Field of Science

Genetics and Poker and Sex Oh PZ!

PZs title pic I got from here
The Minnesota Atheists talk today by PZ Myers was a lot of fun. Hopefully, he is making good progress back to Morris in the snowstorm, although I expect his Monday morning students are hoping he decides to be extra cautious. PZ's talk was on genetics and evolution, basically some of the ways genetics contributes to evolutionary changes as well as how molecular biology and genetics provides profound support for the Theory of Evolution. The particular tact PZ took was to make an analogy with poker to explain genetics and evolution. He obtained audience participants and used a deck of cards to 'play out' a poker hand with said participants, using the deal and resulting hands, to demonstrate chance and randomness, the idea of winners and losers, and to discuss the power of combinations (a gene does not act in isolation, nor does the queen of spades make a flush). The best part, to me, was the idea that everyone 'understands' poker, like everyone 'understands' evolution. Everyone may think they understand poker, and the professional poker players can make a pretty decent living off that fact. There was little new for me, but I expect it was a good talk for non-biologists, which was the expected audience.

What I wanted to touch on briefly was the discussion of sex, as in sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction is a great way to generate genotypic diversity, half your DNA comes from mom and the other half comes from dad (or the mailman). So you are truly unique, there is no one on earth with the same genomic sequence as you (unless you are an identical twin, then there is one other). So that's great right? If you have an ok genetic repertoire, by sexually reproducing with someone else, you may be able to improve the genetic repertoire of your children. If you reproduced asexually, your children are as mediocre as you are. So now that you know the advantage of sexual reproduction, what's the problem?

The problem comes from the fact that you may have a kick-ass genetic repertoire and all sexual reproduction does is mix your awesome genes with some half-breeds genes, which moves your children back to mediocrity. If you're doing well in the environment you find yourself in, chances are your children won't be doing better if they get a mixed bag of genes. If you are dealt a flush, then you are not throwing cards away to try for the royal flush (in your children). You might get shit lucky, throw away the 5 of clubs and draw the 10 of clubs completing the royal flush, but mostly you'll draw a crap card and lose out to a pair of 3s.

So why do we have sexual reproduction? The best or at least most popular idea out there is The Red Queen Hypothesis, which comes from Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass.

"...the Red Queen begins to run, faster and faster. Alice runs after the Red Queen, but is further perplexed to find that neither one seems to be moving. When they stop running, they are in exactly the same place. Alice remarks on this, to which the Red Queen responds: "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place"."

The idea being that environments change so rapidly that we must continually generate diversity to survive. The argument is often presented, as in Matt Ridley's book, from the perspective of hosts and parasites. Parasites grow rapidly and have hundreds to millions of generations in the time it takes a human to undergo one generation. So our children need to be different from us because our parasites may have learned how to beat us, but will not be ready to kill our (genetically) distinct children. This makes a great deal of intuitive sense and there is data to support this idea.

I think the red queen hypothesis may explain why we, and many other organisms, reproduce sexually now. However, it does not answer the question, why sexual reproduction evolved in the first place nor why it occurs in many eukaryotes today.
From here
In the above picture I want to point out that sexual reproduction, as in meiosis, only occurs in the eukaryotic (red) branch. The vast majority of life on this planet is in the bacterial (green) branch. Bacteria do not have sex. Furthermore, we can add in the archaeal (blue) branch to the organisms lacking sex. So focusing on the licentious red eukaryotic branch, we find that many organisms still do not have sex. Yes, the vast vast vast majority of creatures found in the zoo reproduce sexually, as do most plants, and many fungi (the crown groups of eukaryotes). However, the popular eukaryotes you know and love do not represent the majority of eukaryotes, nor even do all members of these groups we know and love reproduce sexually (see whiptail lizards).

From Scientific American
From the red queen hypothesis, we have to assume that whiptail lizards lack parasites since they don't have sex. In fact, numerous animals primarily reproduce asexually and others can go either way depending on environmental conditions. The point is sexual reproduction is not essential, even in multicellular animals. (Although I know of no mammals that reproduce asexually.)

