Last week the New York Academy of Sciences held a conference on Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science, an event I wish I had been able to attend. Several friends and colleagues were speaking there, including Rob Pennock, Glenn Branch, and Ken Miller. Ars Technica has two reports on the conference. The first includes discussion of Pennock’s presentation, including this:
The first session was on the nature of science and biology, presented in part by Robert T. Pennock of Michigan State, who testified at the Dover trial. He suggested that teachers should present evolution as part of a discussion of the nature of science, as the development of the theory is an example of science done right.
I think this is an excellent suggestion. With the almost universal misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “theory” in a scientific context, not to mention the also nearly universal misconception that theories can only be confirmed with experimentation, we are clearly doing a lousy job of teaching the nature of science in schools. Evolutionary theory is a terrific example of how theories are developed and tested without laboratory experimentation. It can be used to illustrate the meaning of concepts like explanatory power, novel predictions and retrodictions and the importance ot testability and falsifiability.
The second report includes discussion of presentations by Glenn Branch and Ken Miller, among others. It notes that Ken Miller revealed “that the NCSE was working on placing all the presentations and graphics used by the expert scientific witnesses in Dover on the web for full public access.” I can confirm that this is true and that work continues on that project, which is very exciting (not to mention extremely helpful to Wes and me as we work on our book about the trial).
Imagine how much easier it would have been for historians if the internet had existed during the Scopes trial. It has taken years of effort by Wes, Troy Britain and others to collect the documents from the McLean trial for their documentation project and they will likely never have all of them. But in Kitzmiller, virtually every document, from the expert reports to the final ruling, are available on the web for everyone to access. As with so much that went on in the trial, credit for that has to go to Nick Matzke, Wes Elsberry, Susan Spath and others who worked so hard behind the scenes.