Analysis of Kansas Definition of Science Compared to All Other State Science Definitions

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The definition of science proposed in the Minority Report is fully consistent with definitions used by all other states in the U.S. By contrast, the definition of science currently used in the Kansas standards and defended by the Majority is idiosyncratic and out of step with current educational practice.

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Kansas Science Standards Reviewers Dennison and Miller claim that the Minority Report proposes a radical re-definition of science. Yet a comprehensive survey of state science standards (attached below) shows that all other states in the union that define science in their standards define it in a way similar to the Minority.

Dennison and Miller, along with reviewers Heppert and Theobald, also claim that the revised definition would open the door to supernatural explanations in science. This is simply false: No one is proposing that supernatural explanations should be included in science.

The definition of science in the current Kansas science standards is unlike any other in the U.S. By defining science first and foremost as “seeking natural explanations,” the current standards subtly shift the emphasis in science education from the investigative process to the end result. This shift is out of step with modern science education, which gives priority to the activity of formulating and testing hypotheses. The Minority’s definition is consistent with science as an open-ended inquiry that follows the evidence wherever it leads. The Majority’s definition, by contrast, shortcircuits this process of inquiry and encourages premature answers to scientific questions — the sort of “just-so stories” criticized by scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould.

The only other state in the U.S. that explicitly limits science to naturalistic explanations is Massachusetts. In the Massachusetts science standards, however, this limitation comes at the end of a detailed description of the scientific enterprise that begins by defining science more generally as “attempts to give good accounts of the patterns in nature.” Only Kansas currently defines science primarily as “seeking natural explanations.” As the comprehensive survey attached shows, the Minority’s proposed revision would bring the Kansas science standards back into the mainstream of the U.S. science education community.

Jonathan Wells

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, he has previously worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California. He also taught biology at California State University in Hayward and continues to lecture on the subject.