What I find fascinating is that many fungi can take it or leave it. By that I mean some species that reproduce sexually have closely related sister species that do not. Take Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast), it's can reproduce sexually. However, a related fungus Candida glabrata (a human commensal/opportunistic pathogen) does not appear to have sex.

Another fungal commensal/opportunistic pathogen of people, Candida albicans, also seems to lack sex. However, C. albicans retains many of the genes necessary for sex in fungi like S. cerevisiae and you can get C. albicans to do sex-like things in the laboratory. Regardless, if C. albicans has sex in nature, it's not often, not for several 10s of thousands of years anyway.

If we look across the eukarya and focus on those eukaryotic organisms that cause disease in people (which most eukaryotic microbiology research has focused on anyway), then we find many, dare I say most, are asexual. If sex is awesome for us to deal with parasites, wouldn't it be awesome for the parasites to deal with us? Regardless, I do find the idea of parasite warfare a great paradigm to explain sex today, but that really explains why sex is maintained in organisms like us, not why it evolved or is maintained in other eukaryotes.

When sex evolved, multi-cellular highly complex decade-long generational organisms didn't exist, so what was the selective advantage for sex? or was sex simply something that happened in an early eukaryotic lineage and was maintained fortuitously? Were environments more dynamic when sex evolved? If so why didn't sex evolve in the world-wide powerhouses, the bacteria?

We reproduce sexually as do most animals, a couple of lizard species excluded, therefore the biology of sex and sexual reproduction is of interest to us. But let's not assume that because something is important to us (like sex), that nature gives a damn.

Science-related events happening in the Twin Cities

Events starting this weekend:

PZ Myers is speaking at 10AM Saturday on "The Evolution of Cooperativity" at the Nokomis Recreation Center (2401 E Minnehaha Parkway, Minneapolis) (Sadly I can't attend.)

(PZ will then be on 'Atheists Talk' radio show Sunday at 9AM Central, 950AM KTNF), which can be streamed live)

PZ will then be at speaking at the Roseville Public Library on Sunday at 1PM (My son and I will be in attendance). 

and then next week:

Engaging Science February 23, 11:30—12:30 p.m. | Humphrey Center

Hubert H. Humphrey was an innovative leader for his time, championing legislation that promoted scientific discovery. In honor of his legacy, Deb Swackhamer, Elizabeth Wilson, and Steve Kelley will lead a lively conversation of the challenges involved in making science engaging, engaging young people and our broader society in science, and engaging science and policy-making. The discussion will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 23, at the Humphrey Center, and is free and open to the public.
Clearly these events are being thrown in honor of my birthday, which lies right PZs talk and the Engaging Science discussion.

Bride of the Creationist Science Fair

Not sure if it was just me but it seemed like the fair was smaller this year, not a lot smaller, but smaller. Also, I noticed that the vast majority of posters were analogous to posters you would see at my son's  public school science fair. There were no posters that I saw using a motor to prove intelligent design, or sand to prove the Noahic flood made the Grand Canyon, etc. Mostly the posters were the book report demonstration variety posters you see at elementary school science fairs.

There were a few experimental posters, one was particularly striking. This student wanted to know if your dominant eye allowed for faster reflex responses than the non-dominant eye. I liked this one, because it was internally controlled (same person, two eyes).

Another had to do with reading versus color perception. This one had the names of colors written in the color, ie purple red blue, compared to the same word order in mismatched colors, ie purple red blue. The student measured how quickly a person read each page. Pretty clear cut differences in response times were shown. I wish I could have spoken to the student, because I really liked the approach, but once I saw the data and experimental set up I wondered if a person reading the first page realizes the words/colors match and then stop reading and just look at the colors. (This is not a critique of the student or poster, this is how science is done. We come up with a question/hypothesis, test it, and then based on the results revise/repeat. We also look at the experiment/results and see if other possibilities are suggested.)

