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September 4, 2003

Critique of "Minnesota Draft Science Standards:
Working Draft, September 4, 2003"
By Ross S. Olson MD

The Minnesota Draft Science Standards contain the seeds of good science but do not always apply the principles that are introduced.  For example, it is noted that distinction must be made between evidence and opinion and that even observations can be affected by bias or expectations (6  I. A.), that culture and prevailing ideas affect scientific progress (7  I. D.) and that scientific knowledge is subject to change (7  I. A.).  Yet it is insisted that "Students will use accepted physical, conceptual and mathematical scientific models to explain natural phenomena." (7 I. A.)

Think for a minute, what if the accepted model is wrong?   Who is going to discover that?  Of course, you do not necessarily want 7th graders to be making scientific history, but if they are not allowed to think outside the box when young, do you think they will ever do so once they have become enculturated? 

Several sections illustrate this conflict. When asked to "interpret successive layers of sedimentary rocks and their fossils to document the age and history of the earth" and discuss how fossils show the appearance of characteristics and the diversification of life (7 III. A. & 7 IV. E.), will some of the problems of doing that be discussed? 

Is the student allowed to point out that the fossil record is not necessarily a record of appearance of organisms but rather a record of their burial and that the large number of fossils buried in very homogenous layers suggests massive rapid burial, such as might occur in a huge flood?  Would it also be permissible to point out that there are not tiny changes between fossil groups as predicted by gradualistic evolution.  Will it be noted that the punctuated equilibrium model, proposed to solve this discrepancy passes insurmountable problems on to genetics and anyway, ought to have caused billions of transitional forms in small isolated populations, thousands of which ought to have been preserved as fossils?

When it is stated that "science is a way of knowing about the world that is characterized by empirical criteria, logical argument and skeptical review" and pointed out that culture has influenced science in the past (8 I. A. & 8 I. D.) will the students be allowed to practice that principle, look critically at how present materialistic philosophy has skewed our view of nature or will they be indoctrinated in the currently popular scientific opinion?

When discussing Plate Tectonics (8 III.A.), will the well-known data showing a lack of a workable ongoing mechanism for the movement be pointed out as well as the possibility that the movement may be an after-effect of a recent catastrophic event?  Or will the usual diagrams be shown with no indication at all that they do not really work as stated?

Will the "life cycle of stars" (8 III. D.) be presented as a proven fact or as the hypothesis that it really is?  When it is stated that evolution provides "a scientific explanation" for the fossil record and similarity of various life forms (8 IV. E.) will it be stated that there are also other explanations?

When addressing the "Big Bang" (8 III.D.) will the inconsistencies of the data with the theory be included or will the existence of structure be treated as an expected consequence of an unordered process?  Will some of the other explanations for red shift (such as magnetic fields) be presented?

When tracing the development of a scientific advancement (9-12  I. D.) such as germ theory, will the sometimes rabid contemporary opposition of the scientific establishment to the new theory be discussed, and the possibility put forward that we might still be promoting falsehoods and fighting the truth?

In understanding fundamental forces, and especially the forces involved in the stability of the atom (9-12 II. E.), would the inadequacy of present models be  discussed?  Would the curiosity of the students be aroused to investigate the Lucas-Bergman model of the electron and proton - which accounts for the stability of the atom and explains the "weak" and "strong" nuclear forces as electromagnetic?

When a student is asked to explain how the sun, earth and solar system formed (9-12 III. C.), would an analysis of the inadequacies of the nebular hypothesis be allowable?  Could the data on angular momentum be introduced? Could the presence of short period comets be discussed, since they ought to have all been degraded to space junk over the stated age of the solar system?  Could the totally hypothetical ad hoc nature of their supposed source, the Oort Cloud, be mentioned?

When called on to "identify significant adaptations that have allowed life to evolve from single-celled aquatic organisms to multicellular terrestrial organisms over a period of more than 3.5 billion years" (9-12 IV. B.) would it be allowable for a student to point out that there is no mechanism for significant adaptations to be added that were not present on the organism to begin with?   Would a student or teacher be considered out of bounds to point out that mutations degrade information, do not create information, and that massive amounts of information are needed to produce the present (and past) biosphere?  Would it even be allowed to discuss the evidence that 3.5 billion years may not be available?

When asked to "use scientific evidence, including the fossil record, homologous structures, embryological development, or biochemical  similarities, to classify organisms showing probable evolutionary relationships and common ancestry" (9-12 IV, B.) would the student be allowed to point out that homologous structures and biochemical similarities can also be explained by common design? 

Would it be permissible to state that embryological development is no longer considered valid evidence for evolution and that its popularity was related to fraudulent drawings made by Ernst Haeckl which were discredited by the scientific community over a hundred years ago? Would there be an outcry if a student happened to find the discredited drawings in the latest edition of the class text? 

Would it further be permissible to discuss the fact that arranging organisms on a chart does not prove evolution or even ancestry, but could represent variations already potential in the organisms, possibly showing themselves in slightly different habitats?

When discussing the fact that mutations are accelerated by exposure to radiation and certain chemicals (9-12 IV. D.) what would the teacher say if a student asked, "If mutations are the necessary fuel for evolution, why are we afraid of them?"

When pointing out that biologic populations change over time (9-12 IV.E.) can it be pointed out that this change is usually related to genetic potential already present in the population, such as the Peppered Moths, which became darker for a while and now have become lighter.  If that data were brought up, would the fraud involved in the original article be discussed? 

If the point were made that over vast ages of time, small changes become large changes (9-12 IV.E.), will it be pointed out that small changes, such as the size of the beaks of Galapagos Island finches do not represent the addition of new information and are qualitatively different from something like the development of wings and flight in an animal that previously had none of these.

When introducing the Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy, that living matter tends to move in the direction of more disorganization and needs the input of energy to prevent death, but that light from the sun is transformed by plants into chemical energy (9-12 IV.F.), would it be fair to point out that it only occurs because there is a pre-existing machine - the chloroplast - which does the transforming and that raw energy alone does not increase organization, but rather destroys it?   Would it be permitted to discuss the fact that the functioning of a living system does not necessarily explain the origin of that system?

In concluding that there are links between behavioral biology and psychology, sociology and anthropology (9-12 IV. G.) would any teacher dare tackle the dilemma of morality and point out that from an evolutionary point of view, there is ultimately no right or wrong except survival of progeny? Would they dare state that from a purely naturalistic stance, the more offspring a person produces, no matter by what means, the more successful he or she is?

In summary, will science education be treated as the transmission of a set of fixed and unassailable facts - similar to arithmetic - or will it be treated as an active field of human endeavor in which the students may someday make revolutionary changes if they are given the tools of critical thinking and courage today?

This document was last modified on 10/18/2004.
Web Page updated 11/23/2007.

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