Monday, February 05, 2007

"Nutritionism" and Sciencification of Everything

The NYTimes Magazine ran an article, Unhappy Meals, from which this quote comes:

"In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help."

Which makes me think of all the other -isms out there-- all the places we need experts where folk wisdom used to do pretty well. -- nutrition, sleep, gardening, drinking water, teeth cleaning (are teeth cleaner today as a result of all those new toothbrushes?).

I'm down on science education lately. And not the science part of it, but the standards and textbooks and tests and what we think it means to know something and what we think is worth knowing.-- I think a lot of science education works to create this -ism divide between experts and non-experts. It happens when we focus on the things- like the Krebs cycle- that students cannot understand deeply and must rely on experts to tell them about.

I remember David Hammer relating a story about how when he says he's a physics professor people ooh and aah; when he says he's an education professor people start in on their ideas about what's wrong and right in education. But people have far far more experience with the physical world than they do the educational world-- somehow they've learned that their ideas and thoughts about physics are not valid or relevant, while their ideas about education are.

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