The Death of the Republican Brain

Perhaps this is redundant, since Jon Swift has already taken care of it, but how could I possibly resist an article titled “The Death of Science,” posted on a “Blogs for Bush” site? It’s got wingnuts, it’s got irony, it’s got dizzyingly inane interpretations of science. It’s like everything that’s wrong with the Bush approach to science, all in one short article.

What reasons could a blinkered Bush supporter with a petrified brain and no background in science possibly advance to support the claim that science is dead?

A lot of different factors – but the main thing was that science could only thrive as it did from about 1650 until 1850 when everyone agreed on the rules. The prime rule of science was truth – everyone involved in science had to tell the truth to the best of their ability, and always be willing to correct one’s views when new evidence called in to question previously held beliefs. What killed science was when its strongest advocates stopped telling the truth.

Now you might think he’s about to complain about those great advocates of science, the Republican party, and their current marriage to the dogmatic ignoramuses of the Religious Right (hey, that’s where I’d take it, anyway), but no—he’s blaming scientists and their credulous belief in “Piltdown Man, Haekel’s [sic] embryos, eugenics, Population Bomb, ALAR, etc, etc, etc.”

Wha…? Look at his definition of science, which includes being “willing to correct one’s views when new evidence called in”, and then look at his examples. Piltdown Man: a known fraud that was happily discarded when evidence was found against it. Haeckel’s embryos: a more complex case where the root observation was still valid, although Haeckel did fake a small part of the data…but most importantly, the recapitulation theory he supported was discarded because it doesn’t fit the data. Eugenics: a social theory that darned few scientists support, and that is actually poor biology. The Population Bomb: Ehrlich’s book is not aging well in the details, but overpopulation is still a pressing problem, and hasn’t disappeared because the advocates of unlimited growth don’t like the book. The ALAR scare: this one is a wingnut totem, but they’ve got it all wrong—ALAR is a weak carcinogen, and it isn’t unreasonable for parents to refuse to expose their kids to something that was a convenience for the apple industry.

What we actually see here are myths that science-deniers cling to; biology has long moved on past Haeckel and Piltdown, and it’s only creationists who refuse to discard them.

So the author, Mark Noonan, is ignoring his own definition. It won’t surprise you then that the other part of his complaint is that science doesn’t have enough dogma.

Why did science stray from the path of truth? I think it is because we ceased educating the men of science with a knowledge of religion – a knowledge, that is, of genuine truth, genuine reason, and the relationship of man to creation, and his Creator. When science became a narrowly forcused search for something immediately practical, it was bound to eventually be hijacked by people who wanted to use the cover of science for very impractical efforts.

What actually has happened is that science is committed to finding evidence for its assertions, and no evidence for any gods has ever been found. Where a few hundred years ago, nearly every scientist was religious, over time they have been willing to correct their views to arrive at the reasonable conclusion that natural principles are sufficient to explain the universe. If Mr Noonan wants science to support “his Creator,” all he has to do is come up with evidence. Otherwise, it seems to me that what he’s asking for is that we should bend the data to rationalize his religious myths. That’s anti-scientific.

He’s lying in that article. I found a more recent article by Noonan, which does a better job of illustrating what his actual grievance with science is: it’s gotten too hard.

It took a little longer than I expected, but here is a news story I’ve been expecting for years now:

Global warming boost to glaciers

Its a problem, you see? Some glaciers are growing – and that doesn’t fit too well with global warming…so, as soon as I found out that some glaciers are growing, I know that eventually the global warming enthusiasts would say that both growing and shrinking glaciers are caused by global warming. It is the most flexible theory in human history, this global warming. Having a hot spell? Global warming. Cool spell? Global warming. Low rainfall? Global warming. High rainfall? Global warming. Everthing is as it has always been? Global warming just hasn’t affected you yet – but if you don’t see Gore’s movie and vote Democrat, you’ll die.

Ah, you see, every cause must generate simple, straightforward effects—even weather isn’t allowed to be complex. If global warming is going on, every day must be warmer than the same day the previous year, every summer must be hotter, every winter must be less cold. There are no statistical effects, and definitely no random component to the weather. “Weather” is also a single unitary phenomenon which can be evaluated by one instrument, a thermometer. Precipitation? That isn’t affected by global warming! (Oh, and quick, tell me: if there is more energy in the atmosphere, does that mean it will rain more, or less? And remember, you can only give one answer for the entire planet.)

