The Loom

Why is it that politicians who say they want to strengthen science teaching standards can sound so post-modern about science? Two examples:

1. John McCain grooving with the kids on MTV about evolution:

“I see no reason why students should not be exposed to all theories, recognizing that Darwin’s theory’s certainly one that is generally accepted in most of the scientific community. I think it’s not inappropriate to say there are also people who believe this. Let the student decide.” [Emphasis mine]

Okay students, we’ve spent our science class this year learning all theories about the universe. We’ve learned about astrology, about the creation tales of the Scythians, and we had a special visit from Mr. Peterson who has been trying to create his own universe in his garage with tin foil and a magnifying lens. I know some of you were not happy that we had to squeeze all of modern astronomy into a ten-minute survey, but it’s hard to fit all theories into a year. But don’t worry about your exam. See, here it is–just one question: “Which theory do you decide is right? Don’t bother to explain why.”

2. Jeb Bush’s Secret:

The governor of Florida has proven hiimself a real pro at hemming and hawing about evolution. In the wake of the Dover decision, Bush was asked by the Miami Herald whether he believes in the theory of evolution.

His response:

`Yeah, but I don’t think it should actually be part of the curriculum, to be honest with you. And people have different points of view and they can be discussed at school, but it does not need to be in the curriculum.”

Okay, students, today we’re going to learn about evolution. Since we couldn’t learn about it at school, we’ve come to the governor’s mansion. Remember, this is all off the record.

[Hat tips to Red State Rabble and Political Animal.


  1. #1 Andrew Brown
    December 28, 2005

    Surely Jeb Bush makes perfect sense — he doesn’t think that poor people should know anything. He doesn’t care what they think. If you’re not smart enough to figure out what the rich people believe is true, to hell with you.

    To a certain sort of right winger, the creationist dispute must look like a lottery they get to always win. It’s a tax on stupidity, and the winnings go to republicans.

  2. #2 Christopher Heard
    December 29, 2005

    I wonder if McCain would like for students in government/civics classes to decide for themselves whether torturing P.O.W.s is morally acceptable, or for students in history classes to decide for themselves whether the Holocaust happened.

  3. #3 Josť Ńngel
    December 30, 2005

    Correction: Should the FACT of evolution be taught at schools?
    `Yeah, but I don’t think it should actually be part of the curriculum, to be honest with you..”
    So many facts are disturbing… let’s invent, and teach, something more pleasant and orthodox! After all, the purpose of education is to manufacture the kind of citizens we want to have, and those don’t need to know about the FACTS.

  4. #4 Tambosi
    December 30, 2005

    Jornalismo e ciência

    Quem gosta de temas ligados às ciências tem mais um blog à disposição. Trata-se de The Loom, de Carl Zimmer, jornalista norte-americano que publicou vários livros de divulgação científica e escreve regularmente no New York Times e nas revistas National Geographic, Science, Newsweek e Discover, da qual é um dos editores.Entre os muitos prêmios que já ganhou por seu trabalho destaca-se o Science Journalism Award de 2004, da American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

    Alguns de seus livros j√° foram traduzidos no Brasil: √Ä beira d’√°gua (macroevolu√ß√£o e a transforma√ß√£o da vida), Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 1998; A fant√°stica hist√≥ria do c√©rebro, Rio de Janeiro, Campus, 2004; O livro de ouro da evolu√ß√£o, Rio de Janeiro, Ediouro, 2005. Sua obra mais recente, ainda n√£o traduzida por aqui, √© Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins, Collins Publishers, 2005. Agrade√ßo a indica√ß√£o do blog (que passa a figurar na lista de links) ao jornalista Maur√≠cio Tuffani, que tamb√©m virou blogueiro (ver Laudas Cr√≠ticas).

  5. #5 Leon Brooks
    January 2, 2006

    “Blogueiro?” I see Brasilian Portugese is suffering as badly as English from the onslaught of new technology. (-:

  6. #6 Tree
    February 12, 2006

    You make several good points, but, please, please, please, stop using “post-modern” as a term of opprobrium.

  7. #7 Blaine Vincent, Jr.
    February 14, 2006

    I agree with “Tree” (commenting Feb. 12). “Postmodern” most appropriately refers to the emergence of a number of historiographers & philosophers of science, such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, followed a little later by a growing number of sociologists of science, all since the second half of the 20th century. It’s become a wide spectrum of thinkers, but no matter how one regards some of the contributions emerging from, say, the more recent French philosophers in this movement — it is not correct to include the antievolutionists (“teach the controversy”) as part of the postmodern movement. The fundamentally religious agenda underlying those who reflexively challenge any teaching that seems inconsistent with their literal reading of the Bible is at least as old as the 16th century and comes mainly from the opposite end of the political spectrum as well. Confounding the creationist/ID reaction as part of the postmodern intellectual movement unfortunately tends to elevate and dignify the intellectual support of what to many of us evolutionists consider is the traditional religious/political chanllenge to the primacy of science in society. Yes, please, Carl Zimmer, don’t label the antievolutionist reflex as postmodern.

