Monday, July 14, 2014

A Rising Tide

Chances are pretty good that within less than a hundred years, the place where I’m sitting right now will either be under water or right on the edge of the ocean.

I live about a quarter of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean in a suburb south of Miami.  According to overwhelming scientific evidence, this entire area will become submerged due the rising ocean because of climate change.  It’s not just speculation; it’s a fact and signs are already being seen in some of the more vulnerable coastal areas like Miami Beach.

The question isn’t just what can be done about it; it’s more fundamental than that.  It’s getting people to acknowledge that it’s happening.  The scary thing about that is that there are people who appear to be otherwise intelligent enough to grasp the reality but refuse to do so because of political pressure or sheer denialism.

Most of Florida’s senior politicians – in particular, Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers – have refused to act or respond to warnings of people like Wanless or Harlem or to give media interviews to explain their stance, though Rubio, a Republican party star and a possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said recently. Miami is in denial in every sense, it would seem. Or as Wanless puts it: “People are simply sticking their heads in the sand. It is mind-boggling.”

Not surprisingly, Rubio’s insistence that his state is no danger from climate change has brought him into conflict with local people. Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami, has a particularly succinct view of the man and his stance. “Rubio is an idiot,” says Stoddard. “He says he is not a scientist so he doesn’t have a view about climate change and sea-level rise and so won’t do anything about it. Yet Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, is holding field hearings where scientists can tell people what the data means. Unfortunately, not enough people follow his example. And all the time, the waters are rising.”

Mayor Stoddard’s pithy statement regarding Mr. Rubio’s denial of climate change captured a few headlines, but it points out the most troubling aspect of this situation.  It’s not that Mr. Rubio has a disagreement with the evidence or the conclusions reached.  He’s already made it quite clear that he’s not a scientist.  His problem is that he doesn’t believe in the overall concept that the climate is actually changing in spite of overwhelming evidence.  He’s provided no proof to back up his claim; he’s just not a believer, and even if he did believe it, nothing we can do can stop it.

That is a view that is meant to end the discussion, not carry it forward or find remedy.  It’s the equivalent of slamming the door shut, and thereby proving Mayor Stoddard’s point.

Marco Rubio plans to run for president, either in 2016 or 2020.  The idea of having someone in a leadership role who simply refuses to acknowledge reality should be enough to put an end to that kind of ambition by voters who would rather not have to swim to the polls.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Science Class

Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) thinks “reparative therapy” for gays works despite the overwhelming evidence that it is nothing more than a cruel hoax foisted upon the world by cranks and crackpots who think being gay is a choice.  This is after he compared being gay to being alcoholic.  (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)

Grilled on this stand on CNBC yesterday, the governor admitted that he had no idea what he was talking about.

Earlier this month, the Texas Republican Party adopted at its convention a policy endorsing “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians who seek to change sexual orientation through counseling.

Asked if he believes in that, Perry said in a “Squawk Box” interview: “I don’t know. We’ll leave that to the psychologists and the doctors.”

As Steve Benen catalogs, Mr. Perry joins a bunch of Republicans who admit that they’re not a scientist or a doctor but that doesn’t stop them from holding forth on everything from climate change to the age of the Earth.

It’s one thing to admit that you don’t know something and are willing to learn.  It’s entirely something else to be proud of your ignorance.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Now He’s A Doctor

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has already stated that he doesn’t know a lot about earth science (“I’m not a scientist, man”), but that didn’t stop him from holding forth on the subject of climate change.  But now he thinks he’s an M.D. and a specialist in fertilization.

Marco Rubio says pro-choice Democrats who criticize him for doubting man-made climate change should be questioned on why they support abortion when “it’s a proven fact” that “human life begins at conception.”

Okay, let’s indulge in a little unpacking of this clear attempt on the part of Mr. Rubio to distract attention away from the fact that he’s clearly out of his depth when he’s talking about climate change and he is now scrambling to get back on the safe ground of bumper-sticker science (“Oh, look at the Felis catus!”).