Anyway, there is nothing new here from previous years. Same organizers, looking all cro-magnanish, as the last few years. So I don't have much to report, however I did come away with some insights that I thought I'ld share. Clearly, Jesus is lord and evolution is a lie foisted upon us by the liberal fascist Muslim commies. Wait that wasn't it.

This year my 8 year old joined me (so we could go swimming afterwards). Looking at a poster on birds, my son asked me to read some of the panels (they were in hand cursive...young child free hand cursive, so he ask me to interpret). So I read the bible verse for the poster which was about the fifth day of creation old testament style: and on the fifth day God created the birds. Again, this poster was on birds. My son then asked me a question that kind of rocked my world.

Son  "What does that say, I can't read cursive?"
Papa  "On the fifth day God created the birds."
Son  "How do they know?"

That's it right there. A scientific world-view in a nutshell, an 8 year old nutshell. "How do they know?" That also demonstrates more clearly than I can explain the difference between science and religion. "How do they know?"

From here
How do creationists know birds were created on the fifth day by the God of the Jews? Because it says so in Genesis chapter 1 verses 22-23, which in my New American Standard bible reads, 'And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.' In religion, at least the fundamentalist versions, you look at the text and there's your evidence. Actually, maybe it's better to say that in religion, at least the fundamentalist versions, you look at the text and there are your conclusions. Since you have a conclusion, not a hypothesis, there is really no need to get data to support it. Basically, you can say on the fifth day God created birds. Q.E.D.

With science it doesn't work this way. Yes, you can find statements written in books stating that birds evolved over millions of years likely from a dinosaur ancestor. So really its just the same as the bible right? You can place the Bible and The Origin and Evolution of Birds side by side and see that one says Day 5, ~6,000-10,000 years ago, and the other says that 150,000,000 years ago a lineage descended from the dinosaur gave rise to what would ultimately be modern birds. I mean both depend on the written word of some text right? Wrong.

See in the former case, the Genesis verse is the conclusion from the beginning. There is no question about the matter. There can be no evidence to the contrary because the matter is established fact. In the latter case, the book sentences are a conclusion based on several hundred years of data, analysis, and understanding. However, the former book (Bible) always said that birds were created several thousand years ago. Indeed the Bible has said that for ~3000 years. In the intervening time, which led up to the current textbook description, we have learned much about the universe, the planet, life, evolution, etc. For example, when the Genesis story was first established, we did not know anything about radioactive decay, or even radiation, or atoms, or molecules, or microscopic things. In fact, anything affecting a person's life that was due to a microscopic thing would be blamed on a macroscopic invisible ethereal entity, like a ghost, angel, demon, etc. When the Genesis story was established the diversity of life was not appreciated, because so little diversity was known. DNA was not known, fossils were ignored, in fact most of a person's time was spent trying to survive until tomorrow. When the modern textbook on bird origins was written, someone didn't wake up one morning and shout Eureka! and rewrite bird history. No, the latter book (textbook) was written over the course of two thousand years, with most of the writing occurring over the last couple hundred years. Words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters have been written, edited, and deleted as more information and detail has been obtained (almost all of this information occurring in other areas of science!).

So when my son and I have this conversation:

Son  "What does that say, I can't read cursive?"
Papa  "Modern birds are descended from dinosaurs like the T-rex."
Son  "How do they know?"

I have answers, not answers like "Well on page 5 line 22 and 23 of 'The Origins and Evolution of Birds' says that". No, I can talk to him about how we know and the cool thing is that if I don't know 'how we know that', he and I can find out together. Personally, I find that much more fulfilling than 'Well this book says so'.

Creation Science on Display

It is with great sorrow that I bring to you the 2011 Home School Science Fair at the Har Mar mall in Roseville MN this weekend.

The title of this event suggests it is simply a Science Fair for home schooled children. Let me dispel that myth. The event is brought to you by the Twin Cities Creation Science Association. Does that help?

