Friday, December 09, 2005

When Data Collide with Dogma

The evoluticians (those who care more about the politics of evolution than the science, at least judging from their publication records) are gaga over a report from the Fordham Foundation. The big buzz is over a report card handed out by the foundation where they gave a letter grade for each state’s science standards.

Here is a knock-your-socks-off surprise: if you are a pro-ID state like Kansas, you get a failing grade.

The evoluticians are in a tizzy, certain that the report's pessimism forebodes an imminent American theocracy, or at a minimum an accelerated decline into bona fide banana republic status. Not only will all high-tech widgets be made elsewhere, but now they will also be designed elsewhere, and anything with a chip will be nothing but a black box to the next generation of professor-stalking uneducated fundies. That is, for as long as the next generation can afford widgets before the economy collapses because a medieval God-fearing nation cannot possibly compete with the ultra efficient and secular EU or a modern economy such as communist China.

Of course, you would expect that the Fordham Foundation's grading actually correlated with something substantive, such as standardized test scores. In fact, you would expect a strong correlation. A cosmopolitan, progressive state that gets an 'A' should predictably do better than an in-breeding ID-friendly state that gets an 'F'.

You might expect that, but you’d be wrong. In two simple but revealing analyses, here and here, MikeGene at Telic Thoughts plots the states' average ACT scores vs. the grades they received from the Fordham Foundation. You should find, if the Fordham Foundation's report is relevant, a scatter plot with a highly sloped line of best fit. But you don't. If there is any correlation whatsoever, it is not apparent to the naked eye.

The evoluticians are quintessential Chicken Littles. They are certain that exposure to ID will cause a student body, en mass, to enroll in the Southern Baptist Seminary instead of MIT. But a student who is strong in science will not become weaker by exposure to ID. Whether or not he accepts or rejects ID is probably, for the vast majority of students, determined prior to any exposure he would receive in school. To first order, students who already reject ID will continue to reject it; those who already accept it will continue to do so.

The alliteration is too obvious to ignore: an 'F' for the Fordham Foundation.

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