Category Archives: Science And Society

But Do They Ask For Directions?

This is interesting (and no doubt confounding to those who continue to deny that homosexuality is inborn). Gay men tend to read maps more like women.

Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women – using landmarks to find their way around – a new study suggests.

But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances. In contrast, gay women read maps just like straight women, reveals the study of 80 heterosexual and homosexual men and women.

Don’t tell the faculty at Harvard–Nancy Hopkins might have to hie to her fainting couch again.

Half Educated?

Chad Orzel has a couple interesting posts about the relative value of literacy versus numeracy in both society and the academy.

…I do think there is an imbalance here, and it bothers me. If a student were to come in and say “You know, I just can’t handle literature classes. I’m no good at reading, and I’m not comfortable with it, so I don’t want to take any English classes,” most faculty would think that there’s something wrong with that person. And yet, I hear functionally equivalent statements about math every time I bring this subject up. Bright people will say “I think science is really neat, but I just can’t handle math,” and see nothing wrong with that.

If a student professed a distaste for reading as frankly as some express their distaste for math, we’d think that they were intellectually stunted. Illiteracy is a sign of a learning disability, while innumeracy is shrugged off as just one of those things.

I do think that one could argue that in fact much of critical theory in literature is unadulterated crap. Does anyone think that it would be as easy (or even possible) for an English major to hoax a physics paper as it was for Alan Sokal to mock postmodernists? Clearly Sokal understood much more about the literary theories (to the slight degree that they’re not nonsense) than any of the humanity professors will ever know about physics–at least enough to pull the wool over their eyes.

What’s dismaying to me is that for many, it’s not only acceptable to have no ability at math, but many take perverse pride in it, and are often rewarded both in academia and in life.

[via Derek Lowe, who has additional commentary.]

The Core Of The Issue

In the midst of deconstructing Michael Behe’s latest channeling of Bishop Paley, Ron Bailey agrees with moi about the Intelligent Design controversy (not surprisingly), and identifies the real problem:

It is not the role of public schools to confirm the religious beliefs of their students. Parents who want their children to benefit from the latest findings of science would reasonably be irked if evolutionary biology were expunged from the public school curriculum. There is another way around this conundrum. Get rid of public schools. Give parents vouchers and let them choose the schools to which to send their children. Fundamentalists can send their kids to schools that teach that the earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Science geeks can send their kids to technoschools that teach them how to splice genes to make purple mice. This proposal lowers political and social conflict, and eventually those made fitter in the struggle for life by better education will win.

My comment was:

if science is a religion (in the sense of a belief system, which I think it is), then is it a legitimate subject for public schools? As I’ve said previously, this is largely a symptom of a much larger problem–the fact that we have public schools, in which the “public” will always be at loggerheads about what subjects should be taught and how. But given the utility of learning science (something that I employ every day, whenever I troubleshoot my computer network, or figure out what kinds of foods are good or bad for me), I think that it is an important subject to which everyone should be exposed. But if I were teaching evolution, I would offer it as the scientific explanation for how life on earth developed, not a “fact” or “the truth.”

The problem arises when some scientists, blind to their own faith and its tenets, come to believe that their beliefs represent Truth, and that those who disagree are fools and slack-jawed yokels. And with that, I come full circle in once again agreeing with Hugh that the media does a disservice to the debate when it doesn’t respect the beliefs of those who feel that their children are being indoctrinated away from their faith.

We will never resolve this conflict as long as so many continue to insist on a “one-size-fits-all” school system.

[Update a few minutes later]

Along those lines, here’s a pretty scary story (though not a new one, to anyone who’s been paying attention), or at least it should be for parents with kids in public schools:

According to benchmarks for middle school education, the top objective for the district’s math teachers is to teach “respect for human differences.” The objective is for students to “live out the system-wide core value of ‘respect for human differences’ by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors.”

Priority No. 2 is where the basics come in, which is “problem solving and representation