Historic White House Meeting

September 26, 2008

Bailout package breaks down

JENIFER LOVEN AND JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS

The Associated Press

September 25, 2008 at 8:06 PM EDT

WASHINGTON — Urgent efforts to lash together a $700-billion (U.S.) rescue plan for the U.S. economy broke apart Thursday night, hours after key lawmakers had declared they had reached a deal.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke sped to Capitol Hill to try to revive or rework the proposal that the administration says must be quickly approved by Congress to stave off economic disaster.

Congressional leaders were to meet with the economic chiefs into the night.

Key members of Congress claimed agreement Thursday on an outline and crucial details of a deal to stave off national economic disaster, but an historic White House meeting with U.S. President George Bush, the two men fighting to replace him and other congressional leaders broke up with conflicts in plain view.

After six days of intensive talks on the $700-billion package urgently requested by the Bush administration, with Wall Street tottering and the presidential election nearing, there was more confusion than clarity.

A tentative accord in principle among influential Democratic and Republican lawmakers was announced at midday, giving the Bush administration just a fraction of the money it wanted up front, with half the $700-billion total subject to a congressional veto, congressional aides said.

But conservatives were still in revolt, balking at the astonishing price tag of the proposal and the heavy hand of government that it would place on private markets. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, emerged from the White House meeting to say the announced agreement “is obviously no agreement.”

Both of Congress’ Republican leaders, Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, also denied there was any deal. And the White House called the earlier announcement progress but also said it was reviewing the outline with more work needed to finalize a bill for Congress to rush into law.

There is wide agreement the U.S. economy is in peril, with financial institutions going under or near the edge and recession looming along with the resulting layoffs and increased home foreclosures.

There had been hopes for broad agreement, too, on a prescription by now, with a confident White House announcement by the president, John McCain, Barack Obama and congressional leaders.

But the best Sen. McConnell would say afterward was, “It’s clear that more progress is needed and we must continue to work together quickly to protect our economy.”

One group of House GOP lawmakers circulated an alternative that would put much less focus on a government takeover of failing institutions’ sour assets. This proposal would have the government provide insurance to companies that agree to hold frozen assets, rather than have the government purchase the assets. Rep Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the idea would be to remove the burden of the bailout from taxpayers and place it, over time, on Wall Street instead.

Democrat Obama and Republican McCain, who have both sought to distance themselves from the unpopular Mr. Bush, sat down with the president at the White House for an hour-long afternoon session that was striking in this brutally partisan season – but also, according to one participant, “a full-throated discussion.” By also including Congress’ Democratic and Republican leaders, the meeting gathered nearly all Washington’s political power structure at one long table in a small West Wing room.

“All of us around the table … know we’ve got to get something done as quickly as possible,” Mr. Bush told reporters, brought in for only the start of the meeting. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain were at distant ends of the oval table, not even in each other’s sight lines. Mr. Bush, playing host in the middle, was flanked by Congress’ two Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

All the visitors left the White House without talking to a huge media group.

Under the accord announced hours earlier among key lawmakers, the Treasury secretary would get $250-billion immediately and could have an additional $100-billion if he certified it was needed, an approach designed to give lawmakers a stronger hand in controlling the unprecedented rescue. Aides described the details on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The plan’s centrepiece still is for the government to buy the toxic, mortgage-based assets of shaky financial institutions in a bid to keep them from going under and setting off a cascade of ruinous events, including wiped-out retirement savings, rising home foreclosures, closed businesses, and lost jobs.

The Bush administration has made near-daily concessions to demands from the right and the left, among them a limit on pay for executives of bailed-out financial institutions and an equity stake in rescued companies for the government.

Despite the Republican outcry, Banking Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, among others, said the negotiators from Congress and the administration had arrived at a deal that could win approval. Other key lawmakers said that after days of bare-knuckles negotiations there was little of note left to resolve.

Wall Street showed its pleasure – but the markets closed before the White House meeting and before the negative Republican comments started piling up. The Dow Jones industrials closed some 196 points higher, though that was down from larger gains earlier in the day.

Despite the national prominence of Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, none has been deeply involved in this week’s scramble to hammer out a package.

But the developments on the Hill lent fresh purpose to their White House session: the hope of providing bipartisan encouragement – and political cover – for lawmakers of both parties to accept a plan. Mr. Bush has asked that lawmakers approve a plan within days, before lawmakers adjourn to campaign for their own re-elections.

So far, though, there was still nothing to sell.

Mr. McCain, in particular, was being leaned on by Democrats and fellow Republicans alike to deliver GOP votes. Placating them enough to bring them in line could be a tall order for the Republican presidential nominee who has a checkered relationship with the right wing of his party.

Layered over the White House meeting was a complicated web of potential political benefits and consequences for both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain hoped voters would believe that he rose above politics to wade into successful, nitty-gritty deal making at a time of urgent crisis, but he risked being seen instead as either overly impulsive or politically craven, or both. Mr. Obama saw a chance to appear presidential and fit for duty, but was also caught off guard strategically by Mr. McCain’s surprising gamble in saying he was suspending his campaigning and asking to delay Friday night’s debate to focus on the crisis.

http://www.reportonbusiness.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080925.wfinancialwrap0925/BNStory/Business/home

Science lessons to include creationism?

