By Casey Luskin
A January, 2011 paper in the journal Science reports results of a survey of how science teachers cover evolution. Titled "Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom," the paper laments that more teachers aren't pushing neo-Darwinian evolution in a dogmatic fashion, even attacking one teacher who dared to suggest, "Students should make up their own minds" on evolution. It even suggests that biology teachers who doubt Darwin should be encouraged "to pursue other careers."
Promoting Institutionalized Discrimination
"Honey, why are you seeking this promotion? Do you really want to swim with us big boys in management? You just stay in your place, sweetie." If such words were spoken to a female employee in any American corporation, she would immediately be entitled to file a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination -- and rightfully so. Such words would also reflect a corporate culture that seeks to marginalize certain employees. This form of institutionalized discrimination would seek to implicitly -- or explicitly -- discourage unwanted individuals from pursuing certain jobs.
With that in mind, what do we make of the fact that the authors of this survey of science teachers quite explicitly admit that they hope to discourage Darwin-doubting student teachers from pursuing careers teaching biology? They write:
(Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, "Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom," Science, Vol. 331:404-405 (January 28, 2011).)
Underreporting Darwin-Doubting Teachers
There were other problems with the survey as well--in particular its methodology would naturally underreport the number of Darwin-doubting teachers. The survey forces teachers to fit into 1 of 3 categories: "Advocates of evolutionary biology," "Advocates of creationism," or "Advocate of neither." According to the survey, 28% of teachers are "Advocates of evolutionary biology," 13% are "Advocates of creationism," and a full 60% are "Advocates of neither." (These are the percentages reported in the survey--odd how they add up to 101%.)
According to the Supporting Online Material, to qualify as an "Advocate of Creationism" under the survey, teachers had to meet two criteria:
The researchers want to push many of the "Advocates of Neither" into the "Advocates of evolutionary biology" category, stating:
The paper seems to miss the two obvious sources of error and bias which would underreport the number of teachers which they shoehorn as "Advocates of creationism." One error comes from artificial selection, and the other stems from natural selection.
Artificial Selection: As noted, the authors of the study are so ardently pro-Darwin-only that they criticized a teacher who dared to suggest that students should be allowed to "make up their own minds" on evolution. Given that this survey was conducted by investigators who are apparently hostile to Darwin-doubters, it's likely that many pro-intelligent design teachers would be hesitant to participate in the survey and risk outing themselves. Thus, many streetwise teachers which the survey would otherwise shoehorn as "Advocates of Creationism" would choose not to participate. They might view participation akin to turning yourself in to the thought police.
Natural Selection: The survey purports to report the mental states and behaviors of teachers as regards evolution and intelligent design. But mental states and behaviors may be very different things. The Darwin lobby works hard, with some success, to make it illegal--or at least very dangerous--to favorably teach intelligent design. Thus, few teachers are bold enough to spend an hour on, say, teaching intelligent design. Likely, there are far more than 13% of teachers who would like to favorably mention ID, but they are naturally afraid to do so out of fear of their jobs.
There is a very high chance that a good portion of the 60% who are "Advocates of neither" would favorably mention ID if the legal environment were not so hostile towards such pedagogy. This survey fails to take into account that its surveyees exist in an environment that makes it very costly to choose some of the survey choices. It thus naturally underreports the number of teachers who would like to engage in behaviors which the survey would call "Advocating Creationism."
The survey did not identify these sources of potential bias or error. It does not note that the legal environment may have a significant impact upon teacher choices. It does not note that many teachers may be afraid to report their actual or preferred behaviors due to fears for their job caused by that legal environment. Given that the survey's combined response rate of valid returned questionnaires was only 48% (926 out of 1942 teachers), it seems that a lot of teachers chose not to respond. It also seems likely that nonresponsive teachers were more likely to fit into their category called "Advocates of Creationism" than would be "Advocates of Evolution."
Much to the chagrin of the researchers, it seems likely that there are far more teachers who are partial towards intelligent design than the survey reports. If the authors wish to push "Advocates of Neither" into becoming "Advocates of Evolutionary Biology," they probably have a lot more work cut out for them than they realize.
Survey Promotes Dogmatism
What's ironic about the survey is that someone who follows the advice of a different paper published in Science last year could never qualify as an "Advocate of evolutionary biology."
In 2010, Science published a paper by Jonathan Osborne titled, "Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse," which found that students learn science best when they learn "to discriminate between evidence that supports (inclusive) or does not support (exclusive) or that is simply indeterminate." According to Osborne's paper, it's vital to teach students what scientific critique looks like:
(Jonathan Osborne, "Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse," Science, Vol. 328 (5977): 463-466 (April 23, 2010).)
Incredibly, this new Science survey claims that teachers who "teach the controversy" will "fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry." The reality is precisely the opposite: teachers who teach evolution dogmatically as fact will fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry.
The authors of the survey even go so far as to criticize a teacher who felt that "Students should make up their own minds" on evolution "based on their own beliefs and research." Their reasoning is that students would not be able to think through the issues:
(Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, "Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom," Vol. 331:404-405 (January 28, 2011).)