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December 12, 2010

Comments

My observation of Sarewitz's article is that he takes it as a given that while both Republicans and Democrats are permanent and unchanging fixtures of the American landscape, "scientists" are not, and he finds that distressing. That the scientific community is unwilling to look inward and determine why there are so few Republican scientists is a threat to the legitimacy of science's authority.

I can't imagine anything so odd; if there's a question of legitimacy here, it ought to be the other way around. The Constitution makes explicit that one duty of the US Government is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" (Article I, section 8), but it says nothing about the maintenance of political parties.

That only 6% of scientists consider themselves Republican ought not to bring into question the legitimacy of science; it ought to bring into question the legitimacy of Republicans.

Doc,

Sarewitz's article is at Slate. You erroneously attribute it to Salon.

My memory of the 70s and 80s is that Republican Party was *not* particularly anti-evolution at the time.

That is not my recollection of events.

Elf:

Thanks for the catch about Salon/Slate -- they sit in the same bin in my mind, marked "mostly useless, begins with S".

Duff --

You may well be right, I was rather young for a lot of that period. Do you have anything or anyone specific in mind?

Stuff like this:

During a 1980 press conference, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was asked if he thought the theory of evolution should be taught in public schools. He answered that evolution is a

theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science and is not yet believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed. But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught (Science, 1980, p. 1214).

Asked if he personally accepted the theory of evolution, Reagan replied: "I have a great many questions about it. I think that recent discoveries down through the years have pointed up great flaws in it" (Science, 1980, p. 1214).

-link

IJWTS that it's nice to see Elf Sternberg's name on comments here, in my book, and I hope to see it in these parts again.

Eugenics isn't science, right?

As a conservative, and as one who respects science but doesn't 'do' science, one always has to ask whether or not science is on the side of morality. The difference in political philosophy, if it is not a moral matter, is only a kind of self-interested partisanship. So therefore if there is a disconnect between principled science and principled conservatism one should ask which is more value laden. My implication is simple, scientific discovery is amoral, political philosophy is not. If we are to be moral human beings first, then don't let the tail of science wag the dog of humanity.

And remember Cliff Stoll.

What I don't understand is why this so-called 'scientific community' manifests itself so often in athiest partisanship. As Duff so ably illustrates, there is not often any 'scientific' argument for public schools to teach theology. So I am routinely amazed that this simpleminded creationism vs evolution argument rules the day, a la 'the science is in' and further discussion is terminated. But to be against teaching theology in public schools is nothing more or less than anti-intellectual. If this is the hallmark of what passes for healthy debate among the Republican-less scientific community, I'm not sure we're missing much.

I grew up as a Progressive and I understand the affinity between the sentiments of scientific discovery and progressive politics. But that too is a bias that shouldn't remain unquestioned. How it is that the spin initiated by the Kerry campaign managed to distort the truth about what actually transpired in the realm of stem cell research is a perfect example of how these biases have ossified into what folks in the intelligence business call 'pretexting'. Now it is almost an axiom of faith that Republicans are 'anti-science', and the open source Left blogosphere employs a million eyeballs to find bugs in the conservative system. What's so astonishing is the shallow level of bugtracking that satisfies their 'curiosity', which is why you know what Sarah Palin said last week about North, oops I mean South Korea. And why minds like Christopher Hitchens is fact-checking numbskulls like Glenn Beck, all as proxies for dealing with actual intellectual equals, such as those associated with Stanford and Claremont.

In the end, it doesn't really matter how many Republicans are doing what science we need, just as it didn't matter how many Hungarians were doing the math at Alomogordo. Unless you are filming a reality show.

I'm fresh from watching Dan Nocera's presentation on artificial photosynthesis, and I watch, TED, SALT and Fora.tv all the time. I am amazed at how much self-congratulation passes for intelligence in many of the audiences for such material in contrast with the real science that Nocera has demonstrated. It only goes to show me how so much of this obiter dicta serves the purposes of political and social engineering rather than real engineering. I think Nocera put it nicely. How did all of those audiences forget economics? Why did money become the enemy of the Left?

"Eugenics isn't science, right?"

Uh, no, it's not. It's (particularly bad) social policy. Were you trying to imply something else?

"My implication is simple, scientific discovery is amoral, political philosophy is not. If we are to be moral human beings first, then don't let the tail of science wag the dog of humanity."

Science can't "wag" anything. Science is about facts and explanations of how the natural world works, not about what we should do with those facts.

It's not as if Republicans generally accept scientific conclusions and happen to draw different moral and political implications from them than liberals. Republicans, by and large, use the morality and political philosophy to dictate what scientific facts they accept.

Something is wagging something here, but it ain't what you think.

I personally have nothing against theology at school BUT NOT AS PART OF THE SCIENCE CURRICULUM. It's part of the humanities (and I assume we use 'science' as short for 'natural science* here). The only way I would allow it in science class would be as part of the historical background and in a neutral way. It's my personal opinion that historical excursions are undervalued in the teaching of science. Imo it makes science studies more interesting and also works as an antidote against hybris. The understanding what a scientific theory is and that incomplete does not (necessarily) mean false is one of the most needed and most neglected lessons. Being a chemist my prime example is the phlogiston theory. It got the facts as we know them now almost exactly 180° in reverse (in a 'change all + to - and vice versa' way). On that 'false' theoretical basis some of the greatest chemical scientists in history laid the basis for chemistry as a science.
Even creationism once had its value (Darwin owed much to William Paley and made no secret of it).
Where the problem is today is that the demonstrably incorrect 'theories' pushed esp from the Right do not spur actual research anymore but are designed (pun intended) to http://www.nonstick.com/sounds/Yosemite_Sam/ltys_076.mp3>quash it.

I suspect that there may be a problem in identifying "scientists" and "AAAS members." It could well be the case, for example, that Republican scientists are simply less likely to join a group like AAAS. I note for example that the AAAS membership page describes reasons to join that are decidedly more likely to be attractive to traditional liberals than to conservatives (increase diversity, use science to advance human rights). So that would simply indicate that a structurally liberal organization tends to find liberals over-represeted.

Or it could be that AAAS's definition of "scientist" is different from mine. I have been unable to see who is eligible to join. Do you need a PhD? Need you be working in Academia? Must you be in one of the "hard" sciences? Or do social sciences count? All of these are essential to know in assessing this claim that scientists are overwhelmingly Democrats.

As Duff so ably illustrates, there is not often any 'scientific' argument for public schools to teach theology. So I am routinely amazed that this simpleminded creationism vs evolution argument rules the day, a la 'the science is in' and further discussion is terminated. But to be against teaching theology in public schools is nothing more or less than anti-intellectual.

That is some A+ trolling right there.

If you ask American conservatives whether they are pro- or anti-science, they'll say: "Of course we're in favor of science. It's those crazy left radicals who are against science. We're just dismayed that liberalism has captured scientists to such a degree that it's made them believe in obvious falsehoods like [insert hobbyhorse here]."

This is different from the old, nearly extinct leftist anti-scientism, which was more likely to explicitly reject science itself as a tool of powerful elites, an enabler of war and destructive technology.

Most conservatives like science in principle, but they think of it primarily as the handmaiden of engineering, and they have subcultural stories about how it's been corrupted by liberalism in various specific areas, with a few credentialed dissenters carrying the banner on their side.

Which stories are believed depends on the type of conservative; this isn't a uniform front. The ones who don't subscribe to "scientific creationism" often instead go for the Bell Curve racial-difference stuff. They then turn liberal pro-science rhetoric around and insist that there it's the liberal egalitarians who are being pigheaded about rejecting science that makes them uncomfortable. (As far as I can tell, this is actually incorrect, but the pro-egalitarian arguments are confusing and technical, having to do with fallacies of statistical inference. The difference advocates can talk a good line, and some are tireless enough to wear anyone out.)

Disbelief in anthropogenic global warming, and in environmental dangers in general, is much more widespread, since it doesn't tread on religious or racial hot-button territory. It's become almost a movement shibboleth in the US. I think a lot of this can be specifically pinned on Rush Limbaugh; in the early 1990s he actually managed to make it a popular idea that anthropogenic ozone depletion was a hoax.

The most extreme fringe of conservative science critics insist that the scientific enterprise itself has become corrupt and moribund, and that its role in human progress has been taken up by engineers, who are the real scientists now. These are the guys who will start talking about how the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics is a liberal mystification. This is probably the closest they come to blanket rejection of science, but you have to get pretty hardcore before it becomes a common refrain.

But to be against teaching theology in public schools is nothing more or less than anti-intellectual.

Teaching theology in public schools would be an interesting exercise if we could do it in a truly inclusive, comparative way. But this is not what conservatives really want; they'd never allow it. And it has nothing to do with science.

Cobb, m'lad, you might want to look at a few retorts to your screed. There's Sam Harris' book, The Moral Landscape which might make you rethink your bullshit one always has to ask whether or not science is on the side of morality. (short answer: yes, science is moral).
I also recommend this part of Pharyngula where Dr. Myers responds to his latest christian e=mail.
Some samples:
"Could our few years on this planet be all that there is? [Yes.] You are born, live, then die and that's it? [That's what I said. Yes.] All of you loved ones that have died are no more? [What? It's not enough to have lived and to have loved ones? These guys are always belittling their lives and families.]"

