JOLLY BISON
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Thread: The backlash against scientific ideas in the classroom

  1. #1

    The backlash against scientific ideas in the classroom

    From a biology professor at Williams College:

    The trouble began when we discussed the notion of heritability as it applies to human intelligence. (Heritability is the degree to which offspring genetically resemble their parents; the concept can apply not only to physical traits, but also to behavioral ones.) In a classroom discussion, I noted that researchers have measured a large average difference in IQ between the inhabitants of the United States and those of my home country, Brazil. I challenged the supposed intelligence differential between Americans and Brazilians. I asked students to think about the limitations of the data, which do not control for environmental differences, and explained that the raw numbers say nothing about whether observed differences are indeed “inborn”—that is, genetic.

    There is, of course, a long history of charlatans who have cited dubious “science” as proof that certain racial and ethnic groups are genetically superior to others. My approach has been to teach students how to see through those efforts, by explaining how scientists understand heritability today, and by discussing how to interpret intelligence data—and how not to.

    Similar biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology. This denialism manifests itself at times in classroom discussions and in emails in which students explain at length why I should not be teaching the topic.

    To my surprise, some students even objected to other well-established biological concepts, such as “kin selection,” the idea that, when individuals take actions for the benefit of their offspring and siblings, they are indirectly perpetuating their own genes.
    Thoughts? I thought this was really interesting. Usually I find there's a lot of whiny and unwarranted backlash (typically from center or right-leaning folks) against people who are critical of speech that's sexist and racist.

  2. #2

    Re: The backlash against scientific ideas in the classroom

    Multiple issues here.

    One is of course acknowledging the limits of a study - science news tends to take narrow studies and generalize into edgy headlines, and individuals tend to do the same thing.

    The second is that the average person cannot critique study design based off a news article, especially without having access to the study! It would be stupid for them to try. What they CAN do is point out that people that argue vehemently about how ____ people are _____ based on “science” tend to have a sexist / racist / homophobic / agenda. If you constantly bring up stuff about how ____ people are worse in some way, it’s probably not because you just love science but because you’re a bigot.

    Third: Sounds like the professor thinks Brazilians are as smart as Americans, but women are not as smart as men. He is cherry-picking which studies to critique.

  3. #3

    Re: The backlash against scientific ideas in the classroom

    Multiple issues here.

    One is of course acknowledging the limits of a study - science news tends to take narrow studies and generalize into edgy headlines, and individuals tend to do the same thing.

    The second is that the average person cannot critique study design based off a news article, especially without having access to the study! It would be stupid for them to try. What they CAN do is point out that people that argue vehemently about how ____ people are _____ based on “science” tend to have a sexist / racist / homophobic / agenda. If you constantly bring up stuff about how ____ people are worse in some way, it’s probably not because you just love science but because you’re a bigot.

    Third: Sounds like the professor thinks Brazilians are as smart as Americans, but women are not as smart as men. He is cherry-picking which studies to critique.

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