I don’t know whether I should be relieved that the conservative party I despise is represented and led by incompetent idiots like Mark Noonan, or distressed that the citizenry is so poorly educated that they can still manage to elect fools like that to high office.


  1. QrazyQat says

    Good point about Alar, and this is connected to one of those connections between wingnut thinking and psuedoscience thinking in general. The idea that a citizen boycott –whether for accurate or inaccurate reasons — is anti-capitalism. I’ve seen this stated many times for some years now, and it’s very similar to the pseudoscience view that not accepting one of their claims is censorship.

    Of course, this “boycott as anti-capitalism” only works when it’s California agricultural workers and grapes or some other boycott coming from what is perceived (often inaccurately) as a leftwing position. The same person making the argument never seems to complain about, and often promotes, boycotts such as the attempted Disney boycott over gays, or boycotting Ford (about gays again — say, I just realized wingnuts seem to have a problem with gay people), or Nestle over their infant formula selling practices in the Third World. The idea stated is that volunteeringly bypassing a product or service is wrong; not buying a given product is anti-capitalism.

    But a boycott is pure capitalism in action — the magic of the marketplace reducing demand, refusing to buy unless some action (lower prices or better service or less offensiveness) is forthcoming. Voting with your dollars.

    Of course that’s the bottom line — wingnuts really detest capitalism, and democracy, and a boycott (for whatever reason, accurate or inaccurate, rightwing or leftwing or no-wing) — voting with your dollars — is both.

  2. Millimeter Wave says

    this from the comments on the referenced post:

    Natural selection – is just plain balogney, Do you believe we came from monkeys? If so? Why are there still monkeys swinging from tree vines out there? If we came from monkeys? Then there should be no more monkeys! They would have all done evolved into humans! That’s Just completely a BIG FARCE!!


  3. lhomer says

    I think the observation that science has always been too hard for all but a few, and that it is getting harder as we learn more is an important one. The suggestion that is dying is probably premature. But it may be reasonable to remember that science prospers by the sufferance of many who tolerate it rather than understand it. Popularization is important in maintaining the tolerance, but is not usually pursued in a way that really promotes understanding. It seems to me a fragile relationship.

  4. BlueIndependent says

    One of the most glaring realities these malcontents present in my mind is not only the remarkably self-absent form of what they mistakenly call honest criticism, nor the vaccuity of their own education, but the pervasivness of the me culture.

    This society has really gotten to a point where entertainment is king, everyone wants and expects to be treated like a spoiled child, and be handed everything on a silver platter. Case in point, thos who argue against evolution with typical phrases and buzz words that sound great but are less filling. They toss out “criticisms”, but then don’t hang around to open their skull to let the answer in, or at the very least, let someone explain the answer. No one listens anymore, and that is the problem.

    I think it has a lot to do with images of incessant competition in popular culture. These days any little disagreement or opportunity to oppose someone goes noticed, and thus the perceived opportunities one finds to raise themselves “above someone else” in “battle”, increase. You can see this in commercials, you can see it when two idiots banter about some Hollywood star’s fashion sense, you can see it even in the news when two rival networks use their “reporters” (read: celebrities) to openly and publicly attack the other’s maarket viability and honesty.

    Using news as an example, good news used to be done with a focus on the story, and the competition in the marketplace of news was fought via qualitative means. These days, reporters are celebrities like Anderson Cooper, or Bill O’Reilly, or Shame Hannity. The story is about the world as it revolves around their ego, or their career (thus, the self), than it does around the event that is happening.

    Getting back to the topic of bloggers for Bush, Mr. Noonan is not so much begging for an answer so much as a cookie to tide him over until the next republican talking point comes out to comfort him in such a harsh world. If Noonan (son of Peggy?) is so honest in his criticism, why doesn’t he give up his time to find the answer? The world teaches people, people do not teach the world.

  5. says

    That’s Just completely a BIG FARCE!!

    The omnipotent God, then, must have wanted us to get appendicitis for no good reason.

  6. Koray says

    It’s a good thing that science has been dead since 1850. Let’s bitch about it on the internets as God intended http to be used for this purpose.

  7. says

    Let’s bitch about it on the internets as God intended http to be used for this purpose.

    Al Gore invented global warming, and thus global warming doesn’t really exist.
    Al Gore invented the Internets, and thus ____________________________________.

