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April 29, 2003

MEDIEVAL....Andrew Stuttaford today in The Corner:

All this talk about ancient science reminds me of a story I read some years ago in the Economist quoting a report that looked at the level of scientific knowledge held by the UK's teachers (excluding, I presume, science teachers). The conclusion? Depressing. Significant portions of the scientific wisdom of the late medieval era (Sun goes round the Earth and so on) were still believed by a substantial proportion of the nation's "educators."

This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. Do teachers, for example, believe that heavy objects fall faster than light ones? Maybe — especially since it's perfectly true on any planet with an atmosphere. But do they believe that the sun revolves around the earth? I think not.

I don't doubt that there are problems with our educational system, but it's shrill "can you believe that our kids don't know [blank]?!?" stuff like this that gets big headlines but completely poisons any reasonable discourse.

I don't suppose there's anyone out there who knows which study Stuttaford is talking about? Hopefully I won't have to eat my words about this....

UPDATE: John Derbyshire agrees that this is horrific. This is from the same guy who told us just the other day that he didn't really care if his mechanic — or his president — believed in evolution.

UPDATE 2: I just got back from lunch and read the comments, and I guess I'd better clear something up. My throwaway line about heavy vs. light objects was meant to refer to the fact that given two otherwise identical objects, the light one will generally fall more slowly due to air resistance. That's all.

And speaking of physics oddities, did you know that the kilogram is a measure of mass while the pound is a measure of weight (i.e., force)? I have not yet succeeded in persuading my mother of this.

Posted by Kevin Drum at April 29, 2003 12:25 PM | TrackBack


Comments


This is the kind of thing that drives me nuts. Do teachers, for example, believe that heavy objects fall faster than light ones? Maybe — especially since it's perfectly true on any planet with an atmosphere. But do they believe that the sun revolves around the earth? I think not.

This is not true. More massive objects will fall faster than less massive ones near the surface of the earth, if we neglect air resistance.

As for overall science awareness, I wouldn't put it past too many teachers to actually believe that the sun revolves the earth.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

All I know is that after studying Ptolemy I find it a lot easier to understand things like equinoxes and seasons in the Earth=Center of the Universe model.

Therefore, the Sun revolves around the Earth.

Posted by: Jesse at April 29, 2003 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I should temper my statement: I wouldn't put it past too many teachers who don't have enough backround in science to believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

According to the latest NSF Science And Engineering Indicators (2002) 86% of men and 66% of women knew that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Also, I would blame some of our conservative friends for the general poor state of secondary school and high school science education in America today. Cutting money from the US Department of Education and pushing ID creationism seem to be their main contributions.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Derbyshire's column really pissed me off. Yes, if I had to choose between a mechanic who was good at his job and didn't believe in evolution, and the converse, I would choose the former. So what?

Believing in evolution is not some esoteric, isolated matter of geology and biology with no consequences for normal life. For one thing, the habits of mind that science teaches *do* affect how you process data and draw conclusions, whether you're a mechanic or president.

And for another, like Daniel Dennett says, the idea of evolution has enormous consequences for our self-image and our conception of human life. For instance, I don't think anybody who truly understood and believed in evolution could also believe in capital-G Good and capital-E Evil, or believe that there is a God who prefers our way of doing things over theirs.

Plus, wouldn't we all like a president who's just not fucking ignorant?

Posted by: Realish at April 29, 2003 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

You can view on the portion of the Report entitled "How Well Do Our Students Perform in Mathematics and Science?" here.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 12:54 PM | PERMALINK


For instance, I don't think anybody who truly understood and believed in evolution could also believe in capital-G Good and capital-E Evil, or believe that there is a God who prefers our way of doing things over theirs.

I would disagree, citing both Kenneth Miller and Theodosius Dobzhansky as examples.

However, I would still agree that evolution can challenge people's religious beliefs and their concept of God.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Having been around for a while, one of the biggest changes that I have seen in American culture throughout my life is the denigration of education and "expertness" in general. When a person is exposed as a scholar or expert today, that is almost considered an insult and that person's opinion is downgraded accordingly. That was not the case in the '50s. Educated people were given their due and listened to respectfully. We should not expect learning and knowledge to prosper in an environment of faith based science and anti-scholarship.

Posted by: pamur at April 29, 2003 01:00 PM | PERMALINK

Have a look at the Daily Howler today. He blasts hand-wringing over education.

