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Texas, listen: This lady knows how to teach biology

Free to Think by Caroline CrockerThe way Darwin lobbyists don’t.

California-based Caroline Crocker, Expelled and now the director of an integrity in science institute and author of Free to Think, offers some reflections on how to teach science as if it wasn’t a cult:

…biological systems are a complex mixture of chemical and electrical reactions controlled by application of many levels of information, not to mention the environment, so that predicting the outcome of changing one parameter can be almost impossible. The complexity, and thus the impossibility of drawing absolutely accurate conclusions and predicting the effect of a change in one parameter, further increases as one progresses into psychology, sociology, ecology and the like.To illustrate this principle, we can consider the work of Dr. Carolyn Nersesian of the University of Sydney. This ecologist used a technique from chemistry (titration) to understand the feeding behavior of eight brushtail possums. Basically, she slowly increased the concentration of a poison in the food in a sheltered area (tree) while offering the animals untainted food in a less sheltered area that had been pre-treated with fox urine and feces The goal was to see what concentration of poison would cause the animals to risk exposure to predators by moving from the sheltered to the unsheltered area.

This is typical of scientific research–one parameter is changed while all others are kept the same. The scientist then observes what happens and assumes any change is due to the parameter that he or she altered. But, there are numerous potential confounding factors. In the example above, was the temperature in the unsheltered area different from that in the trees? Did the animals communicate, making the “decision” of one apply to all? Would the results have been different if urine from another predator had been used–or if there was no urine? The questions go on.

So how does this apply to scientific integrity? Simply, we must be aware that science cannot provide absolute answers at levels much above that of mathematics.

You prefer Darwin lobbyists?   They insist that self-organization theory can’t be considered in Texas schools because someone or other might think Bill Dembski pioneered it (uh… no!) Their prejudice is of such public importance that getting the facts all wrong is negligible.

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3 Responses to Texas, listen: This lady knows how to teach biology

  1. Does Caroline Crocker really think that scientists are not aware of the danger of confounding factors, confusing correlation with causation or complex system effects? If so, she needs educating herself.

  2. markf, I agree entirely. This is everyday, run of the mill problem stuff for those working in scientific fields. Perhaps Crocker’s next book will be on research that blows the lid off secret life of the Pope: turns out he’s Catholic!

  3. markf,

    She is just explaining- telling the students, who aren’t scientists- what is involved.

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