Framing Science

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When pundits like Richard Dawkins use the trust and authority granted them as scientists to denigrate religious publics, is it unethical?

On issues such as climate change, nanotechnology, and evolution, research in the area of framing is being used to design and plan communication initiatives and to craft novel, accessible, and relevant narratives for nontraditional audiences across media formats. The intended outcomes include increased learning, dialogue, and public participation.

Yet what’s still missing is a clear outline of the ethical and normative imperatives that apply to scientists, journalists, and their organizations when actively drawing upon framing to achieve these public engagement goals. Ethical and normative implications were in fact one of the key concerns raised in the letters published in response to our 2007 article at Science.

In a first effort to lay out a detailed ethical framework, I recently completed a draft of a chapter for a forthcoming edited volume titled Communicating Biological Sciences: Ethical and Metaphorical Dimensions due out later this year. I hope to be expanding on this first sketch of an ethical framework in additional articles and upcoming talks. Below the fold I have posted a section from the introduction that lays out four key principles covered in the chapter.

Also, of interest to the Scienceblogs community, I include a section of the chapter that discusses these principles as applied to the New Atheist movement’s strategic use of framing and the related use of framing by political partisans in the U.S. I will be reviewing some of these ethical imperatives in an upcoming April 13 talk sponsored by the NIH and the National Academies on “Communicating Evolution.”

[Introduction to the chapter]

To begin the chapter, I briefly review how past research in political communication and sociology describes a lay public that makes sense of science-related policy debates by drawing upon a mental toolkit of cognitive short cuts and easily applied criteria. This research shows that science literacy has only a limited influence on perceptions; instead public judgments are based on an interaction between the social background of an audience and the frames most readily available by way of the news, popular culture, social networks, and/or conversations.

Surveys indicate that Americans strongly believe in the promise of science to improve life, deeply admire scientists, and hold science in higher esteem than almost any other institution. Scientists therefore enjoy tremendous communication capital; the challenge is to understand how to use this resource effectively and wisely. Importantly, in terms of ethical obligations, one of the conclusions of this body of research is that whenever possible, dialogue should be a focus of science communication efforts, rather than traditional top-down and one-way transmission approaches.

I then briefly describe a deductive set of frames that apply consistently across science-related debates. Breaking “the frame” so to speak is very difficult to do, since the interpretative resources that society draws upon to collectively make sense of science are based on shared identities, traditions, history, and culture. I also review the important differences between “science,” “policy,” and “politics,” arguing that there are few cases, if any, where science points decisively to a clear policy path or where policy decisions are free from politics. In this context, scientists and journalists can be either “issue advocates” or “honest brokers,” and in each role, framing is central to communication effectiveness.

Yet, no matter their chosen role, scientists and journalists should always emphasize the values-based reasons for a specific policy action. As I discuss, when a policy choice is simplistically defined as driven by “sound science” or as a matter of “inconvenient truths,” it only serves to get in the way of public engagement and consensus-building. Science becomes just another political resource for competing interest groups, with accuracy often sacrificed in favor of political victory.

Indeed, accuracy is a third ethical imperative. No matter their role as issue advocate or honest broker, both scientists and journalists must respect the uncertainty that is inherent to any technical question and resist engaging in hyperbole. If these groups stray from accurately conveying what is conventionally known about an issue, they risk losing public trust.

Finally, for scientists and journalists, a fourth ethical imperative is to avoid using framing to denigrate, stereotype, or attack a particular social group or to use framing in the service of partisan or electoral gains. As I review, this is particularly relevant to communicating about issues such as evolution, where pundits such as Richard Dawkins use their authority as scientists to argue their personal opinion that science undermines the validity of religion and even respect for the religious. The ethical norm also applies to the use by partisans of stem cell research–and science generally–as a political wedge strategy in recent elections. Framing will always be an effective and legitimate part of social criticism and electoral politics, but for scientists and journalists to simplistically define critiques of religion or opposition to a candidate as a “matter of science” only further fuels polarization, alienating key publics and jeopardizing the perceived legitimacy of science….

——-

[Later section from chapter on evolution, New Atheist movement, and partisan uses]

Communication As Consensus or Conflict?

In January 2008, the National Academies issued a revised edition of Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a report intentionally framed in a manner that would more effectively engage audiences who remain uncertain about evolution and its place in the public school curriculum. To guide their efforts, the Academies commissioned focus groups and a national survey to gauge the extent of lay citizens’ understanding of the processes, nature, and limits of science. They also specifically wanted to test various frames that explained why alternatives to evolution were inappropriate for science class (Labov & Pope, 2008). The National Academies’ use of audience research in structuring their report is worth reviewing, since it stands as a leading example of how to ethically employ framing to move beyond polarization and to promote public dialogue on historically divisive issues.

The Academies’ committee had expected that a convincing storyline for the public on evolution would be a public accountability frame, emphasizing past legal decisions and the doctrine of church-state separation. Yet the data revealed that audiences were not persuaded by this framing of the issue. Instead, somewhat surprisingly, the research pointed to the effectiveness of a social progress frame that defined evolutionary science as the modern building block for advances in medicine and agriculture. The research also underscored the effectiveness of a middle-way/ compromise frame, reassuring the public that evolution and religious faith can be fully compatible, a message in line with the longstanding position of the National Academies and other major science organizations. Taking careful note of this feedback, the National Academies decided to structure and then publicize the final version of the report around these core frames.

[Update: With clarity in mind, I have added the italicized above to the draft version of the chapter.]

To reinforce these messages, the National Academies report was produced in partnership with the Institute of Medicine and the authoring committee chaired by Francisco Ayala, a leading biologist who had once trained for the Catholic priesthood. The report opens with a compelling “detective story” narrative of the supporting evidence for evolution, yet placed prominently in the first few pages is a call out box titled “Evolution in Medicine: Combating New Infectious Diseases,” featuring an iconic picture of passengers on a plane wearing SARS masks. On subsequent pages, other social progress examples are made prominent in call out boxes titled “Evolution in Agriculture: The Domestication of Wheat” and “Evolving Industry: Putting Natural Selection to Work.” Lead quotes in the press release feature a similar emphasis.

To engage religious audiences, at the end of the first chapter, following a definition of science, there is a prominent three page special color section that features testimonials from religious scientists, religious leaders and official church position statements, all endorsing the view that religion and evolution are compatible. Both the report and the press release state that: “The evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. Science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future.” In a subsequent journal editorial, these core themes as featured in the report were endorsed by twenty professional science societies and organizations (FASEB 2008).

