Thursday, 19 August 2010

A constituent writes ...

One of the many worrisome things that The Coalition is rushing through parliament is a change to how schools can be managed, and how closely they need to follow some nationally-set curriculum. Basically, schools can, in principle, be set up from scratch by interested third parties, and appear set to have a lot more freedom in tailoring what they teach to students. In principle (again), this sounds like it might just clear the first hurdle of plausibility. For instance, like existing academies a school might decide to specialise in some particular way (e.g. business, science, arts), and might like to tweak their curriculum appropriately.

Needless to say, that last sentence was not my first thought. Instead, internet-hardened creationist-hater that I am, it occurred to me that this might provide a new route by which faith schools might bring down The Enlightenment. Ordinarily, this thought would then be followed up by seething rage, a bit of a sulk, and then complete inaction. Fortunately, an e-mail from the BHA spurred me into action. Well, spurred me into following a link to a website that, after a few clicks, automatically drafted me a letter to my MP. Slightly embarrassed that my name would be tied to some generic message, I duly edited this down to that below, then fired it off.

Dear Mr Denham

I am writing as both one of your constituents and as a professional scientist (oceanographer) to bring to your attention two Early Day Motions which I am asking you to support. EDM number 243 reads,

"That this House notes the value and importance of science in the schools' curriculum; further notes the importance of the specific inclusion of evolution and natural selection in the schools' curriculum; regrets that evolution has been dropped from reforms to the primary school curriculum, along with other reforms proposed; further regrets the inclusion of creationist and other pseudo-scientific theories in the teaching of science in some schools; and urges the Government to ensure that all schools teach and promote science and the scientific method and to include the theory of evolution in the science curriculum at both primary and secondary levels."

And EDM 185 reads,

"That this House congratulates the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the re-opening of the Ulster Museum; regrets that there is pressure to include creationism in the proposed exhibition of evolution and diversity; and believes that the teaching or promotion of religious beliefs should be separate from the teaching or promotion of science."

Both relate to potential and actual attempts by creationist organisations to pollute science education by introducing their evidence-free literal interpretation of religious texts. While greater freedom over the curriculum may afford certain advantages to students, it is fundamental that deliberate misinformation is excluded from science curricula. Put simply, there is *no support* for any creationist ideas within the scientific community, and to permit the teaching of the contrary is damaging both to students and to our wider technological society. Further, the focus they place on particular interpretations of certain religious texts is liable to needlessly foster disharmony between faith groups.

Evolution is the most important concept underlying the life sciences, it is of paramount importance that it is included in the science education of children. Undermining it by failing to exclude the pernicious nonsense of creationists is in direct opposition to the best information that our science provides, and it will have repercussions far beyond the classrooms.

I urge you to add your support to EDMs 243 and 185.

Yours sincerely,


Needless to say, I could rant on all day about the evils of creationism. However, I won't on this occasion, except to just harp back to one of the most annoying aspects of the modus operandi of creationists.

Basically, rather than engage with scientists whose ideas oppose their own through the conventional approach of actually sitting down and doing science, they skip this bit and head straight for the public and politicians. There, in front of an audience with limited time to play with and non-expert knowledge of the subject, they make their case, knowing that it need only sound superficially plausible, and that their main goal, publicity, is already accomplished. Then, with a metaphorical foot in the door, they can then argue, ridiculously, that their ideas be taught to school children alongside "conventional" / "mainstream" / "naturalistic" science. To give them credit, they've long since realised that displacing real science from classrooms is a non-starter, and have rather cleverly latched onto playing the "fairness" / "balance" card. "Teach the controversy" they say, knowing full well how effective sowing baseless doubt can be with an audience of inexperienced and receptive children.

Anyway, enough seething for now. Not least because it's (similarly) baseless until the result of this new Coalition legislation becomes clear. I've already received an electronic reply from my MP's PA, saying that my note "will receive attention", but it'll be a while before the full fallout of these plans makes itself known.

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