Why U.S. bio teachers are so “wishy-washy” when it comes to teaching evolution

A very interesting study summarized Science aims to understand why biology teachers in the U.S. are so hesitant to teach evolution. Turns out a lot of it comes down to the fact that they themselves are relatively ignorant and uncomfortable with the subject, likely because the subject was avoided during their own training.  It seems as though this is essentially a “catch 22” spiral where teachers don’t want to teach the subject, because they do not have a good enough understanding of it.  As a result, the next generation is also ill-informed, and so on so forth.

This result from a group out of Penn State has recently come out in the The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (along with this previous post) where the entire issue focuses on understanding why society disregards science sometimes.

In their earlier study, in 2007, Berkman and Plutzer surveyed a national sample of 926 high school biology teachers to better understand teachers’ role in the country’s long-running battle over evolution. They found that 13% were openly sympathetic to creationism, while 28% provided students with a thorough understanding of evolution. The rest, which the researchers label “the cautious 60%,” spent as little time as possible teaching this most fundamental concept in modern biology.

“Where is this wishy-washiness coming from?” Berkman says they asked. Everything pointed to the teachers themselves,” he says, and “we realized we didn’t know much about them.”

Their new study suggests teachers avoid the controversial topic, and it offers a reason: Teachers lack the necessary knowledge, conviction, and role models to teach evolution properly. “Not feeling confident about your knowledge of evolution,” Berkman says, “leads to being less likely to teach it.”

#Science Nerds! – Apply for AAAS Mass Media Science Fellowship #SCICOMM


Check out the fellowship and apply here! What a terrific opportunity for people interested in science policy and advocacy!!! Applications due January 15th!

This 10-week summer program places science, engineering, and mathematics students at media organizations nationwide. Fellows use their academic training as they research, write, and report today’s headlines, sharpening their abilities to communicate complex scientific issues to the public.

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Fellow NeuroNerds – Apply to become an SFN #NeuroAdvocate! Apps due next week!


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Apply now to become a Society for Neuroscience Early Career Policy Fellow!!! Become a better advocate for Neuroscience!! More info and application here!!

What types of activities do fellows perform?

Fellows have great discretion in their activities for the year. In the past, fellows have:

  • Interacted with Congress

  • Spread the Word

  • Performed Public Outreach

I would love to do this, but I am not currently a member of Society for Neuroscience due to funding constraints 😦 Apply Now!!!

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft is on the launchpad prepping for Dec 4th test flight!! #JourneytoMars

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on the launchpad and ready for a test flight orbiting around Earth. The Orion program is to transport astronauts into space, with the eventual goal for a Jouney to Mars (#JourneytoMars)!!

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A cool NASA video about the heat shields that are part of the test flight!

Orion: Heat Shield – Orion’s heat shield has to endure temperatures near 4000 degrees Fahrenheit in its December flight test. Engineer Molly White explains how it works in this video.

#Ebola news out of Maine is embarrassing and disgusting #IStandwithKaci #MoreSCIENCELessFEAR

gsmithWhat is going on in Maine? and other parts of the country?? Quarantines of ebola health care workers are not supported by science and are a DISGUSTING response towards people that have put themselves at risk to help other people. I am personally glad that Kaci Hickox is taking a stand against anti-science ridiculousness and FEAR-BOLA in Maine. The Governor of Maine should be ashamed of his political actions. Health care workers going to Africa should be commended! They are actually working to STOP THE OUTBREAK. If we don’t help stop ebola in Africa, it will continue to spread. Already, quarantines by state governors ignoring science are having a ‘chilling effect’ on aid work in Africa. If we discourage health care workers from going to Africa, or worse, treating ebola cases here in the US, the ebola outbreak will be significantly worsened and we will only have our selves to blame. MORE SCIENCE. LESS FEAR.

For great coverage of the terrible things people are doing around the country due to stupidity and FEAR-BOLA, watch this segment from Rachel Maddow. It features Gordon Smith, VP of Maine Medical Association. Gordon comments on the irrational fear and politicization of ebola in Maine, “Its embarassing and its not the way we would expect Maine to be.” Gordon also comments about moving forward, “and that a reasonable accommodation here could be made based upon science, not based upon emotion, not based upon politics.”