The Richard Dawkins School of Communication

For the National Academies and these professional societies, political conflicts over evolution have been a lesson learned as to the importance of connecting with diverse audiences and building consensus around commonly shared values. Yet what continues to be the loudest science-affiliated voice on the matter of evolution takes a decidedly different framing strategy. Several scientist authors and pundits, led by the biologist Richard Dawkins (2006), argue that the implications of evolutionary science undermine not only the validity of religion but also respect for all religious faith. Their claims help fuel the conflict frame in the news media, generating journalistic frame devices that emphasize “God vs. Science,” or “Science versus religion.” These maverick communicators, dubbed “The New Atheists,” also reinforce deficit model thinking, consistently blaming conflict over evolution on public ignorance and irrational religious beliefs.

Dawkins, for example, argues as a scientist that religion is comparable to a mental virus or “meme” that can be explained through evolution, that religious believers are delusional, and that in contrast, atheists are representative of a healthy, independent, and pro-science mind. In making these claims, not only does Dawkins use his authority as the “Oxford University Professor of the Public Understanding of Science” to denigrate various social groups, but he gives resonance to the false narrative of social conservatives that the scientific establishment has an anti-religion agenda.

The conflict narrative is powerfully employed in the 2008 anti-evolution documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. By relying almost exclusively on interviews with outspoken atheist scientists such as Dawkins and the blogger PZ Myers, Expelled reinforces the false impression that evolution and faith are inherently incompatible and that scientists are openly hostile to religion. In the film, the comedic actor Ben Stein plays the role of a conservative Michael Moore, taking viewers on an investigative journey into the realm of “Big Science,” an institution where Stein concludes that “scientists are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.”

Stein and the film’s producers employ a public accountability narrative to suggest that scientists have been denied tenure and that research has been suppressed, all in the service of an atheist agenda to hide the supposedly fatal flaws in evolutionary theory. As central frame devices, the film uses historic footage of the Berlin Wall and emphasizes freedom as a central American value. The sinister message is that “Darwinism” has led to atheism, fascism, and communism. As a corollary, if Americans can join Stein in tearing down the wall of censorship in science it would open the way to religious freedom and cultural renewal.

One leading example from the film is an interview with Myers, a professor of biology at the University of Minnesota-Morris, and author of the Pharyngula blog. Myers’ comments in the film reflect much of the content of his blog, which is estimated to receive over a 1 million readers per month. Interviewed in his laboratory, against a backdrop of microscopes and scientific equipment, Myers offers the following view of religion (see YouTube clip):

Religion is naiveté that gives some people comfort and we don’t want to take it away from them. It’s like knitting, people like to knit. We are not going to take their knitting needles away, we are not going to take away their churches, but we have to get it to a place where religion is treated at a level that it should be treated. That is something fun that people get together and do on the weekend, and really doesn’t affect their life as much as it has been so far.

In a follow up, when prompted to discuss how he believes this goal might be accomplished, Myers offers a line of reasoning that reflects the deficit model paradigm, arguing that science literacy is in direct conflict with religious belief:

Greater science literacy, which is going to lead to the erosion of religion, and then we will get this nice positive feedback mechanism going where as religion slowly fades away we will get more and more science to replace it, and that will displace more and more religion which will allow more and more science in and we will eventually get to that point where religion has taken that appropriate place as a side dish rather than a main course.

By the end of its spring 2008 run in theaters, Expelled ranked as one of the top grossing public affairs documentaries in U.S. history. Even more troubling have been the advanced screenings of Expelled for policymakers, interest groups, and other influentials. These screenings have been used to promote “Academic Freedom Acts” in several states, legislation that would encourage teachers (as a matter of “academic freedom”) to discuss the alleged flaws in evolutionary science. In June 2008, an Academic Freedom bill was successfully passed into law in Louisiana with similar legislation under consideration in other states (See Nisbet, 2008; 2009a for more).

As social critics and pundits, there is nothing ethically wrong with Dawkins, Myers, and other so-called New Atheists arguing their personal views on religion, using as exclamation points carefully framed comparisons to fairies, hobgoblins, knitting, and child abuse. Similar to the feminist movement of the 1960s, Dawkins describes his communication goal as “consciousness raising” among the non-religious and those skeptical of religion.

Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups. In the process, New Atheists turn what normatively should be a public dialogue about science and religion into a shouting match and media spectacle.

Partisan Soldiers with Science on their Side

As described earlier, a significant difference between the Bush and Obama administration, at least at this early stage in the latter’s presidency, is that the Bush White House appeared willing to distort, obstruct, and re-frame for political gain the “first premise” conclusions of scientific experts and agencies, especially on research related to climate change and the environment.

In response, during the Bush administration, many scientists, journalists, elected officials, and political strategists focused on public accountability as a call-to-arms “to defend science.” These advocates accused the George W. Bush administration of putting politics ahead of science and expertise on a number of issues, including climate change. For example, in the 2004 election, Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) made strategic use of the public accountability frame, comparing distortions on climate change to the administration’s use of intelligence to invade Iraq: “What I worry about with the president is that he’s not acknowledging what’s on the ground, he’s not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he’s not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues.”

In 2005, journalist Chris Mooney’s best-selling The Republican War on Science helped crystallize the public accountability train of thought, turning the “war on science” into a partisan rallying cry. In 2007, Hillary Clinton, in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, promised to end the “war on science” in American politics, highlighting the new prominence for this frame device.

The public accountability frame has outraged and intensified the commitment of many Democrats, environmental advocates, and scientists, motivating them to label Republican and conservative political figures as “deniers” on climate change and to engage in sharp rhetorical attacks in other policy disputes. Yet for many members of the public, “war on science” claims are likely ignored as just more elite rancor or only further alienate Republicans on an issue such as climate change.

Framing will always be a part of electoral politics and scientists as citizens should actively participate in political campaigns. Yet similar to the case of New Atheists, if scientists speak from their authority and institutional position as trusted experts, using framing to claim that a specific political party or a candidate is either “pro-science” or “anti-science,” the result is likely to be both normatively and strategically undesirable.

First, claims of a “war on science” or a “rising anti-science culture” are inaccurate– and similar to the New Atheist movement– reinforce deficit model assumptions. In Congress, for example, on the great majority of issues there is widespread bi-partisan support for science, a reality reflected in Federal spending on basic research and bi-partisan boosterism in areas such as food biotechnology (see Nisbet & Huge, 2006 for a review). Even members of Congress who personally believe in creationism are likely to vote for broad-based funding of scientific research, since they perceive science generally in terms of social progress and economic competitiveness. Moreover, in terms of the general public, as detailed at the beginning of this chapter, public opinion research shows that science and scientists enjoy widespread admiration, trust, and support among Americans, no matter their political identification or religious views.