Posted by: hamletta at April 29, 2003 01:02 PM | PERMALINK

Anyway, if anyone wanted to say that tests are not the best way to determine scientific literacy or acheivement for science students, I would probably agree. The number of young people actually engaging in scientific pursuits and research would probably be a better guage. There are some young people in America who have a passion for science, and who do perform research. These are good examples here and here. Also see here. But I would say that the number of young people who are involved in these endeavors is very small, unfortunately.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:11 PM | PERMALINK

Do heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones on planets with atmospheres? I thought denser objects fell faster than less dense ones. Compare a penny to a really, really big sheet of paper.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias at April 29, 2003 01:12 PM | PERMALINK

The Daily Howler report deals with literacy and reading skills, not science.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:13 PM | PERMALINK

However, I would still agree that evolution can challenge people's religious beliefs and their concept of God.

That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Everyone should have their beliefs challenged every once in a while. I've known far too many religious fundamentalists that are hostile to the idea of learning about other religions. That's how we end up with a government full of peoiple who believe that Jonah was really swallowed by a whale.

I've done a couple posts about evolution here and here. In short, I think it's a travesty that curriculum choices are being made by people who don't fully udnerstand the subjects they're making decisions about. If legislators, school board members, or teachers don't fully understand the scientific method, the basic history of science, and many of the most fundamental laws and theories in science, then they have no business making decisions about science classes.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 01:14 PM | PERMALINK


Do heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones on planets with atmospheres? I thought denser objects fell faster than less dense ones. Compare a penny to a really, really big sheet of paper.

Mr. Yglesias, I thought you went to Harvard, that Crown Jewel of the Ivy League? Shouldn't you know? Don't they require you to take two semesters of calculus based physics there?

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:16 PM | PERMALINK


You can view on the portion of the Report entitled "How Well Do Our Students Perform in Mathematics and Science?" here.

No, you can view it here.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:19 PM | PERMALINK

Do heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones on planets with atmospheres? I thought denser objects fell faster than less dense ones. Compare a penny to a really, really big sheet of paper.

Wind friction aside, I believe Kevin was trying to make the point that every teacher should know that gravity has an equal pull on all objects, regardless of their weight or mass. Maybe the teachers and students should be watching more Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye and less VeggieTales.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 01:19 PM | PERMALINK

If there's no air resistance, the mass of the object is irrelevant -- they all fall at the same speed. If there is air resistance (which is what Drum was alluding to, I suspect, by mentioning "atmosphere"), then the more massive object falls faster. The whole discussion of density is kind of a non-sequiter. It only comes into play if the two objects are identical in size and shape, in which case the more massive one also by definition is denser.

Posted by: Physicist at April 29, 2003 01:22 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad someone (physicist) finally corrected Joey Bushey. Bushey's statement "More massive objects will fall faster than less massive ones near the surface of the earth, if we neglect air resistance" is false. In the absence of air resistance, objects will fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass.

Posted by: Don P at April 29, 2003 01:29 PM | PERMALINK


This is not true. More massive objects will fall faster than less massive ones near the surface of the earth, if we neglect air resistance.

Okay, this statement that I made is problematic. Near the surface of the earth, all objects will fall at nearly the same rate, disregarding air resistance. This was the supposed result of Galileo's famous "dropping cannon balls off the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa" experiment. My apologies for the confusion.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:31 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you Physicist for correcting me.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:32 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget that all objects exert gravitational pull, thus if you put a Moon-massed ball ten feet above Illinois and a football ten feet above China, the Moon ball would hit the earth faster, because it pulls the earth just as the earth pulls it. Right? Physics was a long time ago, but I do remember that all the "two balls fall at the same rate" stuff assumes that the planet to which they are attracted is billions of times heavier than the balls, so that their own attractive force approaches zero. Or something.

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh at April 29, 2003 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

True, Mr. Murtaugh, but the gravitational of falling objects on the earth itself is usually neglected as it is usually trivial.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:38 PM | PERMALINK

To help Matt out, wind resistance (in the presence of an atmosphere) is emphatically NOT constant between objects of various shapes and composition, and that is why your penny falls faster than a heavier piece of paper.

