Saturday, July 06, 2013

Count Martin Cothran's simple analysis

On Friday the Herald-Leader ran an Op-Ed from Family Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Count Martin Cothran. Under The Count's analysis, the way to find out what's really going on with Kentucky's new science standards is to count the different words used. Von global varmink; two global varmink... 


Is this really the best way to understand what's going on with the science standards? 


To test his method, KSN&C ran a simple text analysis of one of The Count's recent reveries from May on his blog Vital Remnants, and found the following: 

Jolie is mentioned 9 times; "Jolie's" 8 times; and another 7 for Angelina. Body parts occurs 6 times; feel 5 times; benefit 5 times; double mastectomy 3; Jolie's breasts twice. The phrase "in no way diminishes my femininity" is mentioned twice.

Other phrases from the piece include:

"The big news today is that"

"many of us have found ourselves "

"coming out of the woodwork"

"asking people how they feel"

"we were thinking about"

"actual bodily organs"

"we don’t have to be female to be feminine"

"we all needed to know about it"

"how glad she was"

"publicly display body parts"

"a famous actresses breasts"

"take on a sacramental status"

"it is no longer controversial"

"Just yesterday"

"needed to be raised"

"Last time I checked"

"it’s kind of hard"

"On a personal note, I don’t feel any less of a woman."

"They can pry"

"Angelina Jolie’s breasts" 

"from my cold, dead hands"

"What was I thinking?"

Oh my. Perhaps counting words and phrases is not a definitive methodology.

Accepting science advice from Cothran is a dicey proposition. The slippery Cothran has written in defense of  Intelligent Design for the Discovery Institute. So, there's that. If I understand him correctly, he sees Intelligent Design as distinct from old school creationism, a concept soundly rejected by the court in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District

New science standards overdo focus on climate change

This from Count Martin Cothran in the Herald-Leader:

Storm clouds have been forming over Kentucky's new science standards, largely as a result of what some have seen as an overemphasis on evolution. But the stress on evolution pales in comparison with the apparent obsession with another issue: global warming.

If you do a simple word search through the Kentucky Core Academic Standards document, the problem becomes apparent: Traditional scientific terms such as "photosynthesis," "genetics" and "solar system" are buried under a veritable avalanche of terms related to climate change.

If we had only Kentucky's science standards to go by, we would have to conclude that climate and weather issues are more important than gravity, photosynthesis, electricity, genetics, radiation and quantum mechanics.

Genes are mentioned 38 times; the solar system 23 times; DNA 16 times; oxygen 16 times; mutation 11 times; chromosomes nine times; electrons six times; bacteria four times, and mitosis three times. Meanwhile the terms "climate," "weather" and "global warming" are together mentioned over 130 times.

Comets are not mentioned at all, but the word "tornado" appears nine times. The greenhouse effect is mentioned twice, but glucose has been washed away altogether.

What are we to think of science standards in which climate appears 72 times, but terms such as "mammal," "reptile" and "bird" are absent?

Whatever your views on global warming, it is hard to understand how such an inordinate emphasis on a single fashionable topic could be justified.

There is also the matter of the veritable famine of terms related to common scientific topics. In fact, some important scientific terms get no mention at all. They include: "hormone," "kinesis," "lymphatic," "neuron," "nucleotide," "osmosis," "Celsius," "Fahrenheit," "plasma," "vaccine," "protozoa" and "enzyme."

Terms such as "oxidation", "phylogeny," "cosmos" and "entropy" — which appeared in the state's previous science standards — have been dropped altogether. And the microscope, mentioned six times in the old standards, has been shown the educational door — a victim, apparently, of the fact that it is of little use in climate analysis.

It is hard to avoid the impression that Kentucky's science standards, rather than being an educational document, are trying to be some kind of global-warming manifesto. This is unfortunate because it only clouds the legitimate goals of a science education.

One would think students ought to be aware, for example, of the lives and accomplishments of great scientists. This thought, however, apparently never occurred to those writing the "Next Generation" science standards on which the science portion of the Kentucky document is based.

If you looked for names of Euclid, Copernicus, Galileo or Einstein, you would be seriously disappointed. Louis Pasteur, Thomas Alva Edison, Marie Curie and Watson and Crick never make an appearance. In fact, with the exception of Newton and Kepler, whose laws are mentioned, not a single famous scientist is mentioned in the entire 656-page document.

And it is an irony that despite all the controversy over the emphasis on evolution in the science standards, Charles Darwin isn't mentioned once.

Young students in particular often learn better when information is cast in the form of a narrative. This is why biographies and stories of great thinkers and explorers have traditionally been a prominent part of education.

But if there is trouble on the horizon for science education, it may be best illustrated by the fact that the term "hypothesis," which refers to a process central to scientific reasoning, appears only once in the state's standards.

