Adventures in Ethics and Science

I’m marking another stack of papers (because it’s May, and the sun is shining, and apparently I was a real bastard in some previous life).

In these papers, the students were supposed to examine an instance where the interests of scientists and the interests of non-scientists (perhaps various subgroups of non-scientists) might be at odds. The idea is to explain the source of the conflict, connect this to the various values of the different players, and to set out possible strategies for resolving the conflict. It was stressed that giving a fair presentation of each side’s view is key.

Quite a number of the students elected to write about the battles over teaching evolution and/or intelligent design in public school science class. Some of these papers have been quite good, but in a few cases I’m fairly certain nothing like careful research occurred in conjunction with the writing of the papers.

How can I be so sure?

In easily half a dozen of these papers, it is claimed that the supporters of the teaching of evolutionary theory hold that humans evolved from apes (or, in one paper, from monkeys).

!!!

And, it should be noted that this is asserted as the scientific view even in cases where the students who wrote the papers come down on the side of teaching evolution, and not teaching ID, in public school science classes.

Folks, the elder Free-Ride offspring already knows the deal with common ancestors (thanks to some nice charts in the dinosaur book). And, she likes to do a little research before she holds forth. Is it too much to ask college students to do a wee bit of research before they attribute views to parties they are discussing in a paper for a class?

It is? Well then.

If someone would like to deliver an iced capuccino (or a pitcher or margaritas) to my cave of grading, that would be grand.

Comments

  1. #1 Left_Wing_Fox
    May 24, 2006

    Er, perhaps a quibble, but aren’t Australopithecus afarensis and it’s predecessors technically ‘apes’? I noticed a number of evolutionary education sites refer to them as such.

  2. #2 Thomas Winwood
    May 24, 2006

    Ouch. Claiming that “evolutionists” claim humans evolved from apes/monkeys is what the creationists themselves do. I think I’m justified in being worried when the home team starts believing it as well.

  3. #3 wolfwalker
    May 24, 2006

    Whenever this topic comes up, my mind always flits back to something that master palaeontologist George Gaylord Simpson wrote many years ago:

    “Apologists emphasize that man cannot be a descendant of any living ape — a statement that is obvious to the verge of imbecility — and go on to state or imply that man is not really descended from any ape or monkey at all, but from an earlier common ancestor. In fact, the common ancestor would certainly be called an ape or a monkey in popular speech by anybody who saw it. Since the terms _ape_ and _monkey_ are defined by popular usage, man’s ancestors were apes or monkeys (or successively both). It is pusillanimous if not dishonest for an informed investigator to say otherwise.” — G. G. Simpson, as quoted on p. 27 of LUCY: THE BEGINNINGS OF HUMANKIND, by Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey.

    I think Simpson was right. So I’ve never argued with the claim that humans evolved from apes. I do argue with the claim that humans evolved from any of the living apes.

  4. #4 Janet D. Stemwedel
    May 24, 2006

    I’m happy to grant that, perhaps, I’m being a cranky-pants, and that “apes” might not be a totally inaccurate characterization of the common ancestor humans share with gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. I still suspect, based on how the claim has been couched in the papers I’m grading, that it’s probably evidence of the absence of research, but I could be wrong.

    However, monkeys are right out.

  5. #5 wolfwalker
    May 24, 2006

    Janet,

    “I still suspect, based on how the claim has been couched in the papers I’m grading, that it’s probably evidence of the absence of research”

    Oh, I agree. That’s a much more likely explanation. :-)

  6. #6 C W Magee
    May 25, 2006

    Evolved from apes? Who’s saying I’ve evolved?

  7. #7 SteveG
    May 25, 2006

    A trick I’ve picked up is that if you want research done, you need to have term papers due three weeks before the end of the semester. Not only does it save your beautiful May afternoons, but it places the bulk of the work for the last minute “researchers” at a time when it doesn’t get triaged out by exams and other papers.

  8. #8 Unlearned Hand
    May 26, 2006

    God, schmod. I want my monkey-man.

    It has just been determined that the egg preceded the chicken, but you know we’ll have to live with that old saw persisting, possibly to greater annoyance.
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2196880,00.html