The unintended consequence of “war on science” claims is that given the miserly nature of the public, the framing strategy easily reinforces the partisan divide on issues such as stem cell research and climate change while promoting a false narrative that science is for Democrats and not for Republicans. Since 2004, when the Democratic Party began to use stem cell research and climate change as part of an electoral “wedge strategy,” public perceptions have predictably followed. With these partisan messages as a strong heuristic, polls show that the differences between Democrats and Republicans in views of embryonic stem cell research and climate change have widened to more than thirty percentage points respectively (Dunlap & McCright 2008; Pew 2008; VCU Life Sciences, 2008).

In fact, this persistent and widening gap in perceptions over the past decade suggests that climate change and stem cell research have joined a short list of issues such as gun control or taxes that define what it means to be a partisan in the United States. So like the New Atheists, while “war on science” claimants believe they are defending the integrity of science, they are more likely to be part of the communication problem, reinforcing partisan divisions across key issues.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan J
    March 30, 2009

    Is it ethical to call religion a sham, and to call its die-hard believers delusional? Considering that religion is, indeed a sham, and its adherents are delusional, my answer would be an emphatic yes.

  2. #2 abb3w
    March 30, 2009

    While framing is immoral in sufficiently many circumstances that one should be very hesitant to use it to attack or denigrate, and while I have issues with Dawkins & company, I’d disagree with your implied principle that “framing” is absolutely an inherently unethical action for scientists.

  3. #3 Teleprompter
    March 30, 2009

    “Is it ethical to call religion a sham, and to call its die-hard believers delusional?
    Considering that religion is, indeed a sham, and its adherents are delusional, my answer would be an emphatic yes.”

    If only that were the question…

    It seems that the relevant question here is, should authority figures in science use their positions of trust as scientific experts to promote their personal views about religion?

    I am not suggesting that there is an obvious answer to this, but it seems that this question is more what we should be focusing on.

    I do not perceive that Nisbet objects to “calling religion a sham” in principle; rather, it seems that he has some qualms about scientists using their positions to promote what he sees as a secondary endeavour to science.

  4. #4 Marion Delgado
    March 30, 2009

    Re Dawkins in particular:

    When he talks about where religion impinges on his field, he has no choice.

    In other areas, I pay zero attention to him or any of the “New Atheists,” (especially since the moronic “Bright” debacle). That being said, however, I think both Dawkins and Meyers are misrepresented in an egregious way by the completely ethicless people who did Expelled, and not pointing that out is itself deeply unethical on your part, Matthew. Frankly, it may disqualify you from being appropriate for work of this sort.

  5. #5 Oliver
    March 30, 2009

    @Dan J

    Unless, of course, you’re involved in a sham of your own, misrepresenting and misapplying the scientific method and trying to pass it off as “science”.

  6. #6 biopunk
    March 30, 2009

    I’m with Dan on this one, but I believe you’re completely missing the point on this. The fact that your country only has two flavours of politician to run your system of government, and the simplistic way your population views the issues those politicians present, is the problem.

    More importantly, where are the links to the source articles that you are citing?

    Not all of us have access to the AAAS publication, and this is a greater barrier to the public understanding of science, than any disdain of ghosts or sky-daddies.

    I suggest you add the term accessibility to your “ethical imperatives” before continuing your discourse.

  7. #7 John Conway
    March 30, 2009

    It’s a shame that on this blog, at least, you have settled for simply restating your position (again, and again), instead of trying to respond to the substantive criticisms that have been made of it.

  8. #8 kelebek
    March 30, 2009

    thanks….

  9. #9 Cannonball Jones
    March 30, 2009

    Since when was it unethical to present logical, reasoned arguments? By the same brush do you consider it unethical for religious figures to hold forth on topics such as abortion, contraception, evolution, war and any of the other countless topics on which they regularly pontificate but are not, strictly speaking, religious in nature? Should they limit their discourse to discussing the imagined actions and attributes of their particular gods and nothing else besides?

    You may not agree with Dawkins’ views or the manner in which he presents them, but to call him unethical on this basis is patently ridiculous. In my opinion it’s unethical to remain quiet on the subject of religion given the immense amount of harm it seems to cause in the world.

  10. #10 Oliver
    March 30, 2009

    @Cannonball Jones

    Your argument falls flat since it depends sine qua non on the arguments actually being logical and reasoned. Given that you yourself seem only capable of reproducing stereotype, it is doubtful that your judgment on those points have any weight.

    It is most definitely unethical to misrepresent what science does and can do. And unfortunately, that’s what Dawkins does. Without any qualifications or credits other than being a practitioner, he’s claiming expertise he simply doesn’t hold and presents conclusions that far from logical and reasoned are based on assumptions on scientific method that simply are not valid. And he’d know that, if he didn’t confuse being a practitioner with having an idea about the intrinsinc workings.

    Theory of sciences is a discipline of philosophy, not of biology. And a biologist trying to pass off as a philosopher most definitely is defrauding the public – or deluding himself.

  11. #11 Dan J
    March 30, 2009

    It seems that the relevant question here is, should authority figures in science use their positions of trust as scientific experts to promote their personal views about religion?

    Good point, Teleprompter, but I would argue that this is not Prof. Dawkins’ personal opinion, but rather his professional opinion.

    Unless, of course, you’re involved in a sham of your own, misrepresenting and misapplying the scientific method and trying to pass it off as “science”.

    Oliver: I certainly hope you aren’t implying that this applies to Prof. Dawkins.

  12. #12 NewEnglandBob
    March 30, 2009

    This article is for appeasement to the claim that science and religion is incompatible. They are clearly not compatible and using lots of words to appease those who pretend they are compatible is cowardly and malevolent.

    Science: rationality, reality, critical thinking, evidence.
    Religion: irrationality, supernatural fiction, deluded thinking.

    No, not compatible.

  13. #13 Joel
    March 30, 2009

    Personally, I think it’s about time that people like Dawkins stand up to religion and put religion in its place. For too many years the religious have been crippling people with their judgemental horseshit with impunity. It’s time to strip the religious of their power and the first step is to expose their false ideology.

  14. #14 MrPete
    March 30, 2009

    In my opinion it’s unethical to remain quiet on the subject of religion given the immense amount of harm it seems to cause in the world.

    This paints quite the broad brush.

    By the arguments being promoted here, we could easily posit that government ought to be abolished, given the immense amount of harm it seems to cause in the world.

  15. #15 MartinB
    March 30, 2009

    misrepresent what science does and can do. And unfortunately, that’s what Dawkins does

    Where does he do this? If you read his books, he only states that there is neither need of God in any science so far nor any high probabilty for a god. That’s as far as his science goes. His other arguments (on ethics etc.) are never claimed to be scientific,unless there is indeed scientific evidence for them (e.g., the evolution of morality).

