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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why are Americans Scientifically Precocious?

Why are Americans Scientifically Precocious?

Is Michael Behe Responsible?


The stupidity of the American people is an article of faith for many on the Left and among European intellectuals, it being generally accepted that religion is to blame. A popular discussion forum on Amazon.com right now, started by an Australian community developer named John Croft, is entitled “Why are People here so Scientifically Illiterate?" "Here" means not Australia, but the US:

"It is a sad and sorry state of US scientific illiteracy that a science forum is just full of discussions of (Intelligent Design) IDiocy and climate denial ostriches.

"The US is heading for irrelevancy, as the quality of its science is now done mostly by foreigners, whilst people here cannot address even the simplest scientific question.”

Croft cites research by Jon Miller, John Hannah Professor of Integrative Studies at Michigan State University. (Right -->.) As reported in a 2007 paper, Miller found that only 28% of American adults qualify as “scientifically literate.”

About 190 posters so far have registered their acceptance of the premise that Americans are crash test dummies when it comes to science, and that America is “fast becoming the sick man of the world,” as Croft puts it, thanks to religion, by voting these comments "add to the discussion." The Jesus Land mentality seeps into our minds like oil into the Gulf, it seems, numbing us into buying creationism, Intelligent Design, and Global Warming skepticism.

The odd thing is, when actually read, Miller’s paper, “The Public Understanding of Science in Europe and the United States,” shows the opposite: that Americans are better-informed about science than almost any other nation on earth, and rising rapidly. In fact, the study may even suggest that American heresies like Intelligent Design and AGW skepticism are part of what makes Americans exceptionally good at science.

Croft and his readers have some excuse for reading Miller as they do, however, as that is what Miller clearly wished his survey showed, and tried to make it show. So let us look at the data, the bias it hides, the spin Miller put on it, how best to understand relative American success in promoting scientific literacy, and what if anything that says about religion.

I. The Facts. Here's a country-by-country list of the percentage of those in each country found by Miller to be scientifically-literate (we’ll get to what he meant by that later):

Sweden 35.1%
USA 27.8
Holland 23.9
Norway 22.3
Finland 22.2
Denmark 22.0
Bulgaria 19.3
Iceland 18.2
Belgium 18.1
Germany 18.0
France 17.0
Switzerland 17.0
Czech Republic 16.8
Luxembourg 16.7
Hungary 15.3
Great Britain 14.1
E.U. 13.8
Estonia 12.1
Italy 11.9
Croatia 11.7
Slovakia 10.1
Austria 10.1
Ireland 9.4
Poland 9.1
Spain 8.6
Greece 6.5
Portugal 6.0
Romania 5.9
Japan 5.0
Malta 4.8
Lithuania 3.3
Cyprus 2.8
Slovenia 2.3
Latvia 2.2
Turkey 1.5

A separately-conducted survey located China in the 3-4% range.

How to explain this data? What does religion have to do with these numbers? Lutherans seem to do well, except for Latvians (who are largely atheists, anyway)! Catholic and Orthodox countries seem to do less well. But the bottom is occupied by the only Muslim country on the list, and neither Hindu country is surveyed. The only (nominally) Buddhist country is towards the bottom, despite its wealth and education. Former communist countries fall all over the spectrum.

Could one explain these data, by saying not that religion is harmful, but that countries that used to have a strong religious monopoly, tend to do poorly? But let’s talk about interpretations later.

II. Survey Bias: ID and AGWOne should understand that the author seems to have created this study with an agenda in mind. In his article, Miller bewails the "high proportion of American adults who reject the concept of biological evolution" as a "joint failure of our secondary education system and the emerging structure of partisanship," identifying conservatives and Christians as a problem. It appears he was hoping Americans would do badly, so he could use our ineptitude as a stick with which to beat political and ideological enemies. To give him credit, he published contrary results, admitting more or less forthrightly: “On balance, European adults are not better informed about science than American adults.”

But the survey is rather sneaky. Five of the 32 questions on the American version (fewer questions were asked in some international surveys, but care was apparently taken to ensure they remained representative) were loaded, and may measure agreement with Miller more than scientific knowledge per se.

Most questions seem pretty objective:

True or false: "Lasers work by focusing sound waves."

True or false: “Electrons are smaller than atoms."

"Provide a correct open-ended definition of 'DNA.'"

