Thursday, February 21, 2008

Journalists and Science

Scholars & Rogues takes on the journalism world and finds it wanting. They relate the following from Reuters:

The Reuters headline writer says “Florida will teach evolution, but only as a theory” (emphasis mine). Clearly, the headline writer also has no idea what a theory is. Michael Peltier, the writer, has this to say:

The panel includes the word “evolution” in state science standards for the first time, but it is relegated to a place among a host of ideas, including Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. By contrast Isaac Newton’s law of gravity is taught as undisputed fact.

“Relegated” to a place including the Theory of Relativity???!!! That’s like a musician’s being relegated to Carnegie Hall, or an actor’s relegation to the Royal Shakespeare Company! I can only hope I’m so relegated one day. As for “Newton’s law of gravity” being taught as “undisputed fact,” I would say that is true only in bad classrooms. Science has no undisputed facts. There are simply things that are so probable that they are treated as facts, and if they are undisputed at this time, then it is because no one has produced credible evidence to reduce their probabilities.

When are publishers and/or editors going to insist that their writers have at least rudimentary knowledge of science? Math? Anything at all?

It is not surprising to find that journalists have the same understanding of science as the the general public. I teach this in my Anthropology 110 course and, despite (presumably) reading the textbook, students still miss the question on what a theory is.

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