  8. Ken Davis says

    The backhanded feeling I get from this article (and my own contact with some otherwise intelligent wingnuts) is the horror of uncertainty the author ascribes to science.

    Well Science is all about uncertainty in many cases which is why there is research and experiments involved.

    The wingnuts in my world complain bitterly about mercury being called dangerous. They played with it as kids and it didn’t hurt them? (Of course I suspect they would think twice about building a house in the Jersey medowlands if they knew what was dumped there besides mobsters)

    But we must remember what has set many of them off is the science “journalist” rather than the actual scientist.

    When a scientist presents a paper or results of a study, often the peers will get useful information on a subject while a “journalist” will cherry pick the most sensational bits and create a soundbite conclusion that will get trumpeted across the media. In the old days (a mere 30 years ago) the tabloids were the most egregious practitioners of this craft but now the line between tabloid and MSM are so fuzzy as to be meaningless. The NYT has held out so far within its own employees, but can still be suckered by the AP and Reuters as well as the moonie times and UPI.

  9. noema says

    Blogs for Bush has, for some reason, been a favorite lurking/trolling spot of mine for a good long while. I originally surfed to it when I discovered that the tenor of the comments could be used as a “brownshirt index” in the wake of 9/11. I’m not sure why I still periodically read it, other than the sort of sickly-fascinated, “Gawd, what the hell is this guy going to say next?”

    Needless to say, the first post mentioned was a real knockout. Of course, several people in the comments tried to point out the blatant idiocy on dispay, but, would you expect this guy to be responsive to evidence? Nah. I think the best part was perhaps the moment where he explained that he held onto the theory of evolution “up to the point where I picked up sufficient understanding of rational thought to know that there simply can’t be blind evolutionary forces dictating what I think.” He seems to have an understanding of rational thought the way I have an understanding of skateboarding– i.e. I know very vaguely how it works, but I certainly don’t skateboard. Likewise, perhaps, by hypothesis, Noonan has somehow acquired an “understanding of rational thought,” but it seems highly unlikely, given the evidence that he’s ever actually had one.

  10. Steve LaBonne says

    “Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens.”

    Sigh. Really, there’s nothing else one can usefully say about this stuff, is there.

  11. C. Schuyler says

    Ouch, is that embarrassing. You do have a flair, Professor Myers, for delineating in detail just how a fool is a fool.

  12. NotSocrates says

    Watch Kennedy’s sermon on the Coral Ridge Hour for a couple of months. You will hear these ‘Noonan’ concepts preached week after week: the drift away from God, the crime of abortion, the decay of education, the death of truth, the corruption of science, the atheism of evolution, and all the distortions you typically hear.

    If you are wondering how someone can be so stupid, please realize that this is all the philosopy many of them get!They absorb this in Sunday school and their parents protect them against learning anything else from “them librul teachers”.

    And after graduation, the Kennedys take over and confirm what the Noonans have learned with sermons and little church tracts (“Is Science Dead?”). And soon the Noonans start to write articles themselves. After a while, you can recognize the same wordings in blog comments. It becomes a chant to which the faithful can sway with their hands raised above their heads.

  13. Anne Nonymous says

    M. Noonan is either completely mad, or a deliberate liar.

    Take your pick…..

    No, see, you forgot one, GT. The correct phrase here is, “Lord, liar, or lunatic?” Clearly Noonan is a god.

    Or, alternately, one could take Michael Bérubé’s tack of refusing to require the answer to such a question to be either/or. Noonan could be both lying and crazy!

  14. bernarda says

    Here is some good news;

    “Citing a desire to centralize the administration of Protestant campus ministry groups, Georgetown abruptly severed its ties with all of its affiliated ministry organizations last week, barring several long-established religious groups from campus.

    The move will not affect organizations composed solely of students, but it will prevent many ministry groups run or directed by outsider groups, like local churches, from conducting any activities on campus. Such groups include InterVarsity, the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and Crossroad Campus Christian Fellowship.

    “As a result of our new direction for the upcoming academic year, we have decided to not renew any covenant agreements with any of the Affiliated Ministries,” Rev. Constance C. Wheeler, a university Protestant chaplain, said in a letter to affiliated officers dated Aug. 14. “While we realize this comes as a great disappointment, please know we are moving forward with this decision only after much dialogue with the Lord.”

    The decision came as a surprise to many student and adult members of the affiliated groups, who defended their organizations as important members of the university’s educational and religious mission.”

