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In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days.

Enrique has the best one-sentence summary of the article:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science.

The article divides that “what children know prior to their exposure to science” into two categories: the intuitive grasp of the world (i.e., conclusions they come up with on their own) and the learned understanding of the world (i.e., conclusions they absorb from the adults around them):

The Intuitive Grasp of the World

The article suggests that some intuitive understanding of the world by the children is retained as they grow into adults. A number of bloggers touch on this briefly, but mostly focus on the taught/cultural aspects of the study. As for the intuitive part, Chad Orzel, I think, gets it right when he writes:

I often think that the process of teaching introductory mechanics isn’t really about breaking down incorrect intuitions (as is often said) but rather about bringing conscious mental processes into better alignment with existing physical intuition. Students pick the Wile E. Coyote option not because intuition tells them that’s how the world really works, but because intuition means that they haven’t had to observe the real world all that carefully, and are basically guessing based on vague recall of falling objects. They’re overthinking the problem, not over-reliant on flawed intuition.

Yukon Slim writes from the perspective of a science teacher:

What we need to do now is learn how to break this resistance. Most of the education literature I’ve read suggests that you need to induce “cognitive conflict” in the students. They have to come face to face with the inadequacy of their preconception, then be shown how another explanation is better suited to explaining reality. Unfortunately, this is just very hard to orchestrate, especially with pressures to “cover the material.” And for some people, it’s likely true that the only way to replace an emotionally held belief is with another emotionally held belief.

Melinda Barton poses some excellent questions (in an unnecessarily angry tone which will force many not to read her post – the question of framing again: angry tone does not appeal to scientists who are supposed to be the readers of that post) which inextricably connect the intuitive and taught portions of the argument:

How many of you began going to Sunday school by the time you were four? Four-year-olds may assign purpose and meaning because they’re already being taught that G-d created the world for a purpose. Or simply because impatient adults answer children’s many “But why?” questions with silly made up answers. Assigning this to “intuition” or natural tendencies is highly questionable. How would we differentiate between nature and nurture?

Read the rest of the post as her detailed criticisms of individual examples are, IMHO, quite valid, and I would love to see more discussion of her arguments in the blogosphere. Update: Melinda adds additional arguments against ‘promiscuous teleology’.

I also think that the intuitive and taught sources of resistance to science are inextricably connected, so I will address this below.

The Social/Taught Sources of Resistance to Science

A number of bloggers focus heavily on this part of the paper. Here are some sample quotes, before I lunge into my own diatribe:

Ruchira Paul:

Then there is the bias of the public against scientists themselves. Even though individual scientists live among us and lead mundane lives, as a group they tend to conjure up the image of … well, clever “conjurers,” somewhat like the alchemists of yore. But most important among the factors that influence our acceptance of or resistance to scientific knowledge depends on whom we listen to in our early years. If the teacher has one explanation for how animals and people came to inhabit the earth and our parents and pastor have another, which version we believe depends to some extent on whom we trust more. However, I don’t agree with the authors that this influence is always easy to predict or that it lasts a life time. Most children (unless they have been methodically indoctrinated), even in their pre-teen years are sophisticated enough to weigh two sides of a story and make up their own minds. If they choose to believe their science teacher and not their parents, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their overall trust in dad and mom will diminish. Children understand that adults are not infallible and can make mistakes. They also learn early enough that different adults (parents, coach, teacher, counselor, doctor) bring their own areas of expertise to the table. Kids therefore can make judgements regarding which adult to trust in a particular situation.

PZ Myers:

There’s also a section on how children learn that makes the point that there are different kinds of understanding prevalent in any culture: There is “common knowledge” that is transmitted with little careful scrutiny, but there is also a large body of knowledge that the ordinary fellow won’t be able to critically evaluate, but is accepted because of trust in an authority–and science tends to fall into that category.

—————–

It really gets down to trust in the experts who should know more about a subject than the average citizen. America has an unpleasant history of anti-intellectualism, and generally scientists are less trusted than politicians and the clergy — and the clergy will gladly feed intuitive but false understandings about how science works.