First, the term “proven fact” is redundant.  Second, saying “life begins at conception” is deceptive because while an egg and a sperm may join and start another human being through cell division, a new being isn’t on the way until pregnancy begins.  (This is not me, he who had to re-take Grade 10 biology class, saying that.  It’s from a real scientist.)  Pregnancy doesn’t begin until implantation, and that doesn’t happen the instant the egg and the sperm get it on.  One does not necessarily follow the other.  (By the way, the egg and the sperm are both alive when they meet, so your best bet is to say that “life changes at conception.”)

Finally, isn’t it a tad ironic that someone who is quoting science’s “proven facts” about something he agrees with can still harbor doubts about the age of the Earth?  He must have gotten a degree in sycophancy at Psychotic State.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Champion — Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic on the legacy of African-American politics.

Last week The New Yorker ran a lengthy profile of Barack Obama, by David Remnick, in which you can hear the president’s opinions on everything from marijuana legalization to war to racism. Obama is as thoughtful as ever, and I expect that admiration for his thoughtfulness will grow as the ages pile upon us. I have tried to get my head around what he represents. Two years ago, I would have said that whatever America’s roots in white supremacy, the election of a black president is a real thing, worthy of celebration, a sign of actual progress. I would have pointed out that you should not expect a black head of state in any other Western country any time soon, and that this stands as singular accolade in the long American democratic tradition. Today, I’m less certain about national accolades. I’m not really sure that a writer—whose whole task is the attempt to see clearly—can afford such attachments.

More interesting to me is why this happened. If you begin from the proposition that African-Americans are fundamentally American, in a way that the Afro-French are not; and that America is, itself, a black country in a way that the other European countries are not, Barack Obama’s election strikes you somewhat differently. African-American politics is literally as old as American politics, as old as Crispus Attucks shot down for his nascent country. One of the earliest and bloodiest proving grounds for “Western” democratic ideals was Gettysburg. The line that saved the Union, that ensured that “government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not perish from this earth” was marked by the house of the black farmer Abraham Brian. On that Brian property lived the great Mag Palm, currently lost to our memory, who fought off man-catchers determined to reduce her to peonage.

The first African-American to be nominated for president was Frederick Douglass, a biracial black man of exceptional gifts who dreamed of his estranged father as surely as the present occupant of the White House, perhaps even in this day, dreams of his. The last black Southerner to serve in Congress, before this country assented to the desecration of its own Constitution, was George Henry White, who did not leave in despair but in awesome prophecy:

This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people—full of potential force.

And come again, we have.

All Together wit Pete Seeger — Emily Greenhouse remembers the impact he had on her family.

After the Second World War, my grandparents married and moved to Long Island, and my grandfather opened a dry-cleaning shop. On his delivery route, he would look for customers who received the right kind of magazines and then slip fliers underneath their doors: Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the March on Washington, Ban the Bomb, Stop the War in Vietnam. That’s how my grandparents made new friends. They were meetings people—Grace Paley people, union people. They brought a baby in a stroller to the Rosenbergs’ funeral. Some winters before my grandfather died, he joined in a protest against the Iraq War, in Washington, D.C. After standing for four hours in fifteen-degree weather, he came down with pneumonia. I thought this was heroic, but for him it was normal. He was a Seeger man: he would not be moved or deterred.

The sad morning we learned that Seeger was gone, I spoke to Rob Rosenthal, a professor of sociology at Wesleyan University, and his son, Sam, who recently edited the book “Pete Seeger: In His Own Words.” They met Seeger when he replied to an ad that the elder Rosenthal had placed in the Nation. “He was never pessimistic,” Rosenthal said. “He always thought that humans would get it together.” He added: “When you look at the grand movements of the twentieth century, he was involved in them all (the women’s movement most peripherally). We may think now, ‘Wow, we’re so messed up.’ But he travelled through the South in the thirties, he saw the Hudson cleaned up—a huge, huge thing. He was realistic about how difficult all this was.”

Seeger got in at the ground level—on the union movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the environmentalist movement—and spoke directly to those there. Gabriel Winant, a scholar of labor history, described how Seeger, with a song like “Miner’s Lifeguard,” showed coal miners that they were like sailors—widely perceived as the original modern workers—even if their work was out of the boss’s view. And that, like the sailors, the miners were stronger together.

