Friday, February 28, 2014

Science from Abroad

My exchange student from Kazakhstan has been taught Lysenkoism (the inheritance of acquired characteristics) as scientific fact.  She told me, “If you draw when you are pregnant, your child will be born an artist.”

I tried to tell her that this has been disproved. She doesn’t believe me and she doesn’t want to look for research to either support or refute what she believes.  She was taught this by schools she believes are better than American schools, so they are right and not to be questioned.  

She was taught that Fleming discovered that mold kills bacteria.  People knew that mold kills bacteria in petri dishes for decades.  Fleming was the first person to think this was a good thing.  Everybody else thought – my bacteria are dead, my experiment is ruined, I’ll have to start over.  Fleming noticed that sometimes we want to kill bacteria, and he began testing different molds to find the best bacteria-killers – hence the use of penicillin today.

Her comment, when I told her this: “We were taught different things.”  Yes, we were.  But does she want to check which story is historically accurate?  No.

There are always different ways to look at the same event.

I’m completely puzzled as to why she won’t look at the evidence from experiments which are readily available on the web.  

I don’t want to make the case that our schools are better than hers.  But I was taught – when in doubt: check the evidence!  She was taught, when in doubt, believe your teacher or your mother.

She told me that her current US textbook says that half of all cancers are caused by the BRCA gene.  I told her that must be a typo, since less than 5% of breast cancers are caused by the BRCA genes.  I asked to see her text book.  She looked at me as if I had asked for something totally unreasonable.  So, I told her, if there is a typo in your textbook, I’ll write the publisher and tell them, so they can correct it for the next printing.  This would not be the first time I have corrected a text book.  She truly thinks I’m insane now.  That I would dare to tell a publisher to correct a mistake.

This same attitude carries over to religion.  She is Muslim.  We were talking about Hagar being sent out into the desert with her baby Ishmael.  I asked what she thought about that.  If she were Abraham, would she have sent Hagar away like that?  If she were Hagar, would she have gone?  She doesn’t think about things like that. She just memorizes the stories. She has not been taught to question anything.

When talking with her, I feel like I’m talking with a Tea Party member.  I have no idea how to bridge the huge gap in our approach to thinking about problems.

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