Keeping your mouth shut to advance your social standing »« In which I’m interviewed by an Aussie

Accepting evidence is not dogmatic

Update: I have decided to restore this post with some minor edits. I will write more about my decision to do so in another post, since I think the topic of self censorship in terms of the social structure of academia is an interesting topic.

Hrmph.

I’m frustrated. As I talked about before, I’m working on my NSF Graduate Fellowship proposal. Part of this process is getting a ton of students and professors to critique your paper. I honestly shouldn’t be too annoyed, because overall the reviews of my proposal have been very good. But a critique that I got from many – but not the majority of – my reviewers happens to be a major pet peeve of mine.

I was too “dogmatic.”

The offending part was the opening paragraphs of my personal statement. I’ll post it here for full disclosure:

            “College was a bit of a culture shock for me. I grew up in a nurturing environment that embraced science – Bill Nye the Science Guy was the program of choice, and competing in Science Olympiad was cool. But when I moved a tad farther south into the heartland of Indiana for my undergraduate education at Purdue University, I quickly realized this was not a universal truth. The attitude toward evolution was terrible amongst non-scientists on campus. One of the local churches was a major donor to the infamous Creation Museum in Kentucky, activists handed out anti-evolution tracts on the main quad, and anti-evolution letters in the campus newspaper were commonplace. I was shocked to learn that even many of my fellow biology majors did not accept evolution.

The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a skeptical, naturalistic worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place. I quickly learned that many of these people still valued science, but never had the opportunity to become educated about evolution.

That realization motivated my passion for science communication and mentoring. […]”

Now, I’m not claiming that’s perfect. It’s a draft that can obviously still do with some tweaking. And I realize I have to walk on egg shells and be politically correct if I actually want to get funded. It doesn’t matter if I’m being honest or if I’m technically right if I happen to get three Christian biologists who read this as a belligerent attack against their belief. Which is apparently how it came off to my reviewers.

Fine. Whatever. I don’t read it that way, but I guess I can see how you can read it to be negative. I thought I was being as diplomatic as I could possibly be, but apparently it’s still not diplomatic enough – I’ll have to change some of the wording.

If we would have stopped at “This could potentially be interpreted negatively,” I would not have been writing this post. But it didn’t. Some of my reviewers, including a professor, insisted that I was “dogmatic,” and “wanted people to believe in evolution just because that’s what you happen to believe in.” That rejecting evolution isn’t a “terrible” attitude. That I shouldn’t be “shocked” that some biology majors don’t believe in evolution, because not everyone has to be like me. That wanting to help people learn about evolution means I thought they were stupid.

That I came off as, I quote, “Dawkins-esque.”

I think that was supposed to be negative remark, but I took it as a compliment.

I fumed the whole bus ride home, wishing I could have responded then and there – but a meeting for a review of your work is not the place for a philosophical debate. But these are things I hear over and over – not just from professors and classmates I like and respect who accept evolution but think I’m too “dogmatic” about promoting it. Because they’re so common, I feel that it’s important that I address those types of ideas here.

1. Wanting people to adopt an evidence-based view of the universe is not dogmatic. In fact, it’s the very opposite of dogma. I want people to be able to change their minds when confronted with new evidence. Admitting you were wrong is one of the most intellectually honest things you can do. The only “dogmatic” thing about living in reality is that some things are true, and some things are not. You don’t get to flap your arms and start flying through the air just because you wish that was the way the universe works.

2. I don’t want people to “believe in evolution because that’s what I believe in.” I want people to accept evolution because there’s an insurmountable mountain of evidence supporting it. This isn’t a subjective opinion that’s up for debate. I’m not forcing people to think that chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls is the best flavor (though it totally is). To deny evolution is either based on ignorance or willful delusion. I know, what mean words. That doesn’t make them less true. People have either not learned about evolution or not had it explained to them well, or they’re people who go and build Creation Museums and think people walked with dinosaurs because of their religious convictions. There may be less hope at getting the latter to accept evolution, but being a science educator is important to me, and I want to tackle the “ignorance” side of that equation.

In my future draft, I plan to explicitly say that I accept evolution because of that mountain of evidence. I thought that would be self-evident to biologist NSF reviewers, but might as well be safe…

3. Rejecting evolution is certainly a “terrible” attitude. Again, why should we pat people on the back for ignoring scientific facts?

4. We don’t give chemistry degrees to people who believe in alchemy. We don’t give aerospace engineering degrees to people who think planes are held up by fairies. We don’t give geology degrees to people who think the Earth is made of chocolate pudding.  But we have no problem giving biology degrees to people who think an invisible supernatural being created life, despite it having as much evidence as Puddingology. I should feel shocked that people who reject the fundamental concepts of their field can still successfully earn a degree.

5. I don’t think that everyone who rejects evolution is stupid. I do, however, think they are wrong. Those things are not equivalent. And when ignorance – the lack of information – is the cause of their rejection, that can be fixed. And should be fixed – but apparently it’s dogmatic to think people should be educated.

Why do I even need to have this discussion? Why, if I had proposed educating people about gravity or plate tectonics, would there have been no debate? Why would any other drive to educate be seen as positive, rather than dogmatic? Why are we expected to roll over and simply accept that some people are going to ignore the fact of evolution?

Because religion is protected in our culture. Telling someone they’re wrong is “dogmatic” if it’s contradicting their religious beliefs even if, you know, they’re wrong. Mincing words and avoiding hurt feelings is more important than education and reality.

Religion does not deserve this special status. We don’t have to tiptoe around, pretending the universe bends to their wishes when all of the evidence says otherwise.

Of course, I have to wonder if this whole “dogmatic” thing came up because later in my personal statement I mention my involvement with some secular organizations. They were relevent – I talk about various pro-science events we’ve done, and the organizational and leadership skills I’ve gained from them. Or if it came up because these people aren’t reading my proposal in a vacuum – they all know I’m a strident, outspoken atheist in my free time. Even if I don’t say that in my proposal and I mince words as much as possible, that knowledge still colors their interpretation. Without the atheism side, would my drive to educate about evolution have been a problem? Did my classmates who mentioned teaching students about evolution in their applications get called dogmatic?

I hate that I even have to wonder about it.

Comments

  1. Daniel says

    I suppose the problem is that acceptance of evolution is considered nothing more than a personal opinion in this political climate. I actually think religion *wouldn’t* get special treatment in this instance, that’s why they have a problem with it. If you substitute something like “reincarnation” or “love of Jesus” in with evolution, yeah, it does come off as preachy. I know and agree (weird that I even have to say that) that evolution is different, but that’s clearly not the lens they’re viewing it through, which is a shame.

    I think one thing that you mentioned in your defense but didn’t have in the initial statement were your reasons *why* you accepted evolution. You didn’t explain that the reason you accepted it was because of evidence, rather than your indoctrination in and worship of the religion of science, which is unfortunately how some might see those paragraphs. You take acceptance of evolution as a given, which I would hope would be agreeable to the majority of the people in your *science* department or wherever this proposal is going, but obviously they think it’s something you should be concerned about. It is stupid, though.

  2. Andrew says

    “Religion does not deserve this special status. We don’t have to tiptoe around, pretending the universe bends to their wishes when all of the evidence says otherwise.”

    Well said!

  3. Tom Singer says

    There are certain keywords that convey contempt. Heartland (which, in context, sounds an awful lot like “backwoods”). Infamous. Terrible. Then you go and take *personal* offense at people who don’t accept evolution.

    Those are the things I’d try to revise. Partly because they’re not exactly PC. And partly because you catch more flies with honey. If you’re presenting yourself as a science communicator looking to educate people, you’d be better off if you aren’t actively antagonizing them.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. says

    I’d have asked him if expecting doctors to understand modern medicine is dogmatic. I mean, not everybody has to believe the same, why shouldn’t we allow future medical practitioners to interpret and treat patients based on archaic methods?

  5. Pepijn says

    I probably shouldn’t point out that there’s a “was” too many in the fourth sentence of your personal statement…

  6. says

    No, please point out stuff like this! I still have until mid November to edit it.

    I can’t believe that a half dozen people read that without catching the typo.

  7. Randomfactor says

    Hope they don’t “dogmatically” require evidence in scientific papers they’re reviewing…

  8. becca says

    “To deny evolution is either based on ignorance or willful delusion.”
    And how are accusations of “willful delusion” NOT going to sound exactly as “dogmatic” as accusations of “willful ignorance”?
    “dogma” may be associated strongly with religion, and it may well be that the professor was really getting at the fact you sound like the mirror image of a religious fanatic. On the other hand, strictly speaking, dogma is about relying on authority.

    In the metaphysical sense, there are two sources of knowledge. Only two. That of our direct sensory input, and that we get from the authority of others. For the vast majority of people, both evolution and god are so far outside the realm of their direct sensory input, that they must rely on authorities to tell them about what is valid*. Therefore, for the vast majority of people, both processes are equally dogmatic. Unless you want people to *do* experiments that support evolution, you really are asking them to support your dogma instead of someone elses.

    *I’m a biologist, and the closest I get to ‘experiencing’ evolution is probably playing around with sequence data, but then, I’m taking it on faith that that data is meaningful- I didn’t go and do any of the experimental work to get it.

    “Rejecting evolution is certainly a “terrible” attitude. Again, why should we pat people on the back for ignoring scientific facts?”
    I’m a microbiologist by training. I don’t consider it a “terrible attitude” when people think that antibiotics kill viruses. I consider it frustrating ignorance, sure. But “terrible attitude” is a phrase I use for my 2 year old’s tantrums. It suggests an intentionality, and it also sets me squarely in opposition to the person. It also takes a smidgen of supercillious presumption to say it.

    “We don’t give pilot’s licenses to people who think planes are held up by fairies. “
    How do you know? Has anyone ever tested pilots for their beliefs? Do you have any evidence whatsoever, or can even draw a remotely plausible argument from pure theory, that pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by X perform better than pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by Y?

    Would you rather find yourself riding in the plane of a pilot who had been flying for 15 years and who scored in the top 0.1% of pilots on simulated flight performance decisions and reaction times, and who had actually navigated a plane into a river in an emergency landing BUT who believed fairies were keeping up the plane, or a plane with NO experience, who scored in the bottom 0.1% of pilots BUT who believed that AIR held up the plane, and who had written a Ph.D. dissertation from U of W on the distinctions between the Bernoulli Principle and the action of propellers?
    Beliefs matter, but you have to be aware of their limitations. And strictly speaking, wanting to change people’s beliefs because you think it will change their worldview is pretty heavy handed. I don’t think you should stop doing it or anything. But dogmatic… yeah.