Sam Rosenthal told me that it was hard to imagine Seeger’s perspective. “He didn’t feel the weight of history the way we did,” he said. “It was staggering to hear him talk about certain things—going to this huge historic march, hanging out with Guthrie or Lead Belly. In the next breath, he would start talking about his neighbor down the road who grew tomatoes.”

It’s Debatable — Sean McElwee and Abigail Salvatore in Salon argue that scientists shouldn’t debate Creationists.

Bill Nye and Ken Ham will be debating creationism on Feb. 4, and it’s a bad idea for both scientists and Christians. Ham’s young-earth creationism represents the distinct tendency of American Christian fundamentalists to reject science and use their religion to defend economic ideas, environmental degradation and anti-science extremism. But these views aren’t actually inherent in Christianity — they’ve been imposed on the biblical text by politically motivated and theologically inept readers. The solution is not anti-theism but better theological and scientific awareness.

The vast majority of right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. are evangelicals, followers of an offshoot of Protestantism. Protestantism is based on the premise that truth about God and his relationship with the world can be discovered by individuals, regardless of their level of education or social status. Because of its roots in a schism motivated by a distrust of religious experts (priests, bishops, the pope), Protestantism today is still highly individualistic. In the United States, Protestantism has been mixed with the similarly individualistic American frontier mythos, fomenting broad anti-intellectualism.

Richard Hofstadter’s classic, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” perfectly summarizes the American distaste for intellectualism and how egalitarian sentiments became intertwined with religion. He and Walter Lippmann point to the first wave of opposition to Darwinian evolution theory, led by William Jennings Bryan, as the quintessential example of the convergence of anti-intellectualism, the egalitarian spirit and religion. Bryan worried about the conflation of Darwinian evolution theory and capitalist economics that allowed elites to declare themselves superior to lower classes. He felt that the teaching of evolution challenged popular democracy: “What right have the evolutionists — a relatively small percentage of the population — to teach at public expense a so-called scientific interpretation of the Bible when orthodox Christians are not permitted to teach an orthodox interpretation of the Bible?” He notes further, “The one beauty of the word of God, is that it does not take an expert to understand it.”

This American distrust of experts isn’t confined to religion. It explains the popularity of books like “Wrong” by David Freedman (a book that purports  to show “why experts are wrong”) that take those snobbish “experts” down a peg.  The delightfully cynical H.L. Mencken writes,

The agents of such quackeries gain their converts by the simple process of reducing the inordinately complex to the absurdly simple.  Unless a man is already equipped with a considerable knowledge of chemistry, bacteriology and physiology, no one can ever hope to make him understand what is meant by the term anaphylaxis, but any man, if only he be idiot enough, can grasp the whole theory of chiropractic in twenty minutes.

Thus, an American need not understand economics to challenge Keynes, nor possess a PhD to question climate change, nor to have read Darwin to declare his entire book a fraud. One need not read journals, for Gladwell suffices, and Jenny McCarthy’s personal anecdotes trump the Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences.

Doonesbury — Keeping it real.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Science Warrior

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is on a mission.

He takes on those who would demand that the public schools teach alternative theories of evolution and the origins of the earth — most famously, in a video clip from the site BigThink.com that has been viewed some five million times. In it, he flatly tells adult viewers that “if you want to deny evolution and live in your world — in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe — that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

In any given week, you’re likely to see Mr. Nye, 57, somewhere on television, calmly countering the arguments made by people like Marc Morano, the former Republican Senate staff member whose industry-funded organization, climatedepot.com, disputes the increasingly well-understood connection between rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warming. In an exchange several months ago on “Piers Morgan Tonight” on CNN, Mr. Morano denied that warming is occurring, and scoffed that Mr. Nye’s arguments were “the level of your daily horoscope.”

Mr. Nye quietly rebutted his opponent with the gravity of scientific consensus. “This will be the hottest two decades in recorded history,” he said. “I’ve got to disagree with you.”

