12 February 2008

Presidential science debate?

the Presidential Science Debate is scheduled for April 18, at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. (The Pennsylvania primary is April 22.)

The New York Times asks: will the candidates come? A lot of people commenting there seem to think that it would be a bad move for a candidate to go, basically because they either have to claim that global warming and evolution are real (and thus anger the right) or that they're not (and thus anger the left). Yes, I'm caricaturing. But science shouldn't be a political football.

I would clearly support candidates going to this thing, if only because we may actually get an idea to what extent they're members of the reality-based community. (I'm still not endorsing a candidate, but you can probably guess I'm not endorsing Mike Huckabee.) And as a lot of people point out, such a debate will almost certainly include questions about scientific education; as an educator I'd like to see how those get handled. More funding for the schools. And stop sending us at the college level students who can't do algebra properly. This could be tied into funding -- from what I've heard a lot of the school teachers don't know how to do it, because teaching doesn't pay well enough to hire competent people.

Also, if anyone denies evolution on the grounds that there's no way a process based on "random chance" would create an organism, they will lose the all-important probabilist vote. (Okay, that might just be me.)


Blake Stacey said...

From the Dot Earth post:

The organizers pointed out that the invitation specified that they are not “interested in state-level battles such as the evolution versus creationism/ID debate,” although they also said no subjects will be expressly excluded ahead of time.

The evolution vs. pseudoscience debate is many things, but I can't think of a meaningful sense in which it is "state-level". Decisions made in Florida and Texas about which textbooks to use impact the entire nation, because they command a large share of the textbook market. Creationists in Florida read from the playbook provided by propagandists in Seattle. It's a national problem.

Anonymous said...

I would like to hear a candidate explicitly say, ``Learning to add fractions, learning algebra, and being able to graph quadratic functions are civil rights.
If your middle and high school mathematics teachers are not providing you with college preparatory mathematics for a solid six years, then they are denying you a basic right. You should demand mathematical competency upon high school graduation.

"An adult educational program that focuses on mathematical and scientific literacy for all ages will be implemented in the inner cities and rural America. Not only will no child be left behind, but every adult will be taught scientific and mathematical methodology so that you will no longer be victims of unscrupulous
people who play upon your ignorance."

On the other hand, such an education might adversely affect the state lotteries, and the sub-prime lending markets.

Michael Lugo said...


Indeed it would be good to hear that.

And yes, it would hurt state lotteries, which would hurt government revenues. But I would imagine that the subprime mortgage fiasco is hurting the economy -- and therefore tax revenues -- more than state lotteries help it. (I don't have data to back this up, though.)

This would also eliminate payday loans, and the "refund anticipation loans" which are so common this time of year.

Anonymous said...

Here is a nasty truth. As long as your only argument for science (or math, or arts for that matter) is that it is good for economy, you will never get good scientific education. To get it, you have to change your mentality, to move away from a purely utilitarian view to a somewhat more idealistic approach. As long as we see staying economically competitive as our main purpose in life, we are doomed.

Zeynel said...

Thanks for this link. Unfortunately, presidents have no power to change issues based on established bureaucracies, such as education and health care or banking. It is naive to think that what candidates will say about these issues will make a difference. Today, the main fundamental issue facing science education is the teaching of the Newtonian religion as science in schools as the state religion. I find it ironic that the debate is held in Franklin Institute. The schools teach the British Newton as the founder of electricity and all of science while the real founder, Ben Franklin, is relagated to a footnote. This is how strong the British scientific colonization of education is. You might want to read about the Newton's zeroeth law to see why Newtonism is a religion.

Joseph said...

A suggestion for a Science Debate topic:

There is evidence for the existence of a natural nuclear fission reactor on Earth two billion years ago based on the nuclear waste found in rocks of that age. Candidates can be asked if they accept such evidence and what they think of the implications of the fact that the waste did not move with respect to the surrounding rock (in particular, the implications for nuclear waste disposal).