High School

Politics and Science

A Non-example of Cross-Curricular Integration

Galileo Galilei by EdgarMartiarena
Galileo by http://edgarmartiarena.deviantart.com/art/Galileo-Galilei-332403327

Sure, Galileo was in the middle of one of the biggest political debates ever. But I say he just wanted to pursue science. And I think he’d agree that at least after a certain point, science and politics are not the best candidates for cross-curricular integration.

Central to the nature of science is that research is ‘neutral.’ Scientists should aim to test measurable questions, collect clean data, frame or avoid bias, report outcomes with precision and offer only evidence-based commentary to spur next questions or applications. Here are  Project 2061‘s standards for the nature of science [+ my 2-cents]:

The World is Understandable [or at least observable]
Scientific Ideas are Subject to Change
Scientific Knowledge is Durable
Science Cannot Provide Complete Answers to All Questions
Science Demands Evidence
Science is a Blend of Logic and Imagination [applied realistically]
Science Explains and Predicts [but not perfectly]
Scientists Try to Identify and Avoid Bias
Science is Not Authoritarian
Science Is a Complex Social Activity
Science Is Organized Into Content Disciplines and Is Conducted in Various Institutions
There Are Generally Accepted Ethical Principles in the Conduct of Science
Scientists Participate in Public Affairs Both as Specialists and as Citizens

That list boils down to: science should be non-partisan.

In December 2014, Daniel Sarewitz published an opinion piece in Nature called, Science should keep out of partisan politics. His suggestions for neutrality underscore this theme: science policy must set priorities. Policy makers should collaborate on monetizing practical collaborations. Good science does not happen amid a push for bigger home-state budgets for or to earn flashy partisan points.

Apolitical Science: Classroom Activities to Explore

1. Of the  elements of science (listed above), which apply directly or tangentially to politics? Which seem fully disconnected? Create a Venn diagram or web/spider chart to show the relationships.
2. Find published research that sounds frivolous by title. Read the abstract and decide for yourself. See this Google search on ‘research studies with odd titles’ for many options.
Related: See How to Read a Scientific Paper (p. 4 is a quick graphic overview)
3. Read Sarewitz’s full article linked above. Research former AAAS directors. Debate: Did AAAS make the right appointment for their mission based on former leaders, past achievements and current needs?
4. Determine a better/different candidate for the AAAS job. Script and stage an interview of this new candidate to feature why his/her selection would be better. The candidate can be real person or fictional ideal.
5. Find out the 3 most recent science-related proposed legislation your state or federal representatives have championed. Are they putting ‘politics first’ or trying to legislate based on the priority of supporting science to improve society? How can you tell? Try GovTrack.us to start.
6. Watch this ~15-min Ted Talk, Tween Activism in a Virtual World. Then explore Whyville.
7. Watch the classic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It’s not science-centric, but it does inspire proper use of the political arena. Afterwards, have students develop a 1-3 minute monologue à la Mr. Smith for a science-related topic they hold near & dear.
[Did you really think I’d fully avoid integrating science & politics for the entire post?]

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