Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Toying with the Truth in Science - part 2

In my last post I started to cover the letter sent to all UK schools and colleges in September 2006 along with the DVD materials. In this post we will finish off the detailed analysis of the letter.

The third paragraph starts like this;

Intelligent Design is frequently menioned in news and scientific media, but most current school textbooks do not equip pupils to be informed participants in the discussion.

Well now, is ID frequently mentioned in the press? Yes it is mentioned from time to time there is some discussion, most of it by extremely well respected scientists saying that ID is basically rubbish. Is it mentioned frequently? How long is a piece of string? In any case there is far far less coverage in the UK than in the US. In fact you get far more press space taken up with Astrology, stories about UFO's, psychics and the like but no one seriously suggests that they should be covered by school science text books.

I analyse the odd ID article myself on my own blog from time to time. You really don't need letters after your name to pull the arguments apart and expose the emptiness of the ID claims.

Anyway we are discussing the issue, "Is ID mentioned in the press?", we are discussing it because the TiS letter seems to be implying that something which is being discussed in the press should be covered in school textbooks. They don't say why this should be so.

When you stop to think about it - there is no actual reason why this should be so. The contents of our textbooks depends upon the contents of the curriculum, it does not and should not depend upon the daily press.

What about the scientific media? Well I can only find reference to 9 peer reviewed papers on ID. There are tens of thousands on evolution. Of these 9 ID papers, 8 don't even publish any original research. This should not be a surprise from a "theory of ID" which simply states that sometime, somewhere, somebody intelligent designed something for no apparent reason. The ID papers all have very weak, if any, peer review and the one which does include some research does not actually address design at all.

More details on these papers can be found here.

So is ID a suitable subject for school science text books because it is in the news and scientific media?


By the way, while we are on the subject of scientific controversies, just think for a moment about the many fields where various hypothesis or theories are nowhere near as widely accepted as evolution theory is. Do various groups of scientists who favour minority views in their fields send DVD packs to high schools as part of the scientific debate? No, they do research and publish papers and try to win the debate by providing evidence. That is how science works and the fact that ID proponents don't follow this at all is another reason why this is not science.

Anyway, the letter goes on to say;

In February 2005, Lord Filkin, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the DfES, named Intelligent Design as a theory that could be discussed in schools (Hansard, House of Lords Written Answer 21 Feb 2005). We consider this to be one of the most important scientific issues that students can consider, and we are sending this letter and resource pack to every secondary school and college in the United Kingdom.

Well if that is what the government wants they who am I to argue? Hang on though. They say Lord Filkin said it "could be discussed", what does this mean? I believe in free speech, I think schools and students should be able to discuss anything they like. What exactly would a minister say could not be discussed in UK schools? Let's look carefully at what TiS have done here; they have jumped straight from "could be discussed" to claiming justification for sending out packs of materials for science classes.

If you have read the rest of this blog then you probably know what I am going to discuss next. If you haven't read it then you might anyway be thinking that February 2005 to September 2006 is a long time for nothing else to be said by the government on this subject, and you would be right.

In fact the government has actually said quite a bit more since then, the only thing is, what was said doesn't support the mangled version of reality that TiS are pushing. So guess what? They conveniently chose to ignore these further comments from the Minister for Schools.

Here they are;

Thank you for your letter of 21 March addressed to Ruth Kelly enclosing correspondence from your constituent, Cambridge about the teaching of creationism in the GCSE curriculum. I am replying as the Minister responsible for this area of education.
The science programme of study is statutory and indicates what must be taught, it does not list what should not be taught as such a list would inevitably become prohibitively long. Creationism and intelligent design are not included in either the present science programme of study or the revised science programme of study, to be implemented in September 2006.
The purpose of the science programme of study for key stage 4 is to enable young people to develop their understanding of science as a subject discipline ("how science works"), together with the skills and knowledge to make appropriate decisions about science as it affects their lives now and in the future.
The present science programme of study indicates that pupils should be taught:
that the fossil record is evidence for evolution, (Sc2.3h)
how variation and selection may lead to evolution or to extinction, (Sc2.3j)
how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence [for example Darwin's theory of evolution]. (Sc1.1b)
The scientific controversy referred to in the programme of study is that arising from Darwin's rejection of existing scientific theories based on the evidence he had collected. An example of such a theory is inheritance of acquired characteristics supported, among others, by the French scientist Lamark and based on the available scientific evidence at the time.
Creationism cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations. It belongs in a different realm of knowledge, that of religion.
In Religious Education (RE) lessons pupils could work from unit 9B in the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority/Department for Education and Skills scheme of work for RE, which explores where the universe came from. This unit investigates the ways in which science and religion are often perceived to be in conflict. It asks whether they can aid each other, and so facilitate learning about and from religion.
The use of the word "theory" can mislead those not familiar with science as a domain of knowledge because it is different from the everyday meaning. In science the meaning is much less tentative and indicates a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations, and accepted by the international scientific community. However, it also signals that all scientific knowledge is considered to be tentative as it can be principle be disproved by new evidence.
Intelligent design is sometimes erroneously advanced as a scientific theory but it has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.
Jacqui Smith, MP (Minister of State for Schools and 14-19 Learners)

After the issue of the packs came to the government's attention, this written answer was given;

Graham Stringer: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what advice he plans to give to schools on the information pack circulated to all schools by Truth in Science.

Jim Knight : It is up to schools to decide what teaching resources they need to help them deliver the national curriculum for science effectively. Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum, the Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum.

The national curriculum for science clearly sets down that pupils should be taught: how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time; the role of the scientific community in validating these changes; variation within species can lead to evolutionary changes; and, similarities and differences between species can be measured and classified.

From this page in Hansard.

The letter goes on to say;

We consider this to be one of the most important scientific issues that students can consider, and are sending this letter and resource pack to every school and college in the United Kingdom.

Well they don't say why they think it is so important. This is because they struggle to do this without using the G-- word. They genuinely, honestly and completely without reason, equate evolution with some kind of lack of moral fibre and spirituality. Yes I know that sounds odd but I will cover more of this in a later Blog and show you what I mean.

The rest of the letter explains that the second DVD is made of of short extracts of the first one and then asks for feedback.

Ok lets quickly summarise;

In September 2006 a letter with two DVDs was sent to every UK High School by Truth in Science.

We have seen that it has a misleading set up. That it contains downright fibs about the scientific context and finally culminates in a quote from a Government minister taken out of context and used to justify sending to schools something which the Government has explicitly rejected as unsuitable for use in schools.

Now I don't agree with everything the government does from time to time. But I do try to conduct myself openly and honestly. Truth in Science do know about the Government statements which say that their packs are not suitable for school use. They deliberately choose not to mention this on their web site, even now, months later, what else can this be but a deliberate attempt to mislead. Talk about a lack of moral fibre.

These relevant and straightforward facts reveal "Truth in Science" as an organisation which conveniently ignores such facts when they don't suit them. Not a lot of Truth in Truth in Science so far.

If you think that this kind of behaviour is both annoying and duplicitous just wait until we start to look at their "scientific claims".

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