Dave Munger:

The critical question, of course, is who kids think of as reliable and trustworthy. Certainly teachers and parents are reliable, but are they trustworthy? Teachers sometimes make you do long, boring worksheets, and parents tell you that Lima beans taste good. Other kids are much more trustworthy than that — they’d never steer you towards Lima beans! Even more reliable and trustworthy are the characters kids see on TV. Batman and Spongebob show up at the same time every day, and their behavior is nearly perfectly predictable.

Joseph of Corpus Callosum:

Being ever so cynical, it occurs to me that such findings could be used intentionally to foster a disbelief in rational thought in general, and to science in particular.

Mark Hoofnagle:

These overvalued ideas emerge from a variety of sources that are very different from each other and represent very different human motivations spanning the range from fear to bigotry to an excess of compassion. Hell, some cranks just like being “iconoclasts” or “contrarians” (beware people who use those terms to describe themselves – it’s almost always a sign of a crank) because they think believing in contrarian opinions makes them seem special or smart.

Chris of Mixing Memory:

In other words, talking about things in a “matter-of-fact” fashion implies that there’s no doubt about their existence, and therefore children tend not do doubt them. Talking about them in a way that explicitly refers to their existence, or to our beliefs about their existence, on the other hand, causes children to believe that there is reason to doubt them. Bloom and Wiesberg note that people often say things like, “I believe in evolution,” implying that there is reason to doubt the reality of evolution, and therefore making children more wary of testimony about it.

They also note that both children and adults perceive some people as more trustworthy than others, with the trustworthiness of individuals varying depending on the domain. Doctors, for example, are trusted in the area of medicine, while preachers will be trusted (over doctors, presumably) when talking about religion. The perceived trustworthiness of a source can then influence whether we believe what they say, perhaps too much.

Jake Young:

The authors attribute different levels of acceptance quite reasonably to cultural factors. For example, we know that both adults and children trust information that they cannot verify independently based on the trustworthiness of the information source rather than the merits. If large numbers of trustworthy people deny a concept is true, people will be less likely to believe it:

Janet Stemwedel:

In other words, kids suss out what the community believes in, and they take that as a guide to how things are. (Indeed, the article points to research indicating that this kind of check of consensus, not moral introspection, is how people come to their moral intuitions as well.)

If everyone in our culture carries on as if X is perfectly uncontroversial, we tend not to question X. On the other hand, in cases where X is presented as tentative — even in cases where we notice that someone is going to the trouble to assert X rather than taking it as give — we may be less ready to accept X.

What makes X plausible? If we’re in a position to test the claim ourselves, that could do the job, but that’s not always possible

————–snip———-

A lot rides, then, on what counts as a trustworthy source. For little kids, the research suggests that assessments of trustworthiness take into account whether the source is knowledgeable (a grown-up rather than a peer, a specialist who ought to know something about the subject at hand), whether the claim is made confidently rather than tentatively, and to some extent whether the claim is perceived to go with or against the self-interest of the source (little kids can be cynical!). In case of different sources making conflicting assertions, kids will trust the declarations of the sources they deem must trustworthy.

So, who do you judge most reliable if your science teacher, your parent, your pastor, and your favorite cartoon character or movie star make conflicting claims? And how entrenched will these early decisions become? What happens when you discover that your parents (or your fourth grade science teacher) don’t know everything?

Larry Moran (Larry also found a response to the Edge article by a Creationist, which is in itself quite a good example of the mindset we are talking about here):

So here’s the problem. How do we convince people that scientists are worthy of trust? It’s clear that the front lines are at the interface between what scientists know and what the general public knows about science. This is often framed as an issue about communicating science. Many non-scientists think that scientists need to do a better job. Is this really the problem?

The “burden” of communicating science is often assumed to fall on the shoulders of science writers and science journalists. They are the ones who write the press releases and increasingly they are the ones who write about science in newspapers and magazines. The leading “science” figures on television today are not scientists but science journalists. Even in the leading science journals such as Nature and Science it’s the science journalists and not scientists who write the articles that will be read by a wide audience.