September 21, 2008

Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design

Teachers need to accommodate the differing world views of students from Jewish, Christian or Muslim backgrounds – which means openly discussing creationism and intelligent design as alternatives to evolutionary theory

Rev Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society

Photograph: Frank Baron

Link to this audio

What should science teachers do when faced with students who are creationists? Definitions of creationism vary, but about 10% of people in the UK believe that the Earth is only some 10,000 years old, that it came into existence as described in the early parts of the Bible or the Qur’an and that the most evolution has done is to split species into closely related species.

At the same time, the overwhelming majority of biologists consider evolution to be the central concept in biological sciences, providing a conceptual framework that unifies every aspect of the life sciences into a single coherent discipline. Equally, the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that the universe is of the order of about 13 to 14 billion years old.

Evolution and cosmology are understood by many to be a religious issue because they can be seen to contradict the accounts of origins of life and the universe described in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures. The issue seems like an ongoing dispute that has science and religion battling to support the credibility of their explanations.

I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view. The implication of this is that the most a science teacher can normally hope to achieve is to ensure that students with creationist beliefs understand the scientific position. In the short term, this scientific world view is unlikely to supplant a creationist one.

So how might one teach evolution in science lessons, say to 14 to 16-year-olds? Many scientists, and some science educators, fear that consideration of creationism or intelligent design in a science classroom legitimises them.

For example, the excellent book Science, Evolution, and Creationism published by the US National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, asserts: “The ideas offered by intelligent design creationists are not the products of scientific reasoning. Discussing these ideas in science classes would not be appropriate given their lack of scientific support.”

I agree with the first sentence but disagree with the second. Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson. When I was taught physics at school, and taught it extremely well in my view, what I remember finding so exciting was that we could discuss almost anything providing we were prepared to defend our thinking in a way that admitted objective evidence and logical argument.

So when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion. The word ‘genuine’ doesn’t mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time.

However, in certain classes, depending on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body, it can be appropriate to deal with the issue. If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works.

Having said that, I don’t believe that such teaching is easy. Some students get very heated; others remain silent even if they disagree profoundly with what is said.

I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it – and to learn more science.

Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct. Rather, a student who believes in creationism has a non-scientific way of seeing the world, and one very rarely changes one’s world view as a result of a 50-minute lesson, however well taught.

Michael Reiss is professor of science education at the Institute of Education, University of London, and director of education at the Royal Society

Michael Reiss and the science-religion issue

September 21, 2008

 

Post details: Michael Reiss and the science-religion issue

09/17/08

Permalinkby 09:14:30 am, Categories: Literature – Articles, 1521 words   English (UK)

Michael Reiss and the science-religion issue

Professor Michael Reiss is a specialist in science education in the University of London who has been seconded to be the Royal Society’s Director of Education. This latter post has been abruptly terminated because remarks made by Reiss were considered to have “led to damage to the Society’s reputation”. The Royal Society’s Press Release is here. The controversy flared up at the same time as Reiss’ refereed paper on these issues appeared in Studies in Science Education. We will briefly review aspects of that paper and why Reiss’ views were considered outrageous by some senior Fellows of the Royal Society, including three Nobel Laureates.

The most significant aspect of Reiss’ paper is the way he handles science. He presents several perspectives of science and considers the educational benefits of getting students to evaluate them.

“One approach that I have found to be of worth in science classes with undergraduates training to be science teachers is, when teaching about the nature of science, to get them to think about the relationship between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge. What seems to work well is to ask students, either on their own or in pairs, to illustrate this by means of a drawing and then for all of us in the class to discuss the various drawings that result. See, for example, the hypothetical representation in Figure 1. A person producing the representation in Figure 1 sees both religious and scientific knowledge as existing but envisages [. . .] no overlap between the two.” 

NOMA diagram
An alternative rendering of Reiss’ Figure 1: The purported separation of religious knowledge and scientific knowledge (Source
here)

This model is, of course, that popularised by Gould in his NOMA approach and often promoted by scientific societies wanting to reassure the public that science offers no threat to religious views. It is, however, not a consensus perception of the science-religion relationship. Reiss goes on to give 2 more figures (not reproduced here).

“However, there are many for whom scientific knowledge and religious knowledge are not distinct. At one end are those who draw religious knowledge as being much smaller than scientific knowledge and wholly or partly contained within it (Figure 2); at the other are those whose worldview is predominantly religious (Figure 3). Understandings of the relationship(s) between science and religion vary greatly, at least in part because of considerable variation in how people conceptualise both science and religion. The visual metaphor in Figures 1, 2 and 3 can be taken too far but it can serve as a useful heuristic device.” 

Reiss’ view is that these different perceptions of science are very important for the teaching of issues where science and religious thinking addresses the same topics. These different models represent different paradigms about the world. Indeed, he uses the word “worldview” in this context. He writes: “The strongest argument, in my view, for teaching anything about religion in a science class, whether at school, college or university, is if it helps students better to understand science.” This is a simple point, but Reiss has put his finger on the heart of the matter. There is no one “correct” perception of what science is! If the philosophy of science is steam-rollered into any of the above models, it leads to a breakdown of communication and there is no meaningful debate. Thus, those who have adopted a Figure 1 model (or, like Richard Dawkins, deny that religious knowledge even occupies a separate domain) will always treat religious knowledge as, at best, ascientific. They have no option but to say that design-based or creation-based approaches to origins lie outside science.

