Hello all,

I've been following discussions on LW for about 6 months now and have been urged by another member of the community to join in commenting. I've been hesitant to join, but now that I've moved to a state in which I don't know a soul, I'm finding myself reading discussions here more than usual.

I think participation in LW can help me do things better at my job (and in life generally). Discussion here seems a good resource for testing out and working through ideas in a non-combative, but rigorous setting.

My field is evolutionary biology and I recently have spent a lot of time thinking about:

1) Whether people "trained" in the sciences believe they are inherently more objective and clear thinking than those in other fields, and as a consequence do not work hard to make sure their thinking and communication IS clear and objective. I'm not sure that all people receiving a science education are actually well trained to think empirically (I include my own education here), but a degree in science gives them the impression that they are.

2) What are the obstacles to understanding evolutionary biology? I find that students, after having taken an evolutionary biology course, STILL fundamentally don't understand. This makes me despair of the general public ever accepting the evolutionary theory that provides them with medical treatment and forensic science.

I'd be interested in discussing the various obstacles to understanding evolution and thinking up streamlined solutions for helping public audiences, high school teachers and undergraduates in particular to overcome those obstacles. Some I've identified in undergraduate classes are:

  • Field specific language that means something totally different in everyday use. Fellow newcomer JesseGalef's post on overcoming the curse of knowledge is relevant.

  • Students don't have a working knowledge of probability, stochastic processes, distributions, and variance.

  • Students can't distinguish between characteristics/predictability of an individual and characteristics/predictability of a distribution.

-Students have trouble considering non-additive effects/interactions.

-Previous miseducation. People have had a cartoonish and inaccurate concept of evolution pounded into their brains by many media sources both friendly and unfriendly to science. Search "Evolution" under Google image and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway. If there's interest, I suppose I'll be around.

"I find that students, after having taken an evolutionary biology course, STILL fundamentally don't understand."

Could you elaborate on this? I haven't taken an evolutionary biology course, but I'd love to know what to look out for if I do decide to take one.

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments


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