Posted by: Andrew Lazarus at April 29, 2003 01:38 PM | PERMALINK

True, Mr. Murtaugh, but the gravitational forces that falling objects exert on the earth itself are usually neglected as they are most often trivial.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 01:40 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, I think you could have explained that better, physicist. It's not necessarily the more massive object that falls faster. A paratrooper weighs more than a pencil, but drop both out of an airplane and see which one lands first. Or consider a paratrooper with his chute open versus one with his chute unopened. The only thing that affects rate of descent has to do with aerodynamics, not mass or density. Drop a bowling ball and a penny from the same height and both will land at the same time. (The paper/penny comparison has to do with surface area, not density. Crumple that piece of paper, and it will fall at the same rate. Or if you think about the holes from a hole puncher, picture dropping one of those and a penny at the same time.)

Posted by: scott h. at April 29, 2003 01:43 PM | PERMALINK

Derbyshire is living proof that mathematical talent does not translate into other fields of endeavor.

I have rarely read anything as grotesquely awful as the piece he wrote on evolution. If I'm incredibly lucky, I never will again.

Of course, I'm open to the possibility that a different kind of proof was at work when he wrote that little anti-masterpiece. But I think even stone cold sober he wouldn't know merde from shinola.

Posted by: tristero at April 29, 2003 01:46 PM | PERMALINK

Amazing how all the nit-pickers can get a throw away line wrong on a piece about scientific understanding. That said, let me try my hand (fingers crossed):
The acceleration of objects would be the same without atmosphere. The actual force on objects is stronger(relative to their mass) so with atmospheres you also have to take into account air resistance. Kevin was generally right in that other things being equal, on earth heavier items fall faster. Density would be the defining factor in objects of the same shape. You must be careful even in Newtonian physics.

Posted by: theCoach at April 29, 2003 01:49 PM | PERMALINK

This statement by "greg" also is false:
"Wind friction aside, I believe Kevin was trying to make the point that every teacher should know that gravity has an equal pull on all objects, regardless of their weight or mass."
Gravity most definitely does NOT have an "equal pull" on all objects. The gravitational force increases with the mass of the object. What is equal is the acceleration rate caused by the varying gravitational forces.
"Murtaugh" is sort of correct, I think. The Moon over Illinois would collide with the Earth faster than the football over China, but only because the Earth would move appreciably toward the Moon as well. It has nothing to do with the acceleration rates of the Moon and the football -- they are the same. So you could still say that a Moon dropped over Illinois and football dropped over China would accelerate toward the Earth at the same rate (and that rate near the surface of the Earth is g, 9.80 m/s-squared.)

Sorry be such a school marm, but this is a thread about educational standards ...

Posted by: physicist at April 29, 2003 01:54 PM | PERMALINK


Sorry be such a school marm, but this is a thread about educational standards ...

No, you're right Physicist. Thanks for the quick refresher.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 02:03 PM | PERMALINK

I think we are getting away from the issue at hand.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 02:07 PM | PERMALINK

If the moon left Baltimore on a train traveling at 60mph...

Posted by: Realish at April 29, 2003 02:13 PM | PERMALINK

physicist - not quite, as the pull would be stronger as the items get closer(9.8/s/s is an aproximation), and since they did so faster (because of the effect that you mentioned) the stronger pull would hapen sooner, making it's speed [insignificantly] faster.
Back to the original question, I too would like to see the study. The Sun does go around the Earth, in a similar way that a stone falls faster than a feather, but if the question is the more physics-related one, it is the Earth that orbits the Sun. So, I would bet if you asked teachers the question, said they would win $100,000 if they got it right:
Does the Earth orbit the Sun, or the Sun orbit the Earth? - I would be very suprised if most teachers - high 90s did not get it right.

Posted by: theCoach at April 29, 2003 02:18 PM | PERMALINK

No matter how bad public schools may or may not be, I'm sure that we'll never hear any useful proposals from conservatives about reforming property tax-based public school funding. Their solutions tend to be along the lines of "tear 'em all down and send the kids to St. Swiffen's (or the salt mines)."

One might find a few well-to-do lefties hidden among that chorus as well...

Posted by: Cretin at Sparta at April 29, 2003 02:21 PM | PERMALINK

True, Mr. Murtaugh, but the gravitational forces that falling objects exert on the earth itself are usually neglected as they are most often trivial.

The mass of the Earth is approximately 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg. For any object likely to be observed falling near the surface of the Earth, "trivial" is an understatement when describing the neglected forces.

Posted by: Chad Orzel at April 29, 2003 02:22 PM | PERMALINK

Oh so many things to respond to.

