Is There Hope for Texas after All?

| 144 Comments

I wouldn’t hold my breath, but according to an article by Stephanie Simon in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a number of Texas legislators have been put off by a science curriculum that not only permits the introduction of creationism through the back door but also raises doubts about global warming and big-bang theory. Evidently several bills have been introduced to reduce the power of the state school board. Specifically,

The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency, a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board’s control of a vast pot of school funding. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, hasn’t taken a position on specific bills, a spokeswoman said.

Furthermore,

While the Legislature debates the board’s future, candidates on the left and right are gearing up for 2010, when eight seats will be on the ballot. Results of that election could affect how the new science standards are interpreted – and which biology texts the board approves in 2011. Texas is one of about 20 states that require local districts to buy only textbooks approved by the state board.

Finally, according to Ms. Simon, Texas is gearing up for a school-board election in 2010. Eight seats will be contested, and the results of that election could determine precisely how the new science standards are implemented and what textbooks will be chosen.

Thanks to Scientists and Engineers for America for providing the link.

144 Comments

Perry will probably come out against this if there’s a chance that it might be passed. He’s up for election next year and he knows that his base of support in the Republican primary will have from the right of the party. His likely opponent will be Kay Bailey Hutchison who is a more traditional Republican (that’s a bad thing in Texas GOP terms).

Just this week Perry has invited Rush Limbaugh to relocate to Texas and will be speaking in support of the ridiculous right-wing Tea Parties tomorrow. Backing the wingnut creationists on the Texas State School Board will no doubt complete the trifecta.

there is NO hope for Texas i’m sorry, its a fact

The school board election is still science by politics. So we are fire-fighting once again there.

I do think the way forward is to strip the Texas board of it’s current powers as it is simply being abused by the people on it with their own agendas. Who, let’s face it, don’t seem to know or care much about education.

We will have to keep a close eye on this one.

tacitus,

Re: the Tea Party movement: isn’t involvement like this exactly what people in government are always blathering on about? Get involved! Speak your mind! Get out and vote! Anyway, as far as I can tell they are no more ridiculous than any of the protest groups that went after the Bush administration and its odious policies.

________________________________________

Anyway, this issue and others like it will remain politicized lightning rods in the U.S. so long as public schools dominate the K-12 educational landscape. If you are going demand that people pay for something, and it is something that they object to, then they are going to object to it.

I’m not sure transferring authority is a good solution to an incompetent board. Appointment does not guarantee sanity any more than election does. And that appointed office could easily be targeted by creationists in the future.

IMO the Texas problem is at the voter level. Board officials will support good science when the majority of their voting constituents do. Now I think most Texans would actually support sound science. I think Texas is simply learning what Kansas learned over the past few years: a vocal minority can hijack an election if the majority is not willing to express their opinion.

eric,

I would suspect that the majority of Texans are skeptical of evolution, if they are anything like the American public at large. Those are the horns of the dilemma IMHO.

The Journal article didn’t really give much information about the bills, other than mentioning that they exist. I’ve recently been tracking what’s happening in the Texas legislature regarding bills on creationism and the Board of Education. If you want the numbers of the bills, with links so you can follow their progress through the legislature, you can find them in two posts at my place: info on 4 bills is here, and one more is here.

Seward wrote -

tacitus,

Re: the Tea Party movement: isn’t involvement like this exactly what people in government are always blathering on about? Get involved! Speak your mind! Get out and vote! Anyway, as far as I can tell they are no more ridiculous than any of the protest groups that went after the Bush administration and its odious policies.

I see a couple of differences. First of all, creationism is coming up at these tea parties. Interesting. Not surprising to me; I see creationism as a social/political thing.

Second of all, the Bush administration actually was doing what the protesters said it was doing, whether you agree or disagree that it should have been protested. Claiming that the Obama administration is “fascist” or “communist” is ridiculous.

I would suspect that the majority of Texans are skeptical of evolution, if they are anything like the American public at large. Those are the horns of the dilemma IMHO.

Incorrect. First of all, skeptical implies informed doubt.

Second of all, polls that show the public to “doubt evolution” are always biased. They always refer to human evolution, force a false conflict with religion, and plant the false suggestion that there is a legitimate “controversy”.

I saw one poll once that asked people whether plants and bacteria were created in their present forms, or evolved, without all of the loading of religious language and false claims of “controversy”. Well over 70% chose “evolved”.

The Curmudgeon said:

The Journal article didn’t really give much information about the bills, other than mentioning that they exist. I’ve recently been tracking what’s happening in the Texas legislature regarding bills on creationism and the Board of Education. If you want the numbers of the bills, with links so you can follow their progress through the legislature, you can find them in two posts at my place: info on 4 bills is here, and one more is here.

Thanks. I’m bookmarking your site.

Would you or anyone know if I got this right? IIRC, Don McLeroy was elected to the board, but appointed by the governor to head it. If so, is he up for reelection next year?

If Kansas and Dover are any indication, even regions rich in religious-right population are not very impressed with the antics of anti-science activists on school boards. I would like to think that complacency, e.g. accepting media sound bites in lieu of actually checking the facts, is the main reason why ~75% of the public - which must include many liberals and non-fundamentalists - has fallen for some anti-evolution scam.

harold,

Well, I don’t think it matters whether creationism is coming up at the protests.

