Gallagher gets it?

The name “Richard Gallagher” may be familiar to some readers. Gallagher is the editor of The Scientist, and last year, somewhat naively suggested that the evolution/creation “debate” was actually a good thing (you can find the text of his editorial at this site). Both PZ and Jason Rosenhouse took him to task for the editorial (and Gallagher replied, and PZ shot back). The next month, The Scientist then published a number of letters responding to the editorial, and Gallagher also wrote a reply (republished here by the Discovery Institute). Gallagher ended that piece with this quote:

Critical thinking has no place in science class? Really? That bodes incredibly poorly for the future of science teaching. We’re shelving our best weapon against intelligent design, and I find it incredibly sad that scientists who support evolution so strongly would have us shield growing young minds from the “dangers” of critical thinking.

If that’s not dogma, I don’t know what is.

…which of course doesn’t really address the arguments PZ and Jason had put forth–no one wants to “shield minds” from critical thinking at all.

So, of course it’s a bit depressing to see an editor of a life science magazine make strawman mischaracterizations of his fellow scientists who approach the issue differently (and, perhaps, have spent a bit more time in the trenches than Gallagher has). But Gallagher’s editorial in the July issue (“Zealots for Science”) makes me think that, maybe, hopefully, he’s starting to get it.

Gallagher comments on an excerpt from Lee Silver’s book, Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life, which was printed in The Scientist:

Silver focuses on the widespread concept of Mother Nature as a benevolent super-system that nurtures and shelters all life forms. He points out the dangerous mindset that secretly takes root from this seemingly harmless belief: If Mother Nature is always good – attaching “good” and “bad” notions to it at all is symptomatic of the problem – then human interference is bad. And more subtly and as misguided, anything “natural” must be good. What I come up against are the practical spinoffs of this belief, among them a devotion to all things organic, an embracing of holistic therapies, and support for rights equal to those of humans for all animals.

These ideas are invariably presented in an open, friendly, unthreatening way, and they have an immediate easygoing appeal that is lacking in the sterner, more rigid religions. There’s an invented tradition, as well, to back up every belief so new recruits gain a sense of history and place as well as of well-being.

But don’t get the impression that these budding New Agers are a soft touch. There’s a flinty core to this fluffy ball of spiritualism. While your spiritualist acquaintance is more than happy to hear about ecosystem research on the robustness of multicrop farming, mention equally well-established ideas about the advantages and safety of genetic modification and you will be met with disbelief. Describe the potential of genetically modified foods to secure the world’s food supply and you’ll be derided for being so easily fooled by corporations. The bottom line: If you buy into Mother Earth it’s to the exclusion of other possibilities, there’s no place for evidence, rationality, or skepticism. And that raises a big red flag.

Gallagher gives two examples of this “mother earth sensibility” that threaten biomedicine. First is the use of “alternative” medicines that 1) haven’t been shown to be effective, and 2) may cause patients to delay or forgo mainstream treatments, thereby worsening their condition. Second, he mentions that this type of thinking is also behind the “animal rights” movement, to “do away with animal experiments, and even animal experimenters.”

He concludes:

The threat to science from what Silver calls the spiritual left may already have overtaken the threat from the religious right. Life scientists are quick to jump on maneuvers by the right to replace scientific ideas with religious ideas in teaching. Reaction is well coordinated and the arguments (e.g., against intelligent design) are compelling.

Now it’s time to apply our collective energy to counter the rise in mysticism and fall of skeptical inquiry. The first step: Find out how many in your circle of acquaintances, including your students, are already operating in this mindset. As a second step you could do worse than to proffer copies of Silver’s book. Once the core weakness of the spiritual-left mindset is exposed, a more rational viewpoint might ensue.

This affects us all: We need to be zealots in hunting out this contagious and pernicious viewpoint, labeling it as such, and addressing it wherever and whenever it is encountered.

And while I agree with many of his points, I still think he’s being a bit naive and overly optimistic. In his intelligent design editorial, he urged a “level playing field” and expressed “little doubt that the open-minded students of the heart of America will see the strength of evolution as a theory.” I think he should have been more bold in that editorial, labeleing anti-evolution views also as “contagious and pernicious;” perhaps then he’d better see PZ and Jason’s points of view. In this new editorial, he doesn’t suggest any kind of level field, but I still think it will take a lot more than a book “exposing” the spiritual left mindset in order to get most of these people to change.

I’ll note here that I’ve not read Silver’s book. It may be great, it may not be. The excerpt included in The Scientist is interesting background, but being such a small sliver of the book, it doesn’t give me a lot to go on. But from dealing with some who seem to espouse this mindset here and elsewhere, I don’t know how much stock they’d put in a book written by a molecular biologist (which Silver is, at Princeton). As some of you have probably noticed, there’s a lot of “I don’t trust any scientists” type of thinking in the “spiritual left.” They claim that scientists lie to them about AIDS, vaccines, cancer treatments, and essentially all of biomedicine is flawed and faulty; that we’re somehow all working in collusion to eliminate “threats” to the income of pharmaceutical companies; that we won’t allow studies that “prove” how vitamins or herbal remedies are miracle cures to be published, and on and on. The whole mindset is distrustful of science and scientists, and are unlikely to be swayed by a book by one of “us,” no matter how good the arguments may seem.

Still, this time, I agree with a lot of his editorial. I think it’s important to address these types of things, even if they may sound totally loony to many of us with a science background; even if we get accused of all kinds of things, and insulted in 20 different new and creative ways (or, just old and boring ones) from those whose beliefs we challenge. But I don’t expect it to change a lot of minds, because many of those who hold to these “alternative” viewpoints don’t do so because it’s rational, be they on the left or right side of the political spectrum. Even in Silver’s characterization, it’s there: the “spiritual left.” Nothing rational about it. What I hope to do with some of these posts here, and what I hope others who take up Gallagher’s call will be able to do, is educate the fence-sitters; those people who may have heard in passing about how “genetically modified food is so terrible,” or how “vaccines are poison,” or that “evolution is a theory in crisis,” etc., but haven’t taken the time to investigate those claims. So many out there just don’t realize how many of our friends, our neighbors, our family, have “…a world-view rather at odds” with the findings of science. Having a discussion with them, or passing along a book or two, may not always work, but it’s a start.

Comments

  1. #1 Tom English
    July 20, 2006

    There is a crucial difference between the “spiritual left” and the “Christian right.” The spiritual left is not, to my knowledge, trying to claim that its beliefs are science and to get them taught in public school science classes. The Christian right, on the other hand, believes that science “should tell the truth,” and that the truth is what is written in the Bible. It is engaged in political action to gain its unscientific ideas a hearing as science in public schools.

    In other words, there is a difference between merely declining to endorse scientific beliefs and actively attempting to smuggle unscientific beliefs into public science education.

  2. #2 DragonScholar
    July 20, 2006

    Personally, I think the idea of a defined “spiritual left” is poppycock. It sounds like he’s trying to whip up an equivalent of the religious right so he can take it on – as opposed to taking on the real threat to science.

    I know plenty of people that would fit his fuzzy “spiritual left” idea (hell, *I* may). Not a one of them sides with the Creationists, are against Stem Cell Research, or wants the “controversy” to be taught, and they’re far more amiable to reason.

  3. #3 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    Not a one of them sides with the Creationists, are against Stem Cell Research, or wants the “controversy” to be taught, and they’re far more amiable to reason.

    He’s not conflating them with creationists–they’re both anti-science in different ways. The tie-in with creationism was from his previous editorial on the topic.

  4. #4 Tulse
    July 20, 2006

    It sounds like he’s trying to whip up an equivalent of the religious right so he can take it on

    I agree that this appears to be the “fair and balanced” gambit that gets played out so often. “Sure the Right may deny global warming and want to outlaw stem cell research, but the Left likes organic food! See, they’re just the same!”

    While I think it’s true that the Left (if one can speak of such a monolithic entity) has its share of irrationality, I don’t see PETA with a large voting block in Congress. It is the Religious Right that has the political power these days — worrying about tolerance of homeopathy is far different from fighting to outlaw contraception.

    And on one specific point, while I don’t support the violent tactics of the more radical animal rights organizations, it seems to me that, contra Gallagher, it requires “spiritualism” to claim a unique place for humans in the universe, and to deny that whatever special capacities we possess are also shared among many other organisms to which we are related by evolution. It seems completely “irrational” and “spiritual” to claim that, morally speaking, there is a gulf between homo sapiens and all other organisms, and that gorillas are more similar to crabgrass than to humans. If humans don’t have souls, then all we have to go on for making ethical distinctions is the capacities that we are endowed with by biology, and there are plenty of other critters on this planet that have very similar capacities.

  5. #5 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    What I come up against are the practical spinoffs of this belief, among them a devotion to all things organic, an embracing of holistic therapies, and support for rights equal to those of humans for all animals.

