‘Fringe science’ has no business in the classroom

February 23, 2009



I appreciate Mr. Abraham Smith''s letter (Evolutionists'' erroneous assertions, Feb. 17) responding to my commentary on science education in the USA. His letter was polite and to the point. However, his definition of "fairness" in teaching science is problematic for the following reasons.  


All fields of study have what I would call "fringe" workers whose views differ significantly from the mainstream. Sometimes, these people are competent and persistent enough to have their work eventually accepted by their peers. Frequently, however, their work is insignificant or incorrect or poorly researched and the only way they can get it published at all is to bypass normal scientific channels (peer review).  


The book Mr. Smith mentioned, "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" by Micheal Denton, is by a fringe scientist and was published in 1986. It has since been thoroughly refuted by the scientific community (numerous detailed reviews online) and been superseded by the same author''s 2002 book "Nature''s Destiny" in which Denton himself seems to have changed his mind in many ways, for example: "To get from a single cell to Homo Sapiens has taken it four billion years on earth ..." 


I am very concerned how any requirement that fringe opinions in science should be given equal credence to mainstream knowledge can have a chillingly negative effect on education. This is like saying that the work of fantasist Erich von Daniken like "Chariots of the Gods" should be given equal weight to accepted knowledge in courses on archaeology or astronomy. Most scientists are receptive to valid alternatives to current concepts, and there are standard mechanisms for having these alternatives thoroughly evaluated through the scientific publication process.  


Teachers of science are thereby obligated to reflect the current state of knowledge in their field based on the most substantiated concepts in their field. Introducing fringe opinions which lack a good scientific basis has no place in a science class. Right now, people objecting to the teaching of evolution try to give themselves equal credence. They don''t have it and unless they develop a true scientific basis for their hypotheses, their work does not belong in science classes. 


In addition, some biology teachers, according to students taking my college science classes, have either through ignorance or deliberately given incorrect information about evolution in their high school biology classes. I know of other cases where high school biology teachers have been threatened with losing their jobs if they cover evolutionary biology in their biology classes.  


This does not bespeak a desire to further student learning. These scenarios are apparently being repeated across the country, bringing me to the point of my earlier letter. This country cannot afford to have the quality of science education so negatively affected through incompetence or intimidation of its science teachers or to have the bulk of our citizenry ignorant of, afraid of, or thoroughly confused about science.  


We need to have competent science educators who are allowed to teach their fields without sectarian and political interference or some of the best strengths of our country will be further damaged. 


Bill Parker, West Point