Among a barrage of questionable bills recently introduced in US states, the new piece of legislation in Montana that makes the scientific theories banned in schools –and their teaching–, is causing a sensation. According to the Republican who sponsors the bill, it is a move to prevent teachings of things that “are not true”.
It questions exactly how they will define what is a ‘theory’ as opposed to a scientific ‘fact’, which the bill seeks to address by discerning whether findings can be consistently repeated.
“WHEREAS, the purpose of primary and secondary education is to educate children about the facts of our world to better prepare them for their future and further education in their chosen field of study, and for this purpose children need to know the difference between scientific facts and scientific theory.
BECAUSE, a scientific fact is observable and repeatable, and if it does not meet these criteria, it is a theory which is defined as speculation and it is up to higher education to explore, discuss and test to finally reach a scientific conclusion of fact or fiction.”
writes the bill, entitled Senate Bill No. 235.
How would the bill that would make scientific theories banned affect it?
By passing the bill that would make scientific theories banned, Montana would disallow any scientific ideas that are not established as “facts”which would have a significant impact on the teaching of evolution, gravity and other integral ideas that form the basis of scientific knowledge today.
As a result, the bill that would make scientific theories banned has already met significant opposition from more than 20 people.
The bill has also received extensive scrutiny on how much potentially conflicting with what the Board of Education may preside over what is taught in schoolshowever to date it has not yet been approved, nor rejected.
So when does a scientific theory become fact? The line remains rather blurred and many are not sure what the difference is, however Rachel Ankeny, professor of philosophy of science at the University of Adelaide, said in a recent interview with our colleagues at IFLScience:
“Scientific facts have credentials that go with them. For something to be a scientific fact, it typically has to be a discovery that is the result of careful attention to the construction of empirical evidence. Again, in different fields, these will be different but often it involves observing, testing and measuring through experimentation.”
Even as scientific fact, these ideas are subject to change, and have throughout history. It doesn’t diminish the legitimacy of an idea to call it a theory and not a fact, and while scientific facts are almost certainly correct to our current understanding of the universe, that doesn’t make them immune to change.
If the bill that would make scientific theories banned aims to separate teachings between facts and theorywill need to find a way to clearly define the difference, and being “repeatable” doesn’t meet the criteria.
Such a law can also work to stifle critical thinking and the way children discuss different issues: If teachers can’t come up with new theories on issues science doesn’t fully understand, how could they keep up with modern science?
For a theory to become a fact, it must first be developed years ago by scientists, and if they cannot be taught current working theories, how can science continue to grow?
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