Why Science Teaching Is an Ethical Issue
Kroto, Harry, The Independent (London, England)
Testing hypotheses is the only way for pupils to understand concepts of what is true, argues the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harry Kroto. So why are we neglecting this vital area?
Let's think about education and what our children should be taught as they grow up to face so many social and sustainability issues. One thing that is undeniable is that science education in Britain is dire. The percentage of our population with science, engineering and technology (SET) doctorates is less than one per cent, perhaps much lower, and yet on a global scale, it is the scientists and engineers who created the modern world.
They have given us penicillin, anaesthetics, DNA fingerprinting, lasers, mobile phones, DVDs, computers, sewage treatment, bridges, and 747s, to name but a few. Pretty good value for the educational money, wouldn't you agree? What other disciplines have provided anything like this return? None, by several orders of magnitude.
A depressing and highly disturbing issue is that so few in positions of responsibility, in particular politicians, understand science on any level, yet they make decisions every day on technological issues. Although knowledge does not guarantee good decision-making, common sense suggests that wisdom is an unlikely consequence of ignorance.
A key issue about science is that it is totally misunderstood. In popular usage the word "science" does not convey its most important aspect - that it is the only philosophical construct devised by mankind to determine with any degree of reliability what is true, might be true, can be true and what, most importantly, cannot be true. Obviously truth is universal, and cannot vary from country to country or planet to planet.
Truth assumes that an experiment always behaves in exactly the same way and no mystical entity tampers with the observation - ie, praying will not affect the result. Truth is an "intellectual integrity" issue and thus "science education" is fundamentally an ethical issue.
An education in science, "The Method for Recognising Truth", inculcates an intrinsic attitude of confronting every issue, regardless of the specific domain of significance, with the question: is it true and how can one decide?
To take a simple example, which indicates how decisions are generally made: on arrival at Heathrow from outside the UK, immigration officials do not accept anyone's word as to their identity. They require evidence, usually passports. Why do immigration officers not trust me to tell them honestly who I am? Why do they want evidence? Even the inanimate gas pump asks for an area code when I pump petrol using a credit card. It wants evidence, too.
Here is my procedure for determining whether anything is true, my scientific method, my method of determining …
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Publication information: Article title: Why Science Teaching Is an Ethical Issue. Contributors: Kroto, Harry - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 12, 2011. Page number: 42. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.