    Uh, this Gallagher guy is a jerk and most likely a Republican jerk.

    Let’s look at his smears: “a devotion to all things organic.” So what? People can be devoted to anything: organic food, sex, drugs, rock and roll. What does it matter to Gallagher? If I prefer to buy an organic apple grown without pesticides to one that is grown with pesticides, why should Gallagher care? And why is this the “spiritual left’s” problem? It looks to me like a lot of corporations are recognizing that organic products are desirable and products with an excess of artificial chemicals do, in fact, present medical issues for some people.

    As to the “embracing of holistic therapies,” again: so what? People should be free to do whatever they want. When they start demanding that homeopathy be taught in public schools, Gallagher should be sure to let us know. I’ll be concered then. Is the Federal Government wasting money investigating bogus “alternative medicine” therapies? No doubt. Once that work is finished, the therapies that are proven to be bogus can be officially ignored. For example, third party prayer is now ineffective as far as the sick person is concerned. I can point to the research and tell anyone who claims otherwise that they are full of crap.

    As for support for rights for all animals equal to humans, I am not aware of any serious animal rights group who has ever stated this as their position. So Gallagher is just attacking strawmen.

    Basically, this Gallagher dude sounds like a Republican who is making apologist arguments on behalf of conservative and admittedly anti-science religious groups. Comparing the fundies (who overwhelmingly vote Republican) and their anti-science rhetoric to confused scientifically illiterate anti-technology groups who are probably equally represented among both ends of the political spectrum is simply off base.

    Whether people should eat or grow more organic vs. genetically engineered foods and whether it’s right to impose the indisputed risks associated with mandatory vaccination on people and whether animals should be treated more humanely — these are political issues that involve genuine scientific disputes of varying depth. Whether life on earth was “designed” by “mysterious alien beings”, in contrast, is pure propagandistic bullshxt. The idea that this bullshxt should be taught to kids in schools as a scientific challenge to “Darwinist dogma” is disgusting.

    When Gallagher says, “The threat to science from what Silver calls the spiritual left may already have overtaken the threat from the religious right,” the odds that he is making his errors unintentionally suddenly become very slim.

    He’s a jerk.

  6. #6 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    I posted this at Panda’s Thumb, and am copying it here because it addresses some of Tulse’s points regarding PETA voting bloc, etc.:

    I agree that the “spiritual left” is a lot more nebulous than the “religious right,” but I disagree that there’s not a real threat there. Indeed, a lot of biomedical scientists would say that these types of beliefs (natural is always better; medicines, especially vaccines, are bad; animals should never be used in research; HIV doesn’t cause AIDS; etc.) are a bigger threat to science than even ID, because they directly affect the health and well-being of millions of people every day.

    DragonScholar asks:

    I mean I meditate and I like recycling and I’m a Democrat, am *I* spiritual left?

    What Gallagher (and Silver, I presume) are talking about aren’t just the stereotypical “hippie, granola” types. You mention meditation, and that’s a good example. Lots of people meditate, for various reasons. But are you promoting meditation as a cure for cancer? Multiple sclerosis? Acne? :) Especially in lieu of other, established treatments, and in light of studies that show there’s no improvement between groups that use meditation and those that don’t? That’s the difference.

    While many on the right are anti-science because they believe it conflicts with their beliefs about god, there are those on the left who are very into conspiracy theories, the “don’t trust the government” mentality left over from the 60s, I guess. And especially with our current leaders, anything and everything is because of “big business,” and an oft-cited scapegoat is “big pharma.” Therefore, ineffective but “natural” herbal remedies are preferred to effective but “pharma-tainted” drugs, even something as basic as antibiotics. Scientists are distrusted because many of us receive government funding via the NIH, and therefore, we’re also “tainted” since government–>controlled by “big pharma”–>scientists are pharmaceutical shills. I see this time and time again on my blog from people who disbelieve all AIDS research, vaccine research, even influenza research. They’re more fragmented and don’t have a funding powerhouse like the DI to unite them under the “big tent”, but they’re out there, and they’re also a threat to science.

    I’m adding this in response to Tulse’s specific quote:

    I agree that this appears to be the “fair and balanced” gambit that gets played out so often. “Sure the Right may deny global warming and want to outlaw stem cell research, but the Left likes organic food! See, they’re just the same!”

    But no one’s saying it’s just ’cause “the Left likes organic food” or anything that’s just a personal preference. It’s one thing to say you don’t want to eat GM food, for example; that’s fine and dandy. It’s another to misinform about studies carried out on its safety (or to suggest positive results were only obtained because “big business” bought the scientists). *This* is where the threat comes in.

    I think it’s a mistake to villainize “the right” as an entity, and then turn around and give those who are anti-science on “the left” a free pass.

  7. #7 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Tara

    What I hope to do with some of these posts here, and what I hope others who take up Gallagher’s call will be able to do, is educate the fence-sitters; those people who may have heard in passing about how “genetically modified food is so terrible,” or how “vaccines are poison,” or that “evolution is a theory in crisis,” etc., but haven’t taken the time to investigate those claims.

    What about the long-term “dangers” of smoking marijuana occasionally? The “spiritual left” needs to be set straight about the demon weed and reefer madness.

  8. #8 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    Gotta run but a few quick comments:

    When they start demanding that homeopathy be taught in public schools, Gallagher should be sure to let us know.

    A bit of a strawman yourself here? Obviously that’s not going to happen, unless we start medical training in the 3rd grade.

    Is the Federal Government wasting money investigating bogus “alternative medicine” therapies? No doubt. Once that work is finished, the therapies that are proven to be bogus can be officially ignored. For example, third party prayer is now ineffective as far as the sick person is concerned. I can point to the research and tell anyone who claims otherwise that they are full of crap.

    But then you come to the whack-a-mole problem. Creationists are obviously full of crap and we have all kinds of research to back it up; has that made it go away?

    As for support for rights for all animals equal to humans, I am not aware of any serious animal rights group who has ever stated this as their position. So Gallagher is just attacking strawmen.

    Who do you consider a “serious animal rights group?” Are we going for a no-true-scotsman fallacy here? He actually quotes the singer Morrisey as saying: “I understand why…so-called laboratory scientists are repaid with violence. It is the only language they understand.” How about ALF? Especially in the UK, this has gotten crazy, with researchers being physically attacked and even their families threatened. Here at U of Iowa, labs were broken into, animals released, experiments destroyed. Isn’t this anti-science as well?

    Basically, this Gallagher dude sounds like a Republican who is making apologist arguments on behalf of conservative and admittedly anti-science religious groups. Comparing the fundies (who overwhelmingly vote Republican) and their anti-science rhetoric to confused scientifically illiterate anti-technology groups who are probably equally represented among both ends of the political spectrum is simply off base.

    Who’s “admittedly anti-science?” All these groups say they’re “protecting” science. Look at the DI’s current campaign in Kansas, “Stand up for Science.

    I don’t know about Gallagher, but I’m definitely no Republican. Could be that I’m a jerk (goodness knows enough people on here have mentioned it), but these activities certainly concern me as well.

    Whether people should eat or grow more organic vs. genetically engineered foods and whether it’s right to impose the indisputed risks associated with mandatory vaccination on people and whether animals should be treated more humanely — these are political issues that involve genuine scientific disputes of varying depth. Whether life on earth was “designed” by “mysterious alien beings”, in contrast, is pure propagandistic bullshxt. The idea that this bullshxt should be taught to kids in schools as a scientific challenge to “Darwinist dogma” is disgusting.

    And I agree with your last quote, but I think you’re making the attacks on evolution cartoonish, and painting the others in a more serious light. It’s not that straightforward of a difference.

  9. #9 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Tara

    these types of beliefs (natural is always better; medicines, especially vaccines, are bad; animals should never be used in research; HIV doesn’t cause AIDS; etc.)

    There you go again. Is Phil Johnson, a well-known AIDS denier, a member of the “spiritual left”???? What about Peter Duesberg?

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “animals” should never be used in research. Nobody.

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “all medicines are bad” and nobody important is listening to them.

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “natural is always better” and nobody important is listening to them.

    If you want to have a serious discussion about a problem, you need to be much more articulate about exactly what it is you are trying to “fix”.

    A larger underlying problem which, I believe, is a big part of the REASON that many Americans are skeptical of scientists’ claims is the inability of scientists to articulate their claims in a measured and accurate manner. We see this all the time, with scientists themselves speaking of “missing links” and announcing the “rediscovery” of extinct birds based on bogus videos or “new cures and treatments” which turn out to have terrible side effects.

    I don’t blame people for thinking twice before subjecting themselves to chemotherapy or getting a needle stuck in them by some stranger. That’s reasonable behavior.

    Again: what exactly is the “problem” Gallagher and his friends are purporting to address?

  10. #10 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Tara

    “don’t trust the government” mentality left over from the 60s

    Yeah, those crazy folks back in the 60s. What were they thinking????