In today’s world we have a rather paradoxical situation where non-scientists who write about science are proclaiming themselves to be experts on science communication, yet they call upon scientists to learn from them how to manipulate the media to get the science message across. But if science journalists are doing such a good job then why do we need scientists? Is it possible that the failure to make science a trustworthy enterprise is due, in part, to the failure of science journalism?

Finally, if you are going to spend some time reading on the topic, the most essential reading of all is that by John Wilkins who points out that he has covered this in detail in the past in his four-part treatise: Why are Creationists Creationists? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. You, like, totally have to read those four posts now – they are the Obligatory Portion of this mini-course.

Both Larry and PZ also add that the effort to increase the authority of scientists in a society necessitates a simultaneous effort to decrease the authority of clergy on scientific matters, an idea I agree with, for reasons I hope will become clear by the end of this monstrously long post if I ever get to finish it.

Finally, I have written about this topic before, in quite painful detail, so go now and read Why Creationists Need To Be Creationists? and Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology and follow all the links within them for further explanation. In a way, this is just a quick re-hash of those two posts and the originals are probably better (at least better organized).

Hierarchical View of the World

The main thesis is that resistance to science is a too-narrow look at things. It is just a part of a much broader outlook on the world which also includes one’s understanding of history, economics, law, foreign relations, politics, interpersonal relationships, sex and everything else. Such a mindset is not so much a result of overt teaching as a result of growing up in a community organized around a particular principle. And there are two basic ways for a community to be organized: hierarchical and egalitarian (interactionist).

If you grow up in a household in which Daddy has the last word on every matter in the house, and in a town in which everyone (including Daddy) defers to the local priest, sheriff or mayor, and if all people (including the priest, sheriff and mayor) shake in their boots when contemplating the anger of a vengeful God, you will grow up understanding the world – and every aspect of the world – in a hierarchical manner. This is a black-and-white world with simple causes and effects, with-us-or-against-us world of White Hats and Black Hats.

Here’s a recent example of such strict, Dobsonian childrearing method, the recently famous kid who shot a monstrously large hog. Pushing aside the questions about dishonesty of the whole episode, the importabt part is what the boy’s father wrote:

The purpose of this hunt was to give Jamison the opportunity to challenge himself and with this challenge the opportunity to overcome fear and accomplish something that would not be easily done. As he is becoming a young man, I wanted to see if the stuff I had been given him over the years would be the right stuff and if he had enough of it to rise to this and other challenges that life would surly have in store. I have disciplined my children over the years quiet regularly and many times have heard them say that their friends did not receive the same punishment. My response has always been “I am not trying to raise another child I am trying to raise a Champion”. I guess I wanted to see if I was on the right track.

This kind of mindset was fine for much of history, but it will not work in the modern world because of its stark division between the in-group and out-group (friends and foes) and the world is far too interconnected now for such a mindset. Witness what happens when hierarchical mindset runs the White House – a total disaster on every front. This is not “childish” (Chris MM rightly chastizes Jake for saying so). It is a developmental stage induced by a particular childrearing practice. It is the later developmental switch to a rational mindset that is historically new, yet necessary in today’s world.

Growing up in such a hierarchical world does not prevent one from gaining correct intuitive grasp of simple mechanics, for instance, as Chad (see the link above) shows. You can certainly catch a baseball and will not run off the cliff as if it was a cartoon. But you will have a great difficulty grasping more complex areas of science which depend on two counterintuitive ideas: a) uncertainty and b) emergent properties of complex systems.

As the Edge article (and many bloggers) agree, a high degree of certainty is needed for a (scientific) idea to be accepted unquestioningly by little kids (and by adults who came out of such upbringing). My son is big enough now to start grasping uncertainty, but for most of their lives, if they come to me with a question, they chose to ask me because I am an adult and a scientist and thus an authority. They expect a short, simple and certain answer. I may be aware of a degree of uncertainty in the matter, but I do not voice it – I say it as if it was 100% certain. This is not a good time to go into degrees of confidence and alternative hypotheses. They will deal with those when they are developmentaly mature for that.

