Category Archives: Creationism

Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg

As you probably know, I was in D.C. last week, attending the annual AAAS meeting. This was my second one (funny, back when I was a member of AAAS I was still in grad school and I could never afford to go – now that I am out of science, invitations are finally happening). It is an enormous meeting (about 8200 people this year, I hear) and I missed even seeing some of the friends as the space was so enormous and the program so rich.

Unlike last year, when I was in a session that made quite a splash, this year I was a part of a much more academic panel on Social Networks and Sustainability.

Organized by Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University, the panelists were Mrill Ingram (University of Wisconsin), Ken Frank (Michigan State University) and Adam D. Henry (West Virginia University). These are people from areas like sociology, people who make graphs like this one and understand how to properly interpret it:

My role on the panel was as a ‘discussant’, i.e., someone who does not give a separate talk but comments, at the end, on what the other panelists have said.

I am glad I got the materials from the panelists in advance as this was quite dense stuff.

Every scientific discipline invents new words – the terminology (or jargon) with precise meaning that is necessary for practitioners to talk to each other. For the most part, natural sciences tend to stick to agreed definitions, and counter-examples are relatively rare thus usually quite well known (e.g., the different use of the term “gene” by population geneticists vs. molecular geneticists).

Social sciences, on the other hand, tend to appropriate words from the existing English vocabulary and give those words new, precise definitions. Thus, possibility of misunderstanding by non-experts is greater. Also, some of the terms are defined differently by different sub-disciplines, research communities or even individuals, which makes it even harder to be sure one got the meaning correctly.

This all made reading the materials, as well as listening to the panel, quite challenging for me, the outsider in this field. I am also not a researcher of social networks – I am a user and observer, perhaps an amateur student of them. My thoughts could not be supported by numbers and graphs, but had to, by necessity, be more impressionistic – what I learned from my experiences using, living in, and running online social communities.

As all the speakers went substantially over their allotted times all I had left was seven minutes. Fortunately for me, I had all seven (not 3.5) as the other discussant’s flight into D.C. was canceled. Also fortunately for me, this was the very last time-slot of the meeting, so nobody was in a rush to go to another session and thus everyone let me talk a few minutes longer and then remained in the room asking even more questions.

As I tend to do, and in this case particularly, I decided not to prepare too much (OK, at all) in advance. Instead, I listened to the panelists carefully and made the decision what to say only once I climbed onto the podium in the end and knew how much time I had at my disposal. I decided what to say in the first couple of sentences – the rest came out on its own, pure improvisational theater.

As I was reading the materials and listening to the talks, I realized that a couple of examples were clearly discussing real-world, meat-space, offline social networks, but that all the other examples were ambiguous: I could not figure out if those were online, offline, or combined/hybrid social networks.

So, I decided to use my seven minutes to compare and contrast online and offline social networks, how they differ (more important than how they are similar, which is the default thinking), and how they interact and potentially strengthen each other due to such differences.

This is, roughly, what I said – or at least what I meant to say but had to speed up, i.e., this is an (very) expanded version:

Social norms build and enforce echo-chambers

You want to remain in a friendly relationship with the people you see (or potentially can see) often: neighbors, family, colleagues and friends. Nothing makes for a more unpleasant interaction than discussion of politics, ideology or religion with the people you disagree with.

Thus, there is a social norm in place: politics and religion are taboo topics in conversation. It is considered bad manners to start such conversations in polite company.

This means that most people are not exposed to views other than their own in their day-to-day interactions with other people.

In a small tightly-knit community where everyone’s politics and religion are the same (and people tend to move to such places in order to feel comfortable, on top of most likely being born in such a community to begin with), there is no need to discuss these topics as everyone already agrees. If the topic is discussed, there are no other opinions to be heard – it’s just back-slapping and commiserating about the evil enemies out there.

In mixed communities, the taboo against discussing politics and religion is strongly enforced. Again, as a result, there is not much chance to hear differing opinions.

There is no more airtight echo-chamber than a small community which interacts predominantly within itself, and not so much with the outside world.

Mass media builds and enforces echo-chambers

If you are born and raised by parents with a particular set of beliefs, you will also inherit from them the notions of which media outlets are trustworthy. If you were raised in the reality-based community, you are unlikely to waste much time with the media of the fantasy-based community (and vice versa). If your parents read Washington Post, you are unlikely to read Washington Times. You’ll prefer New York Times and not New York Post. MSNBC rather than Fox News. NPR rather than Limbaugh show on the radio.

But it is even worse than that – the choice is really not as broad. The media shapes the public opinion by choosing what is and what is not respectable opinion, i.e., ‘sphere of legitimate debate’ – what opinions to cover as serious, what opinions to denigrate and what opinions to ignore. There are many ideas that people hold that you will never see even mentioned in the US mass media and some of those are actually very legitimate in the Real World.

Furthermore, the press then divides the ‘respectable opinion’ into two opposites, gives voice to each of the two, and will never actually tell you which of the two is more reasonable than the other – “we report, you decide”, aka, He Said She Said journalism.

By presenting every issue as a battle between two extremes (and the fuzzy, undefinable “middle” is reserved only for them, the wise men), the mainstream press makes every opinion something to be sneered at, both those they deem worthy of mentioning and the unmentionable ones.

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of many stands on any issue, by refusing to assign Truth-values to any, by looking down at anyone who holds any opinion that is not their own, the mainstream press fosters the atmosphere of a bipolar world in which enmity rules, and the wagons need to be circled – the atmosphere that is so conducive to formation and defense of echo-chambers and yet so devoid of airing of any alternatives.

The Web breaks echo-chambers

When an individual first goes online, the usual reaction is shock! There are people in the world who believe what!?!?

The usual first response is anger and strenuous attempts at countering all other ideas and pushing one’s own.

But after a while, unbeknown to the person, all those various novel ideas start seeping in. One is not even aware of changing one’s own mind from one year to the next. Many ideas take time to process and digest and may quietly get incorporated into one’s gradually enriching and more sophisticated worldview.

We all learn from encountering all those other opinions even if we vehemently disagree with them. And we cannot help bumping into them all the time. There are no taboo topics online, no social norms preventing people from saying exactly what they think.

Forming, finding or defending a vacuum-sealed echo-chamber online is extremely difficult, if at all possible.

Your Facebook friends will post stuff that reveals their politics is different than yours (and you did not even know that about them before – they seemed so nice in real life!). By the time you get around to blocking them…it’s too late – the virus has already entered your head [this one sentence added 2-27-11].

People you follow on Twitter because of some common interest (e.g., food or knitting or parenting or technology or geographic area) may be very different from you when concerning some other interest, e.g., religion, and will occasionally post links to articles that contain opinions you have never heard of before.

If you are, for example, a liberal and tend to read only liberal blogs, you will constantly see links to conservative sites that are being debunked by your favourite bloggers – thus you will be exposed to conservative ideas daily.

If your interest is science, you are even luckier. The mainstream media, if it links to anything at all, tends to link either to each other or to governmental sources (e.g., CDC, USDA, etc.). Political bloggers link a lot more, but again the spectrum of sources is pretty narrow – they link to MSM, to governmental pages, and to each other (including the “opposition” bloggers).

But science bloggers link to a vastly broader gamut of sources. If mass media is linked to at all, it is usually in order to show how bad the coverage was of a science story. Linking to each other is important (and that includes linking to anti-science sites when needed to counter them), but what science bloggers do that others do not is link to scientific papers, documents, databases, even raw data-sets (including some Open Notebook Science bloggers who pipe data straight from their lab equipment onto the web).

What echo-chamber? Contrary to what some uninformed op-eds in the mass media like to say, the Web breaks echo-chambers that the social norms and mass media have previously built.

The online and offline social networks can work synergistically to affect real change

Many curmudgeons like to say that the Web does not do anything on its own. They (unlike behavioral biologists) do not understand the distinction between Proximal Causes and Ultimate Causes. Web is a tool that allows, among other things, many more people in much shorter time to organize to do something useful in the real world.

Release of Tripoli 6 was an instance in which massive outpouring of support online forced the mainstream media to cover the story which then forced the hand of politicians to do something.

