Steve Gimbel has a post up where he expresses skepticism of the utility of lab sections. Janet, Chad & Chad and RPM all offered responses. All that needs to be said from the various angles that I would have touched upon has been said, so I won’t add much more, except to recall my discussion over at the literary blog The Valve about the testimony of Steve Fuller during the Dover trial. For those of you who don’t know, Fuller is a scholar of science (that is, he studies science as opposed to being a scientist) who has suggested that Intelligent Design is a worthy research program, and is willing to testify to that effect. I noted that Fuller has no undergraduate science background at all (in contrast to Gimbel), so that undermines some of his credibility to speak as an expert. Though I don’t think you always to have to “live” something to understand it, sometimes experience is the best course one can take, and in the case of scholars of science having some undergraduate background (even as a minor) is not particularly difficult. One may, or may not, agree with my contention, but the author of the post responded:
Razib, I disagree very strongly with Fuller’s position about this–to the point of mystification–but it’s parochial to suggest that more time taking multiple-choice tests and dissecting things would have affected his later thinking. It’s just completely irrelevant to the argument he’s making.
To dismiss a science eduction as “multiple-choice tests and dissecting things” is, I think, a serious trivialization of what I was speaking of. Science is a culture, and if you are an anthropologist of science, broadly speaking, you must know that culture. Similarly, if one’s goal is to get students to understand the importance and nature of science, what better way then immerse them in the tedium and minutiae, and frankly, often irrelevance, of day to day empirical work (even if they are operationally “cook book” experiments).