Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cooling of a hot-button issue in the classroom. . .

Jay Labov, of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Foundation, said much more interesting stuff about teaching evolution in the public schools than I could cram into today's story on Morning Edition. But then, too much interesting stuff to talk about is exactly why I started this blog.

First of all, Dr. Labov stressed that evolution should not be taught as an isolated part of biology, but as an integral part. He says that teaching evolution as a one or two week unit at the end of the semester
undermine[s] the notion that evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. Evolution involves so many different aspects of biology that biologists continually rely upon it. It’s also. . . helped shape our thinking about new kinds of research. For example genomics, the whole science of genomics and the Human Genome Project; a lot of the thinking that went into that and our whole understanding of the data is based on an evolutionary perspective.
So I think by not including evolution [throughout our science courses], what we’re doing is essentially depriving students of understanding how modern science is actually working.... Particularly in biological science, but also in many other areas. Geological sciences. Biochemistry. Physics. Theory of Evolution and science of evolution is based upon data from all those different areas.
Then, there was Dr. Labov's careful distinction between scientific theory (which is highly explanatory of data we have, as well as predictive of phenomena not yet observed), and what laypeople term as a theory (creative speculation). To illustrated the "predictability" of the Theory of Evolution, Dr, Labov offered this interesting Darwinian antidote.
Darwin. . .noticed some huge flowers, and there was no explanation for how they could possibly be pollinated. [So Darwin predicted, based] on the Theory of Evolution, that we would find a pollinator -- a moth that has a proboscis equal to the length of flower itself so it could be pollinated. These pollinators were not found for years and years after these flowers were discovered in tropics, but low and behold a moth with exactly right length proboscis was found observed to be the species that fertilizes those flowers.
And finally, in regards to the anxiety that teaching the Theory of Evolution causes in conservative religious circles, he said a lot of the anxiety would go away once we help people understand what science can explain and what it's not able to explain.
If we can help people understand that science is incapable . . .of investigating whether a deity is present or not. . . .What it attempts to do is explain the natural world.
By the way, Dr. Jay Labov will be speaking at James Madison University, tomorrow (Wednesday, October 21st) at 7 p.m. at the Health and Human Services (HHS) Building (East Campus), room 1302. The title of his lecture: Teaching and Communicating Controversial Topics in Science: Ongoing Challenges & Opportunities.

If I weren't fundraising, I'd be there. 

To change the subject completely, there's a good health care update in today's Washington Post. And this interesting assessment of the cost of government healthcare programs in today's Wall Street Journal.

And finally, since I have no shame during fundraisers, if you haven't supported WMRA yet, the number to call is 1-800-677-9672 (1-800-NPR-WMRA), or you can support on our website.

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