Likewise, in the case of resignation of George Deutsch from NASA, it was investigative work by a blogger, Nick Anthis, that energized the blogosphere, which pushed the MSM to finally report on the story, which forced the event to happen.

PRISM was an astroturf website built to counter the pro-open-access NIH bill in the US Senate. Outpouring of online anger at the tactics by the publishers’ lobby inundated the senatorial offices – as a result the bill passed not once, but twice (GW Bush vetoed the first version of the large omnibus bill it was a part of, then signed it with no changes in the language on this particular issue) and the Senate is now educated on this issue.

But probably the best example is the Dover Trial (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) that made Intelligent Design illegal to teach in US public schools. The ruling by Judge Jones (pdf) is one of the most powerful texts in the history of judicial decisions I am aware of.

There are anti-evolution bills popping up somewhere in the country seemingly every week. But because of the Dover ruling, they are all illegal. Most don’t make it to the committee, let alone to the floor of the state legislatures. Others are soundly defeated.

Before Dover, both Creationist sites and pro-evolution sites, when linking to me, would bring approximately the same amount of traffic to my blog. After Dover, getting a link from PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Larry Moran or Jerry Coyne brings substantial new traffic. Links from Creationist sites? Essentially undetectable by traffic trackers – I discover them only when I search my blog URL to specifically see if there are new links out there. Creationism, while still popular with the people, is politically essentially dead. The Dover ruling castrated it.

But Dover Trial would not have gone that way, and would not result in such a gorgeously written document by the Judge, if it was not for a small army of bloggers who contribute to the blog Panda’s Thumb. A mix of scientists from different disciplines, lawyers, etc., this group has been online – first on Usenet, later on the blog – for a couple of decades before the trial.

This is a group of people who battled Creationists for many years, online and offline, in courtrooms and political campaigns, in classrooms and in print. They know all the characters, all the usual creationist “arguments” (and provided all the answers to them in one place), all the literature, etc.

It is one of them who discovered that the new Intelligent Design “textbook” is really just a reprint of an old Creationist book, in which the word “Creationists” was replaced by “Intelligent Design proponents” throughout the text….except in one place where they made a typo: “Cdesign proponentsists”.

Ooops – a huge piece of evidence that Intelligent Design Creationism is just a warmed-up version of the old-style Creationism masquerading as something new. The Panda’s Thumb bloggers were at the trial as expert witnesses who provided all the expert evidence that Judge Jones needed to make his decision. People who organized on the Web have helped a meatspace history come to pass.

The online and offline social networks can work synergistically if the ecology is right

When looking at the role of online communities and networks in meatspace events, counting the numbers of networked citizens (or ratio of networked to non-networked citizens) is not sufficient – one also needs to know their geographic distribution, and their connectiveness with non-networked citizens. The most fresh example are the so-called “Twitter revolutions” in the Arab world.

There are at least two possible scenarios (or thought experiments) that demonstrate the importance of ecological thinking about social networks:

1) There are 10 people on Twitter in a country. All in the same city, all in the same college dorm, good friends with each other. No communication with other people. No Twitterati in other cities. Nobody knows that other people in other cities have the same negative feelings toward the government.

2) There are 10 people on Twitter in a country. One each in 10 different cities. They communicate with each other via social networks continuously. Each is also a center of the local community of thousands of non-networked people using offline methods of communication. Through this connection, they become aware that there are millions of them, all over the country, and that a revolution is feasible.

In scenario 1, there are 10 buddies dreaming of revolution. In scenario 2, there are thousands of people in ten cities organizing revolution. In both, there are only 10 people on Twitter. Yet, the outcome is likely to be very different.

Thus, the ecology of the networkers, their spatial and temporal distribution, and their effectiveness in informing not just each other but many non-networked citizens, are important data one needs for this exercise.

‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’

I shamelessly stole this sub-heading from someone on Twitter (let me know who said it first if you know). Edit: Thank you – it was Chris Rowan,

A great example of a case where the Web produced a community (aka echo-chamber) but that was a good thing, is the case of American atheists.

Before the Web, each atheist in the USA thought he or she was the only one in the country. The social norms about the impoliteness of discussing religion, as well as the real fear of reprisals by the religious neighbors, made atheism completely invisible. No need to mention that the media never mentioned them – they were outside of the “sphere of legitimate debate”.

But then the Web happened, and people, often pseudonymously, revealed their religious doubts online. Suddenly they realized they are not alone – there are millions of atheists in the country, each closeted before, each openly so after! It is not a surprise that “no belief” is the fastest-growing self-description in questions about religion in various nation-wide polls and censuses.

President Bush Senior, himself not very religious, could say that atheists are not real American citizens. A decade later, his son GW Bush, himself a fundamentalist, could not say that any more – his speechwriters made sure he mentioned atheists in the listings of all the equally American religious groupings.

Not all online communities need to be politically active. Discovering people with the same interest in knitting is nice. Exchanging LOLcat pictures is fun. But such interactions also build ties that can be used for action in the real world if the need arises.

Without the Web, I would not know many people whose friendship I cherish. Without the Web I would not have this job. Without the Web, me and many of my friends would have never gone to a meeting like AAAS. There would be no such meetings as ScienceOnline, Science Online London, SciBarCamp, SciFoo, and others.

Every time I travel I make sure that people I know online – from blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. – know I am traveling. I say on which date, at which time, I will be in which restaurant in which city. Twenty people show up. Most I have never met in real life before. But after sharing a meal, a beer, a handshake and a hug, our weak ties become strong ties. Superficial relationships become friendships. If there is a need to organize some real-world action – we can rely on each other to participate or help.

I have a separate Dunbar Number in each city I visited. And I try to connect them to each other even more than they are already connected via online communication. Which is one of the reasons we organize conferences and one of the reasons I am online all the time.


As Science Bloggers, Who Are We Really Writing For? by Emily Anthes.

Are science blogs stuck in an echo chamber? Chamber? Chamber? by Ed Yong.

All Science vs. Religion Conflicts are Essentially and Primarily Political Conflicts

In a recent post, my SciBling Jason Rosenhouse with whom I usually agree on these matters, voices a strong disagreement with this quote (from Thomas Dixon’s book Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction, published by Oxford University Press in 2008):

Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge.

Jason counters that Galileo affair, as well as the more modern Creationist wars, are primarily and perhaps entirely science vs. religion wars, not political. He writes:

Afficionados of science/religion disputes will recognize in this a standard gambit of the genre. Specifically, the attempt to recast situations that are obviously conflicts between science and religion into conflicts about something else.

Another SciBling, Mike Dunford, disagrees with Jason on the Creationism wars:

The conflict arises when creationists attempt to force their religious views onto the children of other people, who do not necessarily share those views. That’s not a dispute over what the most authoritative source of knowledge is; that’s a dispute over the exercise of secular authority. In other words, it’s a political conflict.