As a Catholic, I don't believe in creationism and neither does the Catholic Church. However, evolution the way it is taught in some places contains a few leaps of faith too. Schools seem incapable of teaching "we don't know" when it comes to some scientific theories. It would help to teach "we know this because . . . and we theorize this because . . ." Otherwise, teaching a theory leaves an opening for others to insist on their theory.

The weasel word in the quote is "substantial proportion". When it comes to believing in the Sun go around the earth, one is too substantial a portion. We really don't know how many and we don't know if of all those who believe in some medievel theory, none picked the Sun go round the earth and most of them picked the gravity is a magnetic force theory.

I watched the "Yes, Dear" sitcom last night where the dumb parent went to sixth grade science and did not know that density not mass caused the rock to sink and the wood to float. Both my children knew that. It made sense but it would have be a long time before my brain came up with "density" as the answer.

Most children come across a bad teacher or two in their career, whether its because of lack of knowledge or because their interpersonal skills were lacking. The Calblog twins have had teachers whose mistakes would shock you and which I won't post in public but somehow they managed to learn things in those classes. I'm actually more concerned about teachers who use yelling as a form of communicating.

I know I show my conservative stripes when I mention that parents are the most important educators but really, most school mistakes are easily corrected with the opening of an encyclopedia. And its so empowering to children to realize teachers aren't perfect.

Posted by: Justene at April 29, 2003 02:23 PM | PERMALINK

The information for the survey is here. It does not give a survey methodology, unfortunately.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 02:27 PM | PERMALINK


However, evolution the way it is taught in some places contains a few leaps of faith too.

I don't understand this statment. But I would agree with what you said here:


I know I show my conservative stripes when I mention that parents are the most important educators but really, most school mistakes are easily corrected with the opening of an encyclopedia. And its so empowering to children to realize teachers aren't perfect.

Science is a good way for children to learn to be less trusting of so-called authority figures.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 02:31 PM | PERMALINK

Otherwise, teaching a theory leaves an opening for others to insist on their theory.

But creationism isn't a theory it's a hypothesis.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 02:31 PM | PERMALINK

Well, there isn't a lot of "I don't know" to teach when it comes to the central fact that evolution is occurring and has been for many billions of years. What is still being debated and studied and theorized about are the mechanisms by which evolution occurs. That is a scientific debate about which many scientists are happy to say: "we don't know for sure, but here are the leading contenders." When you say you don't believe in evolution, you can't even have this discussion.
As disappointed as I am that my president doesn't "believe" in evolution, and as put off as I am by Derbyshire's horrendous style of argumentation, I guess I sort of have to agree with him that, all things considered, it doesn't matter that much what Bush thinks about the origins of life. As long as as the pertinent people at NASA, at the National Science Foundation, at the Institutes of Health, etc., don't share his stance, then we'll all be OK. I haven't noticed any attempt by Bush to appoint creationists to top scientific posts, so it hasn't really mattered.

Posted by: physicist at April 29, 2003 02:32 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't noticed any attempt by Bush to appoint creationists to top scientific posts, so it hasn't really mattered.

Yeah, but his views on global warming, birth control, homosexuals, etc. have directly influenced his policies. People as powerful as President Bush shouldn't be ignorant and superstitious.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 02:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well, *technically*.....

The gravitational force exerted between two objects is F = Gm1m2/r^2 (the same force is exerted on each mass). Force is just mass times acceleration, so m1a1 = m2a2 = gm1m2/r^2; a1 = gm2/r^2 and a2 = gm1/r^2. Since the question is "how long until the objects collide," you'll need the total acceleration, a1+a2 = g/r^2 * (m1+m2).

The mass of the earth is around 6 x 10^24 kg. The difference between the total acceleration of the earth and a 10 kg bowling ball vs. that of the earth and a 100 kg bowling ball is entirely about the earth moving towards the bowling balls, and they're so blasted small that the amount is virtually virtually zero.

So it's an extremely accurate approximation to say that in a vacuum, two small objects will collide with the earth in the same amount of time. As the physicist says, though, the earth's atmosphere makes this all pretty wonky.

