Evolution (and Professor Steve Steve) at AAAS

As I mentioned, I spent the latter part of last week and the weekend in San Francisco at the annual AAAS meeting. Unlike most meetings I attend, this one wasn't a research-heavy meeting, so instead I went to hear more about science education (and of course, how to improve it), as well as to find out the latest in anti-science circles from those on the front lines. My old friend Professor Steve Steve tagged along as well, meeting new friends and old and discussing evolution and challenges to its teaching. Much more after the jump.

Of course, no trip to San Francisco would be complete with out a lot of eating. I accompanied the good Prof on Thursday night to a meet-up with other scientists at the Stinking Rose, where Prof. Steve Steve was a hit with the ladies, including our own Janet (Scienceblogs' John Lynch is also shown, below).

Indeed, John and Steve Steve were seen fighting over the last glass of wine...

...until Steve Steve found something a little less potent to drink.

Both the good Prof and myself were introduced to some others at dinner Thursday night as well. These included Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of LIberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University and organizer of the Clergy Letter Project (much more on that later). Pictured with him is Barbara Hyde, director of communications for the American Society for Microbiology and also an advocate of teaching evolution.

After much stuffing of the faces, we hunkered down in preparation for Friday's symposium on evolution organized by several members of the Alliance for Science (don't forget their essay contest!) and featuring several of the dinner attendees, along with a few others who weren't able to make it out to dinner (or maybe they just didn't like garlic):

Shown from left to right: Barbara Hyde, Rev. Henry Green, Eugenie Scott, Peyton West, Connie Bertka.

Two short talks featured AAAS employees, both affiliated with the AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program (DoSER for short). Peyton West discussed working with your local school board to teach good science, and Connie Bertka (both pictured above) spoke on a new AAAS pilot project aimed at increasing the public understanding of science.

I'd not really had a well-formed mental picture of Michael Zimmerman prior to meeting him, but even so, he wasn't what I expected. (If he's not in the luxuriant flowing hair club for scientists, he oughta be). Dr. Zimmerman discussed the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday, noting that the number of churches participating in evolution Sunday increased by about a third since last year, and that they represent a cross-section of denominations and political leanings, as well as both urban and rural areas. He also discussed some misconceptions about both the letter project and Evolution Sunday, such as those highlighted by Discovery Institute fellow Jon Wells recently in the Yale Daily News.

Zimmerman noted that these misunderstandings about letter project include:

-Members opposed to discussing controversies within evolution, when the reality is that they're opposed to fighting about discussing non-controversies such as ID

-Clergy meddling in science, when the reality is that the clergy are simply saying they accept science, and that they don't need science to prove their faith

-Lack of fundamentalist support shows weakness of project, when the reality was never about fundamentalist involvement. The goal was not to convert fundamentalists, but to reach Americans in middle.

Overall, his key point was that scientists and religious leaders must work together.

To highlight Zimmerman's point about reaching out to religious leaders, the Reverend Henry Green, a Baptist minister in Virginia, spoke on his own viewpoint regarding science and religion. Rev. Green noted that he has given Evolution Sunday talks for the past two years. He's found that his congregation has been fairly receptive to his talks, even though it's made him rather unpopular with some church leaders.

Of course, the weekend prior to AAAS was not only Evolution Sunday, but also Darwin Day. Both Bob Stephens (of the International Darwin Day Foundation, pictured above with Professor Steve Steve) and John King (not pictured), director of the Shrewsbury Darwin Festival gave short talks about upcoming Darwin Day celebrations, gearing up for 2009 as the Year of Science:

Opportunities to mark 2009 as the anniversary of seminal events in the development of science, including the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin; the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, founder of the National Academy of Sciences; the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species; and the 400th anniversary of the publication of Johannes Kepler's first two Laws of Planetary Motion.

Finally, Barbara Hyde wrapped up the session, speaking about strategies regarding teaching of evolution. She emphasized knowing your audience; using correct terminology (describing what a "theory" is; using "accept" rather than "believe" evolution, etc.), and working on framing the debate and not always accepting the defensive position we're often put in by the evolution deniers.

As you can hopefully tell, it was a fairly meaty symposium, particularly for those who may not be as familiar with the anti-evolution movement in the U.S. and abroad.

Left to right: John Lynch, Jeremy Bruno, and myself with Professor Steve Steve.


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The problem with the AAAS meeting is that so much is going on that it can be difficult to actually decide what to do. And much of what is good involves stuff happening outside of the sessions. I have run into (and dined with) people from Alliance for Science, the Clergy Letter Project, Evolution…

Cool! It looks like the kind of fun work that makes it all worthwhile. Thanks also for putting the pics up too - it's good to put the faces with names.

In the first photo, John appears to be rather jealously guarding Janet from the affections of the charming, debonair panda.

God Save All Here!

Steve F - I see John reaching around Janet trying to get to that Bottle of Jamisons... He is Irish after all.

Ah, yes, the Stinking Rose, where they flavor their garlic with food...

By Bill Gascoyne (not verified) on 22 Feb 2007 #permalink

"The goal was not to convert fundamentalists, but to reach Americans in middle."

Or more directly,

"The goal was not to convert fundamentalists, but to reach Americans who haven't completely lost touch with reality."

I had an Steve Steve on my shoulder, with a plan for me divine

Got to be a Steve Steve on my shoulder, who was right there,

Right there all the time, Everybody needs someone to cling to,

With an unchanging love, I finally found a hand to hold on to,

A shelter to run to, now I see hes watching over me