The commenters on both posts then lose the sight of forest for the trees and get bogged down in the historical minutiae about the Gallileo affair. Not very constructive. Let me cut through all that and come out strongly on the Thomas Dixon side. Step by step. This way:
1) Every conflict is about power. Ergo, every conflict is essentially a political conflict. Who gets to be the boss. Who gets the money. Who gets first dibs at the pretty peasant girls from the village that feeds the nobles in the castle. Who gets to kill whom. Who gets to invade whom. Who gets the territory.
2) Conflicts require troops. Better the troops are motivated, more likely the positive outcome will be for the power-hungry leader. In many conflicts, the leaders motivate the troops by recasting the conflict in terms of “You are wrong, we are right, thus you die”. Those are conflicts over facts: who has the better facts. If those facts relate to the way the world works, then those facts are amenable to empirical testing.
3) Throughout history, including today, the conflicts over facts have been conflicts over religious facts. While the core reason for the conflict is power for the ruling class, religion serves wonderfully to unite the troops around a common idea, common symbols, a shared destiny. Religion probably evolved to aid group cohesion in early human societies and can be wonderfully used to aid group cohesion when a battle needs to be waged, even today.
4) Most of these fact-based conflicts pit one set of religious “facts” with another set of religious “facts”. We call these conflicts “religious wars” despite religion being just an excuse for a power-grab or invasion or civil war. Both sides’ facts fail the empirical tests, but the “You are wrong, we are right, thus you die” is still the battle cry for both sides.
5) In some, more recent conflicts, facts of one side actually pass the empirical test. These are wars between reason and superstition. We like to call them wars between Science and Religion. Often they are not waged with real weapons, but with other political means: battles over control of the classrooms, the goverment, the military, etc. Clearly, religion is a troup-motivator for one side, but the goal is obviously political power. In the USA, the two sides have over the past three decades or so clearly aligned with the two major political parties. Democrats are generally realistic and ignore the pseudoscientific extremists from the far left who have zero influence on policy. Republicans are anti-scientific and anti-reality at the core – that is what defines their party, their platform and their conservative ideology – the most extreme anti-science forces from the far right ARE the party leaders, their members in Congress, and their most visible representatives in the public eye. It is them who write the policy, while the realistic conservatives are marginalized or kicked out of the party.
6) Creationism is just one of many weapons in a unified anti-reality political platform of the Right. Some Creationists are just indoctrinated, scared folks who provide ground troops in this conflict. Other Creationists are part of the power-hungry elite of the party who use Creationism as a motivator for a particular segments of their ground-troops (other populations are motivated in other ways, with other tools, e.g., greed, or fear of terrorists, etc.). The Science vs. Religion aspect of the conflict is just window-dressing – the essence of the conflict is political: it is all about Power.
To summarize:
Every conflict is a political conflict.
Some conflicts are also superficially about facts about the world.
Some of these conflicts happen to pit correct facts against incorrect facts.
Creationist wars, just like all Science vs. Religious wars, are thus a subset of a subset of a subset of all conflicts. And they are all essentially and profoundly political conflicts. Which is why I wrote this dissertation-long post the other day – read it.

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?
I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism. Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.
I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

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Evolution and education with Texas State Board of Education chair Don McLeroy

How should students learn about evolution?
On Thursday morning’s Takeaway (at about 6:30 a.m. or 8:30 a.m.
Eastern), we’re talking with Don McLeroy, chair of the Texas State
Board of Education. He’s believes that students should have the
opportunity to question evolution (and that God created the Earth a
few thousand years ago). Texas is expected to vote this week on new
science standards that could influence textbooks and how more states
treat this controversial issue.
Evolution and education with Texas State Board of Education chair Don McLeroy
The Texas Board of Education is in the midst of a major fight this
week over a new science curriculum that’s designed to challenge the
principle of evolution. The Board will vote tomorrow on standards that
will govern science teaching on evolution in Texas for the next 10
Here’s a direct link to the audio.
It’s also in the podcast.
The Takeaway’s homepage

Insects can count to four…

…but Creationists cannot:

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I break down creationist biology into four main components: design, natural evil, systematics, speciation, and biogeography.

Hat-tip: Pharyngula, where you will find the relevant link to the rest of this ingenious “college course”. Glad it’s not a math course…
I am also interested to see the mathematical models of ‘natural evil’….

Anti-evolution censorship in Turkey

Darwin issue of a magazine is banned in Turkey:

The title summarizes all the lunacy at once. After all the censorship towards evolution (and many other things), Turkish government finally took a giant step -backwards- for all mankind and blocked the whole issue of a scientific magazine.
Darwin is now completely banned in Turkey. What a shame.
(Note that the above link belongs to, which is another banned website in Turkey. Therefore readers from Turkey can not access it)
According to the news, the cover of the biggest and oldest magazine called Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Tech) has been changed after the release has been completed and ready for printing, due to the decision made by the new Vice President of the institution: Omer Cebeci PhD. Omer Cebeci was just assigned to that position when the government decided to be in charge of all the scientific institutions.

Banning Darwin In Turkey:

Turkey is an American ally in the bridge between Europe and the Middle East. It is in a strategic location. Turkey has been a secular country for most of a century, although largely Muslim by population. Freedom of thought and speech was largely respected in Turkey (if not for the Kurds and the Greek Cypriots,) but at least in academia. Turkey is moving dangerously towards a Muslim religious takeover of government, and most frightening is the censorship of science that embarrasses creationists.
It may be the influence of Adnan Oktar, the sex criminal, whose idea of defending Islam is to spread lies about the facts of evolution. People more familiar with Turkey, such as my reader Betul, can better analyze what is going on. In fact, Betul sent me an e-mail alerting me to the censorship of a science and technology magazine whose entire issue was to have been devoted to the 200th birthday of Sir Charles Robert.

Nature on Turkey’s Darwin Censorship:

I am glad Nature has put this issue out there. Read the article: Turkish Scientists Claim Darwin Censorship

Turkey takes another step in its downward spiral towards Islamic fundamentalism:

Turkish newspapers (here and here), the journal Nature as well as Turkish bloggers (here and here) are reporting that TÜBITAK, the government-controlled science funding organization of Turkey has removed from the March issue of its own popular-science magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology) an article about Charles Darwin and evolution. A planned cover featuring a picture of Darwin was also replaced.
The blatant censorship was apparently ordered by TÜBİTAK’s vice-president Ömer Cebeci. It’s a sad occasion for Turkish science and the intellectual future of the country.

Darwin too controversial for Turkish science magazine:

In the US, creationism is a menace that can do real harm to science. But at least the US is not a Muslim country.
In the latest news about creation and evolution from Turkey, it appears that the leading, government-supported popular science magazine in Turkey has been prevented from running a cover story on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. Ömer Cebeci, a high official in the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (who incidentally is an engineering Ph.D. from Iowa State University), intervened at the last minute to change the cover story and delete the 15 pages of Darwinian material.
From the news I’ve read, I’m having trouble reading between the lines to figure out what must have happened behind the scenes. Perhaps Cebeci is a creationist. Creationism is not uncommon among engineers, quite common among Muslim engineers, and very common indeed among Turkish officialdom under the current Islamist ruling party. On the other hand, it may just be an attempt to protect the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey from being associated with “controversial” ideas such as evolution, which may draw unwanted attention, or worse, budget cuts, from the Islamists.

Turkish scientists claim Darwin censorship:

The main Turkish government agency responsible for funding science has provoked outrage by apparently censoring a magazine article on the life and work of Charles Darwin.
The article was stripped from the March issue of the widely read popular-science magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology) just before it went to press. The magazine, which is published by Turkey’s research funding and science management organization, TÜBİTAK, also switched a planned cover picture of Darwin for an illustration relating to global warming.

Look what came in the mail yesterday:

Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Eugenie C. Scott.
genie scott book cover.jpg
Written at this time.

Interview with Judge Jones

Those interested in the struggles against infusion of Intelligent Design Creationism into public schools, have followed, with great interest, the highly publicized trial in Dover, PA a couple of years ago. At the end of it, Judge Jones not just made the right decision, but also wrote one of the best and most scathing indictments of IDC in our legal history. So, you may be interested in the latest interview with Judge Jones, just published in PLoS Genetics:
Taken to School: An Interview with the Honorable Judge John E. Jones, III:

“My call to the Judge’s chambers in request for an interview was answered in vivo by his assistant, who suggested simply e-mailing the Judge directly. I did, and back came an immediate reply of “Happy to do it.” On the appointed July day, in near 100-degree heat, I drove from my father’s home in Pottstown along country roads through the corn-laden, cow-dotted agricultural landscape that I love. But as I got closer to my destination, the state capital of Harrisburg, billboard outcroppings disrupted the fields’ quiet beauty with warnings such as, “It’s your choice – heaven or hell.” It appeared that I had arrived at the crux of the matter.”

If you blog about it, please, if your software allows it, send a trackback.

More on the Creationist school board in Brunswick Co, NC

The story about Creationist school board in Brunswick Co, NC is now getting some legs:
Brunswick school board to consider creationism teaching:

The board allowed Fanti to speak longer than he was allowed, and at the end of his speech he volunteered to teach creationism and received applause from the audience. When he walked away, school board Chairwoman Shirley Babson took the podium and said another state had tried to teach evolution and creationism together and failed, and that the school system must teach by the law.