Posted by: Jason McCullough at April 29, 2003 02:42 PM | PERMALINK

Let me clarify. The objection to evolution from creationism is that "man is descended from apes" when my limited understanding of evolution is more like man and apes are descended from a common ancestor and that we don't really have clear evidence of all the links. So when evolution scientists find new evidence that suggests a different lineage, creationists stupidly (and I emphasize stupidly) suggest it disproves the evolution theory or hypothesis. (greg, I wouldn't mind an explanation of the difference between theory and hypothesis and I'm not being snide).

When my daughters were studying early man, there was an article in that month's Discover magazine about a new find and we pulled out the magazine and compared it to the textbook and talked about why the difference. I suspect I got more out of that exercise than they did. (Eww, Mom assigns extra homework.) I doubt the parents demanding that creationism be taught are doing anywhere near that level of analysis.

Posted by: Justene at April 29, 2003 02:43 PM | PERMALINK


As disappointed as I am that my president doesn't "believe" in evolution, and as put off as I am by Derbyshire's horrendous style of argumentation, I guess I sort of have to agree with him that, all things considered, it doesn't matter that much what Bush thinks about the origins of life. As long as as the pertinent people at NASA, at the National Science Foundation, at the Institutes of Health, etc., don't share his stance, then we'll all be OK. I haven't noticed any attempt by Bush to appoint creationists to top scientific posts, so it hasn't really mattered.

They say that the Presidency can be a "Bully Pulpit", so he might be able to influence some people ("If the president believes it, it must be true...", a la WMD in Iraq). Also, on another note, most of the nation's educational standards/policy are made by local school boards/state education boards. Just think about the Kansas Creationism scandal back in 1998 or the more recent Ohio Science Standard affair last year.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 02:44 PM | PERMALINK


When my daughters were studying early man, there was an article in that month's Discover magazine about a new find and we pulled out the magazine and compared it to the textbook and talked about why the difference. I suspect I got more out of that exercise than they did. (Eww, Mom assigns extra homework.)

Excellent! This is exactly what parents should be doing with their children. Science is not static and sometimes (in fact a lot of times) textbooks are wrong.


I doubt the parents demanding that creationism be taught are doing anywhere near that level of analysis.

Actually, they are probably homeschooling their kids.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 02:47 PM | PERMALINK

Leon Kass comes to mind.

Posted by: theCoach at April 29, 2003 02:56 PM | PERMALINK

So when evolution scientists find new evidence that suggests a different lineage, creationists stupidly (and I emphasize stupidly) suggest it disproves the evolution theory or hypothesis.

This kind of evidence is what's fueling the debate in the scientific community about the method of evolution. Creationists generally are more concerned with discrediting evolution than actually offering up a credible theory that supports creationism.

The differences between a hypothesis and a theory are that a hypothesis is an idea offered up to consistently explain scientific phenomena in a way that can be tested (I guess in that way, creationism isn't even a hypothesis). A theory on the other hand is a hypothesis that has been thoroughly tested and can be used as a framework within which observations are explained and predictions are made. The reason evolution has passed this test is because all available scientific evidence supports the fact that evolution happened. In order for creationism (or any other hypothesis) to gain scientific acceptance, it needs to be testable, falsifiable, and adequately explain all previous theories.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 02:57 PM | PERMALINK

The lack of understanding of science among teachers is and has been a serious problem. I know I'm not alone in having felt terrible after getting into arguments with my teachers (who others in the class usually sided with) about mistaken points of science they were trying to teach. This was in the '50's and '60's; I'm pretty sure the teachers I had were smarter and better educated on average than the teachers my children later had in the '80's, mainly because teaching used to be one of the few professions acceptable for women.

Two examples (out of many): I got called in for a scolding by my guidance counselor for correcting my 7th grade science teacher about the phases of the moon. She claimed that they were caused by the shadow of the earth (which for some reason at least 95% of Americans believe) rather than the fact that the sun is shining on the moon from different angles relative to us. Any kid can learn the correct explanation, but not unless it's explained. In 5th grade, I tried to correct my teacher when she told the class that the speed of light is the same as the speed of sound. It's not as if these are difficult things to get right, just that most teachers don't know and don't understand this stuf, because they were taught in the same way they're teaching.

It does real harm to be taught subjects without understanding, for a couple of reasons. First, when the informaton that is presented doesn't fit together and doesn't make sense, then people tend to deal with it abstractly, by memorizing it for the tests but not integrating it into their thinking. Second, it's much easier to teach something correctly from scratch than to teach it to people who have learned the subject in a faulty way. It's often *not* better to accelerate the curriculum, for this very reason.

