Flock of Dodos

Earlier this week, I had a chance to talk with Randy Olson about this business of communication good science to the public. I’ve had some disagreements with his strategies before; I think we resolved them a bit. What I had interpreted as a call to dumb down science to get it to the people is really a request that we develop clear narratives, good stories, and sharp, comprehensible slogans backing evolution and science teaching. I agree completely. We are experts at efficient discourse within the community of science, but when it comes to talking to middle America, we suck. There is a good reason for that — we get all of our training in how to talk to other people who have all of our training, but not in how to educate people who don’t have the same background — but that’s no excuse. It’s something we have to change.

Randy was generous and let me have a copy of his movie, Flock of Dodos, and I finally found time to sit down and watch it this evening. It’s excellent and the overall message was one with which I agree, and I hope more scientists get a chance to see it—it accomplishes its mission of shaking us up and pointing out our flaws, and we need that. However, it doesn’t quite satisfy the criticisms I had in mind before I saw it, and there was something that bugged me throughout.

Let me start with my complaint. It’s not my most important impression of the movie, but I just want to get it out of the way.

Talking with Randy helped clarify his intent: this is a movie with a story, one that simplifies the issues a fair amount, but most importantly, makes it entertaining, memorable, and comprehensible. Fair enough; here’s the rough version of the story. The creationists are normal, good-hearted, reasonable people who are wrong, but are approaching the problem cheerfully, with solid financial backing and a happy attitude, and they’re successful. They’re the ones you’d like to play poker with…even if they are wrong. Meanwhile, the scientists are dour and angry, they babble out big words and incomprehensible strings of evidence when asked simple questions, and they’ve obviously flunked Communications 101. They’re right about the science, but they’re losing ground in the popular consciousness. Both groups are dodos, for different reasons.

What bothered me most, though, and bothered me most particularly today (it might have been less disturbing a year ago, but maybe not), is that the portrayal of the creationists as happy, well-meaning people is false. This was most obvious to me in the section with the extremely conservative Kansas school board member, Kathy Martin, who was basically bragging about her extensive Republican extremist backing, and the camera zooms in on a portrait of GW Bush over her shoulder. Today is, of course, the day after our government approved our president’s right to ignore the Geneva convention and torture people on suspicion, supported by people exactly like Kathy Martin. They may be laughing fascists, but they’re still ethically and intellectually odious, and I think the framework Olson has used to tell his story is painfully flawed. If they are good people, they are good people who are doing very bad things. That does not come through in the movie.

The portrayal of the creationist side is flawed and far too kind, but I think Olson’s story about the science side is much more accurate, and perhaps not cruel enough. We’re klutzes. We need to be told that.

I remember McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. I paid attention to Edwards v. Aguillard. I certainly recall well the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case. Each one was a great victory, and something we should rejoice over. Each one was also a stupid waste of time. I compare it to a game of Russian Roulette, where each case was a click of the trigger. Yes, we are right to celebrate the fact that our brains weren’t blown out. What drives me absolutely nuts with frustration, though, is that after each of those cases, we did nothing more, we just sat back and waited for the creationists to give the chambers of the gun another spin and hand it right back to us. We are a flock of complacent dodos to keep playing this same game over and over, especially since it is always the creationists who are taking the initiative and aggressively pushing new strategies, time after time.

We’re seeing the same pattern developing now. We won the Kitzmiller case, and we won it big. What next? Are scientists and educators doing anything to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Are we going after these guys hard, following up with attacks of our own against the sources of creationist misinformation? Is there an organization, for example, exhorting the citizens of Dover to sue the Thomas More Law Center for malfeasance in pursuing a doomed court case? How about hounding contributors to the Discovery Institute? I’ve been over-generous in assuming harmlessness in the Gates Foundation’s contributions to the Discovery Institute’s non-creationist activities, but I think I was wrong: we should be pursuing every avenue to cut those scoundrels off at the knees.

Where are our education initiatives? Is anyone telling the NSF and NIH that they damn well better start supporting training in education and the media? Are our universities being encouraged to reach out to community schools to correct the structural flaws in science education that are handicapping the general public? Are biology departments calling up the schools of education in their own institutions and telling them what the future science teachers must know if they are to be qualified?

Where is the new generation of science popularizers? They’re out there, I’m sure, but they are not being promoted and fêted and encouraged. Within the science community itself, the words “popular science” are typically uttered with a sneer, and trying to reach the public with the ideas of science counts for almost nothing in tenure and promotion decisions…and to some faculty, it counts against you. We have institutional norms that actively discourage exactly the kind of outreach that would help us most.

Those are the minimal changes that need to be made. I don’t think they are. I think we’re all resting on the transient legacy of a few successful court cases, watching the preachers and media mavens continue to hypnotize the public, and in five or ten years, we’ll see another big-time court case, maybe in Ohio or Florida or Texas, and people will scramble then to do damage control and eke out another legal victory…or not. Personally, I don’t think we can win many more. Remember, this is a country where the senate just voted to approve torture—enshrining religion in our science classes is a trivial abuse by comparison.

I think Flock of Dodos is exactly the kind of kick in the ass that the scientific community needs. I worry, though, that by downplaying the nastiness of the creationists (and talking to Randy, I know he’s well aware of how rotten the creation science industry is), it feeds the complacency of the public. I also fear that its message, that we need to get smarter in fighting creationism in the court of public opinion, is going to get passed over in our triumphal self-congratulation at winning the Dover case.

Oh, and I have one other complaint about the movie. Muffy Moose was a hoot, and she didn’t get enough screen time.

I sound so critical (I know, I’m always mean that way), so I have to mention one other good thing about the movie. One of the most effective sequences was where Olson pinned John Calvert on a claim. Calvert parrots Jonathan Wells argument that biologists’ ideas about evolution are anchored in the old, discredited claims of Ernst Haeckel (false), and that Haeckelian recapitulation is rife in our textbooks (also false). Olson is sitting in Calvert’s office, sees that he has some biology textbooks there, and simply asks Calvert to show him this stuff. There are then several shots of the two of them looking through indexes, not finding Haeckel at all, looking under various other possible categories, and Calvert looking hopelessly befuddled. Now that’s effective filmmaking.


  1. says

    Very true, but I think we’re making progress. And the more pissed off people get at the damned religious fascists the more help we’ll get from outside the scientific community.

  2. plunge says

    We can’t very well pass laws or fund intiatives unless we have people in positions of power to do so. And that is going to mean compromise on other issues.

  3. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Now you much work to dodo to convince us that “clear narratives” doesn’t mean “dumbed down”, as I believe you argued earlier. Or is it undodo?

    With the evident risk of being called a blogdroid (or whatever), I nevertheless have already expressed my feeling that it would indeed be timely to take the initiative now. Especially since creos evidently now have small DI/AiG type startups in UK among other places in Europe, where they push for the new concept ‘critical analysis’. ( http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/09/more_antievolut.html )

    So I can cite from one of my comments on PT:
    “Now would be a good time to put over that “scientific critical analysis” is a critical part of usual science (peer review, market of ideas) and that “critical analysis of science” is a critical part of funding science. …

    Perhaps a simple evo/creo dictionary would be a start?


    scientific (critical) analysis
    **peer review, market of ideas, ethics commitees

    (critical) analysis of science
    *critical analysis
    **reviewing funding, reviewing etics commitees

    **selfconsistent and falsifiable framework

    **testable part of a framework


    **the observed fact of common descent, and the theory that explains it, with many mechanisms

    **strawman with one erroneously described mechanism, ‘dogma’, ‘atheism’

    **evolution under species level

    **evolution accepted by creationists

    **evolution over species level

    **evolution not accepted by creationists”

    (It sucks that PT can’t take HTML tables in comments.)