Editorial: Teach science in science class:

If you wonder why American children are falling behind the rest of the world in science, look no further than the Brunswick County school board.
While educators and policy makers debate how to improve the teaching of science and mathematics in American schools, the Board of Education has been talking about ways to teach creationism alongside evolution. Fortunately, the state put the brakes on this idea before it could get rolling.

Brunswick Stew: Creationism Crusade Bubbles Up At N.C. School Board:

Members of the Brunswick County, N.C., School Board seem to be having problems telling the difference between science and theology.
All four members of the board are looking for a way to bring creationism into the classroom, reported the Wilmington Star-News. The issue arose after a parent, Joel Fanti, criticized the schools for teaching evolution.

Theory of creationism considered in Brunswick County:

The school board is expected to talk about the issue at its next meeting on October 7, 2008. A spokesperson from the State Department of Public Instruction told WWAY the state is required to follow national standards on teaching evolution which students are tested on. School boards can act independently on certain standards but risk the possibility of legal action being taken by civil liberties groups.

No place for creationism in science class, state says:

But neither creationism nor the related “intelligent design,” which says life forms are so complex only a higher power could have created them, may be taught as a required course of study, Edd Dunlap, science section chief for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said Wednesday. These are considered religious teachings and may not be taught in science class or as fact, although they may be included as part of an elective, such as a course on religion or philosophy, he said.
While evolution is a course of study that must be taught in public schools, based on national standards, creationism is not, Dunlap said. Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties all follow the evolution curriculum.

Creationism in Brunswick County schools?:

Atkinson says schools across the state are taking a new interest in teaching that God created human life.
“It’s a trend that goes and comes. Sometimes it’s a big issue in pockets of North Carolina, and then years go by and it’s not an issue,” said Atkinson.
But, it is an issue right now in Brunswick County. The school board is looking into teaching creationism and evolution side by side.

As you may have noticed, all of those articles are in local press from SE North Carolina, mainly from Wilmington in neighboring New Hanover County. Perhaps we can speed this thing up a little and nick this in the bud if we spread the news (with required attendant ridicule) across the globe…so blog about it!
Also, if you live in that area and want to help, let me know….

Ouz Nouz! Fear at Cape Fear!

Not in my back yard!
It appears that some people are, erm, a little behind the times down in Brunswick County. That dog will not hunt, though, as it has no legal legs to run on, as PZ explains – it’s even less sophisticated than what the Dover board tried to do.

Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology

Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology
This is one a couple of posts about Creationism, written originally on May 1st, 2005.

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The second best thing to visiting the Discovery Institute….

….is to read how Tiana and Kate had fun doing it:
Afternoon Delight With The Discovery Institute
In which it should have become clear that we were both drunk and lying
Dawkins and Myers, Websites and Pride, and Still More Lies
Dover and Dropping All Pretense
Good Manners

Will you be the 900th….

clone of Professor Steve Steve? Ehrm, the 900th Steve on the listing of the Project Steve?

Why teaching evolution is dangerous

It is so nice teaching biology to adults when there are no (obvious) Creationists in the classroom. It does not always happen that way – I have had a couple of cases in the past – but this time it was really nice as I could freely cover all topics deeply within an evolutionary framework (not always seen in my public notes, though, as I try to gauge the class first and then decide how overtly to talk ebout everything in evolutionary terms). It is always a conundrum. If there is a potential resentment of my lectures, I have to thread carefully. I have to remember that I am not trying to turn them into biologists, but that I am trying to make them think for themselves and to understand evolution even if they do not want to ‘believe’ it for religious reasons. Thus, I first teach about cell, heredity and development, which gives them (and me) tools for coverage of evolution. Then I explain evolution using insects as an example before ending with a “humans, of course” as well. Then I cover Origin of Life, evolution of diversity and current diversity. But I do not leave evolution behind when I move on to ecology, behavior and physiology either. More easily this time, but sometimes a little more ‘sneakily’ if I know I have Creationists in class.
So, I know exactly how difficult it is to teach even younger students – they are more likely to act rebelliously (adults will go along in order to get the grade and move on) and they are still more under the influence of parents and do not have enough world experiences. I admire high school teachers who teach Biology in areas of the country in which Creationism is rampant and most of the kids are likely to be a priori biased against it.
A week after the nice column by Olivia Judson about the necessity of teaching evolution in school, NYTimes once again visits this question, with a very nice article about Mr.Campbell, a biology teacher in Florida, one of the people who was involved in the latest science curriculum battles in that state this year.
Like a game of whack-a-mole, Creationist get defeated in court in one state, just to resurface in another state and start the process all over again. As they keep losing in courts, they are forced to dilute their message, and adopt the language that may, on the surface, seem OK, unless you know exactly what THEY mean by that language and how that language is supposed to be a wedge that lets religious instruction into public school science classes.
The NYTimes article was brought to my attention by Jonathan Eisen, Tom Levenson, Kent and Mike Dunford and then I saw that many other bloggers have picked up on it since.
Ed Darrell points out the competitive advantage this gives the rest of the world and how local the problem of Creationism is.
David Rea sees that the NCSE responses to Well’s “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution” (also accessible at the NYT site next to the article) are far too nuanced and likely to go over the heads of most Americans, and suggests to use them to teach the meaning of words, and the meaning of evolutionary concepts – they cannot stand for themselves but can be useful as a starting point for a classroom discussion.
Peter Dawson Buckland responds to one of the frequent misrepresentations of evolution that shows up in the article (voiced by a Creationist teacher in the same school as Campbell) and gives a vote to pragmatism over philosophical accuracy. PZ Myers disagrees and insists on absolute accuracy. John Hawks points out that the Mickey Mouse is not an example of evolution – with which I agree: like Pokemon (and perhaps Spore), it is an example of gradual metamorphosis, in this case exacerbated by the fact that change is not induced by the natural environment but by human marketers.
As of this writing, the article has 342 comments on the NYTimes site, mainly by people who liked it and who – some clumsily, others with more expertise – try to explain the difference between scientific and colloquial usages of “theory” and other answers to those age-old questions that Creationists have been asking for a century or more already (and bored everyone to death, including myself, as the answers are readily available online, in books, etc.).
One comment that I particularly liked was this one:

I second comment #3. Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.
— Natalie Wright, Gainesville, FL

But some of the best commentary is right there in the article – words of Campbell himself. See this:

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

Mr. Campbell knows how tricky this process is. You cannot bludgeon kids with truth (or insult their religion, i.e., their parents and friends) and hope they will smile and believe you. Yes, NOMA is wrong, but is a good first tool for gaining trust. You have to bring them over to your side, gain their trust, and then hold their hands and help them step by step. And on that slow journey, which will be painful for many of them, it is OK to use some inaccuracies temporarily if they help you reach the students. If a student, like Natalie Wright who I quoted above, goes on to study biology, then he or she will unlearn the inaccuracies in time. If most of the students do not, but those cutesy examples help them accept evolution, then it is OK if they keep some of those little inaccuracies for the rest of their lives. It is perfectly fine if they keep thinking that Mickey Mouse evolved as long as they think evolution is fine and dandy overall. Without Mickey, they may have become Creationist activists instead. Without belief in NOMA they would have never accepted anything, and well, so be it. Better NOMA-believers than Creationists, don’t you think?
But for me, the key quote of the article is this one:

“If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ ” Mr. Campbell often admonished his students at Ridgeview High School.

