Representativeness

Last night, Mike Hout, creationist nuclear engineer from NASA, was on campus to explain why evolution was religion, not science. So I had to go and waste two hours of my life, naturally.

The was nothing new about it. (I should stop hoping I will come across new and interesting forms of nonsense very often.) But the nature of the presentation made me think again that our difficulties with creationism cannot be overcome through better science education. The deeper problem with Hout’s variety of creationism is not getting the occasional fact wrong. It is having no sense of what is properly representative and what is not. And that pathology of argument goes way beyond creationism. Practically every mindless citation of “studies” or statistics, every hack advocacy-argument does it.

As long as people select their set of “facts” and arguments to fit their position, without regard to whether they are properly representative, we will have creationist propagandists. And as long as their audience has deficient skills in seeing the warning signs of advocacy-driven selectivity in the presentation of evidence, the propagandists will be successful.

And I’m not sure a secondary-education science class is the best place to address this, often because students have to acquire a significant technical background before understanding real scientific debates. I would imagine that detecting nonrepresentative advocacy-argumentation would be a skill developed even better in a history or philosophy course.

But the way our education policy is going, we’re more likely to have resources going into the memorize-the-bloody-facts variety of “science” course than the supposedly “soft” humanities that have a better chance in nudging people toward thinking scientifically.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13562135000111792590 RBH

    The deeper problem with Hout's variety of creationism is not getting the occasional fact wrong. It is having no sense of what is properly representative and what is not. And that pathology of argument goes way beyond creationism. Practically every mindless citation of "studies" or statistics, every hack advocacy-argument does it.

    That's a description of proof texting, a ubiquitous practice among hack advocates and propagandists, and (as I know you know) it is very common in fundamentalist Christian circles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10817974804323066290 shreddakj

    Perhaps the partial solution would be to teach logic and philosophy to some extent in highschools?


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