    So where exactly is the misrepresentation?

  16. #16 D
    March 30, 2009

    - Let us stipulate that Dawkins makes only terrible arguments. Since when does that make those arguments unethical? Is it immoral to be wrong?

    - Is it immoral for Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Joan Roughgarden, Ursula Goodenhough, Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies and John Polkinghorne to state their views on religion?

  17. #17 Deen
    March 30, 2009

    Why is it ethical and even recommendable for scientists to use their status as a scientist to reassure the public by stating their opinion that science and religion are compatible, but unethical for an atheist to voice their opinion that they are not? I smell a double standard here.

    To cut off a possible reply: yes, it might be more effective for the acceptance of evolution to reassure the masses. However, I don’t see how this has anything to do with being more ethical. In fact, if you feel you have strong arguments why atheism is a more ethical position than theism, it would be unethical not to speak out on it. If you’re wrong you can be corrected, and if you’re right, then maybe you can convince others.

  18. #18 LongtimeLurker
    March 30, 2009

    One thing which irritates me about this blog is its US-centricity. Let’s concede for the sake of argument that your particular brand of framing is by far the best method of communicating science to an American audience and that linking science to atheism will be a hindrance to teaching US citizens about science: how does this premise lead to the conclusion that British academics like Dawkins should adopt the same approach in their books?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think this blog has ever linked to a scrap of evidence that the ‘New Atheist’ communication strategy (in so far as there is one) is unduly problematic in more secular areas such as Europe. If you expect people like Dawkins to adopt your strategies then please take a moment to explain why it’s in their interest to do so, rather than assuming that scientists worldwide should all be doing what’s best for American readers regardless of their domestic situation. In particular, please address the situation of science communication in the context of UK ‘faith schools’ and established religion. It’s my opinion that the only way to prevent Creationism in the UK is to get religion out of schools, and this can only be done by diminishing the prominence of religion (using a variety of weapons including science).

    I think Dawkinss strategy is well adapted for his domestic audience and I don’t see why it would be in his interests to bend over backwards accomodating American interests.

  19. #19 Armchair Dissident
    March 30, 2009

    By the end of its spring 2008 run in theaters, Expelled ranked as one of the top grossing public affairs documentaries in U.S. history.

    [Citation needed]

    I was under the distinct impression that, quite unlike Richard Dawkins’ books, Expelled was a complete flop.

  20. #20 AdamK
    March 30, 2009

    Light has an unethical anti-darkness agenda!

  21. #21 gingerbeard
    March 30, 2009

    “It seems that the relevant question here is, should authority figures in science use their positions of trust as scientific experts to promote their personal views about religion?”

    Hmmmm… well as long as the POPE doesn’t go around using his position of trust as a religious expert to speak out on public health or disease prevention and argue against science and promote his personal (religious) views about science….oh wait he did just that last week in Africa.

    Goose meet gander, pot-kettle.

  22. #22 cpsmith
    March 30, 2009

    “This paints quite the broad brush. By the arguments being promoted here, we could easily posit that government ought to be abolished, given the immense amount of harm it seems to cause in the world.” – MrPete

    I think the appropriate analogy would not be abolishing government, but having to remain silent on politics and government even when you think they are being harmful.

    -In my opinion it’s unethical to remain quiet on the subject of [government] given the immense amount of harm it seems to cause in the world.-

    See?

  23. #23 Gimpy Malone
    March 30, 2009

    I wonder how possible it is to have that “public dialogue about science and religion” without it turning “into a shouting match and media spectacle.”

    No-one on the other side from these ‘New Atheist’ cllllllowns would ever make up in wrath what they want in reason! Would they?

  24. #24 Cannonball Jones
    March 30, 2009

    Your argument falls flat since it depends sine qua non on the arguments actually being logical and reasoned. Given that you yourself seem only capable of reproducing stereotype, it is doubtful that your judgment on those points have any weight.

    Reproducing stereotype? Where exactly? Sorry Oliver, your response fell into playground mode there.

    Without any qualifications or credits other than being a practitioner, he’s claiming expertise he simply doesn’t hold and presents conclusions that far from logical and reasoned are based on assumptions on scientific method that simply are not valid.

    Erm, what? You are seriously suggesting here, if I’m not mistaken, that being a scientist rather than a philosopher bars one from discourse on the scientific method? So no scientists are allowed to comment on this debate? That’s beyond ridiculous. And can you provide examples of these invalid assumptions and the illogical and irrational conclusions?

    Theory of sciences is a discipline of philosophy, not of biology. And a biologist trying to pass off as a philosopher most definitely is defrauding the public – or deluding himself.

    Dawkins has never pretended to be a philosophy graduate, your argument is disingenuous at best. In any case, as I mentioned before, the lack of a degree in philosophy has no more bearing on his knowledge of the subject than does a lack of a degree in theology. You live in a strange world if you believe someone needs to hold a piece of paper in order to have a valid opinion.

  25. #25 Habebe
    March 30, 2009

    @Armchair Dissident:

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=documentary.htm

    It’s 12th, 5 slots below Religulous. Looks like Dawkins & co. are doing it right ;)

  26. #26 freelunch
    March 30, 2009

    I would say that it is unethical for anyone to say “As a trained X, I can say without reservation that Unrelated-Y is completely false,” but I cannot see how someone using their own professional skills is unethical in pointing out “As a trained X, I can say that the claims of Y are shown to be false by the evidence that my discipline has gathered.” It would be unethical to be silent in that case.

    Every scientist in the world should feel free to mock the nonsense that Jenny McCarthy or the Pope or other unthinking fools are spreading.

  27. #27 abb3w
    March 30, 2009

    Oliver: Theory of sciences is a discipline of philosophy, not of biology. And a biologist trying to pass off as a philosopher most definitely is defrauding the public – or deluding himself.

    All sciences, including biology, are branches of philosophy. It was only about 1830 that the term “science” was coined, and eventually came to supplant the previous usage “natural philosophy”.

  28. #28 Rieux
    March 30, 2009

    LongtimeLurker:

    One thing which irritates me about this blog is its US-centricity.

    [....]

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think this blog has ever linked to a scrap of evidence that the ‘New Atheist’ communication strategy (in so far as there is one) is unduly problematic in more secular areas such as Europe.

    Apologies for contributing a bit to the US-centricity, but it’s worth pointing out that this blog has never “linked to a scrap of evidence that the ‘New Atheist’ communication strategy (in so far as there is one) is unduly problematic in” the United States, either.