  4. JohnC says

    I am less worried about the benign portrayal of creationists in the film. Keeping the attack dog on a leash greatly increases its accessibility and impact (see for instance the ABC interview on the linked page, which makes much of the film’s affability) among those one might want to convince. We don’t need more Michael Moores.

    However, the need for scientists to go on the offensive is definitely urgent in those United States of yours. And to that end a bit of political savvy would’t go astray. I note for instance that the press coverage in Michigan of the DeVos blurt on ID is most effective when pointing out that pushing ID makes the State unattractive to high-tech companies, adversely affects school performance, and that by pushing “local control” by boards the drive for higher school standards is undercut. And Granholm has taken the correct stance in not denying there is a controversy which needs to be covered – in politics and religion classes – just not in science classes, which should be teaching science. (She also specifically stated her belief that “God created the world” while reaffirming her support for science.)

    Note that none of this involves engaging the IDers in any claims about flagella, probability or epistemology, let alone battling on questions of theism etc, all of which may work in Nature or NYT op-eds but are definite no-go’s with the readers of the Muskegon Chronicle.

    As a an outside observer, but frequent visitor, to the US it seems to me that simple appeals to pragmatism trump ideology every time. And making your opponent look silly as well as impractical, is doubly effective.

  5. says

    “Where is the new generation of science popularizers? They’re out there, I’m sure, but they are not being promoted and fêted and encouraged.”

    I’d like to take this moment to plug myself. On a small scale, I’m trying to walk that line between making science fun and being true to the science. I abhor the “dumbing down” of science, but I recognize that you can’t treat non-specialists as specialists. Maybe someday I’ll be able to reach more people than the 100-watt radio station I’m on can reach, plus my podcast subscribers, I’ve even thought about how one could design a TV science current-events show for the general public,
    This Week in Science (www.twis.org), another science radio show in Davis, has a larger audience on their 9200-watt station (+ podcast). They take a different approach, making science funny, an “irreverent” take on things as they put it. But I’ve had people tell me that they like the depth of my show a little better. I thought I’d give them a little plug as well. Perhaps we need to study the different approaches everyone takes to see what works better.

    PZ, you too are a science popularizer, whether or not you know it. You bring forth one research paper after another and explain it well, as well as the implications. You are very right, we need to be less complacent, less re-active, and more pro-active. Take the battle to their territory. Good point about chasing down their donors.

    Many scientists AND science popularizers don’t know what to do about the anti-scientists, bad politicians, and lackluster education. Even when I ask some of my interviewees what to do to raise awareness, I often get “your show” as the answer. Maybe we need to collectively figure this out.

    SEA sounds like a great start in one arena, as well as the various “citizens for science” organizations cropping up. But we need more

  6. BlueIndependent says

    I was at one of Chris Mooney’s book signings last night, and he was “harping” on this very subject.

    Science definitely needs work on its narratives to find it’s way into peoples’ minds again. I’m glad to see this post today.

  7. G McIntyre says

    Hi Professor Myers,
    Coming out of lurk for the first time.

    You are so right to be questioning the mismatch between the image and the core of fundamentalism.
    Those who would control have a very strong toolbox in the creationist method of propaganda that has been developed and honed while science has had its head down doing science.

    It seems to me that critical logic is not only getting nowhere in the struggle against creationist/magical thought – as you recognise
    people will scramble then to do damage control and eke out another legal victory…or not.
    – it is losing ground as the years go on in countries where you would have not given it a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting established; Australia and Denmark for two examples of very staunchly secular societies are displaying horrible signs of this fundamentalist rot breaking out.

    Stephen Jay Gould was doing exactly the same worrying almost a quarter of a century ago when he wrote in conclusion to a NYRB review of Martin Gardner’s Science, Good, Bad and Bogus; Vol 29, Number 1. Feb 4, 1982 here, for those with subscriptions

    Second, as we discern a fine line between crank and genius, so also (and unfortunately) must we acknowledge an equally graded trajectory from crank to demagogue. When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown. Consider the current bugbear of my own profession (and another of Gardner’s targets): resurgent creationism. Some creationist beliefs are so downright ridiculous that we might be tempted, at our great peril, to dismiss them with laughter. Just consider, for example, the so-called “flood geology” espoused by nearly all professional creationists in American today–the claim that all geological strata, with their exceptionless, worldwide sequence of fossils, are products of a single event: Noah’s universal flood and its resultant fallout. Why, then–no place anywhere on this vast earth–do we find dinosaurs and large mammals in the same strata; why are trilobites never with mammals, but always in strata below them? One might argue that dumb dinosaurs were less skilled at avoiding flood waters than bright mammals, and got buried earlier. One might claim that trilobites, as denizens of the ocean, were entombed before terrestrial mammals. But why are they never found with the advanced, or teleost, fishes? Surely some retarded elephant would be keeping company with dinosaurs, some valiant trilobite swimming hard for thirty-nine days and winning an exalted upper berth with mammals.

    But don’t laugh. Creationism may have its roots in indigenous American populism, but its exploiters and fundraisers are right-wing evangelicals who advance it as just one item in a comprehensive political program that would also ban abortion and return old-fashioned patriarchy under the guise of saving American families. Political programs demand political responses, but can we prevail without critical reason?

    It’s only got worse since he wrote that. There has been plenty of heat from the public education sector, at all levels, which has only served to light its own gradual decline. I can’t raise a single example of a first-world government that has increased per-capita funding – as a simple measure of its importance, maybe, but still a measure – for education in the last ten years.
    I reckon that the academy has already been sidelined in the political arena and that the underlying control agenda will have to be the stuff that gets punched out in public. Improving science’s “narratives”, as a previous commenter has called them, is irrelevant by now.

    Although I value your pedagogical gifts above those of most who are publishing online, I can do without my bonus Pharyngula science reading as long as you continue to work out ways to show what’s going on under the spin surface. I encourage you to keep hammering away at the discontinuity between the controller’s happy family-loving image and their real, stinking, bad-poetry Vogon selves.

    G. McIntyre

  8. JoeB says

    PZ wrote:
    Where are our education initiatives? Is anyone telling the NSF and NIH that they damn well better start supporting training in education and the media? Are our universities being encouraged to reach out to community schools to correct the structural flaws in science education that are handicapping the general public? Are biology departments calling up the schools of education in their own institutions and telling them what the future science teachers must know if they are to be qualified?
    I just learned today, from Eugenie Scott’s Evolution vs Creationism (2004), that the ICR “graduate school” is accredited by the TransNational Assoc. of Christian Schools (TRACS), founded and presided over by Henry Morris, who founded ICR in 1972. Most of the graduate courses are offered during summer sessions. None of this is surprising. What is surprising and disheartening is that the federal Dept. of Education accepted TRACS as an accreditation agency, “over some protest”, in 1991, “which means, among other things, that students in such institutions can qualify for federal educational loans.”

  9. says

    Where is the new generation of science popularizers? They’re out there, I’m sure, but they are not being promoted and fêted and encouraged. Within the science community itself, the words “popular science” are typically uttered with a sneer, and trying to reach the public with the ideas of science counts for almost nothing in tenure and promotion decisions…and to some faculty, it counts against you. We have institutional norms that actively discourage exactly the kind of outreach that would help us most.