"The vast majority of people believe in a God [So? You don't get to vote on what reality exists],"

"Are all of these people (myself included, and I am a very well educated individual and deep thinker if I do say so myself[I don't believe you.]) delusional or weak minded or worse because the have faith? [Yes. Or lazy, or guilt-ridden and brain-washed, or fearful] " (ding ding ding)

One last part:
"Satan [Oh boy, here it comes] (and he does exist[Just like Spiderman and Santa Claus!]) has taken the tool of science and perverted into HIS tool [Reason: Satan's tool.] to deceive man into thinking there is no need for a God for all this to be.[How do you know? Talked to him lately? For all you know, Satan might think I'm a really cool guy] "

Also see Jerry Coyne's blog Why Evolution Is True you might learn something and retain it this time.

science is moral

I'm sure there are literally years of discussions that go behind declarations of this sort, but I don't think of science as being particularly moral or amoral. Science is just a study of what is, without any value judgements. As I see it, anyway. But IANAS.

But to be against teaching theology in public schools is nothing more or less than anti-intellectual.

Hmm. Well, theology is a topic that, like philosophy, doesn't get much play until the university years. There's no shortage of courses in theology to be had even in public universities.

But my kids' public elementary school did spend some time on theology; they simply didn't constrain the discussions to Christian theology. As a Christian, I'm perfectly comfortable with that; in fact, I'm more comfortable with them giving world religions (including effectively dead ones) lip service than to have them teaching Christian theology, which I may or may not agree with, to my kids.

Cobb, m'lad
rethink your bullsh!t
you might learn something and retain it this time

Tom M, if you haven't reviewed our posting rules, please take a few minutes and give them a quick scan. We try to err on the kinder-and-gentler side when it comes to enforcement, but we also like to see disagreements worked out in a manner that's not abusive.

I actually had a theology class in my (private) high school. It was the most boring course I took at that school, which might have been the fault of the teacher. OTOH, given the significant role Christian belief played in the development of Western culture, there is certainly room for more of a focus on it than I recall from my history classes.

In particular, while it can be very self-satisfying to scoff at religious people as intellectually lazy or brainwashed, it is an unfair and ultimately self-delusional generalization. Not only are people quite capable of deluding themselves about non-religious ideologies, some religious traditions are actually quite intellectual and logical. Logic does not need to start with provable premises.

@FuzzyFace: no, logic does not need to start with provable premises. Neither does science. Unlike pure logic, however, science then needs to resort to experiments to prove them. Otherwise, it's not science.

"That is not my recollection of events."

I think it can be delightful and charming to compare memories: it's a great way to get to know people and make friends.

However, since we're talking about objective facts of what Republicans thought -- with only the vaguest reference to which set of "Republicans" we have in mind -- it might be helpful to cite the actual facts, rather than people's memories, which are useful for anecdotes, but aren't data.

"What's so astonishing is the shallow level of bugtracking that satisfies their 'curiosity'"

Peopole aren't a "they."

They're you and me and that other person, and those other people.

If you'd like me to address you as a generic "Republican" or "conservative" and talk to you about someone else's opinions and insist you have those opinions, even though you don't, you're out of luck.

Ditto if you want to do the same with me. And I don't speak for anyone but myself, nor am I thrilled to speak with anyone who claims to speak for anyone else unless they can show me a written proxy, convince me they're authorized, or otherwise elected to the position.

I'll address you about what *you* write.

And, similarly, if you talk to me about some other "they" and think you're including me, you're not.

If you get hold of "the Left," have it get back to me, as I keep missing the memos.

You're doing what you decry. You can stop if you like, but I simply don't know how to usefully respond to points addressed to some generic "right" or "left," unless there's some elected spokesperson for "the right" and "the left," in which case we should be conversing with said person, rather than, you know, each other.

It's hard to me to address substance that's full of assumptions and addressed to I don't know who. Maybe the generic Left will write a response. I don't know how that might happen, but if that's who you want an answer from, do let me know if you find an email address that's useful, please.

Otherwise, on substance, science is science, and politics is politics, and I'm unclear what really needs to be said beyond that.

Is there anyone reading this who believes Sarewitz's piece wasn't pure idiocy?

"Why did money become the enemy of the Left?"

Who, specifically, is "the Left"? Who do they speak for, what's their authorization, and what are their names?

I don't know how to respond to statements like that other than with questions like that. The alternative is to decide that some set of people I'm addressing are stand-ins for "the Right" who all are homogenous, and I should discuss the world as if that were the way it is.

This isn't the universe I recognize.

norbizness was The Left, but he seems to no longer be blogging.

The Left, barring an emergency, cannot be reached for comment.

"But to be against teaching theology in public schools is nothing more or less than anti-intellectual."

Who here identifies as some sort of "left" person or "liberal" or "prgressive" or "Democrat," and opposes a public junior high school or high school teaching a course in comparative religion and study of the theologies of religions?

I surely don't; I think every intelligent person benefits by study of what various belief systems that have formed our world and history and cultures are about, and that there is much wisdom to be found in religious texts, and endless knowledge and wisdom to be found through understanding the different theologies; the amount that can be learned from study of any philosophy and interpretation of life that large numbers of people have used for at least several decades, if not a century or two, if not a thousand years or so, is effectively infinite.

Who here opposes any of this?

Anyone? If so, let's hear the argument.

If not, Cobb, what statements made here were you addressing? Can you quote them, please, and explain who here you were responding to? If not, who are you addressing, and what are you asking?

Who in this thread has said the are "against teaching theology in public schools"?

I missed that comment.

Was there a past post you're responding to that you've not mentioned? If so, which one?

If not, who are you talking to and who are you asking this, and who is opposed to study of comparative religions and their theologies?

Or are you saying that public schools should be indoctrinating students in some particular religion?

If so, which sect, subsect, charismatic leader, or belief system, do you have in mind, and why?

Or what? Clarify, by all means, please.

Matt McIrvin, as he almost always is, is correct.

"short answer: yes, science is moral"

I've read some Harris, but not enough to claim deep knowledge of his views, and not that book. Apparently I should, because I definitely think that statement needs justification; I'd tend to agree that science is amoral.

That would be because "science" has no agency. I fail to see how a concept without agency can have morality. Only people and entities with agency can have morality: yes, or no?

Is "blue" moral or amoral? I say amoral. You?

Is testing hypotheses moral or amoral?

My answer is that it depends on what you're testing, and if something or someone is harmed. The idea itself of seeking answers to questions by experimentation is itself amoral.

But what do you think?

How you go about testing what, is where morality comes into play.

Or do you disagree?

But if you don't feel up to making Harris' arguments, that's fine, and I should go read that book.

"Cobb, m'lad, you might want to look at a few retorts to your screed."

Tom, m'lad, you might want to consider whether we should all take to addressing you as "Tom, m'lad," when we write our screeds in response to your screed.

Would you prefer that, or not?

Would you like us to refer to your comments as "screeds"?

If so, our general unwritten rule is to call people by their handles, and address them as they desire to be addressed.

If "m'lad" is your preferred style, I'll be happy to comply, Tom, m'lad.

If that's not your preference, I won't.

My own practice tends to be to refer to comments as "comments," but if you prefer "screeds," I'll do my best to try to remember your preferences.

The Golden Rule is always a good one.

Within the Posting Rules, which I suggest not be referred to by anyone without a link, because why anyone would expect anyone to have read them otherwise, I have no idea, I'd suggest considering the notion that if you think it's appropriate to address people as having written "bullsh*t," then you obviously are happy be similarly addressed in your own style.

Is this your preference? Or would you prefer to be addressed otherwise?

I'll go with whatever you like, but I do suggest a consistent answer might be easiest for me to understand.

Thanks.

Who here identifies as some sort of "left" person or "liberal" or "prgressive" or "Democrat," and opposes a public junior high school or high school teaching a course in comparative religion and study of the theologies of religions?

Me.

In the abstract there is nothing wrong with this, but in practice I think it would be a nightmare. Where do you propose to get teachers for such a course? At the university level there are faculty whose specialty is theology or religious studies, or comparative religion.

I don't think that's true in high school. So you probably end up with history teacher, say, teaching the course. You will be very lucky to find a teacher well-versed in comparative religion, and able to discuss these matters in an objective fashion, without letting personal views affect the course.

And even if you do find one there's the question of community pressures, choice of texts, school board politics, and the like. What happens when discussion of religious doctrine conflicts with views held by the religious organizations themselves? Remember, high school teachers do not enjoy many of the protections that university faculty have.

I don't think this is something that can be done well, or even not badly, in public junior or senior high schools.

"In particular, while it can be very self-satisfying to scoff at religious people as intellectually lazy or brainwashed, it is an unfair and ultimately self-delusional generalization."

I wouldn't necessarily say that people who scoff at "religious people" generically are intellectually lazy, although I wouldn't disagree. I'd tend to say that everyone has some blinders, and usually why is pretty visible, and that lumping everything that comes under the heading of "religon" as homogenous is, again, astoundingly blind.

