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Queensland science is a mental construction

I’m impressed (really quite surprised) that this made it to the top story of the front page of The Australian. The syllabus for Years 10 -12 science students in Queensland contains this nonsense. What is good about it though (see below) is how it forces influential science leaders in the country to pick sides. Is science a “consensus”? Even on Climate Change? No says the Dean of Deans…

The Queensland Studies Authority:

“Science is a social and cultural activity through which explanations of natural phenomena are generated,”

“Explanations of natural phenomena may be viewed as mental constructions based on personal experiences and result from a range of activities including observation, experimentation, imagination and discussion.

“Accepted scientific concepts, theories and models may be viewed as shared understandings that the scientific community perceive as viable in light of current available evidence.”

[QSA, Physics Senior Syllabus, 2007]  [QSA Chemistry, 2007] [QSA, Biology 2004 amended 2006]

The answer from QSA (The Queensland Studies Authority)? 

They said the statements concerning a view of science and science education should be read in the context of the entire syllabus and it was not, and was never intended to be, a definition of science.

In other words, they have nothing. No defense. Someone was asleep at the wheel when that syllabus got approved and since it has sat there for five years with little protest we can only assume: 1/ Most science teachers in Queensland don’t know what science is, or 2/ Most science teachers in Queensland don’t read the science curriculum, or 3/ perhaps some science teachers read it, and complained to the QSA and it did nothing.

Either way, it’s not a good look. But given that people like Prof Tim Flannery, ABC Science Presenter Robyn Williams, Prof Will Steffen and Prof Andy Pitman don’t know what makes science different to religion perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that curriculum writers are struggling.

Prof John Rice understands the scientific method

“Australian Council of Deans of Science, Executive Director, John Rice from Sydney University said it was a misleading view of science and misunderstood “the unique way in which science goes about understanding things” “That’s quite wrong. It fails to understand the way in which science grounds itself in observation and testable hypotheses.”

Professor Rice said the national science curriculum made a similar error, oversimplifying the idea of scientists proving and disproving hypotheses to suggest that scientific knowledge was agreed by consensus among scientists.”

In an interview with Emily Bourke on the ABC, Prof Rice is confronted with the “climate change” monster, and sticks to his point:

EMILY BOURKE: Do they not have a point though, in that there are some scientific theories, such as those around climate change, that are contested, that are the subject of vigorous scientific debate and their argument about the subjectivity of science is borne out there?

JOHN RICE: We have no problem with people pointing out that science is a contestable thing, and you have only to look at its history to see that there were great and vigorous debates. And in a climate change situation of course we are in a situation where, although some people want to say that the science is settled, clearly with the level of argument that’s going on around the place, there are a lot of things which are not settled.

So ABC reporters who want to keep telling us the science is settled, and they don’t need to interview skeptical scientists, only un-skeptical ones. The Executive Director of The Council of Deans of Science in Australia is effectively telling you that’s a terribly unscientific attitude:

But if they want to say that scientific knowledge in itself is nothing other than a consensus among a group of scientists, that is wrong. That vastly oversimplifies what has happened in order for people to say that science is settled in a whole lot of respects.

 * * *

Let’s get some responses in to the “Draft Curriculum” (Can someone find me those links to the new national  draft curriculum and places to send submissions in). Consultations close on the 20th of July.

Thanks To Bulldust:

ACARA: Curriculum

Follow the various links to get to the relevant curriculum drafts. The consultation section for the 20 July 2012 closing date you mention is here: http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/

You need to register, answer a questionaire, or send an email, and do it in the right formula (use their headers to help them figure out where your feedback belongs). “You can download a printable version of the draft senior secondary Australian Curriculum, or download and print a copy of the questionnaire for your reference. ” Email them to:  [email protected] (See also parts on maths and history if you are so inclined on the link above). Please make the effort to do it properly so your feedback will count. “In the email please include the relevant subject heading: draft senior secondary Australian Curriculum: (insert subject) and the essential cover sheet.”

The draft curricula by subject are here: draft curriculum

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