  9. Kristine says

    Wow. Did they read the same thing I just read? I don’t know how someone could read that and think the author is dogmatic. Perhaps the most important lesson here is that even though you are right, if the people “in charge” are the wishy-washy accommodationist types then you might have to watch your language. It’s bullshit and I hope you don’t have that problem again.

  10. Brad says

    I think what they are really saying is that your are talking about evolution through the lens of atheism, in contrast with religion. Your statement should focus on you as a scientist, not you as a humanist, just like a Christian writing a personal statement should not discuss science through the lens of Christianity. I’m not suggesting that Atheism is a religion like Christianity, but Atheism brings religion to mind, and you don’t want to give anyone a reason to judge you based on anything other than your scientific promise and ambition. So I think it is fine to express shock at the rejection of accepted science, but not to call that a rejection of your ethics.

    Thank you for reposting this.

  11. Aliasalpha says

    You implied that other people weren’t 100% correct 100% of the time?? YOU MONSTER!

    In a way I’m tempted to agree with Tom Singer above when he mentions potentially undiplomatic word choices. However the next thing that goes through my mind is that this is the PERSONAL statement and should be edited purely for the refinement of your own views.

    If I had to make a suggestion, I would recommend a deeper analysis of why evolution rejection is more than a personal problem (much as you have done with this post). Explain how evolution underpins most if not all biological study, perhaps with examples of how rejection of the theory can disrupt effective data gathering. This should simultaneously frame your personal views and demonstrate that you know your evolutionary stuff all in one blow from the mighty ReasonMace (+5 vs opposing ideologies).

  12. says

    I have to disagree. One of the main parts of the Personal Statement is to discuss your motivation for becoming a scientist and why you’re passionate about the sort of things you do outside of the lab. I can’t help it that learning about evolution made me an atheist, and that being an atheist and a skeptic in turn motivates me to be an outspoken science educator. It is controversial, yes, but it is my core motivation. If I cut that out, it reads as a bland list of accomplishments with no personality, and there’s no distinction between me and any other applicant. I know this because that’s how I originally wrote it, before multiple people told me I had to address my motivations for being a scientist, despite how controversial they may be.

  13. BCskeptic says

    Jen, keep telling it like it is. Those reviewers who state that you are too dogmatic about evidence are simply wrong and have had their thinking clouded by PC and religion. They need to be told that in no uncertain terms. Since this is the personal statement part of your proposal, you have every right to make a personal statement, and color it however you feel like!

    When I fly in a plane, I’m certainly glad that the scientists and engineers who constructed it were “dogmatic” about materials science, testing, construction, and aerospace design. We communicate on the Internet (and land planes safely) because the physicists who developed the foundational technology were “dogmatic” about fundamental physics and chemistry. Why the solid science of evolution, demonstrably a fact, and backed by VAST amounts of evidence from many lines of inquiry, gets picked on is purely an effect of religious ideology, plain and simple.

    If I ever flew on a plane where the pilot thought fairies held it up, well, I’d want to be on another plane!

  14. Tim says

    Thank you so much for reposting this. After I saw the post about how it had been removed, I must admit that I was taken aback by your self-censorship. “Lay it all out and let people decide what they must.” Sounds like some sort of, I dunno, peer review process?

    People have either not learned about evolution or had it explained to them well, or they’re people who go and build Creation Museums…

    should be something more like

    People have either not learned about evolution or not had it explained to them well, or they’re people who go and build Creation Museums…

    As a fellow science student living in the heartland, I found your statements to accurately reflect the attitude of many of the students around here. Just today, I was walking down the sidewalk of the quad whereupon someone from the local CCfC had written “The Creator of Heaven and Earth cares about U[sic]!” and “Wisdom: Ask you shall receive it!” *sigh* Does that mean Jesus can help me with my quantum mechanics homework?

  15. Stacy says

    @becca #8

    How do you know? Has anyone ever tested pilots for their beliefs? Do you have any evidence whatsoever, or can even draw a remotely plausible argument from pure theory, that pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by X perform better than pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by Y?

    Actually, pilots have to learn the basics of aeronautics in order to earn a license. And, in fact, at least when it comes to flying the simplest kinds of planes (the only ones I’ve had any training in), knowing the how and why planes fly helps an awful lot, particularly in an emergency situation. After all, if fairies were holding up the plane, then stalling wouldn’t be a particular problem, would it?

    Oh, and, becca? Air isn’t holding up the plane. Just FYI.

  16. says

    I think one can get a chemistry degree while believing in alchemy, as long as one actually learns the chemistry and keeps the alchemy to oneself.

    However, one would rightly be thought a fool by other chemists if one advocated alchemy (as a serious scientific theory). And it’s hard to imagine anyone holding on to alchemy after learning some chemistry since alchemy, unlike creationism, is not supported by a powerful religious culture, threats of hell, easy money for advocating it, etc.

  17. B-Lar says

    I’m sorry that you and reality had to suffer such an indignity.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Kg7115uEqk

    “This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively. But if sweetness can win – and it can – then I shall still be here tomorrow to high five you yesterday, my friend. Peace.”

  18. Rudi says

    I see no reason why you can’t continue to be honest about your motivation to teach evolution. On the other hand, though, I see no reason why you can’t couch it in purely positive terms: no need to mention the fact that millions of people ‘reject’ evolution, or that it brings you into conflict with religious propoganda. While these things are clearly true, your social climate is such that such rank idiocy is protected (venerated, even). This is perfectly insane, of course, and speaking as a Brit I can only look on in stupefied amazement – but even I would think twice about mentioning religion in this context. Please don’t let your exasperation at these fools get the better of you!

  19. Arancaytar says

    Thanks for keeping this post.

    I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place. I quickly learned that many of these people still valued science, but never had the opportunity to become educated about evolution.

    That realization motivated my passion for science communication and mentoring. […]“

    I really don’t see the dogma, either.

    Not sure what characteristic of Dawkins the term “Dawkins-esque” is supposed to refer to, either. Your text brings to mind his awe of reality, and his uncompromising clarity, but it contains nothing of the abrasive condemnations he is sometimes attacked for. To call this dogmatic doesn’t reflect open-mindedness, but an abject fear of confrontation.

    If it’s not perfect, then that’s because no text is. If the rest is like this opening, then it’s excellent, though. Best of luck with it.

  20. machintelligence says

    I fail to see why pointing out that a biologist who doesn’t “believe” in evolution and a physicist who doesn’t “believe” in subatomic particles are functionally equivalent could be considered controversial.

  21. says

    When you request comments from human beings, you get comments from human beings. This is a good thing because your proposal is going to be read by other human beings.

    Having obtained feedback on tons of writings over my several decades in the sciences, I realize the feedback can be frustrating. However, you are under no obligation to agree or incorporate that feedback into your work. What I find almost universal in most young writers (myself included) is the defensiveness associated with critiques. Hell, I still get the initial annoyance by certain comments to manuscripts or grants.

    The application is ultimately yours. Your decisions on what too include or not in it are yours. If you change it and it doesn’t get funded because it’s too PC, you can’t blame those who advised you to tone it down. If you don’t change it and it doesn’t get funded, you can’t blame those who told you to stick to your guns. You have to be responsible for your writings. You have had several professionals tell you it read dogmatically. You don’t agree. Fine, but remember you are not the one evaluating your proposal, other people are. Isn’t it possible that these other people might fell similarly to your reviewers? This is why you get a lot of feedback, but again you are not required to incorporate all or even any of the comments. When I give out my writings to colleagues, I am delighted when it comes back covered in red ink. Because now I have something to work with. If you are only interested in positive feedback, simply send your future writings to some of your most loyal and dedicated blog followers, Im sure they will basically tell you how great your draft is.

    Finally, a word of caution, which I expect you already received from your advisor. When you ask for feedback, get it, then write a post telling the world how asinine you think the feedback was, you are basically fucking over your reviewers. Did you tell them ahead of time that their time and energy trying to help you could be used against them in the court of public opinion? If the post comes to their attention, do you think they will take the time to help again? Maybe you don’t care, and that’s fine. But your decisions have ramifications and you should be aware of them. Maybe other colleagues, not involved in this proposal, will be less helpful, because they know their opinions could be subject to a rant. (There’s a big difference between ranting with your friends about an asshole in the department over beers and posting the same thing on the web.)

    Self-censorship is not a bad thing, it’s something required to live together in a society. I expect you don’t walk down the street telling everyone you think is dressed in stupid way, they look stupid (if you think everyone is dressed awesome, feel free to substitute a different kind of example). I also have never seen you write a post decrying the unjustness in the universe that you are discouraged from doing that.

    Regardless, good luck with the proposal!

  22. Riptide says

    Having recently brushed up against a self-confesses “major Jesus Freak” in my own university, who proudly proclaimed “evolution is a big lie,” I can sympathize with your frustration at everyone falling all over themselves to to condemn you for not keeping your mouth shut about it. It’s frustrating, annoying, and even a bit humiliating when people whom you *know* are atheists wind up taking a religious nutjob’s side because of the special status religion enjoys in our society.

    The only minor nit I have to pick with your personal statement is the following sentence: “…or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place.” This should be re-worded; as-is, it makes it seem like you think you personally “evolved” those traits yourself. It’s minor, sure, but when you’re gambling on grant money minor things can make a difference. I’d say “…or how lucky I feel that homonids evolved…” or something similar.

  23. ara says

    The accusations of dogmatism, it seems to me, stem from the following:

    “I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place.”

    That strikes me as very dogmatic, but if this is a personal statement I don’t actually see anything wrong with that… I hardly imagine that a similar pair of sentences written from a “the biological sciences help me see the wonder of God” would get any major critiques, in a personal statement.

    Also, we really do give lots of degrees and licenses to people who believe “stuff” counter to some of those degrees. For example, see the work and personal beliefs of paleontologist Dr Marcus Ross.

    Furthermore, if the science is good, I really don’t care what the personal beliefs of the scientist are. This Dr Ross, for example, does impeccable work… why should I care that he’s also a young earther at heart? Sure, he’s wrong, religiously speaking, but if that isn’t effecting the quality of his scientific work it doesn’t seem to matter.

  24. Eidolon says

    Lorax, I think you have made some important points here. First off I would say that negative comments are more useful, if also more of a PITA than ones that basically say how wonderful a work is. My photography would never improve if I did not get some negative input.

    Your second point, about fucking over reviewers by posting negative responses to their review is spot on. Basically, if someone ask for an honest response and then whines about it, they will be hard pressed to get any more help from me. They might think my review is a complete pile of crap, but I was asked for my honest opinion. Accept it or reject it – but don’t debate or whine in public. Write me back and ask for clarification but keep it between us.

