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Rebecca Woodruff's picture

Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science

It strikes me as quite funny that on the first read-through, I found myself agreeing with many of the central assertions of this paper, and on a second, deeper read-through, I was offended by many of those same assertions. On a third read-though I’ve figured out that it’s more the first part of this paper and the included characterizations of what constitutes science, conceived problems in education, and the lack of incorporation of storytelling that offend. As I'm continuing my inquiry into the problems associated with education, the authors’ closed-minded definition of science, and the representation of preexisting assumptions as problematic took me aback.

What offends me about the first part of this article is the preconceived notion about what "right" science is, what "right" education is. Fundamentally, in this article Bloom and Weisberg attempt to describe several types of American subcultures, and the way the people included in those cultures respond to what are traditionally known as scientific stories. Though never stated explicitly, I couldn't help but glean an undercurrent of subtle judgment of those who didn't subscribe to traditional scientific thought throughout the entire piece. I guess I don’t have any problem with the keystone observation that “some resistance to scientific ideas is a human universal” but rather how they define science to begin with. As we’ve discussed before, brain structure and function vary. Human perceptions and stories vary. However, because of the brain’s capacity to change, and its evolutionary role as an information gatherer, we’re all every day living out the scientific inquiry process. It’s how we work at a very fundamental level. Besides their problematic definition (or lack thereof) of science, I strongly disagreed with the assertion that “The problem with teaching science to children is thus ‘not what the student lacks, but what the student has, namely alternative conceptual frameworks for understanding the phenomena covered by theories we are trying to teach’”. To me, this sentence completely discounts the worth and the usefulness of different stories in the classroom. How do these observations relate to these models of education?

In the second part of the paper, I found that the cultural observations were much more powerful and useful. This section weighed the factors contributing to opinion formation in a less judgmental way. I especially thought the observation on “explicit assertion” vs. “implicit assumption” was an interesting one. I personally connected with the shock of leaving one environment with a set of implicit assumptions for another with a different set of implicit assumptions in my experiences with culture shock. This reflection brought me to a new one. I never thought before about how a child might experience similar emotions and responses to culture shock when leaving her home for the science classroom!

I'm really curious about what the authors' intention was with this paper. It's interesting to me that they make these well-cited, well-researched observations about contemporary American thought, but they don't state the ramifications (intended or otherwise) of these observations! I could see some communities reading this and saying 'Good! Let's do our best to keep "nonscientific ideologies ... grounded in common sense and transmitted by trustworthy sources" for the preservation of our society!' just as easily as I could see another community saying "Bloom and Weisberg have identified a flaw in the American education system. Let's tackle this problem of 'what the student has, namely alternative conceptual frameworks for understanding the phenomena covered by the theories we are trying to teach'." I guess overall, I'm puzzled as to why the authors spent so much time observing, and so little time commenting on the significance of their provocative observations. Why do these "biases" exist? What do you propose to do about them? Are stories other than our own useful? Are they detrimental? Does culture emerge from education and vice versa? Do you see these differences as a problem to be fixed or as human variability that is at all costs to be preserved?

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