Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Science Works!

One of the many claims made by anti-evolutionists is that science, particularly in educational, research, and scientific journal institutions, has become so entrenched in their position no other possible position is allowed and actively discriminated against. Now this certainly has not been my position, nor is it the position of many in academia that I am acquainted with. Of course you all hear stories about academics who are so entrenched that a nuclear blast couldn't get them to see the other side of an issue -- but I think about that more as a personal bias than an institutional one. I mean in any group of people you can find some with a very narrow viewpoint, but that doesn't mean the whole group is so narrowly-opinionated.

So why is this an example of why science works: This is a conference set up at Arizona State to explore the topic. Rather than just ignoring the claim or locking themselves into a position claiming the opposite, the academic community gathers and discusses it! Look at the objectives:

  • To critically examine the precept that American and British universities and the scientific communities in these countries are, and should be places, in which people are free to "think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable." (Quoting 1975 Statement of Yale Committee on Freedom of Expression).
  • Specifically, the conference will investigate if there are in fact "unchallengeable orthodoxies" in these communities, and to the extent there are, whether there should be.
  • Case studies of restrictions on ideas and research on racial differences, treatment of dissenters about global warming and the exclusion or marginalization of those who believe in creationism or intelligent design.
They are getting very specific about Climate Change and Creationism/Intelligent Design -- which I think is very intelligently designed of them. I am sure they are going to find examples of Orthodoxy, but the real question will be if there are avenues to challenge such orthodoxy? Again, in my experience, there have been and I believe there continue to be. I'm not sure what the findings of this gathering will be, but at least they are gathering to discuss and verify if there is a problem about unchallenged orthodoxy within the halls of science and academia!

Now on Orthodoxy itself, there is a certain amount that is justifiable and even required when teaching classes. For example in an Intro to Programming class you frequently get a student who has self-taught themselves more than the teacher will ever know about a particular area of IT. It would be detrimental to the entire class to branch into those discussions with that student, leaving the ones who really need the class in the dust. In other words each class has a focus and a set of objectives to achieve and it is not orthodoxy to focus there. Sometimes there just isn't enough time to allow flights of fancy free reign! That has been one of my claims, or even whines, against the Discovery Institute and their campaign in High School Science Classes -- you know the one they CLAIM is in support of academic freedom. Is the High School Science class the place to bring in so much external un-orthodoxy to the table? Of course not, these classes should be even more structured than the University level, and for good reason! The students are just now learning methodology and scientific principles, and even how to approach performing science. It would be horrible to introduce them to scientific concepts and then violate it by teaching a patently unscientific idea as if it met the criteria of science.

I also know what the Discovery Institute would like to come out of the conference, and if they are represented, you know they will see it as a way of legitimizing their claims. I can see the headlines now "See, we have been telling you how close-minded scientists are, they are even having s conference about it." The right thing here is not that the DI has legitimate claims, but that the science and academic community will explore the issue. Have we seen such exploration on behalf of the Di when someone shows how little science there is in ID? Not in a million years -- they would rather whine on how misunderstood and how everyone picks on them!

Of course, if the conference determines that while there are instances of personal orthodoxy, but it is not an institutionalized problem, the DI will whine about it. But I really don't care because the DI whines about anything and everything that isn't in agreement with their viewpoint- just like not being invited to the table at the Vatican where they are discussing Evolution -- They have been seriously whining about that one!

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