From this page, I learned the following:

Im not sure which science fair sites they are referring to, so I'll assume they mean other Christian creation science fairs that believe in a >10,000 year old universe and therefore not true Christians™. I won't belabor the "The Scientific Method" statement, because I see it in all venues. It really should be "Scientific Methods." Regardless, they lie. First, they lie because they don't teach a damn thing, these are home schooled children.

The K-6 judging criteria has the following:

          5. Biblical Application/Illustration
         God's Word should be related to the project, either by a verse directly applicable to the
         topic, or by an analogy. Although younger students may need assistance in finding and
         applying the verse(s), the student should be able to explain it in his/her own words. The 
         Bible verse must be part of the display. 

I guess Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, etc don't do science. Its only science if it is applicable to a bible verse. I guess no one understood anything about the world, stars, etc. until Jesus died, or did knowledge start 3 days later? I get confused. Actually I get angry. Dawkins takes a lot of heat for suggesting religious indoctrination is child abuse, and maybe some of that heat is deserved. However, these kids are being actively lied to by essentially every authority figure in their lives. And why are they being lied to? It seems to me that faith is not enough for many people anymore, they have to complete control over all knowledge, they are the gatekeepers of truth. Anything that potentially interferes with that must be crushed. Not just from their kids (by home 'schooling' them), but from all other kids by outlawing the teaching of evolution. I guess when one side has mountains of data and a theory with predictive and explanatory power that just can't be beat, faith just isn't sufficient.

Too bad the kids have to suffer the consequences.

Anyway, I recommend all who can go to this fair and see what's going on. The kids are great and if you get the chance you should talk to them about their work (IN A NON-CONFRONTATIONAL WAY!!!). If you go because I recommended it, DONT BE A DOUCHEBAG!, the kids are doing what kids do, listening to the authority figures in their lives. You can't change that and can only make them feel bad, so don't do it. Treat the kids with respect.

Scowl at the organizers all you want.

MinnPost highlights problems with evolution

UPDATE: Revised the post that was supposed to be a 'Saved as Draft' of my quick thoughts to be finished later, the cold medicine and Surly's didn't help that process. Here is the revised finished post not the half-cocked quick thought outline that initially posted.

State of the Union of Education and Palin Idiocy

President Obama can write and deliver a damn fine speech. In his SOTU speech Obama focused on the economy, but more specifically on driving innovation as a way to stimulate the economy. This leads to an emphasis on education in order to train the scientists and engineers who will lead this innovation.

"Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people."

I heard numerous talking heads criticizing the 'Sputnik moment' phrase, notably Sarah Palin but also guests on NPR (the NPR guests were asked about the 'Sputnick moment' phrase because it was a popular discussion in the media, which tells me a lot about our media and populace).

When that little pinging satellite went flying over our heads, we, as a nation, got concerned. This wasn't about beating the Soviets to the moon, although that was a benefit. Nor was it about getting ahead of the Soviets in some kind of who's the smartest pissing contest. It was about fear, fear that the commies would come and get us if we were not ahead of them technologically. We needed bigger bombs, faster missiles, etc. Now we needed spy satellites, but suddenly found ourselves behind the curve.

Now we are not afraid of the Soviets sneaking up on us, nor are we particularly afraid of China's nukes, nor India's, Pakistan's, etc. The threat of global thermonuclear war is less today (or at least 2 generations of living under the awareness of the fact has dimmed our senses). Now we are afraid of falling behind the curve because India, China, Europe are all capable of innovation and are investing more heavily in science, education, etc. than we are. In the US, we have to continually spend resources trying to teach science in public schools. In the US, if you know something you're a pinhead.

So on the one hand US citizenry wants to be a (the) world leader in technology, innovation, etc, but at the same time spends a good deal of time attacking those who would help promote technology and drive innovation in the US...

...which is the perfect segue to Sarah Palin's response

VAN SUSTEREN: Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is still with us. And Governor, last night there was a lot of discussion about the Sputnik moment that the president talked about. Do you agree with him? Do you -- and is this our moment?