Education is a subversive activity that is implicitly in place in order to counter the prevailing culture. And the prevailing culture in the case of Campbell’s school, and many other schools in the country, is a deeply conservative religious culture.
There are many ideals or “values” that conservatives and liberals share. Freedom, strength, honesty, generosity, courage, responsibility, etc. are equally valued by people of all ideologies. The conservatives and liberals may define or understand them a little differently, they may order them differently according to importance, and they may deduce some very different policy proposals out of them, but in general they all agree that these are good human values.
But there is one human trait where the two ideologies differ. That is Obedience. For conservatives, this is a positive human trait. For liberals, it is viewed quite negatively. Why?
Because the two ideologies view time and history differently.
Conservatives see history as a story of decline from some mythical Golden Age which, depends who you ask, may be the Garden of Eden, or middle ages when Church and State were one and the same, or late 19th century USA with robber barons in charge, or 1930s Italy and Germany when Business and State were one and the same (and kept all the “Others” down), or 1950s when women were sent to the kitchen. They feel like the future is bleak and that their duty is to slow down and stop the decline, or reverse it if they can.
Their belief that world is dangerous is a part of this mindset – they always think that the world is more to be feared now than it was in the mystical past. Corporate media help them in this – switch off the TV and tell me: how many violent crimes, tragic accidents, horrific natural disasters, and war terrors, have you personally witnessed today in real life? Yesterday, the day before, throughout your life? How come you are still alive? Oh, but the media wants to deliver you to the advertising so you will buy whatever will alleviate your fears today and make life worth living yet another day.
For us (liberals), the history is seen as an arrow of progress: every generation has a better life than the previous one, every generation puts some work and effort, and if needed fight, to make the world a better place for the next generation. We want to foster and continue this trend. For this to happen, each generation needs to break with the parents’ worldview to some extent. What is considered “normal” part of life for one’s elders, may not be so for the youngsters who take a serious look at it. Most importantly, each generation brings in another level of equality, bringing up a group that was institutionally pushed down during history, be it women, gays, blacks, etc.
Now, the word “equality” is understood differently by the two ideologies. It does not mean handicapping everyone to have the same no matter what their talents and hard work should earn them. It does not mean preventing people from attaining success. It means allowing people to go to the top regardless of who their parents were. If you made it, your kids should not get a leg-up because of that – they need to start from zero and try to make it as well. Or fail. But more importantly, it does not matter if your parents are rich or poor, white or black, US-born or foreign-born, religious or not, if you are male or female, straight or gay – you should have the exact same social and instititutional support in your strivings toward success.
Also, the measure of success in dollars is a pretty conservative notion – you can be dirt-poor yet be successful, consider yourself successful and be regarded by others as successful along other criteria, e.g., generosity, skill, talent. And the accidents of your birth should not be a factor.
In a worldview which sees everything as a zero-sum game, equality is anathema. If one goes up, this means someone else is going down. If women are gaining, this means men are losing. If Blacks are gaining equality, this means Whites are losing. If you see the world as hierarchical this is the inevitable outcome of your worldview.
Thus, the most essential thing that conservatives want to conserve is the social organization, including all of its power relationships, with the white, American, Christian, (officially) straight, rich, adult, male humans on top of everyone else. If that is your worldview, of course what normal people consider progress will look like doom to you. After all, we measure progress by how big strides we have made in eliminating the old power structures that used to subdue groups of people under others.
Another way to call this is authoritarianism, in which one group asserts authority over others and does whatever it takes to keep it that way.
An important aspect of the conservative hierarchy is the authority of old over the young. The stereotype of an Old Wise Man Who Remembers The Golden Age of Yore. He who can bring that Golden Age back. The top of the hierarchy. Thus, obedience to His authority is essential for preservation of the hierarchical power structure. Thus, conservatives do not like education, they prefer “training”. They start early by training little kids, by methods bordering on abuse, to unquestioningly obey their elders.
The school should be a place to instill obedience (measure of success in rolling back progress) as well as to train for jobs that bring in the money (monetary measure of success). Thus, conservatives tend to fight against the liberal academia and hate to be told that Reality has a Liberal Bias. And most importantly, they fight against science education as it directly undermines the obedience.
See what Mr.Campbell is doing? Kids who were taught obedience know they are supposed to unquestioningly obey their elders, which includes their parents, priests and teachers. But Campbell puts them in a mental bind – they want to obey him but he is telling them things opposite from what their parents and priests are saying. Who to listen to? As a result of this exercise, they unlearn obedience. A red-flag danger for the conservatives. Their kids have been corrupted – they were, gasp, taught to think for themselves. And we all know what independent thinking brings about – progress! We can’t have that, can we?!
This is why Creationism is such an important plank in the conservative political strategy – it undermines the teaching of independent thinking. The asking of How and Why questions. All the stuff that each generation needs in order to analyze and reject their parent’s generation’s regressive worldview. Doom!

PZ is all over the place today!

PZ just had a book review published in Nature:

Science and evolution have an advocate in Kenneth Miller, one of North America’s eminent knights-errant, a scientist who is active in defending evolutionary theory in the conflict between evolution and creationism. He has been at the centre of many recent debates about science education, most prominently testifying against intelligent design creationism in Pennsylvania’s Dover trial, which decided that intelligent design was a religious concept that should not be taught in public schools. He is also a popular speaker, offering the public a grass-roots defence of good science education. Miller’s new book Only a Theory is a tour of creationist misconceptions about evolution, such as the one referred to in the book’s subtitle — a creationist predicted an inevitable victory in the Dover trial because evolution is “only a theory”. The book is also a celebration of the power of evolutionary theory to explain our existence.

Also, as a part of a Forbes Magazine’s special report on commuting, PZ had an article published today – Do Animals Commute?

Whether an animal commutes or not is less a function of the work they must do than of whether they actually have something that might be called a home, a haven, a shelter. We don’t just invest ourselves full-time in the job–if we did, we might as well spare ourselves the commute and live in the office–but instead make the effort to set up a place of our own, a safe spot where we can relax, raise a family, or pursue activities that aren’t directly related to simply feeding ourselves.
And for that, we and other animals will make the sacrifice of sinking time and energy into shuttling between a place of profit and a place of refuge. If you want to know if a particular animal engages in anything like a commute, just ask if it has anything you would call a home.

Lively discussion of commuting, of course, follows in the comments. I wish more people were commenting on animals’ movements, but OK, people like to talk about themselves and other people-worries.

Expelled Exposed

If everyone links to Expelled Exposed by using the term Expelled, perhaps we can move it up to #1 on Google:

Skeptics in Boston

My SciBling Mike the Mad Biologist will speak tonight at the Boston Skeptics meeting. The title of the talk is “Defending Evolution the Right Way: As a Fundamental Part of Biology and Biomedicine, Not as a Cultural Icon.” so it is bound to be interesting. If you are in Boston tonight at 7pm, go and see it at The Asgard.

Partial Loss of Face Recognition may be Associated with the ID(C) Locus: A Case Study

The latest case study can be found here.

Good news

The Florida Board of Education passed new science standards.

Intelligently Designed DNA

Someone did it.
Get a prize if you correctly identify which one is intelligently designed.
In both cases, the designer was an intelligent…..human. Of course. No media reports yet of bioengineering labs run by chimps, dogs, elephants or dolphins.

Huckabee on Evolution

Welcome to the 18th century Presidential candidate (under the fold):

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My SciBling speaks at NESCent

From an e-mail from the Science Communicators of North Carolina:

At noon on Friday, January 18, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham will host a seminar by Josh Rosenau, the Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education. Rosenau, who is in town for the Science blogging conference, will opine on the subject of “Talking to the Media about Evolution and Creationism.” The discussion is sure to be lively.

Creationism is Paganism, says Vatican

Archy reports that the papal official astronomer said so:

Believing that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.
Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a “destructive myth” had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.
He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a “kind of paganism” because it harked back to the days of “nature gods” who were responsible for natural events.

And, as Archy reminds us, Intelligent Design Creationism is just one form, the slickest and most dishonest, of Creationism. Now, who will tell the Protestants….

Three takes on the Creation Museum

John Scalzi (as well as this)
Thomas Robey
Jason Rosenhouse

Judgment Day

I am not much of a TV watcher, but tonight at 8pm EST, I’ll be tuning in to my local PBS station to see Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. If you were too busy or bored to read all the media and blog coverage of the Dover trial, this is your opportunity to catch up in one easy bite – the buzz is that the movie is excellent.

Now you can see “Flock of the Dodos” in the peace of your home

Randy Olson’s movie had a very short and limited release. Reed rallied the troops so NCSU library got a copy and there was a public viewing that I could not attend.
But now, everyone can watch it, as Jennifer reports. It is available, for instance, on I’ll put it on my wishlist for now, so it is there, ready for me to buy it when I get some money next time.