Standards that should be designed to equip students how to think scientifically and to give them a historical context in which to understand scientific achievement instead spend too much time on the latest trendy theory.

Responding in the comments section of H-L is Alex Grigg:
Martin seems to need a little help counting. 
Here is the document in question, unless he is looking at something else: http://63960de18916c597c345-8e...
Global Warming is mentioned 0 times and Climate Change, which is the currently accepted scientific term for the effect in question, is only mentioned 16 times.  Sure, weather and climate by themselves are mentioned a lot more times than that, but that's because they are relevant to a lot of different areas.  Just because the standards said the word weather a few times doesn't mean they all referred to climate change.  For example, this first occurrence has nothing to do with climate change, but would be counted under his shoddy methodology: "The performance expectations in kindergarten help students formulate answers to questions such as: 'What happens if you push or pull an object harder? Where do animals live and why do they live there? What is the weather like today and how is it different from yesterday?'"


Skip Kifer said...

I wonder why the Herald-Leader prints such stuff.

KY Teacher said...

Don't you love the way he starts the commentary with a lie? This outcry about increased evolution he alludes to must just be in his own head. There's actually a lot less evolution in the new standards than the old ones.

Since when was climate a family morals issue anyway? Wonder if this is just an end run attack because he knows he can't traction attacking evolution?

Richard Innes said...


Before your readers sound off about the new science standards, they need to look at the “right stuff,” the standards the Kentucky Board of Education voted to adopt in June.

Those are in the proposed change to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, on line here:

These Kentucky NGSS do not come from the DCI version of the NGSS that Alex Grigg based his comments on.

A word search of the 650+ pages in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards revision, which includes existing standards for all academic subjects, not just science, discloses a tremendous number of references to climate-related terms.

The term “Climate” itself occurs 72 times in the new standards. It occurs only 11 times in the language from the old standards that will be struck if the new standards are adopted. In many of the 72 occurrences of the word, it is used in a way that clearly relates to climate change issues such as in “Climate Change” (appears 16 times). Furthermore, Climate is a major topic title under “Weather and Climate,” which is presented at all grade levels, including Kindergarten.

The term “Global Warming” appears 3 times, not 0, in the new standards. The term appeared once in the old standards.

In sharp contrast, the terms “Electrical Circuit” and “Electrical Circuits” do not even appear in the new standards, and my review of the science part of the new standards reveals the concepts of current flow in closed electrical circuit operations is virtually absent, as well. The concept of electrical circuits is mentioned in four different places in the old, to-be-struck standards.

Ironically, the closely related subjects of electrical resistance and Ohm’s Law only appear in the Mathematics section of the proposed Kentucky Core Academic Standards, where Ohm’s Law is suggested as a way for math teachers to demonstrate the utility of algebra. The total absence of these concepts in the science section means any math teacher who wants to use this example would first have to conduct a lesson on electrical circuits, something I suspect few math teachers are prepared to tackle.

Here’s another mystery. The “Universal Gas Law” is only mentioned once in the proposed Kentucky Core Academic Standards. But, that sole appearance is in the old standards that will be deleted. This very important law relates the pressure, volume and temperature to the number of molecules (expressed in moles) of a gas. I don’t know how much serious discussion of climate and global warming is possible if students are never introduced to this fundamental gas law.

In any event, with the proposed Kentucky Core Academic Standards for science, it looks like kids will hear all sorts of stuff about global warming, but they will be clueless about why at least two electrical wires have to come out of a wall plug to power any of their favorite electronic toys. And, they probably won’t get the background they need if they really want to get into climate studies to help make things better.

So, here is a message: your thoughtful readers, especially those from the science disciplines, better take a very close look at these new standards for themselves. The public comment period for the standards will close on July 31, 2013, so any teacher who wants something different only has a few weeks left to make that known to the Kentucky Board of Education. I’ve already talked to one principal and former science teacher who is concerned, and I hear there are more out there. Now is the time to speak up.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the comment, Richard...especially the last paragraph.

KY Teacher said...

There is NO difference in the wording of the performance expectations between the DCI and the topic versions of the standards. he only difference is how they are arranged.

When the objectors have to resort to demonstrable untruths they don't have much credibility to me.

Richard Innes said...

RE: Kentucky Teacher’s Comment

The term “global warming” does appear only once in the proposed science standards section under ESS3.D.

However, it also appears in other parts of the standards in the social studies section (Adobe Counter Page 627 of the proposed KY Core Academic Standards) and in the vocational studies section, (Adobe Counter Page 640). Thanks to the arrangement of the new standards, I didn’t realize those other two mentions were outside of the science section until you called this to my attention.

Never the less, the overall bias towards the discussion of Climate issues in the new proposal is overwhelming, and impossible to miss. My question to our teachers is whether that large amount of emphasis on this one area means other important science material will not receive adequate coverage.