Second of all, the Bush administration actually was doing what the protesters said it was doing, whether you agree or disagree that it should have been protested. Claiming that the Obama administration is “fascist” or “communist” is ridiculous.

Well, from the standpoint of a surveillance society and the like the Obama administration isn’t any better than the Bush administration. Governments like the populations that they rule to be - to use a lovely term I picked up from someone else some time ago - “legible.

Would the word doubtful be better?

They always refer to human evolution, force a false conflict with religion, and plant the false suggestion that there is a legitimate “controversy”.

Well, there is a conflict between science and religion, and it isn’t a false one (and of course it is one which lies at the very heart of and genesis of human societies - the conflict between tradition, particularly of the religious variety, and reason - neither has a monopoly on truth of course). And I suspect the reason they likely refer to human evolution is likely because that is what is important to most people who disagree with the theory of evolution. And there is a “legitimate” controversy - a lot of people (not myself) find the idea of evolution to be deeply troubling on number of levels. But that is a different sort of controversy than the one you were probably referring to.

I’d love to see that poll.

Seems to me that our best defense against anti-evolution activists is to try to insure that the composition of the supreme court is at least pro-science if not pro-evolution. No matter who tries to insinuate their religious beliefs into public school science classes, from middle school teachers to BOE members to governors, they will face law suits. And even if some federal judge were to ignore the constitution, there could always be an appeal, eventually all the way up to the supreme court. If they realize that they can’t win there, they might be a little less aggressive in their illegal activities. Unfortunately, Obama will probably only have eight years to shape the court of the future.

Of course these guys probably don’t even care if they win or not. All they seem to care about is appearng to try to force their faith on others. Now why would anyone be proud of doing that?

I am glad to see that work is getting done in Texas that may moderate the influence of creationist/ID advocates on the public schools curriculum. Public schools should teach science in science class; children should not be indoctrinated about the existence of G-d one way or another in a public school. Religious issues are for parents to address with their children in religious schools or at home.

I am, however, very concerned about some of the comments above. Not everyone who is concerned about the massive spending/printing of money/debt that has been going on in this country over the past decade is right wing. It is very important to treat these issues as separate from one another, because there are many people who don’t even recognize the one-size-fits-all right-left continuum imposed on us by political ideologues. A person’s opposition to deficit spending is neither necessary nor sufficient for determining that same person’s stance on abortion or how to teach evolutionary biology.

With respect to ‘global warming’(I prefer the term global climate change for scientific reasons–although I consider the word ‘global’ to be somewhat redundant), I am equally concerned that it has become a political cause, and that politics is determining what is taught about it, rather than the science. Does the earth’s climate change? Yes, it has over the 4.6 billion years of earth history. Is the climate changing now? For those of us who take the long view, the earth’s climate is always in a state of flux, and has changed over and over again. Do the activities of living organisms play a role in changes in the earth’s dynamic systems. Yes. They always have, and some of the earliest evidence we have of this is the “oxygen revolution” in the early Paleozoic. Can we stop it from happening? Not likely. Can we predict with any accuracy the actual trajectory and consequences? This is difficult because we are talking about numerous variables, and these shifts are not always linear over long time periods. For example, certain generations experienced relatively stable weather during the Little Ice Age, and other generations experienced extremely variable weather. The climate was changing, but it would have been difficult to determine a linear trend over some of that time. How do we convey all of this to children in school? I would argue that the way that science is often taught is one root of the controversies we see. Science tends to be taught as a series of unconnected facts, and small children in particular, are often not developmentally ready to make the connection back to the theories that make sense of the facts. This becomes even more difficult when the teachers who are teaching science at the elementary level really do not grasp how science works. There are many issues of science pedagogy that need to be resolved but that are not ideological in nature.

I write from some experience. As an undergraduate and graduate student in Geology, I worked in Dr. Roger Anderson’s Paleoclimatology lab at UNM. I did pollen identification and the identification of certain microfossils from Glacial Lake Estancia. These identifications were done as part of the evidence to answer questions about the end of the Wisconsin glaciation, and the ‘pluvial’ period that coincided with it here in the Southwest. I continued some of that work as a graduate student in Biology, where my research “organism” was cryptogamic crusts and the question we were considering in our lab was soil nitrogen and desertification. In my second career, I taught science at the high school level and then as part of Gifted programming, at the elementary level.

From today’s Austin-American Statesman

Bill would limit education board’s power to set policy:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The pitched political battles over several recent State Board of Education decisions could lead the Legislature to strip the board of most of its authority to set curriculum standards and choose textbooks for public schools.….

www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/04/15/0415stateboard.html

Some background, but not a lot of detail.

How about something that causes them to be limited by expert opinion? It’s ridiculous how they ask for intelligent input, then the idiot McLeroy decides it’s his role to step in to block the experts.

Apparently the equivalents of the insane and children are allowed to decide what the children will learn. Indeed, isn’t it about time children were judging the intricacies of evolution and of global warming? Or might we actually think that the people selected and paid to do so might know more than children and ignoramuses like McLeroy?

Glen D

http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

Thanks for chiming in Elisheva. I think the “Tea Party” movement is a great idea, merely to put our Federal legislators on notice that we won’t accept irresponsible spending, period (And that is a lesson which President Obama ought to be heeding too.). Whether one is for a liberal agenda or not (which as most are aware already I most certainly am not) shouldn’t translate automatically into whether one accepts evolution as valid science (Indeed, there are other, far more prominent, conservatives and libertarians who do recognize this.):

Elisheva Levin said:

I am glad to see that work is getting done in Texas that may moderate the influence of creationist/ID advocates on the public schools curriculum. Public schools should teach science in science class; children should not be indoctrinated about the existence of G-d one way or another in a public school. Religious issues are for parents to address with their children in religious schools or at home.