But that's their problem.

I say this as a lifelong atheist who has never had a moment's doubt in his atheistic beliefs, even when I thought I was going to be dead within the next five minutes.

Studying religon as history, philosophy, and art, is invaluable.

Believing in a religion comes in all flavors.

Beyond that, everything can be argued, but anyone who doesn't believe those two things, I have an argument with, even if I won't bother to engage in it with you.

And mostly I won't: I'm an atheist, but I'm as unthrilled with proselytizing for it as I am with hearing someone proselytizing for a given religion.

I believe in teaching critical thinking.

What conclusions you, the generic "you," come to having learned good critical thinking, I leave to you.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for many religious people I know, or know of, or who are historical figures.

I have great contempt for many religious people I know, or know of, or who are historical figures.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for many atheists I know, or know of, or who are historical figures.

I have great contempt for many atheists I know, or know of, or who are historical figures.

I fail to understand what any of this has to do with morality.

People derive their personality morality for any number of sources. We agree or disagree, share some or all, or don't

What's religion or atheism got to do with any of this?

Is someone going to argue that you can't be moral and religious, or that you can't be moral and non-religious?

If so, go for it.

If not, what's the question again?

If you haven't read Thomas Aquinas, it's your loss.

If you haven't read Maimondides, aka Moses ben-Maimon, aka the Rambam, it's your loss.

If you don't study the history of religion, you can't begin to understand history. Period.

What your personal belief system is, I don't care, until it comes into play in your vote, and your politics, and then we're meeting on whatever terms we wish to meet on to discuss politics: not religion.

People interested in converting other people's belief systems, I tend not to want to be around, no matter that it might happen to be otherwise a belief system that I largely agree with.

But my belief system includes the idea that trying to change other people's belief systems If you haven't read Thomas Aquinas, it's your loss.

If you haven't read Maimondides, aka Moses ben-Maimon, aka the Rambam, it's your loss.

If you don't study the history of religion, you can't begin to understand history. Period.

What your personal belief system is, I don't care, until it comes into play in your vote, and your politics, and then we're meeting on whatever terms we wish to meet on to discuss politics: not religion.

People interested in converting other people's belief systems, I tend not to want to be around, no matter that it might happen to be otherwise a belief system that I largely agree with.

But my belief system includes this belief: that trying to change other people's belief systems for no other reason that it isn't mine, and I think they're significantly, or wildly, wrong, is none of my business unless they invite me to. It's simply discourteous.

I don't want to have other people decide my belief system needs to be courteous, so how could I possibly justify thinking otherwise of other people?

I, on the other hand, constantly invite people to challenge my belief system -- with some reasonable politeness, or I'm walking away, or being rude back -- but that's my choice.

My default about proslytizing is that I'm against it if it's about personal belief systems, and it's directed at given individuals.

Essays about one's own beliefs, are an entirely different matter than getting in an individual's face without an invitation.

Bernard, I regard the topic of bad and incompetent teachers as a separate topic.

I don't disagree with the problem you point out, but I dont' see how it doesn't apply to all subjects in elementary schools, and junior high schools, and high schools.

They're all filled with teachers with mixed degrees of competency, mostly following Sturgeon's law.

Religion has more fraught political issues attached, but that should be irrelevant.

Meanwhile, most teachers are mediocre, and in fact, most are downright average, and most kids are average in their understanding of anything they're taught.

This is a discussion of educational policy failure, then, not a discussion of philosophy of religion or science.

"I don't think this is something that can be done well, or even not badly, in public junior or senior high schools."

It's not easy for me to remember a lot of what passed for education in those years for me, because I mostly did my own reading. I learned some chemistry I might not have gotten to. There were undoubtedly some other bits and pieces. The bit of French, trivial as it was, probably was helpful.

I had a great AP American history class and teacher one year.

I'm starting to run out of positive things to say about my pre-college formal education now.

And I went to a quite good set of public schools: then, and last I looked, P.S. 99 was a fine elementary school. I doubt the "SP program" I went through to shmush 7th, 8th, and 9th grades into two years is still around, but if it is, well, it didn't do anyone any more harm than any other teaching, so far as I noticed, although damned if I remember a single think I learned from it except a lot of smarts, relatively speaking about how to interact with diffent kinds of people, and in particular, how to deal with people who tried to shake you down for money, or worse, every day.

Midwood High School was a fine H.S., and probably is still a good one.

I seem to recall we covered some good comparative religion along the way at some point, but I honestly would have to try really hard to remember specifics, because I just learned almost everything I learned by my own reading years before we ever got to most subjects in a class, so I found most classes boring, and just wrote essays, and passed tests, and pretty much just waited it out until I could get to college, which is another story.

But I do seem to recall some perfectly adequate teaching on comparative religion in their, so I really don't see the problem as other than, again, political, or a generalized problem of the fact that our educational system is deeply screwed up, and I question many basic assumptions of it, down to the notion that sending kids off for mandatory amounts of time to be lectured to is a good approach.

But, again, we're really off onto a whole diffeent topic if we're talking what's wrong with education, and that's also a topic I don't feel particularly qualified to engage in beyond a few thoughts.

If not, what's the question again?

If I recall correctly, it had something to do with the fact that only 6% of scientists self identify as Republicans.

But I could be wrong.

Is that a testable hypothesis? :)

Gary,

Religion has more fraught political issues attached, but that should be irrelevant.

Yet by emphasizing the word "should" you admit that it is not irrelevant. And the issues are not merely political, but stem from deeply held religious beliefs as well.

No doubt there are problems with teachers and education in general. But at least we have public school teachers who are trained in teaching math and science and history, which involves study of those subjects as well as of education. Further, local rabble-rousers are less likely to interest themelves in what is taught about quadratic equations than what is taught in a comparative religion class.

So I disagree that my objection is just a part of broader problems with bad teaching. I think there are some very specific issues that would relate to teaching religion.

Look around. We know that there are religion-based efforts to undermine the teaching of ordinary biology. How much worse will it be with religion classes?

My own experience suggest that scientists' (or, in my case, engineers') political views have not changed all that much. What has changed is the Republican Party.

It is very difficult, as a scientist or engineer, to accept a mind-set which says that nothing, specifically including facts, is allowed to challenge a philosophical view unbuttressed by facts. I was certainly a conservative (and a Republican) in the late 1960s. I still think I'm a conservative -- but on an absolute scale, not on the scale used to evaluate Republicans. For a Republican (I haven't left, mostly because I figure if all the sane people leave, there will be no saving the party), I now count as a wild-eyed liberal...even though my views themselves haven't changed all that much overall.

I suspect that much the same is true of a lot of scientists and engineers. It isn't that our views (whether liberal or conservative) have changed. It is that the Republican Party has left us. So now most of us who were Republicans back in the day self-identify as either independents or (Blue Dog) Democrats. It simply is not possible to spend your working life dealing with facts and then go home and embrace a political view which rejects facts almost as a matter of principle.

"Unlike pure logic, however, science then needs to resort to experiments to prove them. Otherwise, it's not science."

Really really minor quibble but...

It's not necessarily experiments that scientists have to resort to, it's predictive claims (that distinction allows for areas like paleontology where experiments can not be run to test all claims but you can predict what finds are/are not liable to be made if a given claim is true)

@polyorchnid octopunch:
no, logic does not need to start with provable premises. Neither does science. Unlike pure logic, however, science then needs to resort to experiments to prove them. Otherwise, it's not science.

Bingo! Unfortunately, too much of what is being promoted as "science" nowadays fails to meet exactly this test - that is one way we can tell that it is actually ideology, dressing itself up in more respectable clothing.

@wj:

My own experience suggest that scientists' (or, in my case, engineers') political views have not changed all that much. What has changed is the Republican Party.

It is very difficult, as a scientist or engineer, to accept a mind-set which says that nothing, specifically including facts, is allowed to challenge a philosophical view unbuttressed by facts.

I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, you've forgotten to add that the Democratic Party has changed just as much and is similarly slavish to ideology above facts. Both parties have essentially vacated the center and sensibility. I don't know that I can call myself a Blue Dog, but I approach primaries these days with more distress than optimism all too often.

About "teaching theology in public schools": Kitzmiller established clearly that Intelligent Design = Creationism = theology. If you want to teach Comparative Religion in public school, fine (although I think you'll bore the hell out of the tykes). But if you want to indoctrinate them with a version of fundamentalist Protestant theology, not so fine.

@Hartmut: It's my personal opinion that historical excursions are undervalued in the teaching of science. Imo it makes science studies more interesting and also works as an antidote against hybris.

I'd go a step further and deny that those "excursions" are anything of the kind. The essence of science is the methodology for understanding the world, not the set of theories we currently accept. If you want to understand science with any depth, you have to look at the facts and experiments first and only then move to the conclusions. If you're taught that way, you'll learn the methodology, and you'll pick up the theories along the way, and probably remember them better, to boot.

