And I Thought My Science Fair Projects Were Bad....
While at the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair earlier this month—judging projects for an award given by a professional organization he’s affiliated with—Granade came across a display that was decidedly not scientific:
Creator or Not?Divinity vs Man — YOU DECIDE” the science fair project said. I stared at it, glad that the student wasn’t there to bear the brunt of my anger and sadness….
…The title claimed we could decide, but the project left no room for vacillation. It started with a hypothesis that “The universe was created by an intelligent designer.” It went on to make the standard big number argument, and closed with the conclusion, “The universe was created by an intelligent designer.”
Granade goes on to describe the project in more detail, as well as some of the more scientific entries in the fair, and his post is definitely worth checking out. Based on what he describes, it is unfortunate that the whole experience was overshadowed by this project. The fact that a student would enter such a project into a science fair at all is a terrible indictment on our education system and our current political culture, but that’s not even the worst part:
This isn’t science. This is a piss-poor chain of logic wearing the discarded clothes of science and strutting around in an attempt to impress. What’s worse is that this project was presented at the state level. It had to pass at least a regional science fair. Not only must the student’s “science” teacher have accepted it as a project, the regional science fair judges must have given it better-than-passing marks.
In my understanding, making it to a state science fair is a pretty decent accomplishment (my best project in middle school only made it to a regional science fair). To get there, this project would have had to withstand multiple stages of scrutiny. Although it should have been shot down as unscientific from the very beginning, the project instead passed each stage unscathed, awarded with serial promotions from one level to the next.
This begs the following question: how the hell did this happen? Were the judges somehow impressed by the project or were they afraid of getting caught up in a political controversy? Whether incompetence, intimidation, or something completely different was at play here, this is a sad state of affairs that merits further investigation.
The other question that comes to mind is whether this is indicative of a new trend, a question that so concerned Granade that he approached me to see if I had come across such a situation before. Fortunately I had not. Granade had not either, in his experience or elsewhere. Therefore, using our scientific reasoning, we can conclude that this is probably an isolated incident… for now, at least. Given the current political climate—and the gravity of the issue—I don’t think we can take anything for granted here, despite the reassuring nature of the data. The last thing we want is for middle school science fairs to become another battleground in the culture wars.
Update 15 April 2006 19:26 - I updated the post to take into account a change in the quoted material from Live Granades (a correction in the science fair project title).