Dinner with Genie

Last night, Professor Steve Steve took off work a little earlier and went to Oakland to see the offices of the National Center for Science Education, then went to Berkeley for dinner with the NCSE staff and fans at Eugenie Scott’s house. Lots of pictures under the fold:

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Biologists Helping Bookstores

Ha! Check out this brand-new blog! Ste is going to bookstores, checking out the Science section and moving pseudo-science, anti-science and nonsense books from it to the New Age section. Just a couple of Behe books in the La Jolla Bookstar, but I bet there will be more egregious miscategorizations in other stores. I wonder if this practice will spread virally to other cities and towns of the world…
(Hat-tip: Reed)

Adam meets Steve (Steve) in the Garden of Eden

Professor Steve Steve, Wesley Elsberry, Tara Smith and Jason Rosenhouse [edit: Part 3 is now available] went to that funny new “museum” in Kentucky and report about it so you don’t ever have to go yourself!

Update on psychology of Creationism

Two ancient posts of mine, Why Creationists Need To Be Creationists and Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology are getting heavy traffic right now from Stumbleupon and Reddit. I posted a comment there trying to get people to come and see the much more recent update: More than just Resistance to Science, from which I’d like to promote a recent comment by Tree:

Thank you for drawing attention to the importance of understanding Phatic Language. While I was raised in a very formal family and as a youngster had an intuitive grasp that the purpose of protocol and etiquette is to establish hierarchy (and safety within that hierarchy), it never occurred to me that transmitting information would be mistaken for attempting to establish hierarchy. This explains to me the rage that some people demonstrate when someone with a perceived lower social rank uses technical language. For example, traditional males seem to Freak Out whenever they hear a female expressing herself in technical language. Well yeah, if they equate technical expertise with social dominance, they’re going to rush to defend their social status, no matter how politely the female expresses herself.
Perhaps the same people who mistake technical language as an expression of social dominance also mistake uncertainty as an expression of social submission. I think we should consider that if our technical expertise makes us threatening, no matter how carefully we state our case, and we’re too careful stating our case, we’ll be considered submissive, that we should take our authority as given, take our dominance as granted and act as the responsible social leaders that the rest of the herd expects. My intuition is that if we act as authorities, we will attain the authority required to formulate reality-based policy.

More than just Resistance to Science

In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days.
Enrique has the best one-sentence summary of the article:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science.

The article divides that “what children know prior to their exposure to science” into two categories: the intuitive grasp of the world (i.e., conclusions they come up with on their own) and the learned understanding of the world (i.e., conclusions they absorb from the adults around them):

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Obligatory Readings of the Day – the Ken Hamm and Beyond edition

First, as I reported earlier, Archy persuaded PZ Myers to host a one-time carnival about the opening of the Creation Museum – and here is the carnival – a lot of good stuff to read.
I especially liked the only (so far) on-the-scene report by Martha Heil.
I also tend to prefer posts that try to take in a Big Picture and place stuff in broader historical and/or geographical context, thus, I really liked contributions by Laelaps and Greg Laden. They are optimistic, though. The view from outside, from Europe, can be much more pessimistic.
Also, some of the comments on this post remind me of my early internet days on various Balkans Usenet groups. Apparently, the tone and quality have not changed much since the early 1990s! I thought that brotherhood and unity were back in vogue again, as evidenced by the results of the Eurovision contest. I only made a quick remark in that direction, but several Euroblogs wrote deeper sociological analyses of the deeper meaning of the Eurovision results and what they portend for Europe’s future. See, for instance, this post and peruse a good linkfest collected by Eric.

Ken Ham Carnival!

You may have heard that Ken Ham is opening his freak show circus Museum of Creation “Science” in Cincinnati on May 28th. There will be protesters picketing. Hopefully there will also be people who will come in and laugh out loud at each exhibited piece. I also hope that the media coverage will be funny – and that is where we in the blogosphere can help.
Archy has all the information about it and has suggested a one-day carnival (an apt name for the thing, for once) of sorts which will appear on May 27th on Pharyngula.
So, write something and send the Permalink to PZ or blogswarm it by linking to the carnival. PZ will actually take the best quotes from each entry – a good idea if the blogswarm brings the carnival up high on the Google searches that day when all the journalists are trying to cover the story.
If you are better at drawing or photoshopping than writing, Left ‘Toon Lane is organizing a cartoon contest for the occasion and PZ will showcase those as well.
Now go, be creative and have fun!

Another job ad

If you are idle, retired or rich, if you live in (or are willing to move to) Oakland, California, if you have decent computer skills and if you want to help fight against Creationism, then this job is perfect for you:
From the National Center for Science Education:

Information technology technician needed by the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization that defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools, to maintain and expand NCSE’s web presence, including maintenance of hardware platforms, determining software needs, and overseeing migration of content to a new web site. NCSE is pursuing open source solutions to information technology services.

Mike has a great idea

Three out of ten Republican presidential candidates raised hands in the recent debate indicating they do not believe in evolution. Jason has an excellent round-up of responses (Arianna Huffington rocks!) with some good comments by readers as well. How can you help combat scientific ignorance? If your blog is NOT a science blog, try to do what Mike suggests and link to five science-related posts every week.
There is plenty of stuff here at, but you can also use this page when you are looking for science posts, especially the science-related carnivals listed at the very bottom of that page. Carnivals act as filters, showcasing the best that science/nature/medical/environmental blogosphere has to offer on any given week.

Did I frame that wrong?

As you know, the last several days saw quite a flurry of blog posts about framing science. I posted my thoughts here and I keep updating my post with links to all the new posts as they show up (except the expected drivel by William Dembski, some minor creaitonists and Lubos Motl). Some of the other bloggers ignored my post, many linked to it without comment, and many linked to it with positive commentary – with two exceptions.
One was Larry Moran (who probably skimmed it quickly, found what he did not like in it with his own frame of mind at the time, and used it as a starting point to make his own point) who does not grok framing, but, as I stated in the initial post as well as in comments elswehere, plays an important role in the ecosystem and is and will remain my daily read because he is a great blogger. His “niche” in the blogosphere is a curmudgeon and that is why we like him, even as each one of us occasionally gets to see his double-barrel shotgun aimed at our own faces. Fine. We are definitely on the same side of the famous M&M debate and we can agree to disagree on framing.
The other one was Michael Tobis who I have not heard of before (have you?). He appears to be a new blogger (so he has an excuse for being a novice) and he is a climate scientist on the right side of the political debate on global warming – his blogroll reveals it. He also gets framing quite well: his next two posts on the topic are good – all linked in my post at the bottom, although he liked learning about the concept of Overton Window from Eli Rabbet and not from me.
I was really taken aback by it and I thought that perhaps the guy is conservative and did not like my treatment of conservatism (although I did warn in a parenthesis somewhere in the post that it was not framed to be liked by them). I still don’t know his political position, but it appears that it was my damning of religion that irked him, although I was careful to damn the Righwing version of religion specifically, with a mild slap on the wrist at the liberal religionists for not stepping up more vocally against the Rightwing version.
Perhaps he was disinclined to listen to someone who proclaims to be an atheist in the “About Me” section. He also did not like the graphic I took from the NCSE article by Eugenie C. Scott (which I first saw in Skeptic magazine) for some reason. Some of the stuff he wrote suggested that he may see the world in a hirerachical manner, as I described in several older posts linked from my framing post.
I blog because I like to make friends and have fun. Some people blog because they like to vent and get in flame-wars. He thought I was the latter kind for some reason unfathomable to me. Anyway, he and I agreed that we should be on the same side (at least on science)and there must have been some deep misunderstanding and we agreed to let my commenters be the judge. So, here is the complete exchange and let us know in the comments what you think:
First, he wrote this in his post:

Also Jim points to Blog around the Clock/Coturnix. I’m not sure whether Jim endorses this article, but I surely don’t. Consider this:

The result of training is that scientists are uniquely trained to be poor communicators of science. Scientists – a tiny percentage of any population – are the only people in the society who even try to think and talk in a value-free way, get insulted when someone suggest they shouldn’t do so, and view other people who can’t do so as intellectually inferior.

