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Scientific illiteracy at the ABC

April 17, 2012

Last night, Lateline ran a program that covered brain development in young children and some early-intervention programs supposedly based on findings in neuroscience. Right after that segment, Emma Alberici introduced Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett. Her first question was:

Now the scientific research is clear and unchallenged that every child should be in a pre-school by the age of three and it should be provided by the state. Why aren’t we doing that in Australia?

Now, it’s probably not fair to blame Emma for such nonsense. She was no doubt reading a prepared script. But what does that say about the standard of scientific literacy at the ABC?

What sort of scientific test could show that “every child should be in a pre-school by the age of three”? Sure, the research could show that most brain development occurs before age three. It’s possible that there have been controlled trials that show educational benefits from early intervention. But “clear and unchallenged” evidence that “every child should be in pre-school? Nonsense! No scientific research alone can answer ‘should’ questions. The answer to those questions requires economic, social and political input as well.

And as for scientific research showing that pre-school education “should be provided by the state” – utter rubbish! Such research is impossible.

Please, Lateline, if you are going to include stories with a scientific basis, find someone who has a little bit of an inkling what science is all about.

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