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Battling Ignorance

To the Editor:

Lawrence M. Krausss essay against creationism in the schools (How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate, Aug. 15) never engaged any genuine philosophical or scientific arguments related to Darwinism or its absolute commitment to methodological naturalism: that is, design is never allowed to explain anything in biology.

Nor did Dr. Krauss even mention the careful method of design detection laid out by intelligent design proponents like the philosopher and mathematician William Dembski or the biochemist Michael Behe. They are clearly not creationists.

The best way for students to learn science and critical thinking is to present a debate on Darwinism. Students are now denied the opportunity to think for themselves. That is a dogma no one should accept. If Dr. Krauss is worried about students being ignorant of science, he should support a debate, not a monopoly.

Douglas Groothuis
Littleton, Colo.
The writer is a professor of philosophy at the Denver Seminary.

To the Editor:

Bravo for Dr. Krauss and his important and insightful message (How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate).

You bet the battle is against ignorance. At a time when the United States fears a loss of competitiveness in the global marketplace, it is ironic that the very scientific literacy we seek for competitive innovation is, in fact, undermined by the conservative rights insistence on re-visioning science in our schools.

Understanding the nature of science and how a scientific theory develops is just the beginning of educating our students about what counts as evidence and how we use the term theory differently in science than in everyday language.

Before the federal government panics about a loss of competitiveness, it should panic about the absence of scientific literacy from some select legislators and school board members.

Janice Koch
Hempstead, N.Y.
The writer, a professor of science education at Hofstra, is president-elect of the Association for Science Teacher Education.

To the Editor:

I was amazed by Dr. Krausss essay How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate. He mentioned the creationist views of Dr. Steve Abrams of the Kansas state school board, who has said he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago.

Even though Dr. Abrams has said he doesnt think that his views belong in the classroom, this is not enough for Dr. Krauss. He comments, A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abramss religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.

Did you catch that? Dr. Krauss is saying that people with certain religious views should not be chairmen of state school boards, even if they think that their personal beliefs do not belong in the classroom. If this is not a proposal of religious discrimination, I dont know what is.

Mark Hausam
Salt Lake City

To the Editor:

I disagree with Dr. Krausss essay How to Make Sure Children are Scientifically Illiterate. Darwinists are not advancing science by seeking federal court injunctions against criticism of Darwinism. Science is not a body of knowledge; its a method of inquiry. Freedom of inquiry is indispensable to science.

Students should be taught to question prevailing theories even entrenched dogma like Darwinism with rigor and with civility. Contra Dr. Krauss, the opposite of science is not ignorance; its censorship.

Michael Egnor, M.D.
Stony Brook, N.Y.
The writer is a professor of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

To the Editor:

Re How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate: As right as Dr. Krauss is about the importance of keeping science education in the hands of those who understand science thoroughly, he is wrong when he says that science is not storytelling.

Science unfortunately is as much storytelling as religion and any other system or set of beliefs. It is, in fact, unscientific to put so much faith in the theories that one has proved to be true through the scientific method.

As inextricably linked as science seems to be to our very existence, it takes a lot for anyone to accept that science is as all things are, an imperfect system.

Science is based on the blind assumption that man is able to reason all things within the universe. However, science, like religion and philosophy, will also become outdated.

Kevin Hu
Manhattan

To the Editor:

Re How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate: Having worked closely with people in Singapore, China, Japan, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand in the past 10 years, I can assure you they are not teaching creationism in those countries. They know its nuts, and they think were nuts to teach it.

Where do these educators in the United States think we as a country will be in a hundred years if we keep our children in the scientific dark? Look only to the Middle East for the result of educating children based on religious beliefs. A nightmare of intolerance and hatred.

Separation of church and state: isnt our Constitution clear enough on this point?

Democracy needs an educated populace. Without education, we as a country are doomed. The rest will leave us in their dust.

Robert Cutler
Garrison, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Dr. Krausss otherwise excellent essay, How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate, is marred by a rhetorical misstep that undercuts his argument and misrepresents evolution. He writes, With their changing political tactics, creationists are an excellent example of evolution at work. Not so.

