Double Helixes and Double Crosses (was: Favorite NON-fiction)

Tue Jan 28 11:24:05 PST 2003

> > To call it a "lie" is, in my not at all humble opinion, dogmatic.
>Well, yes.  But what would you, then, label someone who says
>"This is the way it is done.  This is THE method" when, in
>truth, it's only a standardized version?  Or the one used
>generaly, but not always.

If it was an adult, I would call them misinformed.  We are, however, 
discussing how it is taught in grade school.

Now, as for how it's taught in highschool, I would reply that, for the most 
part, it's *not* taught.  High school science, as I stated elsewhere, all 
too often tends to emphasize the absorbtion of facts without giving much, if 
any, attention to the methodology, period.  As a consequence, many adults 
are left with a deliberately simpified version until such point that they 
take advanced science coursework in college... which many adults never 
actually do.

>It's a grey area, to me.  Telling a bunch of kids that there is
>one way of doing something -- and they have to follow that way --
>when, in fact, there are multiple ways of doing it may not
>be a lie *exactly*, but it comes pretty close.

I have to disagree.  If I want to teach a 2nd grader about farming, I'm 
going to tell them farmers plant their crops, water and fertilize them, and 
harvest them.  I am not going to go into the intracacies of crop rotation, 
pesticide use, and the environmental impacts of farming.  Am I lying to the 
kids?  No.  I am presenting a complex subject in a manner sufficiently 
simplified for them to grasp the roots of the issue (pardon the pun).  It is 
(to mix metaphors) a platform for further learning and not intended to be 

So it is with the generalized version of the Scientific Method that most 
people are presented with in grade school.  The problem is not that the kids 
are being "lied" to, it is that, for many, no one ever moves them beyond the 
basic platform to a more sophisticated understanding of how science works.  
If you want to criticize *that*, I'll stand right beside you and add my 
voice.  But I won't support the contention that the generalized version is 
an appropriate starting point for introducing the real methodology of 

>One could then call the teachers who say such dogmatic....

Most of the teachers who say such are teaching students for whom that 
presentation is appropriate.  Now, if you can point me to, for instance, a 
Junior level highschool teacher who says that, I'll have words far more 
unkind than "dogmatic" to express my contempt of their presentation.

>Now, if they were to mention that this was the way they were
>going to do it in class, but was in no means the only method
>out there, I wouldn't have such a problem.

Teaching young children is a tricky issue.  If you present them with caveats 
and conditionals, you run a serious risk of losing them.  It is generally 
easier *and* better to present them with simplified information that you 
then, as their knowledge grows and their capacity to distinguish subtle 
relations develops, expand upon.

>The more narrow the thinking, the less we learn. (Which, I suppose,
>is why I have no problem with my views being countered.  Heck, I
>could be wrong....:)

I don't think that you are "wrong" so much as I think you are misplacing 
your criticism.  There is a *lot* to criticize about how science is taught 
in this country -- a whole LOT -- but I don't think that the way the 
methodology is generally introduced is part of the problem.

I also have an issue with this particular example because it's often 
advanced by individuals with a specific anti-science agenda (and, no, I am 
not accusing anyone on this list doing so).  It is often put on the table as 
a statement with merit (and I don't deny that it is, in absolute terms, a 
misrepresentation) and then equivocated into an argument for a 
Constructivist (i.e., all knowledge is equivilent and science doesn't have 
any special merit) position.

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