Friday, October 28, 2005

The Worst Jobs in Science

Paul Lamble of Red Rock Journal pointed this out to me a while back, and at last Popular Science's The Worst Jobs in Science, 2005 is online. Coming in at number 3 (worse than orangutan pee collector and vulcanologist, among others):
Kansas Biology Teacher
On the front lines of science's devolution

"The evolution debate is consuming almost everything we do," says Brad Williamson, a 30-year science veteran at suburban Olathe East High School and a past president of the National Association of Biology Teachers. "It's politicized the classroom. Parents will say their child can't be in class during any discussion of evolution, and students will say things like 'My grandfather wasn't a monkey!'"

First, a history lesson. In 1999 a group of religious fundamentalists won election to the Kansas State Board of Education and tried to introduce creationism into the state's classrooms. They wanted to delete references to radiocarbon dating, continental drift and the fossil record from the education standards. In 2001 more-temperate forces prevailed in elections, but the anti-evolutionists garnered a 6-4 majority again last November. This year Intelligent Design (ID) theory is their anti-evolution tool of choice.

At the heart of ID is the idea that certain elements of the natural world—the human eye, say—are "irreducibly complex" and have not and cannot be explained by evolutionary theory. Therefore, IDers say, they must be the work of an intelligent designer (that is, God).

The problem for teachers is that ID can't be tested using the scientific method, the system of making, testing and retesting hypotheses that is the bedrock of science. That's because underpinning ID is religious belief. In science class, Williamson says, "students have to trust that I'm just dealing with science."

Alas, for Kansas's educational reputation, the damage may be done. "We've heard anecdotally that our students are getting much more scrutiny at places like medical schools. I get calls from teachers in other states who say things like 'You rubes!'" Williamson says. "But this is happening across the country. It's not just Kansas anymore."
Maybe if the Board works really, really hard, they can push Kansas up to the top of the list next year.