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Posts Tagged ‘education

What “Meritocracy” Gets Wrong

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A lot has been written lately in the media about meritocracy, what it has become, and its value to society. Traditionally, Americans assumed that intelligence, education, hard work and a willingness to accept – and overcome – risk was the definition of meritocracy. But what recent studies find is that a true meritocracy does not exist.

A majority of Americans now believe that wealth equals meritocratic value…that those at the top of the economic ladder earned their wealth because of their superior talents. Just look at the dramatic rise in the number of evangelical mega-churches preaching prosperity theology. From Wikipedia,”a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one’s material wealth.”

But the actual truth is the US does not have a meritocratic society. It has a society in which those who are born into wealth have a much better chance of succeeding than those born of middle or lower income groups, not because of their inherent abilities but because of the superior opportunities wealth gave them.

Yes, there are people who grew up in the ghetto and against all odds achieved great wealth and prestige, but those examples are few and far between by comparison. Nevertheless, as a society, particularly in this economic climate, we choose to denigrate those who have not succeeded to wealth and ridicule those who don’t even want great wealth: those who see family and friends and charity and community as far more important values.

However, the Abrahamic tradition says something entirely different.

Judge for yourself what is righteous according to Abrahamic tradition:

  • JD Rockefeller: To those who have been given so much, so much is owed.
  • Paraphrasing Old Testament Prophets: God demands that you take care of the sick, the old, the widows and orphans, and the poor. If you do not, God will send his wrath upon you, and send you into slavery. (Leaning from their windows, the wealthy laughed and ridiculed the prophets. But God executed his promise. In 555 BCE, Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, fell to the Assyrians, and the Kingdom of Israel came to an end. Scores of thousands of the conquered people were led into captivity and disappeared from history as the lost tribes of Israel. Then in 434 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah tried to form an alliance with Egypt. The Jews thought, despite Jeremiah’s prophecies, that this would keep them safe. But instead, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, marched on Judah. He pillaged Jerusalem and deported tens of thousands of Jews to his capital in Babylon; all the deportees were drawn from the upper classes, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed a puppet king over Judah, Zedekiah.)
  • Paraphrasing Jesus: God said if you do not care about the least among my people, you will not have a place in the kingdom of heaven.
  • Judaic Law commands that the poor are to be respected and protected. According to Jacobs and Greer, “the overarching Jewish attitude toward the poor can be best summed up in a single word: achikha (your brother). Jews are enjoined by the Torah to resist any temptation to view the poor as somehow different from themselves.[7] The Tanakh sets forth numerous protections of the poor. As an example of such protections, Perotta points out that the poor were protected from being exploited when in debt. Perrotta asserts that the goal of these commandments was “not only to protect the poor but also to prevent the excessive accumulation of wealth in a few hands.” In essence, the poor man is “protected by God”.[8] Kravitz and Olitzky cite the Jubilee (yoveil) and the sh’mitah as examples of commandments in the Torah designed to protect the poor.[2] – Wikipedia I’ve heard tell that every 50 years each Jewish family must donate 50% of its wealth to the poor to prevent too much wealth accumulation in any one family.
  • Modern Catholic Popes continue to preach of the need to care for the poor, the sick, the elderly, saying it is the will of God that most fortunate care for the least of God’s people.
  • The Qur’an demands that no interest (interest amounts to usury) be charged on loans as it harms those least able to pay their debts. (And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful. (Ch4:V.37) And it is not your riches nor your children that will bring you near Us in rank, but those who believe and do good works, will have a double reward for what they did… (Ch.34:V.38))

The Ayn Rand ideology of selfishness that perhaps affects so many among our wealthy class and many politicians fails to understand or accept the Abrahamic requirement to take care of the least among us. It ignores the Abrahamic tradition and laws. It ignores that meritocracy, as practiced, ignores the laws of Abraham’s God and the many barriers erected to prevent intellectually worthy individuals from succeeding.

If the US were really a meritocratic society, everyone would start out on the same level and have the same opportunities. Only their own native abilities and intelligence would determine how high on the ladder of wealth and success they climb. But that is not really the case…and Americans should really face the truth and figure out how to deal with it.


