Anti-caturday post »« Episode CCLXVII: Clarity!

The blindness of some scientists

Jen McCreight had a wake-up call. She wrote a draft of an NSF application that required a personal statement, she wrote about the poor attitude towards evolution she experienced in college, and sent it off to some local people for review. They criticized it, which is not a problem — a good shredding over is always helpful — but the reasons they objected were deplorable.

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.”

It was not a “destroy all Christians” essay. It didn’t declare creationists stupid. It described a real problem and Jen’s motivation for addressing it. The problem we often find in the higher levels of academe is that there are people who refuse to recognize anti-evolution as a real problem. It doesn’t affect them — I can assure you that within the community of scientists creationism is not ever a problem. The little dweebs show up at meetings and are ignored or laughed at over beer, and that’s about it.

You can pretend, then, that it’s not a real concern as long as you never step outside the smart, rigorous environment of your colleagues, and don’t even bother to look at the activities of the students on your campus. You can do that, too; it’s even rewarded. Successful scientists are focused and disciplined and single-mindedly connected to their professional activities. The student outreach pastor on campus can be giving weekly showings of Kent Hovind videos, the local community can be hounding the high school science teacher to stop teaching evolution, and the governor of your state can be running for president while declaring evolution is a lie, and you can still get your work done. That is, until the day all your students reject the stuff that you teach (which, for many research faculty, doesn’t matter anyway), all the prospective graduate students from America are stealth creationists (no matter, you’re only taking on European and Chinese students now), and the president makes your research unfundable at the NIH (ouch, finally something that hurts!). This hasn’t happened yet, though, so let’s not worry about it.

Jen wasn’t dogmatic. She was aware. And sane.

It’s dismaying that some of her reviewers seemed to think evolution was just her quirky personal belief, rather than the only viable theory built on evidence that biology has to work with … and that students who reject it aren’t competent to advance science.

Comments

  1. echidna says

    Now we are seeing the downside of the idea that “everyone is entitled to their own beliefs”. It’s not silly, as long as there is the rider that the beliefs must both accord with reality, and do no harm.

    To be Dawkinesque means to insist on the rider. Count me in as Dawkinesque.

  2. zugswang says

    Well, given it’s the NSF, I’m sure there’s more than just the safety of academia to inform their response. I imagine there’s also a political element playing here, as well – in case some republican desperate for a new soundbite finds this and gets all fun-time hyperbole on it, using it as an excuse to cut federal funding to research.

    I’m not saying I condone it; it’s total bullshit. I only bring up that there are a lot more immediate and threatening reasons for the reviewers’ bad decisions – the people who control our research funds who don’t know a goddamn thing about science.

  3. A. R says

    I can vouch for this phenomenon from experience, even a tiny liberal arts colleges with stringent entrance requirements (especially for the biology program) creationists manage to sneak in. And some how, the professors are able to totally ignore them…

  4. martha says

    “You can pretend, then, that it’s not a real concern” …or not.

    Some of the sci. profs at the university in my small midwestern town learned that the local high school had hired a stealth creationist biology teacher*. They promptly organized a regular get together of high school and university science teachers in the hopes of exposing the young lady to real scientific culture and fimding a way to bring her up to speed. I’m proud of them, I hope it works.

    But then this isn’t an invisible problem to these guys- there are creationists among their students, among their job applicants and occasionally even among the other faculty.

    *What is known at is point is that her personal views are creationist, not that she is teaching creationism to students, which would of course be grounds for a more drastic response.

  5. AJKamper says

    I’m reminded, for the first time in a long time, of giving a presentation my sophomore year of college on why creationism should absolutely not be taught in schools. (I wasn’t an atheist at the time, because I still believed in some vague arguments from design that make me cringe nowadays, but I certainly wasn’t religious.)

    I had thought that this would be pretty unobjectionable, even obvious. That there would only be one or two befuddled ideologues who would get defensive. But no… fully half the class went ballistic. Even people I had generally thought sane felt that they were “equal theories” that deserved “equal time.” I was baffled.

    In short, this is a real problem. People really, really don’t understand how science works. And in the college classroom, that’s just unacceptable.

  6. Mr.Kosta says

    That I shouldn’t be “shocked” that some biology majors don’t believe in evolution

    Well, she should be shocked alright. That is akin to saying she shouldn’t be shocked some physics majors don’t believe in the theory of gravity, or some geologists don’t believe in plate tectonics. Madness, I say.

  7. says

    Now we are seeing the downside of the idea that “everyone is entitled to their own beliefs”

    We’ve been seeing that since 5 minutes after Anthropology’s Cultural Relativism hit the mainstream.

  8. blbt5 says

    As a Personal Statement, there is a wide latitude given, but it was certainly courageous for Jen to give such a forthright explication of her views. Good for her! These statements aren’t supposed to affect the review, but one never knows. But creationists should know there are consequences to promoting ignorance. I was recently on a panel of senior scientists interviewing (as we found out later) one of Behe’s Lehigh grad students for a scientist position, who during his interview seminar quite unexpectedly mentioned that creationism was a reasonable view, in light of the construction of the human eye. At first he seemed completely unaware of how ridiculous his comment sounded, but from the shocked look of the audience he quickly realized he had made a serious mistake, although rather than retracting it, he became defensive. We let him know that while privately holding such beliefs was OK, advancing them during a scientific discussion was a mark of serious professional incompetence, although understandable since those beliefs were held by his advisor. Needless to say he did not get the job!

  9. Retired Prodigy Bill says

    Of course, after a certain amount of education in biology (and the dozens of other disciplines that support evolution), if you don’t believe in evolution you are functionally stupid. Evolution is a scientific theory, which means that if you have the evidence to knock it down or significantly modify it, you’re going to be famous, just like anyone that manages to overturn the theory of gravity.

    Those without advanced degrees sometimes think that higher education automatically means higher general intelligence, but it doesn’t. Any human process is limited by the humans implementing that process, and there are plenty of blockheads in the academy who cultivate similar blockheads as graduate students. I recall one well published idiot who insisted that a beautiful rock formation has exactly the same rights as human beings: the right to happiness, to life, to self-fufillment, due process under the law, etc. The fact that rocks aren’t alive and don’t have feelings didn’t seem to bother her one bit.

    To be dogmatic is to reject any disputation, something that good science never does. To reject idiocy after weighing the evidence is not dogmatic, it is reality based thinking, and it’s a good thing.

  10. Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis says

    Well I guess there’s such a thing as being too right.

    To quote BBT:

    Mrs Cooper: Now you listen here, I have been telling you since you were four years old, it’s okay to be smarter than everybody but you can’t go around pointing it out.

    Sheldon: Why not?

    Mrs Cooper: Because people don’t like it.

  11. Rowan says

    That is, until the day all your students reject the stuff that you teach (which, for many research faculty, doesn’t matter anyway), all the prospective graduate students from America are stealth creationists…

    I am sure many have seen this comic, but the post brings it to mind.

    Science Classrooms

  12. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Scientists are to blame? Really? This is Mooneyesque.

