The Public and Science

Last year I wrote about the complicated relationship of conservatives and science.  New events underscore this problem as of late.

Max Tegmark, writing for the Huffington Post discusses an MIT survey on religion and science.

We found that only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions openly rejecting evolution or our Big Bang … Whereas only 11 percent belong to religions openly rejecting evolution, Gallup reports that 46 percent believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. Why is this “belief gap” so large? … This suggests that the belief gaps may have less to do with intellectual disputes and more to do with an epic failure of science education.

There is, of course, an ancillary explanation which is that people understand their chosen faiths’ theology even less than science. Afterall, we all had science class at some point but how often does our pastor or priest discuss science from the pulpit? An additional question is, if 46% of people believe in Young Earth Creationism, could they all be characterized as ‘conservative’ in their social beliefs? For me this is about the role of skepticism in conservative thought.

I have long argued that we need both extremes in our system of government and also in our daily lives. The two sides serve to check each the other and maintain a sort of centrism that is necessary for most organizations to function properly over the long term. For example, we have all had that coworker who resists every change, no matter how small, in the way things are done. We have also had the manager that issues a new process memo on a daily basis and creates a sense of unstable footing for their employees. To dramatically generalize, liberals are the optimists while conservatives are the skeptics. Because conservatives often function as skeptics in our public discourse, we take that role seriously. Like any entrenched position though, this can be prone to overreach and abuse. I cannot help but wonder if the 35% gap in the poll results when matched with actual theology comes from this antagonistic relationship conservatives have developed with science. The question is though, is there any justification for this? Two stories lead me to answer yes.

The first item is a blog post from Brian Goode, one of our local meteorologists here in Louisville. Because I am a bit of a weather junkie I follow the channel’s weather blog and last week Goode was brave enough to engage in a bit of speculation about climate change.  I should note here that Goode is merely asking questions, not offering his own opinion. He also makes it clear that he is not an expert in the field. With that said, I find his post fascinating.

Now, as most of you know, the increase of CO2 is a heating process for the earth. That is why the concern of Global Warming has been such a huge headline. And if you look at the decade of most significance, 1990s, you can see why. We had a huge steady increase in global tempeartures. During this period, the media did jump onto this data…as well as scientists and politicians. So the march to CUT BACK and END CO2 was a priority for many. But something happened in 2000…all the way up today in fact. The global temperatures…have stopped their dramatic warming. This despite the CO2 still climbing at an alarming rate. But WHY?!?!

That is a question that scientists are arguing over as I type this. There are many ideas being thrown around. Some include the increase of coal burning in China. Those particles can actually reduce the effects of CO2 warming in the atmosphere. Similiar, Volcanoes have been accused of the same.  The clouds of ash from these events can actually block out the intense sunlight over large sections of earth…reducing temperatures. And lasting…and perhaps the most interesting conclusion I have read… we are wrong on the relationship between earth and carbon dioxide.

Some have been reporting this “leveling off” of the global temps is temporary…and that we will soon see an increase of up to 6°C across the globe by 40 years from now. Others argue that that number is exaggerated…and likely will be more of 1.8°C to 2.5°. Nevertheless, we still have two facts on the table.

1) CO2 is climbing fast. Humans accounting for about 25% of that number since the 1700s.

2) It is getting warmer. Yes it has slowed, but we are still warmer than in the past.

NASA scienstists say we would have to see this “leveling off” of temps to last 30-40 years before we can say Global Warming is …no more.

What Goode is really just saying here is that we don’t have it all figured out, by a long shot. Climate science is extremely complicated. Maybe this leveling off is just a brief period or maybe it is a sign that we don’t really understand the relationship between CO2 and our climate. While that is okay, a lot of public policy, which has costs billions to implement, has already been based on fears of excess CO2. Some people look at that and see a problem.

The second item I would cite is the recent passing of AB-711 in California. This bill bans the use of lead ammunition in the state, making California the first state in the nation to do so. This bill was not passed on good science, but evidence of politicians giving in to special interest groups like the Humane Society. SoCal Bowhunter links to a video (direct link here) which sheds some light on the way that science was misused for political purposes.

Hunters are generally a pretty conservative group and we also follow the law. In California there was a lead ban in the ‘condor zone’ before the state-wide ban and wildlife officials found 99% compliance during their enforcement work. Despite this, lead toxicity levels among condors did not change. Even when presented with that data, government leaders passed the bill. The lesson some are going to take from this is that science allows itself to be misused. Because scientists do not have a unified and loud enough voice in our country, it is easy to see why those conclusions can be made.

My goal here is not to justify ignoring science or misusing it. I also do not wish to blame scientists here. To the contrary I believe they are the primary victim in the public relationship with science. What I believe though is that the scientific community needs better PR and needs to fight for its own integrity. There should be dozens of people like Neil Degrasse Tyson out there fighting for the sciences. As for conservatives? We need to stop the war on science and at the same time, I would like to see our friends on the Left stop considering it part of their private toolkit for getting pet legislation passed.

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622 thoughts on “The Public and Science

  1. There is, of course, an ancillary explanation which is that people understand their chosen faiths’ theology even less than science. Afterall, we all had science class at some point but how often does our pastor or priest discuss science from the pulpit?

    I think this is quite right. I also think a lot of it comes down to signalling where one stands when science and religion do conflict. I know some people very firmly believe in YEC, but with a lot of others I think it’s a vague cognitive dissonance.

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    • I think YEC is essentially a non sequitur of the proposal.

      “It is never a question of belief; the only scientific attitude one can take on any subject is whether it is true. The law of gravitation worked as efficiently before Newton as after him. The cosmos would be fairly chaotic if its laws could not operate without the sanction of human belief.”

      <— snip —>

      “The Adam and Eve story is incomprehensible to me!” I observed with considerable heat one day in my early struggles with the allegory. “Why did God punish not only the guilty pair, but also the innocent unborn generations?”
      Master was more amused by my vehemence than my ignorance. “Genesis is deeply symbolic, and cannot be grasped by a literal interpretation,” he explained. “Its ‘tree of life’ is the human body. The spinal cord is like an upturned tree, with man’s hair as its roots, and afferent and efferent nerves as branches. The tree of the nervous system bears many enjoyable fruits, or sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. In these, man may rightfully indulge; but he was forbidden the experience of sex, the ‘apple’ at the center of the bodily garden.
      “The ‘serpent’ represents the coiled-up spinal energy which stimulates the sex nerves. ‘Adam’ is reason, and ‘Eve’ is feeling. When the emotion or Eve-consciousness in any human being is overpowered by the sex impulse, his reason or Adam also succumbs.
      “God created the human species by materializing the bodies of man and woman through the force of His will; He endowed the new species with the power to create children in a similar ‘immaculate’ or divine manner. Because His manifestation in the individualized soul had hitherto been limited to animals, instinct-bound and lacking the potentialities of full reason, God made the first human bodies, symbolically called Adam and Eve. To these, for advantageous upward evolution, He transferred the souls or divine essence of two animals. In Adam or man, reason predominated; in Eve or woman, feeling was ascendant. Thus was expressed the duality or polarity which underlies the phenomenal worlds. Reason and feeling remain in a heaven of cooperative joy so long as the human mind is not tricked by the serpentine energy of animal propensities.
      “The human body was therefore not solely a result of evolution from beasts, but was produced by an act of special creation by God. The animal forms were too crude to express full divinity; the human being was uniquely given a tremendous mental capacity– the ‘thousand-petaled lotus’ of the brain– as well as acutely awakened occult centers in the spine.
      “God, or the Divine Consciousness present within the first created pair, counseled them to enjoy all human sensibilities, but not to put their concentration on touch sensations.18
      These were banned in order to avoid the development of the sex organs, which would enmesh humanity in the inferior animal method of propagation. The warning not to revive subconsciously-present bestial memories was not heeded. Resuming the way of brute procreation, Adam and Eve fell from the state of heavenly joy natural to the original perfect man.
      “Knowledge of ‘good and evil’ refers to the cosmic dualistic compulsion. Falling under the sway of maya through misuse of his feeling and reason, or Eve-and Adam-consciousness, man relinquishes his right to enter the heavenly garden of divine self-sufficiency. The personal responsibility of every human being is to restore his ‘parents’ or dual nature to a unified harmony or Eden.”

      As Sri Yukteswar ended his discourse, I glanced with new respect at the pages of Genesis.

      Paramahansa Yogananda
      from Autobiography of a Yogi
      Ch. 16

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  2. I always find it interesting that conservatives can so easily cast themselves in the brave and noble role of the skeptic and liberals as the silly, childish, optimists.

    Perhaps the 38th attempt to appeal Obamacare will be the successful one?

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    • i find it very hard to believe that either american liberals or american conservatives really find it “interesting” that a large chunk of their Other is stupid.

      that said, i have a simpler answer for mr. dwyer as to the young earth gap – because it is utterly meaningless to almost all of our everyday lives.

      very few of us can explain how paypal gets money from my credit card to the japanese puke porn provider which in turn sends me a download key for kyoto yakkers 7, and yet we use some of these services every day. the age of the earth is even more meaningless than that.

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          • I know that you come from an evangelical-conservative background and still retain have a lot of warm and sincere relationships with conservatives. And I get feel like from time to time you are upset and frustrated when I get antagonistic against this background.

            But I see no reason why I should take “we are just being skeptical” at face value when I think it causes deep damage to public policy on many fronts. I am sure that many evangelical conservatives are great and decent and kind people. It doesn’t make it less galling to be paternalized like that in the name of wrong policy and because the more religious among them are trying to witness me or whatever to save me from hellfire.

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              • This is how I see the issue:

                1. There are countless religions in the world. Some are no longer practiced by many and some have yet to start.

                2. There are good people and “bad” (for lack of a better word) people in all religions.

                3. Most people in all religions will have chaotic and messy lives where we do really good, kind, and compassionate things but also do things that are mean, greedy, self-centered, that we regret, etc. Because this is the human condition. We are not perfect and will never be perfect.

                4. At some point people need to realize this and question what kind of belief system or what kind of Deity would punish people to an eternity of pain just because they did not believe in him or her or that Jesus is the Messiah or whatever.

                5. Number 4 goes for all religions.

                6. I suppose you can just say that these people believe in an irrational God that would do such things but I don’t know how many are willing to say that out loud.

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                • I agree with your critique of no. 4, but I do think it, along with no. 5, contains an unstated assumption, namely, that some (or all) of the religions in question necessarily are reducible to “you are punished for eternity for not believing in x.”

                  There are certainly a large number of people in most religions–and perhaps exhibit A is evangelical Christianity–where people believe or speak as if they believe that way. But I do think a lot of religions that are, not without reason, interpreted by non-believers as saying “believe in x or go to hell,” can be interpreted differently, perhaps along lines analogous to “if you choose to believe or practice x, you might be happier/more fulfilled/healthier/etc.” or (what I prefer) “x, y, z–and probably a whole bunch of others–offer ways to achieve happiness/fulfillment/health/etc., and being open to them might be helpful.”

                  Perhaps I am referring to an idealized notion of what religion can be. And no. 3 being true, perhaps we are all (or most of us are) prone to our bigotries. Also, I realize that there’s a certain arrogance in claiming, “do this because it’ll make you happier/healthier” when, in fact, you might not feel exceptionally unhappy or sick to begin with.

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                  • Perhaps many people think like that but then if they were Evangelicals, they would clearly be going against their own Protestant background.

                    I am not a new Atheist or a Dawkins-ite. If someone does feel that there life is all the better or more enriched because of Christianity, all the power to them. Still this does not give them the right to:

                    1. Be perplexed that others might feel differently. I am happy being Jewish but I don’t think that being Jewish is better than being Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Pagan/Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, etc. It is just different.

                    2. Enforce policies that are demonstatedly bigoted or not true because it conflicts with their Christianity. See Tod’s post last week on the guy at St. Andrew’s who said that to be Christian means you must support slavery because slavery is in the Bible.