I think this is why most of my University level classes were taught that way. We were told about the old theory, the experiments that had disagreed with the old theory, and finally the new theory that had replaced it. This was often somewhat ahistorical- the story we're told about how the theory progressed is usually more linear and straightforward than the messy history- but a lot better than just being forced to memorize a theory. And these were hard core, science for scientists classes, not courses that were focusing on the historical aspect to attract liberal arts majors.

"I think there are some very specific issues that would relate to teaching religion."

I don't understand your use of "would." I was taught about religion in public school. I apparently didn't say that clearly enough.

It wasn't a problem.

I had a lot more problems with teachers constantly making erroneous claims of fact in classes about history, English, science, geography, and lots more besides. I don't remember any problems being taught about Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, what we then called "American Indian," but now call "Native American" spiritual beliefs, Shinto, animism, and probably that was it.

What public school did you attend, where, and how did they handle the subject?

Why are you talking about this as a hypothetical?

...the Democratic Party...is similarly slavish to ideology above facts.

This is an absolutely astounding claim. Both parties espouse (differing degrees of)free market economics based on a system of private property; both support (more or less)American exceptionalism across the board; bipartisan support for our basic foreign policies is pretty much a given; and neither one is especially inclined to disavow human freedoms, at least publicly.

Now the above might in itself constitute a kind of ideology, but somehow I don't get the impression this is what you are thinking.

Perhaps you could provide an illuminating example of Democratic Party "ideology" that has lost all mooring to "facts".

How about the fourth explanation: That most science is government funded, Republicans generally want less government funding, ergo scientists just go with their personal financial interest.

I will say, though, that as an engineer I have no particular enthusiasm for the Republican party, and if the Democratic party were to embrace the civil liberties it currently despises, and cease it's spinal reflexive statism, I'd drop the GOP like the stinking turd it is.

"How much worse will it be with religion classes?"

Can we discuss specifics, please? What public school systems do you think have handled it best? What's your source?

FuzzyFace: "But at least we have public school teachers who are trained in teaching math and science and history, which involves study of those subjects as well as of education."

And?

I don't understand what you're saying: there are endless grad degrees in relgious studies. Some of my best friends teach comparative religion or religious studies in universities, and lots of people with such training teach in high schools and junior highs and elementary schools.

What's special here? There's no lack of teachers at any of these levels who don't know physics or math or any other subject very well who teach them. Zillions do.

And?

"My own experience suggest that scientists' (or, in my case, engineers') political views have not changed all that much. What has changed is the Republican Party."

Pretty much. I'd point to some politization of some issues on the left as well as right, and some footnotes worth making, like the phenomenon of some people whose primary interest is theoretically science having turned largely into crusading for atheism, but as a generalization, I'd say that's true.

"Unfortunately, you've forgotten to add that the Democratic Party has changed just as much and is similarly slavish to ideology above facts."

Cites?

Fuzzyface: "Bingo! Unfortunately, too much of what is being promoted as 'science' nowadays fails to meet exactly this test - that is one way we can tell that it is actually ideology, dressing itself up in more respectable clothing."

Cite? We can only useuflly discuss specifics. Argument by assertion is a fallacy.

Roger Moore: "The essence of science is the methodology for understanding the world, not the set of theories we currently accept."

Absolutely. Is there anyone here who doesn't understand this elementary fact?

"How about the fourth explanation: That most science is government funded, Republicans generally want less government funding, ergo scientists just go with their personal financial interest."

You'll have to unpack that for me, as I don't know what you mean by it, and can only make guesses I think unreliable enough that it makes more sense to ask you: what do you mean by "ergo scientists just go with their personal financial interest"?

I went to a Christian private school and in my experience it is quite possible to be both a devoted Christian and a teacher while still being able to give students unbiased* education about non-Christian belief systems at both primary and secondary school level.
But this was in Europe not in the US, which is, as we a retold daily, exceptional.

*i.e. apart from the distorting lens we all inevitably grow up with and that we can at best partially compensate for. Me not being a platypus cannot expect to be totally neutral/unbiased about platypus psychology/spirituality ;-)

Tom, m'lad, you might want to consider whether we should all take to addressing you as "Tom, m'lad," when we write our screeds in response to your screed.
You can call me Ray or you can call me Jay or anything you like. I've been called all sorts of things in my line of work collecting money from people who think they don't want to pay it back.
But if your posting rules require a more genteel response to what I believe was referred to as Grade A+ trolling, I shall of course, attempt to abide thereby.
It's your place boyo.

I am still reading through this thread; however I wanted to place this thought into the discussion.

Religion can be used and is used to assert an ethnic/racial/nationalist identity. Secular Protestants used to dominate the Republican Party, when racial and ethnic identities were secured. However, during the 1970s, “literalism” became the rule to measurer one’s commitment to the ethnic/racial tribe, changing the Republican Party. Ethnicity, Nation and God are strong organizing principles for right-wing political parties. The scientific community and secular Protestantism stopped supporting the US nationalism, in a fundamental way.

Steve Bruce, a British sociologist of religion, comparative work in Northern Ireland, South Africa and the US is incredible, in this regard.

“Literalism” within churches-of-color (except for gay marriage and abortion) does not have the same political consequences as they do within white churches, since God and country are not understood in the same way.

Roger Moore: "The essence of science is the methodology for understanding the world, not the set of theories we currently accept."

Absolutely. Is there anyone here who doesn't understand this elementary fact?

Maybe not here but unfortunately I know enough scientists that are a bit too attached to their theories. This is often coupled with a blind spot about the history of science. I think mistaking a model for the reality it is intended to describe is among the or even The most common sin committed by scientists (and even engineers). I also get the impression that students increasingly put too much trust in a) the equations in the books and b) the results they get out of them. The idea that either the equation (or its application in the case at hand) could be wrong or that they could have made a calculation error seems to enter their mind at ever lower frequency. I find it quite disturbing when again and again chemistry/engineering students in their 4th or 5th year don't question results that make no sense (like extraction columns that reach halfway to the moon or reactions that according to their calculations should take place at a temperature of -4000K) or look totally puzzled if asked what the average density of water is or how the volume or surface of a simple geometric body is calculated. I somehow doubt that the chemical department of the TU Berlin is a special moron magnet increasing its attractive power over time. ;-)

"In particular, while it can be very self-satisfying to scoff at religious people as intellectually lazy or brainwashed, it is an unfair and ultimately self-delusional generalization."

Being religious myself, I would not scoff at religious people as "intellectually lazy." I wouldn't have any problem describing Republicans and movement conservatives that way, however.

There's also the valorization of money-making professions among right-wingers, of course: no one became a scientists to get rich. Republican parents are more likely to encourage their children to become salesmen than scientists. Furthermore, the bullying, badgering, and reliance on "proof by e-mail forwards" might have a lot of currency within right wing culture but really isn't part of the scientific temperament.

What it gets right down to is that there's a reason that the "liberal arts" are called the "liberal arts." The process of inquiry, thought, and problem-solving that is part of liberal democracy has ended up becoming just about the sole province of the Democrats, these days.

That is some A+ trolling right there.

I give it a B. Solid work, masquerading as serious writing, but lacking that certain je ne se qua that usually motivates you to shoot back at it directly. He sounded like a longwinded old man fighting old battles rather than engaging with the topic of the post, so my eyes pretty much glazed over.

I was going to leave this thread alone, but I sense a competition opportunity here. If Hartmut is correct (and I have no reason to doubt it), his department is not:

a special moron magnet increasing its attractive power over time

So: what is?

Several thoughts come to my mind, but perhaps the hive mind is even wiser.

Nominations to the usual address.

First, some smacking maintenance:

Phil, Tyro, Tom: I see no evidence that Cobb is a "troll", that is: insincere and just trying to stir up trouble. A little difficult to follow, perhaps, but not necessarily a *troll* -- an accusation I consider fairly serious and potentially bannable. Back off and fly right.

Cobb, if you are *not* a troll:

And remember Cliff Stoll.

huh? I not only remember, I knew him personally before he got all famous. To what might you be referring? I am baffled.

"This is often coupled with a blind spot about the history of science. I think mistaking a model for the reality it is intended to describe is among the or even The most common sin committed by scientists (and even engineers)."

We learned this when we get to Kant, in philosophy.

Re: teaching theology in middle school, Sprog #2 (currently in 9th grade) was reading the comments here and submits this report:

As part of the sixth grade curriculum in my (upper middle class, extremely liberal) middle school social studies class, we had a unit on World Religions. What this mainly consisted of was a series of movies of the "educational" variety -- with a narrator who always got paused while making the strangest faces -- and doing a worksheet.

Even so, these movies were interesting and taught us a lot. I wouldn't call them effective because I don't believe anyone's opinions changed much. That's not a bad thing. My school as a whole is extremely tolerant, and no one changed because there was nothing *to* change. Over the years we've also had little mini-sections on religion in History, because it's a necessity, but nothing in Science.

There were two major problems with the religions unit. One is that we were only really doing it because the school board insisted. The other is that we were really too young to *think* properly about it. I feel like I've gotten much more out of this year's freshman World History class than I ever got from the course designed for it. In my class now, we learn things in the proper context and we talk about things. We have a great teacher as well as a small and ethnically diverse group, so there have even been days when we veer off into discussions before class, and we really learn about everyones views and discuss them.