Posted by: Bill Thurston at April 29, 2003 02:58 PM | PERMALINK

There's a really great explanation of the scientific method here.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 03:03 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know for sure that this is true (childhood memories are tricky), but I have a distinct recollection that around 2nd grade I had a math problem that asked "What is 2 - 3" or some such. I answered -1, because my father had just recently told me about negative numbers and I thought they were pretty cool.

Needless to say, I got the problem wrong. You're not allowed to subtract a bigger number from a smaller one....

(I guess my teacher had never bounced a check.)

Posted by: Kevin Drum at April 29, 2003 03:07 PM | PERMALINK


Needless to say, I got the problem wrong. You're not allowed to subtract a bigger number from a smaller one....

Says who? It's my understanding that negative numbers are quite important...

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 03:11 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, that was just an ironic way of saying "my teacher said that you're not allowed to subtract a bigger number from a smaller one."

She was correct, of course, in the world of normal objects like apples and Lamborghinis, but quite wrong in the broader sense.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at April 29, 2003 03:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty smart. I attend a prestigious university. My test scores are higher than most, and *gasp* I believe that God created the world. I also believe that it involved more than fingering-pointing and nose-twitching and that the Bible contains a story about the creation rather than the physics manual. I also believe that it probably took considerably longer than 6 24 hour days to do it. I have also studied and passed tests on evolutionary theory. The problem isn't that the President doesn't believe in evolution. The problem is that the President has a small mind and clings to archaic beliefs without ever challenging them.

Posted by: edunbar at April 29, 2003 03:30 PM | PERMALINK

Ask Mom about Pounds per square inch, and why no one has ever heard of Kilograms per square inch.

Posted by: Joseph at April 29, 2003 03:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Yeah, but his views on global warming, birth control, homosexuals, etc. have directly influenced his policies."

There isn't a scientific concensus akin to that of evolution on any of your listed topics. So the analogy is a bit strained.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at April 29, 2003 03:45 PM | PERMALINK

Does Bush not believe in evolution? I have never heard this. Can someone point out where he says this?

Posted by: theCoach at April 29, 2003 03:48 PM | PERMALINK

"The problem isn't that the President doesn't believe in evolution. The problem is that the President has a small mind and clings to archaic beliefs without ever challenging them."


Hmm, well, one could make a strong case that a failure to accept evolution is the same thing as clinging to archaic beliefs.
My point above that it doesn't really matter that much if the president clings to some cherished archaic beliefs. They've all done it. We all do it (I still believe, despite all evidence, that the Cincinnati Reds are the best team ever.)
My only point is that in the bill of particulars chronicling this president's dangerous failures, lack of belief in evolution is pretty far down the list ...

Posted by: physicist at April 29, 2003 03:52 PM | PERMALINK

Here's an interesting quote from the late Stephen Jay Gould. He says evolution is as much a fact as the Earth revolving around the Sun!

"Evolution is as well documented as any phenomenon in science, as strongly as the earth's revolution around the sun rather than vice versa. In this sense, we can call evolution a "fact." (Science does not deal in certainty, so "fact" can only mean a proposition affirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold one's provisional assent.)"

Posted by: physicist at April 29, 2003 03:58 PM | PERMALINK

There isn't a scientific concensus akin to that of evolution on any of your listed topics. So the analogy is a bit strained.

Just as many religious people have a prejudicial view of evolution (often to the point of refering to scientists as religious "Darwinists"), Bush's personal prejudices against scientific opinion about the cause of global warming, his religious devotion to abstinence over more proven methods of disease and pregancy prevention such as contraception and sex education, and his own homophobia have had direct influences on his policies.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, there is a pound mass. There is also a pound force. Both are referred to as 'a pound'.

Furthermore there are pounds of gold, silver, etc. and pounds of feathers, papers, and meat which are different.

My point being that we should all just forget about pounds, feet and BTUs and just use kilograms, meters and kilowatt-hours.

Posted by: Cheem at April 29, 2003 04:24 PM | PERMALINK

This is off-topic, but I just read the 2nd Derbyshire link, and I can't think of anything in the past week or so that has made me so angry.

Can someone please tell me how the hell right-wingers get away with this idea that they care about the "regular" people, but somehow it's only left-liberals who are "snobs"?

