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Half-baked

I just read Tim Rutten’s “The Perils of Palin” in the LA Times, from which:

Although she supports the teaching of creationism in public schools, [Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee] Palin thinks it should be presented alongside, rather than instead of, evolution. “Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both,” she said during her gubernatorial campaign. “I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. … Don’t be afraid of information, and let kids debate both sides.”

Well, no. There is no debate, only “teach the controversy” pull-the-wool hucksterism from the Discovery Institute’s “intelligent design” campaign which belongs nowhere near a science class — though certainly in a religion or current events class — or anyone running for US federal office.

Just in case, here’s a back-to-school refresher for all of us, including science students and teachers from Alaska to Hawaii to Alberta, about the word “theory” from editor-in-chief John Rennie of Scientific American:

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty — above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution — or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter — they are not expressing reservations about its truth. In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as ‘true.'” The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling. All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists’ conclusions less certain.

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5 Responses

  1. Now how do you expect to attract GenJ adherents posting such utter blasphemy?? :)

    Actually, I wonder if this election could provide national exposure to the “teach the controversy” scheme, as so many people don’t seem to be aware of it. Or, am I being a pollyanna?

    Love the quote from the LA Times article:
    At some point, too, she’ll have to face the formidable Joe Biden — veteran chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — in a debate sure to hone in on her utter lack of experience with foreign policy and national security issues. If she isn’t careful, Palin could emerge from that encounter looking a lot like Dan Quayle in drag.

    Funny, I have thinking the same thing today.. well, without the Dan Quayle in drag part :P
    (shudder)

  2. You, Pollyanna?? Pshaw!

    I actually think Biden has to be more careful than she does. It will be so easy to make a meal out of her, he has to make sure he doesn’t look mean and nasty doing it, especially because she’s come across — in my first glimpses of her — as considerably more competent than Quayle ever did, even at the beginning before he started spelling. No doubt she presents very well, and she’s a take-no-nonsense sort too. Biden will have to be well-mannered without being condescending.

    These next few weeks, as everyone learns more about Palin, should be interesting.

  3. This is the same gal who supports abstinence-only sex-ed and is now about to become a grandmother at 44. I think she needs to have a little sit-down with science and reality — preferably far from the halls of power.

  4. I hardly know what to say — it’s all so disheartening. I live and work right where the Republican Convention is, and I feel like I live in a police state, there are cops everywhere, helicopters circling. It is sickening. But McCain chose a gal, how neato!

  5. Casey, maybe there should be a science litmus test. But never in my lifetime, sigh…

    Mary Lou, condolences on the convention in your backyard. I think it might be fun one of these days to attend one, but not to live nearby with all the security and hoopla. Oy.

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