  25. pascal says

    It really does read very negatively. Like you only want to study evolution to fight the religious maniacs (who may be just a very local occurrence at Purdue, it just mentions your experience there, that reads even more like it’s personal between you and 2 or 3 christians there). Even though you want to work to fight destruction, it sounds destructive. I’d rather speak of only nice and positive things, more “Sagan-esqe”, even though we’ve probably all grown a bit sick of too much sense of wonder all the time. I’m guessing that’s what the reviewers will read in the other applications, so it’s probably good to not stick out negatively there. You could probably mention how you want to go out and bring that wonder to the people which would maybe help in reducing the statistical number of creationists which are probably evidence of too little a sense of wonder etc. But speaking of creationists in more specific terms than broad statistics (better include Canada in there as well, can’t be too broad) could by someone disliking the other atheist stuff be interpreted as some kind of personal vendetta…

    Basically, I guess you should be as boring as possible in the text, if you don’t stick out here, the only thing they can do is compare the list of accomplishments, and you’ll probably win there.

  26. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Jen.

    It is possible to be dogmatic about even something that is supported by evidence.

    The problem, as I see it, with the passage, is that you don’t *say* that people are rejecting evidence. You say that they are rejecting evolution. It may be obvious to you that evolution is supported by evidence, but here’s the thing: given stopped clocks, etc., is the persona in the story upset because she has never questioned evolution & suddenly evolution is being questioned? (This is how it is written.) I think what you mean to communicate is that you **already** questioned evolution, got the facts, concluded evolution was supported by the facts, and now have people questioning the very facts themselves.

    If I was someone whose parents had told, “evolution is true,” and believed it the way that Christian kids believe that, “Christ died for your sin,” because they are told by their parents (and whomever), then I could have just as large a culture shock. There’s nothing in the paragraphs that say that you aren’t dogmatic. There’s nothing in there that actually tells people you questioned & tested evolution.

    The only reasonable conclusion for a reader is that your reaction has nothing to do with people questioning evidence – you would have mentioned the world evidence if that was the crux of that matter. Instead, you clearly simply need to have people accept evolution *regardless* of the evidence, because, again, if you just wanted people to look at the evidence, then your writing would have at least **mentioned** looking at the evidence, duh!

    I know, I know that you did questiop evolution. I know that to you there is no conflict between writing this post about, “accepting evidence,” and the passage above about evolution. But you have to admit that you didn’t spell it out for people.

    You can use evolution as an example of where people reject evidence, but if your problem is the rejection of evidence, you have to, at some point, actually speak explicitly about that. Otherwise there are going to be a lot of people who see “no evidence” in your paper that this is your concern, and instead have much more evidence that your real concern is the refusal to accept a certain narrative – which may in fact be correct, but, to read your own work, has nothing to do with evidence since evidences and evolution are never mentioned together.

    I know this might sound harsh. It’s not meant to. There are simply assumptions built into the world evolution for you that are not built into the word for everyone else. Making things implicit into things explicit may be a bit more work, but it will make the passage better.

    And even most Christian biologists – at least in this NSF process – would have a hard time complaining, “But she wanted people to believe **evidence**!”

  27. Amanda M. says

    1) Point #4. Oh my god, I want to give you a gigantic hug for point #4. If I ever met a creationist-biologist, I’d be HORRIFIED. Nothing about that is okay!

    2) As for your last point, about reading this paper in a vacuum: why not try it? Hand this paper to some people anonymously. Maybe profs in another department? Have a friend of yours hand it to them, in case they recognize you (you’re so famous!) and take the name off the paper. It could be a fun little social experiment…

    3) I love everything about this entry. You eloquently and concisely said everything I was thinking, but couldn’t quite put into words. I’m gonna go link this on my facebook. ^_^

  28. LTFT says

    Here’s why I don’t like the draft of the personal statement you posted…

    Even dumb people can have good ideas. Some creationists/theists/etc are not dumb. Some are productive members of the scientific community. Every paper published, however, has flaws. When I read this draft of your personal statement I question whether you will fairly evaluate the flaws in papers written by scientists you know or suspect to be theists. When I see such strong condemnation and disregard for people who have done the same work as you and who have earned the same degree as you (Purdue Bio students who, presumably, eventually graduated), I question how you could possibly function in a scientific environment. I wonder how many times you’ll throw the baby out with the bath water and, when there are 99 deserving students for every one grant, why I (as a fictious reviewer) should take a chance on you.

    The point of the portion of your personal statement that you posted seems to be:
    -You had a great science background as a kid
    -You got to college and realized some people haven’t had that background
    -That inspired you to enter science communication and mentorship

    I entered ‘dogmatic’ into dictionary.com and saw the definition, “asserting opinions in a doctrinaire or arrogant manner; opinionated”. Believing in evolution is not dogmatic. But you didn’t write about your belief in evolution, you wrote about the stupid ignorant people around you.

    The bullet points above are the beginnings of a great personal statement. However, that clarity is lost by the, yes, dogmatic attacks on anecdotal idiots.

  29. says

    First, drop the contractions.

    I think the first paragraph is ok, but re-work the sentence “The attitude toward evolution was terrible amongst non-scientists on campus.” Maybe something like “The general student population was dismissive about the theory of evolution, either by rejecting out-right or down playing its role in the history of the planet.”

    I understand some of the reviewers feelings. The second paragraph comes off as if you want to promote humanism as much as you want to promote science. I would drop the sentence “I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics.” Focus more on benefits of understanding evolution or the detriments of not understanding evolution.

  30. hoverfrog says

    You came across as “Dawkins-esque”. That is totally awesome. If I were working in evolutionary science then I’d do a little dance of joy if someone said this to me.

  31. Enkidum says

    Jen, keep telling it like it is. Those reviewers who state that you are too dogmatic about evidence are simply wrong and have had their thinking clouded by PC and religion. They need to be told that in no uncertain terms. Since this is the personal statement part of your proposal, you have every right to make a personal statement, and color it however you feel like!

    That’s not a useful attitude for the current problem. She may have the “right” to tell them that they are “wrong” “in no uncertain terms”, but that effectively guarantees she won’t get a grant. Oddly enough, when one is trying to get money from someone, diplomacy is sometimes a good idea. This isn’t a blog post, it’s a career move. Dawkins has tenure.

  32. SciCommenter says

    Ok. But, those things that distinguish you can, and in this case, I believe, are things that may, depending on the reviewer, damage your case. I have to agree with many of the things stated by becca in #8.

    You can be a firebrand – but don’t pretend that you won’t be judged and that doors won’t be shut because of that. It is a choice that you have to make.

  33. says

    “Accepting evidence is not dogmatic.” – but attempting to force or coerce all to a personal point of view is. (Sound familiar?)

    You have accepted evidence and formed your basis. Others have done the same. Some ended up as you, others would need convincing.

    You are defensive of your views and peers for the evidence held. Assuming that all should accept the evidence presented is fallacy, since acceptance is a matter of will, and what people will accept is a matter of choice.

    I can always choose to “…reject your reality and replace it with my own.”

    Which is what led you to the point you are now. No one can take the same path to knowledge as you have, as life’s path is a culmination of circumstances and choices.

    “The proof -really- is in the pudding”. But would they want to taste it after you describe why they should?

  34. ohioobserver says

    Stick to your guns, Jen. I’m trained as a biologist, but now teach high school chemistry. After a long time doing this I’ve learned something — you can’t be dogmatic about facts. What’s true is true. What’s true is what the evidence says. I’ve had this argument with students, parents, and administrators — and I’ve discovered that if you confront them with the evidence, they will either (a) concede your point or (b) screechingy demonstrate their irrationality. You win either way. Being convinced of a truth by the evidence is not fanaticism or dogmatism.

    What I’m about to suggest may be impractical — but have you considered changing institutions? I’d wonder about the credibility of my degree if it were associated with a department with members who rejected the fundamental model of their field. I know, probably unrealistic — but something to think about, maybe.

  35. JM says

    Enkidum has a good point. You need to persist in the field if you want to accomplish your goals.

    Do you have a mentor, preferably someone successful, widely known, and liked, even if not in your exact area of interest? If so, that person should be able to advise you on writing these things, as well as how and when to air your thinking on evolution and why people don’t believe it.

    The whole evolution thing is tricky. If you believe in it, perhaps you aren’t a good member of your religious group and membership allows you into that society that may be very important to you. Also, if a god didn’t create everything, does the god really exist? (Take that simply, rather than in a chicken and egg sense.) And it can get very scary being all alone in the world without one’s pretend friends. All that is just too much for some folks. They aren’t necessarily stupid or uneducated, but they have psychological needs that require being religious. They’re going to defend that even if they hurt you in the process.

    Being out of the closet as an atheist is brave, but it may not get you invited to the party.

  36. Andy Groves says

    I once had a heated and ultimately fruitless argument with a colleague who would not accept that Dawkins was even a scientist. They insisted that since he stopped doing research years ago, he was a “science writer” or a “science educator”. The conversation degenerated into semantics, but it did reveal something that I have seen again and again over the years – a surprising number of scientists think that Dawkins is variously obnoxious/a loudmouth/someone who does more harm than good.

    I disagree with that completely, but I mention it in the light of Jen being criticized for being “Dawkins-esque”. There are more of our colleagues like this out there than we might want to believe.

  37. says

    My first impression of your personal statement was that yes, it comes across as dogmatic, and I pondered why on my morning run.

    I come back to see that others have articulated the ‘why’ better than I could have.

    Crip Dyke hits the nail on the head – explicitly state that biologists and scientists accept theories based on evidence.

    “I was shocked to learn that even many of my fellow biology majors did not accept the evidence that supports the theory of evolution.”

  38. Pierce R. Butler says

    … chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls is the best flavor …

    No mint?!?

    Heretic!!!

  39. Enkidum says

    I’ve discovered that if you confront them with the evidence, they will either (a) concede your point or (b) screechingy demonstrate their irrationality. You win either way.

    Nonsense. You have “won” in the sense that they have shown they are irrational, but have “lost” in the sense that you’re not going to get a red cent out of them.

    What I’m about to suggest may be impractical — but have you considered changing institutions?

    Come on. Jen’s being advised to change the wording of a grant application (and has said she’s going to do just that). If one isn’t willing to prostitute oneself to that extent, there are very few career paths open.

  40. John Small Berries says

    I agree with all of your points. I don’t know if all of your reviewers were scientists, but the one professor who claimed that insisting on evidence is “dogmatic” has absolutely no business teaching science.

  41. Rieux says

    And it’s very difficult to read your comments and not see them as advising McCreight to get back in the closet, hide who she is and what she believes, because atheophobic bigots might discriminate against her if she doesn’t.