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                    • Well, I agree with your two points.

                      Still, I wouldn’t reduce all “protestant background” or even all of what could be called “evangelicalism” to the view that god punishes disbelief with hell. That view is there and is and has been widely shared, but it’s not universal, even among at least some people (e.g., C. S. Lewis) who might plausibly be called evangelical. (Of course, I’ll grant that Lewis is not the standard issue of what people think of as “evangelical.”)

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          • I don’t necessarily think that all my beliefs are always right. At the very least I try to think of potential negative consequence.

            Still in Mike’s narrative as I explained to him below: “Conservatives=Adults”, “Liberals=Children with good intentions but they still need the brakes put on by the conservative adults.” This is patronizing and I don’t see why I need to accept it at face value.

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            • i can see why you see it as such, but i think his general point isn’t as stark as you make it, though i’m not personally convinced. if one is the gas and one is the brake, that doesn’t imply a parental dynamic. the brake is useless without the gas.

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              • Bingo. Both sides would appreciate one another more if they saw & respected their opposite numbers as complementary forces in the system; instead, each side sees the other as asserting superiority.

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                    • I, personally, don’t see the libertarians as asserting superiority or authority all that often. At least the ones I identify with, anyway.

                      They’re more like the surly teenagers, tired of getting whipped by the belt of the authoritarian Right while the nagging Left keeps saying “Eat your vegetables…eat your vegetables…why oh why won’t you eat your vegetables, we LOVE you SO MUCH…” OH YEAH MOM AND DAD?! WELL I DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU ANYMORE, WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LEAVE A GUY ALON-

                      …sorry. That got weird.

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                    • Glyph-fwiw. I hear Libertarians asserting their superior understanding of freedom, the glittering wonder of the Free Market and their clearly better logic all the time.Their purity is unsullied by engaging in politics and their clarity of thought is a beacon to us lesser folks.

                      I’m not saying this to start a pissing match, just to point out different perceptions. I agree with many points made by libertarian types and think they add a lot to the conversations here. I’ve learned quite a bit from the smarter ones. But the smug superiority evinced by many, although certainly not all, is quite evident. I’m not particularly referring to those here, but on other places i read.

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                    • greginak – no, I hear you – and not just that, but I’ve certainly seen libertarians get all wounded and shirty and “don’t condescend ME, man”, when they feel they are being deprecated by someone. I didn’t mean for that to come across as a “everybody ELSE does that thing that *I* never do”.

                      To go back to my original sign-on to dhex’s comment, it seemed to me that Mike Dwyer is explicitly acknowledging the equality – nay, necessity and high value – of the liberal worldview, so as to move society forward; he simply believes that it needs to be tempered with a conservative (cautious) bent as a countervailing or stabilizing safeguard.

                      Whether you accept his framing or not, that anyone would read that framing as a patronizing slight, or as an assertion of conservative superiority, is strange to me; it seems to seek offense where none seems intended. From where I sit it looks kind of like an olive branch proffered, but set afire by its intended recipient.

                      But I am just a small-l libertarianish guy, who mostly thinks people should mostly leave other people alone, and that most everybody could usually stand to take themselves slightly less seriously than they do, so what do I know?

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                • Probably but the trick is how to do this especially on policy issues where there is no compromise.

                  Gay Marriage is a good example as any. You are either for it or against it. I don’t see why a fair compromise is the state-by-state approach that allows some gay couples to live in freedom and others are given the choice of creating a new home somewhere else, possibly away from loving family.

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                    • I think that state by state is a problem from a Faith and Credit standpoint,

                      It wasn’t for interracial marriage. That got overturned because the whole prohibition was unconstitutional, not because a marriage that was legal in New York wasn’t in Virginia.

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                    • That’s true. Interracial marriage had an even stronger constitutional leg to stand on than FFC. However, even if it hadn’t had that leg to stand on, I think FFC should have applied. The FFC relationship with marriage remains unresolved, but I have a hard time with the notion that relocation from one state to another creating a defacto dissolution of marital rights not being a constitutional problem. It’s a significant barrier to interstate travel, commerce, etc.

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                    • Like I said, it’s still unresolved. It hasn’t been applied to marriage yet, but as far as I know the Supreme Court has not actually said that it doesn’t. Has it?

                      I didn’t know that about divorce, but it makes sense. And it’s hard to argue that it applies to divorces but cannot apply to marriages.

                      (I am still not entirely comfortable how I parse out Virginia being forced to accept New York marriages but not Arizona plural marriages if that were to come to pass. But I make it work at least internally as plural marriage imposes a burden on Virginia that gay marriage does not.)

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                    • But was it ever challenged on a basis of FFC? It seems to me then, as with now, the aim was to get the whole enchilada rather than the FFC middle-ground.

                      If the whole enchilada fails this time around, I’d be pretty surprised if the FFC route isn’t tried. And, since it’s never been explicitly shot down (to my knowledge), I think it would have a good chance of success. I understand why SSM proponents didn’t go there first (why try half when you can go for the gold?), but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s the half-measure that a consensus is built around this time around. Or if that’s not the second effort if this one fails.

                      I could be way off-base here. I agree with others that the most likely consensus result is that gay marriage will be legal in California, but it won’t be nationwide.

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                    • Well, if the deal is challenged on FFC grounds and the pro-ssm side wins, then really for all intents and purposes, we’ll have ssm nationwide. Because all you would have to do if you live in a non-ssm state is travel to a pro one and get hitched and it would still apply when you got home. At least I suppose that it would, unless I don’t understand how FFC would really work. It would be more like 3/4 loaf than a half-loaf.

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      • Dhex,
        But it matters because YECs force themselves onto school boards, bake their non-facts into the curriculum, which they pervert with evolution and AGW denial. We then have kids growing up rejecting or fundamentally misinderstanding these concepts. As such, they are ill prepared to take part in conversations about medical science or emissions regulations because, hey, viruses don’t evolve and people don’t impact climate.

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          • I think he’s saying that they might try to teach the missionary position.

            What I regard as odd is this:
            Proponents of evolution get ticked that these folk might have to run for elective office.
            It seems to me that, did they truly believe in evolution theory, they would view this as a natural evolution of the school boards in question, etc.

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            • If I asked you to come up with some bad things that might happen from someone believing in Young Earth Creationism rather than evolution, I’m sure that you could provide examples from the last 100 years.

              I’m asking if you can think of any examples from the last 100 years of bad things happening because someone believed in, but didn’t properly understand, Evolution.

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              • I think you phrased it better.
                I think there are several things which still aren’t properly understood in evolution theory; such as why distinct species exist, rather than every creature being at some indeterminate point on some sort of continuum between species, the phenomenon of hybrid vigor, et al.

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              • Bad things aplenty happened and you know it. The war on science features plenty of martyrs, all on the side of science. Here’s the fundamentally bad thing: science is based on the scientific method and not revealed truth from Heaven or the Pulpit. Young Earth Creationism is yet another dishonest pseudo-Thomist attempt to squeeze Physics into Metaphysics. And it’s bullshit from top to bottom.

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                • The war on science features plenty of martyrs, all on the side of science.

                  There were a handful of thoughts with regards to “eugenics” that made for a handful of problems. This wasn’t Young Earth Eugenicism either.

                  I’d also fail to put such (recent!) books as “The Bell Curve” on the “Creationist” side of the ledger.

                  Young Earth Creationism is yet another dishonest pseudo-Thomist attempt to squeeze Physics into Metaphysics. And it’s bullshit from top to bottom.

                  No doubt. I suspect that, as top to bottom bullshit goes, however, it’s mostly harmless and will be dispelled easily from any student capable of understanding The Method… who will be the ones we want doing science in the first place.

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                  • That’s going nowhere with me, Jaybird. You asked for what harm came of believing in YEC and I told you scientists were persecuted for it. That may not meet your standards of harm. It meets mine. That is all.

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                    • Actually, Blaise, what I asked for any harm that came from believing (or, specifically, misunderstanding) evolution.

                      I’m totally down with the problems of believing in Young Earth Creationism. The problems of misunderstanding something false aren’t anywhere near as interesting as misunderstanding something true, when it comes to this particular corner of science.

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                    • No. You asked first if there were any perversions that arose from a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. You were given an answer.

                      Then you asked for any examples from the last 100 years of bad things happening because someone believed in, but didn’t properly understand, Evolution. The Scopes Monkey Trial comes to mind immediately. You do know Scopes lost, don’t you? He was found guilty and fined. On the strength of that conviction, we’ve had a war against science ever since.

                      What you really want, it seems to me, is for someone to admit these YEC types are not very dangerous, that they can interfere in the teaching of science and should be allowed to preach any old stupid Biblical Bullshit or Qur’anic Quatsch in the context of a science classroom. No harm will come of it, you say. Plenty of harm has come of it. Open war on freethinkers, a wholesale reversion to dogma — and now cometh Dwyer before the Court of Public Opinion to say Science ought to stand up for itself, that Liberals should quit trying to pass laws against lead poisoning. And good old Wardsmith, to argue from some specious pseudo-contradiction about which scavengers are dying from lead poisoning. It won’t fly with me. It’s as I have described it, pseudo-Thomism.

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                    • You were given an answer.

                      Indeed I was. And I am skeptical about that answer.

                      I believe that Sailerite Bullshit comes from believing (or, specifically, misunderstanding) evolution. The Bell Curve provides another awesome example.

                      As do one or two notable events from the middle of the 20th Century.

                      There seems to be a *LOT* more involved in this debate than just figuring out how to best apply the method. There’s a dialectic. Ignoring the dialectic is not to our benefit. If we want to move on In The Name Of Science, this dialectic needs to be addressed.

                      Seriously, the non-scientific types cheerleading The Right Answers to the test questions for non-scientific reasons are responsible for the lion’s share of the non-scientific pushback. They are not allies of Science.

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                    • Dialectic, my ass. At some point, someone has to say, “No, the evidence no longer backs your position. You’re no longer welcome to preach in our science classrooms.”

                      The hallmarks of crank science resolve to a dismissing any evidence which contradicts their positions, much bellyaching about how there’s a conspiracy afoot.

                      Steve Sailer is a crank. There is nothing to gain from discussion with his unscientific ass. You know how the old truism goes: “Never get into an argument with an idiot: a bystander might not be able to tell the difference.”

                      There’s no rational discussion with a dogmatist.

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                    • “Never get into an argument with an idiot: a bystander might not be able to tell the difference.”

                      So how do we go about justifying the correct position to the bystander? Because the bystander matters right? Her or she is not just a body for your side to add to the tally of the Who’s Winning? game right?

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                    • What did I say about physics and metaphysics, Murali? Do you want me to say, as I tried with my own parents, “Look, if God is about truth, surely scientific truth and the rules of the universe are also God’s rules.”

                      It didn’t go anywhere with them. The Bible was right and Darwin was wrong. Smart people, you’d think. They just weren’t up to the challenge of sorting out truth from dogma.

                      Murali, there is no convincing a dogmatist of anything. Either you approach the world through the scientific method, where theories are only as good as the supporting evidence, discarded or amended in the light of new evidence — or you fight progress every inch of the way, only abandoning the very worst aspects of dogma under the direst pressure.

                      Conservatives have shown themselves to be the enemies of science. There’s enough evidence through history to reach that conclusion without a moment’s hesitation. When I see even one Conservative, especially a religious conservative, say “okay, the only valid approach to truth is via evidence and proof via the scientific method.” — then I might take these presently-dogmatic unscientific bastards seriously. Not one minute before. The only solid approach to a crank is to hit him, hard.

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                    • So what if conservatives are the enemy of science? All sorts of people can be dogmatic about all sorts of things. People can have all sorts of cognitive dissonance going on. Besides you’re missing my point.

                      I’m not talking about who has better belief formation mechanisms. I’m talking about how we can live together in a pluralistic society especially, a society where people have different and incompatible comprehensive doctrines.

