I used to tout every bit of media interest I’ve gotten, but lately it’s hardly seemed worth it. Press outreach is part of my job, so a quote in a newspaper in Florida, or a radio interview in Pennsylvania, doesn’t do much for the ego any more.

I will note with interest this article at conservative news site CNSnews, relating to anti-science bills that have been introduced in several states. The author talks to Expelled producer Walt Ruloff, Expelled star Carolyn Crocker, Disco. ‘tuter Casey Luskin and the legislator who introduced Louisiana’s version of the noxious bill. Pleasantly enough, he gave me more or less the last word:

“What are teachers not able to teach now that will be able to teach as a result of these bills?” asked Joshua Rosenau, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). “What is it exactly that these bills are supposed to protect? It seems to me like the teachers already have most of the rights that these (bills) protect, and so there certainly is a suspicion that these are intended to open the door to creationism and other topics that don’t belong in science classes.”

Moreover, the kind of instruction that would occur on the high school level, if the bills become law, would be counterproductive, Rosenau argued. The presentation of alternative viewpoints that stray from the scientific consensus is better suited for the college environment, he said.

“Students at high school don’t have background to understand the scientific debate because they haven’t learned the basics yet, Rosenau observed. High school should be about what the scientists agree on so the students are prepared. That’s where this whole idea behind these bills gets weird. A 101 class in college is where it’s more appropriate to get into where scientists who are on the cutting edge have disputes. Instead of protecting rights, this could be about promoting bad pedagogy. [Note that the quotation marks never close. I think the last sentence is a bit mangled from what I actually said.]

Rosenau’s organization has been highly critical of the “Expelled” film saying the accusations of scientific censorship are greatly overblown. An entire Web site is devoted to exposing what the NSCE views as “anti-science propaganda.”

Oddly, Expelled screenwriter Kevin Miller cannot grasp my point. He quotes the bit about high school being where students learn the basics, and suggests that this:

Seems rather strange seeing as the NCSE is one of the first to argue that healthy debate is the essence of science.

Indeed it is. And healthy debate must be informed. Ninth-graders don’t have the basic knowledge to debate actual scientific disputes, let alone pseudo-philosophical pap like ID or other sorts of creationism. If they want to get into scientific debates such as the relative significance of neutral drift and natural selection over the history of life, they should do that in college or grad school, after they’ve learned what DNA is, why natural selection works, and how neutral drift happens.

Giving kids that background in high school is how you ensure that, when the students grow up, they can engage in healthy, well-informed, debate. Otherwise you’ve just got a bunch of immature brats mouthing off. We get enough of that on cable news shows.


  1. #1 RBH
    May 31, 2008

    Giving kids that background in high school is how you ensure that, when the students grow up, they can engage in healthy, well-informed, debate. Otherwise you’ve just got a bunch of immature brats mouthing off. We get enough of that on cable news shows.

    Back when I was professing, I used to get the occasional complaint from a freshman in an intro class that I didn’t allow enough class discussion time to get their views about the material (as distinguished from Q&A time). My response was simple: “I appreciate that you want to discuss this stuff, and just as soon as you know enough about it to discuss it knowledgeably we will. But you don’t know enough yet and so class discussion would be a waste of our limited class time.”

  2. #2 natefoo
    June 4, 2008

    Something I noticed while reading… it’s not clear when you say “alternative viewpoints” that you’re talking about the actual scientific debate with evolution. To an uninformed reader, they might assume you’re saying that ID should be discussed in college, not high school.

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    June 5, 2008

    Thanks, natefoo. That’s a tricky distinction to draw. Plus, I think there’s more of a place for discussion about ID in college (there are a number of college courses which address pseudoscience, or which examine the creation/evolution controversy specifically). Teaching ID (that is, presenting it as a valid scientific claim) is inappropriate at any level, since it isn’t science. Shifting to the subjunctive, if they were able to come up with legitimate ID research, the right place to be teaching it would be college, not high school.

  4. #4 natefoo
    June 5, 2008

    I’d imagine that distinction is also one that many reporters would be happy to leave out, so as to create a more juicy story. I agree with everything you said, and hopefully this is the message that’s being conveyed by the science community as a whole when responding to ID.

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