Eugenie C Scott, Ph.D.
Founding Executive Director, National Center for Science Education
Reflections on Drive-by Science: Teaching evolution in brief encounters
I taught evolution at the university level for about a dozen years, and then became director of an NGO defending the teaching of evolution in American public schools. Teaching became a quite different experience from my university days: no longer did I have the luxury of 15 weeks of messaging to the same students, relying on constant repetition to reinforce principles I wanted them to learn. Instead, on the few occasions on which I appeared in a classroom, I was more likely to appear for an hour in a lecturing capacity, after which I would never see those students again. And while I was often “teaching” evolution to policymakers and journalists on the fly, those encounters were even more fleeting. Yet these “Drive-by Science” opportunities occur more frequently for scientists than one might think: we all have opportunities to talk about our science with neighbors, friends, on blog posts, invited talks before civic groups, or through other brief, usually one-off, encounters. What is most important to convey in the short period available? Perhaps as important, HOW should you convey your ideas to be most effective? The short version: simplify, simplify, simplify; don’t lecture, but converse; avoid language that is understood differently outside of science (like “theory”); lower your expectations: you’re not going to educate someone in one pass. Drive-by science is limited, which can be frustrating, but since it offers so many and so varied opportunities to “teach” evolution, it is worth doing — and doing better.
Biosketch: Dr. Eugenie C. Scott is the former Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc., a not for profit membership organization of scientists, teachers, and others that works to improve the teaching of science as a way of knowing, the teaching of evolution, and the teaching of climate change. A former college professor, Dr. Scott is an internationally-known expert on the creationism and evolution controversy and science denialism, and is called upon by the press and other media to explain science to the general public. The author of Evolution vs Creationism: An Introduction and co-editor with Glenn Branch of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for our Schools, she is the recipient of numerous awards from scientists and educators, and has been awarded ten honorary degrees. Asteroid 249540 Eugeniescott was named for her in 2014.