  11. #11 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Therefore, ineffective but “natural” herbal remedies are preferred to effective but “pharma-tainted” drugs, even something as basic as antibiotics.

    So what? Even doctors are loathe to prescribe prescription antibiotics because of their annoying side effects and the fact that their excessive use increases bacterial resistance to antibiotic substances.

    Wasn’t it science that showed us this?

    Again: what is the problem you are trying to address? Not enough people taking antibiotics? I don’t get it.

  12. #12 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    the attacks on evolution cartoonish, and painting the others in a more serious light. It’s not that straightforward of a difference.

    The attacks on evolution are cartoonish. Life on earth evolved and the number of professional scientists who think otherwise is close to zero.

    Contrast: the risks associated with being injected with a vaccine are REAL. So real, in fact, that my doctor is REQUIRED to tell me about them and get my informed consent before he injects me.

    WHen you claim that the differences are not “straightforward,” Tara, it is YOU who are misleading people. They are straightforward. It took me five sentences to explain the difference to you, in plain English.

  13. #13 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Especially in the UK, this has gotten crazy, with researchers being physically attacked and even their families threatened. Here at U of Iowa, labs were broken into, animals released

    Did they free the worms and fruit flies?

  14. #14 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    There you go again. Is Phil Johnson, a well-known AIDS denier, a member of the “spiritual left”???? What about Peter Duesberg?

    What about Harvey Bialy? What about Christine Maggiore? Robin Scovill? The Foo Fighters? I happily agree it ain’t only the left–but it ain’t only the right, either.

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “animals” should never be used in research. Nobody.

    Not true; see above.

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “all medicines are bad” and nobody important is listening to them.

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “natural is always better” and nobody important is listening to them.

    Define who’s “important.”

    If you want to have a serious discussion about a problem, you need to be much more articulate about exactly what it is you are trying to “fix”.

    Again: what exactly is the “problem” Gallagher and his friends are purporting to address?

    The misuse and denial of science on the part of, well, everyone–but since the “right” usually gets more attention, this is more targeted at the other side of the coin.

    A larger underlying problem which, I believe, is a big part of the REASON that many Americans are skeptical of scientists’ claims is the inability of scientists to articulate their claims in a measured and accurate manner. We see this all the time, with scientists themselves speaking of “missing links” and announcing the “rediscovery” of extinct birds based on bogus videos or “new cures and treatments” which turn out to have terrible side effects.

    I don’t blame people for thinking twice before subjecting themselves to chemotherapy or getting a needle stuck in them by some stranger. That’s reasonable behavior.

    And I agree with all this–but it’s one thing to say “hold off on that needle for a bit while I do some more research and decide if it’s right for me” and another to say, “hey, I found this scientist who says vaccines are poison, and thimerosal causes autism, and therefore all the rest of y’all are wrong and vaccines just don’t work. So not only am I not getting my kids vaccinated, but I’m campaigning to show how everyone has been lied to by you scientists.” And this is on the minor end. I can point you to examples where people not only deny vaccine science, but gloat when vaccinated kids come down with disease.

    Or look at Maggiore. She’s a self-described AIDS “dissident” whose child died of AIDS, and she continues to spread her message to other HIV+ mothers. Here’s another take on it, and I guarantee he ain’t a Republican.

  15. #15 mike syvanen
    July 20, 2006

    Tara

    Face it. Gallagher is just a reactionary old fart. I am completely surrouded people who eat organic foods and will not eat any GM foods. Doesn’t bother me any more than engaging with vegetarians or orthodox Jews with their kosher diets.

    I have lively debates over the issue of GM foods and have managed to get some to agree that their aversion to those foods may not have a scientific basis, but they will still maintain their dietary preferences.

  16. #16 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    Aargh. How many times can I say this? It’s not about diet *preferences.* Those don’t bother me either. It’s when people twist the science to support those preferences that it becomes a problem.

  17. #17 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Yep – “those crazy folks back in the 60s” weren’t thinking. They were posturing and moralizing.

    They were adolescent rebels who overestimated their own “truths” and dismissed those of their elders.

    They got falsely inflated egos when they should have been humbled.

    They devalued history, were cynical about science and reason, uttered witless pieties about the “social and moral contradictions” and “hypocrisies” in American culture, and managed to blend a little Freud with a lot of Marx and steady doses of weed to proclaim America a sexually repressed, bigoted and oppressive society.

    I don’t miss those looney-tunes one bit.

  18. #18 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Who’s “admittedly anti-science?” All these groups say they’re “protecting” science. Look at the DI’s current campaign in Kansas, “Stand up for Science.

    And then we have the Wedge document, the history of the Discovery Institute, and the mountains of evidence which prove that it is an anti-science organization.

    In contrast, the animal rights activists are claiming that the benefits of experimenting on animals are outweighed by the violence done to the animals. Do I agree with their overarching position? Not entirely, but as a political issue it is much more defensible than the claims of the Discovery Institute, which is that science will be improved if science is redefined to include supernatural explanations.

    Do you see the difference? Whether animals have rights is a purely political issue which will be decided — which must be decided, in fact — by our elected representatives.

    Whether invoking deities to explain things improves the ability of science to understand how life on earth evolved is a practical matter that is decided when an ID promoter presents evidence for a deity. ID promoters would love to have baloney taught to schoolkids as fact and they might succeed in that. But that doesn’t make their bogus garbage any less bogus.

    It’s a big difference, Tara. It’s not a good idea to pretend these issues are similar. Understanding why ID is crap is a matter of education. Understanding why animals have limited rights in the US is a political matter. Think about it: black people weren’t freed from slavery because scientists proved to the public that blacks were human.

  19. #19 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Charles

    steady doses of weed to proclaim America a sexually repressed, bigoted and oppressive society.

    So what was our government abusing when it claimed that Iraq was a nuclear threat?

    Oh yeah — Zolofft. Thank you big pharma!!!

  20. #20 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Yo’ Rob:

    here – take another hit and chill…….

    Then Hezbollah, Hamas, the Egyptian Brotherhood, bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, the Ba’athist style of fascism, and other assorted medievalist Arabic-speaking oppressors of women and a secular society won’t seem so bad after all.

    Honest injun…….

  21. #21 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    The misuse and denial of science on the part of, well, everyone–but since the “right” usually gets more attention, this is more targeted at the other side of the coin.

    The right gets more attention for a very very good reason.

    Are the “tree huggers” and “animal lovers” denying global warming and evolutionary biology?

    Are the “anti-big pharma” folks lining up to vote for a pack of lying warmongering incompetents who seek approval from Biblical literalist bigots?

    I’m all for eradicating charlatanism and snake oil salesmen but equating crystal worshippers and vegans with anti-science conservative/Republican entities like the Discovery Institute and Focus on the Family is simply wrong, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned.

  22. #22 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Yo’ Rob:

    here – take another hit and chill…….

    I could be high as a kit, Charles, and I’d still recognize you for the ignorant scumbag that you are.

  23. #23 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Tara

    It’s when people twist the science to support those preferences that it becomes a problem.

    Sure, it’s a “problem.”

    But you know what’s a bigger problem, Tara?

    The twisting of facts by Gallagher in order to justify this claim: The threat to science from what Silver calls the spiritual left may already have overtaken the threat from the religious right.

  24. #24 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    Sure, it’s a “problem.”

    That’s all I’m looking for. I don’t want to quibble about which is bigger, or which has more of a political versus scientific component to it (since all of those I mentioned certainly have both). Gallagher has his opinion on which may be worse, you have yours. That’s fine and I’m sure everyone could go ’round and ’round about the worst abuses of science. I simply wanted to point out that it’s everywhere, and we all can and should work to counter it, even if the people espousing it are ones we largely agree with in other areas (such as political preferences).

  25. #25 Coin
    July 20, 2006

    I have a longish comment about all this but I’m not sure whether to post it here or at Panda’s Thumb. This multi-blog network thing is confusing sometimes.

    Rob Robopperoptop:

    Nobody is seriously claiming that “animals” should never be used in research. Nobody. Nobody is seriously claiming that “all medicines are bad” and nobody important is listening to them. Nobody is seriously claiming that “natural is always better” and nobody important is listening to them.

    Ooh, don’t make blanket statements like that or you’re at the least no better than Gallagher here. People are totally claiming all those things. I will agree these people have no important influence, but they definitely exist. I can probably direct you to their mailing list if you really want.

  26. #26 DragonScholar
    July 20, 2006

    Wow, watching this get discussed on two different blogs. THAT’s multitasking! (Actually that’s me waiting for meetings to start).

    One factor that doesn’t seem to pop up here is Gallagher’s supposed “Spiritual Left” (and, again, I think he’s BSing mostly) isn’t unified on a cause. The Religious Right/IDers ARE – taking down evolutionary science, with some peripheral interest in other issues. Even if you’ve got a bunch of homeopathic anti-science granola-eating stoners out there, they’re not remotely as unified as the ID/Religious Right.

