Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A witchhunt at the Royal Society?

The forced resignation of Professor Michael Reiss from his education post at the Royal Society suggests he is a victim of an unpleasant witchhunt. Prof Robert Winston is right to say that
"I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud."

Prof Reiss was misquoted by mischievous newspapers, after his unexceptional suggestion that teachers should not shy away from addressing questions about creationism if raised. "They should take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis," he said. He was neither advocating creationism nor its teaching as part of the curriculum. Given that the best teachers engage with youngsters when they ask questions, and don't shy away from such interaction, his answer was surely right. Even the Society's own policy seems to advocate something similar.

In its actions and censorship of Reiss, the Royal Society has reduced itself to the level of the small-minded small town American school board that seeks to ban Darwin from the local schoolhouse. As Dr Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said, the organisation "should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate".

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