    With a little effort Hoyas might come to the 21st century.

    But it is progress.

  15. says


    It’s been one of my favorite lurking spots too…well, it was, for a while, until my boyfriend decided it was probably having negative effects on my mental health. But I’m sure I remember reading a couple of your comments there, especially some very long ones about the difference between the beginning of life and the beginning of personhood. They were good. Of course, they didn’t go over well there, but…

    Yeah, Mark Noonan is actually probably the most frustrating person that posts there. For a little while there were several posts about contraception and not being “open to life” and, you know, not loving someone if you weren’t getting pregnant all the time, and that was when I had to give up lurking there, it was too much for me to handle.

  16. says

    … I know that eventually the global warming enthusiasts would say that both growing and shrinking glaciers are caused by global warming.

    I know I’m an emotional mess at times, but at least my embarrassments aren’t caused by a lack of intelligence.

    What kind of moron braggs about his opinon on something which he doesn’t understand in the least?

    Global Climate Change changes weather patters, and Global Warming is an empirical measure of the average temperature worldwide. It makes perfect sense for some regions to get warmer, thus creating more changes which could just as easily result in More Snowfall in some regions as they result in Less Rainfall in others; and so on, and so on…

    Dude needs to take a 100 level Meteorology course if he wants anyone to take him seriously who isn’t already biased against the reality of our planet’s heating up.

  17. Keanus says

    Noonan must be the god child of the erstwhile Dover PA Schoolboard. The work of both are, in the words of Judge John Jones, “breathtakingly inane.”

  18. says

    “Oh, and quick, tell me: if there is more energy in the atmosphere, does that mean it will rain more, or less?”

    — yes!

    I dare say if science dies it will because ideologues and fanatics like much of the current Republican party manage to kill it. (Or the vast majority of humans, which amounts to the same thing. That nuclear war clock is very disturbing, for example.)

  19. says

    ‘he’s blaming scientists and their credulous belief in “Piltdown Man, Haekel’s [sic] embryos, eugenics, Population Bomb, ALAR, etc, etc, etc.”‘

    Y’see PZ, for them science has to be 100% accurate all the time, forever. Otherwise it’s just hoaxes and conspiracies all the way down. With religion, you can’t ask serious questions, so surely we have to work the same way.

  20. fyreflye, FCD says

    I think the observation that science has always been too hard for all but a few, and that it is getting harder as we learn more is an important one. The suggestion that is dying is probably premature. But it may be reasonable to remember that science prospers by the sufferance of many who tolerate it rather than understand it. Popularization is important in maintaining the tolerance, but is not usually pursued in a way that really promotes understanding. It seems to me a fragile relationship.

    You have failed to notice that we’re living in the Golden Age of popular science writing. Dawkins, Wilson, two Ridleys, Dennett, Diamond, Flatow, Myers, Carroll, Guth… Well, why go on? The problem is not that there’s no one to explain complex science issues to the public but that all but a tiny portion of the public is too lazy and too uninterested in reading anything more challenging than The Da Vinci Code. It’s much easier to quote the Bible than to take a couple of weeks to study Endless Forms Most Beautiful. You don’t have to be a genius to understand science questions but you do need to care enough to try. What have you read lately?

  21. JamesR says

    This is the first time in modern history that the stupid have a say in politics. Their stupid as a can of dirt president allows any inane nonsense to prevail over reason. Then the stupid as fence posts take that and whittles it into something that they can all agree on. Then as if by magic they have a plan. No matter how absurd it is they put it forth and have a field day aligning themselves with the opinion of stupid. Science is dead. Yep dead as can be, nothing new is coming from the Pharmaceutical industry. So stop the politicians from taking campaign contributions from them. Nothing new from the energy sector so stop the lobbyists and stop takeing money for campaigns from them too. I could go on but to what point.
    Mark Noonan is stupid. Forced sterilization? Good idea or not?

  22. Chris says

    A lot of different factors – but the main thing was that science could only thrive as it did from about 1650 until 1850 when everyone agreed on the rules. The prime rule of science was truth – everyone involved in science had to tell the truth to the best of their ability, and always be willing to correct one’s views when new evidence called in to question previously held beliefs.

    He’s actually right about that part.

    The next step, though, was when dogmatists started dressing up their dogma and calling it science and expecting that, when they *said* they had evidence for something they found in their holy book of choice, everyone else would “correct” their “previously held beliefs” without stooping to crass demands to actually *see* such evidence.