Written by Valerie Curl

June 4, 2013 at 7:31 PM

Collaborative Education…

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Sweden’s Newest School System Has No Classrooms

swedish schools

There’s a whole new classroom model and it’s a sight to behold. The newest school system in Sweden look more like the hallways of Google or Pixar and less like a brick-and-mortar school you’d typically see.

There are collaboration zones, houses-within-houses, and a slew of other features that are designed to foster “curiosity and creativity.” That’s according to Vittra, which runs 30 schools in Sweden. Their most recent school, Telefonplan School (see photos below via Zilla Magazine) in Stockholm, could very well be the school of the future.

Collaborative educatiion in Swedish schoolsArchitect Rosan Bosch designed the school to encourage both independent and collaborative work such as group projects and PBL. Even the furniture is meant to get students learning. Bosch says each piece is meant to “aid students in engaging” while working.

The un-schoolness doesn’t stop with the furniture and layout though. The school has no letter grades, students learn in groups based on their level and not age.

Most of all, admission to the school is free as long as one of the child’s parents pays taxes in Sweden and the child has a ‘personal number’ which is like a social security number to our U.S. readers.

Check out the original article to see the school photos and how the children collaborate and relate to each other. Quite amazing really…and something to think seriously about moving forward.

Written by Valerie Curl

January 27, 2013 at 8:33 PM

Famous Women Scientists Never Before Known

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Great Women In ScienceAfter watching the movie, Cheaper By the Dozen, about Frank and Lillian Galbreth, I was curious to learn how much of the movie was fiction and how much was truth. While doing a google search, I came across a website celebrating little known but great women scientists.

Women in Science (pdf)
features 16 female scientists from earlier eras who made significant contributions in a wide range of scientific fields. Most, if not all, of these women are unknown and little celebrated, having studied and worked in eras not friendly to women in scientific careers. Nevertheless, each made scientific discoveries that have been often obscured by history or attributed to their male counterparts.

Each of these women is worth discovering, especially by girls and young women.

Winning The Future for Our Children: What Americans Keep Ignoring

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School houseWhile American voters are thoroughly engaged in the GOP nomination process and heatedly debating who should lead the GOP against President Obama in the next election, other subjects need to be discussed. Like education.

According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his presentation about OECD PISA (which ranks education results in OECD countries) results,

Overall, the U.S. comes out as an average performer in reading (rank 14 in OECD) and science (rank 17) but the U.S. drops below the OECD average in mathematics (rank 25). Also, there is a very wide gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of 15-year olds in the U.S, similar to that observed between top and bottom performing PISA countries.

What that means is that, for the money we’re investing, we’re only getting average results with Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand well ahead of the US. As PIMCO’s CEO Bill Gross recently said, American workers are too expensive and too poorly educated to compete globally. In other words, American workers don’t have the educational skills for the price they are demanding for their labor. Consequently, companies are looking elsewhere in the world for skilled, educated workers to fill their jobs needs.

How can the US continue to be an exceptional country and a global leader in business and innovation if our children are only receiving middling educations – educations that fail to prepare them to compete – and think creatively – in a highly competitive global environment?

The Dec. 29 online issue of The Atlantic featured an article that brought home the issue of education in a most unusual way. The Director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, Pasi Sahlberg, visited the US to discuss what Finland has done to reform its educational system which has resulted in the country now being amongst the leaders in educational quality. Pay attention to what he says:

From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?
The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America’s school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” [emphasis mine]

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg’s comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don’t exist in Finland.

“Here in America,” Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, “parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.”

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

[…] In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

What Sahlberg emphasizes are two-fold: First, that teachers in Finland are highly educated professionals, just a much as engineers or Wall St. traders, and receive all the benefits of being accepted as professionals, thereby drawing from among the brightest minds in Finland. Second, that all students, regardless of family wealth or living circumstances, receive the same quality of education. Moreover, there is equity for all students, regardless of socio-economic class structures. Thus, it is a system that negates economic class while encouraging each student to fulfill his or her own individual potential.

As America moves further into the 21st Century, it is no longer enough to rest on the laurels of the past. The past is not coming back, regardless of the rhetoric of politicians. If America is going to win the future, it will have to change. As that old saying goes, nothing in life is immutable except death and taxes. If the US does not change its educational system to accept the need for equity for all students, the US will get left behind in economic growth and become a declining society.

Finland’s experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Written by Valerie Curl

January 9, 2012 at 9:30 AM

So Much to Talk About….

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For a Friday roundup, here are a few stories that are not making the headlines.

…House Speaker John Boehner May Have Broken the Law

Speaker of the House John BoehnerIn signing a contract with an attorney to defend DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) before the House had appropriated the money, Speaker of the House Boehner may have broken the law.

According to a story on Huffington Post:

The matter was taken up…

during a House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) pressed House General Counsel Kerry Kircher on the matter. Although the contract states that “the General Counsel agrees to pay the Contractor for all contractual services,” Kircher said he was told by the House Republican leadership that no funds would come out of the Office of General Counsel’s budget for this purpose.

Dan Strodel, the House’s chief administrative officer, is the man who, according to Honda’s office, would ultimately write the checks to Brancroft PLLC. But at the hearing, he also said he had no knowledge of where the money would come from.

“Given Rep. Honda’s concern, I hope he will join us in efforts to recoup any costs from the Department of Justice — which is supposed to be defending the law in the first place,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Honda believes that Boehner’s agreement could be violating the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits “involving the government in any obligation to pay money before funds have been appropriated for that purpose.” Knowingly violating the law could lead to being fined or imprisoned.

A source familiar with House finances told The Huffington Post that Honda may have a case. The House General Counsel signed the contract and agreed to pay the funds. But since he has admitted that his office doesn’t have the money for this case, House leadership would have to have the funds reprogrammed or transferred from other House accounts. The source said that transfer should have been executed before Kircher signed the contract with Clement and Bancroft.

Leaving religious beliefs aside, I think spending federal dollars to defend DOMA is probably a losing proposition. The reason I say “probably” is because this case, if it ever goes to court, will go to the Supreme Court and who knows what the SCOTUS will do, considering their decision on Citizens United gave nearly human status to corporations, non-profits, and unions that is no where to be found in the Constitution or any previous decisions. (At this point the only things these organizations can’t do is run for office or vote. Sounds like a perversion of the founding fathers beliefs to me. Can you imagine Madison defending the monopolistic British West India Trading Company by saying it had First Amendment Rights?) Nevertheless, there’s nothing in the Constitution in speaks to marriage – unless the defense is the “…promote the general Welfare” clause and even that might be a stretch.

…Talking About Tax Fairness

I’d be willing to bet that most wage earners pay more in federal taxes, minus FICA, than 15%. Income statistics show the average American pays 20.4% in federal taxes. But John Paulson, the billionaire hedge fund manager, only pays 15%. Why? Because his income comes via a special tax break that allows hedge fund managers incomes to be considered capital gains so they pay income taxes at capital gains rates. It’s a special “pass through” income tax break that applies mainly to hedge fund and investment managers, also known as a “hedge fund loophole.”

Want to know how much someone like Paulson makes in one hour? Probably more than an average employee makes during his/her entire working career.

If your job paid $50,000 a year and you stayed at it for 47 years, your tally for a lifetime of work would be $2.4 million. Not bad — but hedge fund hustler John Paulson pulled down that much last year.

Most of us would consider an annual income of $2.4 million to be a windfall, but it didn’t take Paulson a full 12 months of work to pocket his windfall — or one month, a week, or even a day. That’s how much he made an hour. Yes, Paulson could’ve worked one single hour in 2010 and hauled off a paycheck equal to what a typical household gets for a lifetime of work.

Income & Tax Comparisons

Given the deficit and all the talk in DC about cost cutting, including all of those for vital services and programs that help the middle class as well as the working poor, can someone tell me again why billionaire hedge managers – who adds next to nothing to the real economy – pay 5.4% lower federal taxes than average working Americans?

By the way, Paulson is the same guy who spent a few million on his birthday party then bellowed a couple of months ago that any increase in his tax rate was akin to Nazism. Explain to me why I should feel sorry for him, especially since he’s one of those (hedge fund) speculators that’s causing food, gas prices, and other commodities to be higher than they should be?

…Let’s Talk Education

According to Education Week, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter has introduced a bill that would eliminate funding for 40+ education programs.

A few of the programs Duncan’s bill would scrap are the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program; Teaching American History; Excellence in Economic Education; and Reading Is Fundamental.

I know there are a lot of things wrong in our educational system, but please don’t blame it all on so-called greedy teachers. (By the way, do you really know how much teachers earn and the number of hours they really put in on their jobs?)

Legislators and school districts have a lot do with how well our kids are educated and what they’re taught. I won’t name names but shouldn’t science and other subjects be a matter of learning rather than political statements or ideology?

I know a lot of people say the Federal Government shouldn’t be involved in education; that it’s a local matter. But I grew up all over this country and have a different perspective.

When my family moved from Ohio to Georgia and Florida, I excelled because I was so far ahead of those schools. Then when we moved to New Hampshire, I scrambled hard to catch up and was nearly put back a grade. When we moved to California a year later, I coasted for two years at the top of my class. But in New Mexico, I struggled to keep up. During my pre-college years, I had a first year Algebra teacher who as the boys sports coach barely knew more about math than I. I had a chemistry teacher who stated in response to my questions of why a certain math formula was used, “it’s done that way, because it’s done that way.” And those are not even the worst experiences I encountered during my primary and secondary education. Surely, all of our kids deserve a better, more even or equivalent education regardless of school district or state than the ones I had.

But a lot needs to be done. Right now, American student test scores barely exceed those of some Third World nations.

Find your state’s ratings here:

International state graph of Educational Standings

But sometimes money is not everything. It’s often more about what you as parents demand of your elected leaders. You know, school boards, elected officials, administrators. If you’re really interested in how well your school district is doing on its rate of return for your investment dollars or comparing your school district’s ROI in comparison to others, check out this interactive chart.

Kinda makes you think doesn’t it?

There’s a great deal more going on that needs to be highlighted, but I’ll save it for another day. What I will say is that each and every person needs to read as many news sources as possible – left, right, center and otherwise. It’s the only way to honestly get all the facts; then put aside your political idealogy and let your mind consider all options and ideas. That’s kind of what our founding fathers and mothers did when they were thinking about this new nation and its new Constitution, so surely we can follow in their footsteps to create a better “commonweal” for us and our children.

Written by Valerie Curl

May 14, 2011 at 9:56 AM

Bill Gates on Health Care and the U.S. Economy

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Last Tuesday, on Feb. 8, Bill Gates sat down with Charlie Rose to discuss health care throughout the world, which his foundation greatly funds, and the U.S. economy.

The first half of the hour long program focuses on world health and how his foundation helps and what they’ve learned in the process in working with health care providers and communities of people across the world. The second half of the program goes into the U.S. economy, education reform, the U.S. health care system, and the budget.

This is a program every American should watch because Gates is actually involved in the systems that effect the U.S. economy, as opposed to politicians who have vested interests in partisan politics and policies. His arguments and criticisms are accurate, in my opinion. They’re rational, logical, and he puts forth arguments to change the discussion from slash and burn budgets cuts across the board to making hard rational cuts that increase America’s competitiveness while decreasing the budget deficit, particularly for major driver of the deficit which is actual health care costs.

Personally, I agree with Bill Gates and President Obama, legislators need to take a scalpel to budget cuts rather an ax.The deficit is mind-boggling sum, but to axe the very things things that support the economy and drive competitiveness is idiotic. Everything needs to be looked at, across the board, to determine the best return on tax dollar investment, regardless of what industries, lobbyists, and unions want. In other words, legislators on both sides of the aisle need to start working smart rather than working to protect certain industries and groups whose interests do not necessarily align with the long term interests of the country.

As Gates knows from his business and philanthropic experience, legislators need to look first at the outcomes they wish to achieve in five, ten or twenty-five years – what America will and should look like in a global economy regarding jobs, competitiveness, education, health care, and budgetary costs – and work backwards towards making smart decisions that drive those decisions. For example, how will cutting large amounts of funding for education affect future generations? How will working on ways to drive down the costs of health care actually shift costs away from the old towards the needs of future generations’ education? How can educational systems become better aligned with a more competitive world? How can investment in research and development drive industry to produce better outcomes, reduce costs, and increase global competitiveness?