    Scientists* have been on the front lines of the battle with creationists since the beginning. Despite the lack of popular support, the fact that the idiots greatly outnumber us, and that we have no well-funded organizational basis, we have been winning. Oh. And also we have been doing all of the science, in an environment of decreasing public support and funding. What a bunch of lazy, blind assholes we are.

    *OK…and some other people**. But seriously. What are you? A scientist. Stenger? Miller? Scott? Hillis?
    **Double woot! to Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross.

  13. says

    Of course, after a certain amount of education in biology (and the dozens of other disciplines that support evolution), if you don’t believe in evolution you are functionally stupid

    QFT.

    It’s the difference between being ignorant (lacking the truth) and being stupid (lacking the facilities to come to the truth). Frankly, I am intolerant of this stupidity as it shows that someone is incapable or unwilling to accept new evidence and holds to their previous conviction in spite of data. This is an anathema in science.

  14. says

    I think we need science teachers teaching biblical biology. Not creationism, but I want to see the same sort of acrobatics and post hoc used to explain how you can live in a whale/big fish for days.

    Start teaching that and let’s see if people get it.

  15. says

    The fact that so many people didn’t share my fascination with evolutionary theory troubled me on a personal level.

    That’s overkill. Obviously a lot of people aren’t going to share her fascination with evolutionary theory. And I can see some objections to the idea that it’s so important because it helped form her skeptical attitude, when she’s wanting to communicate science. One may want to know just how she’d communicate science, which could be just fine–or perhaps not.

    Above all, a few negative reviews, among a majority which are favorable, are nothing to be very concerned about.

    Why even ask for reviews if you complain about some negative ones? Did she actually desire feedback, or just want to garner praise?

    Glen Davidson

  16. Matt Penfold says

    It’s the difference between being ignorant (lacking the truth) and being stupid (lacking the facilities to come to the truth). Frankly, I am intolerant of this stupidity as it shows that someone is incapable or unwilling to accept new evidence and holds to their previous conviction in spite of data. This is an anathema in science.

    I have tolerance when there is genuine intellectual impairment. I am not tolerant when it comes to people who otherwise function well, sometimes at a high level. For example, for an academic to be a creationists is pathetic. Even if you are not a scientists, let alone a biologist, you can reasonably be expected to have reached a decent general standard of education. The same applies to other professionals I would argue. If you have been to university and come away with a degree, then there is no excuse for being a creationist.

    By university I, of course, mean real universities.

  17. eigenperson says

    To be fair, this is a personal statement for an NSF application. The NSF is not known for being sensible or reasonable about those statements, and and I would review one submitted to me based on my worst-case vision of how the NSF might review it, not based on whether I liked it or not.

  18. Matt Penfold says

    To be fair, this is a personal statement for an NSF application. The NSF is not known for being sensible or reasonable about those statements, and and I would review one submitted to me based on my worst-case vision of how the NSF might review it, not based on whether I liked it or not.

    That would be reasonable, but it does not seem to have been the approach JM’s faculty took. If it were, they would not dismiss her positions but just advise that based on their experience she needs to be a bit less emphatic.

  19. fred says

    “Those without advanced degrees sometimes think that higher education automatically means higher general intelligence, but it doesn’t.”

    For sure. Otherwise, how could there possibly be people out there with MS and PhD degrees in “theology” or “divinity”?

  20. jimnorth says

    Small liberal arts colleges, such as the one I teach at, do indeed have a high number of creationists; students, faculty, staff, and administration. However, the strongest program (besides athletics) is the Biology major – all of us on the faculty emphasize evolution and evolutionary concepts in all of our coursework. Some students remain ignorant, others appreciate the rationality, and, most importantly, we have managed to change a few minds.
    The last time our division received money from the federal government, we didn’t have to offer a personal statement. But I would have included something along the lines that JM wrote if given the opportunity.

  21. says

    Re comment 4 by Martha:

    You wrote about a science denier who is teaching high school science. Whether or not this uneducated moron is teaching magical creationism she must be fired immediately because it’s not fair to students to get stuck with a science denying science teacher.

  22. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Over the past several years it’s become unacceptable to tell someone “you’re wrong” about a cherished belief. As a result, we get creationists studying biology and birthers having their idiocy going unchallenged in the media.

  23. rbh3 says

    One of the difficult tasks we faced in 2001-2003 when the Ohio State Board of Education was considering adding ID creationism-friendly language to the state science standards was convincing scientists to speak out and participate in the opposition to that foolishness.

  24. Rey Fox says

    It’s not poetry in motion.

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

    What a terrible thing it is to be forthright and eloquent in being right.

  25. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    rbh3: I am suprised to hear that. I was a graduate student in Columbus at the time. Hundreds of us showed up to the showdown at Vet’s Memorial. We were all surprised that the job of refuting Jonathan Wells(IIRC) was given to Lawrence Krauss. True enough that at the time LK was a citizen of Ohio and a distinguished professor, but there is a department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Many scholars there would have relished the opportunity to go after the noob Wells*. As I recall, the problem was that the board wasn’t all that interested in hearing from scientists.

    *I had the pleasure of watching one of them thrash Behe in a debate the year before. We were ready.

  26. Rieux says

    Some of the commenters on McCreight’s post clearly agree with the reviewers who warned against her supposed “dogmatism.” Said commenters also have a difficult time noticing that McCreight’s post (like PZ’s here) is actually about the ugliness and injustice of that criticism, and of the notion that the NSF might discriminate against her on the basis of “dogmatism.”

    I’m sure I’m not alone in this reaction, but as may be clear from my responses on that thread, those comments fairly piss me off.

  27. psanity says

    Ing, @16:

    Of course, after a certain amount of education in biology (and the dozens of other disciplines that support evolution), if you don’t believe in evolution you are functionally stupid

    QFT.

    It’s the difference between being ignorant (lacking the truth) and being stupid (lacking the facilities to come to the truth). Frankly, I am intolerant of this stupidity as it shows that someone is incapable or unwilling to accept new evidence and holds to their previous conviction in spite of data. This is an anathema in science.

    No, it’s the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance. I have told students that there’s a difference between not knowing how the world works, not understanding how the world works, and not wanting to know how the world works. Sometimes it makes an impression; in any case, it’s a distinction worth making, particularly considering the acrobatically canny argumentative style of the willfully ignorant.

    Even though it’s common rhetorical shorthand to refer to willful ignorance as “stupid”.

    And it’s not just anathema in science! I teach theatre. Willful ignorance makes bad actors and dangerous technicians.

  28. Ray Moscow says

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

    To be compared to one of the greatest science writers of our time doesn’t sound so bad.

    Wait — did they mean this as a negative?!!!

  29. Gen, or The RadFem of Dhoom says

    I have told students that there’s a difference between not knowing how the world works, not understanding how the world works, and not wanting to know how the world works

    QFT and well put.

    Also, how exactly does one receive a biology P.hD if one still advocates for ID and creationism? Well, in places other than BibleCountry, South Africa, I mean. Here, accomodationalism is seen as strident and “honouring diverse opinions” on science and facts are pretty much requirements.

  30. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Also, how exactly does one receive a biology P.hD if one still advocates for ID and creationism?

    Often by keeping that opinion to one’s self, IME.