But several seem designed to bate those Miller calls "religious fundamentalists," alleged to be aligned with a "more uniformly conservative Republican Party," though:

(a) True or False: “Global warming is increasing primarily because the level of direct radiation from the Sun is increasing."

I agree with Miller that the right answer is "false." But many respondents may recognize, or feel without expressing it in words, that Miller begs the question of whether Global Warming is increasing. The temperature of the atmosphere has increased about 1 degree Celsius, at varying rates, for more than a century. But it is not clear that the rate of increase has increased – which some respondents may understand this question to mean.

(b) "True or False: Astrology is not at all scientific."
What does it mean, "not at all scientific?"

Probably Miller is bating ID proponents here. He seems to be asking people to comment on Michael Behe's famous claim, in expert testimony at the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial two years earlier, that astrology, while false, was a "scientific theory" in the sense of "a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences."

In that sense, the correct answer to Miller's question might be "yes." Certainly astrology shares SOME characteristics of science, as Behe recognized. This question is thus a sand trap for contrarian logicians.

(c) "True or false: More than half of all human genes are identical to those of mice."The correct answer, Miller assumes, is "true." But actually, genes are almost never "identical," so the more accurate answer should be "false." Religious respondents might notice this technical error, and use it as an excuse to wipe the smirk off Miller’s face by giving a “wrong” answer that is in fact correct. At least, that might be this sinner’s inclination.

(d) True or false: “The primary human activity that causes global warming is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil."
Most Americans got this question "wrong" by saying "false."

This a scientifically complex question, involving several issues: (1) The reality of Global Warming; (2) its allegedly human cause; and (3) the alleged leading role the burning of fossil fuels play in that cause.

The first claim is nominally true, but could be disputed. The atmosphere does seem to have warmed slightly over the past century. But to many people, the term “Global Warming” will likely include not only facts about the past, but the claim (especially given (2)) that such warming will continue in the future.

I agree that some, but perhaps not most, of Global Warming is due to human activity. Earth warmed for decades before CO2 output began to increase dramatically after WWII. Assuming natural trends before 1940 had continued, the “extra” increase in warming over the past 70 years, above an extrapolation of the earlier trend, appears to constitute less than half of the overall warming for the past 110 years.

If he wanted to be objective, Miller should have asked a more neutral question, such as:

"True or False: The primary human activity that leads to increased release of CO2 into the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels."

And finally:

(e) "True or false: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals."This question, answered "wrongly" by 63% of respondents, the worst result of any, is also one of the most ideologically touchy. Strictly speaking, I think Common Descent is true. I would probably have answered this question "correctly." But knowing what Miller was up to, I might have looked for an excuse to get it "wrong." One cannot, for example, be sure that "human beings as we know them today" developed entirely from "earlier species of animals." Who can say scientifically (this being an historical question) that God did not reach the tip of his finger out to Adam, to tweak the reeds and make them rustle up some thought? Respondents may react to Miller’s reductionist tone and intellectual presumption as much as to the scientific "facts.” To the extent that he prompts such responses, Miller measures not scientific literacy, but scientific orthodoxy.

Frame those five questions in a more fair-minded way, and who knows how many Americans would have "passed" his test? We might even have beaten the Swedes! (Who have nothing to do all winter long but trace the geometry of snowflakes on window sills!)

III. The Miller Model of the Scientific Method
Step A: Form an hypothesis, Y, and an emotional attachment to Y. ("Americans are bad at science because religion rots the brain.")

Step B: Test Y with a survey, including a few snide questions to bias answers towards Y, but find -Y anyway. ("The percentage of scientifically literate Americans has tripled in two decades, and is now higher than in almost any other country.")

Step C: Publish -Y accurately, but in interviews, gratuitously suggest Y, anyhow.
Step D: Watch while allies take your gratuitous Y comments and broadcast them to the world by means of the brain-rotting Internet, while -Y is buried and forgotten, all your “enlightened” allies being too lazy to read the original report.

IV. So why are American "IDiots" and "Climate Denial Ostriches" so good at science?That, apparently, is the correct question to ask.