  8. #8 Steviepinhead
    February 14, 2006

    The original driving motive beneath the relentless attacks on evolution may be “religious” (though I suspect at base it’s something more like a deep insecurity), and the “critiques” of evolutionary science may all be endlessly-recycled canards, but that hasn’t kept the creationists from “exapting” techniques that sure smell of the worst excesses of post-modernist thought.

    These include the use of a post-modernist sociologist (?) as a defense expert in the Dover trial, and a more generalized anti-science criticism that chimes these tones: the observations, facts, and evidence upon which science bases its “theories” (deliberately emphasizing all the ambiguities inherent in that much-abused term) are no more entitled to “belief” than the subjective opinions of believers–perhaps even less entitled to credence, since they are merely reports from the “fallen” and error-prone physical senses, as opposed to the direct divine revelations that supposedly underlie the holy book and the “born again” experiences of believers. (The consensus, error-checking methods of science are of course either misunderstood or deliberately overlooked, and any available “fraud” or “hoax” by “scientists” is played for maximum shock and awe, no matter how much these isolated incidents underscore the veracity of science as a whole.)

    In short, the creationists have now begun to embrace a broad “po-mo” how-do-we-know-what-we-claim-to-know, it’s-all-biased-and-subjective, it’s-not-real-but-an-artifact-of-an-institutional-mindset, blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda approach, in addition to all their other shopworn tactics.
    There is a place where the more extreme idiots of right and left meet (“where’s this place called Lonely Street?”).

    I don’t disagree that at least some of the thinkers who tend to be grouped loosely as post-modernists have something to offer the rest of us. But if they don’t want the creationists to further tar their bedraggled plumage, then they too need to speak out against these anti-science, anti-reality morons.

  9. #9 Sonia
    February 16, 2006

    At the end of my school years I was told by the teacher that Darwin’s theory was not the only one (other theories were not even mentioned in the programm) and I think that I had the right to know that while at school.

  10. #10 Steviepinhead
    February 16, 2006

    So, Sonia, what ARE these “other” theories that you now believe you should have been told about earlier?

    What different choices in your life–or just in your schooling–do you think you have made if your teacher had exposed you to these “other” theories? Are you saying that your intellectual development or your development as a person has been somehow stunted or delayed as a result of not hearing about these other theories earlier? Is there anything preventing you from now learning more about their pros (if any) and cons?

    I notice that you haven’t stated that any of these “other” theories are accepted as science. Do you understand the scientifid method and the manner in which scientists develop and test hypotheses about the observations they make? Did you do any research, after you were told about these so-called other theories, to see if they had any evidentiary support, were accepted by the vast majority of scientists, and so forth? If so, what did you learn?

    Have you heard any news or learned anything from your further research about how these other theories have fared in court (for example, in the Dover case)? Or how they have fared when considered by state curriculum bodies (as in the recent decision by the Ohio curriculum board)? What is your understanding of why these decisions were reached?

    With all due respect (and I am interested in your responses), you haven’t given us very much to go on here–you haven’t even told us what these other theories are!

  11. #11 Gwen
    February 19, 2006

    I’m really sory for the previous post where I didn’t explain clearly what I ment. Here is an example of what I was talking about:

    “The newly-discovered Sahelanthropus tchadensis fossil, another ape species that lived 2 million years before Australopithecus, is actually more “human-like” according to evolutionary criteria. In other words, it demolishes the “evolutionary scheme.”

    The essence of the matter is this: there are a large number of very different ape species that once lived in the past and are now extinct. The skull or skeletal structures of some of these show similarities to those of man. Yet those similarities do not mean that these creatures have any relationship to man. Evolutionists line up the skulls from these extinct species in a manner required by their theory and try to come up with “a ladder from ape to man.” Yet the deeper research into the subject goes, the more it is realized that there is no such ladder, rather different species of ape lived at different times in the past.

    Moreover, it emerges that man came about all of a sudden, with no evolutionary process behind him. In other words, that he was created.”

    In my post I just wanted to say that very often at school they give us an information pretending that it’s the universal truth not expecting any discussion or searching for other points of view.

  12. #12 Sonia
    February 19, 2006

    I’m sorry. That was me. I use public computer that’s why the name was wrong.

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