  31. paleobarbie says

    “You can pretend, then, that it’s not a real concern as long as you never step outside the smart, rigorous environment of your colleagues”

    Thanks for pointing this out, PZ. Almost all of my colleagues think that I’m just nuts when I go on about the problems of creationists and creationism (and in case people think it’s mainly a US thing, this is now growing in the UK and Australia as well).

    They’ll say “why bother to argue with them, you’ll never change their minds”. Then they think that I’m seriously deluded when I tell them to wait for the day when president Perry/Bachman or similar decides to cut back on government funding by striking all funds for “evolution” from NSF. After all, the majority of the people in the US would be in complete agreement with this action.

    It’s all very well to be smug in the ivory tower, but this country seems to be on a fast track back to the Dark Ages.

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

    I said it on her thread & I’ll say it here:

    Jen, in her essay, **never once said** that she believed in evolution because of evidence. She never said that she had tested her belief. Instead she said:

    “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.

    In the words of the essay, she’s not upset that people are failing to use rational methods to substantiate reasonable belief. She’s upset because “people didn’t share my fascination” and because “learning about evolution was the key event” in developing her worldview.

    The essay is written in such a way that she is shocked that other people aren’t like her and it’s worse because the ways in which they aren’t like her are very important to her.

    This is dogmatism.

    Now, I don’t believe that Jen wants people to believe like her because that will make her more comfortable. But that’s how the essay was written. It’s a very reasonable interpretation of the text. I wasn’t in the meetings where the criticism happened, but if a scientist said to her, “You’re coming off as dogmatic & intolerant. Why would you expect other students to accept the values important to you? Why would you assume that people would simply “believe” in evolution just because you do?” That would be a very good criticism helping Jen to focus on the fact that she did not make explicit what she thinks she made explicit.

    Now Jen hasn’t been super detailed over what people said. It’s entirely possible that the criticism was not essay-focused, but Jen-focused. It’s entirely possible that people were saying that it’s unreasonable to ask people to accept that what their senses tell them is real. In that case, they are very fuzzy-headed doofuses. In that case, criticizing the VFD is entirely appropriate. The VFD deserve to eat bad puttanesca in the presence of evil carnies before being sold into slavery as factory workers.

    But the essay as written does not communicate that she has a reasonable, well-founded belief in evolution based on evidence. It reads that she was raised to believe in evolution, never questioned it, and experienced culture shock when she got to college…and resented that culture shock rather than embraced it as an opportunity to test her beliefs for truth.

    The essay needs to be rewritten for clarification. I conditionally agree with PZ that reviewers that said such things about Jen and about evolution who weren’t saying, “In the essay…” are VFD. However, I don’t take it as read that the criticism had nothing to do with how Jen wrote the essay. I think it may be very easy for someone to carelessly word a criticism, making it okay for students to arrive on campus not believing in evolution even tho’ they eventually want to work in biology. I didn’t hear them saying that creationism is useful in biology. I didn’t hear them saying that evolution is unnecessary to doing graduate-level work in biology. I heard them saying that it’s okay to arrive at college not believing the same thing that Jen does. And since Jen’s writing seem to say that she took it badly that people didn’t believe what she believed, that was a reasonable thing to state in the criticism.

    A failure of perfect clarity during criticism and the natural defensiveness that humans experience when being criticized may be at work muddling 1) the “shredding” of Jen’s essay as displaying dogmatism and 2) the actual facts of evolution …making it appear that the reviewers believe 2) is just dogma.

  33. MAtheist says

    @psanity #32 – just what I was thinking, willful ignorance.

    I think Jen should respond the way I do when asked about belief in evolution. I tell them I don’t “believe” in evolution, I understand evolution.

    Sometimes it gets the point across.

  34. mikee says

    @ Antiochus Epiphanes #15

    “Scientists are to blame? Really? This is Mooneyesque.
    Scientists* have been on the front lines of the battle with creationists since the beginning.”

    There are some scientists who have made a lot of effort to communicate science. PZ is a perfect example. However, there are a lot of scientists who do not, who as PZ suggests are happy to sit in their labs, take the funding they can get and treat public education with disdain. The attitude to science education that denied Carl Sagan entry to the Academy of Science still exists.

    If ALL scientists, not just a minority, engaged fully with the public and confronted anti-scientific beliefs, we would be in a much better position. And I think progress is being made, with blogs such as PZ’s providing a useful tool.

  35. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    There was a Master’s Thesis written regarding media treatment of the Ohio State Board debate. This thesis indicates that while the majority (65%) of the citizens of Ohio were strongly in favor of inclusion of ID in the school curriculum, the opposition was most strongly voiced by academics at Ohio’s institutions of higher learning, and concludes that controversy in the media was due to the tenacity of academics holding this minority position.
    I would also point out that eventually the minority position won, and largely because citizen scientists held the line.

    paleobarbie: That hasn’t been my experience, but I have always been in departments with strong commitments to evolutionary research. YMMV I guess.

    I will say that now that I have relocated to the bible belt, the fight is often much closer to home. We have to be ready for challenges in the classroom directly from university students, many of them undergraduates and majors. I don’t know any faculty who lack the stomach for this, and we frequently discuss strategies for teaching evolution to an unwilling and uncomfortable audience. I think we make a difference.

  36. hotshoe says

    Oops, blockquote fail :(

    Credit to AJ Milne, whose awesome response I was trying to quote:

    ‘Dawkins-esque’, huh?

    I’ve been called worse by better.

  37. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    However, there are a lot of scientists who do not, who as PZ suggests are happy to sit in their labs, take the funding they can get and treat public education with disdain.

    This is a mischaracterization. Serious research often requires a personal commitment that precludes not only intimate interaction with the community on a professional level, but often interaction with spouses, families, and friends. Those who are doing the most to advance our understanding of natural phenomena do so in an environment of brutal competition for funding, lab space, and jobs. These people aren’t simply sitting in a lab soaking up funding. They are busy as all fuck figuring out complicated shit. I am perfectly happy to shoulder their share of the load in bringing science to the public, so long as they keep doing things like figuring out how to generate bio-fuels from algae, how to prevent epidemics, how pulsars work, etc.

    Scientists like PZ and RD have a role in reaching the public. Scientists who are preoccupied with research have a role, too. I don’t understand the antagonism that exists between those who are primarily occupied with teaching science and those who are occupied with doing it. Their relationship should be cooperative.

  38. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    and also

    If ALL scientists, not just a minority, engaged fully with the public and confronted anti-scientific beliefs, we would be in a much better position.

    OK. And not much science would get done. Engaging the public fully is a time commitment. And some have no talent for it.

  39. Izzy says

    You are entitled to your own opinion. You’re not entitled to your own facts. If you reject the central facet of a scientific discipline, you should not be surprised that someone is a little reluctant to certify you as an expert in it, because you’re not entitled to respect for your version of reality.

  40. says

    I’ll call the creationists stupid. They’re either that or deceitful, calculated liars. Or both. And they are much more aware of the importance of public opinion than most scientists.

  41. F says

    “wanted people to believe in evolution just because that’s what you happen to believe in.”

    I wasn’t aware that belief was relevant to evolution. Thems some weird scientists.

  42. paleobarbie says

    @ Antiochus:
    “paleobarbie: That hasn’t been my experience, but I have always been in departments with strong commitments to evolutionary research.”

