Friday, December 07, 2012

Science Education at Eschaton 2012

One of the Saturday morning sessions at Eschaton 2012 was on science education. Eugenie Scott started off with a survey of various states (in the USA) that are passing laws promoting creationism. In my presentation I tried to explain the scientific facts that we know for sure then I described an example of Intelligent Design Creationist stupidity showing that they really have no idea what they are talking about. See: Breaking News: IDiots Don't Understand Genomes or Biology. PZ Myers finished of with a depressing summary of the state of science education in the USA.

In my talk I explained that I preferred a broad definition of science, one that emphasizes science as a way of knowing. My definition encompasses the activities of everyone who seeks knowledge and that includes people working in fields outside of the traditional science disciplines.

Eugenie Scott prefers a more restricted definition of science, one that refers to the activities of biologists, chemists, physicists, and geologists. Eugenie thinks there are other ways of knowing and she supports the idea that the actions of scientists are constrained by the rule of methodological naturalism.

When it comes to science education, I think it applies to all students in all disciplines. In fact, I would concentrate my efforts on humanities students in universities—if I had my druthers—in an attempt to enhance science literacy. My goal is to teach everyone how to seek knowledge using science as a way of knowing.

The goal of American educators these days is to improve science education along with several related disciplines (STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The target is those students who want to make careers in those fields and the strategy is to get more kids interested at a young age in pursuing STEM jobs. I think Eugenie Scot broadly supports such a strategy.

This difference in definitions and long-term goals led to the only disagreement during the panel discussion.1 I said that using advances in modern technologies as a way to get students interested in science is counter-productive because it plays right into one of the major misconception in the public mind; namely, that science is only relevant when it can be used to improve our lives in some way. It's hard to get students interested in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake (i.e. science) when the distinction between science and technology/engineering is blurred.

It also isn't a very good way to enhance science literacy among students who have no intention of ever getting a job as a scientist, technologist, or engineer. Science literacy means that we need to be educating future citizens of all kinds about science reasoning. We need to be teaching every student ways to figure out why it's important to vaccinate your children, why trickle-down economics may be bad, why universal health care isn't evil, and why global warming is real. Most of these students aren't necessarily interested in how an iPad works or what new anti-cancer drugs have been developed.

Eugenie Scott didn't see anything wrong with using technology and innovation as a "hook" to get students to pursue jobs in STEM fields. That's because she sees the goal of science education differently than I do. She sees it as a way to train more scientists.

PZ tried to take a middle ground but ended up pleasing no one.


1. Aside from the fact that the discussion was all about science education in America where local school boards control curriculum. We hardly talked at all about science education in Canada or any other country.

17 comments:

  1. Eugenie thinks there are other ways of knowing...

    She should consider Aquinas Five Ways!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rofl. What a horrible load of bollocks.

      Delete
    2. Countering an argument with slander is easy, doing it with the same logical rigueur as Aquinas is quite another matter!

      Delete
    3. Only people can be slandered.

      It's Aquinas's ideas that are being critiqued.

      And very bad ideas they are.

      Now if I were to call you cretinous, moronic, half-witted, micro-cephalic god-bot that would be slander.

      Well, it would be if it weren't true.

      Delete
    4. steve, I repeat: Countering an argument with slander is easy, doing it with the same logical rigueur as Aquinas is quite another matter!

      I dare you to show me where Aquinas is wrong but, considering your immature style of comments, I won't be holding my breath!

      Delete
    5. I dare you to show me where Aquinas is wrong

      He's wrong literally everywhere. You can't learn anything useful about the world if you just sit back in your armchair and play with syllogisms. In this way you can only build elaborate tautologies logically equivalent to your explicit or tacit assumptions.

      Delete
    6. Pépé the creotard troll,

      You proposed Aquinas's "proofs" as a way of knowing, the onus is on you to demonstrate how they generate knowledge.

      Delete
    7. Aquinas proofs are clear as day and his logic unassailable. Saying that Aquinas is wrong is akin to saying Euclidean geometry is wrong.


      Delete
    8. The unravelling of the Aquinas proof:

      5.Therefore nothing can move itself.

      6.Therefore each thing in motion is moved by something else.

      7.The sequence of motion cannot extend ad infinitum.

      Delete
    9. Pépé: Logic, no matter how unassailable, does not generate any knowledge by itself.

      Bullshit IN → [UNASSAILABLE LOGIC] → Bullshit OUT

      Euclidean geometry, by the way, is absolutely fine as an abstract system, but it doesn't work in the real Universe.

      Delete
    10. When someone starts typing in capital letters, I may have touched a sensitive point or hit a bullseye.

      Delete
  2. PZ tried to take a middle ground but ended up pleasing no one.

    At last the shoe is on the other foot! Ha!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maybe it's just me, but Larry look bored!

    ReplyDelete
  4. LM writes,

    "I said that using advances in modern technologies as a way to get students interested in science is counter-productive because it plays right into one of the major misconception in the public mind; namely, that science is only relevant when it can be used to improve our lives in some way."

    and then follows in the next paragraph with,
    "We need to be teaching every student ways to figure out why it's important to vaccinate your children, why trickle-down economics may be bad, why universal health care isn't evil, and why global warming is real."

    Since all of those things mentioned in the second paragraph have in common the potential to 'improve our lives in some way', I would like to ask Larry to further clarify his definition of 'science for its own sake'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Science is the only method we have of increasing our understanding of the universe and the universe is manifestly uninterested in our well-being.

      But to the extent we can increase our understanding of the universe we increase our ability to control and improve our own lives.


      Delete
  5. Eugenie Scott prefers a more restricted definition of science, one that refers to the activities of biologists, chemists, physicists, and geologists. Eugenie thinks there are other ways of knowing and she supports the idea that the actions of scientists are constrained by the rule of methodological naturalism.

    Yes, there are other ways of knowing things. Trouble is, how reliable are these "other ways". Depends how lucky you are at guessing. In other words, not reliable at all. Voicing the opinion that there are other ways of knowing implies an equivalency with scientific means of knowing things. I presume Scott knows this is not the case but this obfuscation appeals of course to the greatest mass of people who are steeped in superstition and religiosity whether it be new-age nonsense or traditional theology.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am a graduating senior at a university and my official degree will be "Secondary Science Education with and Earth/Space Concentration." I will be certified to teach in Illinois and can transfer the certification fairly easily. The thing is, over the last year or so I have really come to resent our educational system. I don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I was wondering if anyone knew of other options for this type of degree. I'm not exactly from money, I'm 20,000 in debt and it's a little late to switch majors. Any helpful comments would be appreciated


    4d ultrasound

    ReplyDelete