For context: the World Religions Unit was introduced because there had been some stresses between parents, especially regarding the winter holidays. The district is *extremely* religiously diverse -- there is no major religion or branch of Christianity that is *not* represented among students, and frequently more than one to a customer.

The School Board decided, IMHO rightly, that all the 6th graders needed a World Religions Unit as part of social studies so they would have at least some understanding of where their classmates were coming from, and to avoid teasing, thoughtlessness, hurt feelings, and bullying. As far as I can tell, it's worked fairly well, and helped lay the groundwork for the kind of discussions she's been able to have this year in History class.

Gary,

I don't understand why you think that your individual experience proves that there would be no problems. I attended public schools from the 6th grade onwards, in the south. Religion classes were not taught.

Of course there was religion. The school day started with Bible reading and prayer, usually overtly Christian prayer. Now, this was in the days before school prayer became an issue in the courts, so that doesn't happen any more, but since you feel the need to challenge my experience I thought I would mention it.

Later, I lived in the south for many years. I think that, unless you have lived in a heavily religious region, it is hard to understand the intensity of religious belief, or the extent to which religion permeates life. There is simply no way a comparative religion class will be uncontroversially neutral. As I pointed out, biology is not uncontroversially neutral. That's not hypothetical. I don't think it's unreasonable to draw a conclusion.

Hartmut,

You tell us you were taught about other religions in an objective fashion in a Christian school. Might I ask what your teacher's background was? And is it possible that, it being a Christian school, there was an underlying assumption that of course Christianity, (Catholicism or Lutheranism?) was the true faith, and that the others were being discussed as a matter of courtesy?

Further, I don't think we have to make great claims for US exceptionalism to think, or suspect, that the way the political and religious environments here affect education differs from the way they affect it in Germany.

"To what might you be referring? I am baffled."

I didn't follow that, either, for whatever it's worth. I've only read Cuckoo's Egg, and a bunch of essays by him, interviews with him, profiles, and other bits and pieces, though.

"I went to a Christian private school and in my experience it is quite possible to be both a devoted Christian and a teacher while still being able to give students unbiased* education about non-Christian belief systems at both primary and secondary school level."

I haven't the faintest doubt. It's not whether you're a Christian, or hold any other belief about religion that matters; it's a question of whether you can teach fairly about ideas you don't hold.

If you can't do that, you're not a competent teacher in the first place. In anything.

someotherdude made a good point in the 03:04 PM comment.

Hartmut: "Maybe not here but unfortunately I know enough scientists that are a bit too attached to their theories."

Sure, but that's just common human behavior about most things.

"I think mistaking a model for the reality it is intended to describe is among the or even The most common sin committed by scientists (and even engineers"

I'd turn something I wrote for Facebook the other week into a post, but it was pretty much entirely self-centered, so it wouldn't be appropriate.

Let's say instead that distinguishing map from territory has been one of my formative approaches to the world since approximately the time I was able to start reading, and understanding pictures.

And General Semantics has a lot of words that boil down, ultimately to simply understand that basic principle: the map is not the territory.

There are some key principles in life that, in my belief system, if you do not hold, you will end up consistently going wrong.

That's one of them.

The others, and I've never thought to make a list, but would include:

1) what's generally referred to as "critical thinking,"

2) doing one's own research and fact-checking

3) never, ever, ever rely on either a single source of information about anything.

4) Never, ever, rely on fewer than the maximum number of maximally reliable sources you can make use of in a practical amount of time to triangulate where truth might visit the neighborhood.

5) Revisit what you think as frequently as is reasonably possible, question it, and expose yourself to the best available challenges; do your best to understand the other POV, and whether there's something to be learned from it. Rinse and repeat.

6) Be happier to be corrected than to hold an incorrect belief and misinform people.

Asking people what principles they hold as most important to their worldview could make for an interesting post. Maybe someone should write one. :-)

But not me today.

"I somehow doubt that the chemical department of the TU Berlin is a special moron magnet increasing its attractive power over time."

Probably not, but I am willing to entertain the notion that the observer's POV has been evolving over time. This may be either untrue or irrelvant.

"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders and they love to chatter instead of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers."
-- Socrates

It has always been thus.

"I don't understand why you think that your individual experience proves that there would be no problems."

I neither wrote that, nor suggested it. Any such implication you inferred was not one I intended.

I'm not aware of anything in life that is without problems.

"Later, I lived in the south for many years. I think that, unless you have lived in a heavily religious region, it is hard to understand the intensity of religious belief, or the extent to which religion permeates life."

a) I disagree. Or I might agree that it's "hard," but without a metric, applied to an individual, it's not a very useful term. Some people find some things hard, some harder, some less hard, everyone thinks what's hard is different, this doesn't leave us with much to work with.

b) I've done that. With more than one religion and in a number of states and cities and neighborhoods.

"Later, I lived in the south for many years."

What's your understanding of what State of the U.S. I just lived in for the past two and a half years?

"... since you feel the need to challenge my experience I thought I would mention it."

I'm unaware of doing any such thing. Which words do you have in mind?

As a rule, I'd never challenge anyone's experience.

I've just reread what I wrote, and I'm overlooking which sentences you are responding to. Could you perhaps do me the favor of quoting them, so I can better understand which specific statements I wrote that you are responding to?

If so, thanks. No rush, and no obligation whatever, of course.

I'm not planning on hanging out on ObWi that much today, myself. But I thought I'd put in a little time in comments, at least. :-)

"I don't understand why you think that your individual experience proves that there would be no problems."

Bernard:
a) What in your past experience with me leads you to think that I believe it's possible to prove a negative?

b) Have you ever seen me even suggest that such a thing were a possibility?

[scratches head]

Tom M: "It's your place boyo."

It's a community, and you're as welcome to contribute as everyone else.

The golden rule is a nice idea; none of us live up to it all of the time, and we're all human, with tempers, who sometimes write carelessly, etc.

But we do try to encourage presumptions of good faith around here.

Doctor Science, I found your sprog's report valuable and informative, though completely unsurprising.

Without infringing on your privacy, it might be helpful to the discussion if you were willing to be a bit more specific as to which educational system your sprog is in. State, city, perhaps?

(I know, of course, and maybe everyone else does, too, but I suspect that not everyone who will ever read your comment via Google, and on into the future, will.)

I think it can be delightful and charming to compare memories: it's a great way to get to know people and make friends.

However, since we're talking about objective facts of what Republicans thought -- with only the vaguest reference to which set of "Republicans" we have in mind -- it might be helpful to cite the actual facts, rather than people's memories, which are useful for anecdotes, but aren't data.

Who is the "we" in "we're talking about objective facts"?

It is certainly not the OP.

When I said, "That is not my recollection of events" I was explicitly responding to a sentence that began, "My memory of the 70s and 80s is...", and to a post that contained the following:

This is exactly what I remember, too, from the 60s and even early 70s, when I was growing up as Young Science Girl.

and

I remember going to a panel discussion in the mid 70s about science and politics, science and religion

and

What I recall being much more significant were environmental issues

You may not find talking about people's memories helpful, but the OP is talking about her memories, and I find it interesting that my memory of the time period is completely different than hers.

That is all.

Gary:

As is well-known, we live in NJ (state motto: "You got a problem with that?"). I would describe our location as "central NJ" -- that is, the heavily-populated band that runs through the state from Philly to NJ, extending 20 miles on either side of Route 1.

Compared to e.g. Bernard's experience, this region is by no means "irreligious", but there is no majority religion (if Protestants and Catholics count as different, which they should). Catholics probably have a plurality, but not a very large one -- in our district it might be only 30%.

I think there would be a huge, qualitative difference between religion classes in schools like the ones Bernard knows -- where the classes would mostly be "about what people who don't live here believe" -- and those Sprog had, which were "about what each other believes".

Gary,

You cited your own experience as evidence against my arguments that there would be problems. That sure sounds to me like an argument that all would be well.

"Later, I lived in the south for many years."

What's your understanding of what State of the U.S. I just lived in for the past two and a half years?

North Carolina, I think. Not quite Alabama or even Tennessee.

"... since you feel the need to challenge my experience I thought I would mention it."

I'm unaware of doing any such thing. Which words do you have in mind?

As a rule, I'd never challenge anyone's experience.

You specifically asked me where I'd gone to school.

Well, if you want to know scientists' beef with Republicans, you might start here:

http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2007/pr-proctor-021407.html

Tobacco companies obstructed science, history professor says

By Rahul Kanakia

"Doubt is our product," stated a tobacco industry memo from 1969. For half a century, the tobacco industry tried to muddy the link between smoking and cancer. Now, with that effort long since failed, cigarette producers facing dozens of potentially ruinous lawsuits are once again attempting to manufacture doubt.

And I rather like the title of this one:

http://frantzmd.info/Miscellaneous%20Writings/Agnotology.htm
"Agnotology, the Science of Creating Ignorance."

Essentially, the Republicans have long been the party of business, and business has found some scientific discoveries inconvenient. Since they have a major role in funding Republican politicians, the tension between science and the tobacco, asbestos, coal and oil companies has set Republican politicians against science.

