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October 05, 2007

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Micah Tillman

Science classrooms should be a place for understanding how the scientific method (whatever that is) has been, can be, and is applied to help us understand our world.

I've heard lots of people claim the mantle of "science" recently, though, so I'm in a pretty skeptical mood when it comes to believing anything is actually science. Surely there's a difference between the "science" that particle physicists practice and the "science" that theoretical physicists practice.

And do the social "sciences" even deserve the name?

Ophelia Benson

The interesting thing about David Irving is that the libel trial showed that he is not just a denier: he extensively falsified evidence in his published work. He does more than merely deny, he falsifies. I think this fact raises some difficult free speech issues. (I argued with Norm Geras about this around the time that Irving was arrested in Austria; Jonathan Derbyshire and Eve Garrard joined the discussion, both agreeing with Norm; I ought to think I must have been wrong, but I still don't...)

I don't think free speech laws do or should apply to falsification; I also don't think there ought to be a 'right' to falsify evidence. I accept (without much enthusiasm) that prison is not the solution for denial, but I also dispute the idea that Irving (or anyone) has a right to falsify evidence.

Southern Quaker

Prior beliefs are not just flushed down the drain when one is confronted with new information. Rather, the new information is cobbled onto the existing (mis-)conceptions. And confronting a such a student with the scientific evidence, without first addressing what those prior beliefs, will tend to make that student defensive and less likely to begin to build new knowledge.

So the question becomes, do you want to run roughshod over someone's pre-existing beliefs, get your point across, and move on to the next topic, or do you truly want to help that student begin dismantling false beliefs and building a scientific worldview? To do the latter, you must address those beliefs in a non-threatening way, so that the student understands what it is he/she objects to. Only then can one explain what scientific ideas are, and demonstrate why evolution is science and creationsim is not. The student may leave your course still a creationist, but will at least understand why his or her beliefs are not scientific.

Of course, this takes more time than a traditional lecture or three on evolutionary theory. But again, what is your goal? To race through a textbook or to help students make true progress towards becoming sophisticated thinkers?

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