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Palin-tology and the threat to science teaching

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In a frontpage story from the New York Times in late August, the newspaper described the pernicious results of being in a school system where it's OK to be engaged in malpractice in science education. The paper set about examining how one good teacher at a Florida public school had to walk on eggshells while teaching evolution so as not to turn off students, the children of evangelicals. Giving evolution to them straight without dancing to assuage concern that science was attacking faith, the article explained, ran the risk of alienating the kids. But another biology teacher down the hall taught a course entitled "Evolution or NOT," one aimed at jamming legitimate instruction. The Times reported that teacher left students "to draw their own conclusion." However, if asked the teacher told them she thought God did it, said the Times.

These things describe an environment which did not exist during this writer's public school education. Thirty-some years ago, in various parts of backward small-town America (where this writer was raised), science easily co-existed with religion. Being up on things was quaintly thought to be modern and good, a unifier connecting us to the greater forward thrust of the nation. Students and their parents did not war over an imagined assault on religious values when Darwin was taught. Indeed, one could find the biology teacher in church every Sunday, the fabric of his faith intact.

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In more recent days, bigger American newspapers have begun to mention Palin as a young earth creationist. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez went to Wasilla, Alaska, where he found a progressive blogger who delivered an even more flabbergasting bit of news. Palin was said to believe "that man and dinosaurs once shared the planet." Lopez whimsically dubbed this "Palin-tology" but averred that such an extreme claim might not be true.

Looking to Science Debate 2008, an effort designed to pry answers from the candidates to determine "Who will be the best president for America in a science-dominated world," provided discouragingly few answers, despite lots of words.

A lasting extermination of creationism from science education as a salutatory thing, to be carried out from a national rather than state/community level, wasn't even faintly addressed.

As to compromising science if it conflicts with a person's views, the answers made only a pleasant-sounding hum. Obama, if you want the long version, McCain, if you prefer short.

"Denial of the facts won't solve any of [our] problems," offered McCain. "Policies must be determined using a process that builds on the long tradition of open debate that has characterized progress in science, including review by individuals who might bring new information or contrasting views," said Obama.

Scintillating. ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

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