Evolution is a theory that relies on population thinking (as Ernst Mayr pointed out many times) which is hard to grasp if one’s understanding of the world is hierarchical. Population thinking is an interactionist model of the world. So is the role of genes. For a conservative (yes, hierarchical mindset is conservative in a psychological sense, i.e. not in a particular political sense: if GOP at any point in history had a platform plank that is not based on a hierarchical view of the world, that plank was liberal and thus loved by the majority of voters), it is easy to think of a gene causing (determining) a trait. Or, a more sophisticated version: gene A causes expression of gene B which causes expression of gene C…and so on until the last gene in the cascade cuses (determines) the trait. It is almost impossible to grasp the interaction of genes among themselves and with the environment, with no single factor determining anything, but the trait emerging from the interaction. That is why conservatives misunderstand free market as well.

The Problem of Language

One of the biggest problems of the entire Culture Wars is that people like us (e.g., scientists, rational people in general) use language to impart information. We usually are not aware that a nice big chunk of population does not use language in that way at all. Their use of language is that of Phatic Language:

Phatic communion has been described as language that serves to “establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information,” or language used “for establishing an atmosphere rather than for exchanging information or ideas.”

In other words, in a hierarchical society, language is not used for exchange of information (except for very simple, local and personal information: “It is cold outside so bring your coat [and you better listen to me, mister, because I am your father and if you don't listen I'll beat the shit out of you later]“). It is used to establish social hierarchy. Where we look for information in words, conservatives look for emotional content and what it says about the social hierarchy. Thus “code words” or “dog whistle” words we often hear about in political discourse. Who is above whom in the hierarchy? Is the hierarchy stable? Is there a way I can, by appealing to someone higher above me, raise myself up in the hierarchy by pushing someone else down?

Remember in the last Presidential debates when Bush quipped how he has to keep his daughters on a leash (and Kerry’s face telling “where did this barbarian come from?”)? That was a use of phatic language. He was asserting his hierarchical view of the world, his dominance in his household and thus his belonging in the in-group with his target voters.

The inability of people raised in hierarchical community to use the language to impart cold, dry information is a big stumbling block for teaching science or for persuading people on scientific topics. The way they learn about the world has to be very simple and hierarchical: “Why are we here?” “God did it”. One cannot teach science as long as the audience looks for emotion where we try to impart information. We need to learn how to subvert this. That is a big part of what framing is: starting with phatic language and gradually teaching the audience to start using the language in a rational manner instead. And our disbelief that people actually can think and talk this way is a big stumbling block in our communication. We truly believe that truth is powerful on its own and try to “convert” people by pouncing with the truth, not realizing that all they are looking for is the emotional content of our words and their place in our hierarchy. That is why we appear snooty and condescending to them.

That is why, Larry’s protestations notwithstanding, we desparately need the advice of people whose job is to study communication. We have no idea how to talk to people with hierarchical worldviews and the phatic use of language and we better listen and be prepared to learn. All the examples that Larry points out – teaching science majors in college, talking to other scientists, writing popular science books, writing science blogs – are aimed at the audience that already is rational and uses language to get and impart information. It just does not work in persuasion and education of the irrational folk. The way to frame the science is completely different.

So, what do we do?

Phase 1 is to attain authority (that is why science reporters will not do for this – it has to be scientists themselves). In doing so, the scientists have to do more than just assert equal authority as the priest, sheriff and mayor. For a hierarchically-minded audience, the only way to rise in authority is for someone else’s authority to diminish at the same time (“How can the UN tell MY President what to do?”). It is a ladder they think of and only one person or group can be at any single rung of it. Thus, scientists have to displace clergy, lawyers and politicians as sources of authority on scientific matters. How does one do this? When dealing with kids (and adults who have not yet made the change to a rational worldview), the only way is to appear to be 100% sure. This is not the audience that gets error-bars, confidence intervals, fine points of philosophy of science, and alternative hypotheses. You tell it how it is (even if inside you cringe, knowing that what you are saying is only 98% sure). You tell it with conviction. No need to lie. Just get out of the science-paper mindset. The studies mentioned in the Edge piece confirm this notion as well.