    If “science popularization” is left, as it has been done traditionally, by those who have no interesting research program of their own to popularize, it will be be doomed to continual failure. It’s like how many high school teachers aren’t there because they love teaching, but because they couldn’t get into grad school. What makes books like “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” so interesting is that was written by a scientist who has distinguished himself scientifically. *That* is what needs to be encouraged, not popularization as an escape from research.

  10. Louis B. Fournier, Ph.D. says

    I’n not sure how a search for Pistol Pete Maravich’s basketball statistics got me to your blog, but I’m glad it did. I found your blog well-done, well-written, entertaining, and educational. What more could a newspaper columnist, scientist, religionist (I made up that word.), and fellow blog operator want?

    One small thought came to mind, though, and I’ll share it with you. The trouble with the concept of “creation science” is that it doesn’t specify who or what did the creating. I refer you, for example, to the book The Twelfth Planet and other books by Zecharia Sitchin and Burak Eldem.

  11. says

    I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news, then, P.Z., but the NSF and education establishment are also on the problem: http://tinyurl.com/l5pq2 (I got there through the 86th Carnival of Education, by the way).

    Here’s the link to the press release from the National Academies: http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=11625

    All of which means we don’t even have time to think much about how to do it — time to join the fray. I mean now. Today.

    E-mail your department head today, give her the weekend to think about it. But come Monday, the task is engaged.

  12. says

    You know, I’d be a lot happier about that panel from the National Academies if it had Randy Olson on it, or someone like him. How about Bill Nye?

    In any case, it’ll be difficult to turn concern into effective action, and much easier and much more likely to turn concern into a federal commission a few blocks from K Street who will issue a report and then fade away. The trick isn’t just to avoid non-effective actions, it’s to make effective action, too. Tough prescription.

  13. SkookumPlanet says

    First, obviously you’re a science popularizer…
    You missed something very important. They are not good people. I seriously doubt Randy thinks they are. He might say they were pleasant.

    They’re faking it!.

    Science cannot sit down with 200 million adult Americans and deliver a three-hour Deconstruction of the False Persona of Homo Christofacist.

    Even if possible, a few smiles by the creationsits through media would negate it.

    The only way, ONLY way, to get anything to Americans is through media conduits. Whatever you, we think SHOULD work, or is desirable, is worse than useless. It’s a hinderance.

    Forget the NSF and all that. This iteration of creationists is bypassing the entire science and higher education structure and going directly to voters with a long-term campaign. All they need to do is convince enough voters. This isn’t their idea, they’re simply following a successful strategy others on the right developed.

    Media communication can be done ethically and truthfully but it can only be done successfully by accepting the strengths and weaknesses of specific conduits, and the psychocommunication realities of Americans. Just as you would never consider conducting an auditorium-sized class in a whisper. It’s no different.

    So, Randy was showing that creationists emotionally communicate through media in a way that attracts audience to their message, and scientists do the opposite. You would never consider changing your teaching style so that you spent every minute in your classes angry, mumbling, and cursing at students. The content would suffer. Film is hypersensitive to this. Accept that. And people respond as they would in person, but it’s an emotional response. If they don’t like you, they’re ready to leave. In fact, that’s all their minds will be filled with until they can. They don’t hear a word. A negative, agressive approach that “exposes” creationists will fail. The entire communications industry has known this for decades.

    I haven’t seen the film but know his goals. Mass communication is a far more subtle and complicated medium than scientist and the left appreciate. Simply showing something in a bad light doesn’t work. Thinking it will work is falling back on the belief that superior rational argument wins all contests. Film and video hate verbal arguementation and words. They are visual, emotional media. Period. That’s reality. [One of a number of script reader heuristcs for spotting and disposing of amateur scripts is to flip through one. More than 50% dialog means rejection. So, less than 50% of the footage is words and the rest is all visual.]

    See if this fits his film. Randy was explaining to scientists, by means of visual illustration, example, demonstration why and how creationists have been so successful and why science is at a disadvantage. Do you expect him to film a lecture about it? There can’t be a discussion, he must show. You can ask him, but I think his main purpose is to communicate with the scientific community, not the public. Perhaps it’s an instructional film, but instruction appropriate to the medium. You don’t use charts in a radio broadcast.

    As I’ve said before, scientists would never approach an unfamiliar field of science the way they approach mass communication. Worse, such arrogance will get communicated to the public no matter what you do. Professional knowledge and practice outside science are as valid as those within it. I’m beginning to think it will take decades to hammer through the resistence. The first step is to say, “I don’t know. I don’t understand.” Because they don’t. It’s obvious.

    And not just to PZ —
    Randy, as far as I’ve seen, is the only expert in visual communications who’s also a concerned, biological scientist. He’s all you got. I would shut up, completely, and turn myself into a student. Generally, undergraduates don’t get to argue with faculty about how to accomodate peer review in the next submission draft of the journal paper.

  14. SkookumPlanet says

    I hate doing this, but it’s a must.

    Jonathan Badger is completely wrong and a great example of what I just said needed changing. Jonathan, this is not personal.

    Science popularizing has nothing to do with science and it’s not about scientists. It’s about the public.

    Public, Public, Public.

    You know, the people who pay your salary, who buy you your home. What makes this so hard to comprehend?

    Under Jonathan’s definition, Carl Zimmer is a disgusting failure and should be hounded out of his career.

    The content of what Jonathan said is death and doom to science. Utter destruction. It will cause the public to grow black disgust that will have them thinking, “FUCK RESEARCH PROGRAMS! I’LL READ WHOEVER THE FUCK I WANNA READ.”

    You must understand that your fate is in the hands of others, and how they emotionally react to the personality of scientists is crucial. This isn’t a game. It’s also not an experiment. PZ’s anxiety is well placed. Do-overs are extremely limited and there’s a tipping point somewhere.

    The world does not revolve around science. The world does not revolve around scientists. There is a group in the U.S. [not DI] that has figured out a way to construct reality filters inside the minds of voters. Trust me. There is no effective opposition. Olson is right, but rather than assume a receptive mind in approaching his film, it’s all criticism, mainly because it’s in a vocabulary you refuse to learn. If you don’t participate in the actual life of the larger community that supports you, you will be laying down on the chopping block, baring your neck to the axes of this group, and hoping they show mercy.

    Those of us outside science who love it, and understand the social/media environment has changed, can only do so much. The real world is hurtling down on you like an asteroid.

    Folks, this is not about you, it’s about saving science for the U.S. and your great grandchildren. You must grow humility. You must except that expertise exists you know nothing about. You must accept reality. What, only your reality counts? You must understand, this time your opposition has outsmarted you. Think it through. They’ve adapted, you haven’t. The bitoa has radically changed and you must adapt or die.

    So far the response from the science community has been precambrian. Fossilization. Adapt or fossilize. Adapt.

  15. Ian H Spedding says

    P Z Myers wrote

    We are experts at efficient discourse within the community of science, but when it comes to talking to middle America, we suck. There is a good reason for that — we get all of our training in how to talk to other people who have all of our training, but not in how to educate people who don’t have the same background — but that’s no excuse. It’s something we have to change.


    So learn from the science ‘popularizers’ rather than despise them. Study what Carl Sagan or David Attenborough or Jacob Bronowski have done. Remember Feynman’s dictum: “if you can’t explain your theory to your grandmother then you probably don’t understand it yourself”.

    Better still, seize the initiative.

    Intelligent design/creationism (IDC) accuses science of trying to suppress any discussion in schools of alternative ‘theories’.

