Tour d'Ivoire

I've been listening to the interesting discussions at the Beyond Belief 1 conferences. Several speakers have, I think correctly, identified current anti-science attitudes as not merely stemming from religion per se, but also from poor education in science and in critical thinking. The recently released PISA test results certainly confirm this for 15 year olds in America.

One speaker seems to believe that people are merely confused about whether or not to believe scientific findings, and consequently that better conveying rational information about science will enable these people to assess scientific claims for themselves.

This led me to wonder what planet this fella lives on. Earth obviously, but that segment of Earth referred to as the ivory tower*:
"a sheltered, overly-academic existence or perspective, implying a disconnection or lack of awareness of reality or practical considerations."

How do otherwise intelligent people come to be so oblivious of the mental machinations of the average person? Academics are protected from the guy in the street, that's how.

I don't recall which scale was used for the report in which I read that the average IQ of university graduates is 110 (Wechsler, 74th percentile; Stanford-Binet, 73rd). Harvard medical students averaged 135 (W, 99th; S-B 98.5th). There's lots of controversy about IQ tests, yet they are good predictors of academic performance. The scales are standardized with a score of 100 for the 50th percentile. Most people clump around the hump at 100.

Extrapolating, I assume that most graduate students average somewhere between 110 and 135. This would mean that most professors probably come into close contact with students who are brighter than at least 70% of the population, and who are motivated to think and to learn. No wonder this professor had an inflated estimation of the level of science-interest of the population-at-large. He certainly must not have taught science to reluctant, hormone-obsessed teenagers.

The members of religious congregations are quite capable of learning "we do not believe in evolution because goddidit." Not a difficult concept to master, particularly since goddidit requires no comprehension of complicated mechanisms – virtually no comprehension of any kind, really.

In most Western countries, the average person may understand little about the mechanisms of evolution, but at least they were officially taught that there is abundant evidence that biological evolution occurred. However, in America, the teaching of creationism in high schools has only been illegal since 1987, so the bulk of the population has been taught only misinformation. No wonder science in America is in some trouble.

*Apparently the term "ivory tower" takes its current meaning from a poem by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve.


biological evolution, critical thinking, education, religion, science, IQ

No comments: