We English-speakers have to hang together

In an interview with Michael Specter in the New Yorker, we get to be really depressed at the way the Bush administration is politicizing science to an unheard-of degree. Bush is bowing and scraping before the twin gods of the Religiously Ridiculous and the Myopic Mullahs of Big Business, and letting science diminish. As a patriotic (isn’t it sad that that word is fast becoming synonymous with stupid and selfish?) American, this bothers me:

Are we losing ground in science as a nation? Are other countries doing better science, and doing more of it? Are there economic as well as medical costs?

We are still immensely powerful, successful, and full of talent. Yet the sense that we are invincible as a nation of scientists is starting to fade. If the investments that China, South Korea, India, and the European Union make in research and education continue to grow at such a rapid rate, then it is hard to see how the result can be anything but a loss of prominence, innovation, and prestige.

However, there is some good news. Even as we sink into the mire of ignorance, we’ll still be able to kick England’s butt!

Creationist theories about how the world was made are to be debated in GCSE science lessons in mainstream secondary schools in England.
The subject has been included in a new syllabus for biology produced by the OCR exam board, due out in September.

Isn’t that just so special? It’s exactly like the excuses we get here in the US, right down to the mealy-mouthed rationalizations that they’re just exploring “different views”.

The schools standards minister, Jacqui Smith, said in a parliamentary answer that pupils were encouraged to explore different views, theories and beliefs in many different subjects, including science.

“Creationism is one of many differing beliefs which pupils might discuss and consider, perhaps when they learn about another aspect of science: ‘ways in which scientific work may be affected by the contexts in which it takes place…and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted’,” she said.

There are a great many beliefs out there—if we’re going to use this old excuse of merely exposing kids to the wide range of different beliefs, then anything goes. Any old claptrap should be admissable in the science class, since they certainly aren’t going to be restricting topics to just science. What this is is simply the usual creationist routine of trying to get arbitrary myths validated by the authorities and treated as “theories”, a status they have not earned. This is not about improving the teaching of science, it’s all about legitimizing craptacular pseudoscience.

And they know it. Who is in favor of peddling creationism in British schools? The creationists.

The chairman of the Creation Science Movement, David Rosevear, told the Times Educational Supplement: “There is nothing wrong with presenting a different point of view to promote debate. It does not mean a student is going to say ‘I believe in Genesis chapter one’ any more than they are going to say evolution is fact.”

Yeah, they’ll just equate the validity of the scientific theory of evolution with the validity of Genesis chapter one—and the equality of ignorance and knowledge is exactly the end the creationists desire.

Oh, well. We will at least have each other to kick around while we’re down there in the cesspit.


  1. Caledonian says

    When you refuse to acknowledge that faith isn’t a different way of “knowing” but an inherently defective methodology, this is the inevitable result.

    Evolution is a fact. Creationism isn’t right — as the saying goes, it isn’t even wrong. It’s invalid. Pretend that it’s not, and it’ll show up in schools right next to the actual knowledge. While the actual knowledge is still there, of course.

  2. says

    Hey, us brits our doing our best dammit. It’s not like we actually knew Blair was a Bush-style religious nut when we elected him… :-/

    If there’s any brits reading this who’d like to help out, wander over to the justscience.org.uk forums when you have a moment.

  3. Alopex Lagopus says

    The whole article in the latest New Yorker (not online) is worth reading. I expect it doesn’t contain new news for this crowd, but it’s a great collection of the lowlights of what passes for science policy in this administration.

    Now I’m not a scientist nor do I play one on the Internets, but that article put me off my sleep for a couple of hours last night. It may adversely effect your blood pressure and stress hormone levels. You have been warned.

  4. Dave C says

    I am so depressed. As a Brit living in Canada I was hoping that this loopy myth based crap would confine itself to the USA. (But then I look at the middle east, India and Pakistan and I think why should it.)
    All the doctors and such like are fearing the wrong thing, the bird flu will be nothing compared to the damage the spread of this crap will promulgate.
    Hmmm I wonder do reackon that this creationism is a virus, are we really in the middle of a pandemic and more to the point is there a cure? I wonder it would be called the INRI infection, the Cruci-flu …..Just a thought, any more anyone.

    Anyway just winged a note to Ms Smith, not that it’ll do much good.