Phase 2 is to gain trust. As Sara Robinson explained in her series “Tunnels and Bridges” and “Cracks in the Wall” (both found in the sidebar here), this is a slow and gradual process. No looking down at people. Not calling them stupid or evil. Giving them a helping hand and encouragement. Perhaps promise an induction into a secret powerful society of scientists. Even if one makes small steps, reward them even if you do not like where they got in the process: smile when the individual moves form YEC to OEC, and again when he moves from OEC to IDC, and again when he moves from IDC to Theistic Evolution, and again when he moves from Theistic Evolution to a genocentric, hyperadaptationist form of naturalistic evolution and give them a damned PhD when they understand and accept the modern evolutionary theory.

While phases 1 and 2 can, to some extent, be done simultaneously, Phase 3 can be attempted only once the person has already passed the first two phases. The Phase 3 is science education as we understand it. It can only be applied to the audience that is already rational and uses language for the exchange of information, not emotions. Actually understanding the world, not just taking your word for it (phases 1 and 2 are pretty much getting people to trust you on your word, not understanding any science yet) is something that we want them to achieve and traditional science education can do so. I am sure that Larry is really good at this phase, even though he refuses to acknowledge that the first two phases are necessary or even existent before a person can understand and accept what Larry is teaching.

Comments

  1. #1 Colugo
    May 31, 2007

    “t is a developmental stage induced by a particular childrearing practice.”

    I was wondering what you thought about Thornhill and Fincher on developmental psychology and conservatism/liberalism.

    http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9184287

    http://www.abqjournal.com/news/special/565808metro05-25-07.htm

    (I don’t put much stock in these studies myself.)

    Thomas Sowell thinks liberals are better at framing
    http://tinyurl.com/2zl3xm

  2. #2 Chris
    May 31, 2007

    Melinda Barton’s post would be better if she understood the literature. For example, if she’d read even one of the references on promiscuous teleology cited, she’d know that design inferences show up in the children who’ve never been to Sunday school, and whose parents are un-religious. She’d also learn a lot about how developmental psychologists make nature v. nurture inferences, just by reading a couple of the citations.

    At some point I’m going to sound like a broken record on this, but people really need to start keeping their mouths shut on topics they know nothing about, whether their reaction to something said on that topic is positive or negative.

  3. #3 Zuska
    May 31, 2007

    Wow, great summary of other posts and great discussion! So, the ID folks have their Wedge strategy, and you are laying out, dare I say, the Edge strategy? Sorry, I could not resist…

    I was not familiar with the concept of phatic language before reading this post and I thank you for introducing me to it. I think it could help me in understanding some of the resistance to diversity in science – diversity advocates think we can just explain rationally why diversity is necessary/good/the right thing to do, but when we talk about groups and diversity, diversity opponents may be using phatic language. You know, the “we don’t want to lower our standards” response – that’s a very emotional statement. I’ll have to think about this more, but I’m glad to have the concept to work with.

    Anyway, brilliant post. Do the folks at PLoS monitor your blog and just sit around every day going “Damn! Are we freakin’ lucky to have gotten this dude to work for us, or what?”

  4. #4 coturnix
    May 31, 2007

    Chris: It would be great if you would write a post addressing Melinda’s criticisms.

    Zuska: Phatic language is a very important concept. Just a search of “phatic” should lead you to lots of literature on the subject (I chose a link to a DK diary on purpose, because of its political applications).

  5. #5 coturnix
    May 31, 2007

    Update: Larry responds and I respond in the comments.

  6. #6 razib
    May 31, 2007

    your definition of conservative is very americo-centric. in europe there isn’t a correlation between creationism and being on the Right, nor is the Right (as you know) nearly as neo-”liberal” re: the market.

  7. #7 Chris
    May 31, 2007

    It’s also important to understand that everyone — you, me, Larry, Zuska, and everyone else — engages in mostly phatic communication, and that everyone uses information-conveying language as well. I’m not sure it’s either valid, or important, to point out the distinction in this context, particularly since the testimony research is specifically focusing on information-conveying speech, and who people trust to convey certain types of information.