I am, however, very concerned about some of the comments above. Not everyone who is concerned about the massive spending/printing of money/debt that has been going on in this country over the past decade is right wing. It is very important to treat these issues as separate from one another, because there are many people who don’t even recognize the one-size-fits-all right-left continuum imposed on us by political ideologues. A person’s opposition to deficit spending is neither necessary nor sufficient for determining that same person’s stance on abortion or how to teach evolutionary biology.

With respect to ‘global warming’(I prefer the term global climate change for scientific reasons–although I consider the word ‘global’ to be somewhat redundant), I am equally concerned that it has become a political cause, and that politics is determining what is taught about it, rather than the science. Does the earth’s climate change? Yes, it has over the 4.6 billion years of earth history. Is the climate changing now? For those of us who take the long view, the earth’s climate is always in a state of flux, and has changed over and over again. Do the activities of living organisms play a role in changes in the earth’s dynamic systems. Yes. They always have, and some of the earliest evidence we have of this is the “oxygen revolution” in the early Paleozoic. Can we stop it from happening? Not likely. Can we predict with any accuracy the actual trajectory and consequences? This is difficult because we are talking about numerous variables, and these shifts are not always linear over long time periods. For example, certain generations experienced relatively stable weather during the Little Ice Age, and other generations experienced extremely variable weather. The climate was changing, but it would have been difficult to determine a linear trend over some of that time. How do we convey all of this to children in school? I would argue that the way that science is often taught is one root of the controversies we see. Science tends to be taught as a series of unconnected facts, and small children in particular, are often not developmentally ready to make the connection back to the theories that make sense of the facts. This becomes even more difficult when the teachers who are teaching science at the elementary level really do not grasp how science works. There are many issues of science pedagogy that need to be resolved but that are not ideological in nature.

I write from some experience. As an undergraduate and graduate student in Geology, I worked in Dr. Roger Anderson’s Paleoclimatology lab at UNM. I did pollen identification and the identification of certain microfossils from Glacial Lake Estancia. These identifications were done as part of the evidence to answer questions about the end of the Wisconsin glaciation, and the ‘pluvial’ period that coincided with it here in the Southwest. I continued some of that work as a graduate student in Biology, where my research “organism” was cryptogamic crusts and the question we were considering in our lab was soil nitrogen and desertification. In my second career, I taught science at the high school level and then as part of Gifted programming, at the elementary level.

For some reason, Kwok never seemed to find reasons to complain daily on PT about Bush’s runaway irresponsible spending. Suddenly all roads lead to Rome as far as bringing up Obama’s alleged shortcomings in any context he can think of. I wonder why that is (hint: starts with an H- and ends with -ypocrisy).

The Texas Freedom Network blogged about this issue here.

http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/

For some reason, Kwok never seemed to find reasons to complain daily on PT about Bush’s runaway irresponsible spending. Suddenly all roads lead to Rome as far as bringing up Obama’s alleged shortcomings in any context he can think of. I wonder why that is (hint: starts with an H- and ends with -ypocrisy).

Don’t you know? For the last 8 years these were the same patriots who said it was treasonous to question the president.

The reason I think these tea parties are stupid is that for the vast majority of us, taxes are about to go down. The Bush income tax cut saved me about $30 a year. Obama’s should save me quite a bit more.

I’m opposed to excessive spending and excessive taxation (ask me about Minnesota’s ridiculous car registration fees sometime), but Obama and this Congress, so far, haven’t shown any plans to implement excessive spending or excessive taxation.

Seward said -

Well, I don’t think it matters whether creationism is coming up at the protests.

Although my point was that the ludicrous “tea parties” are different from the protests against Bush, I think it’s odd to declare that it “doesn’t matter”.

If a disproportionate number of people at the protests adhere to a stereotyped pseudoscience, it casts the credibility of the protests into doubt, to some degree.

Well, there is a conflict between science and religion, and it isn’t a false one (and of course it is one which lies at the very heart of and genesis of human societies - the conflict between tradition, particularly of the religious variety, and reason - neither has a monopoly on truth of course).

Bullshit. I thought of using a more polite word, but I’m afraid only “bullshit” will do. I’ve known Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Hindus, and Buddhists whose religion did not in ANY WAY conflict with science. In the case of Catholicism, Reform Judaism, many Protestant denominations, and Tibetan Buddhism, it is actually the official theological position that their religion is not at odds with science.

When there is a conflict, if a particular religious dogma denies science with respect to the physical universe, then there is indeed a monopoly on the truth - science represents the objective, universal, ecumenical way of studying physical reality. If a religious dogma says that the earth is 6000 years old and the Flintstones is reality TV, that dogma is wrong about physical reality.

I strongly support the right of people to believe as they wish, but in the common public sphere which we all share, objective scientific reality is the truth and disprovable mythology is a mere personal belief. For example, if the security video shows you shooting the convenience store clerk, and the weapon has your fingerprints on it, you can scream all you like that “the Devil” or “the Flying Spaghetti Monster” retroactively created the evidence by magic, but objective scientific evidence is what will count in court.