  27. #27 DragonScholar
    July 20, 2006

    Tara wrote:
    “That’s fine and I’m sure everyone could go ’round and ’round about the worst abuses of science. I simply wanted to point out that it’s everywhere, and we all can and should work to counter it”

    Good point. The cure for crap science is usually good science, and that’s what brings a lot of us together (even when we dsagree).

  28. #28 Tulse
    July 20, 2006

    There certainly are groups that argue against any use of animals in research. Of course, those groups aren’t in government, or have millions of followers who think it makes sense to make contraception illegal, or have control of the school boards, or run a nation’s foreign policy based on anticipation of Biblical Armageddon. In other words, the Left may very well have its irrational loonies, but they hold no power. Comparing tiny fringe groups to well-funded organizations that wield enormous political influence is disingenuous at best.

    (And as for animal rights, my argument earlier still stands — it is far more irrational and “spiritual” to think that humans are “special” than to believe that there is a continuum in ethics, as there is in biology, across animal species, humans included.)

  29. #29 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    In other words, the Left may very well have its irrational loonies, but they hold no power. Comparing tiny fringe groups to well-funded organizations that wield enormous political influence is disingenuous at best.

    I disagree. Look at the vaccination situation in the UK and the subsequent rise in measles. Look at HIV denial in South Africa, supported by their president and his health advisers (how’s that for political influence?). Thanks to the internet, they don’t need well-funded organizations in order to get their message out; they just need a website.

  30. #30 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Coin

    People are totally claiming all those things.

    Okay, show me one person who is seriously claiming that “animals” should “never” be used for research, bearing in mind that the term “animals” includes at least tiny worms and fruit flies.

    Just one.

    Then show me an important person — a Congressmen for example — who has cited that person’s claim re animals as a serious one.

    After this, we can move on the next statement I made which makes me “no better than Gallagher.”

    I cited my position in the way I did for a reason. I’m not going to waste my time looking at websites of some unknown loony tune in Microfallus Tennessee who is masturbating himself. Show me a group that is *seriously* promoting the idea — and “twisting science” in order to make the claim — that “all medicine is bad.”

  31. #31 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Look at HIV denial in South Africa, supported by their president and his health advisers (how’s that for political influence?).

    So the President of South Africa and his health advisers are members of the “spiritual left”?

    I’d like to stay focused on Gallagher’s bogus smear, please. I’m confused why you choose to refuse to acknowledge that Gallagher’s claim is garbage and counterproductive (in part because it’s based on false and exaggerated strawmen, in part because it ignores the relatively overwhelming power that the religious right wields in this country and its demonstrated use of that power to achieve anti-science — and bigoted and misognynistic — objectives).

  32. #32 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Tulse

    Comparing tiny fringe groups to well-funded organizations that wield enormous political influence is disingenuous at best.

    And it focuses people’s attention away from the most obvious reasons for our country’s pitiful scientific literacy: religious conservatives and their war against science.

    And yeah, Republicans are mostly religious conservatives.

    Are Democrats mostly anti-medicine, AIDS-deniers or astrologists? Nope.

    So what is this business with the “spiritual left”?

    Answer: just a smear. Gallagher can sell some magazines to Republicans. Ka-ching!

  33. #33 Tara C. Smith
    July 20, 2006

    So the President of South Africa and his health advisers are members of the “spiritual left”?

    I don’t know enough about South African politics to answer that question, but the people I mentioned above (Maggiore et al) were the reason he began to question HIV causation of AIDS; so regardless of whether he’s a part of it, he was certainly influenced by it.

    I’ve already addressed the other part of your post; I simply disagree with your characterization. You disagree with Gallagher’s. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

  34. #34 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Yo’ Rob:

    You rapidly degenerate into name-calling and vilification the moment someone debates or disputes your frothing, conservative-bashing slurs. Those are the sure signs of a fanatic, a religious zealot and a true believer.

    Check yourself, mate – your style of bombast and mindless blather convince no one and in fact cloud and obscure whatever teeny-tint scraps of info get buried beneath the rage, scorn, and venom you heap on those who disagree.

    It’s eerie how closely you resemble the very people, like Gallagher, whom you so despise.

    Have a good one…. you need it!

  35. #35 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    You disagree with Gallagher’s.

    No. I showed that Gallagher’s claim about the power of this alleged “spiritual left” is utterly bogus.

    If you disagree with Gallagher’s claim, then say so. If you don’t, then let’s see the evidence that the “spiritual left” has more to do with AIDS denial and promoting the view that “medicine is bad” than conservative religious groups in the United States.

    Is that too much to ask? I don’t understand the fence sitting, Tara.

    Are these folks members of the “spiritual left”, Tara?

    http://www.virusmyth.net/aids/controversy.htm

    This is where that bad old Maggiore et al. get their info.

  36. #36 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Charles

    You rapidly degenerate into name-calling and vilification the moment someone debates or disputes your frothing

    Sorry, Chuck. If you read the thread carefully, you’re the only loser here who’s gotten pegged as a scumbag. And I stand by that.

    You’ll also see that you were the quickest of anyone here to pull the trigger with bullshxt ad hominem attacks.

    But you’re too clueless to realize this and undoubtedly too arrogant to admit it, Chuck, so please: screw yourself.

  37. #37 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Is this the “spiritual left”?

    http://www.duesberg.com/viewpoints/aids-heresy-hogan.html

    Four names pop out: Duesberg, Maggiore, Phil Johnson, and James Hogan. Are these folks both “spiritual” and “leftists”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

  38. #38 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Yo’ Robbie:

    Thanks again for reconfirming in your own words (sans spellcheck) what a pathetic, marginal, confused and lost soul you are.

    Evidently there’s no one home there to provide your meds or to listen to your empty-headed, edgy psychosis.

    Type away young fella……… you’re a tendentious source of amusement as you embody and exemplify everything you so despise. Your resemblance to Gallagher is striking, but you already knew that.

    Ta ta…….. gotta go……

    Keep up your nervous bombast……. but do get some help, or least go enjoy some weed by yourself.

  39. #39 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Nancy Reagan: member of the “spiritual left”?

    TV medium Jon Edward? Member of the “spiritual left”?

    Dionne Warwick? Oh, she’s probably a Democrat because she’s black. Maybe that’s who Gallagher is thinking of.

  40. #40 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    go enjoy some weed by yourself.

    Why so obsessed with weed, Chuck? Is it “bad”? Were you told so by the “spiritual left”?

  41. #41 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Yo’ Robbie –

    You’ll be late for your next paintball match……… now scurry along little laddie and leave the scientific arguments to the adults.

    Did you first part company with Gallagher over reincarnation or are there other religious concepts that you hold near and dear?

    Tee-hee…….. your spiritual side [sic] is showing……..

  42. #42 Coin
    July 20, 2006

    Rob:

    Okay, show me one person who is seriously claiming that “animals” should “never” be used for research, bearing in mind that the term “animals” includes at least tiny worms and fruit flies.

    Wait, wait, back up. First you’re asking about people who claim no animals should be used for testing. Then you switch to talking about people who claim no animals should be used for testing and actually understand what they’re saying when they use the word “Animals”? Hm. That’s changing things considerably.

    But, okay:

    http://www.stopanimaltests.com/AnimalResearchInd.asp

    Sounds like this site’s complaining about fruit flies to me.

    And it focuses people’s attention away from the most obvious reasons for our country’s pitiful scientific literacy: religious conservatives and their war against science.

    Ahhh… what? Seems to me like the most obvious reasons for our country’s pitiful scientific literacy are (1) poor education and (2) a culture which does not place a value on scientific literacy. Okay, if we were to survey political or societal factions who were making the problem worse, sure, people who listen to Rush Limbaugh would top the list. But blaming the whole problem on them, or pretending they created it by themselves? Seems like you’ve got an agenda of your own here.

    People insisting on simple solutions to complex problems is what got us into this whole mess in the first place.

    Sorry, Chuck. If you read the thread carefully, you’re the only loser here who’s gotten pegged as a scumbag. And I stand by that.

    Actually, Rob, you’re being a crazy, hyper-defensive asshole and making anyone who might potentially sympathize with your points look bad by association. Stop it.

  43. #43 Caledonian
    July 20, 2006

    Introducing plants and animals into an ecosystem where they did not evolve and develop in isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of those plants can be very useful to humans, and they don’t always disrupt the existing natural order and drive out native ecologies.

    It’s just the case that the negative effects happen quite frequently, and invasive species are a very large ecological problem.

    Sure, human intervention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But only a fool would suggest that humans don’t routinely damage ecosystems and cause a great deal of harm to the rest of the natural world.

