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Science!

On Tuesday, when people in my company gathered to listen to the inaugural address, one particular sentence caused a small number of us to applaud and cheer.

Actually, it was just a fraction of a sentence.

As soon as President Obama had said, "We will restore science to its rightful place," those of us in the science department cheered, much to the amusement of the folks in the other departments.

The sad truth is that science has been under attack in this country over the past few years. I don't really want to revisit all the attacks right now; for anyone interested, there are plenty of articles and books on the subject. I will remind people that in 2004, a group of scientists – including 20 Nobel laureates – issued a statement pointing out the distortion of scientific facts that had been presented to the American people by the government. These distortions had mostly been made with the sole goal of supporting government policies that would have made no sense in the light of scientific facts.

But that light is beginning to show through the cracks. In the article Scientists Welcome Obama's Words, the reporters note that the scientific community is hopeful for policies which acknowledge that science must come before policy.

And in other news, the Texas Board of Education has voted to remove discussion of evolution's '"strengths weaknesses" in their science standards. The phrase "strengths and weaknesses" is a code word among anti-evolutionists to try yet again to sneak religion into science class, and I'm delighted that Texas is finally doing the right thing....after twenty years.

Whenever I hear about suppression of science, or the attempts to sneak pseudoscience into science classes, I am always reminded of Richard Feynman's words as a member of the Challenger commission: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."

Unfortunately, people can be fooled, which is why we must always remain vigilant.

Comments

Fascinating. However, my brief read of the article indicates that it's a question of how traits are inherited by offspring, and not an attack on the idea that evolution itself functions. Lamarck himself also accepted the inheritance of traits, but his model of how traits were inherited differed from Darwin's.

In short, the water flea example does nothing to discredit evolution, although it may indicate factors other than natural selection sometimes affecting the inheritance of traits.

(I remember when we studied Lamarck in class, that our teacher had an excellent example of something that discredited Lamarck's mechanism. If traits were passed down by simple changes in morphology, then Jewish boys at this point in time would be born pre-circumcised.)
An attack, no, but I did feel like it was adding something new and interesting. As you say, indicating factors other than natural selection.

In a way it may even tie in with the nature-vs.-nurture debate, though I think I've made myself look silly enough for one thread and am not especially in the mood to post thoughts on that without thinking about it long and hard!

And that's a cute example. ;-) My teacher went with the more standard giraffe example.

Speaking of my teacher, as I recall the book he selected for his class had the simple statement that, "Not everyone believes in evolution. People of some religions believe that all species were created by God." I didn't think much about it at the time, though of course I noticed it. Would that statement be something you'd object to, or are the statements you find troubling more thorough?
Would that statement be something you'd object to, or are the statements you find troubling more thorough?

That's a difficult question to answer. I mean, I believe in God, and I believe that evolution is the mechanism God set up to create species. But I don't believe that statement belongs in a science class.

You see, evolution isn't something one "believes" in. It's like saying that I "believe in" Newtonian physics, or Einstein's theory of gravity.

If you're interested in more on this topic, can I recommend the book "Finding Darwin's God" by Kenneth Miller? Miller is an evolutionary biologist and a devout Catholic who testified at the Dover PA case a few years ago. You can find his testimony at http://www.toarchive.org/faqs/dover/day1am.html#day1am103 . It's fascinating stuff.
Thanks! I shall put it on my reading list. I may try to have another crack at Darwin. I like to consider myself an educated layman when it comes to science, and it bothers me that I haven't yet read some very important works in the topic.
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