One factor, mentioned by Miller, is that Asian education so often involves what Chinese call "stuff the duck" method of teaching. Students sit silently in class and take notes. They memorize, stuffing themselves with facts like ducks readied for the slaughter, for all-important entrance exams. Then they test, slack off in college (my students at Nagasaki University often spent the nights playing pool), and read comic books for the rest of their lives. They've been inoculated to real education as Socrates (and Confucius) taught it, and lost the childhood passion for learning they once satisfied at their mother’s knee.

I taught in Japanese colleges for six years. I had a few good students, but they seemed to retain their love of learning despite, not because of, their long and too-often overly didactic education.

Miller's suggestion is that many Americans know some science because they were forced to take "at least one year of college science courses en route to a baccalaureate."

This may seem a bit self-serving, since Miller's job is to promote scientific literacy from his perch at Michigan State University. But I'm willing to give Dr. Miller some credit. I'm pretty sure some good things lodged in my mind during my 1st year Honors Physics class, including the truth (Honors Calculus helped here too) that I would never be an engineer.

Still, looking down Miller's list of questions, I'm not sure I learned the answers to any of them in college. I think I first garnered answers to ten or so of them in the process of exploring heretical thoughts about Evolution and Global Warming. So Miller must share some credit for the success of American scientific education with Michael Behe and Roy Spencer.

Perhaps there is an indirect connection between the religiosity of Americans and their scientific success. I suspect enthusiasms of both sorts are encouraged by a free market for ideas. (And freedom, in turn, I agree with Bunyan and Locke, is a proper implication of the Gospel.) Freedom is also why heretical ideas like Intelligent Design, and opposition to Anthropogenic Global Warming, catch on in the US: we have an open market of ideas, with alternative institutions like home-schools, Sunday School, Talk Radio, and conservative think tanks and magazines. Ideas thus have a better chance to clash than in countries where ducks open their mouths and have them filled. And when our ducks go out and forage for themselves, they develop healthy but discerning appetites, and learn not to blindly accept everything from our governmental Master’s hand.

27 comments:

Chemist said...

I think that it's spot on. But time will tell. It does allude to a few points I have mentioned in the past:

1. Some technologies may have been developed outside the US only to have them rapidlly assimulated in the US and brought to market much quicker than any country could hope to deliver.

2. Western monotheism has had a profound impact on the emergence of scientific thought as we know it.

3. Countries like India and China may be graduating a lot of engineers and doctors but if they are excluded from actually being engineers and doctors, they will go nowhere (ie USSR). In the US, a student has a very good chance of landing a career in his chosen field of study and advancement tends to be based on merit instead of ideology or seniority.

4. Critical thinking is the most valuable skill one could have. Otherwise, scientific literacy will only tell you about what is known and not what is possible. Discovering what is possible will actually lead to innovation.

5. The failure of Muslim nations to strike a balance between scientific inquiry and religion has been more detrimental to their development than western imperialism (until I read the article I though that I was the only one who thought this). Now they can't even get rich from their own oil unless a western firm drills it out of the ground for them. And all their militaries are bought off of the shelf.

6. Freedom of Speech. Enough said.

7. Extremists in the US tends not to be stifled. Therefore, the far left and the far right tends to cancel each other out with most policy decisions being made by more moderate minds. Thanks to the internet, this will be true more than ever.

David B Marshall said...

Chemist: Interesting follow-up comments. Have you read any of Bernard Lewis' books on why Islamic civilization petered out? I also recently bought a book called The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, but haven't had a chance to read it, yet.

I agree about extremism: the best way to control it, is to maximize freedom of expression. However, in times of crisis, this might not work -- and then again, it may be that in certain crises, extremists can actually contribute the most. For instance, it seems that the communists were relatively effective in resisting the Nazis in France.

Dr H said...

CONTINUED, 3 of 4? ...


This rather relates to one of the specific questions in Miller's survey with which you took issue:

=====
(b) "True or False: Astrology is not at all scientific."

DM: What does it mean, "not at all scientific?"
=====

What it means, is simply "have the core premises of this field been tested according to the scientific method
and supported by evidence?" The simple answer is "no". This question tests a fundamental core principle of
scientific literacy: Knowledge and understanding of the *scientific method*.

A person who is ignorant of that method, or who can parrot its structure but fails to understand what it
-means-, is scientifically illiterate *by definition*, regardless of how many "science factoids" they
may know.

