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September 11, 2008

Science expert calls for the discussion of pseudoscience

by Feòrag

United Kingdom: The Royal Society's Director of Education thinks that discussing pseudoscientific bollocks in science lessons will interest children in science.

The Rev Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said that excluding alternatives to scientific explanations for the origin of life and the universe from science lessons was counterproductive and would alienate some children from science altogether.

He said that around one in 10 children comes from a family with creationist beliefs. My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science, he said.

I think he'll find that more children come from households where astrology is treated as credible, but I don't see him calling for that to be taught. Reiss, it turns out, is an ordained minister. The Guardian quickly found a couple of actual working scientists to point out his folly, both suggesting that religious studies classes were a more appropriate place to be discussing religion:

Science lessons are not the appropriate place to discuss creationism, which is a world view in total denial of any form of scientific evidence, said Dr John Fry, a physicist at the University of Liverpool.

He said challenging evolution scientifically was appropriate in school science classes. But he added: Creationism doesn't challenge science, it denies it.

Personally, I think if we want to interest children in science, we should show them episodes of Mythbusters., especially the ones where they blow stuff up. If you want to be really scientific, you can show the ones where they re-visit myths as a result of criticism. Ideally with large explosions.

Teachers should tackle creationism, says science education expertThe Guardian, 11th Spetember 2008.

Posted in Science Fiction at 18:14. Last modified on September 11 2008 at 18:27.
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1: Posted by: Chris | September 11, 2008 10:19 PM

People seem to like sneering at Mythbusters. Dunno why, I'm a working scientist and I love it. As do quite a few of my friends.

Large explosions definitely recommended for the younger viewer.

2: Posted by: Feòrag | September 11, 2008 10:21 PM

The main complaint I see is that they did something wrong in a test. The complainer is usually unaware that they pay attention to the fan forums, both the official one and the MBFC, and regularly revisit myths where people have criticised their methods. Which is, of course, good science.

3: Posted by: A Voice of Sanity | September 12, 2008 5:58 AM

This would be a wonderful opportunity to teach children about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and his wonderful noodliness and delicious meatballs. Surely all of the healthy pasta dishes are made in his mighty image. And children love pirates so we could also show them what is causing global warming.

4: Posted by: Feòrag | September 12, 2008 10:55 AM

And let us not forget that Earth was built by the Magaratheans, to a specification provided by the white mice, as a giant computer to determine exactly what the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is.

5: Posted by: Alastair McKinstry | September 13, 2008 6:29 PM

The Royal Society quickly sent out a clarification:


The Royal Society is opposed to creationism being taught as science. Some media reports have misrepresented the views of Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Society expressed in a speech yesterday.

Professor Reiss has issued the following clarification. "Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility."

The society remains committed to the teaching of evolution as the best explanation for the history of life on earth. This position was highlighted in the Interacademy Panel statement on the teaching of evolution issued in June 2006.

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