In addition, Nixon's Southern strategy allied Republicans with the churches that started segregation academies to get around school integration, and the anti-government wing of the party became enmeshed with their agenda, which was also anti-abortion and anti-evolution. The Carter administration set in train the IRS reviews of the non-profit status of these schools that forced them to integrate or close down, further cementing the alliance between Southern evangelists and Republican politicians, and making Republicans the anti-evolution party.

From the viewpoint of scientists, this means the Republican party was attacking science for both cultural and business reasons. You cannot secure the loyalty of any professional group by attacking their integrity, competence and credibility.

Scientists and engineers, by the way, are not the same. Engineers tend to be on average more conservative and religious than scientists. More of them work for private industry, which may be a factor, but in addition, engineers can often find solid answers in a book, while it is the business of science to find new knowledge, producing a different mindset. This may help explain why many of the 'experts' pushing the teaching of creationism are engineers rather than scientists.

I think there's no better demonstration of the rift between scientists and Republicans than the recent YouCut proposal which asks vigilant citizens to find "questionable" grants in the NSF database which the GOP will then propose cancelling.

I work in the hard sciences that the GOP fetishizes at the beginning of the video and my projects usually have nice keywords like "cancer" and "metabolic syndrome" so they're unlikely to come up before the grant death-panel. But this kind of giddy, thoughtless anti-intellectualism made my blood boil. The GOP hasn't just passively drifted away from the post-grad demographic - they are knowingly and actively marginalizing it to please the religionists and deficit-mongers, who are apparently a much cheaper date.

One possible additional factor contributing to low levels of registered Republican scientists: the pretty gross level of corruption in the science agencies during the Bush administration.

The one that I have personal knowledge of was the politicization of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I don't have the case cites at hand, but the USFWS management was caught red-handed rewriting scientific conclusions that were utterly unsupported by the evidence. There are some unpleasant stories about the way NASA treated Dr. Hansen (?) too.

The professional scientist community is actually quite small; these stories get around. It's one thing to have a honest disagreement about scientific findings or to have a dispute over policy. But when policy goals are pursued by lying about what the science shows, then the professionals are going to switch sides (at least until they get equally mistreated by Democrats).

I'm with john w. - ever since Reagan scientific research that is politically inconvenient to Republicans has tended to be shelved, redacted, buried, and defunded by Republican administrations. It's my impression that W was by far the worst in this regard.

Over and over, the pattern was that if the results of government-conducted research did not fit Republican narratives, Republican political appointees would rewrite, water down, shelve, or withhold the report from publication altogether.

I think that many scientists were genuinely shocked by the Republican disregard for the truth.

Chris Mooney's book The Republican War On Science covered this for a popular audience. And here warning NY Times .pdf is a 2004 story from the NY Times about a group of Nobel Laureates making a public stink about Republican politicians trying to suppress or distort scientific findings.

And more recently, we've had Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's crusade against "hockey stick" paper author Michael Mann.

All done for high-sounding reasons, of course: if this guy is doing research with public funds at a state university, we have to make sure he's on the up and up, and the revelations in the "Climategate" leak raise grave concerns that the taxpayers' money has been deceptively misused, etc., etc.

Which sounds reasonable until one realizes that the leading attacks on Mann's work are amazingly ill-founded. Several years ago, having read various cautiously pseudo-balanced articles raising concerns about McIntyre, Essex and McKittrick's objections, and suggesting that the AGW community distance itself from the hockey-stick result since it isn't strictIy necessary to advocate action, I was amazed when Tim "Deltoid" Lambert took the trouble to pick the arguments apart in detail: the objections were ridiculously shoddy, involving things like confusion of degrees and radians, counting lack of data as a zero-degree temperature, arguing that root-mean-square averaging of temperatures is just as reasonable a global temperature metric as any because global temperature is a fiction... that sort of thing.

The leak did nothing substantive to change this; Mann got socked with the revelation of a couple of sentences in an email describing a perfectly legitimate bit of data processing that could be interpreted to imply deception if read completely divorced from context. And yet Mann still finds his reputation under a cloud and gets political heat because of it.

It's a fishing expedition performed to burnish Cuccinelli's right-wing credentials, disbelief in anthropogenic global warming having become a tenet of modern American conservatism. This is the world American scientists live in.

...And I guess I should correct my previous comment: the blunders mentioned above had to do with their other various refutations of global warming: their specific objections to Mann seem to have been something very confusing having to do with data normalization and principal components analysis, which, as far as I can tell, was not any more valid than the other refutations.

[...]Well, if you want to know scientists' beef with Republicans, you might start here: [....]
Or with Chris Mooney.

Huh, it's been five years since he and I had that one chat in Boulder, after his talk while doing his book tour, and then a flurry of email. Time flies.

Oops, sorry, Joel.

I shouldn't respond without reading everything more carefully.

Doesn't bother me a bit.
Quite the opposite, in fact.

Carry on.

Gary, my experiences at the university stretch over about 15 years, half of it on the receiving end and I limit my statements to the only department I can reasonably make judgements about. I think I am able to distinguish between beginners and advanced students and also about the types of errors occuring and changing over time. I do not think students got more stupid over time but I see a shift from errors caused by lack of understanding specific models (to be expected, they are there to learn how to understand them) towards primarily shoddyness. I could also observe the different reactions to the very different approaches some professors took. The old style concentrated heavily on equations making it possible to pass exams without really understanding the models behind those equations. The professor who was my PhD supervisor on the other hand emphasized understanding over equation application. I remember the raw panic in the eyes of students used to the old style when the professor said something along the line of 'We can talk about the equations later. Please explain the underlying model to me in your own words'. So, on the teaching side, there is imo a clear improvement. On the receiving end I saw instead a clear tendency for the worse that would have fared as badly under the old as under the new style. I think a main suspect (not the only one) is the gradual change in the order of studies from the old German diploma system to the Anglosaxon bachelor/master. The 'streamlining' (students have to learn significantly more in significantly less time) leads to rote learning and lack of depths and critical thought. In the specific case of the sub-department I was in (technical chemistry) there is the additional problem that the two basic courses are mandatory for every chemistry student even for those that would go into the non-technical branches. For those students it is only necessary to get passing grades in TC, so the motivation is lacking in many. But that does not explain the often shocking lack of elementary math I encountered in the last few years, espcially since they all had to pass refresher math courses before coming to us. So I see
a) a failure on the school level to effectively teach certain necessary skills for studies in hard sciences
b) a shift at the university level from producing 'pure' scientists towards 'people the industry can use; as young as possible'
c) a mentality change among potential students from science for the sake of science towards science because it will pay well
d) a general tendency towards shoddyness and/or lack of self-discipline*.

To clarify on d): I see that distinct from the general approach to minimize efforts that imo is normal for students (and these days even necessary to survive unlike the time when I went through the system. We had it easier!).
---
Anecdotal evidence:
Our professor occasionally outsourced the preparation of written exams to his PhD students, so we would come up with the actual questions/tasks. My style was to invert standard questions (e.g. asking to calculate the reactor input from the output) and also to provide an easy way out provided the student would take a moment of time to think the problem through. That often turned out to be real neckbreakers. Interestingly it was often the students from other departments that took TC just as an elective course that came up with the simple solutions while 'our' students were unable to look beyond the rote learned equations.
Another notorious stumbling block are unit conversions. At my time it was usually calculation errors (like 1 bar = 1.01325 atm or 1 J = 4.19 cal instead of the other way around), today the need for conversion is often simply ignored. A despaeration measure was to put questions in the exam that consisted primarily of unit conversions**
---
*e.g. lecture attendance in our department went visibly down over time. Exam failures often resulted from missing info given in the lectures but not in the lecture scripts.
**e.g.: one gallon of an ideal gas at 5 psi and 75°F is heated by 34K and compressed to 1.27 l. What is the resulting pressure in Torr (mm Hg)? (unit definitions were given but not the direct conversion factors)

Regarding non-Christian theology at Christian school / teacher background.

The school was/is run by the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Church_in_Germany>EKD (don't mistake the 'evangelical' for the US variant. Over here its covers about everything that is not Catholic or Orthodox. It's effectively synonymous with 'mainline protestant' and some conservative protestant groups are not even part) but has also to meet the standards of state run schools. Students and teachers tend to have protestant backgrounds but it is not strictly mandatory (the RCC counterpart in the city is more rigid in that). 'Protestant Religious Instruction'(original German sounds less harsh here) is part of the regular curriculum but I never got the impression of 'indoctrination'. The only difference to a 'neutral' comparative religion course I see is that of course much more time is spent on Christianity in general and the protestant denominations in particular. Ironically one of my last tasks before finishing school was a very lenghty essay on the papal social encyclicals (Centesimo Anno was issued at that very time). The religion teacher was also a lay preacher (by no means the rule) but the only substantial criticism of my essay was that it showed some anti-catholic bias.
Given what I read about other schools in the papers or otherwise hear, the school was (and still is) exceptionally free of fanaticism of all kind and also far below average on bullying/violence or other problem plaguing schools. So I would be careful to draw general conclusions from that. The Christian character of the school can be only part of the reason since other church run schools are much closer to the problem-ridden mainstream (and the Catholic equivalent was right at the top of the recent scandal of child abuse). If I had children, I would sent them to my old school not because it is a Christian school but because of the high education standards and the mentioned lack of otherwise quite common problems.