And I suspect the reason they likely refer to human evolution is likely because that is what is important to most people who disagree with the theory of evolution. And there is a “legitimate” controversy - a lot of people (not myself) find the idea of evolution to be deeply troubling on number of levels.

That’s not a legitimate controversy. A lot of people find the idea that the earth is roughly spherical, rather than a flat plane, to be “deeply troubling on number of levels”. At one time in history, a lot of people who accepted the spherical shape of the earth found it “deeply troubling on number of levels” that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than vice versa. However, there is no legitimate controversy in either case.

But that is a different sort of controversy than the one you were probably referring to.

I’d love to see that poll.

I could only find this one, which shows mere plurality support for evolution - perhaps because it mentions animals

http://www.harrisinteractive.com/ha[…].asp?PID=581

I have seen the other one and will keep my eye out for it. It may date back to the nineties.

Interestingly, this poll shows majority support for evolution of humans among Democrats and independants, but not among Republicans…

http://www.gallup.com/poll/108226/R[…]tionism.aspx

Both of these recent polls certainly cast the frequent claim that “75% of Americans deny evolution” into doubt, even though both are slightly biased to provoke evolution denial.

Elshiva Levin wrote -

I am, however, very concerned about some of the comments above. Not everyone who is concerned about the massive spending/printing of money/debt that has been going on in this country over the past decade is right wing.

However, all of those who mysteriously developed such a concern on a certain November Tuesday in 2008, while not having such concerns under Bush, are right wing, and deeply hypocritical to boot.

It is very important to treat these issues as separate from one another, because there are many people who don’t even recognize the one-size-fits-all right-left continuum imposed on us by political ideologues. A person’s opposition to deficit spending is neither necessary nor sufficient for determining that same person’s stance on abortion or how to teach evolutionary biology.

Indeed. Dick Cheney is on record as saying that “deficits don’t matter”, for example, while Bill Clinton had surpluses, and Obama has been at pains to clarify that his deficit spending is intended to be a temporary measure of investment and stimulus.

With respect to ‘global warming’(I prefer the term global climate change for scientific reasons–although I consider the word ‘global’ to be somewhat redundant), I am equally concerned that it has become a political cause, and that politics is determining what is taught about it, rather than the science.

Yes, indeed, climate change denial is an even better marker for right wing kool aid drinkers than evolution denial. Denial of potential human contribution to climate change is indeed a purely political cause.

Although virtually all evolution deniers are right wing, a few right wingers defend the theory of evolution. Possibly because they wrongly think it has something to do with “social Darwinism”. (It even seems plausible that one of them, John Derbyshire, has a somewhat correct understanding of evolution. Although I won’t be surprised if this isn’t the case.)

However, almost all such “scientific” rigid adherents to right wing ideology deny the possibility of human contribution to climate change. The orthodoxy is more strict when it comes to this.

For one reason or another, I have never seen a single example of a US right wing ideologue who did not deny one or more of the following -

1) Evolution 2) Human contribution to climate change 3) Cigarette/disease association 4) HIV as the cause of AIDS 5) Air pollution association with pulmonary conditions 6) Unsustainable nature of severe industrial pollution

Denial of all six is common.

I’m not offering an analysis as to why this is. I’m just pointing out a fact.

Does the earth’s climate change? Yes, it has over the 4.6 billion years of earth history. Blah blah blah…

Those who wish to read this dissembling, incoherent, disingenuous denial of the possibility of human contribution to climate change in its entirety can see it above.

Again, although denial of evolution is a fairly strong marker for right wing ideology, it has some false negatives. Some right wing ideologues at least claim to accept the theory of evolution (whether they actually understand it or not).

Denial of potential human contribution to climate change is an even better marker for right wing ideology. It has near 100% sensitivity and specificity. Almost no right winger fails to deny it, and almost no-one else does. Again, I merely observe.

Sorry, the Harris poll I linked to above shows narrow plurality “against evolution” as measured. However, it deals with human evolution. Both polls I cite show stronger “support for” evolution than is sometimes claimed.

DS Wrote:

Seems to me that our best defense against anti-evolution activists is to try to insure that the composition of the supreme court is at least pro-science if not pro-evolution.

You or someone else probably caught it by now, but “pro-science” is “pro-evolution.” But I suspect that by “not pro-evolution” you mean, as I was years ago, very pro-science yet fooled into thinking that it would be fair if students learned “both sides” the way activists want. If so, at least that “kind” of “not pro-evolution” is easily corrected.

Elisheva Levin Wrote:

Public schools should teach science in science class; children should not be indoctrinated about the existence of G-d one way or another in a public school. Religious issues are for parents to address with their children in religious schools or at home.

Sorry for repeating this ad nauseum - I’ll stop when others take up the slack - but if anyone teaches anti-evolution arguments in a religion class, without granting “equal time” to mainstream science rebuttals, that is every bit as immoral, if not illegal, as in a science class.

I’m going to break my rule against multiple posts in a row one more time to clarify some things.

I may have been a bit blunt in my irritation at denial of the possibility of human contribution to climate change.

For the record, here are the reasons why I think that such denial needs to be re-evaluated by those who espouse it.

1) The human population has increased massively in the last few centuries, to say the least, and human production of atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels has increased even more dramatically. The idea that human activity may impact the climate is inherently credible.

