December 23, 2008

Bad science or bad journalism

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/dec/23/science-evolution-creationism-education

I found this through an RSS feed from a colleague’s blog .. headline “Would you Adam and Eve it? Quarter of science teachers would teach creationism” with the tagline
• 29% say science classes should include theory
• Poll supports views of former education head

That’s then generated responses from Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins such as “I find this very depressing” and “If 29% of science teachers really think creationism should be taught as a valid alternative to evolution, we have a national disgrace on our hands.”

Too right, education is about lifting up people’s minds, not filling them with crap. However, reading further on in the piece, the Grauniad supplies this additional piece of information …

“that only 26% of all teachers and 46% of science specialists agree with Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of the University of Durham, who is quoted as saying “the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense”.”

in other words (doing the maths) that only leaves 3% treating it as a valid alternative.

Even the statements that Reiss made (the former education head) that they’re said to support aren’t controversial – those were that while creationism had no scientific basis, science teachers risked alienating pupils who believed in the idea by dismissing it out of hand. “They should take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis,” – in other words treating the believers with respect (but not the belief). How else are you going to deprogramme them?

The reporter James Randerson is the Grauniad’s Science Correspondent and makes the mistake of referring to creationism as a theory – as opposed to something someone made up off the top of their head. He should really know the difference. But then he doesn’t seem to know the difference between news and something he just made up off the top of his head.


- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Matthew

    I don’t understand where your 3% figure comes from. The 26% is a percentage of all teachers, the 29% is a percentage of science teachers, I not sure it makes sense to subtract them.

    Dawkins has misinterpreted/misunderstood the question, which asked teachers only whether they think creationism should be taught, not whether it should be taught as a valid alternative to evolution. I don’t think the poll can give you any information about this latter question.

    23 Dec 2008, 13:58

  2. Oh you’re right – I misread it too (just goes to show two years of journalism school damaged my brain as well as Randerson’s) – 26% of all teachers agree it should be just taught to argue against it, 46% of science specialists thought that it should be taught to just argue against it (even though only 29% think it should be taught at all). That’s only possible if people are coming up with wildly different interpretations of what is meant by “teaching creationism”. To be fair to Dawkins (I like to buck a trend) he did offer different answers depending on different interpretations of the question – Randerson just picked the one that would add to the controversy.

    So basically we have a totally meaningless poll, used to generate a baseless controversy. Why am I surprised??

    23 Dec 2008, 14:29


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