A profoundly misleading headline appeared in the November 17, 2015, Washington Post: “NOAA Climate Feud: Pursuit of Scientific Truth vs. Public Accountability.” In fact, the article printed below this dry headline involves not a feud between the pursuit of scientific truth and public accountability, but between the pursuit of open research and political harassment.
Do you all think these vertebrae are as gorgeous as I do? Just look—beauuutiful. I’m not sure if I’ve told you this before, but I did my undergraduate research on the evolution of vertebral column anatomy among whales. So every time I visit the MCZ, I climb up to the top of the gallery to get a nice, close look at these bones. It’s like my own personal nerdy eye candy.
If you feel like settling down to read the news, feel free to wear your powdered wig, but we suggest that you skip the pipe. NCSE found a lot of interesting articles this week. Here are some of them. Feel free to share articles that crossed your screen in the comment section, or e-mail us directly during the week with things that caught your eye. We’ll add the best to our weekly posts.
Readers, it’s NABT week! The National Association of Biology Teachers is descending on Providence, Rhode Island, and a bunch of NCSE’s finest and I are busy knocking people out of their socks with our awesomeness (promoting NCSEteach and the Science Booster Clubs, while we’re at it). So I’m going to give you the Fossil Friday equivalent of mac & cheese from a box for dinner because I just don’t have time to cook and I want something easy and delicious.
In part 1 of this post, I told you about the game-changing experience I had when I really started listening to how many of my students felt about my beloved language of science—i.e., that they hated it. I promised to tell you how people’s reaction to a hands-on climate change activity triggered another revelatory moment. At our Science Booster Club events in Iowa City about climate science and climate change, I’ve had an opportunity to observe people’s reactions to these topics up close and personal for the first time. Earlier in my life, I know I would not have been able to accept the depth of the negative emotions some people clearly experience when encountering this topic. I would have needed to bluster about it and come up with a reason why their emotional response was simply wrong. Perhaps, at some point, I would have needed to laugh at such people, to distance myself from them. Emotionally comfortable as that reaction may be for those of us who are frustrated by science denial, it doesn’t help solve the problem, does it?
Do you ever think about where science denial comes from? I know I had various ideas about the sources of science denial when I started working for NCSE. Science denial, I thought, was in part a product of certain corporate and religious interests. And perhaps I also thought of science denial as a product of an educational problem. I have spent many years studying science education, trying to understand how and why a fairly large percentage of people are turned off by the discipline. I figured that if I could understand this, I could develop new ways to show them how beautiful and exciting I find science.
Still on the agenda is Henshaw Ward’s Evolution for John Doe (1925), a popular exposition of evolution from the Scopes era, by a teacher of English turned science popularizer, who claimed that for twenty years he sought a popular treatment of evolution to recommend to the curious, but without success. “Apparently biologists know so much of the details that they can not [sic] write a brief account of the whole theory.” I am particularly interested in its distinctive first chapter, “What John Doe Thinks about Evolution,” which not only lists what Ward takes to be prevalent misconceptions about evolution but also explains how the book attempts to defuse them. I described the book in general in part 1, and discussed the first two misconceptions—that “evolution is ‘the doctrine that man is descended from monkeys’” and that “evolution explains the origin of life”—in part 2. Ward chose to omit both the topic of human evolution and the topic of the origin of life. What about the remaining six misconceptions?
Hats off to Anahad O’Connor of The New York Times, whose article “So Will Processed Meat Give You Cancer?” does a nice job putting into perspective the IARC announcement that processed meats probably cause cancer. In a nutshell, his conclusion is that processed meats probably do cause cancer—but the increase in risk is so small as to be not worth worrying about.