Education Failure: ‘Evolutionary Biologists say ‘CAPITALISM REDUCES FITNESS’ ”
I’ve stayed pretty clear of the whole “Occupy” movement imbroglio as I consider it just another poorly defined pop phenomenon composed of the usual subjects (e.g., the annual protestors at G20/G7/WordBank meetings and the like), and like any fad will wane over time.
Yet when I came across this blog entry:
nielsen lab, occupy, and berkeley protests
I found that it was a perfect entry for one of my soapboxes: the lack of real understanding of the world even by those who claim to study it in college.
First, the picture.
Now, onto the text:
Some of us from the Nielsen lab have been following the Occupy movement closely. Why?
I guess many of us, if not all, think spending more on education and science is one of the best public investments a country can make for its future. [ed. - well, that sounds good] And the resources for such investment can be procured from social sectors who already own and waste large portions of the US and world economy.
The current situation, among many things, leads to a terrible human waste – millions of smart kids who could be great scientists [emph. added] never ever have the opportunity to go to university (and in many countries, not even to school).
Ok, full stop with that last paragraph. First off, our US economy does not have jobs for “millions” more scientists, and it never will (proportionately.) Science as a discipline is resource expensive, even though the occasional payoff changes civilization and thus it is deemed worthy of investment in our society.
Second, the people writing that blog entry (nominally students of biology) are assuming those millions of children want to become scientists.
These sort of mindless assumptions and statements are why I toss the OWS stuff into the dust bins of my mind whenever I come across such postings.
Ok, more of the text:
Meanwhile, we haven’t solved even some simple problems in biology, from evolution to cancer to ageing. Nobody can deny that working out these problems could have huge improvements to human wellbeing, and that we need more science and technology for the benefit of all. In short, redistribution of wealth, a central demand of the Occupy movement, would also contribute to scientific progress.
Above, three sentences (numbered by me): the problem is the third does not follow at all from the first two. And even the claims in the second sentence are not, as the writer assumes, automatic guarantees to a better life for people. After all, no matter how real evolution is, there is only a tenuous relationship between the development of the knowledge of evolution during the past century and the growth of wealth and healthiness of humans worldwide. Immunology originated and progressed with only a limited understanding of genetics and evolution. And a great deal of improvements in human lives around the world are caused by increased uses of energy (usually fossil fuels) and the stabilization of governments, not increases in knowledge of biology.
Now onto their catchy sign and the phrase “Evolutionary Biologists say ‘CAPITALISM REDUCES FITNESS’:
[…] We’ve thus been taking part in multiple ‘Occupy’ activities, starting the first meeting of Occupy Oakland in mid-October, marches in SF, and the Nov 2 Oakland general strike. This was a great moment – young and old, blue and white collar workers walked and rejoiced together the whole day. Our sign said ‘rEvolutionary Biologists say: Capitalism Reduces Fitness!’
Well, it’s the objective truth. An flyer distributed in the demonstration was pointing out that an African-American boy born in West Oakland has 15 shorter life expectancy than someone born up in the hills. If that’s not reduction in fitness, what is?
Ok, let’s be clear here: in the evolutionary sense, “fitness” is related to reproduction and to the passing on of genes in the pool of the population. I will be generous here and assume that the protestors are implying some sort of double entendre with the use of “fitness”, since they’ve applied it to lifespan comparisons of two small neighborhoods.
However, maybe I’m being too generous? Maybe these students really don’t understand “fitness”? Given their earlier paragraphs and muddled thinking, I kind of wonder.
So yes, I still assign the various Occupy chatter to the mindlessness of youth, and perhaps to poor education (or perhaps the lack of appreciation of the education that has been received.)