Turns out having a Pulitzer Prize doesn’t make you an expert on infectious diseases, or even getting real sources #ebola

Rachel Maddow shared with us last night the unfortunate and harmful idiocy of Pulitzer Prize winner George Will on Fox News Sunday. Will claimed that doctors have told him that ebola can be transmitted in the air… and even made up the doctors that told him this… and claimed they were from Minnesota.

The problem is, the original assumption was that with great certitude, if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids with someone, because it’s not airborne. There are now doctors who are saying, we’re not so sure that it can’t be in some instances transmitted by airborne. […]
In fact, there are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious?
The Minnesotans quickly denounced the statements by Will, and made sure to emphasize that he (and other whacko conservatives) have misinterpreted their report that recommended, “health-care workers treating Ebola patients should wear respirators.” This nonsense would be embarrassingly funny, if not for the damage it will potentially do.
What we’re left with is George Will being given a national platform to provide wrong information to a frightened public. He speaks with the certainty of a man who has convinced himself of his own misguided righteousness, but Americans who turn to Will for accurate commentary are nevertheless left worse off than they were before.

Science research to science policy: Gerjon Ikink is making the career move #science

NaturejobsJulie Gould has posted a terrific Q and A with Gerjon Ikink on NatureJobs blog. The Q and A focuses on Ikink’s pending move from academic science to science policy, with a goal of fixing the ailing academic science system. It also highlights a lot of the reasons scientists are more and more becoming disillusioned with how academic science is run today. The post includes a lot of pertinent info about why scientists are leaving academia, what needs to change to retain scientists, and how scientists in policy can make these changes. Gerjon Ikink on becoming disillusioned with science:

I saw that career scientists were no longer driven by curiosity, instead they spend hours producing papers so they can get funding to keep doing their job. And in order to get funding they are evaluated on metrics like the impact factor of the journal in which they are published. Many believe that too much emphasis is placed on these metrics, and that a full evaluation should be based on more. Here I mean that it should be based on actual proposed research plans, combined with the experience and motivation of the researcher. Past successes shouldn’t (and don’t) guarantee future success in science. The successes come from plenty of money and time, motivated staff, a good infrastructure and to be honest, luck.

With the current overabundance of PhD’s and shortage of academic career options, the more scientists that go into policy and politics, the better. While academic career scientists should advocate for policies that support them, we certainly need people who have science policy as their main focus. CauseScience wishes Gerjon Ikink and other science-to-policy researchers the best of luck!

Cutting budgets for medical research is dangerous… YA THINK?!


Great op ed piece for CNN by Claire Pomeroy and Eric Kandel about why budget cuts to medical research are incredibly debilitating for scientists and dangerous for the public.  They hit on the point that even once (if) funding is restored, the effects of the slowdown (sequestration) will linger and further delay scientific progress.  They also point out the problem my generation faces… that too many of us are leaving the field because there is no money and too much uncertainty.  As a result, “This loss of human resources will take many years to replace” and thus, we will be even further behind in our progress. 

The article concludes with the biggest danger of budget cuts: The loss of hope.  “Many patients don’t have time to wait a few years for breakthroughs. Disease does not wait for an economic recovery.”

Too real.  What’s perhaps most upsetting to me is that these types of articles have to be written.  The smartest researchers, the dedicated scientists, the hardworking physicians instead of focusing on their work, are essentially forced to write oped pieces, bug their members of congress, speak out for their cause… which is really our cause.  

It’s a bit ironic isn’t it?  That we, medical researchers, are trying to convince people to give us funding, so we can conduct research, develop cures and therapies, and then go back and take care of those very same people?    


Research!America: Ask your candidates campaign


Be an advocate for medical research. Research!America does amazing work promoting and advocating policy for scientific research. Take 1 minute and this pre-written form to contact your candidates (form here). Be a part of Research!America’s 5 by June 5.


Satirical “Modern-day” NASA Space Camp is all too real…

The Onion posted a pretty sweet article about a “Modernized Space Camp” where kids can experience what it’s like to currently work for NASA.  Obviously, this isn’t real… it’s satire… and it is funny…however, the ultimate message is pretty depressing and all too familiar for us.

Modernized Space Camp Allows Kids to Simulate Frustrations Over Lack of Funding


The Onion does a pretty good job of bringing to light the reality, not just for NASA, but all government funded research in America… Lack of funding is not only frustrating, but also counterproductive.  How sad is it that some of the best educated scientists in America are using their brain power “begging” for money instead of driving forward scientific innovation and progress!?