    So push for the inclusion in the curriculum of classes on basic philosophy and comparative religious (PCR) studies in school where all this can be discussed. That’s important. It has be science only in the science classes but focus attention on – make the public debate all about -these new PCR classes.

    Mount a campaign.

    Get scientists to come along to schools and talk openly about what they do and what is known in a given field. Challenge IDC to step down from its pulpits and stages in front of stacked audiences and meet them in front of the students without jazzy graphics and where the ‘Gish gallop” can be brought to a shuddering halt.

    Make them respond to you. Cut the legs right out from under one of the main IDC charges against science and force them to put up or shut up.

  16. G. Tingey says

    Effective communication, huh?

    Well, there is ONE important message that the scientists MUST get across.

    And that is that the ID-iots and cretinists are lying.
    Every time they say or write anything at all then as many people as possible must say “Liar”.
    And challenge them every single time – where is your evidence?
    Because they have none, yet they are getting away with appearing to have some.

    This was the big diappointment in the PAxman interview with Coulter BTW, he did NOT challenge her assertion of the “liberal conspiracy” of scientists, which, by her definition includes every single major national and international scientific body, up to and including the Royal Society.
    Which is obvious nonsense, but he let her get away with it.
    Because Paxman, for all his wit, is not scientifically trained or literate.

  17. says

    Under Jonathan’s definition, Carl Zimmer is a disgusting failure and should be hounded out of his career.

    No, that’s not what I as saying; certainly having Zimmer, Ridley, et al is better than having *nobody* writing popular science books. My point is that it is even better to have award-winning scientists like Sean B. Carroll write for the general public. That’s what we need more of.

  18. N.Wells says

    I appreciate SkookumPlanet’s concerns, and he or she is probably correct that in general you catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar, but if negativity doesn’t work, why are negative political ads so effective? If being widely disliked or disapproved of is so permanently fatal, how did Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill ever get to lead their countries?

  19. says

    Concerning science populizers, one tv shows jumps to mind – Mythbusters. My sister just gave me the first season on dvd and I’m hooked. These guys are showing the public how to think about a problem, how to develop controls, the value of working with numbers. And they blow stuff up. It makes solving problems fun. I know it’s not rigorous, hard core science. But it gets people thinking and interested.

  20. David Harmon says

    First of all, PZ, it’s time to get cracking on your own book! And maybe a documentary based on those videos….

    Second: Yeah, we are facing a “right-wing conspiracy”, all right.
    Now, one reason they claim we’re a conspiracy is because we do agree on the important stuff. What they don’t understand is that we’re not getting our “positions” from some “Pope of Science”, we’re getting them from common reference to reality. Well, you know, that commonality is the basis for our scientific community. It’s time to tap it for community action.

    No, we don’t want to set up a Pope of Science, but it is time for any scientific organization that wants to be seen as such, to circle the wagons. Use lists of identifying behavior, like the ones we bloggers have been writing, to identify and expel anti-scientific agents from our midst. We know perfectly well how to distinguish genuine mavericks and minority views (e.g. MOND) from the lunatic fringe; it’s time to do it. If somebody’s sending mixed signals, give them the chance to explain themselves and accept feedback from the community. If they can’t do both of those, out they go. Those identified as fundamentally hostile to science, get shunned. No papers, no debates, they do not get equal time in forums claiming to be “scientific”. Redemption is by the same rules — you need to convince the community and its representatives that you really have cleaned up your act. Again, we don’t need a central authority to do this!

    Third: We need to start rebuilding curriculums based on modern understandings of developmental and educational psychology. (And no, those didn’t stop with Piaget.) We know a lot about education, it’s time to push that into practice. It’s time to go up to California and New York and say something to the effect of, “Here is the National Academy Of Science’s official K-12 curriculum plan for the sciences.”

    Fourth: American scientific journals and libraries should be sending critical archives and data to multiple repositories abroad, to protect them from direct attacks. Yeah, it’s time to be paranoid.

  21. says

    At the core of the problem, as has been suggested above, is that the public (in the US anyway) more and more actively is sticking its collective fingers in its collective ears and saying “LA LA LA LA can’t hear you.” For the same reason it’s the most religious-claiming western country, the US WANTS to ignore science. Everywhere we look, we see painful things, not the least of which is that our government has wasted lives and resources in the “war against terror.” (!). It’s as painful for most people to face that as it is to face the existential questions of life. So it seems we’re already past the tipping point: in the US the majority has decided it’s happier not to ask questions. Perhaps if there’s a solution, it lies in figuring out why this is so true in the US and not so in, say, England. Otherwise, the effort will be wasted. If bush’s approval can be rising lately, even as the facts keep piling up against him, then this is certainly so: science is exactly what people don’t want.

  22. tyrone says

    People who do not accept evolution are ignorant fools who should not be allowed to abuse children!

    Shut them up by legal action if necessary.

    Never stop telling them how ignorant they are and how worthless they are!


  23. says

    Science cannot sit down with 200 million adult Americans and deliver a three-hour Deconstruction of the False Persona of Homo Christofacist.

    Even if possible, a few smiles by the creationsits through media would negate it.

    That’s the idea of good pro-science communication (which is different from science popularization, obviously): it’s supposed to be strong enough to disarm the common anti-science arguments. One of the most annoying things about people who just search for a silver bullet is that they miss the basic fact that competent rhetorical skills are crucial. It doesn’t matter how much you know about the latest political marketing fads if you can’t line up people who’ll explain to everyone that Klansmen are nice in their private life, too.

  24. says

    Until such time that a state of equilibrium is reached–when the religious right is justly marginalized–this is a political battle, not a scientific one. Good science is our ace in the hole, our most potent weapon, and its integrity must be maintained. At this point in the conflict, however, a good dose of angry righteous indignation is needed. We saw evidence of this strategy in the recent Bill Clinton/Christopher Wallace interview. Clinton took the gloves off and did some much-needed counter-punching. We need to get good and pissed off, and let the religious right know that we’re not going to allow their imaginary friend to rule our lives and subvert our work.

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    SkookumPlanet: A negative, agressive approach that “exposes” creationists will fail.

    Ummm… have you noticed any other “negative, aggressive” media presences, claiming to expose outrageous crimes, that have been “failing” at least since the age of Nixon? Much as I agree with many of your other points, here I think you’re out of touch with public reaction and media technique.

  26. Isabel says

    Too bad Clinton didn’t take his gloves off and do the counterpucnching on Bin Laden instead of Chris Wallace.

    He got caught and boy was he mad!

    Good for Wallace!!!

  27. says

    I think SkookumPlanet is partly wrong, partly right. Yes, negative media works and is very effective, but it has to be coupled to an alternative that gets people cheering for them. The Republicans have swift-boating down cold, but they also have this pro-God-and-Country thing that gets the idiotic masses, like Isabel above, on their side.

    We’ve got a pro-Science theme. That doesn’t seem to resonate with people as strongly as pro-God. We can stick the rhetorical knife into the creationist liars just fine, but talent with a shiv isn’t going to persuade people to love you.

  28. jbark says

    “My point is that it is even better to have award-winning scientists like Sean B. Carroll write for the general public. That’s what we need more of.”

    I’m puzzled as to why you think this. Credentials don’t seem to count for squat with the public as it is, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. If the AAAS saying “ID is bunk” doesn’t convince you, what sort of credentials would?

    But I think you’re wrong about wanting the top 1% ultra grant-getting publication machines to take the reigns of public communication anyway.

