Advanced Monkeys Maybe Not So Smart

I often do not believe that many of the issues that science has to defend are worth confronting. A person who claims the earth is flat is clearly emotionally and/or intellectually running short of a few cylinders, and probably can be safely ignored. Today I came across a news item that forces me to admit that on this I am very wrong. Stupid apes do cause ripples that could end up influencing some very stupid public policy.

In the USA, a Florida county school board has recently voted to adopt a new batch of books and other instructional materials. But they voted against objections that they presented unbalanced views on subjects such as evolution, climate change, race, and population growth (link here). They voted 3-2 in favour of adoption. Who were the two who voted against, and why?

I must stress at this point that the USA is not my country. And another country, of course, can teach what it damn well pleases. But it is a perfect example of science being used where it should not be.

Reading the details of this debacle is enough to cause a significant migraine. Only four members of the public objected, yet these four people objected to 220 different details in the educational materials. This was after the board unanimously approved the adoption of the materials in May 2018. A new state law had been introduced in Florida which allowed all members of the public (not just parents) to object to teaching strategies.

Let us have a look at some of the objections that these four raised.

On evolution, one Collier County parent objected to its teaching by stating, “Very disgusting and disappointing that this is included and no other viewpoint is even mentioned! What a shame that kids’ minds aren’t opened up to other possibilities”. Let us hope the kids are smart enough to realise that the views of this person on this issue are complete pap. They further state that evolution is, “a total indoctrination of liberal ideas”. Nope, it is not. That one of liberal persuasion flips open a brolly due to rain, does not make the fact of rain a liberal cause. Evolution has not chosen liberal politics as a running mate.

Mr. Keith Flaugh (apt surname, phonetically speaking) of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a conservative group, states that “many very credible scientists” have proved the impossibility of evolution. Sorry, what?? He provided a list of websites to support this garbage……………you can imagine what they are, and I am already tired of writing about him.

On climate change, Mr. Michael Mogil (who claims to be a meteorologist) had a problem with photos of polar bears in the text books which he said are “the ‘poster child’ of human-caused climate change proponents”. He meant that in a derogative context. He also said, “repeated exposure to climate change references ‘brainwashes’ students”. Again, sorry, what? I am pretty sure he means “educating” students. I am being generous to Mogil the Meteorologist. He later stated the following when referring to the racial make-up of the scientific community: “Why would I wind up with four black males and no white males, It just doesn’t look right” Ok then! I think he was attempting to refer to a lack of racial diversity (he later bemoaned a lack of representation of Hispanics), but again I shall be kind to Mogil the Meteorologist, and merely suggest that this sentence makes him look pretty bad. Anthropogenic climate change is real though, Mr. Mogil Sir.

On overpopulation, a Mr. Joseph Doyle said that it is “an exaggerated and unproven concern”.  Here is a link suggesting that Mr. Joseph Doyle has made an exaggerated and unproven claim (link). In that link is a peer reviewed paper by people who have spent a professional lifetime studying this area. They know a thing or two about a thing or two on it, and if a reader thinks they may be wrong, fine. Publish your own research on it and open it up to peer review, scrutiny, and debate. It is not liberal politics, it is just science trying to make things better.

In a way, this is all silly enough to almost confirm to me that this kind of nonsense can be paid no mind. The objections were often trite and unintendedly comical. Take as an example an objection Mr. Mogil The Meteorologist raised about images of children playing on a beach in 40oC of heat, again in the context of climate change. “From a safety angle, this is quite dangerous,”. Yes, it is. He goes on, “From a weather angle, such temperatures at a U.S. beach are not likely”. That his principle issues are with the illustrative depictions of climate change speaks reams about the soft ground on which he stands.

But this was not a group of people arguing in a bar. This was a school board, debating future school teaching curriculum. Erika Donalds, one of the dissenting board members said, “The theory of intelligent design and the theory of evolution can be taught alongside each other without violating the Constitution”. Again, America is not my country, so fair enough, I guess. In school, I was taught the story of Geneses also, in early 1980’s. But hey, I think I turned out alright (at least I think so), so maybe the kids over there in the States will be alright too.

Kelly Lichter, the other objecting board member, said something far worse. On climate change teaching she said, “We need to push these publishers to get rid of the political agenda, especially with the climate change issue. It’s just shoved down the kids’ throats without any scientific background knowledge. It’s just really inappropriate”. There is it again, that phrase “without any scientific background knowledge”. This is such a falsehood that I will not even provide a link. There are so many examples that will prove this wrong, that I don’t know which one to choose.

My conclusion: Teach what you please, but if you want to teach things that are not true, you cannot say that science supports your claim to further your teaching. Human influenced climate change, evolution, and that Homo sapiens are a plague species, are all facts. Facts are based on data. A fact is a term that states that a hypothesis is confirmed to such a point that there is no credible alternative. Theories are the formulation of ideas that explain the facts/data. A theory can change with the discovery of new facts. A fact will not change with the formulation of a new theory; as in – that climate change is untrue. The theory of climate change is built on a convergence of facts from many avenues of research – pollen, ocean acidification, tree rings, ice cores, sea level rise, increase in atmospheric C02, coral reefs, polar melting, global temperatures rises, desertification, shifting weather patterns, I could go on. If the details of theory are debated, observed temperature rises are unlikely to pause increasing until the debate is resolved (admission: I am stealing this angle of argument from a great written polemic from Steven Jay Gould – scientists should always cite their sources). If you say the theory is untrue and misleading, it changes nothing with the numbers. Which means that to say such a thing is just plain wrong.

Some points of note: Three of the four objectors appeared at the hearing, none of whom apparently have children at the school. One of the board members who voted against, Ms. Daniels, is married to Rep. Byron Daniels, who introduced the bill in the first place that allowed objections from parents not involved in the school. The wonderfully named Mr. Flaugh apparently wrote the wording of the bill.

Photo credit: Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels.com

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