                      Saying that you are correct and have the evidence on your side and have the correct belief forming practices and the other guy doesn’t is not a practical maxim that can resolve such differences even when you are in fact objectively correct about the state of evidence and your belief formation practices. Because, ultimately, practical principles of action are put into practice by the agents themselves and the relevant evaluative standards are the agent’s own. Any practical principle, in order to both be effectively action guiding and be able to resolve the conflicting claims people advance against each other, should not rely on the beliefs being relied on being true.

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                    • Are you kidding? I can tolerate many sort of dogmas. But when dogma lashes out against reason, reason is well within its right to knock the teeth out of dogma, armed with the club of evidence. Those who will not accept facts are the enemies of mankind. You may call it cognitive dissonance if you wish.

                      Should you and I decide to sit down and discuss the Hindu cosmology, a gorgeously baroque set of concepts, we could happily discuss the Rigveda for many hours. I would consider it a productive discussion. I live for such discussions.

                      But I hope, somewhere along the line, we could get around to the brilliant additions to scientific cosmology and number theory by Indian scientists and spend some time on the word Moksha. Moksha, freedom from enslaving ignorance, Viveka, the ability to discern truth from error, the real from the unreal.

                      I simply will not accept, nor will I tolerate in any form, excuse-making and cheese-eating on this subject. Stupidity is curable. But those who refuse to learn cannot be taught: in this case, the patient must first want to be cured. They remain trapped in slavery of ignorance.

                      If we are to live in a pluralistic society, we will take our best guidance from the scientists and the ancient philosophers who gave rise to the search for knowledge, over and against the dogmatists and theologians whose religions have always preached the unity of man but whose actions have shown the exact opposite. Though we are all at liberty to our own opinions, we are not at liberty to choose our own facts.

                      I am a Christian, you are a Hindu. There is no contradiction in believing as we do: in some ways, Hindu cosmology beats the Christian cosmology hands-down and gave rise to a spirit of scientific inquiry unknown in the West. It certainly gave rise to better mathematics and astronomy. If a pluralistic society is ever to work, we will argue from facts, and dogma will be ejected, vigorously and with intense prejudice, from the discussion of what is real and what is not.

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                    • Heffman, when it comes to abuses of statistics and scientific evidence, or abusive snark, nobody but me has dared to say that Science is not the Private Project of Liberals nor are our legislative efforts Pet Projects. I considered that fairly abusive and I’ve taken out the Ugly Stick to beat it within an inch of its mendacious life. I consider it a job well done if you do not.

                      Social Darwinism was a mere recapitulation of a far older philosophy of elitism and racism. That is provable from history and philosophy. Those who’ve actually read Origin of Species know it showed how the diversity of life arose from a common ancestor.

                      Social Darwinism was, in a very real sense, a contradiction of what Darwin had written. If we arose from a common ancestor, if the strong had reproduced where the weak had failed, the Social Darwinists would have never embraced racism or the idea of superior breeds of humans. They would have known, as does every geneticist, that endogamy within a culture brings out recessive genes, that the Nazi Übermensch with his blonde hair and blue eyes was in fact a prima facie case for what recessive genes produce.

                      But ever was pseudoscience the province of the bigot and the innumerate. The untutored, too. The very fucking idea that someone would attempt to snidely insert “Eugenics”, within quotes, and say it Had a Lot of Play for a while, as if this were an outworking of what Darwin had said, or what the geneticists had said, would be amusing if it weren’t so horrifically stupid.

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                • Because if we’re talking about science, I can trust you to come up with a dispassionate list for yourself that we can agree upon and agree that there have been excesses galore and discuss the dynamic behind this… whatever it is… that does this much harm in the name of something that, ideally, just tells us What Is.

                  If, however, “winning the argument” is more important than dispassionate truth-telling, then I’m pretty sure that my point has been made.

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                  • My argument is that we should care what people do or do not know or believe or think about certain topics for the reasons I outlined. I was disputing dhex’s stance that it doesn’t matter who knows what.

                    Do you think I’m wrong about the importance of people being dead wron on certain issues? If so, construct that argument.

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                    • Sure: the 20th Century has more piles of bodies underneath ideologies that attempted to politicize evolution than under ideologies that politicized young earth creationism.

                      Do you deny this or is this one of those things where we’d like to point out that what those ideologies were politicizing were complete misunderstandings of evolution and thus fall outside of the discussion we’re having?

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                    • And the more recent ones are ones who use “science!” (“evolution!”) to justify the conclusions they’ve leapt to.

                      I’m not advocating Young Earth Creationism, Blaise. I am, however, pointing out that if you don’t teach The Method, only the answers, you’re going to find yourself with some unwelcome bedfellows.

                      Because, like it or not, there’s a lot more going on here than hypothesis test evaluate retest evaluate retest and so on. A *LOT* more.

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                    • Eugenics may have existed well before the late-19th/early-to-mid-20th century eugenics movement, but that doesn’t mean that those later eugenicists weren’t influenced by evolution, nor does it mean that they didn’t use it as a means to justify and lend credibility to their projects. I don’t think this says quite what Jaybird thinks it does, though I suspect I know where he’s coming from — creationists have used social Darwinism and the eugenics movement as an argument against evolution for as long as I’ve been around them, because it is consistent with what they believe to be the inevitable consequences of a non-Biblical worldview that puts humans on the level of the rest of the animal kingdom.

                      What it does say, though, is that science is no more immune from misuse and misappropriation than any other human institution, and that any sufficiently broad idea can be used to justify just about anything.

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                    • Jaybird, that’s a great argument for teaching the scientific method, and not just teaching science as trivia facts.

                      But the creationists are 100% pro science-as-trivia-facts. They have to be. When their beliefs are exposed to the scientific method, they collapse. When these people advocate the teaching of wrong science, they are also advocating the teaching of sloppy science. They support teaching children to think incoherently. (Check out my post further downthread for examples).

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                    • Jaybird,

                      Are you saying belief in evolution caused (or was a partial cause of) genocide in the 20th century?

                      This link points out a lot of the obvious:

                      “What’s more, many of the most enthusiastic promoters of the eugenics movement in the US, which led to policies such as compulsory sterilisation, were evangelical Christians. As Mary Teats explained in her book The Way of God in Marriage: “The great and rapidly increasing army of idiots, insane, imbeciles, blind, deaf-mutes, epileptics, paralytics, the murderers, thieves, drunkards and moral perverts are very poor material with which to ‘subdue the world’, and usher in the glad day when ‘all shall know the Lord’.”

                      As for the Holocaust, the murder of able-bodied and able-minded people solely on the basis of their religion can hardly be called eugenics. It is incredible to blame Darwin while overlooking the role of Christianity in fostering anti-Semitism over the centuries.”

                      http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13689-evolution-myths-evolutionary-theory-leads-to-racism-and-genocide.html

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                    • Sorry, but eugenics was sold as science. People might think that maybe the world would be better off without certain other people in it, but by the 20th century none of them had any real religious convictions about it, nor would they find any ecclesiastical support from other churches. The Lord is never very happy about killing people, much less mass murder, and it is extremely difficult to get ministers on board. Heck, most of the ministers preach pacifism like sheep. The Lutheran church can be especially irritating in this regard.

                      The big backers of Hitler’s early rise were German doctors. They had always been irritated by Jewish doctors, who most rich Germans preferred. Combine that with the usual leftist suspicion of Jewish bankers, and wrap it all in the science of treating the race as an organism that needs cleansing, just like a body (Nazi propaganda was extremely good and extremely logical). The Nazi propaganda archives are full of translations of period works, and they relied totally on science, not religion, for their grounding. They even derided religious Germans, along with those who were prudish (much of Nazism was about hot blonde nekkid chicks).

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                    • No, I just read a lot of history, including the Nazi propaganda archives. I also got a kick out of all the blonde nekkid chicks in the Panzer tank manuals.

                      When you read a lot of their propaganda you get a really good feel for what they believed, because they were very good at conveying it to large numbers of people. They did not try to keep it a secret. They described themselves as futuristic, socialistic, scientific, brave, selfless, and loyal, fighting the forces of exploitive capitalism, communism (a heresy), and racial degradation, through strength of will, determination, destiny, blah blah blah.

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                    • Are you saying belief in evolution caused (or was a partial cause of) genocide in the 20th century?

                      I am saying that a “belief” in a misunderstanding of evolution helped bolster many of the 19th and 20th century eugenics movements. They argued that their beliefs were based on science.

                      Now, if you’d like to say that they didn’t base their beliefs on science because they were the same Progressive Christians that supported Progressive Movements such as Alcohol Prohibition, then… well, I guess you’re not understanding what I’m arguing.

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                    • Jaybird,

                      So now you’re saying believing false things that aren’t scientifically supported is bad for society.

                      And before you suggested that politicized evolution had piles of bodies under it. Now, you say maybe the creation of those piles was just “bolstered” by a false belief.

                      The main cause of the Holocaust was Christian anri-semitism. Hitler’s main influence here was Martin Luther.

                      If you want a biologist to blame, you could blame Mendelian genetics, which was much more widely known, and provides a much easier way to make a crazy basis for racism.

                      The causal connection between Darwin and eugenics, and/or eugenics and the Nazi holocaust is tenuous at best. You’ve been duped by the right wing about history, which is not science, but another thing they don’t do well with all of the time.

                      Read this:

                      http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6/articles/Was%20Hitler%20a%20Darwinian.pdf

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              • And if we learn that something we thought was true isn’t, we should adjust curriculum accordingly. Curriculum need not be perfect or infallible. But it certainly shouldn’t be knowingly wrong.

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              • Schools shouldn’t teach thungs that are demonstrably wrong.

                Schools should teach The Method. Let students apply The Method and let them discover for themselves how many planets there are and why.

                If you’re just going to ask people to memorize the answers to multiple-choice questions they’ll never against think about, it doesn’t matter what you ask them to memorize.

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                • Schools do teach the Sci Method. They also teach the accepted body of knowledge. Its not an either vs or situation. You can’t really have every HS student replicate the discovery of the periodic table and the spectra of each element, etc, etc, etc, now can you.

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                  • No body of knowledge is “accepted”. There are no “facts” in science. There’s only evidence and the theories which explain the evidence.

                    Education doesn’t have to replicate every discovery. It has to demonstrate the evidence. I remember once, when we were being taught the structure of the atom, raising my hand and asking how two positive protons could stay together in the same nucleus. The teacher said “You’ll learn why in college. It’s called the Strong Force. It’s about 100 times more powerful than the magnetic force.”

                    That’s where the Conservatives utterly fail, philosophically. With them, doubt is a bad thing. They can’t provisionally accept anything on the basis of the evidence. It has to conform to something they accept at a metaphysical level. I guess it must be because when they were little kids, when they asked “Why?” they were told to shut up and accept the Accepted Body of Knowledge and they just kept on that track in life. With them, every new theory is a direct assault on their core belief structure. It must be a scary world for them.

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                    • Yes Blaise there are no absolute facts, but there is certainly “here is all the stuff we know up until now.” That stuff has different levels of certainty, but needs to be mastered if you are going to get additional training in a science. Doubt and the ultimate possibility of being wrong are absolute keys to science and are things many people absolutely can’t deal with.

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                    • Well sure. And that’s why I cannot accept any of the smarmy, cheap talk and ignorant hectoring about how the Scientific Community needs Better PR. No it bloody well doesn’t. The Conservatives need to quit glorifying ignorance. All this cone-pone bullshit about Integrity angers me right down to my bones. Dumbing stuff down so these morons can understand how lead stacks up in haemoglobin — I’ll be damned if I or anyone else should have to stand there like Johnny trying to explain what sort of aircraft it is as a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol.

                      I’m sorry that Conservatives never got enough of an education to know what haemoglobin is or how lead poisoning works. I’m sorry their heads are full of dogmatic nonsense. I’m sorry they can’t adapt to life in modern times. I’m sorry they can’t argue from the facts and try to tell me other birds aren’t dying of lead poisoning, or how lead and mercury stack up in the food chain. I’m sorry they’re all afflicted with the dumbass and seem terribly proud of this fact. That is not my problem.