That reminds me of the old joke: Never insult a scientist; he may hand you a hot retort.  [Rimshot.]

Monday, January 28, 2013

Annals of Education

A Montana legislator is pushing a bill in the state house to reintroduce creationism to the state’s public school science classes.

Rep. Clayton Fiscus, R-Billings, said evolution isn’t settled science and called it a “monumental leap” to believe it is true. His bill would allow teachers – if they want – to address perceived weaknesses in evolution studies in the classroom.

“This is just a bill to instruct what we have presently in the science on the origins of life,” Fiscus said. “We should teach what we do know. We should also teach what we don’t know.”

Yeah, evolution is a “monumental leap,” whereas the bit about the talking snake is a proven scientific fact.  Got it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Reading

Roe v. Wade at Forty — Jill LePore of The New Yorker looks back at the legacy of the Supreme Court decision after forty years, and looks ahead.

Looking back, it seems clear that the abortion-rights movement embraced the rhetoric of privacy at the cost of making an argument about equality. National political figures rarely use the word “poverty” any more, but the Guttmacher Institute this year reports that among poor women, the rate of unwanted pregnancy is five times higher than for wealthier women: four in ten women who have abortions are poor. The Institute, founded in 1968, took Guttmacher’s name in 1977. Its mission is to advance “sexual and reproductive health and rights.” But the political discussion of abortion involves more talk about rights than about health. That’s one problem. Another is that most of that talk has been coming from the right. The assertion of a constitutional right to privacy has been answered by the assertion of fetal rights, a claim that challenges not only Roe but also several forms of contraception and, possibly, Griswold itself. Guttmacher’s two key ideas—that contraception would replace abortion and that public health would trump politics—seem, in retrospect, regrettably naïve.

In 2011, when I was researching an article for the magazine about Planned Parenthood, one of the people with whom I talked was Reva Siegel, and one of the most remarkable things she said had to do with how effectively the backlash narrative has intimidated the left. “The right has raised a generation of people who understand that courts matter and who will vote on that basis and can be mobilized to vote on that basis and who are willing to pay political costs for votes,” Siegel said. “This is completely lacking on the other side.” Law students and young lawyers, Siegel believes, are convinced that Roe is the source of the polarization of Americans politics. In response, those on the left “have an inhibition about using litigation for social-change purposes,” while appeals to the courts are “the bread and butter of the right, whether it’s campaign finance or guns or affirmative action.”

If so, Roe’s legacy has hardly begun.

Dangerous Mixture — Puneet Opal, MD, PhD, writes in The Atlantic on the perils of treating science like a political weapon.

We in democracies should make every effort to promote the objectivity of scientists so they can seek and communicate the best approximation of truth in the natural world, using their training and resources. And the approximation, is only because we will never know reality, but we can get amazingly close with scientific evidence and logical thinking.

Political choices can be made after the evidence is presented, but the evidence should stand for what it is. If the evidence itself is rejected by politicians — as is currently going on — then the ignorance of the political class should indeed be exposed, and all threats resisted.

This should be the case regardless of where across the political spectrum the ignorance is coming from. This might seem to be a diatribe against conservatives. But really this criticism is aimed at all unscientific thinking.

Just to be sure, there are a number on the left who have their own dogmatic beliefs; the most notable are unscientific theories with regard to the dangers of vaccinations, genetically modified produce, or nuclear energy.

It is also important to note that there have been exceptional Republican champions of science. In the U.S. Senate, the late Arlen Spector and in Congress, John Porte were two who stood out, lauded by scientists as advocates for scientific inquiry.

In other words, threats to scientific thinking can come from any quarter. What must be preserved is the pursuit of science away from irrational dogma. In that sense scientists should be completely nonpartisan. After all, the universe is what it is. The hurricanes, the flu epidemics, indeed all of reality does not really care about our political affiliations, but we distance ourselves from scientific thinking at our own peril.

Dear Abby — Rick Perlstein of The Nation has an appreciation of the late Pauline Phillips — “Dear Abby” — who passed away this week.