    Posts like this are based on the fact that Dawkins and company make Nisbet unhappy. There’s not even much pretense that the latter has any evidence to support his critical notions. Unless, I suppose, you include the above-refuted notions about the “success” of Expelled–which aren’t evidence because they’re not true.

  29. #29 Tulse
    March 30, 2009

    By the end of its spring 2008 run in theaters, Expelled ranked as one of the top grossing public affairs documentaries in U.S. history.

    The anti-religious “public affairs documentary” Religulous earned nearly twice the domestic box office of Expelled. By most accounts, Expelled did not make its production and marketing budget back.

    How is trumpeting Expelled as a success not just an example of duplicitous framing?

  30. #30 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 30, 2009

    Dude, leave some square quotes for the rest of us!

  31. #31 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    Yet for many members of the public, “war on science” claims are likely ignored as just more elite rancor or only further alienate Republicans on an issue such as climate change.

    As usual, Matt seems to miss that the argument for the war on science was reactionary to activities and statements already made by those participating in the denigration of science itself.

    It hardly FURTHER alienated republicans, as they (and not just republicans, btw) were already antagonistic (and were the very reason Mooney, and MANY others, have written the books they did. Perhaps you have even forgotten the books written on the “anti science” side, like those of Coulter?

    hell, Matt, maybe you might even try going back to 1998 when Erhlich wrote Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environment Rhetoric Threatens Our Future to see how far you are missing the larger issues here.

    it hardly started with Mooney, and it hardly was the scientists that fired the first shot, or volley, or even entire attack.

    This consistent lack of viewpoint and apparent knowledge of the history of the larger issue, combined with continued egregious misuses of specific issues, for example the “Expelled” debacle, makes me agree with Marion Delgado above, and state for the nth time that you appear to be unsuited for the role you are designing for yourself as ultimate arbiter between science and religion.

    You are starting to remind me more and more of John Kwok, and that saddens me greatly.

    you need an ego check, stat.

  32. #32 Immunologist
    March 30, 2009

    I have been following this discussion on and off for some time, and while my feelings on the matter will not be so well articulated as those of many of the other commenters, here goes. First, when I use the term religion, I am not referring to some general spirituality or deist philosophy, but rather to an organized body of doctrine and practice with associated organizational and social structures. Invariably organized religions of this sort make ontological claims about the natural world, and inevitably these claims have been proven by science to be incorrect. Accordingly, I think it entirely appropriate for scientists to comment on religions which are based on these ontological claims. Further, if it can be shown that origin claims, as well as historical claims, are wrong, then it is reasonable to question the entire ediface. This is especially important when adherents of those religions attempt to impose on society in general the behavioral dictates of their particular doctrines. Finally, I can’t help but wrinkle my nose at the vaguely post-modernist scent that much of this framing discussion exudes.

  33. #33 Barney
    March 30, 2009

    These maverick communicators, dubbed “The New Atheists,” also reinforce deficit model thinking, consistently blaming conflict over evolution on public ignorance and irrational religious beliefs.

    Just to start, I’d like to highlight Matthew’s subtle use of the word ‘maverick‘ here, to demonize those he disagrees with. That Dawkins and Dennett are professors who have spent years working in internationally-renowned universities doesn’t matter to Matthew; he wants to frame them as people who aren’t following the rules (which I’m beginning to think he wants to have the power to make up, and then apply retroactively to earlier works by other people).

    Matthew (or anyone), what else has caused conflict over evolution, apart from ignorance or irrational religious beliefs? Ask anyone who has some knowledge in the field, and they’ll say that evolution from common ancestors via natural selection is undoubtedly true – unless they are an extremist religious believer who takes the claims of their religion over the stunningly huge amount of evidence about evolution.

    Are you asking scientists to lie about the causes of the conflict – to make up causes that don’t exist? That would be unethical, surely?

    LongtimeLurker makes a good point about the American-centric viewpoint of Matthew. Dawkins is British, and has been living and working in Oxford for nearly 40 years. When considering his approach to religion, the effect it has in Britain should be considered before other countries such as the USA.

  34. #34 C. M. Baxter
    March 30, 2009

    Who destroyed the library at Alexandria, science or religion? Who delivered us into the Dark Ages, science or religion? I’ve heard enough about the so-called compatibility of science and religion. Religion is compatible with nothing, not even itself.

  35. #35 Paco
    March 30, 2009

    I think the dialectic process is relevant here: thesis (God), antithesis (atheism), synthesis…

    But the synthesis is not just for everyone to happily gloss over deep differences with serious policy ramifications. Do we take care of our Earth or treat it as temporary and disposable, to be replaced after the Second Coming? Do we support policies on human reproduction based on informed choice by the people most intimately involved or stick with ancient taboos that fail to convince or limit unwanted babies and the spread of disease?

    With the sphere of serious argument, Dawkins is admirably honest and rather civil in making his points. Religious figures of comparable thoughtfulness can engage him and we may learn something. What’s unethical is to equate the difficult work of condemning ignorance with actual prejudice or violence against ignorant people.

  36. #36 Sam C
    March 30, 2009

    So, from this mulligatawny of an article, I understand that propounding anything that Our Good Lord Nisbet dislikes is possible (or probably?) “unethical”. Any working scientist with strong views against any particular facet of irrationality should put up their hand and say meekly “please sir, can I make a comment, but I do so in a personal capacity because I am only a humble working scientist not fit to hold his own opinions outside my core discipline”?

    On the other hand, a jobbing wordmasher chooses to hold those scientists to account in his own imaginary frame-focused universe. With no acknowledgement of the irony of this situation!

    Science is predicated on understanding the world as it is using rational tools. It is not about your silly frames. If you’re trying to write about communication (for heaven’s sake, take a creative writing lesson, this porridge prose numbs the neurons!), then yes, often a friendly approach works best, and yes, it is rare for an in-your-face attack to win friends.

    But you have no right to try to dictate the behavior of others. They are not part of your invisible army. You complain of the aggressive approach of the strident atheists, but you ignore the amount of irritation your sneering approach causes. Physician – heal thyself!

  37. #37 Opisthokont
    March 30, 2009

    What amazes me most here is the assertion that scientists have some sort of authority over the American public. “Surveys indicate that Americans strongly believe in the promise of science to improve life, deeply admire scientists, and hold science in higher esteem than almost any other institution” — and at the same time, the American public keeps supporting creationism, keeps denying that global warming is real, man-made, and a threat, and so on. As a group, Americans may hold science in high esteem, but they do not know what it is, and they may admire scientists (although this is news to me), but they feel their own gut opinions to be just as trustworthy and valid as what scientists have spent careers proving. These surveys indicate more that Americans (again, as a general rule) talk out of both sides of their mouths; the rampant anti-intellectualism of the country gives rise to a deep-seated suspicion of experts of any kind. Scientists are the most removed of experts (aside from, perhaps, mathematicians and philosophers), and their opinions are the first to be tossed aside when they conflict with what the masses’ guts tell them.

