Monday, May 02, 2005

Bright, Confident and Wrong 

There's no question that Harvard graduates tend to be very bright people but that doesn't mean they know much about the way the world works. Thanks to Steve Sailer, I just watched this fascinating video in which graduating Harvard students reveal a surprising ignorance about some basic astronomy, such as why we have seasons and what causes the phases of the moon.

During my brief, inconclusive stint at Harvard, I remember having discussions with classmates about the teaching of evolution in public schools. I tended to defend the creationists even though I wasn't a creationist myself, partly out of sheer contrarian instinct and partly because I think parents should set the educational agenda for their children. As far as I could tell, my classmates were opposed to any compromise with creationists at all.

In response to their arguments, I would typically ask them to give a quick explanation of what evolution was and how it worked. More often than not, the explanations were confused. Often they were very far off the mark. In other words, these people knew that evolution was right without even knowing what it was.

Update: A quick survey of two friend who happened to be on IM when I posted this revealed that only 50% of them could correctly explain the seasons, and 100% incorrectly explained the phases of the moon. I'm curious about other readers. So before you click on the links above, go ahead and leave your answers to the questions "Why is it warmer in summer?" and "What causes the phases of the moon?" in the comments. Feel free to be anonymous if you aren't confident of your answers.

Update Update: Might as well go whole hog and ask for explanations of evolution also. The fewer words you use, the more points you get.