PALIN: That was another one of those WTF moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.

Let's pause for reality identification. Palin's understanding of history equals that of her understanding of science. Back to our regularly scheduled blockquoting.

So I listened to that Sputnik moment talk over and over again, and I think, No, we don't need one of those. You know what we need is a "spudnut" moment. And here's where I'm going with this, Greta. And you're a good one because you're one of those reporters who actually gets out there in the communities, find these hard-working people and find solutions to the problems that Americans face.

When was the last time you saw Greta van Susteren out there in communities? And by what definition is Van Susteren a reporter? Regardless, we are already well on our way down pablum drive. We have introduced the mythical 'hard-working people' who have all these solutions to our national problems. How to we pay down/off the National debt? Let's go ask Pat the carpet cleaner. Best way to deal with Egypt, we turn to Terry the Kinko's copier employee.

Well, the spudnut shop in Richland, Washington -- it's a bakery, it's a little coffee shop that's so successful, 60-some years, generation to generation, a family-owned business not looking for government to bail them out and to make their decisions for them. It's just hard-working, patriotic Americans in this shop.

We need more spudnut moments in America. And I wish that President Obama would understand, in that heartland of America, what it is that really results in the solutions that we need to get this economy back on the right track. It's a shop like that.

Palin is a crackerjack scientist, historian, and geographer. Because nothing says 'heartland of America' like the west coast state of Washington. Regardless, what does anything she said mean? To promote the economy and stay competitive in the world, (Im assuming she would like that, I could be wrong.) her solution is what?

1. We need to keep government out, 2. Establish a bunch of several generation old family owned businesses, 3. Work hard, 4. Be patriotic.

If done correctly the economy will be fixed and USA will surpass all those other countries in the world that are focusing on infrastructure, technology, and education. Yep, we'll surpass them with our first class high quality baked goods.

I hope that while Palin was talking with these hard-working patriotic Real™ Americans at the Spudnut bakery, she found out a winning strategy in Afghanistan.

(The irony is that Palin's hard-working patriotic family owned business started and grew in a town bought and paid for by the government. The people who lived in Richland were government employees being paid by the tax-payer. All those cinnamon buns sold in the Spudnut bakery were bought with taxpayer dollars. But who needs reality when you're talking to the sheeple.)

Critical Thinking: Is it worth teaching?

This is the second in a series of responsive posts regarding 'critical thinking' in education. Previously, I discussed what 'critical thinking' means, at least to me. Briefly, I define 'critical thinking' as a skill set that give us both a deconstructive and constructive abilities in relation to assessing and developing 'truth' statements.

This post is to address the question "Is it important to teach 'critical thinking'?"

In the aforementioned post I took it as givens that: 'critical thinking' is a learning outcome students should attain; we value 'critical thinking' as a societal good; that it is possible to teach 'critical thinking'. (I realize the latter two givens are derivative from former given and probably redundant to state them. However, Im assuming ~0 of my 4-5 readers are philosophers nor is the writer, so deal with it.)

Based on these givens, it seems likely that I believe teaching 'critical thinking' is important. You would be correct, but this belief leads to some serious questions. For example, why is it important to teach 'critical thinking'? You don't need to think critically that much to learn your multiplication tables or a bunch of trivia facts about the state you live in (Maine has 16 counties, the capital is Augusta, the state bird is the chickadee, the state tree is the white pine, and schools in Aroostook county close for 2 weeks in the fall for the potato harvest). Part and parcel with the "Why is 'teaching critical thinking' important?" comes what happens if we don't? Just because something is important, does not mean we should be diverting limited resources to it.

Why is it important to teach 'critical thinking?'

Part of the 'importance in teaching critical thinking' sentiment harkens back to the idea that "an informed citizenry is the bulwark of democracy" (a quote generally attributed to Jefferson, regardless Jefferson was a strong and active supporter for publicly funded childhood education). This idea was reinforced in the Brown vs Board of Education decision where Chief Justice Warren wrote "Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education." (Here's an interesting aside: Chief Justice Warren wrote this opinion using a sexist voice (he, his, him), which may be considered normal for the time and/or venue. However, the plantiff, Brown, was Linda Brown.)