    For the record, I am myself an American. I have been living in Canada for the last five years, and the difference in attitudes towards science here is subtle but quite refreshing.

  38. #38 protocol
    March 30, 2009

    O.K. lets summarize some observations about this whole “framing” fracas:

    1) nisbett’s arguments are surprisingly bereft of much evidence as others have pointed out above. For example:

    a) there is no evidence that “Expelled” is the top grossing documentary on the general topic

    b)There is not a shred of evidence, qualitative or quantitative that “framing” science actually has any effect independent of people’s preexisting prejudices, unless these prejudices themselves are being redefined as “frames”. In the latter case I think overcoming those prejudices, not reinforcing them, would seem to be a more worthy task (incidentally much research in political science on political framing has tended to generally support the view that ‘frames’ are indeed another way of playing on peoples’ preexisting prejudices to ‘trick’ them to support policies. Incidentally it is also the case that prejudiced people are not totally bereft of agency here).

    2) So I think scientists’ goal should be:

    a) to challenge prejudices, frames be damned

    b) not act/think like marketers/bullshitters who sell goods (including politicians) by trickery, playing on preexisting prejudices.

    c) connected to (a), and (b) above, therefore try to promote a more reasoning society and culture.

    I think this is an ethical imperative. Unlike Matt Nisbett, I don’t want scientists especially to act like marketers. So I think it is Nisbett who is being ‘unethical’ here. As someone above said, he does not have an argument; he merely dislikes (for his own reasons, whatever they might be; I don’t want to psychoanalyze) what PZ and others have to say.

  39. #39 Ric
    March 30, 2009

    How can Dawkins and Myers avoid using their status as accomplished scientists to buttress their views on religion? Should they wear a mask or sit in shadow when they speak out?

  40. #40 Oliver
    March 30, 2009

    @Cannonball Jones

    Unfortunately, you follow in the same mold, merely making claims upon what was allegedly said which lack any basis in the actual statements.

    “Reproducing stereotype? Where exactly? Sorry Oliver, your response fell into playground mode there.”

    You seem to be entirely in the playground mode. But obviously, you are uninterested in actually discussion religion and science and more interested in reproducing cartoonistic stereotypes so you have something to bash. Instead of discussing the spectrum of religion that really exist, you take the worst bit of it and try to pass it of as characteristic. I suppose we should then discuss science on the basis of Scott Reuben?

    “Erm, what? You are seriously suggesting here, if I’m not mistaken, that being a scientist rather than a philosopher bars one from discourse on the scientific method? ”

    You are mistaken. There’s a difference between DISCOURSE and LECTURING, or claiming superior expertise. If you don’t know them, kindly consult a dictionary.

    “And can you provide examples of these invalid assumptions and the illogical and irrational conclusions?”

    I have no obligation to provide evidence for delusions that you are coming up with so you have something to discredit. But I suggest if you want to partake in discourse, you actually pay attention to what people are writing, because if you don’t, you don’t partake in discourse by definition.

    “You live in a strange world if you believe someone needs to hold a piece of paper in order to have a valid opinion.”

    Except I never said so, but to hell with facts, right?

    Maybe before accusing others of being delusional, you start living in the real world yourself? I know that doing your homework is a chore, but if you want to be taken seriously, instead as being seen on the same argumentative level as a religious fanatic, I’m afraid nothing will save you from that work.

    @abb3w

    “All sciences, including biology, are branches of philosophy. It was only about 1830 that the term “science” was coined, and eventually came to supplant the previous usage “natural philosophy”.”

    You miss the point, being the difference between being a practitioner, being taught to apply something, and being a theorizer, delving into the inner workings of something. Just like the fact that an MD knows how to apply medical knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s an expert at generating it, and even less at understanding how it is generated. The foundations of science in the end are in theory of knowledge, because in order to generate knowledge you have to have an idea what that “knowledge” thing is to begin with and when you can claim you have it. And that’s a profoundly philosophical discipline, and those who dealt with the issue, even if some, but by no means all of them, had a scientific education as well, did so in the context of departments and debates of philosophy.

    @Barney

    You commit a false appeal to authority when stating “That Dawkins and Dennett are professors who have spent years working in internationally-renowned universities ”

    What you’re trying to do here is trying to blind people with fancy titles and positions. What matters, however, is qualifications. And while Dawkins might certainly be qualified to talk about biology, he is NOT qualified to lecture on issues of philosophy, which includes lecturing on the theory of science and/or what it means for religion. He is certainly free to discuss it, but his opinion is worth no more than yours, mine, or that of the average guy next door. And as such, he is certainly not beyond criticism if he tries to use a hammer to drive in a screw – and if he misrepresents scientific method.

  41. #41 Paul W.
    March 30, 2009

    The anti-religious “public affairs documentary” Religulous earned nearly twice the domestic box office of Expelled. By most accounts, Expelled did not make its production and marketing budget back.

    Religulous is kicking Expelled’s ass in in DVD rentals as well.

    When are we going to hear Matt talking about its tremendous success?

    Interestingly, a lot of religious people find Religulous entertaining and not too offensive, in an “everybody but me and thee” kind of way.

    I think there’s a framing lesson in there somewhere, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for Matt to notice it.

  42. #42 chuko
    March 30, 2009

    Don’t you think it’s unethical for a scientist to pretend that there’s no rational contradiction between faith and science, when there clearly is? It’s hard for me to see how willful intellectual dishonesty can be seen as ethical.

  43. #43 Deen
    March 30, 2009

    Oliver:

    You commit a false appeal to authority when stating “That Dawkins and Dennett are professors who have spent years working in internationally-renowned universities “

    is mentioning Dennett a false appeal to authority as well? I couldn’t help but notice you didn’t mention him in your response to the quote containing his name. And what does it mean if Dennet and Dawkins largely agree on many of the issues?

    Of course, if you know what a false appeal to authority is, you should also be aware that doing the inverse is a fallacy as well, right? Pointing out that Dawkins does not have formal training in philosophy doesn’t say anything about the value of his arguments. Doesn’t say much about his right to write books about it either. Nobody says Dawkins is above criticism, but you offer very little substance to your criticism, other than hammering on about his qualifications.

  44. #44 Barney
    March 30, 2009

    Oliver,
    No, I was not making an appeal to authority – if you read that paragraph again, you’ll see I was objecting to Matthew calling them “maverick communicators”. Their long experience in lecturing and writing, and association with mainstream universities, is extremely relevant to that. Matthew himself likes to display his ‘authority’ by saying he’s “a professor in the School of Communication”, and reminding us he has a PhD – in ‘Communication’. By your standard, he’s unqualified to talk about science or religion, then.