  8. #8 Ted
    May 31, 2007

    Phase 3 can be attempted only once the person has already passed the first two phases. The Phase 3 is science education as we understand it.

    Are these growth phases for everyone? Tradespersons? Craftspersons? Slackers? There are people committed to being non-scientists — not because they don’t want to be scientists, but because the world needs ditch-diggers too. What if their personal philosophy doesn’t really care for the scientific discipline?

    I’m confused if the hierarchical culture identified in your post indicates anyone not in the science, rational orthodoxy.

  9. #9 Marilyn
    May 31, 2007

    *** Multiple Articles ***
    During this century, science has greatly increased our knowledge of the natural world around us. Its telescopes have revealed the awesome wonders of the starry heavens, just as its microscopes have disclosed the amazing complexities of molecules and atoms. The marvels of design in plants and animals, the wisdom reflected in our own fearfully and wonderfully made bodies—this knowledge also comes to us through the discoveries of hardworking scientists. We are not unappreciative.
    But there is another side to science. Not all its practitioners measure up to the image of the objective, passionate pursuers of truth, regardless of where it might lead. There are too many scientists who select the material that supports their theory and discard what doesn’t. They report studies they have never made and experiments they have never performed, and they fake what they cannot establish. They plagiarize the writings of fellow scientists. Many claim authorship of articles they have never worked on and maybe have never even seen!
    Flagrant fraud may be rare, but some of the manipulating of data mentioned above is common. Even more common, however, are two additional kinds of fraud, both involving deceitful propaganda. The four articles that follow examine the problem.

    *** g90 1/22 p. 3 Fraud in Science—It Makes the Headlines ***
    The image of scientists as invariably dedicated to truth has been tarnished, as these headlined items show. ***
    “Ethics in Science”
    “A fight is building in the U.S. House of Representatives over fraud, misconduct, and conflict of interest in science.”—Science, July 7, 1989.
    ***
    “Two New Studies Ask Why Scientists Cheat”
    “It was an innocent enough question: how do scientists behave when no one is looking? But it has produced an incendiary answer: not too well, reports a paper this month in the British journal Nature.”—Newsweek, February 2, 1987.
    ***
    “The Case of the ‘Misplaced’ Fossils”
    “A prominent Australian scientist has examined two decades of work on ancient Himalayan geology and alleges it may be the greatest paleontological fraud of all time.”—Science, April 21, 1989.
    “Now It’s the Journals’ Turn on the Firing Line”
    “[He was speaking] specifically about how poorly many [science] journals have handled scientific fraud. . . . The same message previously dispatched to other members of the scientific community has now been addressed to the journals: clean up your act or you may find legislators getting into it.”—The AAAS Observer, July 7, 1989
    ***
    “Do Scientists Cheat?”
    “After the initial inquiry by this [congressional] committee into this subject, the committee has had growing reason to believe that we are only seeing the tip of a very unfortunate, dangerous, and important iceberg.”—NOVA broadcast on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) on October 25, 1988.
    *** w90 2/15 p. 28 Insight on the News ***
    “Hijacking Fossils”
    Under that title, the French daily Le Monde reported the case of a paleontologist in India who “for 20 years . . . apparently deceived his colleagues concerning the origin of fossils that he submitted to them for their appraisal.” It is claimed that the “hijacking” consisted of sending them fossils obtained in the United States, Africa, Czechoslovakia, and the British Isles, saying they had been discovered in the Himalaya Mountains. This scientist published his findings in over 300 articles. The fraud was brought to light by an Australian scientist via the British scientific journal Nature. He wondered ‘how it could be that such a large quantity of doubtful findings remained unchallenged for such a long time.’
    One possible reason, according to Le Monde, was the law of silence heeded by many members of the scientific community. The article noted that this fossil “hijacking” has “made useless practically all the facts accumulated [over the past 20 years] on the geology of the Himalayas.”
    Obviously, this new case of fraud in science does not cast doubt on the entire scientific world. It does, however, provide further evidence that arguments of paleontology when pitted against the unfailing accuracy of the Bible record are often nothing more than what the apostle Paul called “the contradictions of the ‘knowledge’ which is not knowledge at all.”—1 Timothy 6:20, The New Jerusalem Bible.

