Sunday, August 14, 2022

Texas board will vote on science in April


Betsy DeVos has funded groups that champion “intelligent design,” and some science teachers think she wants to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools, ProPublica reports.

By a 12-11, straight-party-line vote, Ms DeVos got a favorable nod from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions yesterday, and her nomination is expected to make it to the Senate floor sometime next week, where not a single Democrat is expected to vote in favor of her confirmation as US secretary of education.

Her confirmation is not at all certain, since even a few Republican senators have indicated they don’t fully support her in the lead role at the US Education Department.

At her confirmation hearing, asked if she would support the teaching of “junk science,” she said she supports science teaching that “allows students to exercise critical thinking.”

In this context, “critical thinking” and similar code words mean creationism. Period.

For example, the Texas State Board of Education will vote in April—yes, an actual “vote” will occur—on whether or not to keep certain language in the state standards that requires teachers to teach students to “question” evolution, the Texas Tribune reports.

So they’re still having this debate, as if it were a debate in the first place, in Texas and probably a few other places. Forgive me if I dwell on this for a few paragraphs.

As we reported, evolution is not a theory; it’s a fact. Not an alternative fact, just a plain old fact. It happens. To summarize, when you drop a pencil, it falls to the ground. That’s a fact. A possible explanation of why that happens is gravity, which is a theory, I suppose. Natural selection, which explains how or why evolution happens, is a theory like gravity is a theory.

I realize I’m simplifying this to the bone, but some people in Texas and in the future lead role of the US Education Department still apparently think “evolution” is some sort of open question. So we can debate or vote on whether the Earth is basically spherical, but our opinion doesn’t matter on this question—because it’s not even a question. This is the kind of alternative universe that led the Republican Party to produce a platform before its convention that seemed to endorse teaching the Bible in schools, as reported in the Washington Post.

Here’s another one: climate change. Look, the climate is changing. We can debate about how bad that is or what we should do about it, but climate change is a fact, not a theory or hypothesis. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, asked Ms DeVos about climate change.

On that one, she hid behind her federal role, telling him how the Education Department was prohibited from dictating curriculum. She would therefore “respectfully defer” to other agencies, like the Energy Department. Except that Mr Sanders didn’t actually ask her that question. He just wanted to know if she thought climate change was real. And while we can’t possibly expect our education secretary to have a studied opinion about a scientific phenomenon, we can expect her to answer the question with a simple, “I’m not really an expert on that, Senator.”

Science, like civil rights, really shouldn’t come up for a vote or be subjected to a survey of some sort. Something is either right or wrong—or in the case of theories, either good for predicting most of the phenomena in our world or useless.

Just to be clear, junk science is the useless kind of thing so-called doctors practice at the DeVos-paid-for Neurocore Brain Centers in Michigan or Florida.

For about $2000 per treatment session, people suffering from depression, ADHD, anxiety, or other mental ailments can go in, watch a movie like Frozen, and get shocked whenever their attention starts to drift. This isn’t exactly the kind of therapy that gets published in peer-reviewed journals, the New York Times reports, or that many insurance companies pay for. But enough do, and Ms DeVos makes millions on the venture.

On the side of things that are good for predicting most of the phenomena in our world, we have the theory of gravity. It was all we needed to take us to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

The theory of natural selection is also working reasonably well for us. It has provided us with the science we need to develop medicines like antibiotics against some of our worst diseases. So understanding natural selection saves lives, as we thwart the evolution of bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.

Doing something about climate change would probably save lives as well, although as Ms DeVos said, that is clearly outside the realm of the US Education Department. By the way, most surveys have found that science teachers in US schools aren’t doing a terrific job with the teaching of climate change, anyway, so I’m not sure there’s much the US education secretary, whoever it may be, would be able to do about it at this point.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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