In August of 1980 the director of the ballet company of which Ron Reagan, son of the presidential candidate, was a member for some reason felt moved to put out a statement that Reagan and all the other men in his group had “nice girlfriends.”

In the notion that ballet dancers must be gay, and that this was a shamefully horrible thing, he spoke to a fear shared by Ron Reagan’s father, who when Ron dropped out of college in 1977 to become a dancer immediately phoned up Gene Kelly to ask if that meant he was gay. Later, his adopted son Michael helped him process a disturbing discovery: he caught Ron with a woman in his and Nancy’s (gross!) bed. Said Michael, “The bad news is that you came home early and you caught him. The good news is that you found out he isn’t gay.”

“Dear Abby” had a different view. Of the ballet director, a reader wrote in to decry the “sad commentary on our society’s attitude toward human sexuality that such a statement was made at all. Implicity in that announcement were the following erroneous assumptions: 1) That male participation in ballet requires lengthy justification lest it threaten our traditional views of masculinity; 2) that all male ballet dancers are suspect and therefore proof of their masculinity is required—i.e., having girlfriends; 3) that without proof of their manliness, people might think they were gay; and 4) that being gay is bad.”

The reader asked Abby if she had anything to add. She didn’t. She just wrote, “No. Right on!” (And: “Readers? Write on.” She was democratic that way.) The same column (August 20, 1980) printed a letter of thanks “for your explanation as to why the ERA is a national need,” noting that still, in 1980, the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s sufferage was still ritually voted down every year in the Mississippi legislature.

Good thing Mississippi newspaper readers could read Dear Abby. Good thing Mormons could, too; indeed the link to the August 1980 column above is to the Deseret News—Salt Lake City’s Mormon-owned newspaper. Abby blazed trails for liberalism in the most reactionary precincts. People trusted her that way.

Doonesbury — After-market options.

Friday, January 18, 2013

You’re Paying For That Mythology

Following up on my post about Zack Kopplin’s fight against teaching creationism in Louisiana public schools, the state is still sending public funding to charter schools that insist Jesus rode a dinosaur.

I first began investigating creationist school vouchers as my part of my fight against creationism in my home state of Louisiana. Over the past few months, I’ve learned creationist vouchers aren’t just a Louisiana problem—they’re an American problem. School vouchers are, as James Gill recently wrote in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”

Liberty Christian School, in Anderson, Indiana, has field trips to the Creation Museum and students learn from the creationist A Beka curriculum. Kingsway Christian School, in Avon, Indiana, also has Creation Museum field trips. Mansfield Christian School, in Ohio, teaches science through the creationist Answers in Genesis website, run by the founder of the Creation Museum. The school’s Philosophy of Science page says, “the literal view of creation is foundational to a Biblical World View.” All three of these schools, and more than 300 schools like them, are receiving taxpayer money.

So far, I have documented 310 schools, in nine states and the District of Columbia that are teaching creationism, and receiving tens of millions of dollars in public money through school voucher programs.

By law, charter schools must be afforded the same funding opportunities through grants as all public schools, and all non-public schools are eligible to apply for federal funding as long as they meet certain criteria.  One of those should be that they teach a curriculum that is based on sound educational principles, including knowing the difference between science and mythology.

I don’t have a problem with a school teaching creationism as long as they put it in the same course along with other works of fiction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Smart Kid

Read the story about Zack Kopplin, who, at the age of 14 in 2008, took on the creationists who were re-writing the science curriculum in Louisiana’s public schools and won.

For Zack Kopplin, it all started back in 2008 with the passing of the Louisiana Science Education Act. The bill made it considerably easier for teachers to introduce creationist textbooks into the classroom. Outraged, he wrote a research paper about it for a high school English class. Nearly five years later, the 19-year-old Kopplin has become one of the fiercest — and most feared — advocates for education reform in Louisiana.

[...]

It was during the process to adopt a new life science textbook in 2010 that creationists barraged Louisiana’s State Board of Education with complaints about the evidence-based science texts. Suddenly, it appeared that they were going to be successful in throwing out science textbooks.