  5. says

    This link provides the text of a commentary Tony Blair wrote for the Wall Street Journal on the 50th anniversary of the 1953 Watson & Crick Nature paper. I recall sending it to my British chairman at a US university, remarking that such a deep understanding of the impact of this scientific discovery would be light-years beyond the comprehension of the current White House occupant.

  6. jbCharleston says

    Well, at least we know which part of our national heritage is infected by this particular virus. The vacccine failed (public education). And our national immune system has been severely compromised by this administration. Bummer. We were thinking that England might have been a haven..

  7. Derick O. says

    As a former subject of Her Britannic Majesty, I am shocked that the U.K. should be rushing back to religious superstition like the Gaderene Swine. I had thought that rationality had at last triumphed in the U.K. and it is a shock to find that the gene for religion was just lying in wait, ready to be expressed.

  8. says

    This week my college campus bloomed with handwritten posters listing the ten commandments. Other signs gave an answer to the question “Where did you come from?” (The “answer” was that God made us in his image.) Our Christian student clubs are competing with each other for members and seem to have plenty of time to wield their marking pens in marathon poster-making sessions. I wish they spent as much time on their math and science homework.

  9. SkookumPlanet says


    Lighten up on Bush a bit.

    Why? Because it’s the “Mullahs of the Far Right” who are driving this thing. Do you think once Bush leaves office the Republican leadership [including their next Prez] will suddenly see the light?

    The so-called “anti-science” trend is really just part and parcel of a larger, longer strategy to get and keep control of the mechanisms of government.

    Why should they stop? From their point of view it’s working just fine.

  10. Sarah says

    Not a particularly constructive comment but just have to say that when i saw this in the paper today i was incredibly annoyed (and that’s the polite way of putting it). My A-levels are with this board. It almost makes me feel they’re no longer worth the paper they’re printed on. When an exam board can stoop this low and become this stupid, why should their qualifications mean anything?

  11. says

    As an Englishman living in the US, I was at least able to take away from the whole Dover debacle a smug sense of superiority. Not any longer. The gloves are off.

    It’s no coincidence, though, that this kind of stuff should happen under the present UK administration – Blair’s wife is into all that alternative medicine crap, and Blair himself recently said in an interview that he will answer to God for the Iraq invasion. His whole government is characterised by right-on new-age gobbledegook, in fact.

  12. flame821 says

    {sigh} I thought England was far beyond all of this as well. The CoE doesn’t really carry that much sway anymore so I have to wonder who orchestrated this. Which organization(s) pushed for this to be taught?

    Who are these people who want to raise generations of idiots? In the past 6 years we seemed to have taken a 50 year step backwards and I just cannot figure out how this has happened. All the lies, scandals, illegal actions, pre-emptive wars and still these criminals not only keep their offices but stand for re-election and win.

    I sometimes get the feeling that I am either having the worst (and longest) nightmare of my life, or that I somehow ended up being a character in an ‘alternate dimension’ storyline. Either way this is maddening and I don’t see anyway to stop the downward spiral.

  13. SEF says

    If there’s any brits reading this who’d like to help out, wander over to the justscience.org.uk forums when you have a moment.

    As you possibly know already, some of us have been camping out at elmhurstsolutions.co.uk since the BBC trashed its science area on amalgamating it with the nature one last year. Some of us being more camp than others of course. ;-)

    The exam system has unfortunately been going downhill here (UK) for a while. This isn’t a one-off incident.

  14. Flitcraft says

    I posted some hours ago but my post still hasn’t shown up, I don’t know if a link in it triggered a spam filter or something, so I’ll hazard posting again but this time just put in the one key link.

    The English exam board in question OCR has issued a press statement on its site in which it says

    “In our Gateway Science specification, candidates are asked to discuss why the opponents of Darwinism thought the way they did and how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence.

    Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not regarded by OCR as scientific theories. They are beliefs that do not lie within scientific understanding.”

    And if you check out their actual syllabus module, it says this

    “Explain the main steps in Darwin’s theory of natural
    selection leading to the evolution or extinction of
    presence of natural variation;
    competition for limited resources;
    ‘survival of the fittest’;
    inheritance of ‘successful’ adaptations;
    extinction of species unable to compete.

    Explain the reasons why the theory of evolution by
    natural selection met with an initially hostile
    response (social and historical context).

    Explain how Lamarck’s idea of evolution by the
    inheritance of acquired characteristics was
    different from Darwin’s theory and why it was

    acquired characteristics do not have a
    genetic basis.