    It wasn’t the *scientists* that changed. It was more sophisticated attacks on science, often made by counterfeit science. If enough of the general population is ill-equipped to distinguish fake science from real science, their lies can be given an equal seat at the table with real theories supported by actual evidence.

    That’s the real threat to science – that a needle of rational, evidence-based inquiry will be lost in a haystack of self-serving interpretations, dogma, delusions and outright lies, and only a small minority of people are equipped with magnets or metal detectors to fish it back out again.

  23. NotSocrates says

    “…please know we are moving forward with this decision only after much dialogue with the Lord.”

    They actually talk like that!

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    This is the first time in modern history that the stupid have a say in politics.

    ?!?! Does “modern times” include, say, the career peaks of D. Quayle or R. Reagan? Do you consider the Kluxers and fellow segregationists, finally overthrown in the ’60s, to represent the intelligentsia? Or go back to the anti-intellectual witch hunts of the ’50s (one of my favorite anecdotes from that era involves a radio show which received letters protesting lurid sets and obscene costumes). Read up on Prohibition, or some of the hysteria caused by WWI, the Red Scare, etc, etc.
    And that’s just a biased sampling from one country.
    To some historians, the “modern” period begins in the 16th century (a time of more literal witch hunts) – how many examples of mass brainlessless can you find between then and the present triumph of the yahoos?

  25. Avery Greene says

    I’m not a scientist, but if science is dead then I guess the new technology in computing is fake. I’d venture to say they haven’t looked at what AMD is accomplishing (I do know about computing).

  26. kansas_lib says

    You know, I’m a biochem junior at a little state university in kansas (where we do, thankfully, teach evolution.) So my perspective on these ID/evolution arguments is a little weird and is constantly evolving (forgive the pun). I’m a science girl, and I like numbers, and evolution makes sense to me and always has and I like it that way. So.

    I read these evolution/ID arguments, and I read the responses, and I often think to myself, these science people are SMART and they know their stuff. The details of their arguments are often tantalizingly beyond my (current) knowledge. And I read the responses by the ID crowd, and I get pretty irritated. They really don’t know. They really aren’t interested. Getting the background to be able to 1) understand the theories that you’re attempted to discredit, let alone being able to 2) add something meaningful to the debate isn’t something that you can just do in a weekend. It’s not impossible or anything, but it’s certainly work, and sometimes it’s hard. And it takes a long, long time. I’m just flabbergasted that people who lack my own meager and pathetic knowledge of things (I don’t even have the structures of all 20 amino acids memorized yet, I’m a total newb) get so… self-righteous… re: their ideas on things like trait inheritence and adaptation and the mechanisms of abiogenesis. They talk about probabilities and possibilities and don’t even know about equilibrium. It’s crazy. They don’t even know about carbon. Carbon! Or electronegativity!

    Here I am busting my tail off on a Saturday afternoon trying to get these structures down and these people just waltz right in and metaphysically grafitti all over things that really are sacred. If it’s so darned easy, let’s see them enroll in a genetics class and then come back and rejoin the discussion.

    I sort of sound elitist, and I don’t mean to. They are more than welcome to come enroll. I’m a chemistry and biology tutor, so if they are stuck on something I’ll be glad to help them out.

    I just would like to see more of them, if they are truly interested in the processes that make up evolution, to spend time learning about it.

  27. Evan says

    What are you talking about? Planets always have one single climate everywhere. Desert planet, snow planet, jungle planet, ocean planet, megacity planet. I mean, jeez, haven’t you watched *any* movies? It’s a well-known science fiction fact.

  28. goddogtired says

    “Science is dead, except for all the good toys and med’cin and stuff. Oh, and except for all the badass weapons based on the hard sciency stuff that mean I can send people who think [sic] and kind of look like me to more cool badassedly kill people who don’t look and think like me, especially if they live somewhere I want someone else to take their stuff. Oh, and except for those robots that are coming (I saw it in the movies) that will serve my every need so that I won’t ever have to do or think about anything except myself again.”

    What exactly is human, in the positive sense, about these people?

  29. says

    science isn’t dead, but it may be that science education is in its death throes, at least in the US. Mark Noonan is a perfect example.

