Forum:Pseudoscience in Schools

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There's a lot of material on this wiki about the negative influence of religion in schools (abstinence-only sex ed, intelligent design, etc.), but very little, I've noticed, about pseudoscience and non-religious woo being pushed in the classroom. It seems like a pretty glaring omission considering the purpose of this site. In my educational experience (I'm in high school now), there has been far more influence on what I have been taught from New Age stuff and pseudobollocks of that nature than from fundamentalism or from established religion.

For a lot of my early life, I attended a small private school (a Montessori one), which, for the most part, prepared me excellently for high school and taught reliable material from a rationalist point of view. However, one teacher (a very good-natured and well-meaning person) continually taught us various bits of New-Age drivel as if it were fact. We were shown films such as "What the Bleep do We Know?" in the classroom. Native Americans were presented as saintly guardians of the Earth who never fought anybody. We saw part of "Pocahontas" to learn about them. That was how bad it was. I'm surprised to this day that we were never given a crash course in Reiki. And many people (definitely the vast majority) in my class bought it (though, to give them credit, they did express doubt about wind having colors and probably remained skeptical about the ability of Native Americans to paint with them). I tried to question it as much as I could, but often ended up seeming arrogant (close-minded or whatever) or getting tongue-tied (arguing with teachers is difficult at a young age). Anyway, when I started high-school, I decided to go into the public system.

In America (at least in the state where I live), we have "Health Class". This teaches kids about drugs, sex, alcohol, eating healthily, exercise, that kind of stuff. It is a generally good class which provides trustworthy information. However, during the section about food and proper diet, we started to learn about GMOs. Our health teacher, a generally sane human being, showed us a short film called "GMO A Go Go". You may have heard of it. If you haven't, it's an rather vulgar bit of "satirical" sustained idiocy about genetic modification and Monsanto. It mixes a few nuggets of legitimate concern about biodiversity, preventing monocultures, and such, with a lot of scaremongering outright lies about "toxins", farmers committing suicide, and stuff like that (as well as some cool pictures of tomatoes with mandibles and insect legs). Throughout the course, we were told lots of stuff about how terrible any farm larger that the average vegetable patch is and how evil meat packagers are putting carbon monoxide in food to make it look fresher (an utterly harmless practice ). The teacher told us that the moral of these stories was that "the closer to nature a food is, the better". My class swallowed it whole. As, I admit, did I, until I started to actually read up on GMOs and discovered that most of the stuff that we were taught about them was utter bullshit. I once had a conversation with some of my classmates about GMOs. They were scared out of their skins of them. One of them, when I and someone else who shared my views talked to them, said, "The closer to organic a food is, the healthier it is. That's common sense and you can't tell me otherwise".

Some of this may sound like exaggeration, but it isn't. I admit that it is only anecdotal evidence, but I fear that it may be representative of a much larger issue. I believe that pseudoscience is a much greater threat to rational education than religion, at least in the Northeastern states (and I expect that the West Coast has a similar problem). Most kids know to be wary of fundamentalism. Most kids know that creationism is bullshit. Most kids are, I believe, generally in favor of science. But when New Age spirituality and gut-reaction fear come along dressed as scientific fact, there is little to stop them. A preacher is easy to disagree with. A teacher isn't. A lot of this stuff is being taught to children before they have the argumentative skills, much less the scientific knowledge, to challenge it. And it is being taught by the same people, or at least by the same institutions, that teach critical thinking and the scientific process. Those are the same people who are supposed to be on the side of rationality and evidence. You don't expect those people to peddle bullshit. So when they do, it does much more damage than bullshit flung by a known bullshitter. It poisons any attempt at rational thought by sowing the idea that irrational fear and wishful thinking have a place in science. They don't.

If you've had similar experiences, please share them.{{(Agrajag (talk) 18:10, 30 July 2014 (UTC))|Agrajag}}

Quick question - Are history and/or language arts scientific?--Nolidor (talk) 22:29, 28 July 2014 (UTC)
History is a kind of science, since it is an attempt to discover objective truth. I'm sure that pseudohistory is being taught in schools - Native American woo and the like. In my freshman history class, our teacher had us read bits of a book called "1421: The Year China Discovered the World". That book is not complete fabrication, and it was more of a research/critical thinking exercise than anything, but I'm sure that it's being taught as fact somewhere. As for language arts, I think it would be hard to teach pseudogrammar, but Ayn Rand is surely being preached to some poor class. Language arts is probably less scientific than a history or biology class, but is still vulnerable to biased interpretations. The thing about that, however, is that you expect those going into a English class, and you expect to debate them or at least write essays about them at some point. So you're on guard when you go into the class - you know that there isn't necessarily one objective truth that you have to believe and internalize.— Unsigned, by: Agrajag / talk / contribs
Not that this excuses it, but, in a way, you're getting some cultural exposure, just exposure that's disguised as science. Yes, it's still insidious, but it's also just as misguided as most of us are in some way (except for every single person who reads this). In my professional scientific career, I see smaller versions of it all the time. I see, for example, the otherwise rational physician-researcher overdosing on vitamins when they start to get a cold in the theory that this will speed the detoxification of their body. Then, they go on to produce a well-conceived study comparing the efficacy of two very plausible interventions on obesity. It's disappointing to get pseudoscience when science is expected, but there is something to learn even then. — Unsigned, by: MarmotHead / talk / contribs
I agree that it is a good thing to at be aware of the varieties of falsehood that exist in the world. Not only is it informative and preparatory (forewarned is forearmed), it can also be funny as hell (as this wiki so aptly proves). I suppose that, in the end, you can't guarantee 100% true information in schools, so you have to show people a wide assortment of untruths beforehand (with appropriate disclaimers, of course), like a vaccine of skepticism. And that doesn't stop with insidious forms of falsehood (lies, delusions, bullshit, etc.) - showing people previous worldviews (Herodotus, Lucretius, the Bible, stuff like that) is essential in developing a complete worldview.— Unsigned, by: Agrajag / talk / contribs
I just started college but I didn't really have that experience during high school. I even lived in a very liberal college-town, but we didn't get much of anything that set off my woo alert. Except for the one time a guest speaker told us it was nonsense that the pyramids were built by slaves. He didn't elaborate but that on its own sounded a little...sketchy.— Unsigned, by: Samstr / talk / contribs
Well, I've heard it said that it's more likely the pyramids were build primarily by skilled artisans and craftsmen than by slaves. Might that have been where he was going with that? - Grant (talk) 19:43, 21 October 2014 (UTC)
Who knows? He didn't actually come in to talk about the pyramids. I suppose that might have been where he was going but I'm not sure. However he seemed to be implying that it would be impossible for people to move slabs of rock that heavy. As close as I can recall his actual words were something along the lines of, "It's nonsense that slaves and logs would be able to move all of those materials so far." Granted it's been some time, but as far as I can recall that was the general gist.Samstr (talk) 23:45, 21 October 2014 (UTC)