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Education Government It's funny.  Laugh. United States Science

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report 495

cremeglace writes "In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans' knowledge of evolution and the Big Bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang."
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Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

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  • They explain why (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:51PM (#31796094) Homepage Journal

    in the article.

  • No they did not. (Score:5, Informative)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:05PM (#31796226)

    From TFA:

    The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions "very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding" of the two topics.

    That explains nothing.

    And ...

    When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: "There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution," adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer "false" to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: "On that particular point, no."

    So the guy pushing for the removal cannot maintain a consistent argument for that removal.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:39PM (#31796530)

    The first long term settlements in America were by extreme religious groups like the Pilgrims and Puritans. The idea that America didn't used to be particularly religious is not historically accurate.

  • Re:They explain why (Score:5, Informative)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:16PM (#31796772)

    Airport bathrooms around the country disagree.

  • Re:No they did not. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Galactic Dominator ( 944134 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:55PM (#31797004)

    There is not a double negative in the text you quote.

    There is no indication that not answering is an option.

    The previous sentence is not a double negative either.

  • Re:No they did not. (Score:2, Informative)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:23PM (#31797462)

    That explains nothing.

    Well, I looked at the two questions [], one of them is factually incorrect.

    "The universe began with a huge explosion."

    The Big Bang is not an explosion (unlike an explosion, there wasn't that much motion of mass (sure, the motion was relativistic, but space itself expanded at an astounding rate, if inflation theory is correct), hence the statement is technically incorrect. I probably would answer true, but that's because I'd be giving the answer I'd expect the pollster to want.

    The other question is:

    "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals."

    I'd answer true.

    The thing that I think this guy is getting at, is that these are theories stated as fact. A true philosopher would answer "I don't know" to either question since a hypothesis cannot be proven rigorously to be true or false. I consider these serious flaws in the questions since it confuses people who believe the statement to be false with people who don't know, but answered "false".

    Given this serious flaw in the poll's questions, I wouldn't be surprised if there were other flaws in the poll that resulted in hidden biases. Also, I have trouble believing some of these numbers. A Gallup poll claims 43% of the population believes God created humans in the last 10,000 years or so? Where are these people hiding? I have some relatives who really buy into the young Earth thing, but they're pretty obvious.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:26PM (#31797472)

    Well, I agree that evolution is a theory (I wish people would do a better job of remembering that). I don't agree that it is ridiculously strong, particularly if you are talking about evolution as the origin of life.

    Yes, it's a theory in the scientific sense not the colloquial sense. In other words, a self-consistent model supported by evidence that explains phenomena and makes testable predictions. Many people misuse the word "theory" in ordinary conversation to mean basically the same thing as "guess". This is NOT the sense that theory is used in the scientific disciplines.

    In the first place, it violates the second law of thermodynamics. That ought to be sufficient argument against it.

    Completely and totally wrong. The second law has long allowed for the local reduction in entropy while the overall universal entropy shows a net increase. If this weren't the case, how can someone turn a pile of materials and human labor into a house, for instance? The house is decidedly more organized than the raw materials and this organization was accomplished through work and expenditure of energy.

    As we learn more about the complexity of the cell, and of DNA, the amount of information contained therein becomes ever more staggering. Five billion years is simply insufficient for any known mechanism to allow that much information to occur through random chance.

    This reminds of people who claim that we never made it to the moon because we could never do something that advanced with the technology of the time. My response to this point is the same as what I'd say to one of them: how do you know it's not possible? Also, there's this whole random thing that inevitably appears in every denier's argument. The random nature of mutations is only a portion of evolutionary development. There's natural selection and the combining of genes through sex, for example. Evolutionary development can also take advantage of exponential growth which means a lot of development can happen very suddenly and over a (relatively) short time period.

    Beyond all that, there are no known examples of intermediate species. Considering how much evolution must have occurred (if we assume evolution to be correct) there ought to be scads of intermediate forms walking the planet today. Where are they?

    I hear this one a lot also. Most people just haven't looked but here is a list of instances go []. Also, there's a fundamental problem with what you're asking for. You won't see any intermediate species walking around because by definition, they were an intermediate species which means they've continued development to their current form. Now a species you do see walking around may be an intermediate species for something that will exist in the future but you can only tell if something is an intermediate in hindsight because at a given point in time you're just seeing their current form.

  • Look... (Score:5, Informative)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:45AM (#31799044) Homepage Journal

    The problem is that these fights over science are polarizing us.

    These are not "fights over science." They are fights between high confidence viewpoints backed by strong, yet malleable theoretical underpinnings, and the viewpoints of ignorant, and/or gullible, and/or critical-thinking deficient and consequently superstitious low-functioning who subsist on a diet of dogma and wishful thinking; compounded enormously by our huge social error of putting religious delusion off-limits for serious public criticism at most levels, particularly in schools.