  44. #44 Coin
    July 20, 2006

    here – take another hit and chill……. Then Hezbollah, Hamas, the Egyptian Brotherhood, bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, the Ba’athist style of fascism, and other assorted medievalist Arabic-speaking oppressors of women and a secular society won’t seem so bad after all. … Did you first part company with Gallagher over reincarnation or are there other religious concepts that you hold near and dear? Tee-hee…….. your spiritual side [sic] is showing……..

    0_o And what the heck is this “Charles” guy’s problem?

  45. #45 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    I agree with everything that “Coin” has posted thus far………

  46. #46 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Then you switch to talking about people who claim no animals should be used for testing and actually understand what they’re saying when they use the word “Animals”? Hm. That’s changing things considerably.

    I used the word “seriously” for a reason. People sometimes exaggerate when they are being hasty and use shorthand. They might say “animals” but they don’t mean fruit flies and C. elegans.

    The site you pointed to is a site for PETA. I’m pretty sure that PETA is not opposed to using fruit flies and C. elegans for experiments, at least not for animal rights reasons. If you can show me some official statement to the contrary, you will have made your case. Definitely not in the link you provided.

    By the way, I am not a supporter of PETA but I do share their disgust with many of the experiments that are performed on animals. Frankly, I don’t feel how anyone could feel otherwise. But we’re getting off topic.

    But blaming the whole problem on them, or pretending they created it by themselves?

    Uh, “intelligent design” was created by conservative Republican-leaning Christians. I’m not pretending.

    ANd I’m not blaming “the whole problem” of our country’s scientific illiteracy on Republicans. So let’s put that strawman to bed.

    Actually, I’ve repeated my concern several times already, in very clear terms: it’s Gallagher’s statement about the “spiritual left” and the present “threat” posed by the “spiritual left” relative to that posed by the right.

    DO you wish to provide evidence to support Gallagher’s claim? That would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise, as I showed you, you are tilting at a strawman.

    Rob, you’re being a crazy, hyper-defensive asshole

    Really? What have I said that’s “crazy” coin? Where have I been “hyper defensive”? Gallagher made a baseless claim about this vague entity called “the spiritual left” and suggests that these folks are somehow a greater threat to science than the religious conservatives who currently RUN OUR COUNTRY?

    That’s crazy, coin. Sorry you can’t see that.

  47. #47 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    And what the heck is this “Charles” guy’s problem?

    Charles is afraid that Osama and Bill Clinton are hiding under his bed. Booga booga!

  48. #48 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 20, 2006

    Caledonian

    But only a fool would suggest that humans don’t routinely damage ecosystems and cause a great deal of harm to the rest of the natural world.

    Exactly. And only a fool would suggest that liberals who are politically opposed to pesticides and bio-engineered food is a “threat to science” in the way that the Discovery Institute is a “treat to science”.

    But that’s what Gallagher does when he lumps such folks in with AIDS deniers, animal rights extremists, and “New Age” mystics, then says: The threat to science from what Silver calls the spiritual left may already have overtaken the threat from the religious right.

  49. #49 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Say whatever you like about Gallagher’s wild claims, but Robbie’s incoherent rantings and garbled gibberish suggest that Gallagher may well have spotted a disturbing trend of otherworldiness and hyper-defensiveness among the “spiritual left”…….

  50. #50 Coin
    July 20, 2006

    Charles:

    I agree with everything that “Coin” has posted thus far………

    What an interesting coincidence, since everything you’ve posted in this thread so far has frightened the bajeezus out of me without making any sense.

  51. #51 Coin
    July 20, 2006

    Anyway. As regards the original post…

    I’m not entirely sure that Mr. Gallagher here “gets” anything. It seems to me equally or more likely that he’s just trying to play both sides of the rationality vs irrationality thing, excusing some groups for anti-science antics while going overboard on denouncing others, depending on how compatible those groups are with his personal politics.

    I hate to make this kind of allegation, and it may be that Mr. Gallagher is trying to seek out a nuanced position and I’m just not properly understanding how he reached it. But from what of this editorial that Tara’s posted, the places where he chooses to direct his outrage are dubiously selective. It seems fair to suspect that the only reason he’s attacking “spiritual leftists” is because they’re leftists at all.

    For starters I must confess a bit of bewilderment as to what either “spiritual” or “left” means. The phenomenon Gallagher describes– that of people ideologically asserting the superiority of “natural” in all contexts regardless of the evidence for or against, and believing that that the environment should be untouched by humans rather than just unharmed by humans– is real and is a legitimate threat to science, and as Tara notes this group absolutely does use the tactics we see used elsewhere to attack evolution or the scientific evidence for global warming. However, although the phenomenon is real, Gallagher does not understand it, and so in an attempt to attack it he winds up instead smearing a large group of people who are not in principle or practice opposed to science. This is not good for anyone.

    The first problem is this strange “spiritual” qualifier. There is definitely a group who for dubious new-age-spiritual or religious reasons get some kind of Gaia obsession and become overboard environmental/”organic” idealogues. But they aren’t equal to the overboard environmental/”organic” group itself. They’re just a component of it. Other large and probably equal factions of the “problem group” here are people who reach the same level of irrationality out of misguided obsessive anti-corporatism; or people who at one point really had legitimate pro-environmental goals and desired to do good in the world, but over time became short-sighted and lost track of the real-world effect their actions were having. Being “spiritual”, or seeing your mission as in some way “spiritual”, is not in any way a prerequisite for becoming a crazy earth warrior.

    On the other hand, there are gobs of people who have earth-based or earth-centered spiritualies or religions, yet would entirely look down on the practice of warping science to try to convince you that vegan cat food is more healthy, and don’t fall into the group Gallagher describes at all. The “spiritual left” label Gallagher uses here is so far off from the reality of the situation that it’s guaranteed to accomplish nothing but creating enemies of people who actually are in or sympathize with earth centered spirituality. Many of the people in this latter group are already generally sick of everyone they meet stereotyping them as granola-worshipping crystal eaters, and so implying they are one and the same with PETAphiles and new agers is about the quickest way to piss such people off.

    (Old joke:
    Q: What is the difference between a neopagan and a new ager?
    A: About $300/hour.)

    Gallagher, however, outright grabs anyone who cares about the earth either spiritually or non-spiritually, slams them in a jar with everything which is negative about the environmental movement and the customer base of Whole Foods Market, and then shakes the jar up a bit for good measure. This could be just sloppy writing, or it could be that publicity-mongering fringe groups like PETA are all he’s personally encountered and he honestly doesn’t realize what he’s implying. But the things he chooses to demonize these groups for implies this isn’t the case.

    For example, the only specific example we’re given in this article is… “mention equally well-established ideas about the advantages and safety of genetic modification and you will be met with disbelief”, specifically referring to GM food. Hm, what? I can point you to gobs of people who oppose GM food because they’re raving paranoid luddites, or because they’re going “eww frankenfood icky”. But I can also point you to entire communities of people who are highly skeptical about the advantages or safety of GM food without even a hint of anti-science sentiment. I know people who have questions about the safety of GM food based on legitimately understanding the science, or who object based on “safety” risks of GM crops which have nothing to do with what happens when you injest them– for example, the risk of unintentional crosspollination, or the problem that GM crops promote a monoculture. Meanwhile — “Describe the potential of genetically modified foods to secure the world’s food supply and you’ll be derided for being so easily fooled by corporations”– and the argument that first comes to mind that would fit that description has absolutely zero to do with science, and is solely a practical matter. Specifically I’m thinking of the issue that GM crops are unlikely to significantly help the third world until we get past the problem that most GM crops are horribly encumbered with patent licensing. Patent licensing for superior crops is surely well worth it for farmers in America, but this is a big problem if you’re, I don’t know, Zimbabwe or something.

    The thing is, just because GM crops have the potential to help with world hunger problems does not mean they will. Science is a method for finding answers, and it depends on you asking the right questions. (Right now GM food is being designed to the specifications of the business interests who manufacture and grow it, and these may not always be the same interests as the food consumer.) Science can be used for poor purposes. When this happens, this doesn’t mean we’re obligated to either reject science or endorse the poor purposes. Though most of the objections to GM food I’ve seen anywhere are on some kind of ill-defined principle, it’s quite possible to be in favor of scientific GM research on principle while being opposed to some of the real-world applications GM has thus far been used in. (My personal view on the entire issue is that there needs to be research and exploration into GM food to the greatest extent feasible, but there also does need to be much greater oversight and regulation of the safety and market issues related to these foods. This is an opinion I do not think is shared by either organic food obsessives or Mr. Gallagher.)

    In the meanwhile, frankly I feel that fluffy-bunny-Gaia environmentalism, and “organic” snake oil salesmen, are a far, far bigger threat to the environmental movement than they are to anyone else. These groups suck up donations and media mindshare, and more often than not they undercut the goals of real environmentalists in the process– for example doing what Greenpeace does, and opposing Fusion research because they’d rather spend the money on “renewable” power sources that have not been demonstrated viable. More than anything, though, these people cause harm by driving reasonable people away from the environmental movement. One of the ways they do this is by convincing people that in order to support the environment or oppose big agribusiness, you have to abandon rationality and support for scientific progress. Since he spends a lot of this article trying to convince people of this exact same thing, Mr. Gallagher is at least in this one way firmly on their side.