    ***Fraud in Science—Why It’s on the Increase
    “THE competition is savage. Winners reap monumental rewards; losers face oblivion. It’s an atmosphere in which an illicit shortcut is sometimes irresistible—not least because the Establishment is frequently squeamish about confronting wrongdoing.” So opened the article “Publish or Perish—or Fake It” in U.S.News & World Report. To escape perishing, many scientific researchers are faking it.
    The pressure on scientists to publish in scientific journals is overwhelming. The longer the list of published papers to the researcher’s name, the better his chances for employment, promotion, tenure in a university, and government grants to finance his research. The federal government “controls the largest source of research funding, $5.6 [thousand million] a year from the National Institutes of Health.”
    Because “the scientific community shows little stomach for confronting its ethical dilemma,” “has been strangely reluctant to probe too deeply for hard data about its ethical conduct,” and “isn’t keen about cleaning house or even looking closely for malfeasance,” congressional committees have held hearings and considered legislation to do the job of policing for them. (New Scientist; U.S.News & World Report) This prospect wrings from scientists much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yet, one science journal asks and answers the question: “Is the house of science clean and in order? The bit of evidence that reaches the public invites serious doubts.”
    Some researchers eliminate data that does not support what they want to prove (called cooking); report more tests or trials than were actually run (called trimming); appropriate for their own use data or ideas of other researchers (called plagiarism); and make up experiments or data they never performed or produced (called forging). A cartoon in a science journal poked fun at this last tactic, one scientist talking to another and saying of a third: ‘He’s published a lot since he took up that creative writing course.’
    “What’s the major product of scientific research these days? Answer: Paper,” U.S.News & World Report said. “Hundreds of new journals are being founded each year to handle the flood of research papers cranked out by scientists who know that the road to academic success is a long list of articles to their credit.” Quantity, not quality, is the goal. Forty thousand journals published yearly produce a million articles, and part of this flood “is symptomatic of fundamental ills, including a publish-or-perish ethic among researchers that is stronger now than ever and encourages shoddy, repetitive, useless or even fraudulent work.”

  10. #10 Melinda Barton
    June 1, 2007

    I assure you the angry tone was not intentional. It was a bad week and I must admit I reacted negatively to the connotations of the study. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting many people to read it. I’ve started using my blog just as a sort of clipboard for some ideas I’m working on in my book. Basically, it’s like taking notes. If I get feedback, fine. If not, it still helps me work some things out. I apologize to any scientists who were offended.

    As for promiscuous teleology, you’ll note that studies have shown that this tendency is weaker in children raised in the U.K. than it is in children raised in the U.S. This leads me to think that formal teleological training, informal teleological story telling, the “silly answer” phenomenon, and other cultural habits affect the children’s viewpoint. I absolutely believe that we have a certain amount of cause-effect thinking built in by evolution, but I think its extent/application is dependent upon culture. Especially when one considers societies like the Piraha, who don’t have a creation story and often respond to “why” questions in a simple “That’s just how it is.” kind of answer.

    I also have a problem with Bloom and Weisberg making the leap from childhood to adulthood without showing the huge amount of development in between or explaining why some people divert from this “natural tendency”. I give them points for acknowledging that many who accept evolution don’t actually understand it. So, if people aren’t accepting evolution based on a reasoned assessment that overcomes intuition but on authority alone, it seems there is some other factor involved here that separates adult evolutionists from adult creationists. Personally, I lay the blame on our educational system, which also fails to produce students fully versed in literature, math, history, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for the link and I hope that makes more sense than the rough sketch on my blog.