    Our problem is a social problem brought on by the underlying theocratic disease we continue to allow our people to suffer from.

    It isn't going to go away until/unless all currently popular religion is treated the way it should be - the same way we treat Odin and Zeus. As the imaginary creations of primitive societies. This should be done in school. As part of normal education. So kids have some chance of escaping the cycle of ignorance that religion uses to propagate itself. Kids should be exposed to the (many) falsehoods used as arguments for religion, from the loaded dice of Pascal's wager to the complete and utter intellectual bankruptcy of creationism.

    Even then, I bet it takes a couple of generations to die down to the level of, say, astrology. We'll never eradicate it completely, or at least, not until we edit gullibility, stupidity, and the inability to think critically out of our own genome, and expose the underlying dogmatic thinking as part of a normal education.

    Countdown before some poor utterly deluded person comes in here to "defend" some religion or other: 3, 2, 1...

  • by FoolishOwl ( 1698506 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:13AM (#31799832) Journal

    The question on human origins is quite broad -- it doesn't specify Darwinian natural selection, doesn't use the word "evolution," and doesn't even preclude a belief in Lamarckism []:

    "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals."

    This only precludes the belief that species are static, or the belief that humans are unrelated to other animals.

    The question on the origins of the universe is more specific:

    "The universe began with a big explosion."

    Apparently there are some non-standard cosmologies [] that a professional physicist might believe in, but most don't. Since the point of the survey was to compare the level of knowledge of US citizens with the level of knowledge of people elsewhere, as a test of the state of science education, it's reasonable to test whether the majority agree with the prevailing theory in physics.

    Part of what is worrisome is that most religious traditions, including most Christian denominations, have long since made their peace with Darwinian natural selection and with the Big Bang theory. It's not that the NSF is dodging a confrontation with Christianity, it's that the NSF is dodging a confrontation with a willfully ignorant fringe form of fundamentalist Christianity, which scarcely exists outside the US, and whose political influence in the US is toxic.

  • Re:Not so bad (Score:2, Informative)

    by FoolishOwl ( 1698506 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:43AM (#31799962) Journal

    There's a serious ontological confusion going on there, probably based on the way the term evolution is abused. If natural selection acting on Species X results in the development of a new, distinct Species Y, the existence of Species Y does not prevent the extinction of Species X. We're not talking about Pokemon here; individual members of Species X do not turn into members of Species Y.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Saturday April 10, 2010 @10:51PM (#31804368) Journal
    "After 350 ppm, it does not rise anymore. Whoops. Why does this happen ? Surely this formula of yours predicts otherwise. That's because this formula is only to be applied to the sunlight that passes through the athmosphere, avoids co2 on it's way in, hits the ground, gets re-emitted and then hits co2 on it's way out."

    You seem to be blissfully unaware that the infra-red radiation re-emmited from Earth is at a different wave length to the visable/ultra-violet radiation that it absorbed. Climatologists and the IPCC are well aware incoming infra-red is absorbed by GHG's, it's the reason why infra-red astronomy requires a space based telescope.

    "And please don't start about fractals having large-scale shapes until you've at least READ about what chaos is."

    Chaos theory and fractal dimentions were covered in my maths major, is that good enough for you?

    "A chaotic system can be, at a specific point, a perfect triangle."

    Again you seem to have failed to take your own advise, a triangle could be used as the stating point for creating a fractal but it is not in itself a fractal nor is there anything chaotic about a perfect triangle. Climate is the long term statistics of weather and is in a state of dynamic equilibrium on human time scales, it only becomes chaotic when feedbacks occur due to a considerable forcing being applied. Geologic records indicate that when this occurs the climate system tends to amplify the direction of forcing. Super computers are used to explore the effects of feedbacks using FEA, as I have shown by quoting Fourier the effects of forcing via inreased CO2 can be worked out on a pocket calculator and has absolutely nothing to do with chaos theory.

    As for water vapour, see my first post where it talks about knowing the difference between a forcing and a feedback.

    "Of course this theory makes [IPCC] policies totally incomprehensible."

    I think you mean UNFCCC. The IPCC do not formulate or offer any political policy.

    "Heh, I seriously doubt you'd even be able to tell me the name of a single program capable of answering this question without googling"

    Mathematica is the first to spring to mind, it can implement FEA simulations to abitrary resolutions.

    BTW: I have been following climate science for three decades, which is well before Google or the IPCC came into existance, at first it was simply a natural extention to my interest in computer simulation via finite element analysis (in which I am degree qualified). I suspect you dislike my use of Google because the links it provides conflict with your bald asertions.
  • Re:So? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Roxton ( 73137 ) <roxton@gm a i l . c om> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:19PM (#31804570) Homepage Journal

    "The international ranking of the United States improves somewhat when these alternative measures [controlling for varying stillborn assessments] are used but it is still relatively low and appears to be deteriorating."

    The CBO report doesn't exactly support the grandparent.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev