Nonono, not the new, idiotically named textbook from the ID Creationists (IDC are confused by the Google Machine, too. one more similarity to Deniers.).
I mean the 'Explore Evolution' exhibits in natural history museums all over the Midwest. Amidst the depressing statistics on how many schools teach evolution (including human evolution) and how many adults accept and understand basic concepts of evolution, a hopeful paper just came out about the potential effects of 'Explore Evolution' and museums in general in the June issue of 'EVOLUTION'.
Museums Teach Evolution
Natural history museums recognize that they might be one of the few places where children (and sadly, adults) are exposed to evolution. They know they are fighting an uphill battle. So museums know they have to get the biggest bang for their buck. How to do that? Happily for my ego, the way Ive always tried to educate my friends and the public on evolution:
The goals were to show evolutionary research as an endeavor engaged in by real people, to show real data and the experimental process, to engage audiences to learn to think like evolutionary scientists, and to show a range of evolution research projects in a diversity of organisms.
Through interactive and multimedia exhibits, the new permanent exhibit galleries give visitors opportunities to experience aspects of the research conducted by each of the scientist teams. Built around exploration, identification with strong role models, critical thinking, and skill development, the Explore Evolution exhibits create a learner-centered communication, learning, and assessment environment that provides support for evolution learning experiences in school.Show everyone how we use evolution in our research every day. Show how our research applies to the real world/real people. Show everyone our data in a non-jargony manner so they can take their new knowledge home.
'Explore Evolution' does this by packing a LOT of data and a LOT of real-world examples into one exhibit-- HIV evolution, diatom speciation, ant and fungus co-evolution, fly sexual selection, Darwins finches, comparing human and chimpanzee genomes, whales journey to the sea... All connected with a simple break-down of evolution: variation, inheritance, selection, and time. AWESOME! AHHHH!
But the coolness doesnt stop there! The exhibit organizers are studying peoples understanding of evolution before, during, and after they visit the exhibit to optimize the information and layout. Visitors are given questions like:
During one year, scientists measured the beaks of one kind of finch on a remote island. They found that most of these finch beaks were small. In the following year, a drought wiped out almost all the plants that produce small seeds. Only the plants that make large tough seeds remained. A few years later, the scientists returned to the island and measured finch beaks again. This time they found that more of the finches had bigger beaks. How would you explain why more of the finches had bigger beaks?Answers were coded as:
"Well, in that case, I would assume that the birds evolved – well, the birds with the larger beaks were the ones better able to survive, since the larger beaks were more useful in getting the seeds. So that trait is the one that was selected for, and the birds that had the smaller beaks died out over time. . . . They didn't produce as many offspring."
- Informed Naturalistic Reasoning (not an expert answer, but theyve still *got it*)
"Well, in order to survive, their body parts had to adjust to certain things, similar to the way giraffes' necks probably grew long as they reached for the plants at the top of the trees, so the beak grew longer in order to deal with the tougher seeds..."
- Novice Naturalistic Reasoning (a naturalistic answer, but not quite right)
"Um, first of all I have a problem with your eight million years. I believe in creation in the biblical account, so that pretty well defines how I believe things. God created them and due to the great flood, that is how the diversity came and that would be my explanation …"
- Creationist Reasoning
While their results so far arent great, theyre encouraging. You can check out a preliminary graph of some data theyve collected so far here: pdf
I dont mind at all that most people gave 'novice' responses to HIV, diatoms, co-evolution, and sexual selection. If Ive said it once, Ive said it a million times-- HIV is weird. Everything about it is weird. Thats why I love it. But I dont expect laymen to know the weirder aspects of HIV off the top of their head at a museum. Diatoms are also weird (common, you know you just Wiki-ed 'diatom'), and co-evolution/sexual selection are weird.
As long as you learn what this stuff is at 'Explore Evolution' and accept that there is a naturalistic explanation to HIV etc, Im happy! Museums are for learning! Good for you for venturing a response!
I am very encouraged at the right side of that graph. What are the basic examples of evolution that you get in high school? Finches. Whales. People. So people who are exposed to these topics *get it*. These three got the highest 'Informed Naturalistic Responses".
Of course, 'humans/chimps' is where the Creationists freaked out, and even wishy-washy Creationists declared that they didnt come from no monkey.
Get off of my cloud, Creationists! The sane people are *getting* it! WHOO!
Another chunk of data these folks are collecting that I really find encouraging, is how children react to exposure to evolutionary science at a young age. Little kids, of course, use a lot of metamagical thinking to describe/understand 'evolution'. BUT if you expose kids to science, by the time they are pre/early adolescents, they understand 'counterintuitive' evolutionary concepts. Bad news-- kids in Fundy households and schools still grow up to be Creationists despite exposure to science. *wince*
I cant wait until they get all their data together!!