You go on to say:

=====
DM: In that sense, the correct answer to Miller's question might be "yes." Certainly astrology shares
SOME characteristics of science, as Behe recognized.
=====

And this is simply wrong. The correct answer to Miller's question on astrology is "no." The precepts of
no more "scientific" than Star Trek (and arguably less so). Giving something the superficial appearance
of being "science-like" no more means that it "shares some characteristics of science", than carving a block
of stone into the shape of a car means that it 'shares some characteristics of automobiles', or than
putting bunny-ears on a guitar makes it correct to say that it is "bunny-like."

The correct term for something dressing itself up to pretend to be science, while being unsupported by the
scientific method is "pseudoscience".


CONTINUED, NEXT POST ...

Dr H said...

CONTINUED, 4 of 4 ... (I'll get the hang of this yet!)



The fact that, on average, Americans may be a bit more ignorant of certain basic facts that are, say Europeans,
is less important that the fact that a tremendous number of -people- living in 21st century industrialized
cultures are ignorant of those facts. A National Science Foundation survey found, for example, that nearly
40% of adult Americans /and/ Europeans thought that radioactive milk could be made safe to drink by boiling it.
And appallingly close to 50% of both Americans and Europeans apparently didn't know that it takes the Earth
one year to go around the sun. (In fact, Americans outscored Europeans on several questions in this NSF
survey, but the -overall- proportion of wrong answers was still depressingly high.)


=====
DM: Still, looking down Miller's list of questions, I'm not sure I learned the answers to any of them in college.
=====

Not surprising, since pretty much all of Miller's objective questions are taken directly from the Pew
and NSF surveys, which are designed to test the scientific knowledge that would generally be expected
of a high school graduate.


I do agree with you, though, that Miller seems to have brought a bit of a personal agenda to his survey.

I recommend the Pew and NSF studies, instead.


--FINIS--

David B Marshall said...

Dr. H: Say what you like, "Is X at all scientific?" is deeply ambiguous, and the read you give the phrase is neither obvious nor the most natural. If X shares 3 out of 5 characteristics of Y, it is unreasonable to mark positive answers to the question, "Is X at all like Y?" as "wrong." A fair survey, as opposed to one that is trying to trick people, would pose the question more clearly.

But you sorta-kinda seem to admit this a couple times.

Unfortunately, your first two and perhaps most important posts seem to have been swallowed by a black hole.

David B Marshall said...

From Dr. Behe: "Hi, David. Great article. And I love the subtitle! For what it's worth, I think you're right. If it weren't controversial, how many students would know or care about the bacterial flagellum?"

Dr H said...

=====
David Marshall said:
Dr. H: Say what you like, "Is X at all scientific?" is deeply ambiguous, and the read you give the phrase is neither obvious nor the most natural.
=====

Perhaps. But I think you may be over-analyzing the question, which is not unusual when a survey designed for Joe Sixpack, who barely made it through high school, is taken by someone of above average intelligence and/or schooling. Happens to me all the time ;-)

Yes, the question could have been worded better. But I still maintain that the point of the question is to elicit whether one has a basic understanding of what science is. The definition of "science" is not fuzzy or nebulous, but very specific:

"Science is knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws concerned with the physical world, as obtained and tested through application of the scientific method."

With minor variations of syntax this is the definition you will find in pretty much any introductory science text used in high school or college, not to mention most dictionaries.

The alleged "knowledge" promulgated by astrologists has not been obtained and tested through application of the scientific method. Hence, astrology is not scientific. Period.


Yes, the qualifier "at all" could be confusing. But I see that more as a design flaw in the survey question, than as a deliberate attempt to bias responses to the question.

Having both participated in and conducted a number of studies involving surveys I can attest to the fact that it is not easy to construct a good survey. Things like this creep in now and then; if they're not caught until late in the study process the approriate approach is to acknowledge the glitch, and either account for how it might have biased the response to that question, or to eliminate the question from consideration in the final evaluation of the study.



(PS: I've tried reposting the first two parts of yesterday's tirade )

Chemist said...

David,
I haven't read the books that you mentioned, but I have a feeling that I would find them interesting. I went to a liberal university and was getting fed the typical "Middle East being victims of US hegemonic domination" line. But I remember taking a geography course there with some history and feeling certain ideas take shape. And noticing that around the same time in Western Europe, scholars were working on bridging gaps and achieving some sort of synthesis between science and religion. The Middle East, on the other hand, was devoting itself almost entirely to Islam; which seems to explain a great deal about the different paths they took and today's geopolitical situation.