    The threat to science is there, and just by existing these extremist environmentalists assist people like creationists, by adding just that much more volume to the choir of “what does science know anyway?” that is so popular in the media today. But these groups are nowhere near comparable to the national importance and influence held by creationists, or global warming deniers. The threat may be there but the urgency is not.

    If Mr. Gallagher were trying to say that eco-extremists or whoever are a threat to science and we need to keep them in mind as well when we evaluate the other threats, then this would be a good point and I would endorse it. But the way that he plays down other threats to science at the same time he tries to play this one up makes it feel this is not his goal. From reading what he says, and seeing the thoughtlessness with which he lumps together issues which have to do with support for rational science with issues which are more or less just political, I am inclined to suspect the underlying logic is partly or all ideological.

    Perhaps the thing that most makes me suspect this (although maybe I’m just not correctly catching what he’s trying to communicate) is that the way he puts things, it sounds like he isn’t concerned about educating misguided eco-nuts, just “rooting out” their “mindset”. Seems like an awfully odd way of approaching the problem to me. What exactly is the problem here? Is the problem that people who view nature spiritually are abandoning rationality or long-term thinking in how they approach their goals? Or is the problem that people are viewing nature spiritually, period?

    Basically, Tara, I would step much more lightly when making blanket generalizations such as you tend toward at the end of your blog post here. You have identified a real problem here but you are targeting that problem in a sloppy way that is causing you to lump in as part of the problem people who are simply nothing of the kind– or, at least, the way you have written things you appear to be generalizing in this fashion. You have no obligation to be any nicer to earth-based spiritualists (I refuse to view them as “leftists”; I’ve known too many wacko right-wing neopagans for that to even make sense to me) than you would be to any other supernaturalist group such as the Christians. However I think common decency does at least demand that when discussing such groups at large, you give them at least as much of the benefit of the doubt as you would give, I don’t know, someone like Ken Miller.

  52. #52 Charles
    July 20, 2006

    Cain –

    I am surprised that you scare so easily over a few casual observations on a blog site.

    Brevity and clarity are best.

  53. #53 guthrie
    July 21, 2006

    My general opinion is that being irrational and somewhat weird is not correlated with political opinion.

    So, that aside, Rob should look here:
    http://www.buav.org/

    They’ve been against animal testing for over 100 years. I’ve heard them and others on the radio a few times.
    But they are in the UK.

  54. #54 Citizenrat
    July 21, 2006

    I have a mixed reaction to this article. There is a strong psuedo-science stew on the “spiritual” and also on the “post-modern” left. There is a good article on this at Sokal’s web page. It is long and heavy on the ontology and epistemology, but well worth wading through.

    On the other hand, there are valid critiques of the way in which science is applied. I agree that what we call science is the best way to come up with reliable statements about the world. But there is a distinction between the epistemology of science and the practice and application of science.

    I’m not ready to buy into corporate controlled mono-cropping, large chemical companies insisting their products are safe, pharmaceutical companies hawking their wares to doctors and lobbying the FDA for loosened regulations (among many other things). The thing about science is that it “works”. The Green Revolution really did increase crop yields. However, the application and spread of the Green revolution has had negative by products.

    It is also true that indigenous systems of relating to the ecoystem may, to some degree embody an underlying ecological rationality (no, I’m not arguing for a weepy eyed view of natives loving the earth). There is a lot of work being done in ethnobotany now that documents the validity of at least some forms of indigenous medicine. I agree though, that if it works, it works on the basis of biochemical principles-not mysticism.

    My point here is two fold: though the epistemology of science may be the best way to come to reliable conclusions the way these conclusions are implemented is still vulnerable to criticism and in addition, the conclusions we reach through science are fallible and limited in scope.

  55. #55 Kristjan Wager
    July 21, 2006

    One point, which people might forget, is that outside the US (and to a certain degree Australia), the ID Creationists don’t have any influence. Global warming is considered a fact (though people like Lomborg is trying to downplay it) etc.

    However, the anti-vaccination crowd (whatever their political stripe), the anti-animal testers, the anti-GMO people etc. hold some power (how much modified food can you export to the EU?).

    I am not saying that the “spiritual left” exist, or at least not in the form Gallagher talks about it, but the people supporting the ideas that he blames the spiritual left for, certainly do, and they have some degree of influence.

  56. #56 adamsj
    July 21, 2006

    I, too, am wary of the “spiritual left” tag. Here in Arkansas, there’s a rather large contingent of the natural foods people who are right-wing, ranging from standard conservativism to outright hate groups. One natural food store in particular is known to be a front for a virulent branch of the Klan.

  57. #57 adamsj
    July 21, 2006

    In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’d point out that the sixties “counter-culture” wasn’t “the left”, by any reasonable definition of “the left”. There were elements of the left inside that counter-cultural movement, but there were also strong strains of essentially right-wing thought, such as libertarianism, as well as a fair amount of apolitical thinking ranging from the thoughtful to the ridiculous. While there are those on the left who indulge in the naturalist fallacy, it’s really more a right-wing idea at its heart. The left more often goes astray by taking nature to be more flexible than it really is–a completely opposite mistake.

    I prefer the left bias (if one is inevitable), as it’s more productive of humane and useful results. I’d rather not have the bias in the first place.

    Oh, and I want a pony.

    Incidentally, I saw anti-nuclear power cartoons in the right-wing rag The Spotlight as early as the late seventies.

  58. #58 Pierce R. Butler
    July 21, 2006

    Ho-hum: yet more left-baiting, just like we’ve seen for generations now, maybe a tad sillier.

    And a lot of ivory-tower lab hermits are lapping it up, quite possibly because so many of them are as naive about propaganda and its purveyors as a lot of political activists are about research methodology.

    If you don’t have time to do the necessary homework, Dr. Smith – or don’t even know that more background info is needed – please check with someone more knowledgeable before wading into these murky waters.

  59. #59 Tulle
    July 21, 2006

    Ok Where do I start…..Being a gay man I have learned to smell someone making points to cover-up a hidden agenda from a mile away. Gallagher is doing exactly that. By pointing a finger a some small group of loony people he believes are on the left, he is trying to take some of the heat off of the loony right. The whole, yes this is bad, but look over there approach is just so right ring Christian thinking that I can’t miss it, trust me I deal with it every day.

    But wait, there’s more. While I agree more with many of the statements of Rob, he scares me in that he seems very dogmatic, and then he says, “Frankly, I don’t feel how anyone could feel otherwise”, really scares me. This is the kind of person that I can’t ever convince they are wrong no matter how good my argument is. While, in Charles’ case, I disagree with much of what he said, but I have no doubt that after a few hours of talking, we would have come to agree on everything that was not just merely an opinion. I would have made him see I was right or he would have changed my mind.

  60. #60 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 21, 2006

    Pierce

    And a lot of ivory-tower lab hermits are lapping it up, quite possibly because so many of them are as naive about propaganda and its purveyors as a lot of political activists are about research methodology.

    Yes, and it simply makes some people “feel good” about themselves if they can fairly attack “both sides”. And, hey, it’s “catchy” and if you use the term in a conversation you’ll sound like you know something that other people don’t. It’s sickening is what it is, and Gallagher and his supporters should be ashamed of themselves.

    Fyi, I noticed on Panda’s Thumb that “Wheels” wrote:

    Speaking about the religious right and the spiritual left, I happen to get a copy of Jerry Falwell’s National Liberty Journal regularly (don’t ask), and almost every third page is full of hokey alternative medicines, herbal whatsits, energized waters, magnetic jewelry (maybe his audience is full of people with bad knees?) that sort of thing.

    So much for the “spiritual left” and their alternative medicine baloney.

    I will also point out that everyone here lives in a more humane world because of animal rights activists. Sure, there are extremists. But if you paint technology skeptics and vivisection skeptics with a broad brush, you demonstrate your ignorance of the history of “animal experimentation”.

    My advice again: screw Gallagher. If you care about science, you do not want to be on the boat with that guy. Who reads New Scientist anyway? Worthless rag.

  61. #61 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 21, 2006

    While I agree more with many of the statements of Rob, he scares me in that he seems very dogmatic, and then he says, “Frankly, I don’t feel how anyone could feel otherwise”, really scares me.

    Nice one, Tulie. Way to take my quote out of context!!!!

    “The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and I don’t see how anyone could feel otherwise,” I say. How dogmatic! How frightening.

    I was talking about the sort of animal experiments that scientists used to do back when nobody was paying attention to their treatment of their subjects. Are you aware of the sorts of things that “scientists” have done with animals in the name of “science”? Pretty much any non-sadist would be revolted or highly disturbed by them. It is hardly “dogmatic” to say so.