    You repeatedly say Dawkins ‘misrepresents’ science, or the scientific method. Just repeating that, without evidence, isn’t going to convince anyone here. Apart from attacking other commenters, are you going to give us anything to actually talk about? Or should we just ignore you?

  45. #45 Rieux
    March 30, 2009

    Paul W.:

    Interestingly, a lot of religious people find Religulous entertaining and not too offensive, in an “everybody but me and thee” kind of way.

    Meanwhile, prominent “New Atheist” and frequent Nisbet opponent P.Z. Myers has panned Religulous as dishonest and unfair to the religious people (!) it features.

    I think there’s a framing lesson in there somewhere, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for Matt to notice it.

    Indeed there is.

  46. #46 Michael
    March 30, 2009

    To further “frame” the framing of Expelled, one should glance at the number of theaters that showed it over its theatrical run. In the case of Religulous, it opened on 502 screens and expanded modestly to 568 (a typical pattern for a documentary – open relatively small and go into wider release if the per screen box office returns merit it).

    Expelled, on the other hand, opened much wider (on 1,052 screens), providing anecdotal evidence on what theater managers thought would play in Peoria. However, it closed on the exact same number of screens (providing rather concrete evidence that theater managers knew a turkey when they saw one, and were choosing to cut their losses).

  47. #47 freelunch
    March 30, 2009

    Oliver,

    Since you are greatly upset by those who appear in any way to be relying on the authority of their position, yet presumably are concerned about evidence, under what circumstances would theologians, or any believers be allowed to speak on behalf of their religions?

  48. #48 Paul W.
    March 30, 2009

    Oliver,

    And while Dawkins might certainly be qualified to talk about biology, he is NOT qualified to lecture on issues of philosophy, which includes lecturing on the theory of science and/or what it means for religion.

    Funny how I know of several philosophers of science and/or mind and/or metaphysics and epistemology who take Dawkins seriously on this stuff, and quote him mostly approvingly. Likewise some anthropologists, psychologists, etc.

    Dawkins’ point about selfish memes has serious philosophical implications and has been a significant contribution to the literature in philosophy even if it was not originally published there. (Rather like Darwins’ theory of evolution, which was revolutionary philosophically, not just scientifically—read Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea to get a sample of both.)

    To say that Dawkins is “unqualified” is ludicrous. He might be wrong, or he might be overreaching in a general way, but he hasn’t transgressed any disciplinary boundaries that haven’t collapsed already.

    When it comes to the stuff Dawkins and Matt disagree about, I think most philosophers would side with Dawkins, and I’m pretty sure most philosophers of science would.

    Which means that Matt is the one who is unqualified here. He’s not in any position to say that Dawkins’s opinions about the nature of religion or the conflict between science and religion are mere personal opinion. They are not. They are professional, scientific opinions that are taken quite seriously by many professionals in several relevant fields—philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and biology at least.

    (And who the hell are you or Matt to say that Dawkins is unqualified with respect to philosophy when philosophers like Dennett or anthropologists like Boyer agree with him in refereed scientific and philosophical publications?)

    Right or wrong, Dawkins is a major league player and his qualifications are just not the issue. His claims and arguments are.

    Matt tends to beg the whole question underlying these disagreements by blithely asserting that there’s no conflict between science and religion and that such opinions are unscientific (or not-scientific).

    He writes as though he has never read Dennett’s Breaking the Spell or Boyer’s Religion Explained, or even the relevant chapters of The God Delusion. A major point in each of these books is that religion is a natural phenomenon that can be analyzed scientifically, and that such analyses have tremendous implications for the philosophy of religion. Religion comes up short as a way of knowing.

    Matt is either ignorant of or willfully misrepresenting the most basic issue here, explored in these guys’ professional, book-length scientific and philosophical explorations of the subject.

    Matt blithely asserts that they are wrong, as though “everybody knows” that science has nothing to say about religion in general, etc., and as though their books were never written.

    That is unethical, and it’s a travesty of the very principles that Matt espouses.

    You seem to be doing the same. Have you even read Dennett?

  49. #49 Inoculated Mind
    March 30, 2009

    RE: Oliver

    What you’re trying to do here is trying to blind people with fancy titles and positions. What matters, however, is qualifications. And while Dawkins might certainly be qualified to talk about biology, he is NOT qualified to lecture on issues of philosophy, which includes lecturing on the theory of science and/or what it means for religion. He is certainly free to discuss it, but his opinion is worth no more than yours, mine, or that of the average guy next door. And as such, he is certainly not beyond criticism if he tries to use a hammer to drive in a screw – and if he misrepresents scientific method.

    Oliver, you should really familiarize yourself with the expertise of the people you are criticizing before you claim that they have no expertise in something that they do. Dawkins is also a philosopher of science, and has penned arguments about the philosophy of biology. In fact – On definition of “function” (as it pertains to biology) has his name attached to it. Granted, this is not the philosophy of religion, but he does have experience in philosophy, and often talks about non-religious philosophical matters pertaining to science – and has only encountered this “Hey, he’s not a philosopher/theologian” line when criticizing religion.

    I find that rather interesting.

  50. #50 Inoculated Mind
    March 30, 2009

    Paul W. and I seem to be on the same page with our responses, here. And I would like to add that I think some references would be necessary to back up the claim that Dawkins’ views are mere ‘personal opinions.’ Particularly when you consider Dennett’s contributions.

  51. #51 Tulse
    March 30, 2009

    Religulous [...] opened on 502 screens and expanded modestly to 568 [...] Expelled, on the other hand, opened much wider (on 1,052 screens)

    And taking this into account the disparity at the box office is even clearer — opening per-screen averages tell the tale: $6,792 for Religulous vs. $2,824 for Expelled.

  52. #52 Anonymous
    March 30, 2009

    Mr Nisbet. You seem to be putting an immense amount of time and effort to put lipstick on a pig and presenting it as lady. Judging from the tone of the comments here and elsewhere on science blogs, not too many people are impressed by your efforts. You can add me to that list.

  53. #53 Kevin
    March 30, 2009

    How is it ethical for the Pope to comment on AIDS and condoms? Or the Catholic church on evolution? Or the many creationists on what may or mat not be taught in Science Class. NOMA? SCHMOMA!

    When they stop trying to insert religion into science classes I’ll start worrying about Dawkins and Dennet talking about religion.

  54. #54 Nome
    March 30, 2009

    O-M-G. I am SO TIRED of Dawkins. Shut up already! And do what all good scientists should be doing. Science.