    You misunderstood my point. I’m talking about colleagues in evolutionary biology and psleontology who don’t seem to think that dealing with creationists has any value, and who think that creationists are all ignorant fools with no influence.

    “Serious research often requires a personal commitment that precludes not only intimate interaction with the community on a professional level, but often interaction with spouses, families, and friends.” —- et cetera.

    Of course — but there’s a big difference between *spending time* on public education yourself, and *appreciating the value* of other people doing this. My colleagues think that my battling with creationists is a waste of time. It’s certainly a waste of my personal research time (good thing I’m in my near-dotage), but I believe that it’s not a waste of time in the broader scheme of the future of science in general, and funding for scientific research in particular.

  43. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    paleobarbie:

    I’m talking about colleagues in evolutionary biology and psleontology who don’t seem to think that dealing with creationists has any value, and who think that creationists are all ignorant fools with no influence.

    Oh. This isn’t my experience, but it is a shame that it is yours.

    Of course — but there’s a big difference between *spending time* on public education yourself, and *appreciating the value* of other people doing this.

    I agree. I don’t have any patience for tier 1 researchers that belittle the efforts of those who are serious about engaging the public, either. There doesn’t need to be antagonism between these camps. We need both excellent research and committed public relations. I just don’t see any reason why all of us have to do both, and really, few of us could.

  44. mikee says

    @ Antiochus Epiphanes #43

    You raise some good points, by saying there are “a lot” of scientists who do not engage, you point about mischaracterisation of scientists is fair, however, it seems to me that there are still too many scientists who treat interaction with the public with distain, which I think your comment about cooperation shows we agree with this.
    And I am quite well aware of the intensity of scientific research – been there, done that – didn’t get the T-shirt.
    When I said ALL scientists should fully engage with the public, I dodn’t mean that they should spend copious amounts of time doing so. As you say they have other things to do and some are probably not very good at it. What I should have said is that when scientists find opportunities to promote science they should seriously consider them – from serving on school boards to perhaps a talk to a school class maybe once a year, which is something I think MORE scientists could do (agreed not all of them) to help promote science

  45. RandomReason says

    Would it not be appropriately skeptical and prudent to first question McCreight’s version of events, her subjective characterization of the merit and motives of reviewers critiques, her selectively presented partial evidence (how do we know – or she know – that that snippet was “the offending paragraph” in the reviewer’s eyes?), possibly selectively quoted critiques – from people who likely cannot publicly defend themselves, and prejudicial, appeal-to-emotion language?

    I wonder, if the full personal statement were shared, if we would find similarly uncritical appeals-to-emotion as those presented here, which might cast a different light on the reviewer’s comments.

    Is there no thoughtful examination of the wisdom of her choice to publish her defense (and rejection of all criticism) publicly?

    There seems to be altogether too much confirmation bias going on here, and altogether too little skepticism and critical thinking.

  46. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    What I should have said is that when scientists find opportunities to promote science they should seriously consider them – from serving on school boards to perhaps a talk to a school class maybe once a year, which is something I think MORE scientists could do (agreed not all of them) to help promote science

    Sure. But the problem is communicating science to a public that by-and-large does not want to hear it. Where I live, I stand little chance of being elected to the school board as a proponent of good science curriculum. The culture has gone sour on science, and we need to address that. I think the best strategy is to focus very carefully on how we educate the educators–k-12 teachers are the first-line in this particular skirmish, and we need to arm them with the best science and pedagogical technique that we can.

  47. says

    A hypothetical person has an X that they believe tells him/her to do things, and a part of their belief in X is an afterlife where everything is so much better than this. To get there they have to do everything that X tells them to which includes incredibly violent acts of evil.

    Replace X with Barney The Purple Dinosaur.

    Now replace X with (insert deity’s name here).

    Do you really want people like this in our society driving our buses, taking care of our children, making decisions about national defense, roaming our streets armed with guns, etc.

    X is an invention of the human mind with no basis in fact/science/reality beyond what any particular person prefers to believe. What if a person’s preference changes to something evil?

    Do you see how this could be a problem?

    Religious people have no moral responsibility whatsoever.

    That’s why they can say they value life one moment, and then call for the death of people who don’t accept their imaginary friend the next.

    Religions are fundamentally death cults that portray life as a miserable thing to be endured, and after you die you will get sky pie in the sky pie kingdom, and sit next to the pie god.

    It does not surprise me at all that religious people don’t care about conservation, saving endangered species, preserving the natural world, or really doing anything constructive/positive. In their eyes all is filth and evil if it doesn’t come from a book that a bunch of uneducated sand jockeys who thought the world was flat wrote over 2000 years ago.

  48. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    RandomReason,
    First, the experience is not surprising in a country where more idjits believe in angels than evilution. Second, Jen McCreight is well known in the skeptic community and has established a track record of being reliable and truthfuel. You… not so much.

    If my wife tells me it is raining and I take my umbrella with me, I don’t forfeit my status as a skeptic. Similarly, if a known and trusted skeptic tells me something that is not at all surprising, and they have always given me reason to trust them by their actions in the past, my provisionally trusting them does not compromise my skepticism.

    You? Why the hell should I trust you?

  49. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    AE says: “The culture has gone sour on science, and we need to address that.”

    Hmm. Maybe as a culture, but not as individuals. When people find out that I am a physicist, they are generally eager to ask questions about scientific results they’ve heard about, about cosmology, even about my own research. If you take time to explain in terms they can understand while still taking care not to do violence to the truth, people are generally happy to talk science.

    Where I think we run into troubles is when we tell people that their pet theories–be they homeopathy, climate denial, creationism or assorted woo–are bullshit. Unfortunately, this is one of the most valuable aspects of science. It tells us when we are simply flat-assed wrong. Not everyone is happy to learn that, though.

  50. hf says

    “Dogmatic” doesn’t mean insisting on the truth of evolution here. That would get a response of “arrogant” or “insensitive”. No, the reviewer meant that by calling herself an atheist (even in different terms, even in a positive way) she implies that any Christian readers have their facts wrong (see Greta Christina on the topic). Real dogmatists will of course perceive this as an attack.

    From that perspective, the rest of the lines Jen posted would sound like teaching atheism!! to children!!!!

  51. mikee says

    @Antiochus Epiphanes #52

    “I think the best strategy is to focus very carefully on how we educate the educators–k-12 teachers are the first-line in this particular skirmish, and we need to arm them with the best science and pedagogical technique that we can.”

    A good targeted use of resources.

    I guess in a lot of ways in New Zealand we are lucky we don’t have the level of opposition you experience, although there are still pockets of antiscientific sentiment to deal with.

    This year, the Readers Digest poll for NZ had three scientists as #1,2 and 3 on the most trusted list. While I suspect some bias in how the list is constructed, normally those positions are occupied by sports people and occasionally politicians.
    http://www.readersdigest.co.nz/New-Zealand-Most-Trusted-People-2011

    Scientists score 13th on the list of most trusted occupations just behind teachers at #12.
    http://www.readersdigest.co.nz/New-Zealand-Most-Trusted-Professions-2011

  52. says

    Reality is not a preference, but is simply what is even if we do not k now what that is at the time.

