Adam Fields (weblog)

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Thoughts on questions every high school student should be able to answer

Filed under: — adam @ 4:29 pm

The Star Tribune wrote a fluff piece asking scientists to come up with their (seemingly) most disappointing question that every high schooler should be able to answer. (via Kottke)

MJD (hey, man – what happened to Advocacy?) rightly savages the list:

The analysis is mostly very strong. My only complaint is that he failed to note that evolution doesn’t actually “choose” anything, and saying that it does is just typical “owning the terminology” ID doublespeak.

And what is up with that last paragraph in the article about family life interfering with remembering things you learned in high school?

My choice for this question would probably have been “What is the scientific method?”.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on questions every high school student should be able to answer”

  1. Mark Dominus Says:

    Thanks for your kind words. Your remark about how “evolution doesn’t actually ‘choose’ anything” seems to refer to the sentence
    “Darwin’s theory of species origination says that natural selection chooses organisms that…” from the original article.

    But I don’t think your objection makes sense. You are objecting specifically to the word “chooses”, saying that natural selection doesn’t “choose” anything. If this is a substantive complaint, then it shouldn’t evaporate when we replace “choose” with a synonym. Hmm, where’s my thesaurus? How about “select”? Adam Fields says that “natural selection doesn’t actually select anything.”

    Well, okay. But if it’s true, whose fault is it?

    Maybe I’ve missed your point. What’s your objection again?

  2. adam Says:

    But “choose” and “select” aren’t identical terms. At least according to the nuances of the term as I know it, “choose” definitely implies thought, where “select” may be something that just happens.

    It’s a minor point amidst all of the other failings of the piece, but I think it casts some more light on the distinction you made – some of those questions are merely posing as science, and that’s a looming threat to actual science. Choosing terms in that debate is important.

  3. Mark Dominus Says:

    I think that the very fine distinction you have drawn here between “choose” and “select” is not supported by standard or common usage. For example, the OED defines “choose” as:

    To take by preference out of all that are available; to select.

    and “select” as:

    To choose or pick out in preference to another or others.

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