Deliberately aggressively titled post – who cares what you think?

This post is in response to this current report. For once I’m not targeting the journalism, but the actual point of the survey. It’s an assessment of the public’s opinion on the teaching of non-evolution-based ‘theories’ (as everyone insists on calling them for no obvious reason, despite a lack of evidence that would make them barely viable as hypotheses) as part of science in the UK.

Right, here’s the rub. I don’t care what the public thinks here. They are not to be trusted. Look, yes of course you must consult parents / the public on general themes in education (do they want their kids to have more or less physical education, should history be focused on the recent past or great times in history and so on) and I’m all in favour of public education and dialogue, but in this case the point is absolutely and utterly irrelevant.

Let’s pick something comparable:

When you are ill do you a) seek a doctor (i.e. professional in the medical establishment) or b) take a straw poll of the nearest 1000 people to you and do what they say?

When your car breaks down do you a) call out a professional mechanic or b) take a straw poll of the nearest 1000 people to you and do what they say?

When your sink backs up and overflows do you a) call out a reputable plumber to attend the problem or b) take a straw poll of the nearest 1000 people to you and do what they say?

You may be seeing a pattern here. And it is this – not everyone in the world knows everything about everything. In fact when you consdier the truly stupendous and vast amount of knowldge in the world (whether it be about fixing spark plus, the Roman occupation of France, the second series of ‘The A-team’ or quantum physics) most people know next to nothing about anything. To get around this issue for things that are complex and matter we have a system of telling apart who does know something and who does not, like, for example internationally recognised qualifications like degrees and doctorates. You know who real doctors are as they hold MD degrees and are members of professional bodies.

Recognised and qualified experts in science are called scientists and those in the narrower field of biology are called biologists. It should therefore be obvious that the people who get to decide what is and is not good science and good biology should be the biologists. Joe Public should not get a look in anymore than he should be allowed to take out your appendix (unless he’s a doctor) or fix the plumbing (unless he’s a plumber).

The odd thing is people do know this – they go to doctors when they are ill, call out mechanics to fix their car, fly in planes with pilots, get architects to design houses and so on. They clearly at some level do know what they are and are not qualified to talk about (despite this evidence) but people need to think rationally about this. Don’t even think of taking a poll on something like this, the question is irrelevant and the people asked are in the main not skilled or qualified to give an accurate answer. It might tell you a little which way the wind is blowing, but its actual effect or outcome is meaningless. Ask the biologists what should be taught. Ask the teachers how. Don’t ask the public.

Now, before you sink your teeth in to reply (assuming you are going to contradict me) please first read these two posts: on academic authority and this on scientific dialogue and do also note that this is somewhat deliberately provocative – it’s deliberately exaggerated for effect. I’m still right though, obviously…

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9 Responses to “Deliberately aggressively titled post – who cares what you think?”


  1. 1 Nathan Myers 27/10/2009 at 8:26 am

    A meta-comment: I predict few replies, for a reason that should be evident with a little thought.

  2. 2 mattvr 27/10/2009 at 9:44 pm

    Am I allowed to whole heartedly agree with you while at the same time despairing the survey clearly showing humanity’s descent into ignorance and darkness?

  3. 6 mattvr 28/10/2009 at 11:08 am

    My apologies if the plug was inappropriate.

    I visit your blog daily, keep up the good work!

  4. 8 Allen Hazen 28/10/2009 at 3:18 pm

    Rats, I can’t remember which dialogue! (I prefer more modern philosophers.) But Plato, somewhere, gives an exchange your post reminded me of: Scorates, going through several examples how it makes sense to go to experts for particular tasks (to a pilot if you want a ship navigated, a trainer if you want a diet and exercise regimen…) to lead up to a conclusion about looking for experts for other things. In Plato’s case I think it was that we should have philosopher-kings ruling the city instead of democratically elected politicians, not just setting the biology curriculum for the schools…


  1. 1 Ask A Biologist, an appeal « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 07/04/2010 at 8:42 am

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