I understand that the statement is meant ironically; unfortunately, he further confuses the issue. In evolutionary terms, the shape-shifting of creationists and the doublespeak they use to create the illusion of scientific controversy shouldnt be compared to adaptation through natural selection (changes that occur over generations and that sometimes result in new species) but rather to the concept of acclimation (changes within a single generation in reaction to environmental changes).

When groups like the Discovery Institute change their terms from creationism to intelligent design to creative evolution, it isnt only intellectual dishonesty, its also acclimation.

James M. Stubenrauch
Brooklyn

To the Editor:

How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate: Readers should know that science is not storytelling is Dr. Krausss opinion, and that other scientists, myself included, believe storytelling to be a key element of science, one that it is particularly important to convey as part of effective science education.

Dr. Krauss has also himself violated a fundamental tenet of science: to remain both open-minded toward all understandings and skeptical of them. An unnecessarily aggressive posture toward the understandings of others makes it harder rather than easier to promote widespread scientific literacy.

Paul Grobstein
Bryn Mawr, Pa.

The writer is the director of the Center for Science in Society at Bryn Mawr College.

To the Editor:

Re How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate: Creationists evolving attempts to get creationism into the schools are not an excellent example of evolution at work. Evolution is random and purposeless, while their efforts are conscious and highly purposed. If these attempts are indeed divinely inspired, they illustrate the limitations of purposed design.

Ilya Shlyakhter
Princeton, N.J.

To the Editor:

While the religious right deserves considerable blame for our childrens scientific illiteracy, it should share that blame with other philosophical trends more often associated with the secular left. For example, postmodernists dismiss science as just another class-based social construct. The humanities snobs who dominate the American intelligentsia insist that science (unlike, say, deconstructionism) has no relevance to what they consider to be real life. Those educators who take a handicapper general view of education try to prevent scientifically talented students from getting ahead out of misplaced notions of fairness.

David J. Edmondson
Alexandria, Va.

Maybe Darwin Was Optimistic

To the Editor:

Re Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans (Aug. 15): I am afraid I must agree with your headline. Many Americans have not evolved, not very far at any rate.

Susan Fiore
Verona, Wis.

To the Editor:

Re "Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans": It is important to note that the question used in this survey to determine acceptance of evolution referred just to the evolution of humans. Many of us expect that the overall acceptance of evolution would be higher if no mention were made of people.

Eric Delson
Fort Lee, N.J.
The writer is a professor and chairman of anthropology at Lehman College.

To the Editor:

Re Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans: I was chagrined more than amused to see the chart relegating Americans belief in evolution to the bottom of the scale, not for the ranking, but for your summary of the responses. The use of believe about scientific fact rather neatly illustrates the problem, doesnt it?

Lisa M. Lombardi
Brisbane, Australia
The writer is an American living abroad.

To the Editor:

Science Times of Aug. 15 pulls out all the stops to promote evolutionary theory. Did Humans Evolve? Not Us, Say Americans implies, that because many Americans do not embrace that theory, they are stupid. How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate inquisitorially questions whether a Christian fundamentalist can be fit to be chairman of a state school board.

Robert Oppenheimer said, There is no place for dogma in science.

It is ironic there are so many who profess adherence to scientific principles, yet whose dogmatic beliefs in evolution, global warming and stem cell research can only be described as religious.

Stephen Helfer
Cambridge, Mass.

Not on a First-Name Basis

To the Editor:

Patient Power: Making Sure Your Doctor Really Hears You (The Consumer, Aug. 15) states that the power gap often shuts patients down.

Todays doctors often provoke this feeling as soon as they meet the patient by addressing her by her first name. Frequently, when meeting a doctor for the first time, he (or she) will say, Hi Ruby, Im Dr. Smith. Very often the doctor is half my age.

This is patronizing, and it immediately tells me that Dr. Smith believes he or she is my better. I go through the examination wondering how I can tell the doctor that I should be given the choice of what I would like to be called, without sounding like a difficult patient and incurring the doctors displeasure.

Is using a patients first name something that is currently taught in medical school, supposedly to put the patient at ease? In my opinion, it has the opposite effect.

Ruby Heiman
Lido Beach, N.Y.

