Science wrong and science lite

Science textbooks are riddled with junk science, but they’re always politically correct, writes Pamela Winnick in the Weekly Standard.

A sloppy way with facts, a preference for the politically correct over the scientifically sound, and sheer faddism characterize their content. It’s as if their authors had decided above all not to expose students to the intellectual rigor that is the lifeblood of science.

Thus, a chapter on climate in a fifth-grade science textbook in the Discovery Works series, published by Houghton Mifflin (2000), opens with a Native American explanation for the changing seasons: “Crow moon is the name given to spring because that is when the crows return. April is the month of Sprouting Grass Moon.” Students meander through three pages of Algonquin lore before they learn that climate is affected by the rotation and tilt of Earth–not by the return of the crows.

. . . Affirmative action for women and minorities is similarly pervasive in science textbooks, to absurd effect. Al Roker, the affable black NBC weatherman, is hailed as a great scientist in one book in the Discovery Works series. It is common to find Marie Curie given a picture and half a page of text, but her husband, Pierre, who shared a Nobel Prize with her, relegated to the role of supportive spouse. In the same series, Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, is shown next to black scientist Lewis Latimer, who improved the light bulb by adding a carbon filament. Edison’s picture is smaller.

Middle-school science texts are riddled with errors, a Packard Foundation Study found.

British students will study “science lite” under the new national curriculum.

The science that all pupils study from the age of 14 is to focus more on “lifestyles”, general knowledge and opinion and less on chemistry, biology and physics, says the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

. . . Instead of learning science, pupils will “learn about the way science and scientists work within society”.

They will “develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others’ decisions about lifestyles”, the QCA said.

In addition, they be taught that “there are some questions that science cannot answer, and some that science cannot address.” Especially, if nobody actually knows science.

Update: Chicago Boyz has more on the hazards of replacing science with social science, including an analysis of Paradise Lost and a link to Melanie Phillips on the “de-education of Britain.”

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  1. Mike in Texas says:

    I was got to review a Social Studies book being considered for adoption. It was called “We the People” It did not have the Preamble to the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson or George Washington in it anywhere. There was a nice piece about Maya Angelou though.

    Of course, the political appointees on the textbook adoption committee approved it for use.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    Though not as bad as it is now, we had the equivalent of political correctness even when I went to public school (in the 1950s). In my days George Washington Carver (of peanut fame) was given equal billing to other scientists. In fact, I even got to play him (or a lighter shade of him) in a school play in Junior High School.

  3. A very disturbing trend, which illuminates much that is wrong with the thinking of education establishment. See “skipping science class” at:

  4. Richard Nierporent wrote:

    In fact, I even got to play him (or a lighter shade of him) in a school play in Junior High School.

    We caught a high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof” recently and two of Tevyeh’s daughter’s would have stood out, in contrast as it were, against the residents of a turn-of-the-century, eastern European shtetl.

    With regard to the quality of the science in text books, what would anyone expect?

    Creating a centralized book selection authority also creates a great, big, juicy political target. Everyone who sees advantage in “catchin’ ’em young and trainin’ ’em right” will do their best to grab control of that authority.

    If you’re dumb enough to think the only thing wrong with that arrangement is that you aren’t in charge, then you’re too dumb to be in charge. Not that I expect that to be much of an impediment to prospective book selection czars.

  5. maribeth says:

    I was taught “science lite” in elementary school and learned to hate science because it was such boring baloney. Finally in high school I got to take a real, honest-to-God lab course in physics. Now I am a physicist.

    If they really want to teach about “science and society,” students should be exposed to information about what real scientists, including as many women and minorities as you like, are doing now, in 2005. Learning to idolize Marie Curie will do them no good. (I highly recommend the book Obsessive Genius, which chronicles how she totally ignored her children in favor of science, “exaggerated” details in her memoirs in order to get more funding, had an affair which almost kept her from getting her second Nobel, and died a horrible death from radiation poisioning.)

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps kids need to know what science is before they learn who scientists were.