  30. mss says


    Very well put. I think you’ve nailed what makes these anti-science people so infuriating yet car-wreckingly-fascinating to me: they want to brush aside the intricately theorized, widely-supported work of legions of smart, knowledgeable, dedicated people, in favor of hokey, hole-riddled diatribes torn to shreds over a century ago.

    At bottom, I suspect the anti-science crowd knows it lacks the intellectual chops or at least the discipline to even understand science or other intellectual pursuits, and this knowledge makes them feel inferior. Rather than giving science its due and taking comfort in their other skills and contributions to society, these yahoos insist that their phoney theories are “just as valid” as the life’s work of smarter, more rigorous, better read, and ultimately more honest and humble seeks of truth.

    And they call *us* arrogant.

  31. says

    Hmm, this gives me an idea for a blog meme. Something like naming the top ten (five?) science/applied science connections overlooked by the general public. E.g., not realizing that quantum mechanics is pretty necessary for the semiconductors that make up our modern electronics, or maybe the advances in fuel cells from the Apollo program. (Doesn’t have to be a complete pure science/applied science dichotomy.) I don’t get enough traffic on my blog to get a good meme rolling (nor do I post often enough to warrant much traffic, so I’m not complaining), but if anyone else, especially our esteemed host, wants to get it going, feel free.

  32. says

    Oh, I meant to add to that: the point being, maybe it might enlighten a few people as to just how pervasive the science of the past century or so truly is in their lives, even though they might not think of it.

  33. Ichthyic says

    Stretching my brain way back into the dimmest mists of blogospheric time (i.e., February), I recall Richard Cohen being proud he doesn’t understand math. Oh Their God, wasn’t that a debacle!

    indeed. Algebra was the very first course I can recall that really began to teach one how to think logically.

    I don’t think i ever would have understood physics without it, in fact.

    to think that the mere fact that someone might not utilize algebra in whatever their daily grind is belies the value to critical thinking that it provides.

    but then, that IS these folks’ goal, is it not? to belittle real critical thinking skills so we all end up stupid sheep?

    certainly seems so.

  34. JamesR says

    Well said. I wish you well in your scientific endeavors. Although you may have to go home and figure out something else to do seeing as how science is dead. Please turn the lights out when you leave and also you better tell all the science profs that they have just become irrelevant, Science is dead let them know ok.
    PS You do not sound elitist, you sound sane. The Noonans of the world want you to feel guilty because you have the discipline to work hard and make yourself smart. They do not have that discipline.

  35. says

    Actually, I think Pharyngula’s response to the glacier thing is a bit weak. (An exception to the rule — the blog overall is superb.) Noonan is complaining that opposite effects both seem to support the same theory, and Dr. Meyers responds first with generalisms about complexity and randomness, which fails to explain how both growing and shrinking glaciers can be evidence of global warming.

    Better to show what a dolt Noonan is, explain how it works. I’m not a climatologist, but I’ll give a hypothetical example of a theory that would be supported by the data Noonan cites. Suppose one prediction of global warming is that slight average increase in temperature leads to shrinkage of glaciers where they are near the freezing point. Ambient temprature change causes size change by melting, which does not affect glaciers far below the freexing point of water. Suppose also that global warming accelerates the evaporation of surface water so that the entire atmosphere is somewhat wetter. One potential result of this is the growth of glaciers by the freezing of water vapor in the atmosphere.

    Hence, glaciers grow here, shrink there. It could work that way. (And I would bet my guess isn’t too far off from what the climatologists have actually found.)

  36. truth machine says

    This is the first time in modern history that the stupid have a say in politics.

    You’ve turned 18?

  37. truth machine says

    Noonan is complaining that opposite effects both seem to support the same theory

    You’re confused. Noonan is not complaining that growing glaciers “support” global warming, which would imply that growing glaciers are a predicted effect of global warming, but rather that “Some glaciers are growing – and that doesn’t fit too well with global warming”, which implies that growing glaciers are inconsistent with global warming. But that’s based on precisely the misconception that PZ points out. Given that Noonan is operating on such a low level of understanding, your “hypothetical example of a theory” would be completely opaque to him, even if it had anything to do with reality.

  38. Mena says

    The deleted comment was but for this Mark Noonan guy to label anything as idiocy is just too rich considering what he writes!

  39. my_two_cent says

    I think you missed the main point of the article:

    “Science is dead because scientists are untrustworthy.”