“This was a pivotal moment for me,” Kopplin told io9. “I had always been a shy kid and had never spoken out before — I found myself speaking at a meeting of an advisory committee to the State Board of Education and urging them to adopt good science textbooks — and we won.” The LSEA still stood, but at least the science books could stay.

Good for him; good for education; good for science, and good for reason.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Back On Earth

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) does some creative backtracking.

After dabbling in creationism earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., clarified that he does believe that scientists know the Earth is “at least 4.5 billion years old.”

“There is no scientific debate on the age of the earth. I mean, it’s established pretty definitively, it’s at least 4.5 billion years old,” Rubio told Mike Allen of Politico. ”I was referring to a theological debate, which is a pretty healthy debate.

“The theological debate is, how do you reconcile with what science has definitively established with what you may think your faith teaches,” Rubio continued. “Now for me, actually, when it comes to the age of the earth, there is no conflict.”

Speaking of creative, that’s some mighty good misremembering of what he actually said when the topic was brought up the last time: “I’m not a scientist, man.”  And tossing it back to the “theological debate” category is a weasely way out of it because in reality, there is no healthy debate among theologians about their creation mythology unless you’re building a theme park in Kentucky.

Our little boy is learning quickly that you can’t talk like a crackpot and expect to be elected anything more than the Tea Party flavor of the month.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Short Takes

Factory fire kills over 100 in Bangladesh.

Egypt’s top judges don’t like President Morsi’s “unprecedented” decrees.

Homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy were robbed over Thanksgiving.

Cops arrest 42 people in a melee after a party in San Jose.

Florida woman arrested for riding a manatee.

“My kingdom for a DNA scan” — Scientists may have found the remains of King Richard III.

 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Good Old Days

There is an epidemic of whooping cough in Washington state because there have been cutbacks in public funding for healthcare to get preventative care to the population that needs it. Also, there are folks who don’t believe in vaccinating their children because it’s either socialized medicine or because the benevolent sky faerie will take care of them.

This is 2012, not 1912, right? Just checking.

HT to Charlie Pierce.

The Good Old Days

There is an epidemic of whooping cough in Washington state because there have been cutbacks in public funding for healthcare to get preventative care to the population that needs it. Also, there are folks who don’t believe in vaccinating their children because it’s either socialized medicine or because the benevolent sky faerie will take care of them.

This is 2012, not 1912, right? Just checking.

HT to Charlie Pierce.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Shine On

How many of you know that the moon does not emit light but reflects it?

Apparently that’s not only news to some people, but it runs counter to the bible, and Bill Nye the Science Guy raised a few hackles for stating that fact.

As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own.

But don’t tell that to the good people of Waco, who were “visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence,” according to the Waco Tribune.

Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.

But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.”

The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.

At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled “We believe in God!” and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they’d always suspected.

Mission accomplished.

HT to BooMan.

Shine On

How many of you know that the moon does not emit light but reflects it?

Apparently that’s not only news to some people, but it runs counter to the bible, and Bill Nye the Science Guy raised a few hackles for stating that fact.

As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own.

But don’t tell that to the good people of Waco, who were “visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence,” according to the Waco Tribune.

Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.

But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.”

The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.

At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled “We believe in God!” and left with three children, thus ensuring that people across America would read about the incident and conclude that Waco is as nutty as they’d always suspected.

Mission accomplished.

HT to BooMan.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Losing Their Science

Not all that long ago, conservatives used to be the practical ones, the logical ones. They were the pragmatic Spocks to the liberal Dr. McCoys who demanded facts and evidence instead of going with their “feelings” over such matters as science and technology. It may have been the dreamers who wanted to go into space and seek out “new life and new civilizations,” but it was the grounded and staunchly conservatives who made it happen.

Well, that was then.

Conservatives, particularly those with college educations, have become dramatically more skeptical of science over the past four decades, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. Fewer than 35 percent of conservatives say they have a “great deal” of trust in the scientific community now, compared to nearly half in 1974.

