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Yale President Calls for Objectivity in Science Education

Sarah Chaffee

Peter Salovey

A new article in Scientific American argues that “We Should Teach All Students, in Every Discipline, to Think Like Scientists.” The author, Peter Salovey, is notable. He is President of Yale University where he also teaches psychology. He might not welcome my saying so, but his emphasis on thinking critically and examining evidence is spot-on. 

Salovey wants Superhero Science. The picture with the article is a graphic of a female scientist standing on top of a building with her coat flowing behind her like a cape. His hope comes through in his first sentence: “If knowledge is power, scientists should easily be able to influence the behavior of others and world events.” 

The emphasis on “power” and “influencing behavior” sounds like an invitation to scientism, or worse. This innovation, for one, could easily be abused in the service of political and other agendas:

Students at Yale, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Waterloo, for instance, developed an Internet browser plug-in that helps users distinguish bias in their news feeds.

Yet the article also calls for better science education and education in general. The language is excellent. Salovey notes: 

Educating global citizens is one of the most important charges to universities, and the best way we can transcend ideology is to teach our students, regardless of their majors, to think like scientists. From American history to urban studies, we have an obligation to challenge them to be inquisitive about the world, to weigh the quality and objectivity of data presented to them, and to change their minds when confronted with contrary evidence.

Likewise, STEM majors’ college experience must be integrated into a broader model of liberal education to prepare them to think critically and imaginatively about the world and to understand different viewpoints.

He concludes:

Knowledge is power but only if individuals are able to analyze and compare information against their personal beliefs, are willing to champion data-driven decision making over ideology, and have access to a wealth of research findings to inform policy discussions and decisions.

Yes! Students learning to “weigh the quality and objectivity of data presented to them, and to change their minds when confronted with contrary evidence” as well as to “think critically and imaginatively about the world and to understand different viewpoints” — what a wonderful vision! Sounds familiar, too.

If applied objectively, this approach would enhance evolution education along with all parts of the curriculum! What do you say, Dr. Salovey? 

Photo: Peter Salovey, by Ash Carter (160523-D-DT527-335) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.