  11. #11 coturnix
    June 1, 2007

    “Hello, nice day, isn’t it?”
    “Hello, lovely indeed”

    Yes, we all use phatic language all the time, of course. The above was not a conversation about the weather but establishment of mutual friendliness (or at least a non-attack pact). The post was getting monstrously long already, so I skipped some of the relevant caveats (and many of those are already contained in the posts I linked to, or links within links – I have been writing about this for a long time now and cannot include the same 2000 words of caveats in each post).

    While it would be a nice fantasy to have a society in which everyone actually learns and understands science, it is impossible and unneccessary. Phases 1 and 2, though, are important for political reasons – you want people to be on the right side on policy matters when it is time to vote (or protest, or whatever action is neccessary). Stem-cell research, global warming – those are issues with some urgency to it and we cannot wait until everyone understands the underlying science – but we need to assert that we are the experts to be listened to on scientific matters, and not clergy, lawyers, talking-heads and politicians.

  12. #12 coturnix
    June 1, 2007

    Also, as an easy reference, here are the relevant links about framing science.

  13. #13 Ted
    June 1, 2007

    …but we need to assert that we are the experts to be listened to on scientific matters, and not clergy, lawyers, talking-heads and politicians.

    If you make public policy based on science, and think that scientific expertise gives one a particularly revered structure in public policy… then I wonder if you remember a guy — Socrates I think it was — that maintained that a government of experts was necessary to govern the dumbass masses.

    The dumbass masses (the polis) killed him for being undemocratic — and felt no regret about it either since his views heralded back to forms of government they didn’t care for and encouraged arrogance. 2400 years later, still pretty much similar argument, similar story.

  14. #14 Melinda Barton
    June 2, 2007

    In response to Chris’s comment and out of due respect for scientific debate, I’ve offered a more detailed explanation of the problems I have with the theory of promiscuous teleology and the studies upon which it is based on my blog. I can’t say that I’m absolutely correct, no matter how brilliant I may find myself. However, I’d be interested in a scientist’s opinion. If I am proven wrong, the knowledge would more than compensate for the minor humiliation.

  15. #15 Tree
    June 3, 2007

    Thank you for drawing attention to the importance of understanding Phatic Language. While I was raised in a very formal family and as a youngster had an intuitive grasp that the purpose of protocol and etiquette is to establish hierarchy (and safety within that hierarchy), it never occurred to me that transmitting information would be mistaken for attempting to establish hierarchy. This explains to me the rage that some people demonstrate when someone with a perceived lower social rank uses technical language. For example, traditional males seem to Freak Out whenever they hear a female expressing herself in technical language. Well yeah, if they equate technical expertise with social dominance, they’re going to rush to defend their social status, no matter how politely the female expresses herself.

    Perhaps the same people who mistake technical language as an expression of social dominance also mistake uncertainty as an expression of social submission. I think we should consider that if our technical expertise makes us threatening, no matter how carefully we state our case, and we’re too careful stating our case, we’ll be considered submissive, that we should take our authority as given, take our dominance as granted and act as the responsible social leaders that the rest of the herd expects. My intuition is that if we act as authorities, we will attain the authority required to formulate reality-based policy.

  16. #16 David Harmon
    June 3, 2007

    To me, the most disturbing aspect of the current situation is this:

    Humans are fundamentally primates with upgrades. Those additions come in a series of layers, from the basic primate capacities up through language, literacy, and (potentially) sophisticated moral and other conceptual systems. What we think of as “human civilization” represents a frothy structure which we’ve built up on top of our basic hominid nature.

    What I’m seeing in this current crisis, is the results of a concerted effort to destroy the upper layers of that structure, in an attempt to reduce our population to a more primitive (and more easily controlled) social structure. This includes methodical subversion and undercutting of public education, governmental structure, and economic integrity.

    The neocons have a million justifications for why they “have to” get rid of all these fancy ideas about how the details of reality actually matter. It’s all bull, because their real goal is simply to destroy anything they can’t control — and, of course, they can’t control scientific knowledge, or moral/ethical principles, or even “ground truths” about the condition of the populace. What does that leave? A bunch of heavily-trained hominids, completely dependent on the goodwill of their owners. And that’s what ShrubCo want America to become.

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