I began my doctorate at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, in September 2014, with a research proposal tentatively entitled Ambivalence in the teaching of publicly controversial issues in science. The premise being that some phenomena are well-established in science, and have achieved what can be called a scientific consensus—the majority of rational scientific thought adheres to a given principal, if not necessarily the details of its operation. Thus, any controversy which arises, is mostly public in nature. For example, there is substantial scientific agreement about the occurrence, and processes of the more modern theories of climate change. Yet due to the inherent complexity of the topic and social controversies such as climate change denial (Hulme, 2009), that have arisen around it, confusion and doubt persist amongst politicians and the public (Pappas, 2012).
My doctoral research will focus on topics such as anthropogenic climate change, evolution, alternative medical practice (e.g., naturopathy, chiropractic), and the anti-vaccine movement, and the attitudes of teachers toward these subjects in a school setting.
PhD Proposal (Feb, 2014)
First draft of my PhD proposal “Ambivalence in the teaching of publicly controversial issues in science,” which will probably bear no resemblance to the end product…
Teaching creationism, also called creation science, intelligent design (ID), and evidence against evolution—a religious doctrine, holding that life and the universe were created by a supernatural actor out of nothing—contravenes the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and is illegal in U.S. public science classes. Nevertheless many U.S. high school science teachers continue to teach creationist doctrine as part of an undocumented, or hidden, curriculum.
The arguments advanced in this study propose that creationism—as opposed to evolution—cannot be defined as science, and seeks to answer the following questions:
- What arguments have been put forward by advocates of creationism, to make the case for creationist ideology in U.S. public school science classes?
- What impact have the arguments of proponents of intelligent design creationism had, on American public education policy and the law?
Data has been collected from precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court rulings and associated texts, e.g., expert witness testimony under oath, cross-examination, and published works referred to in the proceedings.
Testimony was analysed for its content—content analytic—to address specific creationist arguments with regard to scientific rigour, honesty and empirical reasoning. Judicial opinion proved to be more relevant in terms of commentary—context analytic. Judges as decision makers have given clear accounts of how creationist arguments have swayed their ruling, and thus U.S. law and government education policy, thereby directly addressing this study’s second research question.
In addressing these questions, this research has provided a summative analysis of the arguments presented for ID to be taught in the science classrooms of U.S. public schools, and the counter arguments which have convinced U.S. Supreme Court Judges to deny consistent attempts to include its doctrine in science curricula. In doing so, this study provides a detailed baseline to which future arguments can be compared to highlight new—or simply recycled—points in the debate, and to identify any potential strategies for alleviating this on-going and costly dispute.