2) Almost all expert climatologists believe that the evidence favors human contribution to climate change.

3) The fact that the climate is prone to change over time is evidence FOR the ability of environmental factors like human activity to affect the global climate, NOT evidence against this.

4) We don’t know exactly what the impact of unmitigated human contribution to climate change will be.

5) The expected value of doing nothing about it is…

(money saved by doing nothing)*(probability that doing nothing will be okay) + (cost of something terrible happening)*(probability that something terrible will happen if we do nothing, that wouldn’t have happened if we had tried to modify our behavior).

Now, “money saved by doing nothing” is not necessarily negligible, but “cost of something terrible happening” could be truly astronomical, and probably would be. That’s why, even if you think that the fourth term is low, but admit it’s non-zero, the expected value of doing nothing is surely far more negative than the expected value of trying to modify our behavior.

It makes perfect sense to question the degree of human contribution to climate change, but what doesn’t make sense is to argue that we shouldn’t try at all to minimize our own possible contributions to unpredictable and potentially quite unpleasant climate change.

As others have pointed out, human contribution deniers are often not even internally coherent. They often start by arguing that there can be no human contribution, then argue that human contribution exists but is good, then argue that human contribution exists but it’s too late so we shouldn’t do anything anyway - sometimes in the same conversation.

This type of denial doesn’t help anything.

If there is a significant non-zero probability, even a low one, that human activity is contributing to adverse climate change, then it makes sense to take reasonable measure to reduce that contribution.

As a Christian, I simply can not understand why my fellow believers are always opposed to global warming. I can understand opposing evolution, that calls into question the nature of the Bible. But where in the Bible does it say man can’t cause the climate to change? I just don’t get why this became a religious issue.

Well, Texas is talking about secession from the Union to avoid “over bearing government”, so I’m sure they think these science standards are just part of the oppressive federal oppression, that is federal.

Pete said:

As a Christian, I simply can not understand why my fellow believers are always opposed to global warming. I can understand opposing evolution, that calls into question the nature of the Bible. But where in the Bible does it say man can’t cause the climate to change? I just don’t get why this became a religious issue.

Pete,

I would hazard a guess that it’s also from Genesis, the charge to have dominion over the earth and to rule and subdue it. Global warming indicates that we can’t just do we as please. Interestingly, the “creation care” movement is also based on Genesis - it’s all in the interpretation.

Back to Texas, I think non-partisan school board elections and elimination of straight party-line voting would do a world of good.

Pete said:

As a Christian, I simply can not understand why my fellow believers are always opposed to global warming. I can understand opposing evolution, that calls into question the nature of the Bible. But where in the Bible does it say man can’t cause the climate to change? I just don’t get why this became a religious issue.

Global warming isn’t really a religious issue; it’s more like a free enterprise issue, which is traditionally Republican. It’s an historical accident (and a long story) that the creationists, who were once mostly Southern Democrats, ended up drifting to the Republican party. A couple of generations ago they’d be William Jennings Bryan followers.

So although both creationism and opposition to government controls regarding global warming are now associated with Republicans, it’s often different people taking those positions, and for very different reasons. Individual Republicans may surprise you.

It does seem strange that global warming has been drawn into the penumbra of the core issues like prayer (and effective sex education) in school, stem cell research, abortion, gay rights, and creationism. Offhand, I can’t think of another issue where the relationship to fundamentalist doctrine is so hazy and dubious. But it seems closely associated for some reason stronger than vague Republican-leaning economic nervousness.

Ok, I really have other things to do besides blogging. :)

Seward said: And I would respond that people to the best of my understanding do not bifurcate the world that way. I think such distinctions are artificial and do not describe accurately how people work by themselves and in interaction with others.

You really, honestly think that “is it ethical to charge $40 for an oil change” is a question of mechanics? That its a question about how the car works? You really honestly think that “is it ethical to use stem cells in research” is a quetion about how cells work?

eric,

You really, honestly think that “is it ethical to charge $40 for an oil change” is a question of mechanics?

I think the problem is the way that you are framing the question. It isn’t whether it is a question of mechanics, in other words. It is a question of the interaction between the two. I think you are arguing for a “purity” of human action (and human action is really in part is what is at the guts of what we are discussing) that doesn’t comport with my experience of how human beings work.

Like I wrote, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

GuyeFauxe -

The idea that science is indistinct from the endeavors of its individual actors (scientist) is a leftist philosophy.

Actually, I was going to comment on this before you brought it up.

I was going to note that the equation of post-modern, relativistic, constructivist, etc, philosophy with “liberalism” is utter nonsense, and that it’s association with “leftism” is also incorrect.

I think that there may be an association between convoluted philosophies and political extremism. Sometimes that extremism may take the form of Marxism or Maoism, other times it may be right wing extremism. I hypothesize that if such an association exists, it may be because political extremists always need to disparage or deny certain aspects of “traditional” ethical systems, and need some sort of rationale for that.

As a plain old fashioned bleeding heart liberal, I’m almost as far from a Marxist as I am from a right wing authoritarian. Ostensibly, I should like Marxists better because they at least oppose discrimination and claim to want to meet everyone’s physical needs. However, I support democratic elections, guaranteed basic human rights, the existence of private property, regulated free markets, strong freedom of expression, and so on, so I’m extremely far from either.

