Reading Strategies and Cargo Cult Science

Robert Pondiscio:

The idea that it’s enough to simply “find what works, adopt it, and spread it around,” notes scientist/blogger Allison over at Kitchen Table Math is an example of what physicist Richard Feynman called “Cargo Cult Science“:

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

“Cargo Cult education seems to be all the rage in lots of communities,” Allison notes. “Sure, districts could just start grabbing lessons from high performing schools but that won’t make the students suddenly read or write. Unless they understand what’s underneath the ‘lessons of the high performing school’ then it won’t matter.”