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          • The question isn’t are there consequences in the past of people falsely believing such and such, but rather could there be cosequences of having the false belief going forward.

            Kids probably wouldn’t be harmed by telling them that John Adams was actually from outerspace. They could even go and be medical doctors while believing it.

            But the fact is that we don’t know how belief in evolution (or macro evolution specifically) will become important amd/or which individuals it will be important for. That is why we try to spread true belief about evolution as wodely as possible.

            Teach about creationism and teach that it is demonstrably false and/or unscientific. Tell the students it is ignorant and ridiculous to believe it. Tell the students the truth.

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            • That is why we try to spread true belief about evolution as wodely as possible.

              Teach about creationism and teach that it is demonstrably false and/or unscientific. Tell the students it is ignorant and ridiculous to believe it. Tell the students the truth

              The problem is that there isn’t an obvious limiting principle at work here ast which true beliefs to include or exclude. If we think that we should root out all false beliefs or especially, we should use the public school system to root out all false beliefs, then we get to an illiberal place very quickly. At the very least we seriously violate liberal neutrality.

              Let me pose the same objection that I posed BlaiseP:

              Saying that you are correct and have the evidence on your side and have the correct belief forming practices and the other guy doesn’t is not a practical maxim that can resolve such differences even when you are in fact objectively correct about the state of evidence and your belief formation practices. Because, ultimately, practical principles of action are put into practice by the agents themselves and the relevant evaluative standards are the agent’s own. Any practical principle, in order to both be effectively action guiding and be able to resolve the conflicting claims people advance against each other, should not rely on the beliefs being relied on being true.

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              • Not sure I understand the quote.

                One limiting principle is this:

                If a scientific theory is well confirmed, not falsified, and accepted by a massive consensus of scientists, teach it as factual. If a scientific theory fails the previous test, teach it as a living controversy.

                I get that it will be harder to create limiting principles to avoid teaching ethical beliefs and metaphysical beliefs that shouldn’t be taught as facts. (Though even in these cases, there is very rarely a consensus of experts, so they would be ruled out as something to teach as factual by something like the prior principle.) But this is clearly science, so the prior principle will do.

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                • The snag is what you do with a scientific theory that has been falsified, or is non-falsifiable (and thus doesn’t even belong in a science class), is not confirmed, but is still accepted by what’s claimed to be a massive consensus of scientists who deride skeptics as non-believers, heretics, and shills.

                  What do you do when science quits being science and becomes math voodoo and acolytes preaching apocalyptic doomsday if we don’t repent?

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                  • Well, I was thinking of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming in particular, but there are other examples where ideas gain wide scientific acceptance without much, if any, testing because the ideas confirm previously held beliefs or biases. Quite a lot of psychology over the years would fall into that category, as something that “every educated person knows” gets frequently tossed in the trash, sometimes because nobody actually even tested the idea at all, or someone made it up out of whole cloth and nobody even bothered to try to replicate it because it was such a novel idea that it simply had to be right.

                    Scientists are human. All humans are subject to crowd phenomenon, group-think, peer-pressure, the need to conform, and are sometimes subject to blind conviction, religious type thinking, and ardent support of orthodoxy. Maintaining that scientists somehow aren’t subject to these traits is to argue that scientists are not in fact human.

                    That’s why they went to the method of rigorous testing of ideas through experiment, and making sure those experiments were repeatable by anyone qualified to take the same measurements. Prior to that academics (natural philosophers) just argued, without evidence, for the correctness of their own beliefs. As soon as you remove experiments from their toolkit, they are back to arguing with nothing to back it up. A white lab coat doesn’t convey truth like an ecclesiastical robe, the stuff happening in the test tube does.

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                    • Uh huh.

                      That’s why we should listen to a consensus of scientists. They are doing the experiments.

                      I am pretty sure we should teach students about anthropogenic global warming.

                      Not sure what you mean by catastrophic global warming as something that an overwhelming consensus believed in. We should teach that there is still and for a long time has been some dispute about what will happen as the planet warms and how much it will warm, but the worry is how awful/catastrophic this will be and over what time frame.

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                    • And how exactly are they doing these experiments? Are they adding and removing CO2 with a period that’s perhaps contains frequency components based on prime numbers (in years)? Nope, they’re not doing that. They’re writing Sim-Earth in badly written FORTRAN, using endless fudge factors. They admit to that in the UEA e-mails.

                      And the step you mentioned at the bottom was totally skipped. Why shouldn’t we be debating whether global warming will be a boon, instead of awful/catastrophic? They never actually asked that question, much less answered it. It’s assumed with no evidence in favor, and almost all evidence in opposition. Life on Earth thrives when it’s warm, and thrives more when it’s very warm, both in the historical record and today. Where it’s cold life struggles, and struggles mightily.

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                    • George,
                      Oh, sure, remember child: don’t fly in Boeing jets. Same people doing sims for both. But if they haven’t done the sims right, the Boeing jet’ll explode.

                      So, sure, prove to me you don’t believe in AGW. Go buy some land in Florida.

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        • I attended a Christian school briefly. The science cirriculum drew a distinction between microevolution (the kind that’s observable in laboratories) and macroevolution (speciation and development of major new traits), the former being acknowledged and the latter being denied.

          For all its silliness, young earth creationism really doesn’t matter as much as you’d think. It’s the ancient history stuff they get wrong, and that doesn’t really have much practical applicability. I’d be surprised if young earth creationists were any more likely to get the practical stuff wrong than non-creationists with comparable scientific education.

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            • For the same reason we teach them math they’re never going to use!

              More seriously, it’s because some of those students will actually go on to science – and could be inspired by evolution to go into science – and, since you don’t know which ones those are, you teach it across-the-board. There’s also the “human knowledge is a good thing.” Even if a lot of people do get by with pretty substantial blind spots, we’d prefer they not have the blind spots.

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                    • Yeah, but we don’t know which people will become scientists. We prepare everyone to have some chance at becoming a scientific expert. Are you saying we shouldn’t do that?

                      Moreover, there are public policy decisions that voters need to make based on the best available knowledge of the facts. Cap and trade is one such policy question. I do think -as I explain nearer the bottom of this thread- false beliefs about evolution cause people to believe changes to the environment are less dangerous than they are. “God is in control of what species exist, and so he will prevent a mass extinction that could harm us.” And there could be policy decisions that will be amde poorly if people believe false things about evolution, too.

                      We don’t know how we will need knowledge in the future, but we will. This is why we always want more knowledge, and knowledge dispersed as widely as is feasible.

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              • I’ve heard this argument before, and I don’t buy it.
                First, Darwin himself was never taught evolution in school.
                Secondly, a shortage of medical staff around Darwin’s time is not widely reported.
                Third, there is evidence against the suggestion that teaching people everything needed to become a doctor while they’re in high school is really necessary, in that we currently have doctors.
                Fourth, the issue of degrees is relevant.
                Fifth, current unemployment among college graduates suggests that such concerns of adequate manpower in years to come are overblown.

                By and large, I believe it’s best for people to be only slightly more intelligent than they’re ever required to be, just in case an emergency situation pops up. Otherwise, excess of intelligence only leads to problems.

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            • Why teach literature, for that matter?

              I think that there’s some value in teaching about evolution, because it provides an alternative to religion as a way of explaining the origin of man. While it doesn’t matter that much as far as scientific applications go, it may make people less religious, and result in more liberal social policy. While I personally like that, I do worry about whether it’s something that government should be doing.

              Actually, I’m going to walk that back just a bit. It does matter a bit, but indirectly. Religious scientists are more likely to have objections to working with embryonic stem cells, and probably therapeutic cloning. So it does matter in that way, but it’s not because they don’t understand the science.

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              • I would counter that ethics is especially important in the medical field, where issues of life and death may arise.
                Further, development of technology serves no useful purpose other than to serve man.
                As to which man it should serve is properly the realm of ethics; as is the question of to what extent it is permissible to cause harm to others in the course of such service.

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              • Actually macroevolution may become very important. Macroevolution includes studies of mass extinction and how surving species adapt.

                Given that we are currently in a large extinction period, this could become very important. Suppose X publishes a paper saying Y will happen if such and such species die because of global warming, because that is what we have seen in past extinction periods. And suppose Y will be catastrophic. Well, if 50% of people refuse to believe X because animals weren’t even evolving back then and there is no truth to “macroevolution” that could be a serious problem.

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          • It does matter. A lot. Either an education teaches the student to doubt productively, as in requiring evidence for beliefs, or it teaches nonsense as fact. Science doubts, evidence in hand. Dogma believes, with no evidence.

            All these YEC types want to turn our schools into madrassas, teaching dogma and not science. It’s a violation of the principle of the Separation Clause.

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          • Thanks, Brandon. You mentioned what I was going to, that opposition to evolution is typically opposition to macro-evolution with allowances for micro-evolution.

            I do want evolution taught in schools, and would vote on that basis, but a whole lot of very functional people – people in the medical profession, even – believe in creationism. It’s not the indicator of intelligence or competence that people make it out to be.

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            • Will,

              That’s pretty much where I stand. Speaking for myself, sometimes I actually kind of get a little chip-on-shoulder-y with the pro-teaching-evolution-in-school crowd because I detect sometimes a certain arrogance that annoys.

              Having said that, the arrogance I “detect” is probably at least as much a function of me looking for it than its actually being there. And I’m less bothered by the arrogance of a lot of believers in YEC. I can’t claim to be objective about this, although at the end of the day, I do support teaching evolution.

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              • Sort of where I stand as well.
                Except that I would say that much of my objections could easily be overcome in the teaching of the development of evolution theory, as opposed to merely stating, “This is where we are now;” in much the same manner that I learned of the four elements in chemistry class.

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                • I’m not sure I quite understand what you’re saying here. But yes, I think it is healthy to discuss the history of evolutionary theory and some of its starting assumptions, as long as such discussion doesn’t become a proxy for saying that “all views are equally valid” and therefore it could’ve all come about as the product of a creative designer.

                  Having said that, I’m not a teacher at the moment (and I’ve never taught elementary, middle, or high school), so I imagine doing that well in those circumstances would be very difficult.

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                  • Kind of hard to pinpoint, I’ll admit.
                    Maybe it’s something more along the lines of maintaining a healthy skepticism and a willingness to rethink things previously accepted are important elements to the development of science.
                    The theory of evolution has taken some interesting turns from the time of Darwin (and Lamarck). There are still a few gaps in there remaining to be discovered.
                    It comes out more interesting as history than a collection of facts anyway.

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            • A “whole lot” (I’m hoping it isn’t so many) of medical doctors believe in Obama trutherism, the JFK conspiracy, and that that vaccines are too dangerous.

              That’s hardly a defense of teaching dangerous (I’ll address Jaybird about how this is dangeorous above) unscientific idiocy. Yes, you can be a medical doctor and believe in stupidly unscientific stuff. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach you not to believe it.

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          • I’d be surprised if young earth creationists were any more likely to get the practical stuff wrong than non-creationists with comparable scientific education.

            Isn’t “comparable scientific education” doing a whole lot of work here? If were were actually comparing a two folks who got top-notch science educations, one of which had macro-evolution edited out, I don’t think there would be any consequences.

            But that’s not really what’s happening. Consider this creationist science test that’s recently gone viral. Now compare these two tests: the first two non-creationist results that showed up when I googled “fourth grade science test”.

            Ignore for a moment the fact that the creationist test is asking students to say that the earth is only thousands of years old and that man and dinosaurs co-existed and so forth. Instead, look at the quality of thinking demanded by each test. the questions asked by the other tests aren’t just different because they’re not asking students to believe creationist lies. They’re different because they demand that the students have a developed understanding of the concepts they cover.

            It’s not a choice between good science education that includes evolution and good science education that instead promotes creationism. It’s a choice between good science education that includes evolution and inferior science education that accepts sloppy thinking.