Seward has revealed himself to be a right winger multiple times now, both directly and indirectly.

eric said:

Seward said: And I would respond that people to the best of my understanding do not bifurcate the world that way. I think such distinctions are artificial and do not describe accurately how people work by themselves and in interaction with others.

You really honestly think that “is it ethical to use stem cells in research” is a quetion about how cells work?

I think, if I understand Seward, that he thinks that, “is it ethical to use stem cells in research” is a scientific question. I clearly disagree as I see the two conditions - the study of how a cell works and any applications that may come from that understanding vs the ethical question of whether using a stem cell in research is equivalent to killing a living person - as mutually exclusive, with one being a scientific perspective and the other being a philosphical perspective. I see the DI mixing those two conditions all the time and I find it appalling. That said, there’s nothing further to discuss on this point in this thread as far as I can tell.

harold,

I’m not quite sure if you are saying this, but if you are I would just note that relativism and subjectivism aren’t post-modern inventions. They’ve been with us since the pre-Socratics and they were instrumental in breaking into the modern worldview, even if extreme subjectivism was in fact incorrect.

I am not a right-winger; I’m a libertarian.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_wing

There are fairly clear differences between libertarians and right-wingers; one of course being the adherence to set social hierarchies (which libertarians do not call for); another being the focus (or lack there of in the case of libertarians) on social control. Libertarians at heart emphasize choice and voluntary association. I would note that modern liberals do not emphasize either choice or voluntary association; they emphasize government planning.

Robin and eric,

Let me use an example of my own. Would the government allow research and would scientists risk their careers on research into drugs which merely enhance human emotions, perception, etc.? If not, why not?

If not, that means that we are stuck with what is legal - alcohol and tobacco - and what is illegal. I would argue that the general traditional mindset that many Americans have about pleasure - a sort of puritanism if you will - lays at the heart of why the government won’t allow this research and why most scientists wouldn’t do it in the first place. Or is that we’ve done a slew of research on the subject and found that the only two remotely safe and effective types of drugs are alcohol and tobacco? I guarantee you that in the U.S. it is not that we’ve done the research. I would suggest that similar things occur whenever science confronts a politically or culturally sensitive topic or rather a topic of controversy.

harold,

Now are you done accusing me of things that I am clearly not?

harold,

Yes, I think we can disagree politely without resorting to some of the risible flaming I have seen elsewhere, most notably at Pharyngula (Incidentally, I didn’t warrant the treatment that PZ bestowed upon me. I know others who agree.):

harold said:

John Kwok -

One last message, as we’ve drifted well off topic.

We’ll have to agree to disagree quite strongly (albeit cordially) on this issue.

No, I haven’t changed my position at all regarding a “law enforcement approach to terrorism”. I realized how bad it was during the first Clinton administration when the Clinton Justice Department opted to try Ramzi Yusef and his collaborators in the first WTC terrorist attack in a civilian court. Had the Clinton administration demonstrated a bit more “spine” and conducted itself in a more appropriate manner - as strongly suggested by former White House advisor Dick Morris -

To me, what takes “spine” is to maintain and defend freedom and the rule of law, even when frightened or angry.

then maybe, just maybe, neither the USS Cole terrorist attack or the 9/11 attacks on both WTC and the Pentagon would have happened:

I don’t know why you believe this, as the first WTC attackers were convicted and had nothing to do with these attacks.

I’ll note again that I don’t consider incrementally greater safety from terrorism to be worth the abandonment of my freedom, but I also don’t think that eliminating freedom does make people safer.

Actually, terrorism and crime tend to be higher in dictatorships. The safest countries on earth tend to be liberal democracies (there are a few rare partial exceptions like Singapore). And all liberal democracies tend to be fairly safe. Even the US and South Africa are very safe countries compared to many parts of the world.

Let me emphasize that I don’t wish to in any way minimize the incredible toll in human suffering that the USS Cole and embassy attacks took. I believe in extensive efforts to prevent such things.

If Clinton had gone on the offensive, by launching as vigorous a military assault on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as he did, for example, against Serbia, then we may have avoided Al Qaeda terrorist attacks like the USS Cole bombing and, of course, 9/11.

Where I think Obama may be going astray is by thinking of the ongoing Somali piracy problem as a “law enforcement” issue. Instead, he should react in a manner akin to how Jefferson and Madison (the wars against the Barbary states) and Bush (Afghanistan and Iraq) have reacted.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Seward said: I think you are arguing for a “purity” of human action (and human action is really in part is what is at the guts of what we are discussing) that doesn’t comport with my experience of how human beings work.

Not at all! I am arguing that there is this subject called “mechanics” and that therefore one can make a distinction with a difference between “mechanical” questions and other sorts of questions. And I’m arguing that there is this subject called “science,” and therefore one can make a distinction with a difference between “scientific” questions and other sorts of questions. “Ethical” is an other sort.

I would argue that the general traditional mindset that many Americans have about pleasure - a sort of puritanism if you will - lays at the heart of why the government won’t allow this research [into perceptual/emotional enhancement] and why most scientists wouldn’t do it in the first place.

Great example. It is very easy to see the real difference between a question like “is it right to create new drugs” and “what are the physiological effects of alcohol.” Its how we go about answering those questions. At the risk of being too trite, you answer the first question with a hand count and the second question with an MRI. Most people recognize that it would be pretty idiotic to attempt to answer the second question with a hand count, or answer the first question by using an MRI.

