A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and this is never more true than when examining evolution. Since 1859, unscrupulous actors have used a poor understanding of Darwin’s work to justify eugenics, subjugate other nations, and rationalize socially deleterious behaviors. (And equally unscrupulous opponents of evolution education have cited such misuses of evolutionary thought as a reason not to teach evolution!) Though thoroughly debunked decades ago, scientific racism remains in the popular science discourse and the Internet abounds with justifications for human mating patterns misinterpreted from the evolutionary ecology literature. It is currently easier than ever to access mainstream evolutionary misinformation.
Evolution education inoculates against fake science
"An unflinching evolution education is crucial for helping the next generation think critically about their own history and be able to recognize good science from bad," writes NCSE's Director of Community Science Education, Kate Carter.
When teachers help students engage directly with the evidence, they help build up an immunity to some of the most toxic misrepresentations of science that abound in popular culture.
For an uninoculated mind, the scientific language and seemingly rational explanations contained in this drivel can make detecting logical flaws almost impossible. Therefore, an unflinching evolution education is crucial for helping the next generation think critically about their own history and be able to recognize good science from bad. Giving students an understanding of early Homo sapiens migration underscores both how similar all humans are and supports how modern racial groups are a cultural construct. (There is more genetic diversity within what we call races than between them, after all.) Exposing students to a range of evolutionary experiments helps them move beyond an unsophisticated adaptationist framework to analyze traits under a variety of evolutionary hypotheses. When teachers help students engage directly with the evidence, they help build up an immunity to some of the most toxic misrepresentations of science that abound in popular culture.
We need tomorrow’s brightest minds to ignore the tiresome, and tendentious, pseudoquestions about the connections between race and intelligence, and instead use evolutionary medicine to address racial disparities in health outcomes. We need the future generation to apply evolutionary analysis to solve the problems of antibiotic resistance, feeding a growing population, and managing a growing number of endangered species worldwide. With the solid evolutionary foundation that many great science teachers are providing across the country, I am convinced that we will be able to move beyond pseudoscience and embrace evolutionary questions that are relevant for today.