Answers In Genesis has announced its winners in the creationist essay contest for young people. Zeno and Bay of Fundie provide appropriate evaluations of these essays, which meet the predictions we would all expect from homeschoolers and the religiously educated who have been successfully sheltered from actual science. Zeno sums up the expected content of the essays:
While it's not fair to expect teenagers to write purely original essays, all of the winning papers suffer from the suffocating effects of their reliance on recycled creationist propaganda. Time and again the writers make demonstrably untrue statements (and they probably don't know any better). In this, of course, they simply mirror their elders.
Through random chance (or should I attribute it to divine intervention?) the very antithesis of an Answers In Genesis sponsored essay contest also published their winners this year. In my current issue of Natural History (arriving the day I first learned of the AIG essay winners) the American Museum of Natural History also announced its 2007 Young Naturalist Awards winners. From the article:
Every year scientists from the American Museum of Natural History travel far and wide on expeditions to learn more about the natural world. The Young Naturalist Awards, now in its tenth year, invites students in grades 7-12 throughout the United States and Canada to follow in those footsteps, embarking on their own expeditions in areas of biology, Earth science, or astronomy. Their research can be conducted as to home as their backyard or a local pond or stream.
This year's Young Naturalist Award winners are:
Ashley Hunt (Grade 7) - Algae in the Weiva River: Is it Helping or Hurting Water Quality?
Noah McDonald (Grade 7) - The Toads of Delaware County
Alexandria Day (Grade 8) - An Analysis of Water Quality on the Severn River over Two Years
Ryan Wham (Grade 8) - Lighter, Brighter, and Cooler: An Analysis of the Effects of Roofing Albedo on Ambient Temperature
Alex Nagler (Grade 9) - Investigation of Water Quality in Mercer County Lake
Jon Atkinson (Grade 9) - Barn Owls on the Side of the Road
Viola Li (Grade 10) - From the Desert to the Subalpine Forest
Nikola Champlin (Grade 10) - Thigmomorphogenesis in Pisum Tendril Development
Anastasia Roda (Grade 11) - Human Factor IV: The Impact of a Boiling Water Nuclear Reactor on the Plankton, Benthic, and Biofouling Communities in the Reactor's Intake and Discharge Creek
Arjun Potter (Grade 11) - A Survey of the Birds of Indroda Nature Park in Gujarat, India
Joanna Nishimura (Grade 12) - More Than Meets the Eye: Do Himasthla sp. B Cercariae Use Chemo-orientation?
Jeremy Koelmel (Grade 12) - Lichens as Indicators of Vehicle Pollution
More on the contest winners may be found here.
The distinction betwee these kids and the winners of the AIG creationist contest is quite clear. The Young Naturalist winners followed the dictates of science by asking questions, gathering data and then reporting on where those data led them in their interpretation. The ground rules of the contest made this quiet clear:
After identifying a question, students plan how they will gather information, conduct outside research to learn more about their topic and possible methodologies, observe their subjects, and record their findings. Finally, their data analysis results in conclusions that either answer the original questions or lead to further inquiry.
By contrast, the AIG essay contest winners had already determined their conclusions before even beginning any research. Research was largely confined to those sources that already agree to their position and anything presented in alternate sources was either falsified, mischaracterized or the data ignored so that the biblical mythology could be upheld.
So which group is conducting the better science?