    Science is the only one true way of knowing reality because science is non-biased in it’s discovery of facts which are pieces of reality that were once unknown, but now made known via scientific methods.

    All the technology you enjoy today came about because of the scientific mindset of actively seeking answers to how reality works (FACTS), and using that information to solve problems. You cannot enjoy any form of modern technology, and object to scientifically proven FACTS like evolution without being a hypocrite.

    Hypocrisy runs rampant with preferential thinkers because they only acknowledge and support the existence of pieces of reality (FACTS) that they prefer, invent delusions to explain knowledge gaps, and ignore and vilify the existence of anything outside of their preferences. Preferential thinking is a delusional mindset that ignores reality as it truly is, it is highly resistant to facts, logic, and reason, and inspires rampant stupidity, ignorance, and laziness.

    Morals cannot be based on Preferential Thinking because in order for morals to work they have to be based on something real that falls outside of a person’s individual preferences.

    Preferential Thinking is intrinsically evil, and Preferential Thinkers are dangerous because they have no moral responsibility whatsoever because they base their morals upon their own preferences instead of reality.

    Religion is presently the most overt form of Preferential Thinking in society today.

    Example: I wake up stupid one day, and embrace (insert religion here) despite the scientifically proven fact that all Religion is mind destroying garbage invented by Preferential Thinkers. I want to worship X as best I can, and I prefer to do so by killing anyone who doesn’t worship X. Since X is an invention of my Preferentially Thinking mind X approves of my bloodlust. I go kill a bunch of people in the name of X who have committed no crime greater than not holding the same Preferential Thoughts that I do. Since X is an invention of my Preferentially Thinking mind this makes X very happy, and because X is my moral guide I think my killing spree is wonderful.

    Murder is not good for society, and there are scientific facts that support that assertion, but as I demonstrated a Preferential Thinker would ignore those scientific facts in preference of their preferences.
    Preferential Thinking is very widespread, and it is not hard to find examples of it on the world stage. Aside from Religion, another relevant example of Preferential Thinking is stupid peoples’ attitude towards the middle and poor classes (99%), and their glorification of the rich (1%).
    99% of America’s economy rest on the buying shoulders of the middle and poor classes, and yet the Republicans want to murder them with destructive social policies. The end result of their plans would be total economic collapse, and their rich overlords would lose everything. Without an economy all money and investments become worthless.
    The Republicans prefer that their actions benefit their rich masters without negative consequence (Preferential Thinking), and thus behave in accordance to their preferences even though scientific facts (reality) shows how destructive that will be if they are allowed to get away with it.

  53. aspidoscelis says

    +1 for post 37 by Crip Dyke.

    The essay is written in such a way that she is shocked that other people aren’t like her and it’s worse because the ways in which they aren’t like her are very important to her.

    Bingo. Jen’s post title on Blag Hag, “Accepting evidence is not dogmatism” is absolutely correct, but “accepting evidence” is not at all the narrative she’s presenting in those paragraphs.

  54. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Hmm. Maybe as a culture, but not as individuals. When people find out that I am a physicist, they are generally eager to ask questions about scientific results they’ve heard about, about cosmology, even about my own research.

    I get the same reaction if I tell people that I am a botanist. On the other hand, when I say that I am an evolutionary biologist*, I get a lot of stink-eye.

    *Both are true…I study evolution of plants.

  55. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    RandomReason,

    You? Why the hell should I trust you?

    Agreed, where is your peer reviewed scientific literature citations?

  56. Eidolon says

    A-Ray @54:

    first let me point out that Jen is a medium large frog in an exceedingly small pond. This in no way confers upon her any special status with respect to the post in question.

    You stepped right over the questions regarding the completeness of the quoted sections, her complete rejection of any criticism, and the overall appropriateness of publishing her defense and rejection of all criticism on the web. The last in particular would certainly have an impact if a reviewer had anything negative to say and felt they would be publicly challenged without a chance to respond or clarify.

    while your trust may in part deal with the first point, is it your position that because she said something “that is not at all surprising” everything is just dandy?

    Believing something “that is not at all surprising” does sound very much like confirmation bias.

  57. eigenperson says

    #62:

    You stepped right over the questions regarding the completeness of the quoted sections, her complete rejection of any criticism, and the overall appropriateness of publishing her defense and rejection of all criticism on the web.

    That’s probably because those complaints are pretty bogus.

    I mean, obviously McCreight is going to be selectively quoting the parts of the reviews that she found objectionable, because that’s the thing she is complaining about. I’m sure the reviewers had many other things to say about her essay, but it wouldn’t make much sense for her to mention all those other things, because they are not the subject of the post. They aren’t relevant. They aren’t interesting. They don’t illuminate the perception of atheism by members of the scientific community.

    I’m also pretty sure that if one of the people who criticized her essay would like to respond, that she would post his or her response, because McCreight seems intellectually responsible enough to do such a thing.

  58. Eidolon says

    eigen @62:

    It may also be the the case that it would be more responsible, intellectually, to seek clarification before posting. Further, it seems that taking the issue public and then expecting the critics to defend their statements on a frickin’ blog is simply unrealistic. What – all reviews should be open to public critique by supporters? this is what you are asking for.

    Jen asked for a critique, got one and did not like some of what she was told. She then defends herself and rejects any of the criticisms on a blog. I know I’d be just thrilled to put the effort, time, and thought the next time she wants an outside viewpoint. Burning bridges is a not an especially bright thing to do.

  59. RandomReason says

    You? Why the hell should I trust you?

    You shouldn’t. Of course I haven’t made any claims, so that is not at issue here. I simply offered the suggestion that skepticism is best used when used consistently, particularly when confronted with accounts that confirm our own biases. Is that such a controversial suggestion?

    Agreed, where is your peer reviewed scientific literature citations?

    Appeals to authority are not relevant to this discussion, nor are “peer reviewed scientific literature citations.” We are talking about one person’s subjective interpretation of motive of unknown reviewers, and extrapolation from that about some kind of conspiracy.

    If you are arguing in favor of evaluating a claim based on one’s emotional attachment toward the claimant, rather than on objective evaluation of the evidence and careful consideration of alternative interpretations – particularly with the application of Occam’s Razor – then you are providing evidence that my suggestion is reasonable.

  60. RandomReason says

    #63, Mcreight only posts one paragraph of her personal statement and then asserts that this is the “offending” part. That is a subjective interpretation vulnerable to confirmation bias.

    Is it unreasonable to withhold judgment on the merit of the reviewer’s feedback until one has access to the same evidence Mcreight uses to make her subjective claims of motive and conspiracy?

    Why is skepticism considered a hostile act here when consistently applied, even to one’s own convictions?

  61. captainahags says

    +1 to CripDyke @37. I was going to write something else as well, but her post explains it far better than I could.

  62. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    RandomReason, OK, ‘scuse me, but how do you make the contention that saying it is not a bad thing to reject evolution–aka the truth–by “placing it in context”

    How does context make it any less shocking that biology students might not believe in evolution–which is a cornerstone of biology?