David B Marshall said...

Dr. H: Obviously, neither of us can read Dr. Miller's mind -- though he indicates pretty clearly what's on his mind, in the article. It is hard for me to see it as a coincidence that he asked about astrology, right after Behe made the issue of whether astrology is in some sense "scientific" so famous. The ambiguity may or may not have been deliberate, but surely it was in some sense purposeful. I am usually careful with my words on Amazon comment forums -- I can't believe he just added these words at random to a survey of thousands. (I've done surveys, too, and admit that getting the wording right can be difficult though.)

Nor do I think the definition you give of science is very clear or helpful. Define science in terms of the "scientific method?" That's like defining the sun as "the solar body."

Sorry for the troubles you've had posting your always interesting rants here -- I can't account for the taste of my software. I'll have to look for those surveys you mentioned.

David B Marshall said...

Chemist: I notice there's quite a bit of traffic to my blog today from Turkey -- it gives me no joy to be the barer of bad news.

The book on Islam is good, so far. Perhaps the Muslim world can reform, as Meiji Japan did, and as China and India have recently begun to do -- though for China, that began with a repudiation of almost everything Chinese civilization was built upon, for two generations. Probably that was unnecessary. But my own hopes for the Muslim world begin with recent conversions of perhaps a few million Muslims to Christianity, in places like Egypt, Algeria, Central Asia, and Iran. (I was invited to a soiree with a Lebanese evangelist a week ago, and got quite an update.)

You might find my article, "Can Jesus Save Islam?" interesting, in Books and Culture.

Crude said...

It's long been my suspicion that ID leads to increases in scientific literacy. By identifying even the possibility that nature is designed - better yet, that this design can be identified either generally or in key cases - it stirs people to take an interest in and discuss science that would normally be uninteresting to them. I think Behe is on target with the bacterial flagellum mention.

Great article. Why are Americans so bad at science, indeed. (Those results surprise me. I would have guessed the US did better than expected, but...)

Michael Adeney said...

For the most part, I agree with you and Behe. At the same time parts of me remains agnostic on important scientific questions. Still, it is hard for me to understand why Behe would say Astrology is even partly scientific. It is interesting that Stark discovered that more conservative Christians were less likely than liberals to buy into superstitious beliefs than liberals. Since over 50% of Europeans believe eating GM foods modifies your genes, a question on that issue would certainly have raised American scores and lowered European scores. I wonder what the Swedes think concerning GM foods?

David B Marshall said...

Michael: I'm also still agnostic on some aspects of ID. I'm pretty sure the world has been warming, and part of that is attributable to human action -- but that it's not such a big deal, and some of the cures are worse than the disease.

An interesting point about GM foods. That would certainly suggest a remarkable ignorance of genetics, invented by that Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel. (BTW: I wonder if he ever met Julie Andrews, when she was a nun in Austria? Maybe just as well that they didn't.)

Dr H said...

------
DM: Nor do I think the definition you give of science is very clear or helpful. Define science in terms of the "scientific method?" That's like defining the sun as "the solar body."
------

Not true, David. First of all, it's not -my- definition, as noted it's the definition given in most science texts and dictionaries, and it's also the definition you'll get from most scientists.

Second, it's more like defining the sun as a star. Yes, you still have to define "star", but the definition is not circular because we DO have a good definition for "star." Likewise, "scientific method" is clearly spelled out -- I don't think I have to repeat the steps here, but I will if you want.

So saying that science is defined as a epistemology that procedes according to the (well-defined) "scientific method" is no more questionable that saying a "guitarist" is a person who plays a guitar. If you know what a "guitar" is, the definition makes perfect sense.

Dr H said...

DM: "...my own hopes for the Muslim world begin with recent conversions of perhaps a few million Muslims to Christianity,..."

Ah, the arrogance of Christianity.

The only way there can be "hope" for Muslims, is if they cease being Muslims, and become Christians?

Trading one mythology for another doesn't seem like much of an "advance".

Dr H said...

