Shoreview author examines how biology is taught in his kids’ education


Shoreview resident Rob Stadler, author of “The Scientific Approach to Evolution,” is pictured near Portage, Alaska, where he and his wife celebrated their 25th anniversary this past June.

A clean book cover coincides with Stadler’s aim to declutter evolution education of what he determines to be guesswork. In his new book, Stadler examines high-confidence evidence for evolution, throwing low-confidence evidence out, along with other unscientific speculation.

It isn’t only students who trudge through their high school textbooks — often, parents will also browse those sometimes dense pages to see what their children are learning.

One Shoreview resident did just that, reading his kids’ biology textbooks. Unsatisfied with what he read, he decided to take on biology himself, and ended up writing a whole book about it.

 

Science vs. evolution

Rob Stadler, 48, has lived in Shoreview for the past 20 years and has worked in the medical device industry for just as long.

Stadler studied biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT, and holds a Ph.D. in medical engineering from the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

He says the lessons taught in his kids’ textbooks don’t all add up.

In his new book, “The Scientific Approach to Evolution,” published Sept. 14, Stadler seeks to bring what he terms “high-confidence evidence” back into the arena of evolution education.

Stadler has two children. One is currently a senior at Mounds View High School and the other graduated from the Mounds View Public School system — a highly regarded school district amongst its neighbors — and is studying political science and German at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Stadler said he wishes his kids would have learned evolution from a more scientific standpoint in school. 

 

Standards for evidence

Though Stadler doesn’t hold a degree in biology, he says he does know a thing or two about science and the criteria of high-confidence science. For the last two decades, he’s worked to get medical products approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which requires specific scientific standards for evidence to prove that any given product is going to be relevant and helpful in today’s world.

Those standards are whether something is repeatable, directly meansurable, prospectively and interventionally anylized, that there’s careful avoidance of bias as well as assumptions, and that there is sober judgement of the results. 

“I’ve been doing this for some time and understand the kind of evidence required,” Stadler says, noting he’s come to appreciate why such evidence is necessary. “People used to use snake oil and all kinds of nasty products for their health and people were injured by scam medical practices.”

Stadler explains the FDA formed more than 110 years ago to work to protect society from unfounded science.

“In my field, we need to show good data to get things on the market, and from my experience, I’ve developed an appreciation for evidence that is high-confidence,” he says, explaining that school subjects such as biology should be put to the same standards.

 

Not meeting the criteria

In his kids’ textbooks, he says, there’s a pile of evidence that supports arching story of evolution — “that there’s a common ancestor, random mutations and natural selection.”

“And these textbooks contain a lot of evidence to that end,” Stadler admits. “But when we compare that evidence against the criteria for high-confidence science, it’s pretty easy to see that the evidence doesn’t meet these criteria.”

So Stadler began to research and along the way he found studies that weren’t mentioned in the biology textbooks he read.

“There are studies out there that actually do meet all the criteria for high-confidence evidence for evolution,” Stadler says, describing them as experimental studies that mostly use bacteria. In one of the studies, Stadler says, “After 70 generations of bacteria — which took scientists about 30 years — you can compare the DNA from the beginning to the end and look at what evolution has accomplished.”

 

‘Well, prove it’

From his research, Stadler says there is plenty of high-confidence scientific evidence for microevolution, such as small adaptations in DNA here and there. But, he says, he came up dry when looking for high-confidence evidence that supports the specific story of evolution taught in schools.

“The high-confidence studies paint a more restrained view of what evolution accomplishes,” Stadler says.

Stadler notes that often times, in his opinion, scientists build their stories from the bottom up. For example, in the case of dinosaurs, Stadler says researchers started with bones — or fossils of bones — and now, most recently, are claiming that dinosaurs may have quacked or cooed as opposed to roaring.

For another example, Stadler says he bought a can of almonds from the store and noticed a label that said “Heart Healthy.” But in order to make a claim like that, he says, “the FDA says, ‘well, prove it.’”

“Instead of proving it, they just put a little disclaimer on the can that says ‘scientific evidence suggests but does not prove ...’” Stadler says. “The point is that society doesn’t want scam artists out there that can just make claims without data. Why is it then that biology textbooks can make these bold evolutionary claims without a disclaimer.”

 

‘Million dollar question’

So why does society and the education system gravitate toward low-confidence evidence for teaching biology, when high-confidence evidence does exist, Stadler wonders?

“That’s the million dollar question,” Stadler says. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

He notes that this is precisely what he would like to see changed.

Stadler, who’s authored 17 peer-reviewed manuscripts, has obtained 100-plus U.S. patents, and has had his research and innovations applied to medical devices implanted in more than 1 million patients worldwide, says he wrote his 200-page book to try to tackle the common understanding of evolution and how it’s taught in school.

“A few people have asked if I would turn this into a school curriculum, and if I see a lot of interest, I could maybe imagine doing that, though it’s kind of a daunting process,” he says, noting that there are both national and state standards, that require schools to teach X, Y and Z.

“That’s a huge political battle — to get those modified at all,” Stadler says. “I guess you could say I’m trying a grassroots approach to build up a rebellion,” he jokes.

 

Why write it?

“I wrote the book for anyone who has an interest in science, biology and evolution,” he says. “About 5 million students per year take biology class and it would be nice to improve the curriculum for them.”

In the book he calls this “Taking the scientific higher ground” and calls for this more scientific approach to teaching evolution.

“Students should learn to appreciate the inherent limitations of science, especially where there’s no data,” he says, adding he thinks students need to “understand that science has a lot of great power but that it can’t answer everything.”

Where there’s a lack of data, he says, scientists should tread lightly.

Stadler’s book, which has the subtitle “What They Didn’t Teach You in Biology,” can be purchased on Amazon as a paperback or for the Kindle e-reader. Those who are interested can learn more about Stadler’s approach to evolution and his book at www.scientificevolution.com.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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