“The scientific community … has been concerned about this growing distrust in the public with science. And what I found in the study is basically that’s really not the problem. The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church,” says the study’s author, University of North Carolina postdoctoral fellow Gordon Gauchat.

In fact, in 1974, people who identified as conservatives were among the most confident in science as an institution, with liberals trailing slightly behind, and moderates bringing up the rear. Liberals have remained fairly steady in their opinion of the scientific community over the interim, while conservative trust in science has plummeted.

Interestingly, the most educated conservatives have led that charge. Conservatives with college degrees began distrusting science earlier and more forcefully than other conservatives, upending assumptions that less educated people on the whole are more distrustful of science.

Gauchat attributes the changes to two forces: Both science and conservatives have changed a lot in 40 years. In the post-WWII period, research was largely wedded to the Defense Department and NASA—think the space race and the development of the atomic bomb. Now the scientific institution “has come out from behind those institutions and been its own cultural force.” That has meant it is increasingly viewed as a catalyst of government regulation, as in the failed Democratic proposal to institute cap-and-trade as a way to reduce carbon emissions and stave off climate change.

“People are now viewing science as part of government regulation,” Gauchat says.

Previous studies have shown that climate change, the widely-accepted theory that man-made carbon emissions are causing the world to grow warmer, is very unpopular among conservatives, and especially white conservative males. In 2008, half of all conservatives believed in climate change. By 2010, only a third did, compared to more than 70 percent of liberals, according to a Gallup poll.

The issue has caused a bit of a hubbub in the Republican primary. Failed candidate Jon Huntsman wrote in August, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy,” before later walking that back and saying there were still doubts. Newt Gingrich has been pounded repeatedly by rival Rick Santorum—who says global warming is a “hoax”—for appearing in an anti-climate change ad with Nancy Pelosi in 2006. (He’s since said there is evidence “on both sides of the issue.”) And Mitt Romney says he believes the Earth is getting warmer, but isn’t sure how much humans are contributing to that.

It’s because, as Stephen Colbert noted, reality has a well-known liberal bias.

David Atkins explains:

Back in the day when the image of a “scientist” was a clean-shaven white man working for the government to develop nuclear bombs to drop on the Soviets, or a space program to defeat the Soviets, or one-hit miracle drugs, conservatives could totally get behind it. Now that “science” seems to more about squirrely liberal types telling us about global sustainability and disease prevention, conservatives don’t believe in science anymore.

I think there’s another element to this, too. Back during the Cold War, the fight was between two ideologies that were based in secular economic theories: Capitalism versus Communism. Nowadays the enemy is basing their battle against the West on radical religious grounds; it’s a battle between the believers. And when you’re fighting a battle based on faith and practice, science loses. Just ask Galileo.

[HT to CLW; here's a link to the study itself (PDF).]

Losing Their Science

Not all that long ago, conservatives used to be the practical ones, the logical ones. They were the pragmatic Spocks to the liberal Dr. McCoys who demanded facts and evidence instead of going with their “feelings” over such matters as science and technology. It may have been the dreamers who wanted to go into space and seek out “new life and new civilizations,” but it was the grounded and staunchly conservatives who made it happen.

Well, that was then.

Conservatives, particularly those with college educations, have become dramatically more skeptical of science over the past four decades, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. Fewer than 35 percent of conservatives say they have a “great deal” of trust in the scientific community now, compared to nearly half in 1974.

“The scientific community … has been concerned about this growing distrust in the public with science. And what I found in the study is basically that’s really not the problem. The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church,” says the study’s author, University of North Carolina postdoctoral fellow Gordon Gauchat.

In fact, in 1974, people who identified as conservatives were among the most confident in science as an institution, with liberals trailing slightly behind, and moderates bringing up the rear. Liberals have remained fairly steady in their opinion of the scientific community over the interim, while conservative trust in science has plummeted.

Interestingly, the most educated conservatives have led that charge. Conservatives with college degrees began distrusting science earlier and more forcefully than other conservatives, upending assumptions that less educated people on the whole are more distrustful of science.