    Quite possibly your motivations are humane, and you might even be right that prejudice against open atheists is intense enough that McCreight should hide her ideas. (Though given this new-fangled thing called “Google,” I suspect she has little hope of that.)

    Regardless, though, your advice is a counsel of shame and silence, and it might behoove you to recognize that.

  42. says

    I didn’t see this post the first time. I’m glad I got a chance to read it.

    What I find most unbelievable is that one of your reviewers called your statement “Dawkins-esque”, and that this was intended as criticism. That should be high praise! Richard Dawkins is one of the most eloquent and most successful scientists and popularizers living today, and yet somehow he’s a bad person whom an up-and-coming biologist shouldn’t want to emulate?

    This really shows so clearly why science education in this country is in such a poor state. The creationists are loud and confident in their ignorance, while the people who should know better are telling scientists not to seem too much like they have a point of view or know what they’re talking about. The best lack all conviction, etc., etc.

    I thought your personal statement was perfectly fine and reasonable (of course, I’m both a dogmatic atheist and not in academia, so take that with a grain of salt). Science is an effective means of understanding how the world works, and we shouldn’t be the least bit hesitant to say that – especially not to other scientists! Maybe if enough people take a stand for that point of view, it will no longer be as controversial as it’s apparently become.

  43. Rieux says

    You have to be responsible for your writings.

    Does she “have to be responsible for” the atheophobia and religious privilege of NSF grant reviewers? Or, more precisely, for the the atheophobia and religious privilege that certain reviewers of hers and commenters here believe the NSF grant reviewers possess?

    How much ridiculous bigotry is she expected to accept, or accept “helpful” advice about knuckling under to, without complaining?

  44. neil says

    it is things like this that make me glad i do not live in the theocratic states of america.
    i can only wish you the best of luck

  45. Andy Groves says

    “Counsels of shame and silence”? We’re talking about a grant application, for goodness sake! I think you’re over-reacting a tad.

    A number of people have already made suggestions to change some of the wording to keep the message of the statement intact but alter some words that might – might – turn a reviewer off.

    To offer a bit of background – NSF fellowships are terribly competitive, and I have heard that only about 1 in 20 are currently being funded. I can tell you from personal experience of reviewing grants that if a grant is judged to be in the top 20-25% of the pile, its score after that is very susceptible to random noise from different reviewers. I think the peer review system is really good at making broad distinctions between grants (into quartiles or quintiles), and very bad at making subtle distinctions between a grant in, say, the top 5% versus the top 10%.

    Given the above, I don’t think it is worth the risk of inviting a reviewer to make an unprofessional and subjective decision about an applicant by including language that might – might – turn a reviewer off. Especially when the wording can be changed without, in my opinion, substantially changing the message!

    Some scientists are Christians. Heck, the head of the NIH is an evangelical Christian. I do not personally believe it is intellectually coherent to be a scientist and believe in God. But my opinion does not negate the fact that some scientists do believe in God in one form or another, and I am sure that some of them probably review NSF fellowships.

    I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I am not trying to silence or shame Jen. I think she’s awesome from reading her blog, and I would kill to have someone who is as clearly smart and motivated as her in my own lab. And I think the pushback she is getting from her colleagues about being “dogmatic” is ridiculous.

  46. says

    I don’t have anything new to add that others haven’t already, so hear fucking hear.

    Btw: best ice cream flavor is totally orange choc chip. Everyone knows that. Fucking heathen.

  47. adam.b says

    @ Becca

    And how are accusations of “willful delusion” NOT going to sound exactly as “dogmatic” as accusations of “willful ignorance”?

    How is someone dismissing an idea because it conflicts with there religion not ignorance or willful delusions especially if it’s there field of study?

    I’m a microbiologist by training. I don’t consider it a “terrible attitude” when people think that antibiotics kill viruses. I consider it frustrating ignorance, sure. But “terrible attitude” is a phrase I use for my 2 year old’s tantrums. It suggests an intentionality, and it also sets me squarely in opposition to the person. It also takes a smidgen of supercilious presumption to say it.

    She not talking about people just misunderstanding evolution (though that’s obviously something she wishes to correct) but the wholesale rejection of evolution by people and communities.

    For instance would you consider it a “terrible attitude” when people think that say vaccines don’t work, they cause autism and are only still used because of a conspiracy by the medical community despite facts to the contrary or is that a supercilious presumption?

    If not why then why is it any different when speaking of evolution and those who deny it because it’s seen as being incompatible to there faith?

    How do you know? Has anyone ever tested pilots for their beliefs? Do you have any evidence whatsoever, or can even draw a remotely plausible argument from pure theory, that pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by X perform better than pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by Y?

    I’m going to default to Stacy (#14) for this one.

    That aside I will agree with you to an extant but this would raise a better question, what is the failing in education (particularly at the university level) that is producing graduates who don’t believe there own future fields even exists, and how is that not a problem that should be addressed?

  48. Katalina says

    Why is it controversial to accept evolution as fact? This is like saying that some biology majors don’t believe in gravity, right? When I read your excerpt, I was totally mystified as to why it would be seen as dogmatic. Why on earth is it pushy among scientists to take evidence-based information as truth?

    As a side note, I also don’t see why religious people have a problem with evolution. If you actually read Origin of Species, it talks only of incremental change and adaptation, and I don’t know why that would be at odds with “god’s plan.” I was raised in a highly conservative religious household, and evolution was not a dirty word. It was science. Backed up by evidence. I really don’t get the “ostrich” method of looking at the world.

  49. josh says

    Lorax, there is a larger point here to what Jen is doing than you seem to acknowledge. Jen will ultimately decide for herself what the best path is for advancing her career and speaking her mind. She can strike that balance on her own and yes, obviously, that includes putting this post out there with the potential ramifications that her reviewers will see it and react badly.

    She’s not ranting here, she isn’t discouraging criticism, she isn’t harming the reviewers since we don’t know who they are. The point is, the specific criticisms she’s bringing up go beyond fair advice that one does or doesn’t accept. They may stem from a larger societal problem that the reviewers are either directly part of or indirectly deferring to. Her best career move might be to keep her head down and appease the powers that be, but that doesn’t solve the underlying problems that make such a strategy neccessary. Addressing that kind of problem means dragging it out into the light.

    Professional or not, the reviewer(s) who characterize her statement as dogmatic are wrong. They are at best misusing the word. Even if all they are doing is giving her career advice based on how other people will react, it is her prerogative to criticise the environment they are complicitly supporting. Just raising the issue here could come back to bite her on the ass, but I doubt she needs me or you to tell her that.

  50. Bryan says

    Jennifer

    Move to another country that doesn’t have this culturally pervasive, irrational acceptance of the existence God and an almost pathological fear of atheists. If you were in New Zealand you wouldn’t have a job as an atheist blogger , no one to convert.

    We have the worlds best rugby team and are number 1 or 2 on the atheist league too :-)

    Bryan

  51. Theresa says

    You may decide to change the wording in order to communicate the ideas better — since that is in fact your avocation, you can figure that part out.

    What stands out for me, though, is your passion and enthusiasm for science and science communication. Don’t let that get lost in the editing; let it become, if anything, clearer and more focused. Your story and your passion are both unusual and authentic, and that is likely to work in your favor in the selection process, quite aside from the good feeling you get from expressing yourself with integrity.

    I was also the recipient of an NSF grad. fellowship, if it gives me any extra credibility.

  52. says

    Just raising the issue here could come back to bite her on the ass, but I doubt she needs me or you to tell her that.

    Thanks Josh, you’re absolutely right. I doubt she needs me to tell her my opinion too. Since you’re so good at noting what people need regarding opinions, why didn’t you post a similar comment to those who were righteously indignant in agreement with her? Hell, I even wonder why do you think I need your opinion to be told that Jen doesn’t need my opinion.

    I could appreciate tossing up a counter-argument or two to my points, but mostly your response reads like you are granting permission to Jen to have and post her opinions. Kind of condescending in my opinion.

  53. Brian says

    I’ve read through this a couple times now, and waited to comment to see if I had something worth adding. I’m still not honestly sure I do, but here’s my 2 cents: I agree with Tom about word choice. I would remove “heartland” and “infamous” and swap “negative” for “terrible”.

    My feeling is that whoever used the word “dogmatic” isn’t great with language and what they should have said was “haughty”. I agree 100% with you about how f-ing awful it is that people who make it to college have such poor critical thinking skills. Even if I didn’t, as you point out, it’s a personal statement. But, if a person (me) who is ‘on your team’ feels like you come off a little holier-than-though, maybe it could use an edit, not to change the content, just the feel.

  54. says

    How much ridiculous bigotry is she expected to accept, or accept “helpful” advice about knuckling under to, without complaining

    Absolutely none. Do you think I was suggesting otherwise? How does pointing out that people are not perfect automata in the real world and noting that how you communicate has ramifications both good and bad, mean one is advising knuckling under?

    While it is wonderfully helpful to paint things as black and white, it’s not accurate. While ridiculous bigotry may be an issue, I ask that you consider a more nuanced viewpoint. Words matter and the subconscious effects on the human beings reading a stack of proposals can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful grant. But I expect pointing that out equates to insisting Jen paste Jesus pictures all over her cover page.

  55. says

    While I was reading the excerpt, I was bracing myself for the part that would sound all militant gnu. I was puzzled when it never came. It is all very measured and reasonable. Something is wrong with people who think there is something wrong with it.

  56. sdh says

    I think that cognitive dissonance explains a lot about how intelligent people can come to believe in Intelligent Design. I probably can’t do justice to defining it, but there is a book called “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me” is a full of great material on it. Also, check-out the Books and Ideas podcast #43 (http://www.virginiacampbellmd.com/blog/2011/9/27/cognitive-dissonance-with-carol-tavris-phd-books-and-ideas-4.html). You can skip the first 5-10 minutes because it’s more of a discussion about the field, but the rest is fascinating and has a lot of practical value.

    While I agree with your sentiment and am also dismayed to hear that there are Creationist-Biologists, you aren’t likely to convince any ID believer that they’re wrong. They see what they believe—which is what we all do, and that is why there is a scientific method to get past that. And, while it probably felt great to write what you did (and it is very well written, and satisfying to read :), you’ll get a lot further with an approach that is less sledgehammer-like.

  57. Katalina says

    Maybe there’s something wrong with us, but I totally agree! I didn’t feel like it was at all angry or inappropriate…

  58. LTFT says

    Rieux,
    First, I wanted to second Lorax’s reply to you in this thread. Second, there are non-religious reasons to edit the portion of Jen’s personal statement she supplied here.

