Let’s talk science at YearlyKos this summer

Darksyde has just announced a few details about the science panels that will be held at the YearlyKos Convention. One relevant piece of information is that I’m the guy in charge of the science caucus, and I have to organize something. If Darksyde had ever seen my office, organization is not a word that would have come to mind…

Anyway, there was a science caucus at last year’s convention, too, and it was a bit the-opposite-of-organized. We got together in a big room and started talking, and the conversations all converged on one issue: what the heck are we going to do about this gigantic problem of religion? It wasn’t my fault, either! Religion is always the elephant in the room when you try to talk about science policy, and sensible people will recognize that you have to address it; we differ in that some people will talk about getting rid of it by tossing a tasty bale of hay outside, while some of us fondle our elephant guns and chainsaws, but we all agree it doesn’t belong in science.

This year, though, I want to narrow the focus so that what comes out of that meeting are some specific suggestions for science policy—what do the netroots want our political leaders to do? I’m hoping to get together a few people from diverse disciplines who will say a few words to structure the session and get us to come up with ideas on specifics: what do we want the Democrats to do about stem cell research? How about space missions, high energy physics, global warming, alternative energy, and conservation and the environment? My goal would be to have a science caucus that produces an actual document that lists what we think are the important issues and what we consider the correct side to take, something that we could hand to the politicians who will be attending the meeting and say that this is the consensus of the attendees who care about science, now please do something about it.

What about that elephant? I don’t think there will be any formal meetings that express opposition to religion at the meeting, although there will be plenty of meetings supporting liberal Christianity and interfaith blah-blah. I’m going to insist on deferring the issue in the science caucus just so we can get some details done, but I think we should also do a little rabble rousing and have an ad hoc Godless Caucus, where we just take over a lobby or a hallway somewhere (or if there are few enough of us, we’ll just meet in one of the hotel rooms—but the response at last year’s science caucus suggests there may be a mob) and talk about the political goals of secularists.

If you have ideas about the YearlyKos caucuses, especially specific ideas about the science priorities we ought to set, leave them in a comment here. If you’re going to be at YearlyKos and you have some science expertise, let me know that here or in an email so I can lean on you to contribute, either by having you make a few remarks or by putting you in charge of a sub-caucus.

If nothing else, I’ll be seeing some of you in Chicago in August!


  1. Theodore Price says

    How about encouraging the Dems to come up with a long-term plan for the expansion of NIH and NSF budgets and to finally address the issue of cutting indirect costs as a means to expand investigator initiated research proposals.

  2. rxpert says


    As I said to one Creationist, “I’ll agree that intelligent design should be taught in biology courses when you start teaching Calculus in Bible study groups.”

    While I am a Christian and a scientist. (The study of science leaves me in awe of the universe) you are correct in leaving the elephant out of the room and stick to objective facts. My suggestions are:
    1. Global warming ( a natural!)- Dems should highly support Green adgenda…and a new thought..a dependable, cost and power effective MASS TRANSIT system. I can see individual transportation going down the tubes easily in 10 years. We have to power up similar to the European systems.

    2. Pandemic flu- H5N is coming and we are WAY unprepared.

    3. Bee colony collapse- Joe ain’t gonna live long without those Hummers pollinatin’. If this problem isn’t cured pronto, we’re in a world of hurt.

  3. says

    How about the future of scientific publishing and free access journals. The present journal system is completely outdated, ineffective, and benefits no one but the publishers. It’s time for a publicly funded world-wide distributed database ala arxiv that incorporates the peer review process and a wikified hierarchical organization scheme (starting with something like the PACS).

  4. Randy says

    An alternative energy “manhattan project” to remove our reliance on oil once and for all.

    I’d also like this to be an open-source research and development project so that the results are public knowledge, but it would probably take much longer without private sector support.

  5. Paguroidea says

    I think it is a great idea to produce an actual document from the caucus. It seems that all too often we hear excellent ideas in a caucus or at presentations, but then nothing happens. The document would be useful for politicians as well as the average political activists when they go back home (e.g., writing letters to politicians, writing newspaper editorials, blogging, commenting on blogs).

  6. says

    I suspect Chris Mooney will be talking about that at the science panel. Since I’m moderating the caucus, any attempts to sidetrack the attempt to get substantive policy suggestions with complaints about how bad scientists are at communicating will be moderated as (-5, Flamebait).

  7. says

    If there is one issue that needs to be addressed, it’s how to take effective international action to deal with anthropogenic global warming. You can have all the sustainability initiatives you like, but once China passes the US in global carbon emissions (very soon), what we do here will not exactly be irrelevant, but it will be secondary. One major problem with Kyoto was the failure to deal with emissions by the developing world.

    This means that simply legislating things like CAFE standards is pretty useless. Other countries will sign on only if initiatives are economically better, or at least neutral, for them. And it’s awfully cheap at the moment for China to mine coal and generate electricity from it.