  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    PZ Myers: …her extensive Republican extremist backing,… GW Bush … our government approved our president’s right to ignore the Geneva convention and torture people on suspicion….

    PZ here touches on a crucial point that many of the commenters here apparently prefer to overlook: creationism is only one head of a huge political Hydra. I’m not sure how few degrees of separation can be found between, say, meek & mild-mannered Prof Behe and the bloody-booted guards of Camp Delta in Guantanamo, but the connections to the Beltway elite are clear to anyone who bother looking.

    It may well be that, say, Sen. Brownback has shaken hands with leading creationists and the hands-on agents of the American Inquisition; if not, he’s probably only one degree away on each side with those who have.

    In any case, strategizing simply to protect “science” misses the point. We’re up against what’s called the religious right, which in turn is strongly allied, through the Republican Party, with a very powerful pro-dictatorship clique, itself backed by huge corporate interests. As Jim Wynne correctly notes, this is a political struggle.

    The key need of science advocates in this context is alliances: the good news here is that the enemies of our enemies are everywhere. In practical terms, we have shared interests with gays, pro-choicers, pro-contraceptionists, civil rights supporters, environmentalists, libertarians, death penalty opponents, peace campaigners, anti-censorship activists, Constitutionalists, consumerists, and advocates for the little guys and the underdogs everywhere.

    In practice, of course, these common interests can be difficult to organize around. A good example would be a friend of mine who is a national leader against capital punishment, and also a strong pro-choice activist: though she knows many people who share her feelings on both issues, she acknowledges there is no chance of bringing the respective groups into a workable coalition.

    Likewise, a combined effort by, say, pro-science campaigners and ecology activists may go to pieces as soon as someone mentions nuclear power or animal testing: potential friction points exist at every contact point between different causes. Still, collaboration on some levels is possible: consider how counter-protests against this summer’s siege of a clinic in Jackson, Missisippi by the hyperchristians of Operation Rescue et al emerged from that city’s moderate Christians and Muslims, without these groups having to explicitly endorse abortion rights.

    The logical umbrella for any such effort would be a forum already structured to allow working together on particular goals while agreeing to disagree on others – such as, say, a political party. Unfortunately for us, and for America, there is no functional opposition party in this country.

  30. says

    I’m puzzled as to why you think this. Credentials don’t seem to count for squat with the public as it is, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. If the AAAS saying “ID is bunk” doesn’t convince you, what sort of credentials would?

    Well, the traditional strategy of having dedicated “science writers” doesn’t seem to be very effective, does it? And it isn’t just a matter of “credentials” to make the public accept scientific facts on authority, the issue is how to get the public excited by science itself. The problem is much the same as with education. It’s hard to get excited by a lecture by someone who has merely *read* the class textbook; lectures by someone who has actually *contributed* to the facts in the textbook are far more stimulating and exciting. And that’s why Carroll’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is head and shoulders above most popularizations.

  31. says

    As Jim Wynne says, “this is a political battle, not a scientific one.” But let’s not ignore that to call something “political” is not to say it is not about something of substance.

    Why has the religious right been so successful? Of the many reasons, three standout for me: money, organization, and a complete (if superficial) story around “family values.” Money pours in each week, freely given in small amounts by millions of people attending church coupled with large sums given quite a few wealthy individuals all of which is supplemented with our tax dollars through GWB‘s Faith-based Initiatives. They are organized at the grass roots level through churches in every community and at every higher level right up to having a national television channel of their own, a wide variety of nationally known leaders with dedicated followers, and even (double-)think tanks like the DI. With home schooling and bible colleges they’ve created a parallel educational system for their children. As someone mentioned above they even have their own federally recognized accreditation organization. On top of all that they have what is to very many people a complete and compelling story about “family values” — a term I personally despise for its implied hubris.

    Opposing this there is … what?

    Well there are some organizations: the state Citizens for Science groups, the NCSE, and … ? Oops. We’re rather short on organization. How about money? Short there too. You don’t see people shelling out their hard earned cash (letting alone tithing!) to science organizations on a weekly basis. How do we match up on the “values” front? Hell, we don’t even show up. That’s not to say we don’t have a good story about values, but no one has turned it into a complete and compelling one with wide appeal.

    And we are our own worst enemies. What kind of appeal do statements like “god-believers are idiots” — repeated ad nauseum with endless variation in the comments and some of the posts on Pharyngula — have to anyone except our own extremists? With that attitude we reject 95% or more of the population.

    Coupling atheism with science — however satisfying that is for many of us — is neither necessary nor helpful. It is a personal choice quite outside the realm of science. We need to expand our reach and our appeal, not distainfully reject the very people we want to sway. All the atheists are already on our side!

    Please don’t repeat the kneejerk reaction that’s all too common: “We have every right to speak about our atheism!” Of course we do. But it is fundamentally foolish to make it a requirement — almost a loyalty oath — for inclusion in the group of people who advocate good science and good science education.

    Then there’s the bit about values. We need that compelling story, told compellingly, about why good science is important and how it is involved in leading good, useful, compassionate lives. Just figuring out how to tie science together with compassion would be a good first step.

  32. Bunjo says

    Jim Wynne is right. The debate is not about science and cannot be won by scientific fact. It can only be won by counter action in the political and philosophical domain.

    I suspect that there are plenty of religious people who *don’t care* how long it took the world to be formed or when, who *don’t care* about evolution. They are comfortable for their childhood myths (i.e. as told by their priests/pastors/vicars/rabbis/muslim clerics etc) to tell them how to live – and more importantly who to hate as “not us”. No mere presentation of fact is going to sway them.

    We have to make it uncomfortable for people to believe these stories by giving them a better philosophy and worldview, by making them ashamed of bigotry, ashamed of hating others because they are different. This needs a poltical lead, science merely helps with some of the ammunition.

    I live in the UK and look on with some trepidation about what will be comming across the pond shortly. My only consolation, and I offer it to you guys in the spirit of friendship, is that the ‘enthusiasms’ of opinion in the USA (Macarthyism, Prohibition, Segregation, etc) are usually corrected in the end. I only hope you (as a country) get over your current lurch towards authoritarian rule by Emperor Bush, just as I hope the UK ditches Tony Blair.

  33. jbark says

    I’d agree completely with your second post Jonathan. But your first one seemed to go much farther than just excluding science writers, with even scientists who weren’t research powerhouses getting the axe as well.

    If I overinterpreted your point, then we’re probably on the same page.

  34. says

    Well, the traditional strategy of having dedicated “science writers” doesn’t seem to be very effective, does it?

    Is that a strategy that anyone is actually following?

    I thought the problem was more as described above – the creationists have a strategy for getting people hooked on creationism. Scientists simply do not have any sort of strategy for getting the general public interested in science. They simply trust the courts to always come down on the side of science.

    It’s hard to get excited by a lecture by someone who has merely *read* the class textbook; lectures by someone who has actually *contributed* to the facts in the textbook are far more stimulating and exciting.

    Only if you’re a person who is already excited about a particular topic. Otherwise, it’s mainly communication skills that get people excited.

  35. Molly, NYC says

    Maybe it’s my own high dork factor talking, but I’m not too receptive to people telling me . . . that we have to pander to superficial sensibilities to communicate a message.

    Respectfully, I think you’re wrong about what you call “pandering to superficial sensibilities” and what I’d call “putting things in terms non-science people can understand.”