  59. says

    Atheist geologist here, so completely with you in theory. I don’t think it’s your stance on science and evolution that is in question here but your tone. It makes it sound like if I came to you with a competing theory, you’d shun me and my theory because it doesn’t fit with yours. So, instead of “my worldview” and similar phrases, use “a scientific viewpoint” or “a scientifically rigorous perspective.”

    Bottom line: I can be a very angry person in my writings and, to be totally blunt, that’s what this personal statement sounds like – angry. I completely get you, fully with the fact that you are more passionate than anything, but that works for blogging not funding. Start with your positive intent, then go into your shock and frustration that led you there and end with hope.

    Just being honest here. Hope it helps and good luck.

  60. Rieux says

    How much ridiculous bigotry is she expected to accept, or accept “helpful” advice about knuckling under to, without complaining?

    Absolutely none. Do you think I was suggesting otherwise?

    Given that you have not written a single word suggesting that there is any problem whatsoever with an NSF reviewer rejecting her application on the grounds of her supposed “dogmatism,” yes, you absolutely are suggesting otherwise. (I mean, “Self-censorship is not a bad thing”? AYFKM?)

    Neither you nor, as far as I’ve seen, the other commenters here who professes to agree with the critiques of the McCreight statement’s “dogmatism” has apparently spent the slightest thought on the ethics of an NSF reviewer pitching McCreight’s application on the grounds of her statements about creationism (FFS). Rejecting the application on the grounds you have suggested would be outrageous, and it would very likely violate federal law—but your comments don’t give the slightest hint that you see any problem with it. That’s a rather notable omission.

    How does pointing out that people are not perfect automata in the real world and noting that how you communicate has ramifications both good and bad, mean one is advising knuckling under?

    Because the issue is not whether the reviewers are “automata”; it’s whether they are reasonably likely to be atheophobic bigots.

    Perhaps they are. And perhaps your-plural advice that McCreight remove any and all statements that make religiously privileged people uncomfortable is therefore amply justified. Even then, though, you’re simply treating the injustice of outrageous religious discrimination and the burdens it places on despised minorities as a matter that doesn’t deserve the slightest attention from you. That communicates something, even if your advice is correct on points.

    While it is wonderfully helpful to paint things as black and white….

    Excuse me? Who, pray tell, is doing that? In a situation in which those in power are brutal bigots, knuckling under to their prejudice is sometimes the least-bad option for those on the business end of said prejudice. But it’s still a bad option, and it’s incumbent upon people advocating it to notice that it’s a bad option. Otherwise, it’s a little difficult to tell the ethical difference between the bigots shitcanning McCreight’s application for supposed anti-religious “dogmatism” and the folks warning her that she’ll have her application shitcanned if she doesn’t remove the supposed anti-religious “dogmatism.” It’s hard to miss the fact that the second group—you—directly empowers the bigots, even if you’re right. I suggest you have an obligation to notice that.

    While ridiculous bigotry may be an issue, I ask that you consider a more nuanced viewpoint.

    What, that it’s sometimes unfortunately necessary to keep one’s “dogmatic” head down and not publicly challenge religion? Shockingly enough, I know that all too well, thanks.

    McCreight’s experience raises an extremely potent ethical issue regarding discrimination against nonbelievers, especially ones who dare to state our ideas publicly. I contend that it is severely questionable to advocate knuckling under to such discrimination without paying any attention whatever to the ugliness of the prejudice that creates the issue in the first place.

    That is not in fact “black-and-white,” and it is your singular focus on the target of the discrimination, while you entirely ignore its perpetrators and the nature of what you predict they will do, that fails “nuance” badly.

    But I expect pointing that out equates to insisting Jen paste Jesus pictures all over her cover page.

    No, that’s not the relevant similarity. Considering your utter failure to say a single critical word about a hypothetical NSF reviewer who would reject McCreight’s application on religious grounds, it’s hard to see the big difference between you and him.

  61. Rieux says

    I wanted to second Lorax’s reply to you in this thread.

    Then I’ll second my response, which is that warning atheists that being out-and-proud will get us hurt by bigots, without dropping the slightest hint that you even disagree with the bigotry, is scummy Uncle Tom bullshit even if you’re right about the likelihood of getting hurt.

    Second, there are non-religious reasons to edit the portion of Jen’s personal statement she supplied here.

    Then fine. I haven’t seen anyone, least of all McCreight, assert that the draft statement in the blog post is untouchable. If there are reasons to revise it that aren’t founded in worries about NSF reviewers acting out of deep prejudice against outspoken atheists, I don’t see anyone objecting to them.

    And if there are reasons to revise the statement that are founded in worries about NSF reviewers acting out of deep prejudice againstoutspoken atheists, I’d like to suggest that anyone advising McCreight to retreat in the face of such prejudice is obligated to overtly note the ugliness, not to mention illegality, of that prejudice. Otherwise it remains uncomfortably likely that the prejudice in question isn’t only held by a hypothetical NSF reviewer.

  62. Rieux says

    Andy:

    “Counsels of shame and silence”?

    Actually I said “counsel,” in the singular—but yes, that’s what the people here telling McCreight that she shouldn’t be so “dogmatic” (?!?) are providing.

    We’re talking about a grant application, for goodness sake! I think you’re over-reacting a tad.

    Really? Grant applications, which define scientific careers? Grant applications, which are governed by federal law, including the Fourteenth Amendment? Grant applications, which (as you and others here are making quite clear) allow bureaucrats free rein to discriminate on any manner of grounds without accountability? I’d say you’re under-reacting to the problems you yourself have described.

    A number of people have already made suggestions to change some of the wording to keep the message of the statement intact but alter some words that might – might – turn a reviewer off.

    And neither you nor they have noticed that a reviewer rejecting this application because (s)he was “turned off” by the rhetoric in question would be violating federal law and behaving heinously unethically. You are counseling McCreight to silence certain ideas she has because bigots might discriminate against her. As I’ve said repeatedly, you might even be correct about the risks involved and the safest course to avoid those risks—but without the slightest hint that the bigotry you see threatened even bothers you, it’s hard to see how you are different than the bigoted reviewer you hypothesize.

    [I]f a grant is judged to be in the top 20-25% of the pile, its score after that is very susceptible to random noise from different reviewers.

    Fine. That potentially increases the probability that NSF bigotry will damage the career of a member of any despised minority. It’s a relevant fact to considerations of strategy. By contrast, the relevance to the question of the ethics of rejecting McCreight’s application on grounds of “dogmatism” is somewhat more obscure.

    Especially when the wording can be changed without, in my opinion, substantially changing the message!

    Yeah, that’s a very common thing for a censor to say. It’s McCreight’s call, not yours, as to what changes do or do not “substantially change” her “message.”

    Some scientists are Christians. Heck, the head of the NIH is an evangelical Christian. I do not personally believe it is intellectually coherent to be a scientist and believe in God. But my opinion does not negate the fact that some scientists do believe in God in one form or another, and I am sure that some of them probably review NSF fellowships.

    Well, that’s a paragraph pregnant with unstated implications. Should atheists seeking NSF fellowships fear discrimination from Christians? Would Christian (or indeed merely theist) NSF reviewers reject applications for the kind of “dogmatism” McCreight stands accused of? And to the more basic point, where have you provided any hint that you would object if they did?

    And I think the pushback she is getting from her colleagues about being “dogmatic” is ridiculous.

    It’s nice of you to say that… at the very end of your third comment on this thread. (Though perhaps a little hard to reconcile with your overall strategic advice.)

    Some of McCreight’s colleagues, along with the commenters here who agree with them, are positing that one or more NSF reviewers might downgrade McCreight on the grounds of her supposed “dogmatism.” For reasons that remain mysterious (as well as maddening), none of you have said a word indicating that you’ve noticed such an act would be a blatant violation of federal law, not to mention McCreight’s civil and indeed human rights.

    Ignoring that screaming legal and ethical issue and focusing rapt and wordy attention instead on knowing lectures regarding “dogmatism” and regarding changing words without “substantially changing the message” communicates something. Two names for what it communicates are shame and silence.

  63. Celeste says

    I’m so glad you chose to repost this. I read your most recent blog entry first, “Keeping Your Mouth Shut To Advance Your Social Standing” and I knew EXACTLY how you felt. That feeling is all too common for me. I even get it when arguing with a complete stranger on the internet. But I fight through it and I’m glad you’ve decided to as well.

    Thank you for being strong and insisting on intellectual integrity.

  64. Rieux says

    Well, that’s a swell job of utterly ignoring the entire substance of Josh’s comment. As he points out, McCreight’s colleagues’ comments may stem from a larger societal problem that the reviewers are either directly part of or indirectly deferring to—but it very much appears that you don’t give a shit.

  65. Robyn says

    Part of my job is reviewing NSF GRFP applications (along with Goldwater applications and a lot of similar applications). I have to agree with those who have suggested that it is not your beliefs or even the disagreement with the stance of others that is the problem, it’s how you state those issues which does not present you in the best light. Considering one of the two main criteria of the NSF is broader impact which is largely interpreted as outreach and educating others about science coming across as dogmatic (which is actually one of the nicer words that could have been used to describe your tone) is the worst thing you can do in an NSF application. You seem to have assumed that this means the reviewers also disagree with you and that is why they gave you this critique. I have gotten that same feedback from students I worked with who wrongly assumed I did not agree with their perspective because I objected to how they expressed them. If your university has such an organized review process for their NSF applicants then I would think it’s safe to say they know what they are doing and I would suggest trying to adopt their suggestions which I think are good ones.

  66. Sunny says

    This, exactly, especially #3.

    I was shocked when I learned that several of my classmates rejected evolution – and they were biology majors! I still can’t get over that.

    I like idea #2 – that could be really interesting and helpful.

    Thank you for putting this back up.

  67. cmv says

    Crip Dyke hit the nail on the head for sure. Focusing on the need to accept evidence is better. While I don’t think the excerpt came off as dogmatic in any sense, I can understand where some people would react poorly to some of it. Unfortunately, those people may be the ones with the power to deny your grant application.
    That’s not to say that it would be legal to deny the grant on those grounds, but there are a lot of applications out there, and a lot of worthy applications do not get funded, simply because of a lack of funding. I may be wrong, but I don’t think they have to justify denying funding, they only have to justify granting funding.
    Chocolate-peanut butter rocks. Especially Haagen-Daz. I had just finished a snack-cup of it when I read this! Yum!

  68. says

    Look Reiux, I am sorry you are an illiterate fuck.

    Neither you nor, as far as I’ve seen, the other commenters here who professes to agree with the critiques of the McCreight statement’s “dogmatism”

    Where did I profess to agree with the critiques? I did not read the critiques nor talk to the reviewers. I pointed out that several independent reviewers made the same general point and suggested that that may be something worth considering. I never said she should change anything she wrote.

