When Will They Ever Learn?

Scientists, and politicians, simply reject truths they don't like.

Scientists like to pretend that science marches smoothly forward as learned scholars objectively examine the evidence and agree on what nature's trying to tell us.  Unfortunately, scientists are as human as, say, government bureaucrats.  They tend to get caught up in their favorite theories just like business executives.

In "Ridiculed crystal work wins Nobel for Israeli," Reuters tells of a scientist who made an earth-shaking discovery only to lose his job and endure years of ridicule before finally being proved right.

Three decades after Daniel Shechtman looked with an electron microscope at a metal alloy and saw a pattern familiar in Islamic art but then unknown at a molecular level, those non-stick, rust-free, heat-resistant quasicrystals are finding their way into tools from LEDs to engines and frying pans.

Dr. Shechtman was working at the National Bureau of standards in 1982 when he observed a crystal whose atoms were arranged in a way that everyone thought was impossible.  Instead of being arranged in a regular, repeating "lattice," the atoms were arranged in patterns that didn't seem to repeat.  Materials scientists "knew" that this was impossible - crystals had to have their atoms arranged neatly, how else could a solid be solid?

Instead of taking an honest look at his results, other scientists trashed Dr. Shechtman.

After telling Shechtman to go back and read the textbook, the head of his research group asked him to leave for "bringing disgrace" on the team. "I felt rejected," Shechtman remembered.

Louis l'Amour once observed, "It's awfully hard to stop a man who knows he's right and just won't quit."  Unfortunately for his critics, Dr. Shechtman knew he was right and kept working with his new material.  Eventually the Nobel prize committee caught on and recognized his work.

Scientists get stuck in their habitual modes of thought just like the rest of us:

... overturning accepted wisdom has never been easy, as several of this year's Nobel prizewinners in science have shown.

Lessons Learned

A few facts stand out:

  • Despite their bogus recognition of Al Gore and Pres. Obama, the Nobel committee sometimes gets it right.  These crystals represent a previously-unknown state of matter with many potential applications.
  • Scientists are as stubborn as normal people - they don't give up cherished ideas any more easily than anyone else.
  • The vaunted "peer review" process will never produce breakthroughs - scientists at the top of the food chain won't sponsor research that might undermine their credentials.  They'll try to shut it down instead.
  • It takes a long time for a scientific breakthrough to make it to the market place.   Dr. Shechtman's discovery came in 1982.  In 2011, nearly 30 years later, there are still very few applications, none of which have achieved wide use.
  • It's hard to convince people of the obvious even when all they have to do is grab a microscope and take a look.  Scientists cling stubbornly to wrong ideas even in the face of crystal-clear and easily obtained scientific evidence.

Ordinary people cling even harder to wrong ideas, especially when the evidence isn't as definitively scientific as the locations of atoms, which can be measured by anyone with the proper tools.  They're even more likely to cling to wrong ideas if they're making money from the error.

Seeing Schools through Role-Colored Glasses

Nowhere is this tendency to disregard evidence more evident or more harmful than in education and race relations.  In "Report shows minority students suspended at higher rates," USA Today viewed with alarm:

U.S. public schools suspend black, Hispanic and disabled students at much higher rates than others, according to a new report by a Colorado-based civil rights group.

According to the US Government, "between the 1972-73 and the 2006-07 school years, suspension rates for white students rose from 3% to 5%.  Meanwhile, suspension rates for black students rose from 6% to 15%. Suspension rates for Hispanic students rose from 3% to 7%."

What really bothers those who view with alarm is the "disparity in minority and white discipline rates."  The alarmists believe that all races are inherently equal, so the only reason black and minority students would be suspended more often than white kids is due to "a school's disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership, and the training of its personnel."

In other words, when a school suspends black kids more often than white kids, the school management is ignorant, untrained, or racist.  The US Today article ended:

...Recent statistics show that minority and disabled students are often suspended for minor offenses.

"Suspending kids right and left for minor offenses is not a sound educational policy," Losen [of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA] says.

We agree with Mr. Losen that suspending kids for trivial offenses is lousy educational policy, but it happens to white kids too.  The New York Times told of a 6-year-old who was suspended for bringing a Cub Scout eating tool to school.

He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

Why does the school district have "zero tolerance" of "weapons?"  Why aren't school administrators allowed to use common sense?

Why was a third-grader expelled when her grandmother sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it?  Why was a seventh-grader expelled for using a utility knife to cut windows out of a paper house for a class project?  The Times explained:

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses.

The Myth of Inherent Equality

This whole zero-tolerance system goes back to a misguided idea that black kids are no more likely to commit offenses in school than white kids are.  Liberals assumed that school administrators were incurable racists and took away their discretion.  If schools had to apply rules with no room for judgement, the reasoning goes, those poor, dear little black kids wouldn't get suspended so unfairly.

What happened?   With zero tolerance, as the government statistics cited above showed, suspension rates went up for everybody but even more so for minorities.

Telling school administrators they had to follow the rule book instead of using common sense at least doubled suspension rates for all racial groups.  So much for liberalism - even liberals admit that these meaningless suspensions are not sound educational policy.

It wasn't until June of 2010 that the New York Times fell off its political-correctness bandwagon enough to admit that minorities commit more violent crimes than whites do:

Blacks are only 23 percent of the city’s population.  Whites ... make up 35 percent of the city’s population.  ...

Based on reports filed by victims, blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crime in New York in 2009, including 80 percent of shootings and 71 percent of robberies. Blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 98 percent of reported gun assaults. And the vast majority of the victims of violent crime were also members of minority groups. [emphasis added]

We all know that the child is father of the man.  For the most part, blacks and minorities who commit violent crimes as adults were disruptive when they were in school.  Given that blacks commit far more violent crimes than whites, doesn't it stand to reason that blacks would act up in school more than whites?

Some blacks are admitting the obvious.  The head of the New York Taxi Driver's union, who is black, recently suggested that his drivers engage in racial profiling - they oughtn't to pick up black customers who look dangerous.

Given how long it took for scientists to admit the existence of a new arrangement of atoms which anyone with the proper equipment could see, we don't expect our educrats to succumb to the obvious any time soon.  As long as they persist in their misguided "all kids are equal" policies, however, our educational system will continue to fail and we'll fall further and further behind our international competitors.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

This is as much the fruit of "single parent" homes, i.e., fatherless homes, as it is any other single fact. All of which is subsidized, indeed, encouraged by the deeply entrenched "it's for the children" bureaucracy, which includes both "poverty peddling" and race baiting interest groups and federal, state and local employees.

How about this, a common ethic that obliges each parent to be responsible for the health, education and welfare of their child. Wouldn't that be novel? Well, novel since AFDC and its many follow-on iterations.

October 12, 2011 10:35 AM

To get around the zero tolerance rule my school declared that a gun was not a weapon to avoid suspending a kid. It may sound strange to some but it was the right decision. The kid had gone hunting before coming to school and had left his shotgun, unloaded, on his gun rack.

Ten years earlier my oldest brother on the other had walked right into high school carrying his shotgun and no one thought too much of it. He was using it as a visual aid in a speech on how to properly and safely handle firearms.

Just about anything can be a weapon. If we really want no weapons in school we need to take out all of the desks, pens and pencils, and all of the books. Cover the walls in pads, remove all of the stairs and just to be safe put all the kids in straight jackets. Weapons can and will be found by anyone that wishes to cause harm to another. No weapon will ever be found by anyone that doesn't wish to cause harm to another.

October 12, 2011 10:41 AM

If we really want to fix the education system here is how to do it in my opinion. Shut down the department of education, shut down all public schools, take the money currently spent on education and allow it to follow the student to the school of his/her choice. If there were enough parents that wanted to send their children to schools that are like the way they are today then so be it. The rest of the students and parents would have to abide by rules of the school of their choice. Much of the garbage that goes on in education would cease to exist. This was Reagan's great failure as president in that he did not shut down the department of education as he said he would do if elected.

October 12, 2011 11:46 AM
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