“Would one want explicitly to teach about creationism in science lessons? Both the knee-jerk and the considered reaction from most scientists and science educators has been ‘no’. Here my interest is not in the legal situation that obtains in any one country [. . .] nor in the undoubted demands that teaching in this area can place on teachers but in whether it would be desirable on educational grounds to teach about creationism in science lessons. Given the preceding paragraph, I would not want any such teaching, were it to occur, to give the impression that creationism and the theory of evolution are equally valid scientifically. They are not (and nor is it appropriate to insist on spending equal amounts of time on evolution and creationism in science lessons).
“However, I do not belong to the camp that argues that creationism is necessarily nonscientific. For all that I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of those who believe in creationism (and intelligent design theory) do so because of their religious beliefs it is logically possible to hold that evolution (sensu major anatomical, physiological, genetic and biochemical changes in organisms over long periods of time) has not happened.” 

Although Reiss writes as one satisfied with the validity of evolutionary theory, he recognises that it is possible for people with alternative worldviews to interpret the data differently. The relatively high proportion of young people entering schools and colleges with these alternative worldviews makes it imperative to bring issues of creation and design into science education. In his long paper, Reiss covers many other points than those reviewed here. From his conclusion:

“I have examined here the nature of the issue both in general terms and with reference to particular topics. I have argued that there are good reasons for students being introduced to aspects of the science/religion issue in science lessons. Such teaching is not easy, but done well it can be respectful of students, motivating and fulfilling for them and help them to learn more about the nature and content of science.” 

Michael Reiss’ arguments are modest and rational. Although he is aware that others take a different view, he has set out, in good faith, his reasons for introducing discussions of creation and intelligent design in science education. The Times reports some of the reaction thus:

His resignation comes after a campaign by senior Royal Society Fellows who were angered by Professor Reiss’s suggestion that science teachers should treat creationist beliefs “not as a misconception but as a world view”. Sir Richard Roberts, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1993, described such views as outrageous, and organised a letter to the society’s president, Lord Rees of Ludlow, demanding that Professor Reiss be sacked. Phil Willis MP, the chairman of the Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, was due to meet Royal Society officers today to demand an explanation of Professor Reiss’s comments.” 

To his credit, Richard Dawkins was prepared to differ from his colleagues: “To call for his resignation on those grounds, as several Nobel-prize-winning Fellows are now doing, comes a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste.” The influential Lord Winston was also unable to support the call for Reiss to be sacked:

Reacting to his stepping down, Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said: “I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science – something that the Royal Society should applaud.” (Source: BBC News)

There are many who have dismissed the documentary Expelled as worthless, but its witness to discrimination within the academic world is of great importance. Now we find another casualty – someone who is a supporter of evolution but who dared to step outside the boundaries set by the self-appointed gatekeepers of modern secular science. When will these people be called to account?

Robert Matthews has a powerful conclusion to his blog:

“The motto of Royal Society is ‘Nullius in verba’ – roughly speaking, take no-one’s word for it. Its treatment of Reiss suggests that when it comes to words of dissent, the attitude of the Royal Society is closer to that of a madrassa than a learned body.” 

Should science educators deal with the science/religion issue?
Michael J. Reiss
Studies in Science Education, 44(2), September 2008, 157 – 186 | DOI: 10.1080/03057260802264214

Abstract: I begin by examining the natures of science and religion before looking at the ways in which they relate to one another. I then look at a number of case studies that centre on the relationships between science and religion, including attempts to find mechanisms for divine action in quantum theory and chaos theory, creationism, genetic engineering and the writings of Richard Dawkins. Finally, I consider some of the pedagogical issues that would need to be considered if the science/religion issue is to be addressed in the classroom. I conclude that there are increasing arguments in favour of science educators teaching about the science/religion issue. The principal reason for this is to help students better to learn science. However, such teaching makes greater demands on science educators than has generally been the case. Certain of these demands are identified and some specific suggestions are made as to how a science educator might deal with the science/religion issue.

See also:

Matthews, R. Royal Society or Rotten Society? (First Post, September 17, 2008)

Reiss, M. Science lessons should tackle creationism and intelligent design, (Guardian Science Blog, September 11 2008)

Michael Reiss Speaks – Steps Down

September 20, 2008

Michael Reiss’ Webpage at the Institute of Eductation

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Royal Society statement regarding Professor Michael Reiss
16 Sep 2008

Some of Professor Michael Reiss’s recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society’s Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society’s reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education a part time post he held on secondment. He is to return, full time, to his position as Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education.

The Royal Society’s position is that creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific.

The Royal Society greatly appreciates Professor Reiss’s efforts in furthering the Society’s work in the important field of science education over the past two years. The Society wishes him well for the future.

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The British Association for the Advancement of Science, A BA Festival of Science, Liverpool, September 6-11, 2008

The Speech

Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum?

Speaker Details:
Name: Professor Michael Reiss
Job title: Director of Education. The Royal Society
Organisation: The Royal Society

Presentation Details:
Event: Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum?
Talk: Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum?
Date of delivery: 11/09/2008

Presentation Brief:
1. Details of your presentation
Definitions of creationism vary but about 40% of adults in the USA and perhaps over 10% in the UK believe that the Earth is only some 10,000 years old, that it came into existence as described in the early parts of the Bible or the Qur’an and that the most that evolution has done is to change species into closely related species. For a creationist it is possible that the various species of zebra had a common ancestor but this is not the case for zebras, bears and antelopes and still less for monkeys and humans, for birds and molluscs or for palm trees and flesh-eating bacteria.