    One element of all of this, of course, is vastly increased funding for solar energy/fuel cell research. Another is more and better nukes. In both respects, the Dems’ performance has been disappointing. Harry Reid hates nuclear power because of Yucca Mountain, while the green side of the Democratic party is still in denial about the need for nuclear energy as a primary replacement for coal burning. Scientists need to force them to look at the math, and realize we’re not going to replace fossil fuels with solar/wind energy anytime soon.

    The first pass at the continuing resolution was a disaster, and even after they increased research funding, this year we’re barely marking time. We need to budget more for research, and it needs to be better managed.

  8. CalGeorge says

    Uncompromisingly tell the politicians what they need to hear:

    Science and atheism get treated like shit in Washington because brainless idiots shove their intolerant, constitution-destroying, fairy religion into everyone’s faces.

    Ask them: Are you a fairy religionist or a sensible person [and when they start quibbling, start snorting with laughter]?

    Ask them: When will you renounce your fairy God and stop kow-towing to the insane Jesus sect?

    Enough is enough.

    It’s pitiful that it is two frigging thousand and seven, we live in a “first-world” country, and yet only one member of our whole frigging Congress has had the guts to stand up and stay he is an atheist.

    Frigging PITIFUL.

    Hand the politicians this article. It sums up the state of affairs very nicely:

    First ‘Nontheistic’ Member of Congress Announced
    By Daniel Burke
    Religion News Service

    Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, D-Calif., is the first openly “nontheistic” member of Congress, the Secular Coalition for America announced Monday, March 12.

    The coalition said Stark, who has represented San Francisco’s East Bay since 1973, acknowledged his atheism in response to a questionnaire sent to public officials in January.

    In a statement, Stark said he is a “Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”

    “I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social service,” he said.

    Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, said “the only way to counter prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so.”

    Only 45 percent of Americans said they would vote for a “generally well-qualified” atheist, according to a February Gallup Poll, ranking them lowest on a list that included Mormons (72 percent), candidates on their third marriage (67 percent) and homosexuals (55 percent).

    The Washington-based coalition, which lobbies on behalf of atheists, humanists and other nontheists, said that “few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist” in response to its survey. The coalition eventually offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest-level atheist, agnostic, humanist “or any other kind of nontheist” in public office.

    Only three other elected officials agreed to be identified: a school board president in Berkeley, Calif.; a member of a school committee in Maine; and a town meeting member from Massachusetts.

    Lori Lipman Brown, a spokesperson for the secular coalition, said her group tallies 30 million nontheists in the U.S. “We seem to be extremely under-represented in elected office,” she said.

    “Atheists are the last group that a majority of Americans still think is OK to discriminate against,” said Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanist Association.


    You could also do a Michael Moore and follow the pols around and nag them to sign a pledge to respect atheists.

  9. says

    My brother and I could contribute on denialism and how good policy is derailed by bad science and dishonest lobbying.

  10. says

    How about discussing (since it is Kos)the following quote from John Porter, R-IL, regarding the funding of research should be considered a national priority quoted at the American Intitute of Physics FYI page:

    “You can change the image of things to come. But you can’t do it wringing your hands, and you can’t do it sitting on your fingers, you’ve got to get out and get involved and defend science as you have never defended science before. Science can, in my judgement, be sold to this Administration and this Congress. I suggest that the best way to do that is to recount to them over and over again. . . that the economic destiny of America lies in science and technology, in science and research. And if we don’t invest in research, and we don’t inspire our children, and if we don’t educate them in Congress, the competition out there, and China is a good example, but Europe also, will begin to eat our scientific lunch.” – John Porter, former chairman of the House Labor, Health and Human Service, Education Appropriations Subcommittee (R-IL)

    As in “Resolved: The United States Government should increase the availability of grants for scientific research.”

  11. Raindog says

    I am a geologist not planning to attend at this point but very interested in what you come up with. I’d be joining you in the hallway meeting if I were to attend.

    I think an important focus is alternative sources of energy, not for the reasons that most people have, but because of Peak Oil. I am enough of a realist to see that we will continue to guzzle oil, anyone’s oil, as long as it is cheap and readily available. That may not be the case for very long though. Global oil production will probably peak at some point in the next ten years (it may be peaking now) and then begin a long decline during which the price will get very high as the demand will exceed the supply by an increasingly wide margin (think $200-300/barrel and $10/gallon gasoline). This will probably lead to (more) wars over the remaining resources and possibly a global economic collapse. In an effort to stave off this eventuality, oil companies will try to produce oil from sources that require large amounts of energy (emitting large quanitites of greenhouse gases) just to turn it into oil so that it can then be refined to gasoline and burned (when it will again emit greenhouse gases). This is already happening in the tar sands in Alberta. All of this will obviously further exacerbate the problem of global warming.