    …has apparently spent the slightest thought on the ethics of an NSF reviewer pitching McCreight’s application on the grounds of her statements about creationism (FFS).

    Again the world is black and white for you isn’t it. You really can’t imagine that something could have a subtle effect on a person that they may not even realize? Here’s an example maybe you can relate to. Let’s say someone uses ‘twat’ as an insult. If someone writes a post about how that language is belittling to women, there will inevitably be commenters how they use ‘twat’ and don’t mean it to be belittling to women so therefore it isn’t. You explain that someone reading those comments might discount other reasonable arguments because the commenter is a tool regarding their use of the word ‘twat’. You’re acting like the defenders of ‘twat’ since you know exactly how you feel about your (or others) use of the term, either other people are correct and absolutely agree with you or wrong and are basically accusing you of being a rapist.

    I have no idea what the fucking reviewers will think or do, neither do you. I am just suggesting that if several professionals point something out, you should consider the issues. I am sorry that if consideration of a point is a sign of weakness or capitulation in your world. It must be a very small place. (FYI Consideration ≠ Changing)

    Rejecting the application on the grounds you have suggested would be outrageous, and it would very likely violate federal law—but your comments don’t give the slightest hint that you see any problem with it. That’s a rather notable omission.

    You know you don’t consider that millions of children die of malaria every year, that’s a rather notable omission too. It’s not a notable omission, because that wasn’t the fucking point of my response and you know it. Oh wait, illiterate fuck and black and white worldview, you probably didn’t know it.

  69. says

    To add one more small voice:

    What you wrote, Jen, was NOT being dogmatic, but to people used to their theistic privilege, it no doubt feels like it. And if wanting people to learn implies you think that they are stupid, then doesn’t that apply to every single teacher, including the great ones? And you being shocked is factual.

    Do what you have to do to protect yourself, but keep on evaluating your claims and others according to the evidence (at least privately), and not the politics.

  70. P Smith says

    “Why, if I had proposed educating people about gravity or plate tectonics, would there have been no debate?”

    Actually, there would be debates. The ignorant anti-evolution people are the “young earth” types, and they are equally selective in their use of science. Such people have no problem admitting to the fact that plate tectonics cause earthquakes, yet they reject the fact that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge has been separating for over 150 million years. They want to have it both ways on that topic, and in biology too.

    This is an issue of ignorance on their part, of a lack of education, and an issue of arrogance on their part, believing they know more when they know so little. It is not “insulting” to point out and call it ignorance any more than pointing out a grade one student’s ignorance about grade ten algebra.

    The problem is not that people don’t know, the problem is that they don’t want to know. They pretend to know more than do the educated.

    .

  71. Rieux says

    Lorax:

    Look Reiux, I am sorry you are an illiterate fuck.

    (Emphasis added for the lulz)

    High-larious! Laughable misspelling of a five-letter handle, and I’m the “illiterate fuck”?

    Where did I profess to agree with the critiques?

    Oh, I dunno, perhaps it was when you mounted your glorious pulpit and proceeded to lecture McCreight on how Other People Might “Fell” (bwa!) Similarly To Your Reviewers and Self-Censorship Is Not A Bad Thing and all of the other heedless snot you’ve unloaded in four comments now without saying a single discouraging word about the actual severe injustice McCreight identified.

    The fact that you’re blind to your own arrogant disregard for unjust bigotry doesn’t make your interlocutors illiterate.

    I pointed out that several independent reviewers made the same general point and suggested that that may be something worth considering.

    And you utterly ignored the screaming injustice that’s behind both that “point” and the mistreatment it warns of. You’ve had the issue shoved in your face repeatedly by at least two of us now, and you still refuse to waste a single precious synapse contemplating the issue. The issue, that is, that McCreight’s post is actually about. You continue to ignore it because you’re too fucking important to be bothered with the damage that that swell “general point” of yours (“self-censorship is not a bad thing” are your words, pal) does to innocent people’s lives.

    Again the world is black and white for you isn’t it.

    No, actually—and no matter how many times you toss out that phrase, it will still fail to rebut, or even describe, anything I’m saying.

    You really can’t imagine that something could have a subtle effect on a person that they may not even realize?

    Of course it can. So fucking what? Prejudice is prejudice, whether “a person … realize[s]” that (s)he’s acting based on prejudice or not. What ethical difference does it make if the anti-atheist bigotry McCreight’s colleagues are worried about—the bigotry you are condoning by refusing to say a word against it—is “realized” by the bigots themselves or not? That is, in fact, utterly irrelevant.

    I have no idea what the fucking reviewers will think or do, neither do you.

    Then I think you should stick your superior comments about the greatness of self-censorship up your ass and get lost. If you’re now claiming that you have no basis to think that McCreight censoring herself will carry any benefits, you don’t have anything to say at all.

    I am just suggesting that if several professionals point something out, you should consider the issues.

    …While you yourself absolutely refuse to “consider” the anti-atheist bigotry that you are tacitly condoning by singing sweet and pure songs about self-censorship? Nice try.

    Rejecting the application on the grounds you have suggested would be outrageous, and it would very likely violate federal law—but your comments don’t give the slightest hint that you see any problem with it. That’s a rather notable omission.

    You know you don’t consider that millions of children die of malaria every year, that’s a rather notable omission too.

    Cute! It stings to have your disregard for innocent people laid bare, doesn’t it?

    It’s not a notable omission, because that wasn’t the fucking point of my response and you know it.

    Of course it “wasn’t [and isn’t] the fucking point” of your comment—because, as you’re making perfectly clear, you don’t give a shit about the injustice that McCreight’s comment is actually about. That’s exactly what your work here shows—and sorry, but your callous disregard is more than a little notable.

  72. Rieux says

    Considering one of the two main criteria of the NSF is broader impact which is largely interpreted as outreach and educating others about science coming across as dogmatic (which is actually one of the nicer words that could have been used to describe your tone) is the worst thing you can do in an NSF application.

    Wow. “To hell with the Fourteenth Amendment; we’re the NSF.”

    It’s too bad that neither a private litigant nor a U.S. Attorney could probably ever prove (even more likely, a U.S.A. would never be politically interested in proving) the illegal religious discrimination you’ve just described. Just another case of “Rights? What rights? Sucks to be an atheist in the U.S.,” I guess.

  73. machintelligence says

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

  74. LTFT says

    Hi Rieux,

    You say (and I’m paraphrasing) that you haven’t seen anyone advancing arguments that NSF reviewers might have for denying this grant that are not based on anti-atheist sentiment or biases. A quick question- are you kidding?

    The arguments you seek are all over this comment thread. 4, 8, 24, 26, 27, 42, 44… all these posts (unless I’ve messed up with numbers) discuss issues with this personal statement that have little to do with anti-atheist bias.

    To respond more directly… No one should reject this grant based on anti-atheist opinions. However, I would (possibly) reject this grant because the impartiality of the applicant and the ability of the applicant to fairly assess all opinions and data is questionable. Read reply #42, for example. That objection, as well as others in these comments, have nothing to do with religious preferences or silencing Jen.

    Jen has many ways to make herself stand out as a positive applicant. This personal statement, so far, mixes those positives with some potential negatives.

  75. says

    Jesus dies to atone for original sin

    If there’s evolution than genesis is wrong

    if Genesis is wrong there is no original sin therefore Christianity is wrong.

    It makes less sense to accept evolution as a Christian.

  76. says

    Hi Jen,
    I’m afraid I would have to agree somewhat with those who criticize your personal statement for being somewhat dogmatic. Not having read the whole thing (and thus perhaps missing some important context?), this paragraph seems to me to be a bit out of place in an NSF GFRP application:

    “The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a skeptical, naturalistic worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place. I quickly learned that many of these people still valued science, but never had the opportunity to become educated about evolution.”

    Honestly, this paragraph conveys to me that you may intend to proselytize, to use evolution as the tool to convert others to your own privileged viewpoint. That’s just not an appropriate use of NSF support.

    Consider this version of your statement:

    “The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a Christian worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my Christian ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel that God gave me, through evolution, the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place. I quickly learned that many of these people still valued science, but never had the opportunity to become educated about evolution.”

    How would you feel if an application you were reviewing had this statement? Not that there is anything wrong with it (it is, after all, a personal statement, an opinion, and doesn’t directly say anything about the competence of the applicant)? Heck, I imagine that many evangelicals would read it and say “right on!”. But, really, does it belong in an NSF application?

    Beyond that, I think the paragraph is a bit over the top. To see my point, I think it helps to re-write this paragraph in this way:

    “The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with polyadenylation troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about polyadenylation was the key event that led me to adopt a skeptical, naturalistic worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel that polyadenylation enables the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place. I quickly learned that many of these people still valued science, but never had the opportunity to become educated about polyadenylation.”

    Um, yeah, my lab probably would read this and say “That’s Dr. Hunt” and roll their eyes. There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about science, but some things are better left unsaid (or at least reserved for a more appropriate venue than a personal statement in an application for funding).

  77. Brain Hertz says

    In the metaphysical sense, there are two sources of knowledge. Only two. That of our direct sensory input, and that we get from the authority of others. For the vast majority of people, both evolution and god are so far outside the realm of their direct sensory input, that they must rely on authorities to tell them about what is valid*. Therefore, for the vast majority of people, both processes are equally dogmatic. Unless you want people to *do* experiments that support evolution, you really are asking them to support your dogma instead of someone elses.

    Uh huh. So whenever I refer to my two children as “my children” I’m just being dogmatic, because that belief is entirely dependent on knowledge I gained “from the authority of” my wife, and I should respect other people’s points of view on the subject. You know, in order not to be all dogmatic about it. And if somebody else should have a different idea, derived from extremely careful prayer, who is to choose? Both processes are, after all, equally dogmatic.

  78. Rieux says

    LTFT:

    You say (and I’m paraphrasing) that you haven’t seen anyone advancing arguments that NSF reviewers might have for denying this grant that are not based on anti-atheist sentiment or biases.

    What in the world are you talking about? That’s not “paraphrasing”—it’s fabricating. I have never said anything of the kind.

    Did you badly misread this sentence of mine?

    If there are reasons to revise [McCreight’s statement] that aren’t founded in worries about NSF reviewers acting out of deep prejudice against outspoken atheists, I don’t see anyone objecting to them.

    If you, for some inexplicable reason, replaced my phrase “objecting to” with the word “making,” then your so-called paraphrase would make some sense. Given that I actually wrote “objecting to” and not “making,” though, you’ve simply concocted this silly assertion that you pretend I’ve posted. Sorry: your response simply chops up a strawman. No dice.

    To respond more directly… No one should reject this grant based on anti-atheist opinions.

