This is why we should do a good job teaching non-majors

Tim Tillman tillman at CHUMA.CAS.USF.EDU
Thu Nov 20 08:29:47 EST 1997

Ken Klemow wrote:
> Colleages,
> Yesterday, my local newspaper carried a syndicated column by Thomas Sowell,
> who is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.  In that column, he wrote
> the following (I apologize for the length, but didn't want to delete
> anything):

. I have deleted Dr. Sowell's comments for the sake of brevity.

Dr. Sowell is a well respected man in his field.  He is also very
politically conservative.  Although a black-American,he is also most
definately not an apologist for the NAACP.  He is also not a fan of the
welfare state.  That said:

Scientists, that is to say, biologists, chemists, and ecologists
especially have a difficult time relating to the general public. That's
a given.

Ecology is one of the most, if not the most, inexact sciences around
today.  People are animals.  People need land, jobs, and food. 
Therefore, it will be difficult to explain to the common man, let alone
the quite uncommon Dr. Sowell the concepts of diversity, richness, etc.,
and why they should give a damn.

> My response to Sowell's bilious diatribe is that he betrays his profound
> ignorance of several biological concepts, including the importance of
> species diversity, 

To refer to Dr. Sowell's work as bilious diatribe is unfair.  To debase
a man due to his "profound ignorance" is equally unfair. 

> I can only wonder what his coursework in
> science, particularly biology, was like when he was an undergrad at
> Harvard.  

Who is at fault in designing the the ciriculum of undergraduates who are
non-science majors.  At my own university, such students can take "Sex
in Today's World" (no lab component!!! ;-) to satisfy their bioscience
requirements.  Undoubtably, Dr. Sowell's requiremnets at Harvard were
more stringent.
For ecologists to stand on their political bully pulpit and preach
diversity for the sake of diversity is absurd.  Such activity often
rises to a pseudo-religious ferver.  This leads the general public to
denounce ecologists as eco-nazis, eco-facsists, or nature worshipers. 

The reality is that competition often leads to extinction or
displacement.  Historically, there has not been shown to be one single
species that exists today, that was around at the beginning of life on
this planet.  In this respect, man is simply a more successful species. 
There is no real, valid statistic or index that defines the minimum
level of global, biome, or community diversity or richness required to
sustain life on this planet.  There never will be.  Period.

Rather than working to develop a we vs. they mentality, why not try
working toward educating the general public.  This way, they can
understand the importance of clean air and water, and eventually perhaps

Tim Tillman

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