknesses is that much less time spent on the legitimate science. It is a case of simple straightforward math, which makes it a true claim, and very solid argument.

"Likewise, the NCSE quotes Texas Darwinists saying that teaching the strengths and weaknesses will “damage and corrupt science textbooks.” Again, such rhetoric is not an argument: it merely demonstrates Darwinists think it will “damage and corrupt” education if students learn that neo-Darwinism might have scientific flaws because in their dogmatic view, neo-Darwinian evolution has nothing that rises to the level of a weakness. Such authoritarian statements have no place in science, and they serve to indoctrinate students rather than teach students how to think critically and skeptically—like scientists."

Again, not only is this in fact an argument, but it is a good one. Exposing students who don't yet grasp the basics of biology to these bogus "weaknesses" will serve only to confuse them. Any nonscience put into science textbooks damages and corrupts them, and the education process, and all of the so-called "weaknesses" are nonscientific. That is not dogmatism, but the consensus opinion of 99% of the scientists in the relevant fields, including some, like mathematics and physics, for which there is no reason to expect any sort of pro-Darwin bias. Mathematicians and physicists are smarter than biologists, just ask them. If they saw something wrong with evolutionary science, no power in the world could shut them up about it.

And again we see Luskin's equivocation between the standards of good scientists and the standards of good science teaching. Authoritarian statements are part and parcel of an education, which at its core is indoctrination of a sort. It is with working scientists where skepticism is appropriate, backed as it would be by informed opinion from years of study, rather than the ignorance we'd see from children in a classroom who haven't even learned the basics yet. Luskin and the DI would have that ignorance remain permanent.

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