    Explain that over long periods of time the changes
    brought about by natural selection may result in the
    formation of new species.”

    The single sentence picked out by the newspapers is on p.35
    and looks very different in this context.

    This appears to me to be a case of sensationalised reporting, rather than a genuine attempt to teach Creationism. There is the possibility that a Creationist teacher might seize on that one sentence as an excuse to do some mischief, but given the way the syllabus covers things like debunking Lamarck, I think this is an attempt to teach some history of science rather than a pop at putting a Creationist trojan horse into the exam syllabus. You could argue, though, that maybe they should have picked on something else as a subject for this sort of historical treatment like Phlogiston, where there’s not the same chance of finding a true-believer in it in the classroom.

  15. Torbjorn Larsson says

    I didn’t think Europe should catch this particular US sickness, but here it is – obviously very virulent. Confinement is no longer an option.

    Rosevear seems like a major fuzz head, and I’m not surprised to see that he is “Married with three sons” instead of married, with three sons.

  16. G. Tingey says

    As the person who alerted PZ to this insanity …..

    Yeah, flame 821 is right to be worrie, and although flitcraft is probably roght most of the time, there REALLY ARE TEACHERS OUT THERE IN THE UK who WILL teach creationism.

    I used to be a teacher, and I’ve met two so far.

    It is really, really depressing.

    The creationist wingnuts will push their line, no matter what the syllabus says.

    Oh SHIT!

  17. says

    The “Creationism” being taught in Great Britain is the best antidote to rising creationism I can think of. It teaches what people used to believe – and why it is now known to be wrong. For starters this approach debunks ideas like the “list of famous scientists who believed in a biblical creation” (who came before Darwin) and the “geological evidence for the flood”. It simultaniously teaches Science, History of Science, Methodology of Science, Philosophy of Science, and why although very smart people may have been creationists once, only liars or the deceivers would be today.

    What’s not to like? It’s even doing what the IDers claim to want. Teaching the controversy and showing why it’s stupid to believe that there should be one today.

    (And the science curriculums at the exam boards in Britain are firmly under the control of scientists – and the head teachers will shoot the teachers who deliberately fry an area of teaching here because it will mess up their standings in league tables).

    The BBC (like most news sources do regularly) is making a mountain out of a (positive) molehill.

  18. says

    Yeah, flame 821 is right to be worrie, and although flitcraft is probably roght most of the time, there REALLY ARE TEACHERS OUT THERE IN THE UK who WILL teach creationism.

    Indeed. But how many of those are biology teachers?

  19. Rupert says

    As I mentioned in an earlier thread, my secondary school had a creationist biology teacher (this was in the late 70s, early 80s). He was active in the school Christian societies, and refused to teach embryology (for reasons I either cannot remember or never knew, but they were related to his religious beliefs). Other teachers covered for him in those lessons.

    As my school was a UK regional independent, it had a good collection of eccentric teachers. He was just one of them, and we gave his particular hobbyhorse no more credence than the French master’s The Moon Is Made Of Cheese society. We were far more concerned about the head’s terrible rages occasioned by his huge fondness for gin… but perhaps I’d better stop there.

    Quid si fasti sunt breves, what?


  20. c says

    On the other hand if people didn’t get so fussy about their beliefs and principles, none of this evolution-creation and similar dilemmas would be that serious.
    Religious people (the faithful not the fanatic sort) never were afraid of science and science never got totally banned, even during the most obscure ages.
    It’s this man-made gap and so-called clash that causes the problem, not the theories.
    If scientists were confidentof their theories they wouldn’t mind a little religion and if religious people were confident about theirs they wouldn;t mind some science.
    What I get from all this is that none is confident enough…

  21. Alexander Whiteside says

    Even though I’m an undergrad, I’ve been considering talking the Uni into letting me do a couple of lectures on the scientific method for first year science students – because the closest I’ve gotten to the scientific method in my degree is my stats lectures. This is a forensics course so it’s a bit worrying. Now I’ve heard this news, I’m definitely going for it.

    While the syllabus sounds good in principle – you could use this this as an example of what the scientific method is and isn’t – you can imagine what would happen if a Creationist science teacher got his or her mitts on it. I’ve already heard anecdotes about supply teachers teaching kids creationism, for crying out loud.