I don't understand "Understanding Science"

Now I have to warn you in advance. This is the kind of post that makes you wonder if I’m some kind of grumpy old cranky-pants.

I clicked on this John Timmer story about the new website, “Understanding Science”, directed toward the public and K-12 educators. What I found staring at me was a giant picture of a 27-step flowchart.

I’m not going to reproduce it. You can go over there and look if you must. I’m not kidding: “The Scientific Process” has 27 steps arranged in four interacting vortices. If you have trouble envisioning how this works, you can go to the “Understanding Science” site, and the Flash animation will helpfully take you through the 55 steps in the flowchart that Walter Alvarez used to come up with the Cretaceous impact hypothesis.

Now, if you can think of a picture to make the public and high school kids less likely to think science is something they can understand, let me know. And a little schematic of the flowchart is the site’s visual icon!

Wow. Look out kids, it’s a biohazard!

Oh, yes. I remember those days learning science in the fallout shelter. What were these folks thinking? They’ve transformed the scientific method into the universal symbol for “Stay away!” Whereas the radioactivity symbol is the universal sign for “Nerds stuffed in lockers here.”

The site works hard to convey a worthwhile message – science isn’t as simple as textbooks make it out to be. But they’ve taken that and made it the underlying theme: science is complicated! Or at least the buzzword version of “complicated”– nonlinear. On one page, they have an index card with a jokey version of the Baconian method, scratched out by red ink handwriting, “Too simple!”

I guess I’m just dyspeptic this week. Like I said, I’m a cranky-pants. I know the need for good curricular materials, and it’s a hard job to come up with them. These folks do great work, NSF was entirely right to fund it generously, etc., etc. But cheez louise!