At the same time, of course, the overwhelming majority of biologists consider evolution to be the central concept in biological sciences, providing a conceptual framework that unifies every disparate aspect of the life sciences into a single coherent discipline. Equally, the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that the universe is of the order of about 13-14 billion years old. Even though evolution and cosmology are well established scientific theories, they are at the centre of a prolonged, possibly deepening, religious controversy.

Evolution and cosmology are understood by many to be a religious issue because they can be seen to contradict the accounts of origins (inorganic, organic and human) described in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures. The issue seems like an ongoing dispute that has science and religion actively battling to support the credibility of their explanations for origins. The lower visibility of presentations of moderate views creates the impression in many people’s minds that a clear delineation exists between those who support scientific theories and those who adhere to scriptural teachings.

My central argument of this article is that creationism is best seen by a science teacher not as a misconception but as a worldview. The implication of this is that the most a science teacher can normally aspire to is to ensure that students with creationist beliefs understand the scientific position. In the short term, this scientific worldview is unlikely to supplant a creationist one.

So how might one teach evolution in science lessons, say to 14-16 year-olds? The first thing to note is that there is scope for young people to discuss beliefs about the origins of the Earth and living things in other subjects, notably religious education (RE). In England, the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) and QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) have published a non-statutory national framework for RE and teaching units which include a unit asking ‘How can we answer questions about creation and origins?’. The unit focuses on creation and the origins of the universe and human life, as well as the relationships between religion and science. It can be downloaded from http://www.qca.org.uk.

(See also How can we answer questions about creation and origins?
Learning from religion and science: Christianity, Hinduism,
Islam and Humanism – Year 9
)

In the summer of 2007, after months of behind-the-scenes meetings and discussions, the DCSF Guidance on Creationism and Intelligent Design received Ministerial approval and was published. As one of those who helped put the Guidance together I am relieved it seems to have been broadly welcomed. Even the discussions on the RichardDawkins.net forum have been pretty positive while The Freethinker, ‘The Voice of Atheism since 1881’, described it as “a welcome breath of fresh air” and “a model of clarity and reason”.

The Guidance points out that the use of the word ‘theory’ in science (as in ‘the theory of evolution’) can mislead those not familiar with science as a subject discipline because it is different from the everyday meaning (i.e. of being little more than an idea). In science, of course, the word indicates that there is a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations accepted by the international scientific community. The Guidance goes on to point out: “Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study”.

The Guidance points out that the nature of, and evidence for, evolution must be taught at key stage 4 as these are part of the programme of study for science, while key stages 1,2 and 3 include topics such as variation, classification and inheritance which lay the foundations for developing an understanding of evolution at key stage 4 and post-16. It then goes on to say: “Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science. However, there is a real difference between teaching ‘x’ and teaching about ‘x’. Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory”.

This seems to me a key point. Many scientists, and some science educators, fear that consideration of creationism or intelligent design in a science classroom legitimises them. For example, the excellent book Science, Evolution, and Creationism published by the US National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine asserts “The ideas offered by intelligent design creationists are not the products of scientific reasoning. Discussing these ideas in science classes would not be appropriate given their lack of scientific support”.

I agree with the first sentence but disagree with the second. Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson. When I was taught physics at school, and taught it extremely well in my view, what I remember finding so exciting was that we could discuss almost anything providing we were prepared to defend our thinking in a way that admitted objective evidence and logical argument.

In an interesting exception that proves the rule, I recall one of our advanced level chemistry teachers scoffing at a fellow student who sat with a spoon in front of her while Uri Geller maintained he could bend viewers’ spoons. I was all for this approach. After all, I reasoned, surely the first thing was to establish if the spoon bent (it didn’t for her) and if it did, then start working out how.

So when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion. The word ‘genuine’ doesn’t mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time. However, in certain classes, depending on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make up of the student body, it can be appropriate to deal with the issue. If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works such as ‘how interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories’; ‘that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address’; ‘how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and about the role of the scientific community in validating these changes’.

Having said that, I don’t believe that such teaching is easy. Some students get very heated; others remain silent even if they disagree profoundly with what is said. The DCSF Guidance suggests: “Some students do hold creationist beliefs or believe in the arguments of the intelligent design movement and/or have parents/carers who accept such views. If either is brought up in a science lesson it should be handled in a way that is respectful of students’ views, religious and otherwise, whilst clearly giving the message that the theory of evolution and the notion of an old Earth / universe are supported by a mass of evidence and fully accepted by the scientific community”.

I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it – and to learn more science. Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct, as careful science teaching might hope to persuade a student that an object continues at uniform velocity unless acted on by a net force, or that most of the mass of a plant comes from air. Rather, a student who believes in creationism can be seen as inhabiting a non-scientific worldview, that is a very different way of seeing the world. One very rarely changes one’s worldview as a result of a 50 minute lesson, however well taught.

My hope, rather, is simply to enable students to understand the scientific worldview with respect to origins, not necessarily to accept it. We can help students to find their science lessons interesting and intellectually challenging without their being threatening. Effective teaching in this area can not only help students learn about the theory of evolution but better to appreciate the way science is done, the procedures by which scientific knowledge accumulates, the limitations of science and the ways in which scientific knowledge differs from other forms of knowledge.

2. What is the key finding of the work/research described in your presentation?
Creationism and intelligent design are growing in extent and influence, both in the UK and elsewhere. I argue that we should take seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it – and to learn more science. Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct. Rather, a student who believes in creationism can be seen as inhabiting a non-scientific worldview, a very different way of seeing the world.

3. What is new and interesting about your work?
Two things. First, most scientists and science educators believe science teachers should not discuss creationism in school science lessons. I disagree. Secondly, I argue that a belief in creationism is better understood not as a scientific misconception that can be straightforward corrected by the presentation of evidence but as an alternative worldview that is much more resistant to change.

4. What is the relevance of your work to a general audience?
I believe that if my work was taken on board we would (i) achieve better teaching of evolution in school science; (ii) students who do not accept the theory of evolution would be treated with more respect.

5. What is the next step for your work/research?
Determine the extent to which UK students believe in creationism and intelligent design and the views of their teachers about this.

6. Others working in this specific area
James Williams, Sussex

7. Details of relevant publications
Jones, L. & Reiss, M.J. (Eds) (2007) Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism, Peter Lang, New York.
Reiss, M.J. (2008) Creationism, Darwinism and ID: what are biology teachers supposed to do? Biologist, 55, 28-32.

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Biologically incorrect

SCIENTIFIC ORTHODOXY

Biologically incorrect
September 20, 2008

At least Galileo was afforded the benefit of a trial by the Inquisition. No such process was observed by Britain’s prestigious Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific body, when it summarily dismissed its director of education for saying that creationism should be treated as a “world view” and not simply a misconception.

The culprit, Professor Michael Reiss, who is also a priest in the Church of England, made some remarks that are sensible enough, except to those who adhere, dare we say, religiously, to scientific dogma. Prof. Reiss was not preaching creationism from his Royal Society pulpit; he strongly defended evolution. Indeed, his main point was that children from religious upbringings should be engaged in science lessons, rather than dismissed out of hand as cranks: “There is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts that they have – hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching – and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion.” This is a perfectly lucid argument, one to which you would think the Royal Society would gladly adhere. When children raise questions based on what they have learned at home or in church, synagogue or mosque, they should be respectfully engaged. Their minds will not be changed by outright dismissal or ridicule, but possibly by respectful and dispassionate debate.

Some of the eminences who serve as Fellows of the Royal Society, however, mounted their lecterns to enthusiastically condemn Prof. Reiss. His enlightened views were then adamantly rejected by the Royal Society, which claimed they had “damaged its reputation.” Its dismissal of Prof. Reiss makes it clear that, when opinions diverge even slightly from accepted scientific wisdom, they will be met with ruthless suppression. This says something sorry about the state of scientific enquiry as practised by that august body. Prof. Reiss has not been forced to recant or placed under house arrest. He has only been packed off to his old job at the Institute of Education. But the loss of a job over such a minor heresy suggests a new inquisition has been convened, absent a certain due process of the old.

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The Royal Society has treated Michael Reiss badly

He is a victim of a culture where all arguments must be expressible in a sentenceTom Whipple
“On the word of no one” is the Royal Society’s motto. Authority, it contends, is nothing: evidence everything. Scientific papers, even by the most distinguished thinkers, should live or die by the facts alone.

This week senior members of the society forced the resignation of Michael Reiss, its director of education, after a speech in which – parts of the media implied – he advocated teaching creationism in schools. On the word of no one.

His speech is online, so let us assess the evidence. The first thing you notice is that, if this were a scientific paper, it is no Principia Mathematica. Its conclusions seem obvious: almost truistic. Professor Reiss, while strongly defending evolution, says that teachers should be respectful to creationist students and not ridicule their views – because it is counter-productive, and puts them off science. He concludes: “A student who believes in creationism has a non-scientific way of seeing the world, and one very rarely changes one’s world view as a result of a 50-minute lesson.”

But take one sentence out of context, “creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view”, prefix it by explaining that Professor Reiss is a clergyman, and suddenly he is a creationist.

The strangest thing is that the Royal Society accepts that he has been badly treated. “Professor Michael Reiss’s recent comments… were open to misinterpretation,” it says. “While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the society’s reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the society, he will step down immediately.”

So he resigned not because he was wrong, nor even because he was particularly controversial. He resigned because others ascribed to him beliefs that were not his own.

He is not the first. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a 6,000-word lecture about Sharia in the UK, it was summarised in headlines implying that he advocated public executions and the stoning of women. When Patrick Mercer, the Conservative defence spokesman, talked about the use of the word “nigger” while he was in the Army, he was sacked – not for being racist, but for allowing people to think he might be.

In an odd pact between journalists who want to write sensation, and readers who want to buy it, we choose cartoonish half-truths over complex reality. Professor Reiss is the victim of a culture where all arguments must be expressible in a sentence, and all sentences able to stand on their own. But don’t take my word for it: read the speech.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article4775521.ece

Does faith have a place in medicine?

September 19, 2008

RENÉ JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR

College of physicians debates doctors’ rights to refuse treatments

Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM

Stuart Laidlaw, Toronto Star, Faith and Ethics reporter

In 20 years as a family doctor in Canada and the United States, David McCann has never so much as written a prescription for contraceptive pills. He has never referred a patient for artificial insemination and never given out the name of a doctor who performs abortions.

“Referring a patient for a procedure that violates my conscience also violates my conscience,” McCann says. “That’s a form of co-operation with evil.”

McCann, who is Catholic, hopes to be present today when the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons debates a controversial policy outlining doctors’ limited right to refuse to provide medical treatment to patients on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

He worries that doctors are increasingly expected to check their beliefs at the door – something he says he cannot do.

“They are proposing a tacitly atheist set of rules,” he says.

The Catholic archbishop for Toronto, Thomas Collins, wrote to the college last week to say that, faith instilled in many doctors a desire to help others, and motivated them to get into medicine.

“Both physicians and patients must be free to remain true to their own convictions if medical decision-making is to retain its inherently moral character,” Collins wrote.

The Ontario Medical Association wants the college to scrap the policy draft altogether.

“We believe that it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious or moral beliefs,” the OMA said in a statement.

The draft policy warns “there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.”

College president Preston Zuliani says the policy is a warning to doctors that they could face human rights complaints over the issue in the future, and possibly disciplinary hearings before the college, should a patient take issue with a doctor’s decision.

“In our society, we all pay taxes for this medical system to receive services,” says Zuliani, a family doctor in St. Catharines.

“And if a citizen or taxpayer goes to access those services and they are blocked from receiving legitimate services by a physician, we don’t feel that’s acceptable.”

Changes to Ontario’s human rights laws are expected to lead to a jump in the number of complaints filed, which Zuliani says could lead to more complaints against doctors who, for religious reasons, refuse treatments, including abortions, birth control pills or artificial insemination for gay couples.

The college, he says, is not telling doctors they have to abandon their faith to do their job, but is trying to help them avoid complaints to the rights commission or to the college.

“The courts have generally ruled that the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs does not include the right to interfere with the rights of others,” he says.

The OMA, however, cautions against giving such guidance, saying in its statement that the college might inadvertently “misstate the law in this area,” thereby giving bad advice to doctors. It urges the college to simply refer any queries to the human rights commission.

The draft policy outlines several factors the college will take into consideration should a complaint be filed with the college, including whether doctors refusing service have been upfront with patients about their beliefs and provided advice to patients about obtaining the care they wanted elsewhere.

Zuliani says doctors are expected to provide a list of other doctors taking new patients. They would not, however, be expected to make a direct referral to another doctor who will provide a treatment they don’t support themselves.

“We are not asking doctors to be complicit by making a referral,” Zuliani says. “But they can’t withhold information, either.”

Dr. John Patrick of the Christian Medical and Dental Society said even giving patients a list of other doctors would make the doctor “an accessory to the act,” and so would be unacceptable.

“We need to figure out how we are going accommodate each other,” the retired pediatrician and biochemist said from his home in Ottawa.

McCann says he would not give a patient any such list, but says he is upfront with all patients about his beliefs. He would rather see the college fight on the behalf of doctors like himself to fight such human rights issues than send out warnings about potential problems.

Patrick says perhaps some sort of “dual system” – complete with separate medical schools – is needed for those who want their medicine to be based in religion, and those who do not.

Zuliani says he expects the policy to receive “some rewording” at the meeting today, saying the policy will be re-released for further debate if the changes are considered extensive enough.

The issue is also expected to be discussed at two Catholic medical conferences in Toronto next week.

http://www.thestar.com/living/article/500852

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Doctors’ body backs down on religion policy
Charles Lewis, National Post
Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The regulating body for Ontario physicians has backed off a controversial proposal that would have forced doctors to put aside their religious views when dealing with patients.

Protests from the Ontario Medical Association and numerous religious groups appear to have tempered the thinking of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

The new document, released on Wednesday, has removed provisions that would have potentially seen doctors face more misconduct charges for putting their own conscience before the convenience of patients.

For example, it could have applied to doctors who not only refuse to prescribe birth control pills, or do fertility treatments for same-sex couples, but also to those who refuse to offer referrals to doctors who do those things.

“Referring is just a way of sloughing off your responsibility,” Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, said last week. “If you’re opposed to these things, referring is the same as taking part in the evil.”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons released its first draft policy in August. It warned doctors that they could see more charges being filed through the Ontario Human Rights Commission for withholding services. But it also indicated that doctors would face misconduct charges by the college as well, something that happens in no other province.

The new policy, which is scheduled to be voted on today, now serves as more of a warning about what doctors may face from the Human Rights Commission.

“The draft policy was always meant as a basis for discussion,” said Jill Hefley, a spokeswoman for the college.

Last week, the Ontario Medical Association asked the college to abandon the draft policy because it “interfered with physicians’ existing rights and freedoms.” It said the draft failed to note that doctors are also protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, like any other citizen.

“We believe it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.”

Thomas Collins, Archbishop of the Dioceses of Toronto, also told the college that many physicians feared they would be “brought before human rights tribunals for following their consciences.” But he saw no reason why it would then be necessary for the college to add sanctions of its own. “Is that the cost of being true to one’s conscience?” he asked.

Sean Murphy of the Protection of Conscience Project, a group that tries to protect the rights of health workers, said the new document appears to be much improved from the original draft.

“It’s more clear in this document that the bogey man is the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” he said.

But he is concerned that one clause remaining in the policy could hurt doctors who exercise conscience.

It says the “college has its own expectations for physicians who limit their practice, refuse to accept individuals as patients, or end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of moral beliefs.”

He said this provision still needs to be clarified by officials.

National Post

clewis@nationalpost.com

———————————–

We will not defy beliefs, doctors say
Regulator says patients should be told all options

Charles Lewis, National Post
Published: Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Ontario Medical Association wants the provincial licensing body to kill a proposal that would force physicians to put aside their religious beliefs when making decisions in their medical practice.

The controversial document by the College of Physicians and Surgeons Ontario, which will be voted on next week, warns doctors that the provincial Human Rights Commission will get more aggressive with those who appear to violate an individual’s right to get treatment. It also suggests doctors could face misconduct charges from the College for those human rights violations, something that does not exist now in the province or in any other part of Canada.

“The OMA is concerned that this draft policy may interfere with physicians’ existing rights and freedoms,” a statement said. “The OMA urges the College to abandon this [draft] policy.”

The OMA, which has 25,000 members, said the draft policy does not properly inform doctors that “their right to freedom of religion is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Among other things, the draft policy from the College said doctors will have to set aside personal beliefs “to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical services they require.” It also said doctors who restrict medical service based on moral or religious beliefs may contravene the Human Rights Code and could be committing professional misconduct.

“We believe it should never be professional misconduct for an Ontarian physician to act in accordance with his or her religious belief,” the OMA said in reply.

For example, doctors not only can refuse to prescribe birth control pills, but they also do not have to make a referral to someone who would or even discuss it as a viable option. The same thing might go for referring a patient for an abortion or helping a same-sex couple get fertility treatment.

Yesterday, Thomas Collins, Archbishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toronto, wrote to the College.

He said many doctors may have good reason to fear “they will be brought before human rights tribunals in our province for following their consciences. If so, the issues will be addressed at that time, case by case, and in any later appeals. I urge the College of Physicians and Surgeons to support a physician who seeks to follow his or her conscience …”

Archbishop Collins expressed concern the College would add sanctions of its own.

“If a physician cannot in conscience perform or facilitate an action that is requested, will that physician face the threat of being sanctioned for violating a patient’s human rights and for professional misconduct? Is that the cost of being true to one’s conscience?”

The draft policy will be voted on next week.

Dr. Preston Zuliani, president of the College, said yesterday that the draft policy has been revised to address the concerns of those doctors who are worried about their rights being violated though he could not reveal what those changes are.

“In our province, health care is provided by the government for the people and it’s funded by the taxpayer,” he said.

“And the OMA would take the position that the doctor has the right to withhold information about legitimate medical treatments that are available if the doctor disagrees with them.

“We would suggest that the doctor has an obligation to not withhold information about birth control and other treatments available. We are not saying that we would make the doctor make the referral.

“But in this province the expectation is that physicians will provide information to patients about all facets of their health care.

“We do not expect a physician to impose their religious beliefs on their patients. Let the patient make their own decision without the doctor having to make referral, but not to withhold any important information.”

clewis@nationalpost.com

Ryerson code bans boozing, loose talk

September 19, 2008

Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM

Paola Loriggio, Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Students at Ryerson University are contesting a tough new set of rules governing their behaviour on and off campus, calling it “paternalistic” and a violation of privacy.

An updated version of the university’s “non-academic code of conduct” came into effect Sept. 3 after heated debates between administrators and student leaders in the spring.

The code applies to student conduct whenever they “represent the university,” says the policy document. As well as criminal acts, students are forbidden from indulging in excessive drinking in public and malicious gossiping.

“We feel it’s an infringement on the privacy of students in order to uphold the Ryerson brand,” said Rebecca Rose of the Ryerson Students’ Union.

She said the code is laden with “muddy” language on such matters as when a student is “representing” the university.

Right now, there’s little the student union can do until the code comes up for review, possibly in a year, Rose said. “We’re going to be watching very, very closely.”

The university’s policies on student conduct came under scrutiny last March when a student was nearly expelled for running a Facebook study group that was felt to be spoon-feeding answers.

University administration could not be reached last night.

Student leaders at the University of Toronto, Trent and York have also been fighting imposition of non-academic codes of conduct.

At the University of Ottawa, students won. Last month, the administration withdrew a proposed code after months of controversy.

http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/501292

Skirts ‘unsafe’ on ladders

September 19, 2008

Women’s steep climbs with only one hand free ‘terrifying,’ UPS manager tells rights hearing

Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM

A human resources manager was concerned for the safety of Muslim women she saw climbing steep ladders while holding their long skirts in one hand to reach their Toronto UPS work stations.

“It was terrifying. I wouldn’t want to do what they were doing. It caused me great concern,” Michelle Skabar told Canadian Human Rights Tribunal panel chair Karen Jensen yesterday.

“It didn’t comply with our documented safety training,” she told the hearing held at a Dixon Rd. hotel.

The women’s duties required them to move about on open metal staircases and steep ladders some six metres high in the UPS delivery plant.

Skabar’s concerns eventually sparked a risk hazard analysis that reviewed clothing requirements at the UPS site.

The eight devout Muslim women, all temporary workers, had flipped boxes upright on the conveyor-belt system for anywhere from a year to two years.

The women, who have arrived at the hearing every day in traditional ankle-length skirts, hijabs and neck scarves, have said their religion requires them to dress that way.

They have said that during the entire time they worked at UPS, they were never told their clothing posed a risk.

“There is no excuse. There was a gap in our process (at UPS). We’ve corrected that,” Skabar said yesterday.

The Muslim women were not told of safety regulations at the outset because of “a serious lack of staffing,” Skabar said. “So unfortunately, when they were hired they didn’t get that information.” New employees now receive safety training upon arrival, she told the hearing.

