Commentary

The delusion in tradition

POSTED AT 07:38 PM ON Apr. 22, 2010  (UPDATED AT 09:58 PM ON Apr. 29, 2010)

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I have had both good and bad professors here at IU. However, I recently had an experience with one professor that I find truly unacceptable, especially at a liberal arts school.

I will tell you it’s a sociology class, but I will refrain from giving the name of the professor. I have already put in my formal complaint through the proper channels, but I still feel others should be aware that such professors exist.

The issue arose when we started our group research projects, which take about four weeks and account for 35 percent of the course grade. For the majority of the class, we use a standard textbook; however, the professor decided to use a different book as a guide for this project.

It is an extremely old book (i.e. older than this University) that doesn’t even have an author’s name on it, though it is presumed to have been written by some Ivy League professor. My instructor tells me it is “the bible” for sociologists, as its Author laid down all of the groundwork for the entire field.

I have actually had a chance to look through the Book in office hours. Indeed, it was an interesting book, full of good ideas that I have encountered many times in my life without ever knowing where they came from. But there was, at the very least, one glaring problem I found.

The Book did not advocate use of the scientific method.

Instead, according to the Writer, He did all of his research and experiments knowing exactly what the results would be ahead of time. Consequently, he simply found straightforward examples to “prove” his various ideas.

As a biology and chemistry major who is well-versed in the scientific method, I was very frustrated with my professor for believing this is how research should still be done today.

I tried to explain to him that with our class projects we must first form a “disprovable” hypothesis about some question, and then design an experiment that could prove this hypothesis wrong, possibly using some sort of variable/control setup.

This is how nearly all science is done today, and much of our current technology would never have evolved without developing this system. Without such empirical work, we would be like the ancient Greek philosophers, and our ideas would be nothing but just that: lofty ideas.

My professor argued that the Book is so accurate with all of its information that we must simply trust the writer and that understanding can be achieved without the scientific method.

He feels that if we claim the Book is even partially wrong, then we will be reducing the integrity of all of the ideas therein.

He then went into some incoherent explanation using other scientifically accepted ideas to suggest how the scientific method is invalid. At that point I completely lost confidence in him as an academic and a professor.

I ultimately chose to do the project adhering to the scientific method but am still waiting to see how he chooses to grade it.

I would have thought that the evolution of science would have naturally selected against such delusional ideas. I am sure Charles Darwin is rolling in his grave.

E-mail: tylatkin@indiana.edu

Editor’s Note: This column is intended to be an allegory for the debate about teaching evolution in public schools. The sociology professor and situation described above are fictional.

 

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