    Thank you! That is the very first time on this or any other forum that I have seen anyone post who both (1) agrees with McCreight’s colleagues on the “dogmatism” point and (2) provides the slightest hint that (s)he might see a problem with the outrageous religious privilege and/or atheophobic discrimination (s)he warns could take place. The original post here is in fact centrally about the injustice and nasty privilege inherent in pretending that McCreight’s statement is “dogmatic”—but you and everyone else posting similar criticisms have utterly ignored that central point in favor of talking down your respective noses at McCreight.

    My central point on this thread, meanwhile, has been that the total silence from you and yours speaks volumes about your-plural lack of concern about the issues McCreight raises. In light of that silence, you shouldn’t be surprised to be treated as the apologists for bigoted discrimination that your tacit acceptance of same makes you.

    Except…. uh-oh:

    However, I would (possibly) reject this grant because the impartiality of the applicant and the ability of the applicant to fairly assess all opinions and data is questionable. Read reply #42, for example. That objection, as well as others in these comments, have nothing to do with religious preferences or silencing Jen.

    Well, so much for “tacit acceptance.”

    The final sentence of that paragraph of yours is simply false. “That objection” can based on nothing but severe religious privilege. There is nothing about McCreight’s statement that could support a legitimate and relevant conclusion about McCreight’s “impartiality” (toward creationism? AYFKM?) or her “ability … to fairly assess all opinions and data.” The only way to get there is to take as given some outrageously atheophobic notions about what acceptable members of society are and are not allowed to state openly about religious ideas.

    Both your comment here and “maitri”‘s tone-trolling @42 are saturated with religious privilege. If the two of you didn’t fundamentally accept the destructive idea that open criticism of religious ideas is socially unacceptable, you couldn’t possibly find an “impartiality” or “tone” problem with McCreight’s statement.

    And that, frankly, gives the game away. All along the warnings from you and yours about “dogmatism” and the like have been allegedly founded on fears that a bad old NSF reviewer would think ill of McCreight for what she’s written. Supposedly you-plural weren’t speaking on your own behalf, oh, no—it was that shadowy reviewer who might react negatively.

    But now that’s revealed as mere hot air. As you’ve now admitted, if you were the NSF reviewer in question, you would penalize McCreight for her statement, too. You would violate federal law. You would make the disgustingly unethical decision that McCreight’s open statements about religious ideas make her undeserving of the fellowship in question. And as a result, this exchange isn’t actually about prejudice and privilege held and enforced by hypothetical NSF reviewers; it’s about prejudice and privilege held and enforced by you. Regardless of the story you’re telling yourself, the objection you state here (like “maitri”‘s @42) is founded in (what I called) “deep prejudice against outspoken atheists.”

    And that’s a notably ugly picture. Perhaps, in some dubious strategic sense, it would have been a good idea for Rosa Parks to heed the commands of the powers-that-be and head for the back of the bus. Even if so, however, it’s a little hard to understand why she should be expected to listen to, and think kindly of, the strategic advice of someone whose sympathies evidently lie with the racist bus driver and the white passengers who demanded her seat.

  79. embertine says

    The number of times I shouted “YES!” and fist-pumped the air while reading this is ridiculous. And I’m not even a scientist.

    No, you do not get to re-define reality according to your beliefs. Being right is better than being pious. Deal with it.

  80. says

    You misspelled relevant.

    And he’s right. You’re putting yourself up for science education, not lab work. Education is people communication, and you’re indicated that you are uneducated in how to teach with the hostile attitude toward religion per se. I’m an atheist, but I stopped going to meetings because so many atheists are wounded by their religious education, and they’re lashing out at the pain, with me in the arc of their whip.

    Drop the whip. Flies and honey. If that concept bothers you, get out of education or educate yourself about education. Sounds like you know much more about evolution than education.

  81. says

    Yes, but your motivation to be a scientist should be separable from your motivation to be a science educator.

    If you desire to be an educator, you need to learn how to educate. I’d start with the fable of the North Wind and the Sun betting on who could get the traveler to remove his coat.

    You’re ignoring, so far (I’m reading this sequentially), the motivations you have to be a science educator. Perhaps they’ll come up later. They didn’t in the personal statement.

    Your reviewers are experienced educators. Perhaps they don’t agree with the donkey and two by four method of education.

  82. Loreo says

    “chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls is the best flavor”

    Damn straight.

    And Jen, you have my support. Ignoring reality to treat people’s delusions with kid gloves doesn’t mean you’re nice – it means you’re a patronizing bullshitter. When you start acting like the truth doesn’t matter, no amount of sensitivity and compassion will make up for it.

  83. says

    I’ve heard Dawkins speak now three times, all auditoriums full of Berkeley people, and the striking thing, in reference to his being a scientist or science writer, was the question and answer period.

    Unlike almost all speakers, Dawkins not only listened to dumb questions, but he POLITELY rephrased the question and answered the question the person MEANT to ask. Dawkins is so obviously empathetic in such situations it’s almost schizophrenic compared to his books. He also spent more than an hour each occasion answering questions, including some atheist rants similar to your personal statements. Yes, rants. He would then ask “I can’t see a question in there!” at which point the audience did the laughing, not him.

    Hope you don’t get pushed out of shape by this language.

  84. Loreo says

    Religion and skeptical humanism are not equivalent. The reason that your hypothetical “Christian worldview” paragraph would genuinely be troubling to an objective reviewer is that learning about the undirected forces which generated the diversity of life on this planet over billions of years does not reinforce Christian beliefs.

    Despite being a “personal statement”, it does say something very telling about the competence of the author. No god, no deity, no intelligent designer created life, and that runs counter to some very central Christian beliefs.

  85. says

    They didn’t seemingly reject her description of the fundamental model of the field. They rejected her conflict with future co-workers. Dogmatic is a psychological term, not a scientific one, unless you’re in the field of cognitive science, which Jen should take as a minor. Lakoff comes to mind, specifically. Damasio also.

  86. says

    Too bad the grant application didn’t point out instead that “my openness to evidence and my satisfaction with the results of applying evidence to achieve understanding could give me rapport with my students.”

    “Evidence-based thinking” is the current code for atheism v. fundamentalism.

    no spam ormond at no spam lmi dot net

  87. says

    Not good advice. Patronizing bullshitter is not the only fork in the educator road. Seriously interested in somehow opening the mind is another fork.

    People can tell you like them and are interested in helping them work out their cognitive dissonances, which thorough exploration of evidence usually does. Do you like them enough to withhold your scorn and disapproval?

    But what do I know? I’ve only been an atheist for 70 years…

  88. Eric RoM says

    To be fair, Jen’s use of “social standing” when she meant “professional standing” in her next post shows that many could learn to use English more gooder.

    “Diplomacy” != “kowtowing”.

  89. NK says

    The problem isn’t that you believe in evolution, or even that you want to convince other people. I believe in evolution and while it’s not a personal pet cause, I generally believe people should be taught that evolution is pretty well proven, not that it’s a subject of debate, because I do believe there’s a mountain of evidence. But it’s not just that you don’t mention the mountain of evidence. It’s that you say this:

    “Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a skeptical, naturalistic worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place.”

    To an objective reader, it looks like you’re saying that the belief in evolution is very important to you and when people reject it, you feel rejected and invalidated, and that therefore you want to go out and make everyone conform to your belief. Because this puts the emphasis on how YOU feel when people don’t agree with you, not (for instance) on the negative consequences for THEM if they don’t understand how things actually work.

    The frank fact is, if I wanted to write one of those “atheism is just another brand of religious belief” arguments, I could point to that chunk of sentences right there, because that’s how it comes off. LIke what’s important is not the science itself, but making people believe the same thing you believe because the fact that they don’t makes you feel rejected. It’s not about needing to treat beliefs with kid gloves. It’s that you’re coming across as wanting to do this because creationists make you feel bad.

  90. abb3w says

    Jen:

    To deny evolution is either based on ignorance or willful delusion.

    Or an alien foundation set of starting premises, which may be more akin to an involuntary (and thus non-willful) delusional psychosis.

    There also may be cases of someone who simply tends to get lost following all the inferential steps in the entirety of the reasoning, and thus consistently finds it more credible when at some point “Goddidit” via (say) intuitive appeal to evolved human agency recognition systems. This is not so much ignorance as stupidity – but not even necessarily stupidity relative to human norms.

    Given usual suppositions (scientific OR theist) about human nature, there may also be cases where someone fully understands evolution and believes it is correct, but believes denial would be more socially useful. Rare, I think, and more rarely admitted; but I suppose worth mentioning for completeness.

    Ignorance, delusion, stupidity, and some rare lying seem to cover it.

  91. Josh Slocum says

    And how long have you been a snotty, passive-aggressive snarker who criticizes other people for being rude while you pretend you’re quite nice and reasonable?

  92. DaveG says

    I agree with the poster who said you have to learn to educate. I admit I’m a bit contempuous toward godbots and their paradigms, and that might not serve me well if I were a science educator. People cling very tightly to their worldviews and can view the attacks as personal. I know I’d be quite agitated if “evidencyness” were fully eradicated. If you’re careful to avoid the appearance of ad hominem attacks, that might be half the battle. To paraphrase a Florida high school science teacher who had to deal with creationist students, “I don’t care if you believe this as long as you understand it”. Very wise words.

  93. hf says

    Nobody would write, “Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a Christian worldview,” because that seems like too transparent a lie. The rest of it seems like the default in our society. I’d feel shocked if no successful applications had that kind of pap; more likely the NSF would see it as a plus.

  94. hf says

    I should point out that even though you described your atheism or naturalistic worldview in a positive way, Christians will still tend to see it as an attack. Greta pointed this out in a recent post.

    With that preparation, the rest of the quoted part will make it seem to them like you want to teach atheism to children. That seems like the natural way for real dogmatists to read it.

  95. aspidoscelis says

    Agreed. Combined with the previous paragraph describing some disdain towards students at Purdue (justified though that disdain may be!) it sounds as though by teaching evolution you want to settle a score rather than help people understand the world. That’s going to raise red flags with people who work in science education. Approaching education with an adversarial viewpoint towards students is not a recipe for success.

  96. RandomReason says

    “Update: I have decided to restore this post with some minor edits. I will write more about my decision to do so in another post, since I think the topic of self censorship in terms of the social structure of academia is an interesting topic.”

    Respectfully, this statement is suggestive of rigid thinking and a rather unscientific reluctance to admit fallibility. Rather than simply saying, “oops, I made a mistake”, you are framing it as some interesting sociology phenomenon unrelated to your decision, using detached language (“the topic of self censorship” rather than “my choice to self-censor”).