Gauchat attributes the changes to two forces: Both science and conservatives have changed a lot in 40 years. In the post-WWII period, research was largely wedded to the Defense Department and NASA—think the space race and the development of the atomic bomb. Now the scientific institution “has come out from behind those institutions and been its own cultural force.” That has meant it is increasingly viewed as a catalyst of government regulation, as in the failed Democratic proposal to institute cap-and-trade as a way to reduce carbon emissions and stave off climate change.

“People are now viewing science as part of government regulation,” Gauchat says.

Previous studies have shown that climate change, the widely-accepted theory that man-made carbon emissions are causing the world to grow warmer, is very unpopular among conservatives, and especially white conservative males. In 2008, half of all conservatives believed in climate change. By 2010, only a third did, compared to more than 70 percent of liberals, according to a Gallup poll.

The issue has caused a bit of a hubbub in the Republican primary. Failed candidate Jon Huntsman wrote in August, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy,” before later walking that back and saying there were still doubts. Newt Gingrich has been pounded repeatedly by rival Rick Santorum—who says global warming is a “hoax”—for appearing in an anti-climate change ad with Nancy Pelosi in 2006. (He’s since said there is evidence “on both sides of the issue.”) And Mitt Romney says he believes the Earth is getting warmer, but isn’t sure how much humans are contributing to that.

It’s because, as Stephen Colbert noted, reality has a well-known liberal bias.

David Atkins explains:

Back in the day when the image of a “scientist” was a clean-shaven white man working for the government to develop nuclear bombs to drop on the Soviets, or a space program to defeat the Soviets, or one-hit miracle drugs, conservatives could totally get behind it. Now that “science” seems to more about squirrely liberal types telling us about global sustainability and disease prevention, conservatives don’t believe in science anymore.

I think there’s another element to this, too. Back during the Cold War, the fight was between two ideologies that were based in secular economic theories: Capitalism versus Communism. Nowadays the enemy is basing their battle against the West on radical religious grounds; it’s a battle between the believers. And when you’re fighting a battle based on faith and practice, science loses. Just ask Galileo.

[HT to CLW; here's a link to the study itself (PDF).]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Monkeyshines

In 1925, Tennessee was the site of the famous Scopes trial where a school teacher was hauled into court for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a public school. It was basically a publicity stunt to test the law, and the trial was pretty much a show to pit the great legal voices of the time — Clarence Darrow for the defense, and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution — and provide the country with amusement in a time before American Idol.

Now it looks like Tennessee is putting in place the modern version of the law that was at the center of the trial by proposing to teach creationism along side evolution so students will “understand” the controversy.

The Senate approved a bill Monday evening that deals with teaching of evolution and other scientific theories while the House approved legislation authorizing cities and counties to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

The Senate voted 24-8 for HB368, which sponsor Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, says will provide guidelines for teachers answering students’ questions about evolution, global warming and other scientific subjects. Critics call it a “monkey bill” that promotes creationism in classrooms.

The bill was approved in the House last year but now must return to that body for concurrence on a Senate amendment that made generally minor changes. One says the law applies to scientific theories that are the subject of “debate and disputation” — a phrase replacing the word “controversial” in the House version.

The measure also guarantees that teachers will not be subject to discipline for engaging students in discussion of questions they raise, though Watson said the idea is to provide guidelines so that teachers will bring the discussion back to the subjects authorized for teaching in the curriculum approved by the state Board of Education.

The Scopes trial was dramatized into the play Inherit the Wind in 1955 and later made into a film with Spencer Tracy in 1960. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee took substantial liberties with the transcript of the case in order to make the play, but the point is the same: if you outlaw the teaching of evolution — or elevate mythology to the level of science — what’s next? Intelligent falling?

Not only that, but we’re really moving into Irony Red Alert territory in terms of education policy. The conservative meme is that the state and the federal government has no business telling schools what to teach their students; it should be up to the local school board, and no bunch of liberals should be dictating things like equality and fighting anti-gay bullying. But here comes the state of Tennessee — not a bastion of liberalism by any measure — telling teachers and schools what to teach in the science lab and what pictures to hang on the wall.

Where is Spencer Tracy now that we need him?