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          • “that doesn’t really have much practical applicability”

            That depends on a whole lot. The truth is we can’t know what will matter in the future. Who knew that the Michelson-amorley experiments would be so important. Who knew that the germ theory of diseases would be important. We should try to disseminate true belief precisely because we don’t know when if and how important it will be at some point.

            Widespread ignorance about even macro-evolution could cost us.

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            • Technological advances brought about by improvements to our stock of knowledge do not require ordinary people to have the correct beliefs to operate. About the only thing that seems relevant is the germ theory of disease as ordinary people need to know germ theory in order to wash their cuts and maintain other kinds of good hygiene standards. But that is one belief out of so many. The expected payoff of trying to know most of the relevant scientific facts is very low unless you happen to be curious about such stuff for its own sake or for the sake of one’s future career. And it seems rather costly in terms of time and cognitive resources to acquire the correct kinds of beliefs, especially those counterintuitive ones that require much study.

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              • Math class is tough, Murali. Biology too. The payoff, in these cases, is keeping our species going in this little aquarium we call Planet Earth.

                If you think education is costly, try sizing up the cost of ignorance.

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                  • Where to begin? The subject is vast. The failure to educate girls has led to much human suffering and overpopulation: educate a girl and she will have fewer children, have them later in life, educate those children and they will have fewer children. The best birth control device is a schoolbook in the hands of a girl.

                    The spread of AIDS and other sexually-communicated diseases through the lack of proper sexual education.

                    Water-borne diseases: lack of knowledge leads people to drink unboiled and therefore unsafe water. It’s the greatest killer of children.

                    The list is very long. I could write this list for days.

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        • “It it matters because YECs force themselves onto school boards, bake their non-facts into the curriculum, which they pervert with evolution and AGW denial.”

          my point isn’t about the political angle – that’s why it matters on that level. but why it matters that – regardless of whether someone “believes” in evolution or not, they don’t actually (generally) have the ability to explain it. you can grab any gang of yoekels at a downtown high end theatuuuuuurrrrr right before some dude goes off half cocked throwing cell phones hither and yon and ask them to explain the basics of evolution – i betcha a gazillion dollars that though most, if not all, would say they “believe” in evolution, maybe 1 out of 10 could actually explain it in a manner that would allow them to pass a nyc public high school quiz on the subject.

          they’d all be high earners, perhaps even social leaders in some cases. and it’s because the topic simply never will matter to their day to day lives in any real way.

          the “belief gap” is a political symptom, but the actual ignorance goes well beyond (and predates, ha ha ha) the rise of the young earth dingalings.

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          • i betcha a gazillion dollars that though most, if not all, would say they “believe” in evolution, maybe 1 out of 10 could actually explain it in a manner that would allow them to pass a nyc public high school quiz on the subject.

            Check out NaPP tomorrow.

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        • We’ve had this conversation before around here, with mostly the same participants saying mostly the same things. I agree with Jaybird that belief in creationism, young or old earth*, is pretty much harmless. Even the YECs these days believe in “microevolution,” they just don’t believe in speciation. Not coincidentally, many of the hardcore YECs I’ve known have had a much richer knowledge of the mechanisms of microevolution than many of the hardcore “pro-science” types I’ve known, because for the former, unlike many (which is not to say all) of the latter, this is not just a culture war issue. They actually care.

          That said, I think teaching evolution at the secondary level, in biology classes, is pretty important. There are two reasons for this importance: first, most if not all of the people who will go into fields in which understanding evolution is important (like medicine) will take high school biology courses. Second, evolution is so central to understanding modern biology that, without understanding it, all one will have is a bunch of largely disconnected facts, which, to the extent they are integrated, will be integrated through our deeply flawed (from a modern scientific perspective), teleological folk biology.

          I do think teaching evolution prior to secondary school biology courses can be beneficial, not because I think anyone who doesn’t take high school biology is really going to remember the details of how evolution works, but because it is one of the most straightforward and elegant examples of how facts on the ground lead to theory, and how that theory is then used not only to explain the facts on the ground that produced it, but other facts including those that weren’t even known at the time the theory was produced. I’m not sure it’s taught that way in elementary and middle school, though.

          *I always want to ask, “What about the dinosaurs?” (I actually did ask this the first time a friend of mine told me she was a YEC, in 10th or 11th grade. To this day, I am traumatized by her answer.) Hard core YECs have an answer (dinosaurs walked with man, basically), but most of these people have probably never thought about the two things at the same time. I have an odd feeling that a lot of these people who answer that they think God created the Earth at some point in the last 100,000 years would have no problem agreeing to the fact that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, because all of this knowledge is merely factual, and it’s not integrated into any kind of systematic representation of, well, any of it. I think Jaybird’s making a similar point with his bit about mnemonics.

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          • fwiw, i certainly agree that teaching biology in american high schools is important. my fixation is on the whys of certain beliefs people have. it is, unfortunately, a no-cost belief for americans to have as it doesn’t interfere in their daily lives, has signalling value to their social group, and is otherwise opaque to them. no one is going to turn down penicillin because of their beliefs in the origins of life, etc.

            american folk biology drags a lot of trunks around. some really really negative, like the anti-vaxxers, and some fairly benign/merely fashionable (juice cleanses, the general fixation on “toxins”, some segments of the high end gourmet/organic food market).

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    • “I always find it interesting that conservatives can so easily cast themselves in the brave and noble role of the skeptic and liberals as the silly, childish, optimists.

      New Dealer, I don’t think you actually read all of my post. If you had, you would have noticed this:

      “I have long argued that we need both extremes in our system of government and also in our daily lives. The two sides serve to check each the other and maintain a sort of centrism that is necessary for most organizations to function properly over the long term.”

      I see conservative skepticism and liberal optimism as the yin and yang of our political system and in no way did I suggest one was superior to the other. If anything I pointed out that the answer is often in the middle. Maybe this is a case of you making assumptions based on your own ideological preferences?

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      • I did read that part but I still think this “Burkean skepticism” is a great and noble lie that conservatives even those who think liberalism is necessary tell themselves because it still puts conservatives in the “adult” role.

        Liberals are still the “children” always rushing forward and conservatives get to think of themselves as applying proper breaks.

        I don’t see why I should be required to follow this analogy and see conservatives as being the real adults and allowing progress at the proper pace, etc.

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    • I’m with BlaiseP on this one: the ‘extremely complicated’ part is the details of modeling what results from increasing CO2 levels; not that CO2 levels increase.

      So you get results like scientists saying more/larger storms will happen as a result, but unwilling to say that any particular storm is a result. They speak of trend lines, not individual events. The problem here is not what scientist say, but the general publics dismal comprehension of statistics and scientific method.

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      • My understanding is that is has to do more with convergent trends; and to what extent effects may be attributed to which trend.
        I believe that, generally, the conclusions are flawed by that segment typically acknowledging such diversity of effect. I tend more toward the unalterable implying extremely urgent necessity, whereas that portion we may have some manner of influence as indicating merely urgency.

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      • I am also annoyed by the suggestion that scientists must NDTyson-ify their arguments before they’re accepted. We know who’s blaming scientists. It’s the Conservatives. We know who has zero integrity in this debate. It’s the Conservatives. When it comes to Fights and Science, I’d really appreciate it if a few Conservatives weren’t fighting against science. It’s been a constant trend through history.

        I’m tired of having to dumb down these arguments about lead toxicity. Spent ammunition remains the primary cause of lead toxicity in condors and other scavengers. The science was not misused. None was presented, at all, by these SoCal Bowhunters. Condors don’t get sick from eating lead paint. Unscientific jackasses, every last one of them. Now here’s some science, goddamnit.

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        • We also know that some of the most skeptical of scientists have pretty much reversed course and said, “Yes, the atmosphere is warming.”

          But they, like so many traditional conservatives economists, now wear the Cloak of Conservative Invisibility; like silly little monkeys, unseen, unheard, and unspeakable.

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            • Blaise, I don’t have a dog in this hunt (I don’t hunt animals) but I’m just examining the null hypothesis. Which is why I can’t find scholarly papers on the massive die-off of ravens. I /have/ found papers that talk about elevated blood lead levels during hunting season, but the same paper indicates that the levels go down when it isn’t hunting season. Apparently lead in the blood is not the proximate cause of death. In fact, when the ravens are fed a steady diet of (lead) bullet riddled carcasses their population tripled. Just sayin

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                    • George, see what Blaise says below to know what I’m talking about. Lead in the blood is important, but only after it’s in the stomach, and before it’s in bone and tissue. If you think it’s only staying in the body for two weeks (instead of years, even decades), then you’ll understand (whether you’re worried about it or not).

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                    • This is what passes for argument from Blaise. Against the policy of the website, merely make persona attacks. For instance Blaise accuses me of not citing sources, which I have done countless times and did again here. Stepped outside, there weren’t two moons. Now I also quoted a SCIENTIFIC STUDY that noted the population of ravens increased by a factor of three during the study period, all while they were ingesting lead. This has not been disputed, instead I am personally attacked and told I’m ignorant. I suppose bullying has worked for him in the past and he figures it will work in the present too. It gets a bit old and one would think /he’s/ a bit old to be engaging in such tactics.

                      Chris, it might interest you to know that science IS my thing. And no, I don’t consider psychology to be a science.

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                    • No you didn’t. Blood lead doesn’t last long because it’s being persisted in bones and neurons. But you’d know that if you understood how heavy metal toxicology worked. So I’ll just dumb this down for you, as Dwyer wants, and cite wiki on this one.

                      Elevated lead in the body can be detected by the presence of changes in blood cells visible with a microscope and dense lines in the bones of children seen on X-ray. However, the main tool for diagnosis is measurement of the blood lead level. When blood lead levels are recorded, the results indicate how much lead is circulating within the blood stream, not the amount being stored in the body.[2]

                      Now just stop it. You’re dead wrong.

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                    • Ward, if science is your thing, I would hate to hear you talk about things that aren’t.

                      Seriously, if you were a scientist (and you aren’t, as you’ve made clear on the subject of climate change), what sorts of questions might you ask if you found out that there was a bunch of evidence of lead poisoning from lead ammunition in condors, but saw the raven population growing at the same time? Would those questions end at the one you seem to be implying? Or might you ask about what differences between the habits and behavior, anatomy and physiology, habitats, diets, etc., of the two might result in differences in the effects of lead, and lead ammunition in particular, on the two species’ populations? If you’d done this, I might think science is your thing. But since, as you’ve tended to do (see, e.g., your linking to the article on the bad ev psych study the other day), ran with a facile, “confirms what I already believed” interpretation of (mostly media portrayals of) science, I’m going with science is not your thing.

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                    • Chris, I have made myself millions and for my corporations billions by looking into the edges where science has blinders and capitalized (literally) on those omissions with real inventions based on real science. Just because the herd goes in one direction doesn’t mean the herd is right, it just means it is a herd. You’re welcome to follow the herd, right off the cliff. If I march to my own drummer so be it.

                      I suspect I’ve been involved with writing far more patents than you, developing far more software and circuits than you could even dream of and semiconductor cores that are statistically guaranteed to be in whatever device you are using to access this website. But I’m an idiot in /your/ mind so obviously /your/ mind rules (in your mind). Meanwhile George is correct, those who have made their living in the /hard/ sciences tend to look askance at what passes for science elsewhere.

                      Charging off to find evidence that only bolsters your hypothesis while ignoring all else is not science. Perhaps condors are dying off because their habitat is shrinking, because they need to get drunk on a certain fermented mulberry before they can get ‘in the mood’ (they are hideously ugly after all). Or they are accumulating lead in their systems until it kills them. My null hypothesis statement was simply whether OTHER factors had an impact. It is intuitively obvious (for those who still know how to follow their intuition and haven’t prevaricated theirs into submission) that as scavengers having /more/ offal to scavenge would be a net plus. Vultures in India were dying because of a certain antibiotic fed to sick cattle, no lead needed. I’m not even saying here that lead bullets for hunting are GOOD, I’m just saying open your damn eyes before you jump to conclusions that may be false or simply may be limited. The population of ravens TRIPLED, obviously because they benefited from greater food supplies, granted them by hunters. Eliminate the hunters and you’ve eliminated the food.

