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The conflict between personal beliefs and science education

On April 7, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed HB 368, a bill that would promote the use of nonstandard materials for teaching evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.  Essentially, the bill protects teachers who want to present alternate views from that of the scientific community. If the bill passes, Tennessee will follow Louisiana in allowing personal beliefs to influence educating students on evolution.

The public discord over evolution, climate change, and related topics is not shared in the scientific community, as the majority of scientists agree on the essential facts of these issues.

However, these topics are easily tied to people's personal doctrines and moralistic views; thus, they often induce conflict.

How do we resolve this conflict? Should we increase outreach efforts, or should we go after the school system? According to a Science paper by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, political science professors at Pennsylvania State University, public outreach may not be effective. Instead, it's better to focus on training teachers.

To combat bills like HB 368, individual universities should change their curriculum for science teachers by introducing requirements for courses on evolution and climate change. If teachers are knowledgeable about the scientific process, they might be more willing to teach according to the latest findings of the scientific community.

Berkman and Plutzer's paper also suggest that there's little that can be done for people at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Thus, further education would not likely change the teaching styles of those who are adamantly against biological evolution. That population is relatively small, so a change in the education of teachers in this country should still have a dramatic impact.

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