Hartmut,

Thanks.

I read "The Republican War on Science" years ago, and IIRC I skimmed a lot because I found it so extremely depressing. Does anyone else recall to what period Mooney dates the start of the "War"?

FuzzyFace asked about whether AAAS members are truly a representative group of scientists.

AAAS is extremely large (well over 100,000) and general-interest. There are sections for pretty much every area of science, though I can't seem to find how large the various sections are.

Anyone who's willing to pay the freight and think of themselves as "a scientist" is eligible. Many of the members work in science & tech policy, journalism, or non-university teaching. Of the working scientists, I believe the largest group is in molecular biology (including genetics and biochemistry), not surprisingly since this area is currently science's center of mass. I don't know if you'd call biology a "soft" or "hard" science these days.

On engineers versus scientists, here's a Slate article from about a year ago titled Build-a-Bomber - Why do so many terrorists have engineering degrees?.

Relevant excerpts with empasis added:

Earlier studies had shown that terrorists tend to be wealthier and better-educated than their countrymen, but Gambetta and Hertog found that engineers, in particular, were three to four times more likely to become violent terrorists than their peers in finance, medicine or the sciences. The next most radicalizing graduate degree, in a distant second, was Islamic Studies.

and

What else might account for the radical, violent politics of so many former engineering students? Is there some set of traits that makes engineers more likely to participate in acts of terrorism? To answer this question, Gambetta and Hertog updated a study that was first published in 1972, when a pair of researchers named Seymour Lipset and Carl Ladd surveyed the ideological bent of their fellow American academics. According to the original paper, engineers described themselves as "strongly conservative" and "deeply religious" more often than professors in any other field. Gambetta and Hertog repeated this analysis for data gathered in 1984, so it might better match up with their terrorist sample. They found similar results, with 46 percent of the (male American) engineers describing themselves as both conservative and religious, compared with 22 percent of scientists.

I'm an electrical engineer and am more liberal than my colleagues tend to be. I think I only became an EE because my limited world view at the time I was entering and in college prevented me from seeing a clear career path with a degree in math or physics, which were the subjects that truly interested me. (Not that electrical engineering is all that divorced from math or physics.) In my junior and senior years, I would choose from the allowed technical electives classes offered by the math and physics departments rather than the college of engineering, things like modern physics, advanced calculus (real analysis, really) and thermal physics (statistical mechanics). I ended up finding, somewhat to my surprise, that I fit in socially much better with the people in those classes, especially some of the physics classes. They seemed like hippies compared to the engineering students I knew.

I'm finding myself backspacing more than usual, here, in this thread. In fa

Why did money become the enemy of the Left?

Since norbizness is no longer available to weigh in, I don't mind speaking for "The Left" on this topic.

We are fine with money. If money is "our enemy", it must be due to some issue that money has, because we don't really have a big problem with it.

In fact, we wish money had a friendlier attitude toward *us*.

Just wanted to clear that up.

So, why the animus between Republicans and science? Doc Science gets the gist of it right here:

the core Republican value of Making Money

R's are fine with science when it makes money for private individuals who own stuff. When it gets in the way of that, they aren't. When it does neither, in general they don't much care either way.

The exceptions to the "in general" part are the acts of political kabuki that are thrown, like bones to a dog, to the socially conservative elements of the Republican constituency.

But to get to the heart of the matter, cherchez l'argent.

Why did money become the enemy of the Left?
I seem to remember a quote from some book: "The love of money is the root of all evil"

I seem to remember a quote from some book

wasn't the Communist Manifesto, was it? cause that sounds pretty un-American.

Most scientists, especially those in academia, clearly rate something other than money as their prime motivation. Being an academic scientist is not exactly the path to riches and yet it demands the kind of intelligence that can pay off highly in the private sector, especially in finance and software.

So what is the motivation? Curiosity; recognition by peers; but also a search for truth, which requires an attitude expressed well in this quote (in the Anonymous Liberal banner):

"The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment." -Bertrand Russell

The Republican Party's extreme inflexibility in recent years is not at all compatible with that view, and the elevation of the pursuit of money to the greatest of all human virtues and its facilitation to the highest task of government makes for an unappetizing agenda for those less motivated by the prospect of acquiring big piles of cash.

And in fact, and contrary to the much-repeated question about "How does it hurt you for your neighbor to become richer?", that so many people have accumulated so many large piles of money is quite inconvenient to people who aren't so interested in it, in that the cost of property and healthcare and education are bid up by people who in most cases provide little tangible benefit to the rest of society.

I'd like to offer an alternative hypothesis for why scientists (and, to a lesser extent, engineers) have shifted to the Democrats: Over the past 40 years, the Democrats have become more and more oriented around policy, while the Republicans have derived a big chunk of their identity from a set of values and principles. (Whether they're actually following those principles is a completely different discussion...) The two parties have undergone a dramatic role reversal in this respect. Back in the 50's and 60's, cutting-edge government policy was essentially industrial policy, and Republicans are good with words that have "industry" in their root. Meanwhile, Democratic power was centered squarely on labor, and their most powerful arguments were about promoting a set of values that protected workers from the nasty side-effects of industrial policy. Somewhere along the line, though, social and economic science progressed to the point where engineering justice into the society didn't seem so silly. And that engineering in turn provided a lot more liberal bang for the buck than simple worker promotion.

Policy is like catnip to technical people. If you're happy with understanding and manipulating complex systems, engineering a policy-based solution to a particular societal problem is a completely natural worldview. Technical people aren't nearly as afraid of unintended consequences as non-technical people; they expect things to break, and then they'll figure out how to fix them. They're also used to being able to have very deep knowledge about a particular area, which encourages them to believe that they know where the knobs are on a problem, and what twiddling them implies.

In contrast, to be a conservative scientist or engineer requires that you have pretty strict adherence to the idea that social systems simply can't be engineered effectively, or at least that the emergent properties of lots of free individuals trying stuff out is ultimately more efficient than an engineered solution. Once you drink the Kool-Aid on this idea, there's just not a lot to do about policy except say "No!" a lot.

The old aphorism, "the fox knows many things, while the hedgehog knows one great thing," describes the difference pretty well. You can have technical hedgehogs (I kinda self-identify with this group), but their one argument (which looks distinctly Hayekian), is ultimately a boring argument, once you understand it, irrespective of how powerful you think it is. If you're relying on complex emergence to fix most problems, then there's not much to do other than stand back and let the market work its magic. Where's the fun in that?

Techies tend to be more foxy, because it gives them more stuff to play with.

See also James Carroll's "House of War".

Not to neglect anyone else, but in bits and pieces: Hartmut, your 04:25 AM was extremely interesting. Thank you very much!

What you've further explained does indeed make sense to me, and matches my own knowledge of how things work, to put it the shortest way I can, which I have to.

Thanks again.

Dr. Science: Chris C. Mooney started this blogthen, but that's only indirectly relevant.

TRWOS Introduction:

The Republican War on Science first came out in hardcover in the fall of 2005, amidst the unprecedented destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Even as I went on tour and spoke to large crowds deeply worried about political attacks on science, my own family had fled New Orleans and my mother’s home in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood had been destroyed by ten feet of floodwater. It was a very difficult time, and yet also a crucial one for speaking out about the importance of good scientific information to public policy.

I wish I could say that since those days, the situation I denounced in such strong terms (read the original introduction from 2005 here) had at least slightly improved. Yet if anything, I fear it may have grown worse. [...] I wanted the paperback edition of my book to reflect these ongoing developments. So I went to work, revising the text in light of recent events and composing special update sections for the book’s seven main body chapters. Then I topped things off with a new preface to the paperback edition, which explores why the "war on science" has triggered such unprecedented outrage during the Bush administration (hint: it has to do with how this subject resonates with Katrina and the Iraq war); and what we, as scientists and defenders of science, can do about it.

I often heard from readers of the hardcover edition of The Republican War on Science that the book made their blood boil but didn’t explain how to constructively channel their outrage. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about this problem, as my subsequent writings demonstrate (see for example here). And I’ve concluded that it’s long past time that political attacks on science be met by an effective political response—which is going to require that scientists themselves stand up, in a concerted way, to defend the knowledge they have brought into the world. [....]

Earlier:
The Republican War on Science has its immediate origins in the summer of 2003, when I received a tip to start looking into reports about the stacking of scientific advisory committees by the Bush administration. As a writer who’d been covering issues at the intersection of science and politics for some time, it was a natural topic for me. I started poking around.

In a sense, though, the book’s origins stretch back much further, to a time when I first realized, thanks to my biologist grandfather, that forces existed in American society that were at war with science, and especially the theory of evolution. I think I had the inkling even then that science—this invaluable institution and, more importantly, way of knowing—stood in need of defending.