    I’m always a little disheartened by attempts to call out these ID hustlers by dissecting their arguments. It’s preaching to the choir. People whose eyes don’t glaze over when someone starts talking about science are overwhelmingly on our side already.

    As for the rest of them, trotting out the numbers and methodology arguments is just playing the IDers’ game. Most folks do tend to tune out conversations that they perceive as over their heads. So instead of absorbing your brilliant point about what claptrap ID is in terms of zebrafish embryology, they hear a couple scientists arguing as equals over what they’ve already been told–by the ID crowd–is a controversial subject in the scientific community. And sure enough, there it is, right in front of them: Scientists controverting. What more proof do they need?

    And the ID hustlers know this. They know–as you don’t– that it’s a waste of their time trying to convince anyone who knows jack about science.

    Their targets are people who barely passed high school biology, whose idea of a scientist was formed somewhere between Lex Luthor and Dexter’s Lab. They’re no more going to follow the scientific inaccuracies than if you gave it to them in Chinese. That doesn’t make them stupid. But for most people, science is a ‘way different way of seeing the world than they’re used to and they’re not going to make the effort to switch gears. What are you going to do, flunk ’em?

    I’d go with the non-science arguments:

    1. ID is not a controversy in the scientific community. In fact, pretty much the whole scientific community’s on the same page about ID, and the overwhelming consensus is that it’s utter crap.

    2. However, unlike any other scientific theory you can name, ID does have PR firms.

    3. Among the handful of scientists who do support it, virtually all either derive their beliefs from religion; or are getting paid to support it, or both.

    4. School science facilities and classroom time are not unlimited, so any time or resources wasted on ID have to be taken away from something else.

    5. This isn’t about science: it’s about pushing a religious agenda into the schools.

    6. Etc.

  36. charlie says

    Back during the last milennium (1981 I believe), I was given an anti-evolutionary tract by some Jehova Witnesses. I’m embarrassed to report that I was not readily able to debunk their nonsense. My response was to educate myself by reading numerous books on both the history of and the evidence for evolution (including a great book by Douglas J. Futuyma called Science on Trial) so that I could recognize the fallacies of the creationists and argue for evolution. It did not work because the groundwork for communicatiion was never set. As I watched eyes glaze over when I trotted out the evidence, I realized that I was presenting college or high school level information to people who needed elementary school level science.
    Fast forward twenty five years and I will admit that I am scared. I fear that the country that was founded on the ideals of the Enlightenment will slowly be dragged back toward the middle ages. Here are some of my ideas on what we should do.
    1. Fight the battle on the enemies ground. Attack. Make them defend their absurdities. One example is Ann Coulter’s statement to the effect that there is more evidence for Noah’s Ark than evolution. OK. Give us the evidence. Have remanents of the Ark been found? How do you know it is the Ark? Where was it found? how did it get there? The flood? The sea level rose 14,000 feet? Where did the water come from? where did that water go? make sure that people realize that the amount of water needed to raise the ocean level 14,000 feet could not be held in clouds without making the surface of the earth pitch black or scaldingly hot. And don’t just ask Coulter. Ask anyone who says they agree with her.
    2. This will have to be a multi disciplanary movement. This is not just about biology. This is not just about science. The fundamentalists have been attacking on all fronts: arts, humanities, and science. Anyone remember the attacks on secular humanism during the Reagan Administration? And what is the attempt to portray the foundation of our countries’ law as the ten commandments other than an attempt to rewrite history. I am not exaggerating when I say that our very freedom is under attack. Do you think the demonization of liberal thought, feminism and gays is an accident? You can consider yourself a conservative and still realize the danger that is posed by these people. We need to build coalitions that will confront them at every level.
    3. We need to be able to take the long view of this and build lasting organizations that will counter the irrational anger and ignorance being spreadby the religious fundamentalists for as long as it takes. Anti Intellectualism has long been a staple of American life and fundies are no longer the tiny storefront churches on the fringe of town. They have become quite media savy and have tuned their messages to the way that the majority of Americans get their information. Now we have to go to those media outlets and engage them and be prepared to do it for generations. We are playing catch up.
    Does this sound strident to some of you? I’m 56 years old and if someone told me when I graduated from college more than thirty years ago that half the people in this country would not believe in evolution in the 21st century I would have laughed my ass off. I’m not laughing anymore.
    One final thought. In paging through Futuyma’s book just to refresh myself with it, I stumbled upon this quote which seems prescient to me.
    However the process of cultural evolution is almost as much an anathma to the creationists as the process of bilogical evolution.
    [the creationists believe] The differences between races and tribes arose when the Creator imposed different languages on the survivors of the flood, which impelled them to seperate into different groups. But, they say, this idea is not susceptable to scientific investigation.
    All of anthropology militates against such a view. The complex subject of cultural anthropology is not one in which I am qualified. It is important to recognize, though, that the creationist attack is not limited to biology: the social sciences are next in line for Biblical reinterpretation.

    Rome did not fall in a day

  37. SkookumPlanet says

    Up through AndyS
    I appreciate that posters are taking my emotionally-packaged argument seriously. It was calculated. Thanks.

    N. Wells
    I’m not arguing against a “negative” approach. Certainly not. But those negative campaign ads don’t work by being negative LOGICALLY. One can’t communicate negatively through argumentation, logic, and rationality. That’s what doesn’t work.

    There are two reasons why. 1) You can’t push details and logical structure through media conduits into people’s minds. 2) It’s easily overcome via emotional counter response. The negativity I spoke of is the personal negativity of the messenger. Personality, or persona. That’s the kiss of death. It is possible, done right, to use techniques to morph an opposition messenger into a negative personality. Your example of politics does it routinely. But it must be done within the game rules of the particular arena.

    Actor, audience. Actor, audience. Through that relationship one finally gets to hear the script.

    I’ve got no problem with your clarification. I would, keeping that, add “These people tend to be best at it, but we need good ones from any and every source possible.” And thanks for allowing me some room for dramatic effect.

    Any approach, disguised or not, that teaches scientific process, worldview, etc. that works is gold. An unrelated, weird personal note. I’ve not seen MythBusters [even my mechanic has appeared on it] but discovered recently the, apparently “lead”, brother is from my small, home town and close enough in age we may have been in High School together.

    I don’t have a problem with that. The only caveat is media conduits have strengths and weakness. Huge, entire industries, most of our economy, has learned that and adapted. Content must be appropriate to channel or it’s overwhelmed. This is the experimental result of a fifty-year-long, highly significant, controlled experiment on millions of data points with about 100,000 co-authors that cost a gazillion billion dollars. Scientists are not going to change those results. [The metaphor is partly literal. There is a lot of research data showing what works and what doesn’t. Mainly proprietary. Anyone thought of consulting it?]

    Jim Wynne
    I saw that air, and thought it was Clinton at his best. A couple points, per here. It wasn’t spontaneous, although he may not have planned to do it. But, I unconsciously analyze content, and he had an argument, or a list of talking points, that he got through
    twice in varied order. Another point, there has been a very good argument made that in the environment of an election the Republicans want to be about terrorism, he hurt the Democrats. I don’t buy that, but my point is context is crucial.

    Pierce R. Butler
    Perhaps I was too condensed and emotional there. See my response to N. Wells above. The negativity has to be expertly calibrated or the opposition can simply use it against you. Negative personality never works. If ID can get scientists to be angry, argumentative, nasty etc. they can use it to turn off the audience to you. It’s not rational discourse. It’s attending a block barbecue. How would a negative approach come off there?