Old Wives Were Pretty Smart

To the Editor:

Re Really (Aug. 15): Please note that the claim that taking a shower during a lightning storm can electrocute you actually is an old wives tale; it just happens to be a true one.

Some of those old wives were pretty smart. If youre not convinced, just check the top of last weeks letters column: some even knew how to prevent tapeworm infections.

John D. Wynn, M.D.
Seattle

A Complicated Coffee Cup

To the Editor:

An Elusive Proof and Its Elusive Prover (Aug. 15) provided an admirable nontechnical explanation of the Poincaré conjecture, but it also promoted the stereotypical view of mathematicians as out of touch with reality and obsessed with their work. (The most eccentric mathematician I ever met was quite normal except that he would wear his suit and tie when he rode his bike to the office.)

Your editorial Of Math Proofs and Millionaires (Aug. 16) got it right, celebrating the dedication that led Dr. Perelman to labor for years to solve a problem that once seemed insoluble. His work is a triumph accomplished without the use of any performance enhancing substance except coffee.

Gerald J. Janusz
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The writer is an emeritus professor of mathematics and former department chairman at the University of Illinois.

To the Editor:

Re An Elusive Proof and Its Elusive Prover (Aug. 15): Anyone who has raised rabbits knows they are not equivalent topologically to a sphere, but rather at least to a doughnut. Food goes in one end, and fertilizer comes out the other.

Joel Berson
Arlington, Mass.

To the Editor:

Re An Elusive Proof: No, a bunny is not a sphere. In the simplest case, thanks to the bunnys alimentary canal, the bunny is a coffee cup. And so am I. And so is the redoubtable editor.

We may be even more complicated: I dont know how to handle (topologically) the nostrils and breathing connections.

But thanks for the mental exercises.

C. W. Kocher
Midland, Mich.

To the Editor:

Re An Elusive Proof: To a mathematician, a rabbit is a sphere; to a biologist, it is a doughnut. There is a tube running through a rabbit its alimentary canal that plays an essential role in the life of the rabbit. A topologically spherical rabbit would quickly become a dead rabbit.

Millard Susman
Madison, Wis.
The writer is an emeritus professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin.

Lend Support, Not a Firm Hand

To the Editor:

For Addicts, Firm Hand Can Be the Best Medicine (Commentary, Aug. 15), seems too firm.

I work with drug users. The often heavy-handed legal system feels oppressive, leading to resentment and anger.

But I often hear about the value of people who offer companionship, a listening ear and genuine concern for their struggles. Support makes a difference. Thats why 12-step meetings work for some: its about shared circumstances and support. Thats why drug users who still have accepting, supportive families and friends have a better chance at change.

Drug courts work because of supportive structure, shared goals of the court and client, and supportive relationships developed in the process. This can happen in health care settings, too.

Restructuring lives and functioning without drugs is a struggle. Unlearning habits is tough. Strictness and shame are burdens.

Coercion? No. Community and relationship? Yes.

Elizabeth Wehrman
Le Claire, Iowa
The writer is a registered nurse.

To the Editor:

Re For Addicts, Firm Hand Can Be the Best Medicine: As an addiction psychiatrist, I would like to echo Dr. Sally Satels ideas regarding coercion and predictable consequences as a vital element of addiction recovery.

But remember that while regulatory boards, motivated parole officers and legal diversion programs all involve successful coercion strategies, they are time-limited, and addiction is a lifelong struggle.

In my practice, the most successful patients are the ones who are fortunate enough to have families or support systems that are willing to emulate the various agencies named above and to work closely with a clinical team to set up realistic treatment goals, with individualized consequences.

True, resistant addicts have a chance when coerced, but the ones who feel safe enough to allow social and family network systems to be a part of the overall treatment picture have a better chance of developing the skills to police themselves and that is the ultimate goal of recovery.

Scott Bienenfeld, M.D.
Manhattan

Brewing Controversy

To the Editor:

Re Coffee as a Health Drink? Studies Find Some Benefits (Aug. 15): Is coffee an effective antioxidant and antidiabetic agent? A controversy may be brewing. But now that the statistics have been analyzed, one thing is indisputable: the bean counters have spoken.

Donald Venes, M.D.
Brookings, Ore.

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