Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Evolution and reverence for Scientists

The other night while I was bathing my two small children my six year old little girl start telling her five year old little brother: "we were once monkeys." I chimed in with the typical parental correction "we were never monkeys, humans share a common ancestor with monkeys." Correcting any six year old is problematic, they are on the cusp of knowing everything and corrections just get in the way. A small intellectual scuffle ensues:

Girl6: Yes we were monkeys
Daddy: Its OK sweetheart lots of adults get that wrong, it is a tricky thing
Girl6: I'm not wrong!
Daddy: Everyone is wrong sometime, nobody knows everything...
Boy5: Scientists know everything!
Daddy: (in his best sweet Daddy voice), Oh no.... The first thing scientists have to do is figure out what they don't know so they will know what to research. And then when they think they know something they write papers and books and create experiments for their friends to check and see if they got it right.

I would have gone on here, but I have noticed that bath time lectures on the philosophy of science are best if kept short. I think it settled in a bit, won't know for sure until later. Meanwhile Jimmy Neutron and his cartoon ilk keeps confusing "science" with magic and technology. Don't know where we would be without Bill Nye the science guy.

I have a constant worry that we really should be teaching the philosophy of science first, and then facts and wonder and awe at what we have been able to learn using the method later (see my previous language rant post). Sort of like teaching children to admire calligraphy and bookbinding before teaching them to read.


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