                      We could talk about spotted owls, and their demise, not caused by habitat destruction but predation from other owls. The worst thing about spotted owls is they don’t defend their nests. All you Darwinists should understand the problems with /that/.

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                    • Ward, the reason I know you’re full of it is that you haven’t even looked for the evidence. If you made millions this way, well, I need to get into the business world.

                      (And for the record, I have no patents, nor have I created any circuits. Hell, I get frustrated writing Matlab code.)

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                    • Haha. Don’t pat yerself on the back so sternly, Ward, yez likely to twist your shoulder out of joint there. It’s unseemly to be so affectionate with one’s own self in public and it’s illegal in some places if it’s taken too far.

                      George: You pulled out one tiny extract from an otherwise-respectable paper about lead poisoning in terrestrial animals and attempted to pass it off as a statement about a two week half-life in birds. Allow me to finish up that quote for you, just so everyone can get a grip on how slenderly cited your quotation actually was:

                      whereas liver and kidney tissues generally retain elevated lead concentrations for weeks to several months following absorption. Once deposited in bone, lead is far less mobile, and bone lead concentrations tend to remain elevated for months to years, reflecting lifetime exposure (Pain 1996). Several authors have suggested guidelines to help interpret tissue lead concentrations in different avian taxa (Franson 1996, Pain 1996, Table 2). Differences in sensitivity exist both among and within taxa (e.g., Table 2, Carpenter et al. 2003), and other factors, such as the duration and level of exposure, may influence the tissue lead concentrations at which effects are observed. There is no simple way of relating tissue lead concentrations to effect. However, the general conclusions on tissue lead levels associated with sub-lethal poisoning, toxicity, and death from lead poisoning that have been drawn from the vast field and experimental data reported in the published literature are useful guidelines.

                      In short, George, you got caught out. Do you have any response to what I’ve pointed out? Care to retract that porkie wherein you would tell us lead half-life in a birds is about two weeks?

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                    • Chris, what evidence haven’t I looked for? Evidence related to my work or evidence related to YOUR work? MY work I’m /very/ interested in and no evidence passes by me. Other work, I’m far less interested in and am mostly concerned with methodology (or lack thereof) before I place too much credence in it. I’ve pointed out elsewhere the methodology issues with AGW and George has pointed out similar points below. IF climate science were my thing I could come up with dozens of rigorous /experiments/ to validate or invalidate contentions made. AGW “scientists” are universally disinterested in experiments preferring instead to base /all/ their conclusions on simulations (flawed) and reaching hyperbolic conclusions (e.g. everything Hansen has ever said .

                      Now as to climate science, back when I naively believed it WAS science I wasted many hours trying to have a dialog with the scientists involved. What began as open minded questions quickly eroded into acrimonious debate for the kind of sniffing dismissiveness discussed right here in this OP. Giving up on sites like Realclimate I looked for open minded scientists in places like Physorg. Therein we had numerous scintillating discussions until someone (not a scientist) ended up in a position of authority on the site and deleted entire thread discussions at will, and ultimately outlawed /any/ discussion of climate whatsoever. This is called science by censorship I think. Blaise would be aghast, if Blaise were an honest agent and not just an ideologue with his own axe to grind.

                      Funniest discussion on Physorg went something like the following (heavily paraphrased):
                      Scientist 1: Now you all had better just listen to me, I have a Phd!
                      commenters 2-20: I have a Phd too!

                      In fact every single commenter was a Phd, all in physical sciences. But debate cannot be allowed, which is why Hansen (to pick on just one) has literally run away when confronted by a Phd wielding skeptic. Burning at the stake indeed.

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          • Well, I’m not particularly upset by the lead ammunition ban because lead doesn’t make very good ammunition. It’s barely more dense than copper and everyone would be much better off with a variety of armor-piercing using copper-jacketed brass, tungsten, uranium, or bullets with optimized, engineering expansion based on jacketed bismuth (I love bismuth ammo) or ultra-low melting point alloys that go liquid on impact, which are quite inexpensive. We keep using lead because it’s cheap and it works, but at some point firearms need to improve their precision and lethality, and the lead ban is as good an excuse as any.

            We also need to move toward more efficient, higher velocity propellants, but gun cotton is likewise very cheap and simple and to make and thus hard to supplant. Hybrid propellants based on plastic-encapsulated oxidizers might fit the bill.

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        • Blaise – this is a lot to unpack and I hate fisking, but let me try to be thorough…

          “I am also annoyed by the suggestion that scientists must NDTyson-ify their arguments before they’re accepted.”

          I didn’t suggest that. What I suggested is that scientists need more spokepeople who can talk to non-scientists. It’s a very liberal attitude to say, “We shouldn’t have to water down our ideas and discourse for you,” but that is incredibly short-sighted. When I was an archaeologist we watered down science every single day for visitors to our site. My mentor was a master of this and as a result he secured public support AND a great deal of funding. That is what more scientists need to be willing to do. They also need to fight for their discipline by keeping politicians from bastardizing their research.

          “We know who has zero integrity in this debate. It’s the Conservatives.”

          I disagree. Misusing science for political purpose has been a problem with the Left. I call that a lack of integrity as well.

          “Spent ammunition remains the primary cause of lead toxicity in condors and other scavengers. The science was not misused. None was presented, at all, by these SoCal Bowhunters. Condors don’t get sick from eating lead paint.”

          Did you actually watch the video? There has been a ban on lead ammunition in the condor’s home range for some time now and lead levels haven’t changed at all. They have video of condors eating lead paint. There are mining operations in their area. And if this is the problem why aren’t we seeing the same problem in scavenger populations in other parts of the country?

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          • There are more scientific studies of the effects of led on condor populations. The consensus is pretty clear. The conclusions in the video are wrong (and tendentious — which is, ultimately, where all anti-science comes from).

            That said, I think the “left,” by which I mean liberals and progressives (really the center, but that’s another conversation) has done itself no favors on the subject of science. They’ve used it as a cudgel, and while there are some very good and honest people at the front of the battles between science and creationism (particularly Intelligent Design creationism), it has spawned a whole culture of counterproductive “pro-science” zealots, particularly in the form of the “New Atheists,” who’ve spent as much time insulting the people whose children they want to educate as they’ve spent actually advocating for science, and confirming many of the things that make them suspicious of or even hostile to science (like conflating science with atheism). They’ve done as much to create the problem as it is today as they have to fix it.

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            • +1 on this comment. On my Facebook feed, “I Fishing Love Science” should almost be named “I Fishing Hate Religion.” The overlap between people who repost IFLS and people who go out of their way to mock religion is not 100%, but it’s not too far from it.

              As an aside, I’m not sure what it says about me that I have far, far more Facebook friends evangelizing anti-religion than religion, despite being from the south and despite having a Republican/conservative skew of my Facebook friend population. Or maybe I don’t have a skew anymore. I just remember at one point there was an app-quiz that showed a 57%/43% split (among those who list it, anyway). Maybe that’s changed, though.

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            • Add another plus 1 from me. The “brights” or “new atheists” or whatever the anti religious zealots are calling themselves now, are causing more harm than good.

              I’ve read a lot of Dawkins’ rants and am always struck by how unscientific his attack on religion and faith is. It seems like he thinks good is a subspecies of truth rather than the other way around.

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              • I used to blog about the psychology of religion, and would get comments from the Myers and Dawkins crowd to the effect that we didn’t need to study religious psychology, because we already know that religion is just a delusion.

                If this is what being pro-science means, then I want nothing to do with it.

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                • Religious dogma has always been an enemy of science and really does belong in the Abnormal Psych domain. Religion is a fine thing, I consider myself a religious person, after my own fashion. It fulfils a need in my life.

                  But I don’t let my religious beliefs interfere with my cognitive and reasoning abilities. The longer I live, the less useful religion has become in my life. It’s one of those semi-useful appendages, like the appendix, which only seems to attract attention when it’s inflamed.

                  Which isn’t to say Militant Atheism isn’t a problem: it is. But where it has become a problem, it’s always been accompanied by some Great Leader, a sort of incarnate god, Stalin, Mao, the Kim-du-Jour in North Korea. They all observe the First Commandment, “I am the Lord thy God who led you out of bondage in [insert previous regime here]. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” — only written with themselves in mind.

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                • If this is what being pro-science means, then I want nothing to do with it.

                  But the Myers people aren’t being pro-science when they make that argument. They’re making that argument because they’re pro-science and they believe (perhaps incorrectly) that empirical evidence supports the conclusion that there is no Old Man in the Sky. Or that a cracker is the body of Christ.

                  From their pov, the question of whether religious beliefs of a certain type are based on a delusion (or confusion, or contusion) is already settled. But that doesn’t mean that they reject a study of the psychology of religious beliefs. From their pov the correct account of religious beliefs will be broadly psychological in nature. I don’t know why they’d reject that as a legitimate area of scientific study. I don’t think they have.

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                    • Chris, can you link to any of those discussions? I’m a bit confused about what they were arguing. I mean, an inquiry into the psychology of religion doesn’t strike me as anything a pro-science person would – or could – be opposed to. Unless they thought the arguments beings advanced were offered as some sort of justification for religious beliefs.

                      Were they confused? Were they just assholes? It doesn’t make any sense to me…

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                    • Still, I can’t find anything with a quick google search, but some of the old posts that were with Seed and are now with National Geographic can be hard for me to locate (I don’t have access to them from any back end anymore). I’ll look some more later (reading some of my old comment sections gives me the willies, I must admit).

                      I don’t understand the mindset, either, but the justification provided was pretty simple, as I gave it above. Studying religion was a waste of time, because it’s just delusion or false ideas (maybe something about fear of the unknown or the afterlife or something).

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          • And the PNAS paper itself says that some condors definitely got their lead exposure from eating lead paint.

            The PNAS paper has a great many shortcomings. It didn’t bother to map the natural environmental lead concentrations throughout California, much less in the condor’s range. It then didn’t dig down to get samples of the greatly varying lead isotope ratios in these various regions. California is a massive rift zone (it has massive amounts of uranium, gold, thorium, etc), and the isotope ratios in different areas will be wildly different. The PNAS paper pretended there was only one normal isotope ratio for the whole state.

            It also only included one isotope ratio, for Pb206/207. Other lead-sourcing papers always include the Pb204/206 ratio and the Pb206/208 ratio. Lead comes in plain (Pb204) and three transuranic breakdown products (206, 207, and 208) which are like red, green, and blue mixed in with “white”, which would be Pb204. The PNAS paper tried to establish definitive sourcing using only the red/green ratio. So, natural isotope ratios of California lead will vary wildly, depending on the source deposits. Isotope ratios of ammunition and paint also vary widely, since different manufactures use different sources of lead. One simple isotope ratio is sufficient to rule out a source, but not to rule one in.

            No attempt was made to measure the isotope ratios on various wildlife and farm animals that the condors would be feeding on, nor mapping how those vary and to what extent the ratios differ from the geologic ratios in the area. For better data, gathered in concert with ammunition companies, they should work at introducing shot and ammunition with a more distinctive isotope ratio, along with the possible inclusion of other heavy-metal trace elements. For example, if Remington and Winchester introduced a special California shot highly enriched in lead-208 (by selecting the source mines), and if the shot is what’s contributing to lead levels in condors, then the condor blood levels would show a jump in the lead 208 ratio, while all other environmental source ratios would’ve remain unchanged.

            The PNAS paper isn’t necessarily bad, and it may not be wrong, but it certainly isn’t the pinnacle of robust scientific investigations. It’s more like a good high-school science project where the kids had access to fancy equipment and a little bit of knowledge.