    Ever seen Frederik Wiseman’s “Primate”? Tip of the iceberg.

    I’m sorry that I don’t kiss enough asses here to keep everyone comfortable as they happily coin and propogate bogus jargon, i.e., “the spiritual left,” that serves nobody but the religious right. I’ll practice my buttkissing this weekend and try again.

    While, in Charles’ case, I disagree with much of what he said, but I have no doubt that after a few hours of talking, we would have come to agree on everything that was not just merely an opinion. I would have made him see I was right or he would have changed my mind.

    Wow, now THAT is self-confidence! Damn. My experience is that anyone who responds to a criticism of Dear Leader Chimpy and his WMD lies with a comment about “Arabic medievalists” is too far gone to help. Perhaps you are going to hold a gun to Charles head? You’ll have to sneak it past his mom, of course.

  62. #62 Charles
    July 21, 2006

    Anytime anyone doubts that li’l Robbie-Bobbie is something more than a clositered, stuck-at-home little nerd, just read his witless, feckless, utterly confused whinings for proof-positive.

    The li’l tyke always brings us back to Gallagher’s main point which was that the so-called “spiritual left” and its so-called defenders like li’l Robbie-Bobbie have, in fact, gone off the deep end with their sputtering, palsied rants and anti-science temper tantrums.

    Of course, gay pride zealots like Robbie-Bobbie were conceived without a mother…..but that’s a whole other topic……. now ain’t it li’l Robbie-Bobbie?

  63. #63 Tulle
    July 21, 2006

    Rob, so you can’t see how those scientist though it was ok to treat animals that way? Do you think they were just evil? Bad men doing bad things? Do you really think that? See I could never get past your beliefs. Why could these scientist do evil things to poor defenseless animals? That is what you ask right? They must have been following some evil plan, right? I hope I am just misunderstanding you. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is ok, but unless you can understand how that person is thinking you will never be able to come up with a way to make them see that they are wrong. Just telling someone the things they believed all their life is wrong, does not work. You have to make them see it for themselves and to do that you have to know where to start.

    Just to give you an idea that maybe what you see as obvious is not. Say I take a single individual of a species and cut off its top half and then take the top half of another related but different species and implant that onto the first. Is this a bad or wrong thing to do? What if I said the species I was talking about were both conifers? Now is it ok? All I was doing is making a Christmas tree. Now what if I was brought up in a environment that didn’t see the distinction between a conifer and a dog? So now can you see how to someone it would be ok to treat an animal poorly?

  64. #64 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 21, 2006

    Rob, so you can’t see how those scientist though it was ok to treat animals that way? Do you think they were just evil? Bad men doing bad things? Do you really think that? See I could never get past your beliefs.

    That’s too bad. Some folks think it’s okay to kill gay people. Do I think such folks are bad? Yeah, I really do. And they were bad back in 1950.

    unless you can understand how that person is thinking you will never be able to come up with a way to make them see that they are wrong.

    Did it ever occur to you, Tulie, that you are having difficulty understanding what I’m thinking?

    Think about it because you are getting way off the topic here. Maybe Tara can open a new thread that’s all about me and you and Open-Minded Charlie can have a field day.

    what if I was brought up in a environment that didn’t see the distinction between a conifer and a dog?

    Step. Away. From. The. Crackpipe.

  65. #65 jspreen
    July 21, 2006

    “Look! A black moon with pink elephants on it is floating in the sky, together with a rusty kettle and a bicycle with five wheels!”

    Nobody looks at the sky. Some keep watching me and laugh amusedly. Others look at my finger as if in an urgent need to bite it off. Everybody else walks away, shaking their heads while looking at each other. They point at their head to clearly show what they all think: “What a fool”. I step on my five-wheels bicycle and ride away, laughing too. That was a nice joke. I’m happy because once again I’ve managed to get that magic ripple of laughter running through the audience and to those who think I’m a fool: I couldn’t care less. Even better: there is no sweeter complement than being called a complete fool by the ignorant.

    I don’t ride my bike too fast because at night that rusty kettle I attached rattles far too loud on the pavement. And also, I’m a slow peddler because not only I laugh all the time, I also wonder all the time and even, I worry all the time. I worry because if ever I would see a strange black moon floating in the sky, I would never be able to point it out and make someone look at it. I would become the loneliest person in the world, everybody else saying I’m the looniest. Nobody would ever dare looking up at the sky where my finger points. Because heads are kept down by the punishments and laughter of shame we received each time we did things everybody else found so infinitely stupid. A wrong answer, a too hastily formulated opinion, a bad accent during foreign language course: When the crowd goes ha! ha! ha! there’s nowhere to hide and during those unbearable eternities of thigh slapping we learn to keep low profile.

    Apologists in all domains have their heads tied to their knees and they will never even think of looking up in wonder because, they say, what’s impossible is impossible. Apologists know what they know and what they know is reality.
    Those who doubt the apologist’s reality are deniers of reality and thus, they are Denialists. But if you look at it more closely, then you realise that Denialists also know what they know and thus: they are the Apologists of their denier’s reality. And as the Apologists deny the denialist’s reality, the Apologists are in fact Denialists.

    It’s just a story of loss of identity.

    Apologists and Denialists ignore that rancour and loss of identity are very closely related. They are the twins who represent the manifestation of a dual resentment of the same underlying reality. A thing they will certainly never learn to recognize because they dare not look up at the sky when someone says: “Hey, look! A strange moon!”.

    Which explains the curious phenomena that Apologist-Denialists and Denialist-Apologists, simply because they do not recognize the other as the exact replica of the self, can only furiously fight each time they meet.

    JS

    http://www.nightsofarmour.com

  66. #66 Rob Robopperoptop
    July 21, 2006

    Which explains the curious phenomena that Apologist-Denialists and Denialist-Apologists, simply because they do not recognize the other as the exact replica of the self, can only furiously fight each time they meet.

    Wow, what a thoughtful contribution to our discussion of Gallagher’s article.

    But you forgot to add the traditional kicker to your shpeel: “Besides, we’re all going to die anyway.”

  67. #67 Tulle
    July 21, 2006

    Ok, Rob you’re right. Those scientist were just like those in tha B movies. Evil and Sadistic. Don’t even think about the questions I asked. Just start taking about other people who hate gays, cause the guy you disagree with is gay, maybe that will get him. Keep that closed sign out on your forehead. I can’t explain anything to someone that won’t even think about and answer the questions I ask. So I give up, you win.

  68. #68 John
    July 21, 2006

    Wow, Tara… what happened to all of you OLD friends. You know, from like 2 or 3 months ago?

  69. #69 Charles P R
    July 22, 2006

    Hey Tara,

    I’m not sure this is to the point. And I’m honestly not sure you’ll get the point. But I’ll say it anyway: Is it stupid for Republican Fundmaentalists to attack evolution? Is it stupid for Democratic Scientists to attack critical thinking? Think about it.

  70. #70 nigel holmes
    July 22, 2006

    Dr Smith, forgive me, but your reference to the disastrous effects of anti-vaccination hysteria in the UK as an example of left wing anti-rationalism is misleading. The driving force for this was the Daily Mail, a very, very right wing paper; the nearest to a left wing national paper that the UK has, The Guardian, was much more balanced (and had many effective articles on the subject by Ben Goldacre, the writer of the Bad Science site in your blogroll). Left wing, right wing and thoroughly unpolitical people have stupid and anti-rationalist ideas about a variety of subjects. Credit to those that fight for critical thinking; but this is not a case where irrationalism belongs on one political side.

  71. #71 TTT
    July 22, 2006

    Following up on the prior comment about how Falwell’s newsletter is full of homeopathic crap:

    Pat Robertson’s broadcasts on the 700 Club routinely invoke astrology and zodiacal mumbo-jumbo.

    It seems to me like Gallagher is just trying to find the best crowbar with which to pry any consideration of global warming away from the minds of the general public. It’s no coincidence that creationists (who he coddles and softgloves so much) are global warming deniers… has to do with their rejection of science and their Rapturist de-valuing of this planet.

  72. #72 pat
    July 22, 2006

    Sorry Tara but I must take on this quote from you. It is a bit off topic but you snuck it in;

    “Or look at Maggiore. She’s a self-described AIDS “dissident” whose child died of AIDS, and she continues to spread her message to other HIV+ mothers. Here’s another take on it, and I guarantee he ain’t a Republican”.

    Everybody states that her child died of AIDS related pneumonia. The truth really should sound more like this.