------
Crude: "It's long been my suspicion that ID leads to increases in scientific literacy. By identifying even the possibility that nature is designed - better yet, that this design can be identified either generally or in key cases - it stirs people to take an interest in and discuss science that would normally be uninteresting to them."
------

Sparking interest in science is not the same thing as increasing scientific literacy. "Star Trek"(tm) has sparked scientific interest in a lot of people, but so long as their discussion involves warp drive, transporters, and phasers, they're not really talking about science -- they're talking about science -fiction- and /pretending/ that it's science.

Likewise for "intelligent design" adherents.

------
Crude: "I think Behe is on target with the bacterial flagellum mention."
------

Actually, he's out in left field. That argument was debunked, years ago. See for example:

http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/design2/article.html

David B Marshall said...

Dr. H: How can you call me "arrogant" for thinking that the "Muslims world" will do better if Muslims believe in Christianity? Don't you think they'll do better if they convert to secular humanism? But conversion to Christianity preserves much more of the Muslim "spiritual capital" than conversion to atheism would: they can still believe in God, prayer, miracles, and in some of the prophets. The difference is, they'll trust in a prophet who taught and demonstrated love, rather than murder, torture, and abuse of women. Why is it "arrogant" for me to see that as a potential step forward?

David B Marshall said...

Dr. H: Miller's rebuttal of Behe, which you link, is itself out of date. He describes it as a pre-publication version of his argument. But read the book, and you'll find that Behe responds effectively (well you might not admit that) to it within that very volume.

Dr H said...

------
DM: How can you call me "arrogant" for thinking that the "Muslims world" will do better if Muslims believe in Christianity? Don't you think they'll do better if they convert to secular humanism?
------

I didn't cally YOU arrogant; I said that -Christianity- was arrogant. As, indeed, are most religions.

As to the Muslim world doing better if Muslims switched to believing in Christianity, no I don't think so. I don't see Crusades as much of an improvement over Jihads.

I'm not, BTW, a secular humanist, although I do share some of their beliefs. For that matter, I also share some beliefs with Christians and some with Muslims.

As I see it, the issue is one of whether or not people can find their way to peaceful coexistence and a desire for the general advancement of the species /within/ their cultural milieu, rather than being told that they need to dump their personal history to measure up so someone /else's/ idea of improvment or perfection.

Personally, I believe that the whole world would be better off if /everyone/ gave up clinging to magical myths -- Christians, Muslims, Pagans, Scientologists, and what have you. But I have also come to believe that you can't really change those beliefs in someone from without, short of maybe physically rewiring their brain. That kind of change has to come from within. That is why I don't go around trying to convert people to atheism, although I'm happy to argue the point the live-long day, as you well know by now.

And, as I said recently elsewhere, that is also the cognitive disonance that I live with: supporting everyone's right to believe whatever they want, even though I may think those beliefs are counterproductive or even detrimental to humanity at large. In the end, it's not so much what people believe, but how they individually and collectively choose to -act- on their beliefs, that is most important.

Dr H said...

------
DM: Miller's rebuttal of Behe, which you link, is itself out of date.
------

I offered Miller's rebuttal merely as an early example. "Irreducible complexity" is amply rebutted in literally hundreds of ways throughout modern biology.

"Intelligent design," -- quite apart from whether it may or may not be true -- has not been established as a science, because it has not been shown to be falsifiable, and is therefor not testable by the scientific method. Anyone pretending that it -is- a science is should therefor be suspect, as if they were trying to sell you a bridge that they didn't really own.

Doc Johnny said...

Hello Mr. Marshall,

I would like to respond to this post on this forum as I did on the amazon forum.

1) I agree completely that this study contradicted the traditional "Americans fail at science" idea that pervades our consciousness.

2) I postulate that that idea exists because there is an abundance of data about science education at the primary school level that shows Americans performing quite poorly compared to other nations.

3) Rather than only considering the new data and concluding that Americans do just fine at science, we can parse all the data, old and new and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. "American primary education fails at science education and this lack is remedied at the college level."

This statement seems to fit all the data.

Doc Johnny said...

Studies have consistently shown that American science education from grades 4-12 are deficient compared internationally. Miller, like any good scientist, analyzed his surprising results from his adult study. It turns out that scientific literacy correlates with the number of college courses in science taken. People who took any science courses in college had a 75% better chance to be classified as scientifically literate than those who took none. This identifies a fundamental problem in our primary science education that should not be ignored. You were right to point out that the adult study contradicted our preconceptions about scientific literacy. But the entirety of the data should still be considered. Our middle and high schools are failing at science education. The fact that colleges help us catch up won't help the millions that never go to college.