If we accept the precept that democracy requires an informed citizenry, and I think we can, then we can move on to how 'critical thinking' relates to this precept. At this point we have to define "informed" and I will say that I do not think "informed" is synonymous with educated, although being "educated" may generally facilitate the process of being "informed."

An example is probably in order to facilitate this point:

You may be part of the "informed citizenry" that knows Obama is not the legitimate president of the US because he was born in Kenya.

Now you know why 'critical thinking' is essential to having an 'informed citizenry' or you're a douchebag. We are constantly embattled by 'information' and that information often appeals and/or  directs our biases. Using the Obama birth certificate example, I may have the basic view point that members of our population with more melanin in their skin cells are not as 'good' as those with less. Even if this is subconscious, the idea that our 'black' president is illegitimate resonates. Damn! Where is the birth certificate? No, not that one, the 'real' one.

The citizenry that has this viewpoint (a whopping 58% of republicans question Obama's place of birth) demonstrates 'critical thinking' is critical to the informed citizenry.

To have the opinion like a majority of a major US political party (To the rest of the world: yes, you should be scared) you need to do the following. First, I expect most of these people are not fucking morons, generally speaking, but have turned off their 'critical thinking' responses. They accept the word of people that generally agree with them. Second, once these people have blindly accepted the premise, they look/find 'information' that supports their view; simultaneously, they ignore 'information' that invalidates their view. Third, once emotional energy has been used, there is an ego cost with admitting their error so heels are dug in even stronger. Fourth, repeat.

This is where 'critical thinking' comes in. If you are thinking critically, then you take the word of people you generally agree with a grain of salt, albeit a smaller grain of salt than those you generally disagree with. Still, you at least partially weigh the information. If you are thinking critically, then you evaluate the information that supports your view; you evaluate the information that invalidates your view. (Yes, we are all human so we likely evaluate the information that invalidates our preconceived notions more rigorously than the information that supports it, but at least we are trying.) If you are thinking critically, then you are aware that you want to be right and therefore try to be more rigorous evaluating supporting claims than invalidating claims (because as critical thinkers, we understand our own natural tendencies). If we are thinking critically, then we have invested our emotional energy in trying to reach the truth or at least covering our bases. Now, we are less likely to dig in our heels, because we are invested in being correct and have demonstrated that fact to our competitors. They cannot best us, because we are trying to do that to ourselves already, essentially our competitors are helping us succeed at what we are trying to do. Ergo, we already won.

This, I believe, highlights why Jefferson considered publicly funded education to the people is be essential. A vital and robust democracy requires an informed citizenry, because that citizenry can weigh information consider arguments and in general promote good policy decisions. However, when the citizenry cannot weigh information or consider arguments, then people promote policy decisions based on mob rule and gut reaction, which leads to a dying and frail democracy that teeters on the brink of collapse.

...and I think that addresses the question "Why is 'teaching critical thinking' important?" and considers the question "What happens if don't teach critical thinking?"

Finally, I want to reiterate Chief Justice Warren's other points for an educated populace (and thus 'critical thinking').
1. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. (Covered above)
2. It is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values. (For example, should committed homosexual couples have the same basic rights and protections as any heterosexual couple, including those that get married while drunk in Vegas?)
3. It prepares children for later professional training. (I know we despise elitists, but should we teach our children to not try to better than ourselves?)
4. It helps children adjust normally to his environment. (Shouldn't we aid our children in having the skills to respond to changes in the world around us, environmentally, politically, culturally, etc?) 
5. In total it is essential to succeed in life. (An outcome of points 1-4.)

The ability to think critically (ie to have a skill set that allows for constructive as well as deconstructive thinking) is important and should be taught. In a subsequent post I will address the question: "Can critical thinking be taught?"