    Its a pretty grim picture, but something like this will come to pass in the not too distant future. The countries that will handle it the best are those who have a plan for life after oil or with at least a limited supply of oil. Our leaders need to know of this slowly unfolding disaster and to have a plan to do something about it. Massive investment in electric-powered public transportation and conservation are good first steps.

    So here is a vote for Peak Oil as a topic.


  12. BlueIndependent says

    This is off-topic, but Crooks and Liars has a TDS segment that I think not just PZ will find interesting. Recall the Federal Way parent that wanted to take An Inconvenient Truth out of schools? Well, he got the TDS treatment from Jason Jones:

    TDS: Jason Jones – An Infallible Truth

  13. says

    How about agitating for the restoration of the Office of Technology Assessment, with a special mandate on analyzing emerging environmental technologies–energy sources, pollution reduction, habitat restoration and the like?

  14. SS says


    Are you not invited?… Not interested? If so, why? and what is your message to those who are genuinely curious? What is your position on ‘consciousness’ which is not explained by current science?

    The Ninth International Conference on Science and Consciousness

    will be held April 20 – 25, 2007,

    in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

    The exploration of consciousness remains the new frontier of scientific inquiry. Physicists, medical researchers, psychologists, anthropologists, shamans, healers, meditators have all experienced phenomenon which cannot be explained under the old scientific paradigm.

    This conference brings together a multi-disciplinary team of experts in the field of consciousness who will share their knowledge through lecture, discussion and experiential sessions. These experts include Judith Orloff, Richard Moss, Guy Finley, Larry Dossey, Norm Shealy, John Diamond, James O’Dea, David Abram, and over 40 others.

    At some point in history, a split occurred and we ended up with Science and Religion. Science limited its study to the material world and the Church took charge of the metaphysical realms. Now, with science studying consciousness, we are ready to reintegrate Spirituality and Science. In 1999 we launched the first International Conference on Science and Consciousness, and this unique conference continues as a forum for the exploration of consciousness from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives.

    Jeffrey Mishlove, President of the Intuition Network and host of Public Television’s “Thinking Allowed” said, “There has been a tendency for conferences that have the name science in the title to be very much in the head, and to have a kind of competitive edge, which scientists often have. But this event was very whole, very heart-centered and very much needed by our culture at this time.”

  15. Pareto says

    Now hold on a little, PZ. When you get to topics like global warming, it’s good to explain its effects, its causes, and what and how we can change. However, when you start suggesting that the government should build this transportation system or that one, you get into economist territory, which is probably just as far from chemistry as engineering is from biology.

  16. says

    Here’s just a few things which I would suggest as interesting points of discussion:

    1. Given the fact that the environment is changing, are we pursuing with sufficient vigor alternative means of obtaining drinking water other than just crossing our fingers and hoping for enough rainfall? What about some research into economically viable water extraction?

    2. A lot of the worlds problems centre around the fact that the population is increasing. What can be done (scientifically) to reduce population growth?

    3. Fusion energy – why aren’t we researching this technology, which holds so much promise to help the world environmentally and economically, more aggressively?

    4. What can be done to increase the number of science graduates? China and India are soon going to take over the world with their science and engineering developments unless something is done to keep our edge.

  17. Willow says

    PZ – I’m thinking of attending YearlyKos this year. I know there are a good number of godless Kossacks, and it’s a wonderful idea to get an ad hoc Godless Caucus together to discuss political goals of secularists (and have fun too!). How will attendees figure out where the godless are planning to hang out?

  18. Unstable Isotope says

    I like your ideas here. I like the idea of having a document coming out of the caucus, it gives us something to work for. I would like the caucus to be longer than last year – last year the first day they had classes and such, could we make the science caucus all day or a half day to get these things accomplished? I would like smaller discussion groups, perhaps divided by topic. I think some getting to know you, social interactions would be nice, we tend not to be the most social bunch around.

    Me and my husband are both planning on attending, and we’re both chemists.

  19. says

    Yeah, it’s a little early to get too specific, but I agree that we’d need more time. I’d like to have a brief intro where we brainstorm about general priorities and divide into categories, like physical science and biology and environment, get a feel for how big the different contingents in the group are, and build up a list. Then we’d break up into subcaucuses and leaders in each category would try to get their group to put together specific proposals and specific wording. And finally, we’d either pull together the whole group or perhaps just the leaders and compose a document that ties everything together.

    You know, kind of like how we compose proposals for the party platform at democratic caucuses.

  20. Hank Fox says

    I’m probably going off on a tangential rant here, but …

    Coming off a distasteful discussion thread on another blog, Unscrewing the Inscrutable, a thought:

    Speaking for myself, I’d like to see – somewhere, somewhen – outright discussion on the subject “Is Intelligent Design/Creationism Anti-American?”