    Look, I don’t know if you are in the US, but here in the Libertarian Paradise, scientists get investigated by states attorneys general just for doing their job. And even if you are “across the pond”, I would think that the experience of Phil Jones would make you see how silly it is to contend that there is not a very strong culture of anti-science out there.

    Perhaps Jen could have phrased some sections better, but as a scientist, you do not compromise on the truth–NOT EVER.

  63. eigenperson says

    #64 Eidolon: I don’t know if you comprehend the situation here. This is not a case of someone criticizing named individuals and/or attacking their published works. McCreight is addressing what she sees as an unfortunate attitude. She is not identifying the people with these attitudes or accusing them of anything beyond holding this opinion. Her blog post was not a formal study of attitudes towards evolution in academia, nor was it intended to be one.

    Also, why do you care whether or not she is “burning bridges”? How could you possibly have thought that a relevant issue to discuss here was Jen McCreight’s blogging habits? Are you concern trolling?

    #66

    Dear Dr. RandomReason:

    Your post makes the following claim: that there may be OTHER paragraphs in McCreight’s personal statement that are dogmatic or were perceived to be dogmatic by the reviewer, and that McCreight is either lying or mistaken about the paragraph referred to as being dogmatic.

    In the absence of specific evidence pointing towards it, this point of view is not the default hypothesis your pseudoskeptical language seems to indicate you believe it to be, for the following reasons.

    1. In the post, she indicates that she met personally with at least one of the reviewers to discuss the essay. I find it inconceivable that after such a meeting, she could be wrong about the identity of the offending paragraph.

    2. Even if McCreight had not personally met with the reviewer, in order for McCreight to be mistaken in this manner, either she must be incapable of understanding a simple written review, or the reviewer must be incapable of writing one that is clear enough to be understood. McCreight is a highly intelligent and fully literate person and is capable of understanding written material. In addition, I do not believe she would seek a review of her work by someone who was not capable of writing one.

    3. There is no evidence to suggest that McCreight is lying about or misrepresenting the contents of the reviews, nor would she have any reason to lie about them.

    4. You, the proponent of the mistaken-paragraph hypothesis, possess far less information about the content of the review than does McCreight, the principal proponent of the non-mistaken-paragraph hypothesis, and the only person, apart from the original reviewers of her statement, in any position to pronounce upon the identity of the paragraph in question. Therefore, your proposed hypothesis cannot be considered evidence-based in any way, while hers can.

    For these reasons, your proposed hypothesis should be rejected.

    In addition, I do not see why the competence and/or honesty of McCreight would be in question in the first place.

    If you are one of the original reviewers of McCreight’s statement, I would suggest that you write directly to McCreight instead of publishing here. Otherwise, I would suggest that you seek a more appropriate forum for your comment, such as the Journal of Porcupine Insertion, as unfortunately I cannot recommend its publication in this journal.

    Sincerely,

    The Anonymous Referee

  64. captainahags says

    A_ray, where do you see Random saying that we should compromise on the truth? What I see him saying, and I am inclined to agree, is that Jen may not have expressed her personal feelings in the clearest manner, and has not handled the criticism in the best manner. This does not mean that she shouldn’t continue to advocate for science and skepticism over religion and bs, but that perhaps she should edit her statement a bit.

  65. truthspeaker says

    ‘Tis Himself, OM says:
    29 October 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Over the past several years it’s become unacceptable to tell someone “you’re wrong” about a cherished belief

    Hell, it’s become unacceptable to tell someone “you’re wrong” about statements of fact.

    W: “Intelligence agents have learned that Saddam is stockpiling aluminum tubes used to refine uranium”

    Intelligence agents: “Uh, no, we told you that wasn’t true”

    Pundits: “Traitors!”

    ——————
    Pundit: “Social Security is running out of money”

    Economists: “WTF? No it isn’t.”

    Press: “Well there you have statements from both sides. That’s all for tonight!”

  66. captainahags says

    @Yale, I don’t even think that Jen was saying that everyone should be atheists. But for her to be shocked that not everyone shares her fascination with evolution/evolutionary theory, and to equate a rejection of or lack of education in evolution as a rejection of her beliefs sounds very dogmatic. If I were to say a similar thing, like (for example purposes only) “I’m shocked that not everyone shares my fascination with the holy scriptures,” I’d get shot down in an instant, because why would I assume that everyone would share my beliefs? Why should I be shocked by the fact that not everyone thinks like I do? Again, I’m sure she did not intend for it to sound that way, but as I read it that’s the impression I get

  67. echidna says

    I don’t think Jen was being dogmatic, nor do I think that non-acceptance of evolution in biologists is acceptable. But Jen derailed her own passion for science with a diversion into humanism – which, while valid, detracts from her main point. “I felt like people were rejecting the ideals that shape my humanist ethics.” is a clanger, unless she had then gone on to point out that those ideals centred on evidence based reasoning. She didn’t.

    On her blog, I recommended the following change. There is no compromise here that I can see.

    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. […]“

  68. says

    This is why I could never be employed as a scientist.

    Well, actually probably why I can never be employed again, period. I’m far too inclined to the “well fuck you idiots then” and storming off in a huff response.

    Somewhere along the line I wore out my patience and diplomacy lobe.

  69. ckitching says

    captainahags (#74) wrote:

    If I were to say a similar thing, like (for example purposes only) “I’m shocked that not everyone shares my fascination with the holy scriptures,” I’d get shot down in an instant, because why would I assume that everyone would share my beliefs?

    How did it escape your notice that she was talking about being shocked about this attitude from biology grad and undergrads? If I fix your hypothetical quote to make it equivalent, “I’m shocked that not everyone enrolled in theology graduate or undergrad programs shares my fascination with the holy scriptures”, it’s not all that surprising. Hell, it’s mundane.

  70. julian says

    But for her to be shocked that not everyone shares her fascination with evolution/evolutionary theory

    In the context of her field and the NSF.

    and to equate a rejection of or lack of education in evolution as a rejection of her beliefs sounds very dogmatic.

    Hilarious how your lot never says that when it’s the other guys. In fact you generally berate us for pointing that out.

    “I’m shocked that not everyone shares my fascination with the holy scriptures,” I’d get shot down in an instant, because why would I assume that everyone would share my beliefs?

    Are you studying theology and expressing this opinion before a group working towards theology and religion based phD’s?

  71. RandomReason says

    What a strange conversation to be having on a science education site.

    A strong proposal should be able to withstand not just sympathetic review, but hostile review as well. And, it usually ends up stronger and more compelling when revised to take such review into account.

    Personally, I find it useful to remind myself to check my bias every so often, particularly when a narrative seems to confirm it.

    I am particularly cautious when it comes to the internet, because it is too easy to surround oneself with like-minded peers. I’ve learned the hard way that accepting something on faith because I like or respect the asserter, or because the assertion confirms a political or ideological bias I hold dear is dangerous.

    And, I learned that the scientific method offers some useful tools to counter these tendencies, and that they can be applied outside the laboratory.

    I assume everyone attracted to Pharangula and Blag Hag, knows and values this – and, I thought it would be useful to remind us of it as we rush to judgment and fire up the whetstones.

    I particularly value substantial challenges to my most natural assumptions. Dont you? If so, why all the pitchforks and torches?

