Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Wow, That's Science?"

Brian Greene, founder of the World Science Festival that just took place in New York City last weekend, wrote an opinion piece for the NY Times. Some noteworthy excerpts:

But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.


But most of these studies (and their suggestions) avoid an overarching systemic issue: in teaching our students, we continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details.

In fact, many students I’ve spoken to have little sense of the big questions those technical details collectively try to answer: Where did the universe come from? How did life originate? How does the brain give rise to consciousness? Like a music curriculum that requires its students to practice scales while rarely if ever inspiring them by playing the great masterpieces, this way of teaching science squanders the chance to make students sit up in their chairs and say, “Wow, that’s science?”

Wow, that's science? Well, actually, it depends on your answers. Regarding origin of life, if you think the evidence points to a designer, the mainstream science establishment will tell you "Wow, that's not science, and you are an enemy of science for thinking it is." So Mr. Greene owes it to his young readers to warn them to be careful to find only the answers approved by the establishment, or face the consequences.

His first paragraph is chalk full of unproven assumptions reflecting his philosophy of science. He might be right, but others disagree with his take on how science fits into our "way of life," our "perspective," or worldview. Will students be allowed to as well?

He continues:
These are paradigm-shaking developments. But rare is the high school class, and rarer still is the middle school class, in which these breakthroughs are introduced. It’s much the same story in classes for biology, chemistry and mathematics.

Indeed. In fact, some paradigm-shaking developments are banned outright in some schools. Which is why very few kids are learning about the most important fossils ever discovered. Curious, eager, excited kids should be warned that some fossils are simply unconstitutional. But we are only thinking of them, aren't we?


At July 20, 2008 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Regarding origin of life, if you think the evidence points to a designer, the mainstream science establishment will tell you "Wow, that's not science, and you are an enemy of science for thinking it is."

Well that isn't science, and to put forward that it is, or that it should be accepted as science, is being an "enemy" of science.

Science is about models. This is often not understood because a lot of people think that since is about looking at some thing and then trying to make educated guesses as to what is happening.

If someone thinks that is what science is then I can certainly understand why they would think something like Creationism or Intelligent design is "science".

But that isn't what science is. Science is about forming models about what think is happening and then testing these models to see how accurate they are at matching observation and prediction.

You can't model intelligent design, Biblical or otherwise. You can look at something and go "Wow, I'm guessing that that was made by something", but from a scientific point of view that is useless. Unless you can test, in a falsifiable manner, whether or not your theory (a fancy word for model) is accurate then you aren't doing science.


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