And I really liked the parting shot in which Derbyshire compared people with "character" with "unionized, time-serving drudges", as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive. But, hey, aren't those "drudges" the regular people he so cares about? What a snob.

I pride myself on being diplomatic with everyone, but Derbyshire's just a jerk. Flat out.

Posted by: Brian Schefke at April 29, 2003 04:35 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. I just read Derbyshire's article. It's pretty bad (almost Coulter-esque in parts). I guess I agree with him as far as I think that someone's personal beliefs (however wacky they may be) shouldn't matter most of the time, but there's a huge difference between the irrational beliefs of your mechanic and the President of the United States. If you mechanic has a "Darwin was a lying asshole" button on his lapel, the worst that you have to deal with is a few minutes of awkwardness. When the President believes that creationism should be taught side by side with evolution, we could end up with a situation where every school in the nation is teaching pseudoscience and thinly veiled religious dogma in science classes.

Posted by: greg at April 29, 2003 05:01 PM | PERMALINK

edunbar:

I'm pretty smart. I attend a prestigious university. My test scores are higher than most, and *gasp* I believe that God created the world.

A lot of intelligent and educated people believe various silly things.

Posted by: Don P at April 29, 2003 05:03 PM | PERMALINK

This CNN article from 1999 and this Chatterbox article on Slate by Timothy Noah were the best things I could find about our President's beliefs concerning evolution/creationism.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 05:14 PM | PERMALINK

This quote from is most illustrative

This comment by Bush in a NY Times article back in 2000 is illustrative of the President's thinking:


Characteristically, he does not believe in evolution--he says the jury is still out--but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, "he doesn't really care about that kind of thing."

I guess you were right Physicist, the President doesn't care.

Posted by: Joey Bushey at April 29, 2003 05:26 PM | PERMALINK

Greg: how exactly is "evolution" testable? In the normal sense of scientific verifiability, "testable" would mean we'd have to find another hunk of rock (of exactly the same size as the earth) revolving round a star(again, same characteristics as the sun), put in the same combinations of chemicals, wait a couple of billion years, and see if George W Bush becomes President of the Unites States of America on that hunk of rock. (ok, the last is a bit facetious. But the point is that "evolution" as a hypothesis is not testable the way newtonian physics is).

I use the inverted commas around "evolution" because I'm referring to the - for want of a better word - theory that mankind and life-forms all evolved from unicellular organisms (side note: doesn't explain how the unicellular organisms came into being, which is why you can believe in "evolution" and still be religious).

I'm not referring to the white moth-black moth situation. That proves that mutations CAN happen. It's a bit of a leap from "we know that things can change characteristics across generations" to "things definitely evolved this way". The fact that we CAN evolve does not mean it DID happen, unless the ONLY way it could have happened was by evolution. And that, of course, requires proving a negative, which is going to be ever so difficult. And for that, cross-species evolution is a whole other barrier to cross.

Which means that while "evolution" is the best explanation we've got so far, by no means should be regard it as "fact".

Posted by: Julian at April 29, 2003 07:43 PM | PERMALINK

'two identical objects' would have equal mass ...

anyway, mass does not determine air resistance, shape (and surface, which is really still just shape) does, so two otherwise identical objects with different masses in the same gravitational field will fall at the same rate ....

now, are you as sure galileo was right about the earth going around the sun as you were about galileo being wrong about objects of different masses falling at the same rate ?

Posted by: Gaffer at April 29, 2003 07:50 PM | PERMALINK

"If there's no air resistance, the mass of the object is irrelevant -- they all fall at the same speed. If there is air resistance (which is what Drum was alluding to, I suspect, by mentioning "atmosphere"), then the more massive object falls faster."

I recall one of the Apollo astronauts dropping a feather and hammer on the moon to illustrate Galileo's point.

So, air resistance - anyone up for a discussion of skin drag, pressure drag, and Reynold's numbers?

Posted by: Tom at April 29, 2003 08:21 PM | PERMALINK

Cheem:
Actually, there is a pound mass. There is also a pound force. Both are referred to as 'a pound'.

And the corresponding 'poundal'(force) and 'slug'(mass).

My point being that we should all just forget about pounds, feet and BTUs and just use kilograms, meters and kilowatt-hours.

You were doing fine until the last: joules.
===
Julian:
how exactly is "evolution" testable? In the normal sense of scientific verifiability, "testable" would mean we'd have to find another hunk of rock (of exactly the same size as the earth) revolving round a star(again, same

Evolution makes testable predictions about what we will find when we did up new fossils or develop new data about organisms like DNA. Any new species will fit into the brancing tree of known species. E.g. any dinosaur found will be in Mesozoic strata.