    “It is assumed that Elisa Jane died of AIDS”

    It appears Elisa Jane has never been tested for HIV, the coroner’s office claims it has but so far refuses to make these tests public. The coroner has diagnosed the child as having died from AIDS related pneumonia months after the childs death and AFTER having learned that the mother was HIV+. Is she really HIV+ as everybody thinks. What in your mind do two positive, one indeterminate and one false test show, especially for a woman who, it appears, is not in a risk group? Is she really positive? To conclude that the child died of AIDS requires a leap in logic that no one should allow themselves to make. Next time you must sneek that one in, try this: “it is ASSUMED that Elisa Jane died of AIDS related pneumonia”. Remember that a positive HIV test is REQUIRED for an AIDS diagnosis, at least in the US of A. Don’t give me links to the coroner’s report or the rebuttals or the rebuttals’ rebuttals. I have read them all and they are all lacking that one crucial HIV test.
    Perhaps a lawyer on this blog can answer this question: Can a AIDS patient sue his doctor for having given him/her an AIDS diagnosis without a supporting HIV test, seeing they are “required”?

  73. #73 Peter Barber
    July 22, 2006

    I am a biologist, and until recently was a member of the Scottish Green Party (my membership lapsed as I’m in Australia now!), so I am in a fairly good position to see the attitudes of the political left to science.

    While there are a few of Orac’s ‘alties’ amongst the membership, there is also a good proportion of rational scientists. There is no more anti-science sentiment than amongst Labour Party supporters I socialised with at university. (For non-UK citizens, Labour is no longer a left-wing party by any stretch of the imagination!) And while there are a couple of things that I could scratch out, the manifesto IMHO is based on good science – indeed that’s why I joined.

    For instance, I admit there’s more hostility to GMOs in the party membership than in the biology department. However, these days the ‘Frankenfoods’ hysteria has died down, and the opposition is mostly based on the view (which I share) that there are cheaper ways of solving problems of drought and pest resistance which still involve genomics but use it to direct plant breeding programs. In any case there are more fundamental problems in agriculture (such as soil erosion, decreasing glacial water flows in Asia due to climate change, economic pressures on poor countries to focus on a narrow range of export crops, and TNC control of seed supplies) which GM technology can’t solve.

    But then, maybe the party’s ‘alties’ wouldn’t talk to me about crystal healing, homoeopathic ‘vaccines’ or vitamins to cure AIDS because I’m part of the conspiracy and would call in the black helicopters ;-)

    PS. I would echo Nigel Holmes’ comment that the Guardian, seen as a steadfastly left-of-centre newspaper, is a bastion of scientific rationality compared with the Daily Mail. ‘Bad Science’ is always good for a (wry) laugh!

  74. #74 YTI
    July 23, 2006

    Wow, it’s terrific that all of you agree with each other. Good thing you have figured everything out with your “hard science”, like how evolution occurs, how vaccines will stop cancer and AIDS, and how poisoning America and the world with pesticides, malithione and unnecessary vaccines has improved all of our lives. What a terrific blog, so that explains the all around self-congradulation for your amazing accomplishments.

    I would be interested if anybody could even explain how species evolution takes place according to neo-darwinism. (or are you going to pretend that Darwin explained that?) Or how single mutations over even millions of years explain complex structures? What is the driving force for all of the cooperation exibited by the different systems in a single lifeform, that all need to change in support of each other, to make the overall change happen?

    I’m sure someone will bore me with the “We’re working on it” explanation, which is what you guys typically give, but I want to know, what is so wrong with understanding that you don’t understand everything, and not everything can be explained by your theories?

  75. #75 pat
    July 23, 2006

    this is a test

  76. #76 pat
    July 23, 2006

    I have a comment addressed to you still stuck in your spam filter.

  77. #77 Kristjan Wager
    July 23, 2006

    YTI, we are not “working on it”. All of your questions about evolution have been ambly answered through science – or at least those questions that are not based upon false premises.

    To explain it though, would take more space than a blog permits. Perhaps a basic textbook in evolutionary biology would be in order?

  78. #78 Peter Barber
    July 23, 2006

    YTI wrote:

    Wow, it’s terrific that all of you agree with each other.

    Tara, since scientists all agree, I hope you don’t mind if I have a go here…

    Good thing you have figured everything out with your “hard science”, like how evolution occurs, how vaccines will stop cancer and AIDS, and how poisoning America and the world with pesticides, malithione and unnecessary vaccines has improved all of our lives. What a terrific blog, so that explains the all around self-congradulation for your amazing accomplishments.

    Yes, but… we haven’t “figured everything out”. The mechanisms of evolution are well understood, but there are still debates on the relative importance of different mechanisms, both in evolution overall and in particular speciation events. What is no longer in doubt is that evolutionary theory is broadly correct, unless geology, radiometric dating, genetics and bioinformatics are all fundamentally flawed.

    As for vaccines, I’m not aware of any HIV vaccines, and only one licensed in the US for cancer prevention: Gardasil, for HPV-induced cervical cancer. Is this “unnecessary”? Which childhood vaccinations are “unnecessary”? Do you have any other vaccines in mind?

    And as for pesticides, malathion is not the most toxic of currently-used pesticides – why did you single it out? And how come the more toxic organochlorine pesticides are now banned if not for the work of scientists who described and explained their side-effects? Many scientists are actively working on alternatives to current neurotoxic pesticides – for instance, my PhD is on the mode of action of the botanical pesticide azadirachtin, an extract of the neem tree which is non-toxic to mammals and degrades rapidly in sunlight – or on biological control which doesn’t rely on pesticides at all.

    I would be interested if anybody could even explain how species evolution takes place according to neo-darwinism. (or are you going to pretend that Darwin explained that?)

    You know, I know and everyone knows that Darwin didn’t know about the existence of DNA, and therefore couldn’t have been expected to explain the mechanisms of speciation. So I’m not quite sure what that little parenthetic comment about “pretending” was about. There really isn’t room for for an explanation of evolutionary biology in a blog comment, although “random mutation and natural selection” is fairly pithy. Why not read the Introduction to Evolutionary Biology at Talk.Origins? You’ll find that many people could explain how speciation takes place, and have taken the time to do so for the layman.

    Or how single mutations over even millions of years explain complex structures? What is the driving force for all of the cooperation exibited by the different systems in a single lifeform, that all need to change in support of each other, to make the overall change happen?

    The flippant answer is, “There isn’t.” A slightly longer answer is that three mechanisms are proposed for the evolution of so-called ‘irreducibly complex’ structures: co-adaptation, exaptation and scaffolding removal. You can add gene duplication as a source of extra parts for the evolving system. More here.

    I’m sure someone will bore me with the “We’re working on it” explanation, which is what you guys typically give, but I want to know, what is so wrong with understanding that you don’t understand everything, and not everything can be explained by your theories?

    Nothing at all. On the other hand, there’s no virtue in ignorance. That’s why scientists are still bothering to do research – because there’s still so much to discover.

  79. #79 John
    July 24, 2006

    YTI, you are so right. What ARE these folks thinking? Of course “just because god wanted it all that way” is SUCH a better explanation than all of the science that has been confirmed again and again and again over the last 150 years. But maybe, as you say, they can keep working on it, so that some day they can convince us superior beings.

  80. #80 citizenrat
    July 24, 2006

    Peter,

    While GMO’s may be safe from the consumer’s point of view, their presence does raise larger issues of the extent of corporate control over food and other resources. Multinational Corporations claim patent rights on the genetic alterations. Yet they can interbreed with non GMO’s. And the corporation then claims the right to prevent the use of this new interbred plant.

    What it comes down is that the property rights and economic livelihoods of small farmers are sacrificed for those of corporate interests. It may be true that large corporate farms are more “efficient” (they may produce more food per acre and unit of input-if you exclude energy input) they also contribute to ecological problems.

    Some of the opposition to large pharmaceutical companies, GMO’s, government organizations is far from irrational psuedo-science.

  81. #81 YTI
    July 25, 2006

    I am reading Peter Barber’s link to Irreducible Complexity.

    Thank you Mr. Barber for having the decency to leave room for response.

    To John, you are the typical assine responder of these groups – you have no answers, and seek to associate every question or criticism with your tiresome referal to the 16th century, in which a church, other than yours, told persons what to believe.

  82. #82 ebohlman
    July 25, 2006

    adamsj: I think you’re right. What Gallagher calls the “spiritual left” is really Romanticism, which is actually a rather reactionary ideology; in the US at least, it’s considered “left” merely by historical accident (Romanticism is opposed to much of the sociocultural ideology that predominated in 1950s America, and our current popular definitions of “right” and “left” are often little more than “pro-fifties” and “anti-fifties”) and by some superficial similarities to some leftist ideologies (for example, it’s anti-capitalist, but unlike socialism, it seeks a non-capitalist system based on a nostalgic vision of pre-capitalist systems). I think that most of the anti-scientific views of the descendents of 60s counterculture come from an emotional association of science with 50s culture and politics.

    citizenrat: you’re quite correct that there are genuine political and economic issues with GM crops, involving the extension of intellectual-property law into domains where it was previously inapplicable. But it’s dishonest to use pseudoscience to forestall a proper debate of those issues.

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