            Also, they took over a thousand blood samples from 150 condors. That’s probably really irritating to the birds. Who can think about breeding when there’s always a weird guy with a needle hanging around?

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          • I’m with the other Mike on the need to be able to explain things to non-specialists. It is pointless and counter-productive to say at the same time “We need political decisions to be made on a scientific basis” and “presenting science in a way that people who aren’t scientists can understand it is beneath our dignity”.

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            • Should the scientific community explain concepts in such a way that non-scientists can understand? Yes.

              Is it the job of the scientific community to compensate for willful or neglectful ignorance of scientific principles on the part of the public? No.

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                  • I think that scientists should realize that not everybody is coming from their background and needs to understand things at a different level than they do. Its like the Four Sons from the Seder, the answer that works for the wise son is that the same as the one that would work for the other sons like the simple son. Too many scientists want everybody to be a wise son, so they do not have to think of ways to explain things in simpler language or terms.

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                    • That simply won’t fly. What does the Wicked Son ask? He asks “What does this service mean to you?” That’s the problem here, Lee. The Wise Son asks a very different question, “What has HaShem commanded you to do?”

                      The Wicked Son knows what’s happening. He knows what the Seder is. He stands in isolation from it, refusing to see the Seder for what it is, not about an individual going through the motions, but about a communal remembrance.

                      And that’s where the problem begins, Lee. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. What’s the rebuke to the Wicked Son? “HaShem has intervened on my behalf when I left Eygpt”

                      We’re all leaving Egypt. And no sooner do we leave, than we’re out there in the desert, pining for the onions of Egypt, recalcitrant, disobedient, worshipping some Egel Ha’zahav. And being punished for it.

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          • No, there hasn’t been a ban on lead shot in California. That’s simply not true. They are considering a ban on lead in ammunition. Get your damned facts straight.

            In plain talk, don’t be Makin’ Shit Up. And don’t be dragging your unscientific little hunting buddies’ videos in here. The troublesome part of talking to Conservatives about science is exactly this problem: you were 100% wrong on the issue of lead ammunition in California. Constantly having to turn around and say “You’re Makin’ Shit Up.” is tiresome. And it can’t be any fun for you, either.

            Lead toxicity will be a continuing problem. It’s leaching into the water supply. It’s appearing in the grass. It stacks up in the food chain, as one lead-poisoned animal predates or scavenges on another.

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              • I’ve already made it abundantly clear why I’m so angry about this post, Mike. None of this seems to resonate with you. The fact remains, lead ammunition is poisoning condors and many other predators. The fact remains, AGW is an undeniable problem. Clearly the “condor home range” is just a little larger than the present ban — or the problem wouldn’t still be with us.

                And you want Liberals to quit trying to stop these ongoing disasters and dumb this shit down for Conservatives? That’s how you ended this disastrous post. Calling this issue some little Pet Legislation grazing happily down at the Liberal Sacred Cow Ranch? You’re way out of line, buddy.

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                • Let’s just talk logic here Blaise: How many dead animals are laying around their range with bullets in them? And beyond that, I will ask again, why isn’t this a problem in the other 49 states?

                  Also, you are far too quick to dismiss the realties of already having a partial ban in place. There should have been at least a small decline in lead toxicity with 99% compliance. If they still have high levels of lead, then it’s something else.

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                  • No. Here I’m going to rub your nose in it and ask you how many condors remain in the world today and how many are we losing to lead poisoning? And I have already pointed out lead poisoning is a problem in Minnesota in the bald eagle population and seems to be the case everywhere. More ignorant, begged questions — which I’ve already refuted.

                    This is why talking to Conservatives is pointless, Mike. Conservatives aren’t amenable to facts. It’s got to be presented as some metaphysical Right ‘n Wrong Issue with you. Science doesn’t matter to you guys.

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                    • This is why talking to Conservatives is pointless, Mike. Conservatives aren’t amenable to facts. It’s got to be presented as some metaphysical Right ‘n Wrong Issue with you. Science doesn’t matter to you guys.

                      Blaise, I’m really getting tired of your attitude. Mike doesn’t deserve the beating he is getting from you. So, you have different opinions. That doesn’t make Mike evil.

                      You might think you are being brave for attacking conservatives in the way you do, but I think you’re acting rather small and petty. Can’t we disagree on something without being so mean?

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                    • It would be awful if it weren’t true. Do you think there’s any reason to believe Liberals are all about using science as a private tool, or that we’re all about Pet Legislation? Is that the point you’re trying to defend here, Dennis?

                      It’s a sovereign fact: Conservatives are about Right and Wrong. They’re not amenable to provisional truth based on what evidence is at hand. It’s a liberal conceit, to think government ought to act on the basis of what we know about the danger of lead ingestion.

                      As for what you may think of my attitude, I really do not give a shit. I will have some condescending twaddle foisted off on me, wherein the Friends from the Left are to stop considering scientific evidence part of their private toolkit for getting pet legislation passed. That’s patently offensive.

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                  • Mike, read the papers I linked to somewhere a little above this subthread. The problem does exist in other states. Those studies are in Arizona (with data from California and Utah as well). And the pellets and fragments are in the condors’ stomachs, so it’s not like we don’t know they’re getting lead from ammunition. We know it for a fact.

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                  • “There should have been at least a small decline in lead toxicity with 99% compliance.”

                    The scientists I cited in my link on this page are aware of this data and have rejected your conclusions, for a wide variety of reasons.

                    One simple reason:

                    “Finkelstein also thinks that the measures don’t go far enough. The problem is that condors are long-lived birds that come across a lot of carrion. Even if only 1 in every 200 carcasses contains lead, the condors would be virtually guaranteed to feed off a contaminated body in a given decade.”

                    http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2012/06/25/californian-condor-not-extinct-yet-but-still-regularly-poisoned-by-lead/

                    Why do you think the esteemed scientists I cited continue to believe as they do, when you easily saw how they were wrong? Are they lying? Stupid? Biased?

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                  • There should have been at least a small decline in lead toxicity with 99% compliance. If they still have high levels of lead, then it’s something else.

                    This is an error, Mike. It assumes a very inelastic relationship between the environmental factor you’re trying to control and the result of that factor’s influence on the target population.

                    There are lots of reasons why you could change an input and not see a result for some time. Depending upon the mechanisms involved, it could take generational switch. Then again, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know enough about the issues in this particular problem space to say anything definitive myself.

                    I’m not up on lead shot, nor condors, and I’m not going to go read a bunch of stuff on it because (at the moment) I ain’t got the time. But simple explanations and simple relations usually don’t express themselves readily in complex systems.

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    • Blaise – the impact of CO2 and global warming is NOT undeniable as the latest data shows. If scientists are disagreeing about what this leveling effect means, then there isn’t consensus.

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      • Jeff Masters has a nice summary chart from a recently published study of the literature. The consensus in the peer-reviewed literature is overwhelming that global warming is happening and human activities are making a large contribution. One result from the study is summed up nicely by this:

        In an interesting result, Cook and his team found that over time, scientists tend to express a position on climate change less and less in their research papers. This is likely a result of consensus — that if a scientific conclusion has been reached, there’s no need to continue to state that conclusion in new research. “Scientists tend to take the consensus for granted,” says Cook, “perhaps not realizing that the public still think it’s a 50:50 debate.”

        As Blaise says, somewhat rudely, any lack of consensus is over whether the results will be merely bad, or catastrophic.

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        • Michael, I respect you, so how do you square Masters’ conclusion with this rebuttal? The money line is here:
          Here’s the genesis of the lie. When you take a result of 32.6% of all papers that accept AGW, ignoring the 66% that don’t, and twist that into 97%, excluding any mention of that original value in your media reports, there’s nothing else to call it – a lie of presidential proportions.

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          • Yeah, it’s more complicated than my original statement, and more complicated than the rebuttal as well. A more correct statement would be, of papers that take a position, 97% accept AGW and 3% reject. The question is what to do about the approximately two-thirds of the papers in the sample that were deemed as “took no position on AGW in the abstract.”

            Over time, the number of papers in the “accept AGW” and “take no position” have increased steadily while the number of “reject AGW” papers has remained roughly constant. The number of “take no position” papers has increased more rapidly than the “accept AGW” papers, sharply so since about 2005. The authors in the Cook paper interpret this as indicating a settled consensus — that authors of papers on climate change no longer put positive “this paper accepts AGW” statements in the abstract because they believe that’s the consensus position in the field. The rebuttal disagrees, taking the position that unless the authors make that explicit statement, then they haven’t made up their mind.

            Anecdotes are not data, but… My interest in climate change has a fairly narrow geographic focus. The most recent paper I’ve read in detail regards the North American Monsoon and is still in pre-publication form. I suspect that it would fall into Cook’s category of “take no position”, depending on the exact classification scheme. Certainly the AGW phrase doesn’t appear in the abstract, although “increased greenhouse gas forcing” does. Nevertheless, the paper takes AGW as a given, and is an effort to make finer-grained predictions about how the monsoon will change as a consequence. I admit that there are two possibilities here: (1) the authors of the monsoon paper believe in AGW and are trying to refine our understanding of the consequences, or (2) the authors haven’t made up their mind but think that unless they behave as if they believe they can’t get published.

            Having wondered off topic, let me just say that I reject (2), and agree with Cook’s hypothesis. That is, the reason that the number of papers that don’t make a positive statement about accepting AGW is up is because there’s a broad consensus on the matter, that it’s reasonable to assume your readers accept AGW, and that we’re increasingly working on the details of the consequences.

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    • I love you folks, so assured in your understanding of the complexity of the climate.

      Climate models are nowhere near capable of modeling the complexity of our climate. Too many energy sources & sinks to account for, too many we don’t fully understand, or even possibly know about. Modeling a nuclear explosion is easier.

      The impact of CO2 or CH4 is only understood in the sense that if concentrations go up & NOTHING else changes, more heat will be retained by the system. Too bad the climate is not a simple closed system.

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        • For me? Simple – a climate model that can actually predict something with a fair amount of accuracy.

          To date, climate modeling is a game of catch-up & fix. Any given climate model is run, makes a prediction of the climate for a specified time frame, and when the prediction begins to fail a few years later, the scientists rush in to fix the model to account for new data. BTW This is not a bad thing! This is the way the modeling of poorly understood complex systems work, and if we keep plugging away at it, eventually we will get a set of climate models that deliver beautifully accurate results out to 50 years.

          And with computer processing power getting cheaper & cheaper, this whole process is happening faster & faster. We will get there, and probably pretty soon.

          However, when it comes to CFD (& climate modeling is one massive CFD & Statistical problem), we still have a ways to go. This link shows a picture from a massive CFD simulation that is modeling turbulent flow in a small pipe. It’s using 750K+ processors to do it. The resulting data will help to validate turbulence models so we can accurately simulate a similar system using a coarser mesh. But understand, this is a small section of pipe, & we’ve understood pipe flow for centuries.

          We do something very similar with climate models – we use models based upon physics & statistical methods to attempt to describe how the climate works. Believe it or not, for the macro climate model, you can pretty much use a smooth sphere to represent earth, and another smooth sphere to represent the atmosphere (for the scale in question, mountain ranges barely count as surface roughness that needs to be modeled in detail – it’s accounted for, just not as part of the geometry).

          The complexity comes from the fact that you have variable energy coming in from space (primarily via the sun, but also from deep space), you have energy reflected back into space from clouds, atmospheric pollution, & snow pack (which are tricky to estimate & constantly in flux), you have energy being stored in the ground & in the ocean, energy being released from the ground & the ocean, energy being stored & released from cities, etc. We have imperfect knowledge of how much is stored & released, and when, & where, & all of that is very important & changing every year. Add in chaotic events, like volcanic eruptions, or Odin-forbid & methane burp from the ocean, and the current model has to be re-run with new data.

          The complexity of the problem is massive on a scale that most people can not even comprehend, & right now, the state of Fluids modeling still sometimes has trouble accurately modeling simple systems we’ve understood well for decades.

