I have been teaching and doing research at the university level for more than 40 years, which means that for more than four decades, I have been participating in a deception — benevolent and well intentioned, to be sure, but a deception nonetheless. As a scientist, I do science, and as a teacher and writer, I communicate it. That’s where the deception comes in.

When scientists speak to the public or to students, we talk about what we know, what science has discovered. Nothing wrong with this. After all, we work hard deciphering nature’s secrets and we’re proud whenever we succeed. But it gives the false impression that we know pretty much everything, whereas the reality is that there’s a whole lot more that we don’t know.

Teaching and writing only about what is known risks turning science into a mere catalog of established facts, suggesting that “knowing” science is a matter of memorizing: this is how cells metabolize carbohydrates, this is how natural selection works, this is how the information encoded in DNA is translated into proteins.

In my first college-level biology course, I was required to memorize all of the digestive enzymes and what they do. Even today, I can’t stomach those darned chemicals, and I fear the situation is scarcely much better at most universities today.

Read more at LA Times.

Published On: August 16, 2012

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