    You are free to disagree. It’s just a conversation between anonymous people on a blog.
    Back to lurking :-)

  72. etameson says

    You can pretend, then, that it’s not a real concern as long as you never step outside the smart, rigorous environment of your colleagues, and don’t even bother to look at the activities of the students on your campus.

    Indeed.

    Scientists ignoring the public conversations on science regarding issues like climate change and evolution effectively leads to ceding these conversations to vested interests which wish to promote their ideological positions. This is one of the reasons (albeit not the only one) why the US public has swallowed the falsehoods and propaganda by sources wishing to deny global warming, evolution, and other ideas.

    These attacks on science in the public sphere have lately even gone beyond attacking certain scientific ideas, to attacking science as an enterprise in general (see Republican strategist Noelle Nickpour’s comments on a recent Daily Show segment). The reality is the broader public does not have the cognitive tools to be able to sort truth from fiction, and have a poor understanding of science and the scientific method. Scientists need to be aware of the public conversations on science, and need to take part in it. The alternative is simply disaster for science and society.

  73. echidna says

    The reality is the broader public does not have the cognitive tools to be able to sort truth from fiction, and have a poor understanding of science and the scientific method.

    The piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing in the curriculum is a solid foundation in logic and the scientific method. We tend to swamp students with a massive amount of information, but not give them the tools to be able to say: “Wait a minute. There’s a contradiction here – I need to look more closely.”

    The social subjects tend to demand that students present a range of perspectives on an issue. Applying this to science (and I’ve seen teachers do it with evolution) is a real problem.

  74. paleobarbie says

    echinda

    One way to present a “range of opinions” is to have students do a critique of creationist perspectives on a subject that they are studying. My example here is at the university level, but it might be possible to adapt this for high school students.

    I’ve had students in a lower level course in vertebrate evolution present and debate the creationists’ arguments about tetrapod origins and whale origins. This actually gives them a bit of a false idea as to how easily such arguments might be dismantled (i.e., they don’t have to deal with the die-hard creationist coming back with the legalistic type of argument), but it does give them the opportunity to see how facts can be used (and misused) in context.

    Not all students enjoy this approach, however. They think that I’m wasting their time, and they just want to “learn the facts”. I’m merely a speedbump on their highway to a 4.0 average. Sigh.

  75. DaveL says

    I agree with cripdyke @37 that the one paragraph does make it sound like Jen was shocked at anti-science opinions not because they stood in contradiction of known evidence, but because they were different from hers.

    But still- Dawkins-esque? They’re saying she’s like Richard Dawkins? The best selling author, the former Oxford Professor for Public Understanding of Science, that Dawkins?

  76. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    The piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing in the curriculum is a solid foundation in logic and the scientific method. We tend to swamp students with a massive amount of information, but not give them the tools to be able to say: “Wait a minute. There’s a contradiction here – I need to look more closely.”

    Word. So word.

  77. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    ^and also, I see no reason that training in formal logic and critical reason couldn’t begin as soon as a child enters school.

  78. says

    Antiochus, I don’t either, but whenever a school district tries to implement such a thing, the Religious Right gets up in arms. Seems they regard “teaching critical thinking” as meaning “teaching atheism”.

  79. says

    Seems they regard “teaching critical thinking” as meaning “teaching atheism”.

    And it’s not?

    No, I know it isn’t teaching atheism per se, but it certainly helps to maintain the usual non-critical religious belief systems not at all, tending rather to undermine them.

    The only “critical thinking” most of them will go for are the illegitimate “weaknesses of evolution,” essentially the opposite of actual critical thought.

    Glen Davidson

  80. etameson says

    The piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing in the curriculum is a solid foundation in logic and the scientific method. We tend to swamp students with a massive amount of information, but not give them the tools to be able to say: “Wait a minute. There’s a contradiction here – I need to look more closely.”

    I agree.

    Beyond logic and reasoning, critical thinking education also needs to have a strong emphasis on metacognition. Students should be encouraged to think about their own thinking, and to critically examine their own reasoning and conclusions. Students need to be aware of the way the way human thinking frequently fails (even when it’s being honest), and of the cognitive biases that often lead to flawed thinking. Self-criticism and reflection are both integral components of critical thinking.

  81. Anri says

    In the words of the essay, she’s not upset that people are failing to use rational methods to substantiate reasonable belief. She’s upset because “people didn’t share my fascination” and because “learning about evolution was the key event” in developing her worldview.

    (emphasis added)
    Yes she is, she says so right here:

    I was shocked to learn that even many of my fellow biology majors did not accept evolution.

    That’s in the section you quoted in your post, by the way. Right above the section you quoted twice.

    Unless, of course, you don’t accept that in the biological sciences, accepting evolution is part of “…use rational methods to substantiate reasonable belief.”

  82. RebeccaBenson says

    ‘Tis Himself, OM says: Over the past several years it’s become unacceptable to tell someone “you’re wrong” about a cherished belief. As a result, we get creationists studying biology and birthers having their idiocy going unchallenged in the media.

    And Pharyngula.

    Oh no, you said the above with a straight face didn’t you?

  83. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    And Pharyngula.

    And what cherished belief goes unchallanged here???

  84. says

    Nerd:

    And what cherished belief goes unchallanged here?

    Going by the nym of #93, it’s yet another of the slimepit crew, who thinks it’s just awful they can’t be a sexist asshole here without being called out.

  85. ariamezzo says

    My community college had a run-in with a creationist adjunct biology professor a year ago. He started handing out creationist packets and began talking about why he believes in creation over evolution in his General Biology class. Only one of the students informed the head of the science division, and her response was appalling. She said that the professor had every right to voice his opinion in class and that to complain about it is to be intolerant. But he wasn’t just voicing his opinion. He completely threw evolution out of his classroom and replaced it with religious bullshit, and the head of the science division was complicit and actually told off the student for wanting a good science education.

    The scary thing is is that this adjunct professor had been working at my college for 14 years. He’s probably been teaching his biology students creation for 14 years and only one student has ever complained. Luckily, I think he chose not to teach at my college after the complaint, but what sort of damage has he done and what sort of damage will he continue to do in his classrooms? Completely unacceptable.

    I can vouch for the rest of the biology faculty that they not only teach evolution, but are vehemently opposed to creation and intelligent design. In each class I’ve taken, my professors have taken a few moments to remind us that the evolution vs creation “controversy” was invented by people with an unscientific agenda.

  86. Markle says

    Who is this Jen, some junior graduate student writing her first NSF grant?

    She should say her primary motivation for getting into her field are a deeper understanding of biology, desire to make applications to help humanity, or something equally noble. She can even keep her original reason, increasing public understanding of science, but without the diatribe about her st00pid fellow biology majors.

  87. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Going by the nym of #93, it’s yet another of the slimepit crew, who thinks it’s just awful they can’t be a sexist asshole here without being called out.

    I think you are right. But they have expressed their inane opinions, challenging our uncherished believes, but get nowhere because they lack both evidence and empathy. Just like folks of a certain political theology.

  88. Ing says

    I quickly learned that many of these people still valued science, but never had the opportunity to become educated about evolution.

    Bull. SHIT!

    You don’t value science if you methodology fail that hard. You value the authority of the position.

