Yes, it's another rant. But I'll try to keep the rant short and thoughtful. If that's not oxymoronic.
The Relevance Of Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, And Pb-Pb Isotope Systematics To Elucidation Of The Genesis And History Of Recent Andesite Flows At Mt. Ngauruhoe, New Zealand, And The Implications For Radioisotopic Dating
Mt. Ngauruhoe in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand erupted andesite lava flows in 1949 and 1954, and avalanche deposits in 1975. Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, and Pb-Pb radioisotopic analyses of samples of these andesites, as anticipated, did not yield any “age” information, although the Pb isotopic data are strongly linear. When compared with recent andesite flows from the related adjacent Ruapehu volcano, the Sr-Nd-Pb radioisotopic systems plotted on correlation diagrams provide information about the depleted mantle source for the parental basalt magmas and the source of the crustal contamination that produced the andesite lavas from them. The variations in both the depleted mantle Nd “model ages” and the Pb isotopes also suggest radioisotopic heterogeneity in the mantle wedge 80 km below the volcano where partial melting has occurred, contaminated by mixing with trench sediments scraped off the interface with the subducting slab. Thus the radioisotopic ratios in these recent Ngauruhoe andesite flows were inherited, and reflect the origin and history of the mantle and crustal sources from which the magma was generated.
Impressive stuff. And it goes on for many, many pages, accompanied by numerous detailed maps, charts, and graphs. What's most amazing about this obviously erudite work is that it's presented to support the theory (or rather, the fact) that the Earth (along with the rest of the universe) was created over the course of a week sometime in the last few thousand years. The complete paper can be found at: http://www.icr.org/i/pdf/research/ICCMt_Ngauruhoe-AAS.pdf
There are vast piles of this sort of stuff on the internet, and one could make a good argument that the best thing to do is simply ignore it. It warrants our attention, however, not because of its content, but because of its format. It's an example of a trend that has intensified over the past couple of decades: the use of pseuedo-scientific methodology, jargon, and 'data' to further positions and ways of thinking that are anti-science in every important sense. IDers, global warming deniers, even garden variety homophobes — all have recognized the value of muddying the waters with their own versions of scientific data and argument. When it comes to something as complex as climate modeling or deciphering genetic code (not to even mention quantum physics) it's very difficult for the non-scientist to distinguish between valid work and gibberish. Children are typically the indirect victims of intentionally confusing or inaccurate 'science', since many of their parents, school board members, and science teachers are themselves confused.
This brings me back to the Theory of Evolution, and the reason it's censorship is so unfortunate. Unlike most other subjects in contemporary science, the basic concepts of evolutionary theory can be understood by a motivated second- or third-grader. There an inherent elegance to the theory — it does what a good scientific theory should do, and does it gracefully and simply. Anyone, adult or child, who understands the way evolution works also acquires at least an implicit sense of what a scientific theory is and how science is done. Not least of all, there is the satisfaction that comes from understanding why so much of the living world looks and acts the way it does.
An introduction to the TOE, in other words, is a perfect introduction to what science is and what scientists do. This is an issue that is, in some ways, distinct from the fact that, in the words of a famous Russian biologist "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
I don't have any real remedies — the controversy seems to be one of the key components of a world view that rejects science and humanism and is suspicious (despite lots of declarations to the contrary) of higher education in general.
The books I work on all have something to do with the natural world. Most of them include living creatures of one sort or another, so it would be hard to avoid referencing evolution in some form. It's just too much a part of how the living world works.
I've mentioned, in previous rants, that I am often warned not to talk about evolution during school presentations. This has happened even in progressive public and private schools in liberal parts of the country. I understand the request. It's driven by the annoyance — even fear — caused by a few rabid, rigid parents. But the request is not really that I don't talk about how the living world works. It's much more specific: don't use the 'E' word.
When the subject of evolution is relevant or unavoidable, as it so often is when I'm describing an animal's form or behavior, I've chosen a non-confrontational approach. I might, for example, explain that animals usually have more offspring than will survive to reproduce, that the animals who are the most fit for their environment will be the most likely to survive and have offspring of their own, and that the traits that make them fit can often be passed on to the next generation. When environmental conditions change, the qualities that help an animal survive may also change. When these new qualities are passed on from generation to generation, a new kind of animal may result. Sound familiar? I've never gotten a complaint about this kind of explanation. In a best-case scenario, children will appreciate the beauty and logic of this process. Later, when they are in a position to make their own decisions about what to believe and what to call things, they will be weighing ideas rather than labels.