    “The offending part was the opening paragraphs of my personal statement. I’ll post it here for full disclosure:”

    “Full disclosure” would be posting your entire personal statement. You are framing things here defensively and selectively, in a way that serves your interpretation of what reviewers were reacting to – again, not behavior indicative of an inquiring scientific mindset.

    “Of course, I have to wonder if this whole “dogmatic” thing came up because later in my personal statement I mention my involvement with some secular organizations.”

    Again, not a particularly scientific approach to inquiry. Rather unprofessional & embarrassing, actually.

    “Even if I don’t say that in my proposal and I mince words as much as possible, that knowledge still colors their interpretation. “

    Interesting – yet you react with rejection to the notion that you might temper your obviously antagonistic approach to teaching evolution. Rationally inconsistent.

    “I hate that I even have to wonder about it.”

    If you sincerely did, you wouldn’t write that here, and you would examine your own prejudices and assumptions. Instead, you use one of the most disrespectful defensive ploys in public discourse (“I’m not saying that Obama is Kenyan, but, unfortunately some people feel it necessary to research the matter.”)

    You also know that your reviewers can’t exactly defend themselves online in public debate, so what you are doing here is doubly shameful.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the next version of your defense uses the non-denial trick: “I’m sorry you chose to be offended by what I wrote”.
    —-

    TL;DR version:

    You could choose to take reviewer feedback as constructive, intended to improve your odds of a successful grant submission. Or, you could choose to seek to find blame elsewhere, fail to take responsibility for your own decisions, and make this a public political statement of your own virtue as a poor peon and an assignment of blame to “The Man”.

    How you respond is *your* choice.

    Appeals to mob emotion and allegations of victimization are not the optimal way to win an academic grant. But they certainly win points on The Internets.

  97. Mike Ducey says

    As a preface, I want to say I agree with your world view but I offer this in the way of constructive criticism:

    I think there are several points where you invite being dismissed by people who may agree that evolution should be generally accepted but who would still reject your proposal. First you call people names. “Terrible” and being “shocked,” describe how you have negative reactions to people with whom you disagree. I have those reactions too but if you want a federal grant to communicate with “those people” you might not want to tell the grant committee that you feel shocked to meet “terrible” people.

    Secondly you frame evolution as a means of promoting your secular world view:

    “The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a skeptical, naturalistic worldview.”

    That may be true but it is death for a grant proposal. No review committee would approve it because they know that some bible belt congressman or senator would find your proposal and scream about how the federal government, in cahoots with the devil, is out to destroy faith in America, blah blah blah. And they cut your funding. Promoting your secular world view may be a result of good education programs on evolution but don’t tell anyone.

    Grant proposals are public and political… and the only beliefs you can express are those of the “I love puppies!” variety. (ok you can say science is neat!)

  98. BrotherGilburt says

    You said: “The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level,” but I’d condider changing it slightly. What people are and are not fascinated by is totally and understandably subjective. What’s truly troubling is that people are denying the objective fact that is Evolution.

  99. kohldamunga says

    Great. Maybe you don’t realise, but I think “Dogmatic” is indeed the right word, the perfect word, that describes someone’s blind faith in a theory.

    But I guess this ‘peer reviewing’ process does work indeed…. :)

    By the way, from what I have read so far, I too think your belief in the theory of evolution is dogmatic and religious. Take it as a compliment.

  100. bluejohn says

    Random reason has it phrased correctly:
    “Appeals to mob emotion and allegations of victimization are not the optimal way to win an academic grant. But they certainly win points on The Internets.”
    We have seen this approach in other realms (i.e. elevatorgate). The vast majority of academics are evolution friendly, particularly in the sciences. But you are correct in pointing out that not all scientist are skeptics or rational.

  101. evodevo says

    What Ing:Od Wet Rust said !! Reasonable, non-dogmatic people can’t see this because they know no theology. Fundie Christians (and to some extent, Jews and Muslims) can’t accept anything except a physical Eden with a real Adam and Eve, 6,000 years ago. If that is not true, then there was no Original Sin and the whole edifice falls. Even old-earth creationists get the stink eye.

  102. mikecline says

    Are the boobs who refuse to flaty discredit anti-evolutionism your peers? Seems not. Don’t ignore them, but also don’t worry about them reviewing your work.

  103. echidna says

    Jen,

    Try removing this section:

    The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level. This wasn’t simply someone disagreeing with how I earned a paycheck: Learning about evolution was the key event that led me to adopt a skeptical, naturalistic worldview. I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics. I wanted others to understand my feelings of awe as I contemplate the universe, or how lucky I feel to have evolved the necessary traits to contemplate the universe in the first place.

    I wouldn’t have used the word “dogmatic”, but in this section you do come across as if you wish to proselytise.

    After removing the above, what’s left tells the story that you are shocked that people who should know better don’t accept evolution, and you have found out that lack of education is key. This is what drives you.

    This is what you want your reader to focus on. Don’t leave them thinking that you couldn’t deal with someone who is religious.

  104. Eric RoM says

    Here’s the crap part of Jen’s statement:
    “The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level”

    I’m not “fascinated” by evolutionary theory: it’s mildly interesting, but lacks a mesmerizing “fascination”.

  105. says

    “I’m not “fascinated” by evolutionary theory: it’s mildly interesting, but lacks a mesmerizing “fascination”.”

    —–

    Uh, oh another intelligence spewer? Lock and Load!

    But you know it’s not a theory, right? There is SO much circumstantial evidence it and Billions of years HAVE to be undisputed fact.

    ORGANIZE AND EVANGELIZE!

    (or don’t and keep your best feature; the ability to change who you are if the truth “shifts”, like Christians are doing now, trying to be ‘likable’ in the face of the evidence and social pressure.)

  106. julian says

    I’m eager to test the damage a 200 foot fall onto concrete will do to another human being. Would you like to volunteer, Just Me?

  107. says

    I don’t think that everyone who rejects evolution is stupid.

    Considering their alternative explanation for the diversity of life, magical creation out of nothing, I would say these science deniers most definitely are stupid.

  108. Charles says

    I do have to wonder how the Creationism believing students will fare if they have to cooperate with students from other countries. The best they can hope for is that the pity and hilarity would be kept out of their hearing.

    Even if the American students stick to being educators how are they going to deal with the educators from other countries?

  109. Tyler says

    Exactly what Tom said. As a current NSF fellow, I would add that the best personal statements are honest, unique, and have a generally positive story to tell. I think your essay would be improved by focusing more on your own positive internal sources of motivations (your desire to improve science education, how education shaped your worldview, general amazement at the way natural processes shape the world) rather than negative external motivations (other people’s denial/ignorance of facts).

    Best of luck on your fellowship application!

  110. says

    Considering their alternative explanation for the diversity of life, magical creation out of nothing, I would say these science deniers most definitely are stupid.

    Why study the origins and history of life if there was nothing “magical” to be interested in?

    My understanding is that things called “magic” are acts of matter that transform with no conventionally understood means or direct manipulation.

    So if the beginning and launch into life wasn’t “magical” I’m sure you can slap me upside the head with what happened behind the mirrors.

    Remember though, being un-educated and stupid, the explanation would need be one where even a kid can see how lifeless ingredients spontaneously arranged and sparked to start the cycle.

    And if that can’t be done, it’s just magic of a different hand, that skeptics will always doubt.

    So then, I beg you, EVOLVE an answer already. Make me believe.

    Or just continue to collectively throw me from your mountain of evidence, fulfilling my martyrdom and proving your hatred transcends my doubt of your blissful dis-belief in the supernatural.

  111. Alteredstory says

    You get the same thing when you call someone on a climate change myth these days.

    There’s a recent trend towards using words for what ever suits you. Pointing out factual errors? You’re being dogmatic and oppressive.

    I even saw someone saying that OWS protesters started the violence when they refused to leave an off-limits area.

    That’s right – standing in the wrong place is now considered violent behavior.

    And anybody who starts a conversation about climate change or evolution (from the factual side of things) is, obviously, looking to cause trouble.

    Or, someone mentions how they don’t think the fossil record is very convincing, or they think those CRU scientists were being dishonest, correcting them is antagonistic behavior.

    sigh

  112. Simon says

    I can see why it is a bit outrageous that biology professionals aren’t accepting evolution. However if the academic requirements are such that human evolution does not need to be taught or learned, then it would seem that your anger (which I agree with) ought perhaps to be directed at the system and those that influence it, rather than individual biologists.

  113. Jurjen S. says

    Do you have any evidence whatsoever, or can even draw a remotely plausible argument from pure theory, that pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by X perform better than pilots who BELIEVE planes are held up by Y?

    I can come up with a plausible theoretical argument. A pilot who sincerely refuses to accept the physics involved in keeping a plane in the air will not be able to understand why his aircraft stalls, nor what to do to make his aircraft regain lift and get out of the stall. “A pilot is required to demonstrate competency in controlling an aircraft during and after a stall for certification” under FAA regulations, and you will not pass if your response during a stall is to put a saucer of cream on the wing.

  114. Jurjen S. says

    Why would you be amazed? This is in no small part the result of Great Britain (and certain other countries) off-loading its religious extremists onto the New World for the better part of the 17th and 18th centuries.

  115. NK says

    Which naturally explains why the US has been such a laggard in the development of science and technology.

  116. says

    sc_af4f3773976236ddc573af390b0cb267 says:
    October 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM

    Stupid is a physical condition. I think you mean ignorant, or even ornery.

    I meant stupid, as in sc_af4f3773976236ddc573af390b0cb267 is stupid.

    Understand tard boy?

  117. Jason S says

    I agree with all of the points you are making. I can’t help but wonder if some of the people who are critiquing your paper are trying to point out that the language is going to be ineffective at educating those morons because it’s too abrasive and will shut them down almost immediately. I don’t think the points you are making are flawed, but your writing can use some tweaks. It’s not your fault that those people are so damn sensitive, but in order for your paper to have any affect on them you will need to figure out how to communicate those truths in a much less in-your-face way. I’m just sayin’.

  118. milanillich says

    my christian nephew had a b.s in biology, applied for a grant and was asked about the origin of aids. he thought that god created aids to punish gay people and did not get the grant.

  119. says

    “Because religion is protected in our culture. Telling someone they’re wrong is “dogmatic” if it’s contradicting their religious beliefs even if, you know, they’re wrong.”

    I think I’ve decided to change my “religious” label. I am no longer an Atheist. I am now an Antagonist. As an Antagonist, I believe that You are wrong. It doesn’t matter what you believe in, you are wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are; you are wrong. I have faith that everyone who believes anything at any time is wrong. Including me.

    And since this is my religious belief, you can’t get mad at me for telling you you are wrong. Because that would be wrong. Right?

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