  89. mythusmage says

    It is not for science to be fair, it is for science to be honest; for should science, as a whole, ever lie, then science would lose any standing it ever had in the world.

  90. Carlie says

    I think the reviewers had some stupid comments, but also some possibly constructive ones (although apparently not phrased in a way as to do any good). There’s something that just didn’t quite sit right when I read it; I think it does come off as “Gosh! Not everyone is just like me! How shocking! This must be fixed at once!”

    From the reviewer comments:

    and “wanted people to believe in evolution just because that’s what you happen to believe in.”

    I think that’s kind of fair based on how she wrote it. She didn’t emphasize the truth of evolution, but rather its emotional impact on her.

    That rejecting evolution isn’t a “terrible” attitude.

    Bollocks, reviewer. It is too 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.

    Shouldn’t be shocked, yes, but only because it is so common in our society, not because everyone has to be like her. But again, the way she wrote it, it came off kind of as thought that was her reason.

    That wanting to help people learn about evolution means I thought they were stupid.

    There was a bit of condescension there; I especially disliked the bit about the “heartland”, it seemed to reek a bit of midwest-bashing (even though Jen’s from the midwest, I think).

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

    I believe the reviewer has been smoking something.

  91. julian says

    I think that’s kind of fair based on how she wrote it. She didn’t emphasize the truth of evolution, but rather its emotional impact on her.

    Wasn’t that meant to be the point though. I really don’t know much about this sort of thing, but I never got the impression it was meant to be about why something is true so much as why she is passionate about it.

  92. Carlie says

    Wasn’t that meant to be the point though. I really don’t know much about this sort of thing, but I never got the impression it was meant to be about why something is true so much as why she is passionate about it.

    Yes, but she was saying that in terms of explaining why she was so shocked! that other people didn’t agree with it. It was “this is so important to ME, how can you not believe it too?” I understand what she was trying to say, but it just came off a little not quite right.

  93. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I haven’t commented about Jen McCreight’s role in all of this, but what strikes me most is how little she values having a pool of people who are willing to give her work some review before an NSF panelist or ad hoc reviewer does. Regardless of the quality of the reviews regarding her personal statement, McCreight should realize that
    1) People who are willing to take the effort to read your work critically before submission are a valuable resource, and should be treated with gratitude regardless of the content of any one review.
    2) Complaining about your reviewers in a blog isn’t gratitude. Next time, try cold beer.
    3) If I knew McCreight, I would be very hesitant to review her work given her attitude.
    4) NSF reviewers are likely looking for more of a commitment to scholarship in your personal statement. I don’t know what McCreight studies, or what the grant is for, but when I review such things, I ask myself, “What is the intellectual background in which this proposal was born?”. “I think evolution is awesome and I am surprised others don’t” doesn’t really cut it.

  94. julian says

    It was “this is so important to ME, how can you not believe it too?” -Carlie

    I don’t think I see that but my reading comprehension isn’t very good, anyway.

    If I knew McCreight, I would be very hesitant to review her work given her attitude -A.E.

    Which is?

  95. echidna says

    Paleobarbie:

    Not all students enjoy this approach, however. They think that I’m wasting their time, and they just want to “learn the facts”.

    I’m afraid that I think your approach gives way too much deference to Creationism, as I see it as wasting time on a derail onto a straw man. Creationism contains inherent contradictions, and it is not worth wasting time on. It would be more productive to show how contradictions between theory and experimental data lead to a deeper scientific understanding. An example on different science perspectives from high school physics is the wave-particle duality, where, pre-Einstein, the particle and wave models were legitimate perspectives on the nature of light, another is the tension between Aristotle’s idea that moving objects inherently slow down, and Newton’s formulation of friction as a separate force. If you wanted to be closer to biology, there is the tension between the evolving understanding of the age of the earth and the amount of time that evolution requires.

    A key idea to get across is that the moment you see a contradiction, you know you need to delve deeper and resolve it. With Creationism, there is no theory to explain anything, and no experimental science. It really doesn’t count as a scientific perspective.

  96. ChasCPeterson says

    It’s another story that’s basically about somebody’s narcissism. *shrug* blogospheric business as usual.

  97. says

    A biologist not accepting evolution is like a physicist not accepting electrons, or a mathematician not accepting negative numbers.

  98. says

    I support teaching the theory of evolution because it currently provides the best explanation for the phenomenon we call evolution. Anyone who disagrees knows damn all about the world and how it works.

  99. martha says

    @Human Ape 25

    I don’t think it’s legal to fire someone for remarks made in conversations outside their job, even if, in the nature of small towns, half the town and some local university profs. are now aware of the remarks made. We could make a stink to the school board, but would need better grounds than this. I understand why you are calling this teacher a science-denier, but I hope you realize that neither she herself nor the people who hired her think of her that way. I’m sure she thinks she loves science and brings a christian perspective to it. I’m sure the people who hired her think that if she generates enthusiasm in her students and gets them to learn the requisite facts for the state tests and doesn’t say anything too outrageous in class it doesn’t matter what she believes.

    I imagine everyone here wishes that all students could have teachers who understand the way science works, the implications of what science has discovered and are skillfull at bringing students to the same understanding. I never had such a teacher. I doubt that even now such teachers constitute the majority.

  100. says

    I’m sure she thinks she loves science and brings a christian perspective to it.

    Than she doesn’t love science.

    Bringing in any ideological perspective to science is like saying “You love democracy and bring a fine fascist perspective to it”

    or “I love Christianity and bring a strong atheist perspective to it”

    Your violating the foundations.

  101. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Julian:

    McCreight is imbued with an attitude of ingratitude.

    That she sees some of her reviews as flawed is fine. She is under no obligation to incorporate all criticisms.

    That she thinks that a reasonable response to these criticisms is a blog entry detailing how they are flawed betrays the confidence of that arrangement, in the same way that the confidence would have been betrayed if her reviewers posted a critique of her work in a blog entry, even granting her anonymity.

    When I help a colleague by reviewing a grant proposal, we understand that the draft was given to me in confidence. Similarly, when I return a review, I have the same expectation.

    I review several such things each week. I fully expect that my reviews contain flaws. Should the reviewee post a complaint about these flaws in a blog, I would be less inclined to expend the effort to help her on another such occassion.

    That is the nature of this type of shit.

  102. Carlie says

    AE – she didn’t name her reviewers, though, and she is pointing out what might be a troubling systemic problem in science at her school at least (that of backward-bending accommodationism). I see it as an example of writing in which she’s using that experience as the spark to talk about the larger issue rather than just complaining about the criticism itself.

    Although I can see where her reviewers might not be so likely to do it in the future.

  103. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Carlie:
    I don’t think it matters if they were named or not. If they know of the blog post, they likely feel that their confidence has been betrayed.

    I see it as an example of writing in which she’s using that experience as the spark to talk about the larger issue rather than just complaining about the criticism itself.

    OK. But such sparks aren’t hard to find without alienating people who are willing to help you. And McCreight doesn’t seem at a loss for things to write about.

    Although I can see where her reviewers might not be so likely to do it in the future.

    I’m no accommodationist, but I would think twice before helping her.

    Not that she asked.