I think that captures something interesting. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the substance but it’s an interesting idea.
Unfortunately, it’s stated in such an extreme, overstated and confrontational way as to thoroughly offend both scientists and nonscientists in equal measure. One could hardly come up with a way to frame the opinion that does more damage to discourse.
I thoroughly dislike the rest of the “Clock” article. It gets even worse.
Apparently anyone who doesn’t agree with the author about absolutely everything is an inferior being, who has yet to progress to the level of perfection that the author has attained. Charming.
Humorous sarcasm about bloggers you disagree with is one thing. It’s fair game.
Arrogant, humorless contempt for huge swaths of humanity is another. There is hardly a worse example of framing the dialog possible than the toxic sludge of this article.
The amazing thing is that this article claims to offer advice on how scientists should approach public communication. Ironically it violates every bit of good advice it can muster and then some. If you want to know how to communicate in your area of expertise, study this article for form rather than content, and then don’t do that.

How can chastising people for looking down at others be perceived as looking down at others? In the comments, I wrote politely and diplomatically, as I usually do:

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. I am a scientist and I am aware that I have been trained to be a uniquely bad communicator to non-scientists. Four years of blogging are slowly changing that, but I am far from being as good as I could have been have I never got scientific training. Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at “me” or at worst “we”, not at “you” or “them”. English is also a foreign language to me, which increases the likelihood of such misunderstandings.

His response:

Fascinating. You absolutely had me fooled. I guess I don’t know to what end you managed it.
I saw another of your postings that seemed to have some of the same characteristics as your self-satire. I am not sure what to think now.
I don’t want to discuss my religious beliefs publicly, but I must say that I am no atheist.
I will therefore explictly state that I don’t accept that atheism is a necessary qualification for scientific work, any more than is any other preconceived notion.
I didn’t find your suggestion to the contrary amusing or ironic, and I don’t see the rest of the “framing” discussion treating it that way. I saw another posting that reinforced my impression that you are not only unalterably hostile to religious thought (which is your right) but that you believe that the scientific culture is necessarily of the same mind (which is arguably not your right at all, and is certainly tactically disastrous in a country where most people take religion seriously).
Perhaps you should clarify on your own site.

Hey, you are free to believe in Unicorns, and you have a right to talk about it in public places, and yes, unfortunately, you have a right to teach your belief to your kids (and thus make them go through the painful process of freeing themselves from shackles of religion when they grow up), but you do not have the right to have your beliefs aired by entities – public or private – that do not want to or constituationally are not allowed to (which was the point of the Blog Against Theocracy week, after all, part of which my post was about), and you have no right not to hear people laugh back at you when you talk publicly about Unicorns.
But my response was much more diplomatic, trying to meet him halfway:

I’ve been clarifying it for years.
I am not hostile to religious people, or to personal beliefs. I am hostile to organized religion and what it does to people’s thought-processes and to the politics of the country (and other countries as well). I am hostile to what organized religion does to science.
A blog post, not being 1000 pages long, cannot contain all the caveats every time – it necessarily has to deal with overgeneralizations and stereotypes which have been clarified, defined and explained in old posts. One tends to write for the regulars, and occasionally a newcomer is baffled, as in joining in a TV series in the middle of its fourth year and not being able to figure out who is who immediatelly.
Write yor perceptions of me in a comment on my blog and see what the regulars say.

He added this to his initial post:

Here is an approximation of the evolutionary ladder as displayed in an image on this article (sorry, I don’t have time to do this up as a fancy graphic)
Coturnix (highest possible form according to Coturnix)
People who agree with Coturnix
Atheists who have some quibbles with Coturnix
Christians (lowest form attained by humans according to Coturnix)
Anerobic Bacteria
Notice there is nothing whatsoever about science on this chart. The purpose of public communication of science, it is revealed, is to slyly and secretly move people UP the ladder of development so they are more Coturnix-like.
Maybe all of us in some corner of our minds believe there is some ladder of correctness with our own opinions at the top, and people who thoroughly disagree at the bottom. Grownups tend to know enough to temper this with a tad of humility. On the other hand, publishing your secret arrogance is guaranteed not to win you any friends. Publishing it in an article intended to advise people on public communication is, hmmm, perhaps a tiny bit like shooting yourself in the foot to emphasize your message on firearm safety.

Tell that to Eugenie Scott!
Then, in the comments of my first framing post, he wrote:

I thoroughly disliked this article, taken at face value, and said so here.
Coturnix got wind of this and made what I consider to be an astonishing response, that this article is satire.
Quoth he:

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. … Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at “me” or at worst “we”, not at “you” or “them”.

Well it fooled me entirely. Did others read this present article as satirical?
It seems to me consistent with at least one other article on this site.
To be specific I also disliked the cavalier dismissal of the research on the heritability of religiosity. The idea seems to me an entirely sound (in the Popper sense) falsifiable hypothesis, and in studying twins raised apart, investigated using a sound methodology. Coturnix’s response to that also, to me, betrayed both arrogance and a nonrational hostility to religion even as an observable behavioral phenomenon.
Coturnix’s further reply was to advise me to consult with his regular readers on this blog, so I am doing so now.
Did you read this present article as satire? What do you think of the exchange on between me and Coturnix on my linked blog article?

All the twin studies in history are suspect, as they were all done by genetic determinists. And the heritability of religion is much better explained by the effects of the environment: parenting, the social norms of the community, etc.- something that interests me (to see if it can be reversed) so I have studied it for quite aliong time. A couple of papers so far suggesting that adherence to particular religion is written in the DNA are laughable. And tendency towards religosity is an interesting area of research, especially as religiosity means several different things: belief in supernatural, enjoying rituals, fitting into the hierarchy, defining in-group vs. out-group, to name just a few. And there were other red flags in that press release as well. Correlation between church-going and altruism? A positive correlation? Altruism based on fear of punishment is not altruism, and neither is altruism towards one’s in-group members. I touched on the distinction between Internal and External Locus of Moral Authority in my framing post as well. And I wrote about my own personal ‘religious’ history before. But why go on that tangent at all?
My response:

It is interesting that, out of such a long post, you picked that one paragraph to highlight and ignored the rest of the article. This paragraph is a tangential insert, which would be excised out if an editor asked me to shorten the article, for instance, as it is not necessary for the main line of argument.
Also, to be clear, not the entire article is self-sarcasm – this paragraph is. The rest is a serious analysis of framing science (and yes, how it relates to framing politics and religion – as the RightWing political and RightWing religious forces have used framing quite well over the decades). This is one of a few places in the article where I intentionally used different/provocative ‘framing’ to see who will react and how [the use of the term “convert” elsewhere in the text was another example of such a trial balloon, which rasied hackles out of Kate, for instance].
I was very careful in my wording in the article as a whole (as I usually am) to highlight my disagreement with Rightwing religion and Rightwing politics, not with religion per se. I just don’t care for that hypothesis, but I have no problem with liberal variants of religions. It’s a free country – people can believe whatever they want as long as they don’t try to preach/teach others and leave others alone to believe whatever they want.
It is interesting that people – atheists and theists alike – assume that because I am an atheist, I just HAVE to be a rabid proselytizing atheist. Not so. Having the “atheist” descriptor in my “About Me” section is sufficient to raise hackles from the religious and to make atheists certain I am the ally, but the nicest thing is that I do not have to write anti-religious screeds ever! And I don’t. There are more fun things to write about (and blogging to me is about having fun and making friends, not about being a curmudgeon and making enemies).
But I do want to know why people believe what they believe – as a scientific hypothesis – because religious belief when organized into big Religions and coupled with big Politics, affects me and other humans in various ways, often negative ways.
So, you can believe what you want, but I’d like to understand why you do, and if you (not you personally, but “one” – got lost in English language again, sorry) do, how it affects the society.
Since you placed your comment in the thread of that ancient post that nobody reads any more, I’d like to ask your permission to promote it to the top of the page (i.e., to copy and paste it into a brand new post) so my readers can see it and comment on it there. Just say Yes or No either here or on my blog somewhere. Thanks.