          And understand, I don’t blame climate scientists who write papers that state that given certain inputs, their climate models predict X, Y, & Z. That’s just science. That’s how it works. I get annoyed when pundits & politicians use that prediction to push policy changes without understanding the caveats & shortcomings of the model. I get infuriated with other scientists who do know the caveats, & who should understand the shortcomings, but who sell the results as proof. Those folks would be like medical researchers who take the results of the latest cancer treatment methodology that looks promising in mice & sell it as a cure for cancer, without explaining that it so far only works in mice, & only against certain types of cancer, and only has a 60% success rate in mice, against the given cancers.

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          • Have you looked at the new data we’re getting? it’s always WORSE than the models. We’re being too fucking optimistic.

            Put your money where your mouth is, if you’re that fucking stupid. Go buy some land in Florida. Bets on how many years before it can’t be insured?

            Hell, have a fucking baby.

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          • MRS,

            I’ll cop to not knowing the science well enough to really respond to the content of your post. But what I will say is the fact that you have a thoughtful response tells me you are someone worth engaging on the matter. You’re answer is not, “There is no convincing me.” Which is a poor tack to take no matter what side the individual is on.

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          • However, when it comes to CFD (& climate modeling is one massive CFD & Statistical problem), we still have a ways to go.

            This is a completely valid point, and one which leaves me frustrated. My personal interest in climate modeling is the North American Monsoon — how it changes will have significant effects on how climate changes in the US Southwest. More or less rain? Change in location or timing? More daytime cloud cover (cools things) and/or more nighttime cloud cover (warms things)? But where/when the monsoon forms clouds and drops rain depends on factors that are far below the scale of the current climate models. In extreme cases, instability caused by specific wind directions at specific altitudes and the interaction with individual mountains.

            The summer of 2011 is a good example of why the monsoon matters. In 2011, the standard summer Great Plains high set up in a somewhat non-typical location. As a consequence, Texas got a crushing drought. In its location that year, the high routed the monsoon moisture straight across Colorado. Water use in some cities along the Front Range was down 50% from average. At my house, it rained every day from about July 2 to July 16 — an unheard of run of consecutive days with rain.

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            • High plains aquifer is dry in places (and running out pretty much everywhere).
              I’m not sure the Monsoon can fix structural issues.
              Brace for impact. ;-)

              I know a climatologist (eh, he writes models), and he wouldn’t advise anyone to live in the American Southwest going forward. Too risky.

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      • This is why I never listen to the forecast for tomorrow.

        Nor do I believe that next summer will be hotter than next winter.

        Etc.

        You can’t read the climate and discern predictable patterns with any degree of certainty. Impossible.

        Jebus help us.

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  3. Part of the problem is that there is a dialectic going on with the science as well. Because Science! has demonstrated Phenomenon X, therefore we should act this particular way.

    If there were such a prescription due to the number of planets, we’d see arguments about the True State Of Pluto with the same vehemence as we see with Global Warming or Evolution.

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    • I think it’s more the idea that to react appropriately to Phenomenon X is going to get a bit spendy.
      That whole thing about not adding urine as an ingredient to toothpaste seemed to blow over pretty well.

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    • You keep bring that up as if were about anything other than the definition of a particular word. Pluto didn’t go anywhere. Telescopes aimed at it didn’t start to see only stars. Spacecraft sent to examine it didn’t suddenly lack a destination.

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      • And yet, children were taught “there are 9 planets” and made to memorize silly mnemonics about pizza. Now children probably memorize silly mnemonics about noodles.

        A huge amount of science is taught as if it’s little more than a collection of trivia to be memorized. Making sure that children parrot the proper mnemonics when asked is all well and good, of course… but when there is a political and social dynamic behind choosing this mnemonic over that one, it isn’t obvious to me that any given mnemonic is better than any other if the method isn’t explored and if we’re talking about something that will have as little impact upon anyone’s day to day life as into what category the people in white coats put that particular ball of ice and rock.

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        • And building models of the Solar System out of marbles and string, which is not only fun, but gives a model for how it works and an idea what’s going on when people talk about things like manned expeditions to Mars. (“Geez, that’s a lot farther than the Moon is, especially when it’s on the other side of the Sun!”), or detecting planets of other stars (“Are they rocky ones like the Earth, or gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn?”). I don’t see why it’s so important that kids nowadays don’t need that little marble way out at the end.

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          • I don’t see why it’s so important that kids nowadays don’t need that little marble way out at the end.

            I’m not arguing that it’s important that they have that marble or not.

            I’m saying that it doesn’t matter because the way that science is taught is to master trivia rather than The Method.

            And why do I say that? Because when Pluto was recategorized, there was a hue and cry, and people complained. Over Pluto! Their outcry was not related to science but to their relationship to the silly mnemonics and that silly marble.

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            • That makes no sense. Even my kids, all those years ago, were taught that Pluto was a problem planet, long before the huffin’ and puffin’ about removing it as a planet.

              My son had to do a presentation on the planets. So I went out and got a roll of plain calculator tape. We put the planets on that tape at their proper size relative distance from the sun. There were the inner four, all bunched up together, barely visible, with arrows pointed at them so people could see where they were. Even the gas giants weren’t very large.

              And waaaay out there at the end was Pluto, which crosses the orbit of Neptune.

              That tape went the length of the classroom.

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            • I always saw the Pluto debate not between people who wanted 8 planets versus 9, but between those who wanted 8 planets versus 10, or 12, or 20. It was never really a question of “does Pluto belong in this category?” But instead “Should we consider this whole category of trans-Neptunian objects to be planets?”

              But then again, I’m someone who learned in school that Pluto had a different orbit than the others (and, during the period I was studying the planets, was closer to the sun than Neptune). Who learned its name (and the name of its largest ‘moon’), without the aid of a mnemonic, Pizza or otherwise. Who was excited (as were my classmates) about the possibility of Planet X.

              So maybe while for me the Pluto debate was just as much about Planet X (and Planet XI and Planet XII and so forth), for everyone else it was about making sure some nine-word sentence they learned in elementary school didn’t have to be re-written into an eight-word sentence. I sure hope that wasn’t the case.

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            • When I was in grade school, we learned that Woodrow Wilson was heroic, because he kept us out of WWI as long as he could, and the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations would have made the world a better place. I understand now that he was an awful racist and a terrible, dictatorial president, but there’s still a little tug when I see him criticized, because it goes against things I used to believe. Pluto’s the same thing. People don’t like change.

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  4. If the term “skepticism” is broad enough to encompass “reflexively doubts any ideas or evidence that engenders psychological discomfort”, then we need a new word.

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    • Agreed.

      “Skeptic” and “Skepticism” have become distorted and propagandized by the right as a way of avoiding truths especially ones that “engenders psychological discomfort” as you phrase it.

      Someone calling themselves a skeptic nowadays is nothing more than cognitive dissonance in action.

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    • Does anyone here read “The Skeptical Enquirer”? It was a magazine that debunked scientific hoaxes, frauds, and charlatans. Sometimes the Amazing Randi would contribute. Spoon benders, ESP, perpetual motion, and all sorts of other nonsense were addressed, and its maxim was “Scientists are easier to fool than children,” which is quite true.

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      • Oh yes. I forgot that he was probably the main force behind it. I really miss his columns, but then like many people I really miss the old Scientific American that was focused on science instead of forming consensus and swaying public opinion. I liked Martin Gardners’ replacement, too, and used to correspond with him by e-mail sometimes. He really liked my idea for improving a field mill, which is a device that measures the Earth’s electric field (in volts per vertical meter).

        A field works by having two metal dishes with slots on an axis, one rotating at high speed to shield and unshield a highly insulated metal plate (held with Teflon), causing a tiny flow of charge in reaction to the way the plate is alternately dipping in and out of the Earth’s field. It’s just a way to make Faraday cage (the electrical “cone of silence!”) that turns on and off at high speed. They’re commonly used on golf courses to warn about conditions that could produce lightning strikes, since they measure increases in the volts per meter, warning of conditions where the charge between the clouds and the ground might reach the air’s breakdown voltage.

        My idea was to note that cadmium sulfide is an example of a material whose conductivity is light sensitive. It’s commonly used as a photocell (available at Radio Shack), and is a great conductor when brightly illuminated and an insulator when it’s in the dark (and in between in moderate light). In theory the sensor plate in the field mill could be shielded instead by a single layer of cadmium sulfide which is illuminated by a flashing, high-frequency LED, so that it transitions rapidly from insulating to conducting, thus opening and closing the Faraday cage in response to light, eliminating all the high-speed moving parts on a conventional field mill.

        Anyway, a few months after the field mill discussion the amateur scientist column was gone in an editorial revamp.

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  5. Not sure if wewant to have the “lead bullet poisoning” debate here.

    Some points on that debate.

    The video cited above has a presentation by two scientists. One is Don Saba. A quick note about Saba: he is an NRA board member. This isn’t an ad hominem, but when the question is what do a consensus of scientists believe, you need to eliminate the scientists who have strong reasons to be biased. So, when we are looking at whether there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer, we should eliminate people who work for the cigarette companies or organizations that take large donations from such companies.

    The other scientist is Erik Randich, who is more reputable. (I do think he is a paid consultant, for what it is worth.) The video is badly editted, so I can’t quite figure out what Randich says. But I think the idea is that lead isotope analysis is often misleading and so we can’t be sure that the lead in condors’ blood comes from bullets instead of paint, brass knobs, whatever. Veterinary and biological experts suggest that since condors are carrion eaters, the most likely source of lead exposure (regardless of isotope analysis) is from eating animals that were shot and died but were not captured by the hunter who shot them.

    Randich may be creating some room for skepticism about the isotope analysis in particular, but there is a lot of evidence about lead bullets at the link below as a source of toxicity in birds and humans who eat food killed with lead bullets. The consensus (this paper is written after the Randich-Saba skepticism) of very esteemed scientists (without paid affiliations to the NRA or anti-hunting groups) seems to be squarely in favor of banning lead bullets from use in the wild as a source of poison in humans and animals.

    http://escholarship.org/uc/item/6dq3h64x#page-1

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    • This isn’t an ad hominem, but when the question is what do a consensus of scientists believe, you need to eliminate the scientists who have strong reasons to be biased.

      Thank you Shazbot for agreeing with me that the “consensus” of climate scientists can’t be trusted since they have strong reasons to be biased. After all, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair.

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      • By that definition, scientists would be least trustworthy in their own field of expertise.

        Which seems…odd, doesn’t it? Don’t ask a physicist about physics, don’t ask your GP about your cold, don’t ask your mechanic about your car….

        But DO trust your chiropractor’s advise about that weird sound your engine is making, ask your GP about quantum mechanics…

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        • Heh. Scientists don’t ask us to trust them. That’s the stupidest part of this entire post. Science invites, indeed demands contradiction — from the evidence. Look at how many times Steven Hawking has genially paid up on bets he’s lost when the evidence goes against his conjectures.

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        • Do not trust biologists who profess belief in evolution: most have been brainwashed, and the rest know that telling the truth about it would destroy their chances of an academic position. Instead, listen to the open-minded non-partisans at the Discovery Institute, who share neither bias.

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          • Auugh! ( clutches head, wanders about in pain) I feel a damned old Liberal Pet Legislation comin’ on. Worse than a migraine, these things. It must be a consequence of all that dabbling in that dangerous Liberal Toolbox called Science. Knowledge Poisoning.

            Maybe, like those condors, the knowledge poisoning will subside in a few weeks.

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        • Morat, you didn’t even read YOUR OWN WORDS! Naturally others followed your lead but the requisite part of the statement is the one about denying one’s self interest – or not as the case may be. Dr. Hansen is an excellent case in point. You’re more than willing to throw a scientist under the bus because he appears to be aligned with a special interest. When I threw YOUR OWN WORDS back at you, you went off in a totally idiotic direction, not even addressing YOUR OWN POINT. Sorry about the caps but I got the feeling you weren’t listening (to that voice in your own head).

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