So if you argue that there is a distinction without a difference between the two questions, I will say baloney. One real difference is in how you go about answering them. The difference in methodology used to answer them means one is a question for science and the other is not.

eric,

Well, I don’t believe that you can separate the two things; particularly when it comes to controversial issues. Perhaps I can amend my remarks to refer to controversial science, but I don’t that makes much of a difference.

At the risk of being too trite, you answer the first question with a hand count and the second question with an MRI.

And what happens when the MRI isn’t done because of the handcount?* Scientists are not really independent of those sorts of considerations, particularly on controversial issues.

You see, I think we are arguing past one another and emphasizing two really different things. I don’t really know how to articulate what is going on more specifically than that, but that is my gut impression.

*Off topic, I would love it if there were actually a handcount on the drug war; we’d see a dramatic reduction in its scale if that were case. So you are being somewhat trite.

Sorry, I can’t help adding to my last comment but I’ll try and bring us back on topic.

Seward, if you want to know why the methodological distinction between the two types of questions is important (i.e. a distinction WITH a difference), you only have to consider Texas creationism. They would be all too happy to teach H.S. students that biology questions can be answered with a hand count, or by an appeal to authority. Creationism is what happens when you do not draw a distinction between scientific questions and nonscientific ones, or broaden the definition of “scientific question” to include ethics, morality, spirituality, etc…

Seward said: At the risk of being too trite, you answer the first question with a hand count and the second question with an MRI.

And what happens when the MRI isn’t done because of the handcount?

What happens is - you have answered the ethical question but not the scientific one. Ta da!

eric,

They would be all too happy to teach H.S. students that biology questions can be answered with a hand count, or by an appeal to authority.

And my point is that this is what happens all the time in science in a number of areas.

Creationism is what happens when you do not draw a distinction between scientific questions and nonscientific ones, or broaden the definition of “scientific question” to include ethics, morality, spirituality, etc…

And I am suggesting that such a distinction is not possible to make, particularly with regard to controversial issues. I know that there is Gouldian separate spheres idea that is popular (which is really just a restating of Spinoza in many ways), but I do not find it be a credible explanation of how tradition and science interact. Some of the time one has to choose one or the other.

Seward said:

Robin and eric,

Let me use an example of my own. Would the government allow research and would scientists risk their careers on research into drugs which merely enhance human emotions, perception, etc.? If not, why not?

If not, that means that we are stuck with what is legal - alcohol and tobacco - and what is illegal. I would argue that the general traditional mindset that many Americans have about pleasure - a sort of puritanism if you will - lays at the heart of why the government won’t allow this research and why most scientists wouldn’t do it in the first place. Or is that we’ve done a slew of research on the subject and found that the only two remotely safe and effective types of drugs are alcohol and tobacco? I guarantee you that in the U.S. it is not that we’ve done the research. I would suggest that similar things occur whenever science confronts a politically or culturally sensitive topic or rather a topic of controversy.

Whether the government would allow research into a given field is a polical/legal question and has nothing to do with science. Whether a scientist choses to break the law to do research into something illegal is an ethical/legal question and has nothing to do with science. I don’t see what this example you’ve provided has to do with science.

Seward said:

Some of the time one has to choose one or the other.

I can’t fathom a valid example where this would ever be the case.

Robin,

Well, if that is the case we may just be engaged in logomachy then.

I can’t fathom a valid example where this would ever be the case.

Historically it has been quite common; heck, Socrates died as a result of such a choice.

Seward said: They would be all too happy to teach H.S. students that biology questions can be answered with a hand count, or by an appeal to authority.

And my point is that this is what happens all the time in science in a number of areas.

Examples? “Students, raise your hand if you think air is 99% Oxygen. Most of you do? Well, it must be so!”

I have no idea what sort of science you’ve seen happen, but I have never been in a lab, seminar, lecture, meeting, or read a journal correspondence where differing scientists decided the validity of some scientific observation using a vote.

And I am suggesting that such a distinction is not possible to make, particularly with regard to controversial issues.

Sure it is. Whether the earth is warming up is a scientific question. What to do about it is not. There, I just made the distinction on a controversial issue. (What is) The impact of radioactive isotopes on human tissue and the environment is a scientific question. Whether to build nuclear reactors is not. BAM! Another one. Whether Pluto clears its orbital path is a scientific question. Whether it meets the definition of “planet” is not. BAM! What is the surface area of the head of a pin is a scientific question. How many angels can dance on it is not.

There, I just did four impossible things before dinner. :)

eric,

I figured it was obvious that I was talking about more than what happens in public schools; if that wasn’t clear, sorry.

I have no idea what sort of science you’ve seen happen, but I have never been in a lab, seminar, lecture, meeting, or read a journal correspondence where differing scientists decided the validity of some scientific observation using a vote.

So you are suggesting that social pressure and all the normal things we know about human interactions don’t exist amongst scientists? If so, you are little too optimistic IMHO.

Whether the earth is warming up is a scientific question. What to do about it is not.

Whether it is warming up and for what reasons is also a political, philosophical, etc. question; or at the very least, those issues are pretty deeply imbedded in how people, even scientists, think about the subject. I think that is pretty obvious given what I have seen regarding the supporters and detractors of such. Then again, the science regarding evolution far more clear, substantiated, etc. than is the science associated with climate change (AGW or otherwise).

Whether to build nuclear reactors is not.

Which depends on what one thinks about the science of reactor safety.

