Daily Archives: May 3, 2009

Science Education: How to do it right.

The podcast for today’s radio discussion with Fellman, Scott and Laden is available.

A bit about the history of the NCSE; cultural relativism in the science education movement; Greg disses bench scientists again; The appeasement question; A phone call from a famous Pharyngulistum; Science standards; Local control. The Minnesota Science Standards. An intelligently designed buffet and the question of “alternative curriculum.”

Go listen, and come back and comment.

Does Lithium in Drinking Water Reduce Suicide Rates?

ResearchBlogging.orgLithium has long been used as a psychotherapeutic drug, and treatment with lithium demonstrably reduces incidence of suicide. Lithium also occurs naturally in groundwater to varying degrees. This study explores the relative amount of Lithium in groundwater and suicide in 18 municipalities in Oita prefecture, Japan over a period running from 2002 to 2006. There are two principle findings:

Continue reading Does Lithium in Drinking Water Reduce Suicide Rates?

What do science teachers need to say or not say about religion?

… In public schools. According to one Federal Judge in the US, not much.

A Mission Viejo high school history teacher violated the First Amendment by disparaging Christians during a classroom lecture, a federal judge ruled today.

James Corbett, a 20-year teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, referred to Creationism as “religious, superstitious nonsense” during a 2007 classroom lecture, denigrating his former Advanced Placement European history student, Chad Farnan.

The decision is the culmination of a 16-month legal battle between Corbett and Farnan – a conflict the judge said should remind teachers of their legal “boundaries” as public school employees.

In some ways, this ruling is correct, in my view, according to the current law. Statements about religion in a public high school classroom in a class that is not about religion can be taken a lot of ways by students, and given the authority enriched position of a teacher, almost always risk violating the establishment clause one way or another. This is why teachers are advised to make different kinds of claims, such as “Your question, Little Timmy, is about religion. This is a science class. Take your question elsewhere please.” … And after Little Timmy has asked the same religiously oriented question (related to Evolution) the third or fourh time, “Timmy, I asked you to stop disrupting the class in this manner, go to the office.”

On the other hand, if a question about evolution is legitimately raised in a science classroom, which can happen a number of different ways, a teacher may have the responsibility at some point to say that the scientific view is valid and the religious view is not. If the source of the conflict is not the teacher (is not in the curriculum) and is not merely a discipline issue (a student disrupting the class by handing out bible pages) then a direct retort may be valid, in my view.

But maybe not in this legal framework.

This brings up another question which to me is very disconcerting. Do these rules (the ones we are speaking of here as well as other case law regarding teaching science) apply to public colleges? Personally, I do not see the distinction between public high schools and colleges in many of these rulings. I find it fascinating that this has not come up as an issue. Yet.

In the case in question:

“Corbett states an unequivocal belief that Creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense,'” U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in a 37-page ruling released from his Santa Ana courtroom. “The court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context.”

There clearly is a weaknessin the ruling here, and I think we can refer to Dover for this. The teacher is making te case that Creationism is not valid science. Perhaps the teacher used strong words to say it, but that is not the issue here. The teacher is technically correct. So, the court has suppressed a valid statement of truth in favor of a subjective opinion. That may be how this decision goes away at some higher level.

[source of the story]

This is being discussed here.