Growing up in a non-religious place, the word “convert” first brings to my mind currency conversion, then converting a car so it looses its roof, then changing one’s mind on anything in light of new evidence, and only at the end a religious conversion. But I understand that people who grow up inbued with religion will think of that last meaning first – that was an intended lesson in framing right there.
I want my children to be luckier than that (see this, this, this, this, this and this) and grow up as Natural Atheists, not having to go through the pains of either deciding for themselves after drifting around aimlessly, or going through the “deconversion” process.
He said “Yes”, so now you decide….
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf

Blog%20Against%20Theocracy.jpgMy SciBlings Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet just published an article in ‘Science’ (which, considering its topic is, ironically, behind the subscription wall, but you can check the short press release) about “Framing Science”
Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers, Mike Dunford (also check the comments here), John Fleck, Larry Moran, Dietram Scheufele, Kristina Chew, Randy Olson, James Hrynyshyn, Paul Sunstone and Alan Boyle have, so far, responded and their responses (and the comment threads) are worth your time to read. Chris and Matt respond to some of them. Matt has more in-depth explanations here, here and here (pdf) that are worth reading before firing off a response to the whole debate.
This is not a simple topic, but I will try to organize my thoughts in some way….

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Blog Against Theocracy

Neural Gourmet and Blue Gal are organizing a massive blogospheric Blog Against Theocracy weekend:

I’d like invite you all to Blog Against Theocracy. This is a little blog swarm being put together by everybody’s favorite panties blogger Blue Gal for Easter weekend, April 6th through the 8th. The idea is simple. Just post something related to, and in support of, the separation of church and state each of those three days. Something big, something small, artistic, musical, textual or otherwise. The topic is your choosing. Whether your thing is stem cell research, intelligent design/Creationism, abortion rights, etc., it’s all good. Separation of church and state impacts so many issues and is essential.


OK, admit, how many of you really got suckered? (in reference to yesterday)
Quite a lesson in credulity and perception for many…(yup, I was in on the joke from the very beginning/planning/execution stages)



At an IDC conference – Jason reports

Jason drove down to Knoxville and attended an ID-Creationist “conference” and lived to tell about it. And tell he did, in five installments:
All the usual suspects were there and all the usual nonsense was spouted, but the most interesting part was the Subway-line conversation Jason had (in Part Four), debating a handful of attendees and noticing age-difference in their thought-processes and debating strategies.

Intelligent Timekeepingism

This is, after all, A Blog Around The Clock, so, I guess I should be a strong and vocal proponent of the Clock Theory aka Specified clockplexity. After all, nobody’s ever seen a clock move! So, I should start fighting against vile, rabid, Atheistic Blindtimekeepingism:

Atheists often level a strawman at Intelligent Timekeepingist (hereafter referred to as IT) views. They force you to stare at a clock for 5 minutes or so and claim vindication when the big hand of the clock moves. But DTists all agree that the big hand moves! This is simply microtimekeeping, and it does not go against ITist views. The problem is that these movements of the big hand are just as likely to give an incorrect movement as they are to give a correct movement. There is no new information about the current time added by these microticks! *Nobody* has ever seen the little hand of a clock move. This is what we refer to when we say macrotimekeeping. It does not really matter if the current minute is 13, 14, or 15, but it *does* matter what the current hour is. Are we to believe that billions of people show up to work on time every day due to chance?

Michael Egnor. Who?

In the back-channels here on Scienceblogs and on Panda’s Thumb we were discussing the pros and cons of paying so much attention to one Dr.Michael Egnor, a new creationist shill for the Discovery Institute. Yes, it feels like a tremendous waste of time to debunk incredibly stupid (and incredibly old and well-worn and well-debunked) claims of a very minor figure in the anti-Enlightenment movement.
But, who knows, one day he may appear in MSM (you know how they like to show “both sides” of everything!) and some journalist (or just interested people) will like to know who this Michael Egnor is.
What’s the first thing the journalist will do? Go to Google, of course, and search for Michael Egnor on Google Web Search and/or Google Blog Search. If you do the same, you will see there is quite a lot about him as a surgeon, and quite a lot written by Creationists in his support. What is the journalist (or interested person) to do? Believe that crap? Well, no. Because science bloggers have spent time debunking his arguments, about a third of all hits on Google searches are to their blog posts, exposing him for an ignorant witch-doctor as he is. Unfortunately, it appears that Google treats as one blog an thus shows only two posts from here instead of something like 40.
So, to help those blog posts out and make sure that more of them show up on Google searches, here is a nice sampling of the best:
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You know how on comment threads on blogposts about evolution you, sooner or later, get a commenter saying something that reveals complete lack of understanding of even the basics of evolutionary biology? It is usually accompanied by some creationist canard as well. What do you do? If you stop to explain the basics, the thread gets derailed. You REALLY want to discuss that latest study, not go back to basics over and over again.
So, instead of explaining the basics, you post a link to the appropriate page on the TalkOrigins FAQ or Index of Creationist Claims and move on with the discussion, hoping that the uninformed commenter will actually do the homework and follow the links.
But there is no such resource for discussions about equality, particularly gender equality. Or at least there WAS no such thing. There is now – see Feminism101 (via Pandagon and Feministe). Help build it by finding and linking relevant online articles and blog-posts that explain the basics or debunk myths and mysoginist talking points.
No need to have every comment thread derailed by Man’s Rights creeps any more. Whatever they say – just link to the relevant F101 post and send them there. Then continue discussing what YOU want to discuss instead of going to the basics over and over again.

The Reducible Complexity of John McCain

Evolution works according to a very small set of simple rules. If a) there is variation in a trait in a population and b) that variation is heritable and c) one variant is better adapted to the current local environment, then d) the best adapted trait will increase in the proportion within the population in the next generation. Once you understand this simple algorithm (perhaps, for fuller understanding, learn some basics of the ways genotype maps onto phenotype via development), everything about the living world is explainable without magic.
John McCain works according to a very small set of simple rules: “If the wind is blowing from the Right, blow your wind towards the Right, if it blows from the Left, blow your wind to the Left, if it comes from the Center, blow straight ahead.” Once you understand this simple algorithm, everything about John McCain is explainable without magic.
If you do not know the simple evolutionary algorithm, everything about Nature looks mysterious and you are likely to come up with ridiculous notions such as “irreducible complexity”. You become a creationist and join the Discovery Institute.
If you do not know the simple McCain algorithm, everything about him looks mysterious – why did he say one thing today and the oppsite yesterday? – and you come up with ridiculous notions such as “McCain the Maverick”. You become a lazy, incurious beltway journalist and join the CNN crew.
Also, have you seen McCain’s website? Jet black. Worthy of Loni Riftenschtal (sp?). But the “McCain wind theory”, as a true scientific theory, has predictive power. It predicts that, the day McCain wins the nomination (if he does), his website will turn red and sunny and lose the 1930s Germany feel to it.
So, there is no surprise that Discovery Institute is one of the sponsors of the McCain campaign stop in Seattle today.
And don’t expect the media to notice anything strange about it, either.

Obligatory Reading of the Day: Ken Ham’s version of Evolution

Archy gives a detailed explanation of the way Creationists explain away all the problems of the Noah’s Ark story.

Style over Substance

Remember this, and use it next time you are debating religion, politics or pseudoscience:

“….someone wearing nothing but a Peter Gibbons-esque cheerful smile and having nothing but kind words for anyone will always be wrong if he says 2 + 2 = 5, and that if I call him a douchebag on wheels and use terms like “donkey punch” in the course of correcting him, it doesn’t change who is right; it just changes the input into the popularity contest…

Phillip Johnson and Ed Brayton Mindcast

Episode 64 of the Mindcast is up! Karl J. Mogel of the Innoculated Mind blog interviews Phillip Johnson and my SciBling Ed Brayton. The blogpost also contains a number of useful links to information about the Intelligent Design Creationism political movement. You can download the entire episode here.

Do We Need An Anti-Creationist Think-Tank?

Do We Need An Anti-Creationist Think-Tank?Two years (January 28, 2005) have passed, but I am still not sure what the correct answer to this question is:

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Oh, how thoughtful of the Intelligent Designer!

A-ha! Finally! Now I understand the connection between Creationism and the overall anti-sex sentiment of the Fundamentalists!
New reseaarch shows that E.coli swim upstream due to the Design of their flagellum! And where do they swim from and swim to? Yes, you guessed it right! And you can also watch the movie.