    If scientists are untrustworthy, then their science is no good. You don’t have to examine/analyze/understand it … if the scientist is an unwashed, areligious heathen, he can’t do science and ipso facto, his science is worthless.

  40. says

    John: An incredible example of not knowing where science is leading is the use of general relativity in GPS devices. But emphasizing the technology that does come is self-defeating, because we all know it is only a small proportion of findings that ever get that far. Somehow, instead, we have to stress the cultural (i.e. the explanatory) value of science. I wish I knew how to do that.

  41. janet says

    Thank you SO much for writing this article. It came at a time when I really needed to see it and to be re-charged after putting up with smalltalk for years from friends about ID and lack of proof of natural selection. My jaw usually just drops during such conversations…I mean, how many times should I be expected to teach an otherwise-smart 50-year-old about the basics of genetics or meiosis….

  42. says

    Keith: Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m going for, but I don’t know how to put it best either. That’s why I’m hoping someone else might pick up the ball, and take it from there. ;)
    And when I was discussing this with a friend last night, the GPS was another example I used, sure enough. Largely because it’s one of the few places relativity impinges on ordinary “real life”. Of course, there would be another of Einstein’s big theories that has much more common everyday application… but I’m not trying to answer with the 5/10 yet, so I’ll sit on it for now.
    I might want to be a bit more specific than “science” and “infant death,” though.

  43. says

    Damn. Science is dead, eh? Guess it’s time to quit my job and go to work slinging coffee at Starbuck’s. That’s fine, though, ’cause I was getting tired of thinking all the time, anyway.

    Here’s a good pure/applied science concept:
    Because of geology, you can put gas in your cars.

  44. Flex says


    There are easily hundreds of examples. I can think of two of Einstein’s 1905 papers which explain phenomena which resulted in general use technologies today. Both the papers on special relativity and the photoelectric effect. The GPS system has already been mentioned, but I haven’t seen any mention of all the remote controls, security alarms, fire detectors, night-vision, digital cameras and other products which use some form of photoelectric effect.

    I can’t think of any products off the top of my head using brownian motion, but there may be some.

    Infant death as a topic alone could be expanded in many directions. How many people remember the blue babies? Nowadays heart surgery pretty much eliminates the developmental defect of a hole between chambers of the heart. The procedure may be commonplace these days, but it took scientific thinking to develop it.

    Maternal nutrition studies, almost pure statistical science, has led to healthier babies and thus less infant death. Vaccinations of the parents also has contributed to reduced infant mortality.

    Amniocentesis and ultrasound have also allowed detection of developmental defects.

    Once an infant is born, the products developed through scientific research expand. Rear-facing baby car seats are not just stylish, they are safer. How do we know? Because there is scientific evidence for it. Cribs and railings are designed to avoid babies getting their heads caught in them, how do they know how wide the openings can be? By measuring thousands of children, in other words, scientifically.

    Infant medicines have a quantified amount of active ingrediants, determined and dosed using the tools of science. We know what the active ingrediants are because of scientific investigation….

    … and it continues.

    As another commentor noted, one of the reasons ideologies are wrapping themselves in the guise of science is because science has been so successful in improving the lives of human beings.

    Oh, and in case you aren’t already aware of it you can find many other examples in the James Burke BBC series ‘Connections’ or the companion book. It’s a little dated these days, but it has many examples of how scientific research has led to technological innovation and then how technology has inspired science in turn.



  45. dna says

    “I can’t think of any products off the top of my head using brownian motion, but there may be some.”

    What about the infinite improbability drive? If IDiots are allowed to use fiction in thier arguments, so are we!

  46. says

    Yep, photoelectric effect for CCDs etc. was the other big Einstein-related one that had popped into my head.

    And on the infant mortality side, let’s not forget the better chance of the mother surviving childbirth, either.

  47. David Marjanović says

    Pholidote is right. More heat = more evaporation = more precipitation. There is currently no desert older than a couple of million years; 50 million years ago almost the whole world was a tropical rainforest because the global average was so hot. Of course there weren’t any glaciers either.

  48. Hank Roberts says

    I see the pseudohistory about Alar is popping up again widely, who’s promoting this one again? Election year, ya think?

    For the record:
    July 2005, Vol 95, No. S1
    American Journal of Public Health S81-S91
    © 2005 American Public Health Association
    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2004.044818
    Regulatory Parallels to Daubert: Stakeholder Influence, “Sound Science,” and the Delayed Adoption of Health-Protective Standards