I think the facts do show that we are not doing a good job in educating our young people in science at the primary level. Keep in mind it is at this level that religious influences make the most impact by electing school board members with agendas and buying non-controversial textbooks.

I would postulate that whatever influence Dr. Behe may have, some of his supporters, namely the religious right have a more negative influence by choosing textbooks that minimize the teaching of evolution and other "controversial" topics.

Although I suspect that even their influence is limited compared to the more nefarious influence of "bubble gum" entertainment such as reality shows and short-attention-span programming.

http://physics.uark.edu/hobson/pubs/08.10.TPT.pdf

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B Marshall said...

"As I see it, the issue is one of whether or not people can find their way to peaceful coexistence and a desire for the general advancement of the species /within/ their cultural milieu, rather than being told that they need to dump their personal history to measure up so someone /else's/ idea of improvment or perfection."

My point is, if Muslims convert to Christianity, they DON'T need to "dump (so much of) their personal history."

An Iranian Christian came to our fellowship in Oxford a year or so ago, and showed a video about thousands of Iranians who had become Christians. The video began by talking about King Cyrus. It struck me: he was building his Christianity on an alternative narrative of Persian history. And if Naipaul is right, Muslims in general may be able to preserve MORE of their "religious capital" in Christianity than in Islam. For instance, that music you like in Indonesia -- go Taliban on us, or Arab, and the Indonesians may have to dump it.

"Personally, I believe that the whole world would be better off if /everyone/ gave up clinging to magical myths -- Christians, Muslims, Pagans, Scientologists, and what have you."

Yes, well there's another conflict you have with yourself. Muslims would be better off if they got rid of ALL their religion, but worse off if they just got rid of the bad parts, apparently.

"That kind of change has to come from within."

Here we agree. And hopefully, in thinking that people in every country should have the freedom to decide for themselves which path to follow.

David B Marshall said...

John: Maybe so. But I think Americans may also be more proactive about learning after they graduate than people in many countries. For instance, my brother is a carpenter, with little college education, but reads a LOT of history on his own. This seems less common among working class Japanese adults that I have had contact with.

David B Marshall said...

John: I missed that about science classes increasing literacy; can you tell me where you found that information, if its not too much trouble?

I really don't think ID hurts school kids. Having subbed in science classes, I've never come across the slightest bit of evidence that anything of the sort was taught there -- in fact, I've subjected kids to anti-Christian propaganda in the guise of science myself. (A CD I was asked to show.)

In any case, a Kurdish-Swedish blogger argues that when controlled for race, American kids actually do pretty well as science, compared to other countries. Our ethnic complexity makes it a harder task in the US, but apparently the teachers are doing all right.

Dr H said...

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DM: My point is, if Muslims convert to Christianity, they DON'T need to "dump (so much of) their personal history."
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{snort} No, just the religious traditions of their family and people going back 50 generations.

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DM: [King Cyrus] It struck me: he was building his Christianity on an alternative narrative of Persian history. And if Naipaul is right, Muslims in general may be able to preserve MORE of their "religious capital" in Christianity than in Islam.
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That is a curious statement indeed. They will be able to preserve "more of their religious capital" by subscribing to a revisionist view of history, as opposed to what really happened?

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DM: For instance, that music you like in Indonesia -- go Taliban on us, or Arab, and the Indonesians may have to dump it.
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Precious little chance of that happening. Although Indonesia holds the largest Muslim population in the world, there aren't a whole lot of Arabs living there, and the Hindu traditions are very strong as well -- especially in the Gamelan music. Although it is certainly worth noting that there is also a significant body of Islamic-oriented work for Gamlean, including specific pieces composed to honor the Prophet on his birthday and other occasions.


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DM: Muslims would be better off if they got rid of ALL their religion, but worse off if they just got rid of the bad parts, apparently.
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That's not a conflict; it's at the core of why I feel that religion /per se/ is a generally bad influence. Both Christianity and Islam have had well over a thousand years to rid themselves of their "bad parts". We see how well that's worked out.

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Dr H: "That kind of change has to come from within."

DM: Here we agree. And hopefully, in thinking that people in every country should have the freedom to decide for themselves which path to follow.
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Sure. If they insist on doing things the hard way.