Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why A "Theory" Is More Than An Opinion

Gwen Sharp at Sociological Images put up a post last week on "Normalizing Choice in Discourses About Evolution" that is worth reading.

More importantly, watching (the question to the Miss USA contestants was "Should evolution be taught in school?"):



As Sharp notes, it's easy to dismiss this as a typical "airhead" reaction among the Miss USA contestants (not to mention, the question is a bit irrelevant given the forum; they aren't competing for head of the National Academy of Sciences, after all).

But it does show the normalizing of "choice" and "theory" in this debate. The responses are often framed in terms of "teaching both sides" and giving students and parents a "choice" about evolution v. creation. There are also several assertions that evolution is "just a theory" (conflating theory with opinion) and therefore should not be "accepted as fact."

As Sharp notes, this completely misstates the way we use "theory" in science (remember: gravity is also "just a theory"). Scientific theory allows for testing, the possibilities of error, and ongoing refinement. That's a long way from your Uncle Bob's "theory" that "Obama is really a Muslim."

I don't have the time, but I'm guessing if you were to scatterplot the responses based on state and region, the southern state contestants were more likely to "not believe in evolution" and disfavor it being taught in schools than other regions of the country. At least, that's my impression watching the video.

And if you consider the ideologically-driven budget cuts that have been carried out over the past three years in public education, it's both alarming and sad to see schools, particularly in the south, being stripped of science education.

Anyway, Soc Images also provided this video below ("Should Math Be Taught in School?") for comic relief. I nearly choked laughing when the "Miss Vermont" contestant came on in her flannel shirt saying "is this some kind of a joke?"


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