I don’t know who put it on the Netflix queue, but a copy of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) arrived in my mailbox recently. That, of course, is the mockumentary starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the eponymous Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh journalist touring the United States. Much of the film, as I understand it, consists of unscripted interactions in which Baron Cohen behaves badly with unsuspecting Americans on the pretext of not understanding American customs and/or adhering to fictitious (and frequently repulsive) Kazakh customs. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, and I don’t know that I’m going to bother to watch it. Maybe I’m too tenderhearted, but I felt sorry even for the young-earth creationist Kent Hovind when he was similarly treated by Ali G—also a character played by Baron Cohen. But receiving Borat in the mail reminded me that I’ve been meaning to discuss public opinion about evolution in Kazakhstan. (My to-do list is as eclectic as it is extensive.)

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About two thousand students in the eighth grade in California’s Rialto Unified School District—outside San Bernardino, in what Californians like to call the Inland Empire— were recently asked to “read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based on cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you [accept the view under discussion].” Students were reminded to “address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim.” Evidently the teachers who devised the assignment wanted to encourage critical thinking, to teach the controversy, to expose the students to all sides of the evidence, to present the strengths and weaknesses. A member of the school board explained, “Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship.”

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02.12.2014

(In 2012, I was asked to write a Darwin Day post for Alternet. Since it’s no longer available on-line, I think that it’s okay for me to publish it again here at the Science League of America blog in 2014. This is the version I submitted; there were a few edits, including the substitution of a vastly inferior dek for the original “There’ll Be Cake.”)

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Charles Darwin (1880)If the year 2000 didn’t usher in the Apocalypse or devastating computer problems, at least it brought with it a flurry of lists offering to rank the historical figures of the past millennium. So intense was the flurry that I compiled my own list of lists of the most important people or the greatest books or the most significant events (and so on) that included Darwin. In the end, my list included no fewer than seventeen lists, prompting me to comment, in Reports of the NCSE 2000;20(3):40–41, “Millennia end neither with bangs nor with whimpers, neither in fire nor in ice, but with lists.”

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