With this background, I dove into the project, blogging and reporting by day, writing and caffeinating by night. I conducted scores of interviews. I [....]

Sincerely hope this helps.

You can read significant amounts of the book at that set of links, if that's the sort of thing that you're inclined to do.

Slart: "norbizness was The Left, but he seems to no longer be blogging."

Ssssh. Shibboleth.

;-)

Gary:

No, I was asking for when Mooney thought the Republican war began, not when he started working on his book.

Hartmut,

A funny thing about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the US.

During the infamous Modernist/Fundamentalist wars in US Protestantism (1910-1950), Evangelical Lutheran theologians were active anti-fundamentalists.

By the 1970s, fundamentalists started referring to themselves as “evangelical.”

In 1985 Martin Marty, an Evangelical Lutheran and scholar of US religions is referred to as an anti-Evangelical historian.

A funny thing…the way terms should be understood within their social context.


DS:

[...] o, I was asking for when Mooney thought the Republican war began [....]
I'm not clear if you read this:
[...] Before too long, the big picture had emerged. With the ascent of the modern conservative movement and its political domination of the Republican Party, two powerful forces had fused. On issues ranging from the health risks of smoking to global climate change, the GOP had consistently humored private industry’s attempts to undermine science so as to stave off unwelcome government regulation. Meanwhile, on issues ranging from evolution to embryonic stem cell research, the party had also propped up the Christian right’s attacks on science in the service of moral and ideological objectives.

In short, the GOP had unleashed a perfect storm of science politicization and abuse, in the process precipitating a full-fledged crisis over the role of scientific information in political decision-making. Yet this insidious threat—to public health and the environment, but also to good governance, sound leadership, and ultimately knowledge itself—remained obscure to most Americans, veiled by the intricacies of the government regulatory process and the complexities of scientific disputation. [....]

Beyond that, you can read this or the hundreds of pages here, or the whole book.

I'm sure you can handle it from there. I don't know how better to answer your question. If you're looking for me to give you a specific date that Mooney cited, I'm not going to do a search of the text to attempt to find a quote I doubt exists. Beyond that, there's what I've presented that he said, the links to the rest, and the book.

If you perhaps rephrased the question, maybe I'd better understand what I'm failing to report or find here that you wish answered that hasnt't been answered, beyond a specific date of a specific day. I'm not following what else you are asking that isn't answered via the text at the links I've given that doesn't involve actually reading more of said text, or something like "April 2nd, 1982" or "between January and March, 1861, the Republican War on Science began when...."

I don't recall such a sentence, but won't be rereading the book or searching the whole text in search of such, if that's what you're looking for, but want someone else to answer for you.

Put another way: what would be an example of an answer you'd find satisfactory were it true?

Apologies for my misunderstanding you.

Page 55? September, 1995?

It's almost all right here, and I'm sure you know how to Google, so what do you want to google for? And presumably you don't need me to tell you how to find specific phrases you're looking for in the book?

It might be faster for you to read it yourself than write me an explanation. It's a short and simple book, written in simple English, under 200 pages and finishing it should take maybe half an hour or an hour or maybe two, depending on how your read. Somewhat more if you prefer close reading, perhaps.

You can buy a copy of the original edition for $3 and change, including shipping. Same for the revised paperback, as you can see.

That really might be easiest, if you have trouble reading the text on screen or aren't finding what you want via search and doing so, or maybe someone else can answer more directly than I can.

Uh, Newt Gingrich? and 1992?

I think I'm not really understanding what the important question is here. There's no sharp dividing line that isn't arbitrary, so you're just looking for an arbitrary opinion from Mooney as given four or five years go? Or...?

Apologies for any infelicities of phrasing. I haven't been having the best of days or nights, physically, painwise, since Saturday, again.

someotherdude, in German the distinction is between 'evangelisch' (protestant in general) and 'evangelikal' (conservative, fundamentalist protestant). I always got he impression that the latter term was coined as a pejorative and is rarely used by those it is applied to.

Pretty much any church that does outreach is evangelizing, and therefore evangelical. There is a fundamental difference between that sort of evangelical and fundamentalism.

Agreed, that words should be understood in their historical context. But also: words should be understood in the context of the speaker's intent.

The review in Scientific American says that Mooney traces the war on science back to Nixon. Don't know what specifically he has in mind.

Well, that’s kind of the debate among Protestant historian, Slarti.

Was there always an “evangelical tradition” and Fundamentalism became a radical version of this tradition? Or was it an identity that grew out of the Fundamentalist Tradition, and is basically Fundamentalism, without the sour attitude?

Prior to the Modernist/fundamentalist splits, all Protestants, liberal or conservative “mainline” or charismatic understood themselves to be evangelical, but did not use the term as an identity, it was a theological term developed by Luther (or his followers) to distinguish his project from Rome.

After the Modernist/Fundamentalist debates, the Fundamentalists created their own institutions and sub-culture.

Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry the folks at Christianity Today and Fuller Seminary, broke from the Fundamentalists’ isolationism, but maintained their “literalism.” What is strange about this is, for the last few decades academics (social sciences) separated the new Evangelicals from the Fundamentalists by way of their attitudes concerning isolation from mainstream society. But the Fundamentalists started their movement (1910) based on “literalism” vs higher criticisms not separation/isolationism vs engagement. They isolated themselves after the 1920s.

Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones and other Fundies rejected Billy Grahams’ “neo-evangelicalism” (they used it as a prerogative) but by the 1970s, most Fundamentalists began calling themselves Evangelical. So many mainline Protestants (Martin Marty is one of them) thought it was a sneaky way for Fundamentalists to avoid the unpopular term, especially when it began to be used to describe the Iranian Revolution. Marsden’s book Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925, enforced the belief that Evangelicals were always here. But there has been push back, which suggests that the “Evangelicals-have-always-been-here” argument is a narrative developed within the Fuller community, and is not accepted by Denominational historians.


DG Hart, (he calls himself an ex-Evangelical) a very conservative Presbyterian, and a growing number of conservative/orthodox mainliners have begun rejecting the label because of its association with Pop-Protestantism (product placement, Left-Behind/End-Times stuff, anti-intellectualism, Pentecostals and charismatics) and Republican Politics. They have embraced the Denominational history version, that “Evangelical” was developed from Fundamentalists. Although these guys seem to be conservative in their politics, they seem to believe the term “evangelical” has socio-political meaning and is not a theological meaning.

The reason why it is so important, for many, is because of the political alliances that were formed under the Evangelical umbrella, which radically altered the way we understand how Protestantism developed in the US.

Conservative Protestants as well as Liberal Protestants, who also consider themselves secular, seem to think a lot of weird stuff came out of the 1970s Religious Right movement. It’s obvious what concerns the Liberals, but the conservatives seem to be worried about place of Israel and the popularity of the End Times, the hyper-militarism, charismatic mysticism and restructuring US history to make all the Founding Fathers “born-again”

(Can you tell I’m studying for quals)

Well, that’s kind of the debate among Protestant historian

I'm not talking about usage among historians, SOD, I'm talking about usage among actual evangelicals. If people call themselves by a name, but you interpret that name incorrectly, isn't that worthy of note?

Was there always an “evangelical tradition” and Fundamentalism became a radical version of this tradition?

I'm not sure what you mean by "evangelical tradition", or why you have it in quotes. I could assume that you mean something very specific by this, but I'll let you unpack. It should go without saying that the tradition of evangelism is very long indeed, and highly checkered. Certainly Christian evangelism has been around since the time of Christ, no?

Can you tell I’m studying for quals

Are you ever not?

the conservatives seem to be worried about place of Israel and the popularity of the End Times, the hyper-militarism, charismatic mysticism and restructuring US history to make all the Founding Fathers “born-again”

I appreciate that you're doing a scholarly study of this stuff, but I think you're broad-brushing a bit, here. I belong to a sect that considers itself to be highly conservative, but we don't have any official church-view, or even any sort of unofficial church view on the place of Israel other than as a place of historical interest.

We don't obsess about End Times other than to stress the need to be ready, spiritually, at all times. Which doesn't mean that I am, I have to say. But I don't worry about it at all, other than about the extent to which I am spiritually unready.

None of which is to say that other conservative sects aren't involved with these things. Most conservative Lutheran sects are, I think, relatively uncaring about them.

But I don't worry about it at all, other than about the extent to which I am spiritually unready.

Unpacked a bit, this means that I haven't, for instance, converted my cash reserves to gold, and accumulated a year or more's supply of food, and laid in a small arsenal for home defense. There are probably other things that I could do in preparation, if I were inclined to be materially prepared.

Slarti, I think SOD's point was that conservative sects such as yours that weren't part of what he termed the "1970s Religious Right movement" find that movement's focus on the place of Israel and the popularity of the End Times, the hyper-militarism, charismatic mysticism and restructuring US history to make all the Founding Fathers “born-again” problematic, not that sects such as yours have that focus.

Unscientific American by Chris Mooney.

I could be wrong, but I think that's what Hogan may be citing. See the page for the stuff on Nixon, etc. And, of course, the rest of the books.

I kinda figured people would read about his other books via the links, etc., but specifics are always good.

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