"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

2021 Medley #6 - We Slide into Superstition and Darkness

Mask misinformation, Climate change misinformation, Vaccine misinformation, Legislative ignorance


N.J. school nurse fails science, experts say, in comments about face masks.

Sadly, this nurse at the center of this article has failed to keep up with the science she (should have) learned in nursing school.

One of the arguments Nurse Pein gives for being against masks is that it causes damage to the mental health of children. More first-graders are suffering from anxiety and depression, she claims. She blames the masks but fails science in at least two ways.

Science lesson #1

First, her conclusion is based on a small sample size, just one school. Any good scientist will tell you that a large enough sample size is necessary before concluding that a hypothesis is correct. Small samples increase the margin of error and reduce the confidence level. Are the first-graders in her school representative of all the first-graders in the state...the country...the world? Obviously not. Perhaps there's something happening in her community that is causing stress among the population of young children -- something like a pandemic, for example. Blaming it on the masks alone is just plain ignorant.

Science lesson #2

Failure number two -- correlation does not imply causation. Nurse Pein blames the masks for the distress of the children in her school, but did she explore anything else that might be causing the problems? Are all the children who wear masks to school feeling anxious or depressed? Perhaps her attendance area has a large number of COVID cases and the students are worried about their family members or classmates. Perhaps the children have heard adults spout misinformation about the dangers of wearing masks! Whatever the cause, the conclusion that the masks are causing the negative feelings of the children is a conclusion without a basis.

Finally, it must be noted that she hasn't kept up with the changes to the science of the pandemic as we learn more about the virus. Early on we were told that masks weren't effective against the virus and were needed for medical professionals. However, as we have learned more about how the virus is spread the science has changed. We've learned more. We know more than we did in February and March of 2020. Now we know that masks are effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Similarly, we now know that children are more susceptible to coronavirus variants than they were a year ago (Northeast Indiana readers, see also here).

Science is not an unchanging truth. Science conclusions can and do change when we learn more.

Other objections Pein has for mask-wearing are debunked in the article.
After refusing to wear a mask herself, Erin Pein said she was suspended from her job in the Stafford Township school district.

Now her supporters are planning a rally and her cause has become an issue in the upcoming Republican primary for Hirsh Singh, who arranged and posted a widely shared video interview with her and argues that no one should be forced to wear masks — calling it “a matter of personal freedom.”

But epidemiologists say such claims are little more than “inflammatory rhetoric” and at odds with the science that has repeatedly shown that face masks are highly effective in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, they said as new variants of the virus develop, the wearing of masks has become more important than ever.


Making the Grade? How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change

Are you surprised that Indiana didn't get an F in its state standards addressing climate change? The fact that there's some hope raised the grade to a D.

The state standards for science in Indiana, according to the report by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, don't even acknowledge that the changing climate is a problem. Students graduating from K-12 schools in Indiana will hear pundits on TV raging about the dangers of climate change and will assume that it's not a problem we need to worry about. Graduates from Indiana will be unlikely to contribute to advances in climate science and other related fields. The right-wing myth that climate change is a hoax will continue to find a home in Indiana.
Overall grade: D

Indiana earned a D, just barely escaping and overall failing grade. The state's approach to the reality and severity of climate change as well as the human responsibility for causing it is abysmal. One reviewer: "I must say [the standards do] not meet the needs of Indiana students in the process of learning their foundational understanding of the world they are inheriting and the promising careers and opportunities available to them; this is a disservice to them." Saving the state from an F were somewhat better -- but still poor -- marks for addressing the possibility of solutions to the problem, which is odd since the standards failed to make clear that the problem exists. One reviewer summed up thus: "These standards do a relatively poor job in meeting the four rubrics. They do not have a coherent learning progression or explicit information. Interestingly, there is a good deal of focus on science and engineering solution-oriented perspectives, and this is why I scored the 'there's hope' section higher. This...focus could be very effective if it was used to address and ideate climate adaptation and mitigation solutions." Not surprisingly, the state got failing grades for preparing students for studying climate change in higher education and for responsible participation in civic deliberation on the issue.


Why mRNA vaccines can’t change your genome: a lesson from Elmer Elevator
My last blog post, Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket, focused on science literacy, and the lack of it in American culture. I suggested that teachers connect to organizations to help bring science literacy to their students. One of those groups was the National Center for Science Education. In this post, Executive Director of NCSE, Ann Reid, debunks the conspiracy that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines alter a person's DNA. Hint: You should read the book My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, a 1949 Newbery Honor Book. Hint #1: mRNA vaccines won't alter your DNA.
Over the course of Elmer’s adventure, he uses each of these objects. For example, the toothbrush and toothpaste serve to distract a hostile rhinoceros that threatens to drown Elmer in the pool he weeps in because his horn (the book says “tusk,” but rhino horns aren’t teeth) has grown grey and ugly. Only the jackknife, which Elmer eventually uses to saw through the ropes holding the dragon, makes any sense in advance. But every object is used, and every one is essential; without each and every one of them, Elmer would never have reached and rescued the baby dragon.

All right, I can hear you saying: “What in the Sam Hill does this have to do with mRNA vaccines?”

Well, this. For an mRNA vaccine to alter your DNA, it would have to overcome a series of challenges, each of which requires specialized cellular components that would have to be in the right place at the right time. Just like Elmer Elevator, the mRNA can’t just show up in your cell and expect to get past all the wild animals between it and the baby dragon, as it were.


A state legislator is howling indoctrination because my 7th graders are learning the ocean is polluted

A North Carolina representative wants to make sure that students aren't taught about climate change which he says is "indoctrination."

This is what happens when science is misunderstood, misrepresented, and then politicized.

What also scares me about this bill is that it would require teachers to spend an insane amount of time every day posting lesson plans online.
A member of the North Carolina House of Representatives held up my teaching as an example of harmful indoctrination of children this week as state legislators met to discuss a new bill which would require teachers to post their lesson plans online for public review.

The K-12 Education Committee approved HB 755, also known as “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency.” It passed the House by a vote of 66-50 and now moves on to the Senate.

The legislation mandates that all lesson plans, including information about any supporting instructional materials as well as procedures for how an in-person review of lesson materials may be requested, be “prominently displayed” on school websites.

Iredell County Republican Representative Jeffrey McNeely gave the bill two enthusiastic thumbs up, pointing to my teaching as an example of the hidden indoctrination that will be exposed if the bill is passed into law

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Carl Sagan's 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World, is prescient in its description of the world 26 years into its future -- superstition, lack of critical thinking, the inability to question, the inability to distinguish between truth and falsehood...
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

No comments: