Prosecute the torture.

July 26, 2013

A Message To My Good Friends At The FFRF.

Remember this blogpost?

I wrote about a guy named Joe Sohmer who, despite being entrusted by the good people of Altoona to teach their teenagers science, nevertheless undermines the validity of radiocarbon dating and, of course, evolution in his science classes whole "hold(ing) the Bible as the source of truth."

He's quoted:
"I'm entitled to my beliefs as much as the evolutionist is."
On the one hand, this is completely true.  He is entitled to his beliefs as much as anyone else is.  On the other, that does not, however, make them to be anywhere near true.

Well, the article that triggered my blog post also seems to have piqued the interest of our good friends at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Unfortunately, while their overall point (that the teaching of creationism as science is unconstitutional) is completely correct, what they're using to frame their argument is simply a mess - so much that it could undermine their overall (and, let me reiterate, correct) point.

Take a look at the start of the FFRF's press release:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is responding to an alarming trend in Pennsylvania's science education, by sending a memo to every Pennsylvania public school district superintendent (nearly 500 of them) on July 25.

The memo follows the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's investigative journalism, recently uncovering that 20% of the state's public high school teachers teach creationism in their science classrooms.
And from the memo:
A recent story in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette (sic) surveyed 106 science teachers regarding the teaching of evolution in Pennsylvania public schools. This article revealed shocking statistics about the state of science education in public schools. A third of the science teachers surveyed identified themselves as believers in creationism or intelligent design. Of that number, teachers who identify themselves as creationists -- nearly 20% of those surveyed-- "spend at least an hour of classroom time on creationism in a way suggesting it to be a valid scientific alternative" to evolution.
I gotta point out the BIG errors in that paragraph.  I hate to, but I just gotta.  In order to do that, I have to start at the P-G (and please note, FFRF, where the dash goes) article.  Looks like the FFRF's memo writers mixed two separate bits of information.  The first is from the P-G questionaire:
The Post-Gazette questionnaire this spring drew 106 responses from science teachers. It asked them to choose one or more answers to a question of what they believe in: evolution, creationism, intelligent design or not sure/other.

Ninety percent chose evolution; 19 percent said they believe in creationism, not defined in the questionnaire; 13 percent said they believe in intelligent design; and another 5 percent answered "not sure/other." Teachers were allowed to list more than one option, so the numbers don't total 100 percent.
But the quotation is from another survey altogether:
The Penn State survey said the teachers identifying themselves as creationists spend at least an hour of classroom time on creationism in a way suggesting it to be a valid scientific alternative. "Between 17 and 21 percent [of teachers in the survey] introduce creationism into the classroom," he said.
And the Penn State survey wasn't a Pennsylvania survey at all:
Mr. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, a Penn State professor of political science and sociology, based their book on a national survey of more than 900 science teachers, which found 13 percent advocating that Earth was 10,000 years old or younger, as opposed to Earth's scientifically determined age of 4.54 billion years. [Emphasis added.]
The "20%" comes from the P-G survey while the quotation comes from the Penn State survey.  And the two data points refer to two separate ideas.  The P-G was asking about the teachers' beliefs while the Penn State survey is about what the teachers do.  Two separate issues.  Two separate surveys.  Apples, oranges.

Now it's quite possible that the reality of the situation is in complete agreement with what the FFRF says it is - but it's just not possible to establish that from what they present as facts.  And that's the mess.

And then there's this part from the FFRF's memo:
A third of the science teachers surveyed identified themselves as believers in creationism or intelligent design.
This isn't clearly true either (it might be BUT it might not be, and that's the point). Take a look at how the P-G describes their survey:
The Post-Gazette questionnaire this spring drew 106 responses from science teachers. It asked them to choose one or more answers to a question of what they believe in: evolution, creationism, intelligent design or not sure/other.

Ninety percent chose evolution; 19 percent said they believe in creationism, not defined in the questionnaire; 13 percent said they believe in intelligent design; and another 5 percent answered "not sure/other." Teachers were allowed to list more than one option, so the numbers don't total 100 percent. [Emphasis added.]
But note that since teachers could choose more than one option, you only get "a third" (or something very close to it) if none of the 13% who believe in intelligent design also designated themselves as creationists.  If they completely overlap, then the number's just 19% and the real number could be anywhere in between.

And need I point out that these look like they were surveys and not scientific polls?  How many surveys were sent out?  Relying on self-selected questionnaire returns to establish solid data is, well, questionable.  At best.

FFRF: I am one of your biggest fans.  I confidently and optimistically expect success in your lawsuits calling for the removal of the unconstitutional Ten Commandment monuments from two Pittsburgh area public schools.  But if you're going to issue press releases and memos to School Superintendents you have to do better than this.  You have to write something clearer than this.

You want respect from a School Superintendent?  Get all your facts straight, present your entire position clearly and don't don't DON'T misspell the name of one of your sources (as I alluded to above, it's the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, not the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette).

Other than that, you're completely correct - teaching creationism (or Intelligent Design) as science in a public school is unconstitutional.  Just do your homework better next time.

1 comment:

SamStone said...

It think you are digging too deep on this one. After all the headline of the original article was Is evolution missing link in some Pennsylvania high schools? Some 20 percent of science teachers in survey say they believe in creationism. If the numbers are confusing, then it is the fault of the P P-G, not FFRF.