    Isabel is an excellent example. She has bought this psychomarketing campaign the Neocons have put together to bolster their election chances. She has zero idea what really happened but she’s convinced she knows. The idea is, paint the Dems as incompetent at protecting the country. So, fabricate a storyline that Clinton was terrible and failed to prevent 9-11 [by implication, “Even worse than Bush.”. Isabel bought it hook line and sinker. There’s no way the truth of Clinton’s record on this will get into the public’s head now. It will take a long time for that. The public isn’t going to research facts, read books, nothing. THIS IS MY POINT. You can’t go to the public and make long rational arguments about truth and lies. It won’t compute. They are not your colleagues. You must communicate about truth and lies, but communication is done through communication channels.

    I hope I’ve corrected my miscommunication on negativity here. It’s methods in channels, effective-noneffective, actor-audience, calibrated dosing, not truth and facts and logic. But, I like your end. In a way, an important and basic way, the object is to get the public to love science and scientists. Perhaps that helps clarify my point. And that’s certainly doable.

    Pierce R. Butler
    The most succinct summary I can give of what you cover is this. The far-right wing took over the Republican party and made the party’s new base conservative evangelicals. These people supply the margin of electoral votes that have put this former faction in control of government at all levels. This new base has an inherently anti-politics strain which leads to withdrawal from voting, so the far right must carefully massage these people to keep them motivated and voting. The Discovery Institute was founded by an ex-D.C. Republican hack.

    I basically agree with your post. I’m adding something critical, I think. The storyline, the message, is so effective because of the methodology used to put it into the minds of the public. It’s newly and uniquely applied to the sociopolitical arena by the far right.

    I posted on two other topics the last few days and give some specifics that remove this technical approach I reference from the abstract. Some examples of how this actually worked. Mike the Mad Biologist’s topic “I See Stupid People: The John Boehner Edition” and Courtnix under “We are now officially living in a dictatorship”. For those still hesitant about the call for non-rational-based communication, go to the link at Mad Mikes and read “Led to War by Proximity Soundbites”. There is no clearer example of the strength of such an approach and the challenges it presents when used by opponents.

  38. SkookumPlanet says

    What Molly said, but doubled or tripled. It’s underplayed.

    The people that need to be won over don’t give a shit about science. They don’t know squat about science. They live incredibly distracted lives with a host of problems and preoccupations in their minds. Their physical life has become filled with media channels, each clamoring for attention and mostly it’s professional attention-grabbers doing the clamoring. There are media screens in elevators! Screens on contact lenses? Don’t bet against it — screens on flexible, clear plastic exist in labs right now.

    Molly said, “Most folks do tend to tune out conversations that they perceive as over their heads.” Not “tend to…” but “do”, almost instantly, you know the 98%-of-the-time style. It is a truism. Consult the psychological literature. There is no future test and grade to incentivize listening.

    This is the environment you’ve got to get a message through. Once in their minds…..that’s another whole topic.

  39. Torbjörn Larsson says

    It is heartingly to see the creativity espoused here.

    Funny that Mythbusters were mentioned among other ideas – what I know of they haven’t tried to debunk the great myths. Like creationism.

    But perhaps it could be spun into such a program.

  40. Scott Hatfield says

    Molly, I agree that, right now, the ‘non-science arguments’ are more persuasive in the courts and in the public square than arguments that require people to have some scientific literacy.

    At some point, though, we have to recognize that this lack of scientific literacy feeds the creationist movement, and that this movement has grown in size and intensity over the last three decades. Creationists don’t hesitate to use what *LOOK* like ‘science arguments’ to advance their position. We can’t rely upon legal and political strategies alone to safeguard evolution education. We need to aggressively and uncompromisingly market science education in the public square, and that’s not happening right now. Most of the money in science is going to the branches of the scientific enterprise, but the roots of the tree are largely neglected….SH

  41. says

    I know that Sam Harris would probably disagree with this because of his stance on “religious moderates,” but; I say that all the money and communications are in the churches, synagugoues, mosques, etc. Scientists of faith should be out there asking their clergy for money to promote real science, creating think tanks that research how to communicate the benefits of real science in the way that creationist think tanks do their communications.

    Enlist people that may not necessarily be scientists, but are effective communicators who respect and understand scientists to roll back the tide of anti-science that seems to be ruling the US.

    I like shows like Mythbusters, but I also liked “Beakman’s World” and “Bill Nye – the Science Guy” because they showed how science relates to people’s world.

    Show how evolution has been a fantastic boon to medicine, to genetics, but in a fun way and grab the kids when they are young so that when they get to college and realize in biology 101 that even though lab work can be tedious, there is enough of a long term benefit to understanding how it all fits together that science is a worthwhile elective or minor even for people that are taking business classes.

    Get the money, get the word out, make it fun and make it accurate. That’s how we pre-empt more cases like Dover.

  42. Reasonable Kansasn says

    Kp p th gd wrk.

    s lng s ppl lk PZ MYRS r pshng thr wy t th frnt, th flr f thsm s cntrllng scl frc s ssrd.

  43. Clare says

    The appeal to God is certainly a strong one in the US; arguably even stronger is the appeal to the $. JohnC is right. People have to realise there are concrete consequences to not teaching science properly, or having decent scientific skills. Universities need to push back by demanding that incoming students do not come in with diluted or distorted high school science classes; the competitive advantage of students and workers from within the US, or outside, with good science training needs to be emphasized. I realise that many of the more rabid religious rightists are simply marking time until Armaggedon, but there are plenty of other people whose religiosity is more fragile, and maybe even more who are simply complacent. Once they see a direct, and personal cost to the promotion of idiotic ideas, they may change their tune….

  44. says

    Maybe it would be useful to come at this from a differnt angle, not by pushing harder on science but by teaching more about the rest of the world which most Americans (both school age and adult) don’t know much about. Show them what the various European educational systems are like and their effects on French, UK, German, etc culture. Expose them to what China is doing in education and science and how that is driven by their growing economy. Ditto India.

  45. says

    To the Editor, Pharyngula Readers, Everybody, Mind, and Spirit! :)

    Subject: Is The Panda’s Thumb becoming a flock of Dodos?

    Over the weekend, I stumbled upon The Panda’s Thumb website, whose mission is to gather patrons to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the antievolution movement, defend the integrity of both science and science education, and share good conversation.

    In a thread on More anti-evolution rumblings in the UK (PandasThumbUSA; September 30), as I was trying to support a very critical thinker Clastito on discussions on Science vs. Scientism in general, and Evolution vs. Evolutionism (Dawkins) in particular; and in the heat of our discussions, I was denied of my response entries over the weekend. Are the moderators at The Panda’s Thumb adopting the ways of the Dodos?

    Here are some pertinent and relevant quotes from Clastito‘s posts, and my subsequently censored entry, as follows:


    [Almost pure barking. Irrelevant criticisms and mutual reassurances. Just the expected behaviour of those who like moving in herds. No arguments there, and thus, no answers required.

    [By the way, you know that you are talking to a sectarian, when you say something they do not like, they immediately attempt a classification… “he’s a creationist” “a commie” “this troll” you know, to label and dismiss, without paying attention to actual arguments. Sooo predictable… you can’t figure me out, but I can figure many here, easily.

    [To agree so much with Dawkins means you are into scientism. It is easy to think this way. Therefore, Dawkins fans are abundant, always lurking… but rarely contributing with an actual argument. More like cheerleaders.