Seward said: So you are suggesting that social pressure and all the normal things we know about human interactions don’t exist amongst scientists?

No, I am suggesting that you can distinguish science questions from other types of questions (ethics, theology, etc..) even though scientists have ethical opinions. You said it was “not possible” to make a distinction.

I noticed you stayed away from my last example, but that one is really the most telling. Are you really going to defend the position that it is not possible to decide whether ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ is a science question?

Whether it is warming up and for what reasons is also a political, philosophical, etc. question; or at the very least, those issues are pretty deeply imbedded in how people, even scientists, think about the subject.

The problem is that you are conflating “embedded in how people think” with “is science.” That people have embedded biases or opinions does not make their biases or opinions science. I have a philosophical opinion about car pollution. I think its bad. Does my opinion count as atmospheric chemistry? No!

Whether to build nuclear reactors is not. Which depends on what one thinks about the science of reactor safety.

Yes but so what? You told me it was not possible to distinguish science questions from non-science questions. But I did it. Now, you seem to be retreating into saying people use science to inform their non-science decisions. Okay, I can agree with that.

Seward -

You are a right winger. I know it. You know it.

“Libertarian” is what right wingers who want a “cool intellectual rebel” image call themselves.

If there were any libertarians who actually believed in libertarianism, they would have been the most adamant opponents of the Bush administration.

The silence was deafening.

Nobody is fooled any more.

All of your “philosophical” arguments are designed to excuse your more honest, overtly authoritarian fanatic fellow travelers when they do the very thing that libertarians ostensibly oppose the most (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!), violate constitutional rights.

A friend of mine sums up people like you in a pithy phrase.

“Anything for a flat tax”.

You’ll always support the authoritian figure who wants to halve the gruel ration at the orphanage.

Just admit it. All that cognitive dissonance is taking its toll on you. Liberate yourself, “libertarian”.

harold,

I am a registered Republican with strong Libertarian biases, who has a very sound, quite personal, reason to find Bush objectionable (Since his Department of Defense falsely accused, and then put on trial, one of my cousins, then a Muslim US Army chaplain, for the “crime” of “treason”.). Where exactly do I fit in your analysis:

harold said:

Seward -

You are a right winger. I know it. You know it.

“Libertarian” is what right wingers who want a “cool intellectual rebel” image call themselves.

If there were any libertarians who actually believed in libertarianism, they would have been the most adamant opponents of the Bush administration.

The silence was deafening.

Nobody is fooled any more.

All of your “philosophical” arguments are designed to excuse your more honest, overtly authoritarian fanatic fellow travelers when they do the very thing that libertarians ostensibly oppose the most (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!), violate constitutional rights.

A friend of mine sums up people like you in a pithy phrase.

“Anything for a flat tax”.

You’ll always support the authoritian figure who wants to halve the gruel ration at the orphanage.

Just admit it. All that cognitive dissonance is taking its toll on you. Liberate yourself, “libertarian”.

Seward said:

Robin,

Well, if that is the case we may just be engaged in logomachy then.

Except we’re not arguing about the use of terms, we’re arguing about what activities actually constitute science and what doesn’t.

I can’t fathom a valid example where this would ever be the case.

Historically it has been quite common; heck, Socrates died as a result of such a choice.

Socrates’ death didn’t have anything to do with such a choice - it had to do with Athenian legal precedent based on their historic perspective - so I have no idea why you think this is a valid example.

Seward said:

eric,

I figured it was obvious that I was talking about more than what happens in public schools; if that wasn’t clear, sorry.

I have no idea what sort of science you’ve seen happen, but I have never been in a lab, seminar, lecture, meeting, or read a journal correspondence where differing scientists decided the validity of some scientific observation using a vote.

So you are suggesting that social pressure and all the normal things we know about human interactions don’t exist amongst scientists? If so, you are little too optimistic IMHO.

Of course such things occur among scientists, but as noted previously, that doesn’t make such things science in any way shape or form. Indeed, such “social pressure and all the normal things we know about human interactions” exist among musicians too, but that doesn’t suddenly make that stuff music

Whether the earth is warming up is a scientific question. What to do about it is not.

Whether it is warming up and for what reasons is also a political, philosophical, etc. question; or at the very least, those issues are pretty deeply imbedded in how people, even scientists, think about the subject. I think that is pretty obvious given what I have seen regarding the supporters and detractors of such. Then again, the science regarding evolution far more clear, substantiated, etc. than is the science associated with climate change (AGW or otherwise).

Whether the Earth is warming up and for what reasons is definitely NOT a political, philosophical, or any other kind of question other than a scientific one. Therein lies the problem with your viewpoint. Politicians, philosophers, theists, news reporters, and your garden variety wackos may all be making pronouncements on such, but that doesn’t mean they are valid pronouncements. THAT is the heart of the issue right there in fact - the very idea that the folks’ statements on Evolution (or any science) from a place like the DI are automatically valid because, well, scientific issues encompass political, philosophical, and theistic perspectives. Except they don’t. That’s the key. Science doesn’t include any of that. Thus, to say that comments about evolution from apologists are scientific because they broach scientific concepts is just hogwash.

Whether to build nuclear reactors is not.

Which depends on what one thinks about the science of reactor safety.

Oble: Maybe, but that doesn’t make the decision on whether to build a nuclear reactor science. That is where you are just plain wrong.

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