The Muslim women, who eventually lost their jobs, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of religion and gender.

Skabar said it was the first time in 15 years as a UPS employee that she had observed women in long skirts climbing up the steep ladders near a conveyor belt when she saw them in the early spring of 2005.

“Muslim or not, a long skirt would not be acceptable” doing those jobs, any more than baggy jeans worn low on the hips, a style popular with youth, Skabar said.

The eight women worked manoeuvring packages, some weighing up to 35 kilograms, on a conveyor belt to allow an overhead scanner to reads the bar code on the shipping labels, according to an agreed statement of facts.

Their temporary jobs became full-time union positions as a result of a collective bargaining pact reached in 2005. The women were told they would have to raise their skirts to knee length in the workplace for safety reasons in order to keep their jobs, Skabar testified.

The women refused to comply and their employment ceased on July 13, 2005.

Six of the women had brought UPS a letter from their mosque stating their religion required them to wear full-length skirts.

http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/501291

Drop Law on Sagging Pants, Judge Rules

September 19, 2008
Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla.–A judge has decided a town law banning sagging pants is unconstitutional after a teen spent a night in jail accused of exposing too much underwear.

Julius Hart, 17, was charged last week after an officer said he spotted the teenager riding his bicycle with 10 to 12.5 centimetres ( 4-5 inches) of blue-and-black boxer shorts revealed.

Hart’s public defender, Carol Bickerstaff, urged a judge Monday to strike down the sagging pants law, telling him: “Your honour, we now have the fashion police.”

Circuit Judge Paul Moyle ruled the law was unconstitutional based on “the limited facts” of the case. Technically, however, the charge hasn’t been dropped yet: a new arraignment awaits Hart on Oct. 5.

Voters in Riviera Beach approved the law in March. A first offence for sagging pants carries a $150 fine or community service, and habitual offenders face the possibility of jail.

Bickerstaff said she wants the city to drop the law – regardless of whether anyone dislikes low-riding pants.

“The first time I saw this particular fashion, I disliked it,” she told the judge. “And then I realized I’m getting old.”

Associated Press

Chastity Rings

September 16, 2008

Pledge takes sex out of rock ‘n’ roll

Sep 15, 2008 04:30 AM

Reuters News Agency

Teen star Miley Cyrus wears one, so does American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and the members of the hit boy band the Jonas Brothers.

But it took the ridicule of a British comedian at a music awards show last week to highlight the entry of purity rings into the world of rock’n’roll.

Purity rings, also known as chastity or promise rings, are worn by tens of thousands of young American teens who have pledged to remain virgins until marriage.

Originating in the United States in the 1990s among Christian groups, the rings are embossed with words like “True Love Waits” or “One Life One Love” and are worn by both sexes.

The concept has increasingly entered the world of pop rock music that once was the dominion of teen rebellion, and that fact perplexed Russell Brand, the anarchic host of the MTV Music Video Awards show in Los Angeles.

“It is a little bit ungrateful, because (the Jonas Brothers) could literally have sex with any woman they want, but they’re just not going to do it!” Brand told the audience. “That’s like Superman just deciding not to fly, but to go home on a bus.”

Sparks, 18, stood up for teen heartthrobs Kevin Jonas, 20, and his brothers Joe, 19 and Nick, 16, telling a cheering audience of rock stars. “It’s not bad to wear a promise ring because not every guy and a girl wants to be a slut, okay?”

Denny Pattyn, an evangelical pastor who founded the Silver Ring Thing 12 years ago, says celebrities wearing a ring can help his group’s quest to make premarital abstinence the rule rather than the exception in America. But they can also hurt the cause if “they go out and do something crazy.”

Critics applaud the principle of abstinence but say the problems arise when young Americans grow up, and are often ignorant of how to manage contraception and sexual health when they do decide to have sex.

“These abstinence pledges leave people completely unprepared, once they make the decision to become sexually active, and what happens is that we have a society that is sexually illiterate,” said Michael Reece of Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

A Dog’s Best Friend

September 14, 2008

WRETCHED EXCESS

A dog’s best friend . . .

Sep 13, 2008 04:30 AM

Gale Beeby , Toronto Star
http://www.thestar.com/living/Shopping/article/496302

Many people wondered what Leona Helmsley’s Maltese, Trouble, could buy itself with the $12 million left to it by its eccentric millionaire owner in her will.

How about a $1.8-million (U.S.) diamond-studded dog collar?

One actually exists.

We found it in a Los Angeles-based pet shop called I Love Dogs Inc.

Their Amour Amour collar consists of 1,600 hand-set diamonds, including a 7-carat, brilliant-cut centerpiece diamond, totalling 51 carats. The gems are set in platinum, while 18-karat white gold provides strength. And because only the best will do, the collar is made of crocodile leather “to bring both comfort and durability to the collar.”

Master jewellers on New York’s 5th Avenue do the work, and will customize the design to “fully reflect your dog’s personality.”

Collars are not kept in stock, so make sure you leave six to eight weeks for your goody, which you can pick up in New York or have delivered to your home or office by secure courier.

The company’s website (ilovedogsdiamonds.com) says: “Amour means love in French, and Amour Amour represents the love you have for your dog, and the love your dog has for you. Its striking design is inspired by this special bond that lasts forever.”

Chokes you up, doesn’t it?

http://ilovedogsdiamonds.com/images/products/AmourAmour.jpg