    The IDers fire round after round at the roots of American education, American science, even our fine tradition of intellectualism, and they get off free every time.

    To those of us living through the political theater of the Bush administration, I know the previous paragraph comes off as sounding like a joke. But … that fact itself is evidence of the damage we’ve suffered at the hands of know-nothings and anti-intellectuals in the past 30 years.

    I see a breathtaking amount of hate in the IDC camp for freedom of thought and honest scientific endeavor. It strikes me often that if they get their wish – to the degree they get their wish – they will have ended America itself, turned it into a second-rate country that can do little more than dwell on its past history of scientific accomplishment. Rather than a race track of science, we’ll be a used car lot – rhetorically polishing and polishing the rust and convincing ourselves it looks new. While the real race moves elsewhere.

    It seems to me there is a single identifiable group in the U.S. which every time ends up as the opposition to science – a sneering, lying, deliberately obfuscating opposition – to things like stem cell research, the teaching of biology, global warming research, unfettered public education, and so much more.

    I like to hope most of the people involved have no idea that their stand on this issue or that has grim implications for American intellectual freedom and scientific progress. But I don’t think the rest of us can be so broad-minded as to excuse them for what they’re actually DOING.

    I picture a panel discussion on the subject – not some sort of debate between creationists and scientists, but a simple exploration of the idea, with each panelist considering a separate aspect of it – that creationism and the powerful know-nothing movement definitely threatens science, specifically American science, and there is ample reason to be afraid of it AS A NATION.

  21. says


    I’m hoping to get together a few people from diverse disciplines who will say a few words to structure the session and get us to come up with ideas on specifics: what do we want the Democrats to do about stem cell research? How about space missions, high energy physics, global warming, alternative energy, and conservation and the environment?

    is precisely why I felt PZ is the right guy for this rather thankless job. Thanks again PZ!

  22. says

    I should also note, there will likely be separate discussions/panels and caucuses (Cauci?) dedicated to the environment, energy policy, and healthcare. For example, I believe there is a tentative plan for one of Dkos’ front pagers, who is a pediatric pulmonologist, to talk about bird flu. Not that we have any problem with duplication or overlap in the science caucus. If it’s OK with PZ it’s OK with me. But keep in mind that science issues are not limited to that sole venue.

    We science geeks are extremely fortunate: The executive director of YKC, Gina Cooper, is a former math and science teacher. We have a huge champion in Gina.

  23. Paguoridea says

    Thanks for the update, Darksyde. Science geeks are extremely fortunate to have you too!!!!!

  24. Francis says

    wow, where to start?

    Dept. Ed. — add science standards (chem, bio, physics) to No Child Left Behind. Pass the No Child Held Back bill to fund excellence programs in high school.

    EPA — revise CERCLA to allow innocent parties and de minimis dischargers to act as plaintiffs in cost recovery actions.

    — give up on Clean Skies. Go to cap-and-trade on all coal plant emissions and then start applying the ratchet.

    Interior — revise the Endangered Species Act to enhance private participation, designate critical habitat concurrent with publication of recovery plans, and more.

    — impose stricter environmental standards on Reclamation’s and Corp’s operations of dams and rivers.

    — raise the fees charged to miners and ranchers on federal land. allow for multi-year environmental leases.

    — use the National Forests as greenhouse gas sinks. Build wood-burning power plants on the edges of the forests. Allow timber companies access to the good stuff only if they do their fair share of thinning and cutting of deadwood.

    DOD — tell these SOBs to start cleaning up all the groundwater they’ve polluted. Another round of BRAC is probably a good idea.

    HHS — mandatory universal health care coverage. vaccine research. fund research into implementing medical best practices.

    that’s a start. i’ll probably have more later. if there are any questions about what i wrote, the e-mail address is accurate. feel free to write.

  25. Dave Eaton says

    I especially like Randy’s idea about “Manhattan Project” for alternative energy. I’d love to see something emerge as it is being investigated, a la the open source software movement, rather than just at the end of investigations- perhaps Congress could fund the communication infrastructure to allow the same sort of data sharing that you see in PDB or other bioinformatic sources.

    I’d like to see the engine of capitalism hitched to solving problems like this. Perhaps some sort of tax incentive or carbon credit for funding open source research by industry. I keep hearing that the solutions to global warming ought to invigorate the economy- heck, as a chemist, I’d love to include economists in the discussion, especially to solve this sort of interdisciplinary problem.

  26. Cain says

    Maybe a small bit on abandoning rationality, tying in woo and whatnot into the ID topic? Obviously this isn’t the largest problem for science in America (hence the “small bit”), but it can serve useful in placing the fight against ID into a larger fight against magical thinking and illogic in general. Plus, it’s apt to piss off at least a few audience members (alties are bipartisan, unfortunately) and make things exciting.