Differences in scientific viewpoint

by Neil Rickert

There’s a weird post at the ENV site:

For those who don’t know, ENV is a blog from the Discovery Institute, the organization that does three things: (1) it pushes “Intelligent Design”, (2) It attempts to have ID taught as science in the schools, and (3) it denies that it tries to have ID taught as science in the schools.

So when the Discovery Institute says that we should tolerate differences in scientific viewpoints, I’m inclined to take that as an argument that alternative science should be taught in the schools.  Here, “alternative science” could mean ID, or it could mean global warming denial (and the Discovery Institute does appear to be a hotbed of global warming denial).  It could possibly also mean vaccination denialism, though I don’t think that they themselves have supported the anti-vax proponents.

The ENV post itself spends some time discussing a recent NYTimes column by Nicholas Kristof on liberal intolerance.  I have not previously commented on the Kristof column, but what Kristof says does not match my experience in academia.

Back to the Chaffee post.  I’m puzzled on what that is all about.  I consider myself quite tolerant of different scientific viewpoints.  It is my impression that there are many discussions of alternative viewpoints in the scientific community.  The tolerance that Chaffee claims to want seems to already be there.

What is not there, however, is the teaching of alternative science in the schools.  There actually is some teaching of alternative views in graduate school seminars, but not in the grammar schools or high schools.  And that is how it should be.  The job of the schools is to teach the scientific consensus.  Even those who have other scientific viewpoints need to first know the consensus, before they can expect to persuade anyone to consider alternatives.

The Discovery Institute is pushing a religious agenda (which they deny).  Their associates repeatedly make arguments for ID.  But the arguments demonstrate that the ID proponents do not have a good understanding of the consensus science in biology.  Their arguments are mostly of the form of knocking down strawman versions of evolution.  They badly need to learn and understand the scientific consensus, before they criticize it.

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