    [There we go… thinly veiled, if at all, accusations of religiousness and creationism, all over again. You guys certainly are masters in finding excuses to wave things away to not bother to think. So predictable. Stop it, and THINK!!!!

    [My point is clear enough. The reason you have problems with the creationists, and will definitely continue to have them, both in the UK and the USA, is that in your pragmatists culture who loves simple explanations and one-liners, an agreement exists on both sides to discuss perfect adaptation, with intelligent design and adaptationism as the alternative explanations. Of course the fact that Dawkins pushes his flawed utradarwinian views as “the science” and further wishes to impose atheism to the extreme of suggesting that children growing up in a religion is “child abuse” is basically begging for people to identify his silliness with evolution itself and gives them good argumentative tools to keep the nasty, never-dying debate going.

    [It seems you cannot conceive other than two possibilities, either you are into a ridiculous ultrapositivist scientism “a la Dawkins”, where people who disagree with you have some “[psychological] problem of unreason” (chuckle), OR you are some kind of religious loony (as you constantly strive to fit me into) that easily embraces creationism.

    [And where is humanism in all this? You know, some TRUE left-thinking? Oh, right… You don’t have any. You are all waiting for either god or science to effortlessly bring utopia.

    [Many of the things I say are quite undeniable, like the persistence of creationism, the bestselling popularity of both Behe and Dawkins, the pervasiveness of adaptationism in “popular biology” documentaries, the capitalist origins of Darwinism… So be more specific about what you want. Statistics that prove Dawkins is part of the problem? Yeah, probably (chuckle). Hey, I want some that prove he is NOT part of the problem. I guess its just useless for anyone to point out when he says something silly, no matter how clear his mistake, huh?

    [But you see, we can use our brains to follow logical implications and argue…its not like if we don’t have some statistics proving probably nothing we have to throw our arms in the air and cancel all thinking process because it is unassailable mystery, if you get what I mean. So, I repeat, if you demand evidence, say what kind of evidence. Think it well!!! And stop whining about “me smearing everyone here,” you look like some rusty old patriot. I am not talking of all PT or even of you (unless you feel so), I’m describing general cultural conditions that you have, and its up to you to ponder if you are part of the silliness or what can you do about it. Because it’s there, whether you like it or not. And no, I am not asking for someone to kill Dawkins. Try saying something sophisticated, please. That kind of argument is a joke, the kind of one-liner Steve Colbert would use.

    [The answer that sounds more “[scientistic]” or atheistic does not necessarily address the problem, even if you get cheers from the herd. It is putting an end before adequate examination of a problem. Usually it will lead you into some truly stupid simplistic mistake… and ultimately, you will be a very bad scientist indeed. Things are not simple. No one-liners from me. Sorry.

    [If Dawkins says the same about atheism [in The God Delusion] it just strikes me as equally silly!!!!. Such improvised, inelegant “fairness” does not make it right, it just makes it worse. Usually when you say something silly you have to say something equally silly if you want to merely balance it without taking it away. It’s obvious that parents raising their kids in atheism is NOT child abuse. It doesn’t mean they cannot turn religious, later on, either.

    [No wonder that I am not be interested in analyzing every lousy utterance of Dawkins of feeble band aids he has applied over the cracks of his scientism. Reading Dawkins to me is as boring and annoying as reading Behe, sorry to say. The silliness that Dawkins produces in his fans is all over the place on the science blogs… and that’s quite enough for me, thanks.]

    Well said again, and again, Clastito! I tried to get my few words in, on Sunday and Monday, but The Panda’s Thumb was down–or enacting to censor my responses–so I’m going to try it again–3 times I tried but in vain–as follows:

    [I would hate to think everyone over here is into scientism “a la Dawkins.”]

    Well said, Clastito! Whereas I’ve had defined the disciples or groupies of Dawkinsian Evolutionism, Scientism, as “ibots”–intellectual robots–here (since April 2), Religious credulity and the recent spate of godly ‘science’ (ScienceBlogsUSA; July 25).

    Briefly, Dawkins –> Evolutionism (in The Selfish Gene) –> Memetics (a faulty theory of our Mind) –> Atheism as Anti-Religionism (in The God Delusion; and Dennett’s Breaking the Spell)!

    Therefore, Anton Mates, Dennett’s “attacking religion using [evolutionism] as a banner,” has had come from Dawkinsian Evolutionism of the hopping meme–a transmissible cultural unit including Religion–which they have had likened to the viral contagion of our Mind! What a rhetorically and utterly fashionable nonsense of the gloriously Dawkinsian kind since 1976–please see also my critiques of EO Wilson’s “human-ant-ism” here, Why do creationists pick on Evolution? (Physorg.com; April 18).

    Nonetheless, with much self-introspection, Wilson has had rescinded his “human-ant-ism” as a theory of our Mind and Nature, as once he had tried hard to propagate–even outside of his entomological expertise–in his 1975 Sociobiology! Whereas Dawkins–the diehard Emperor of Evolutionism and of the hopping Myths (a Scientism)–is still trying to go out running without any clothes on–chuckle! :)–please see also my comments here, Dawkins-Paxman interview (ScienceBlogsUSA; September 28).


    Thank you all for your kind attention and cooperation in this matter–just a food for thought, from a self-introspective Darwinist evolutionist perspective. Happy reading, thinking, scrutinizing, and enlightening! :)

    Best wishes, Mong 10/3/6usct2:28a; author Gods, Genes, Conscience and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now; a cyberspace hermit-philosopher of Modern Mind, whose works are based on the current advances in interdisciplinary science and integrative psychology of Science and Religion worldwide; ethically, morally; metacognitively, and objectively.

  46. thwaite says

    If anybody’s still reading after that last onslaught:

    Most of the world’s population is in the southern hemisphere, is of teen-age years, and lives daily with illness, lack of food, and an expectation of early death. To this population it’s easier to appeal to the mercies of the New Testament as a welcome contrast to their harsh old-testament experiences – and not so easy to appeal to reason and progress, both of which are wrapped up in issues of first-world dominance.
    This thesis is more fully explored in today’s NPR interview for “Fresh Air”:

    Southern Christianity, Around the World

    Religion professor Philip Jenkins talks about his latest book, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. The book is a follow-up to his 2002 title, The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity, which was named on of the top religion books of that year by USA Today.

    I have some personal familiarity with this world-view from a few months teaching in rural Zimbabwe. But that was decades ago.

  47. says

    I agree, we must change our language. It is past time to hammer the ID creationists on the following points:

    1. They believe, following the arch-creationist Henry Morris and repeated by Phillip Johnson, that evolution (= Darwinism) is responsible for most of society’s ills (from immorality to crime to abortion). I have heard or read 100s of presentations about evolution of this or that species and not one taught “animal ethics” as charged.

    2. They are intimately connected with the neoconservative political ideology that promulgates, simultaneously, a unrestricted and predatory free enterprise on one hand, and reviving religious culture on the other. All this comes from Leo Strauss who was an atheist! The whole movement is fraught with deception. From Dick Cheney and W. Bush, we have calls for teaching intelligent design and establishing democracy while they torture prisoners and wage war on Iraq in order to protect the Saudis and the oil companies.

    3. The acts of an intelligent designer God are not, in a human reality, knowable. They are not repeatable, testable and falsifiable using the scientific method, These acts are nor perfect. If God is perfect, then His/Her acts are perfect. One could say that the mutation of sickle hemoglobin could be “designed” from the standpoint of saving lives from the ravages of malaria, but a perfect God would not punish the homozygotes who by chance got two copies of the sickle gene.