Listening to Gates reminds me of how much further the American political system has to go to actually get its house in order to face the future…and how much more the American people need to be educated.

Written by Valerie Curl

February 12, 2011 at 7:33 PM

Dumb Down of America, as Espoused by Rush Limbaugh

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Even as the U.S. faces enormous global economic competitive challenges to our standard of living, high school and college graduation rates are falling. Per capita, China has more college graduates in science and technology than the U.S., according to recent statistics. U.S. graduation rates already behind the small, third wold county of Kazakhstan. And the U.S. has fallen to fourth place in worldwide innovation statistics.

Not that long ago, the U.S. led in high school and college graduation rates and was the world leader in scientific discoveries and technological innovation. It’s what made America economically strong and vibrant…the world class leader. That is who we’ve been since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Every American knows gloomy these statistics. We’ve heard them over and over again. But just when we need to boost our national science and educational standards, the great leader of the far right, Rush Limbaugh, has taken aim against science and education.

The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

Our country cannot afford to allow this anti-science, technology and education rhetoric to continue while still expecting to support a vibrant middle class and entrepreneurial society far into the future.

Is a truly uneducated, ignorant America how we want our children are to compete in a globally competitive economy that requires superior knowledge of science, technology, and creative innovation?

After Limbaugh’s rant against science, Nature Magazine commented with a strong riposte against Limbaugh’s anti-science, anti-education rant in favor of ignorance.

If we, as a proud forward-leaning, innovative country, do not fight against this propagation of ignorance by right wing media pundits, our children and grandchildren truly will find themselves living in the world’s largest third world country. Is that what you seek for your children and grandchildren?

Science scorned

The anti-science strain pervading the right wing in the United States is the last thing the country needs in a time of economic challenge.

“The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.” It is tempting to laugh off this and other rhetoric broadcast by Rush Limbaugh, a conservative US radio host, but Limbaugh and similar voices are no laughing matter.

There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts — including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research. Take the surprise ousting last week of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator for Alaska, by political unknown Joe Miller in the Republican primary for the 2 November midterm congressional elections. Miller, who is backed by the conservative ‘Tea Party movement’, called his opponent’s acknowledgement of the reality of global warming “exhibit ‘A’ for why she needs to go”.

The right-wing populism that is flourishing in the current climate of economic insecurity echoes many traditional conservative themes, such as opposition to taxes, regulation and immigration. But the Tea Party and its cheerleaders, who include Limbaugh, Fox News television host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who famously decried fruitfly research as a waste of public money), are also tapping an age-old US political impulse — a suspicion of elites and expertise.

Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists”, has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world”. The Tea Party’s leanings encompass religious opposition to Darwinian evolution and to stem-cell and embryo research — which Beck has equated with eugenics. The movement is also averse to science-based regulation, which it sees as an excuse for intrusive government. Under the administration of George W. Bush, science in policy had already taken knocks from both neglect and ideology. Yet President Barack Obama’s promise to “restore science to its rightful place” seems to have linked science to liberal politics, making it even more of a target of the right.

US citizens face economic problems that are all too real, and the country’s future crucially depends on education, science and technology as it faces increasing competition from China and other emerging science powers. Last month’s recall of hundreds of millions of US eggs because of the risk of salmonella poisoning, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, are timely reminders of why the US government needs to serve the people better by developing and enforcing improved science-based regulations. Yet the public often buys into anti-science, anti-regulation agendas that are orchestrated by business interests and their sponsored think tanks and front groups.

In the current poisoned political atmosphere, the defenders of science have few easy remedies. Reassuringly, polls continue to show that the overwhelming majority of the US public sees science as a force for good, and the anti-science rumblings may be ephemeral. As educators, scientists should redouble their efforts to promote rationalism, scholarship and critical thought among the young, and engage with both the media and politicians to help illuminate the pressing science-based issues of our time.

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