Posted by: Bill Woods at April 29, 2003 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Justene -

The objection to evolution from creationism is that "man is descended from apes" ...

That's just one objection, and it's not limited to religious creationists. In Darwin's day lots of people who had no great problem with the thought of evolution per se bristled at the notion that 'the pinnacle of creation' had such 'lowly' origins. Even Russell Wallace, who shares credit with Darwin for introducing the theory of evolution by natural selection, thought there had to be some kind of divine jiggery-pokery to raise our apelike ancestors to human dignity.

The deeper creationist objection to evolution is twofold. On the more simplistic level, evolution contradicts a literal reading of Genesis. Strict creationists aren't offended only by the evolution of humans; they insist that every 'kind' of organism was specially created by divine act. Hence evolution is unacceptable to somebody for whom a literally inerrant bible is axiomatic. But people made uncomfortable by the thought of evolution aren't necessarily biblical literalists. Many who are not feel threatened nonetheless because they believe evolution, if true, would mean that life is ruled by blind chance and the universe is devoid of purpose.

... when my limited understanding of evolution is more like man and apes are descended from a common ancestor and that we don't really have clear evidence of all the links.

Saying this is fine, if by apes you mean solely our present-day cousins. It would be better, though, to go ahead and say that we are apes, along with our ancestors and those of the chimps, gorillas etc., and so on back to the common ancestor representing the point at which apes split off from the other primates. This statement reflects a school of systematics that, whilst unable to claim literal inerrancy (heh heh), has pretty well established itself. In short, a taxonomic group is valid if it contains a founder species and all its descendants (and no organisms that are not its descendants). It's this view of systematics that's behind the by now well-known assertion that birds are dinosaurs. (Outside of specialist literature, though, descriptions like yours aren't really 'wrong'. After all, we all find 'reptile' a useful category, but strictly speaking 'reptile' is an invalid taxon - it would be valid only if it also included birds and mammals, and in that case would be a mere synonym for 'amniote'.)

BTW, the fossil record of human ancestors, though not perfect (none are), is actually pretty extensive.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at April 30, 2003 02:32 AM | PERMALINK

There is no such thing as gravitational force but rather increased curvature in spacetime near massive objects. The natural state of all objects is free fall. I don't understand why more teachers don't grok this.

Posted by: LowLife at April 30, 2003 04:24 AM | PERMALINK

Is it true that there has to be a minimum population size for a species to survive? If so, the Evolutionist have an almost impossible task of demonstrating that enough individuals from one species will emerge to make a succesive species survive.

All the creationist have to prove is the existence of God.

Posted by: LowLife at April 30, 2003 04:43 AM | PERMALINK

Lowlife,
Certain species have a population threshold, under which it is unlikely they will continue. This is more important with more complicated organisms. And once the creationist proves the existence of God, they also have to figure out which one it is.

Posted by: theCoach at April 30, 2003 05:34 AM | PERMALINK

One of the testable hypotheses of evolutionary theory is antibiotic resistance in disease-causing bacteria.

Evolutionary theory predicts that when a stimulus is lethal to some of a population, the overall population will evolve an immunity to that stimulus over a large span of generations. The hypothesis is that the result of overprescription of antibiotics and the tendency of people to stop taking their medication when they feel better, even if their doctor told them to finish the medication, will provide such a sublethal stimulus and result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Creationism says that God created all creatures a few thousand years ago and has no predictions about adaptations current species will make to changing conditions.

Medical evidence for antibiotic-resistant bacteria is strong enough to fuel major drug company research into new antibiotics. Personally, I think evolutionary theory passes this test and Creationism fails it.

Posted by: Tayefeth at April 30, 2003 05:43 AM | PERMALINK

Proofs for creationalism may include, but is not limited to: a burning bush (unconsumed by the fire), a rod that is transmogrified into a serpent, somebdy's wife turned into a piller of salt. The method of proof helps determine the identity of the deity. For example, if some one is pronounced dead, is placed is a sargophagus for three days then emerges without sueing anybody that would constitude strong evidence for a Christian God.

Revelation is not currently regarded as scientific evidence. If it were we would currently be enjoying the benefits of cold fusion.

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