  55. #55 marty
    March 30, 2009

    Oliver:

    “And can you provide examples of these invalid assumptions and the illogical and irrational conclusions?”

    I have no obligation to provide evidence for delusions that you are coming up with so you have something to discredit. But I suggest if you want to partake in discourse, you actually pay attention to what people are writing, because if you don’t, you don’t partake in discourse by definition.

    Well, actually you do. You made the claim that Dawkins made invalid assumptions and illogical and irrational conclusions:

    It is most definitely unethical to misrepresent what science does and can do. And unfortunately, that’s what Dawkins does. Without any qualifications or credits other than being a practitioner, he’s claiming expertise he simply doesn’t hold and presents conclusions that far from logical and reasoned are based on assumptions on scientific method that simply are not valid.

    You were asked to back up your statements and instead you attempted to point the other way. I suggest if you want to partake in discourse, you actually pay attention to what you are writing.

  56. #56 Scarlet Letter
    March 30, 2009

    “When pundits like Richard Dawkins use the trust and authority granted them as scientists to denigrate religious publics, is it unethical?”

    What are “religious publics”?

  57. #57 Anton Mates
    March 30, 2009

    Religulous is kicking Expelled’s ass in in DVD rentals as well.

    Sales, too. Religulous has sold over twice as many DVDs as Expelled, despite the fact that the latter movie was released on DVD four months earlier.

  58. #58 Bob
    March 30, 2009

    All sciences, including biology, are branches of philosophy. It was only about 1830 that the term “science” was coined, and eventually came to supplant the previous usage “natural philosophy”.

    Posted by: abb3w | March 30, 2009 10:30 AM

    Yes, and a strict reductionist framework is one philosophy. But it does not invalidate other philosophies. And passing atheism (a philosophy) off as science and religion as a “mental virus” is unethical and nothing short of prejudice pandering hate rhetoric under the guise of science.

  59. #59 Heraclides
    March 30, 2009

    Finally, for scientists and journalists, a fourth ethical imperative is to avoid using framing to denigrate, stereotype, or attack a particular social group or to use framing in the service of partisan or electoral gains.

    I think you’d be well advised to re-phrase this in terms of openly disclosing personal, political or commercial agendas. You can’t really stop people having “agendas”, only ask that they not be deceitful about them. In particular regards “attack[ing] a particular social group”: this will in many cases be rightfully unavoidable, and in cases “attacking” them for holding and promoting unsound views will be the right thing to do.

    Ironically this suggests to me that you fail to understand the framing approach that people who are “anti-science” use. If scientists were to limit themselves as you suggest, we might as well just let these anti-science people have their way, as much of their framing plays directly on that scientists prefer to address the factual statements made, not the “social culture” or “style of argument” that their “anti-science’” fallacies are imbedded in. Very often addressing the latter is very relevant, and I feel can often be more relevant and useful than addressing the “facts” themselves.

  60. #60 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 30, 2009

    For those pointing to the difference in gross profit for Religulous as opposed to Expelled note that the Expelled marketers also paid religious schools to bring children to the movie. It isn’t clear how much this mattered but it could account for a large fraction of the gross. Since Expelled is only $20,000 above Tupac: Resurrection this could easily push Expelled into 13th place (and seriously, nearly tied with a documentary about Tupac? I mean, c’mon).

    Now, I’m very much not a fan of comparing Expelled to Religulous, since they aren’t really opposites. Expelled is an anti-science movie. Religulous is an anti-religion movie. Repeatedly comparing these might be both inaccurate and just a genuinely bad frame. So, with that in mind, let’s compare Expelled to pro-science documentaries. What do we get then? Let’s see. March of the Penquins is in 2nd place with 77 million dollars (slightly over 10 times as much gross as Expelled) and An Inconvenient Truth is at 24 million, about 3 times as much as Expelled.

    So what are the take home conclusions? Expelled failed. Badly. Both anti-religion documentaries and pro-science documentaries both did much better than Expelled.

    I’m also puzzled by the claim that Expelled made PZ and Dawkins look bad. Indeed, I had one friend who came into the movie with a mildly negative impression of Dawkins, with essentially second-hand information and came out of it with a mildly positive impression. Now, that could be because Expelled was just wretched. But I’d wager that part of what happened is precisely because Dawkins made a strong, cogent argument for his position.

    Moving on to the “war on science” meme. There is a lot wrong with what you say here but I’ll touch on only the most serious points.

    First, you confuse the war on science with a general attempt to remove all science funding. Certainly, direct attacks on science funding are a goal of some of the more extreme elements (look at the classic Golden Fleece awards, or Palin’s comment about fruit flies, or Jindal’s comment about volcano monitoring). There have been serious funding cuts such as the complete removal of the Office of Technology Assessment by Gingrich and his allies. However, to portray that as the primary issue in the war on science is simply to misrepresent what Chris Mooney and others are concerned about. The primary problem has not been funding (although that has certainly been a problem). It has been ignoring good science when it is inconvenient and constructing fake science to bolster their opinions using so-called think-tanks and other junk.

    Regarding your claim that the use of the term “war on science” has furthered the anti-science attitudes of the Republican party, there is a correlation v. causation fallacy in your logic. You assert that the change in Republican and Democratic attitudes about stem-cells happened after such rhetoric was in use and conclude that therefore this rhetoric caused that divide. You need much better evidence for that claim if you are going to make it.

    Moreover, the problems discussed in Chris Mooney’s book occurred well before the term “war on science” was introduced. Thus, the correlation you bring up with the two issues of global warming and stem cell research is even more tenuous in that context. It is far more reasonable to view the so called Republican war on science as part of a general trend of certain elements in that party to ignore facts they don’t like and to parade ignorance and anti-intellectualism as virtues. This isn’t a new thing. Look at Reagan’s comments on nuclear waste for example. Blaming the people who have brought this issue up and made it explicit seems almost like blaming the messenger. If one believes that there are still smart, pro-science, Republicans (as I do) then there needs to be an effort to make them understand how their party has been hijacked. I would dearly like to know what other frame you think we should use to present that message.

  61. #61 Anna K.
    March 30, 2009

    If “Expelled” has indeed been used successfully as propaganda through advance screenings to legislators in order to shoehorn creationism/ID into science classrooms in various states under ‘Academic Freedom’ laws, then who cares if “Religulous” got more ticket sales and sold more DVDs?

    I’m sure the makers of “Expelled” are proud of their work. Personally, if I had to choose only one kind of success, I would take policy changes over ticket sales any day . . . So what if they’re not laughing all the way to the bank . . . their goal is to be laughing all the way to the (former) science classroom.

    As someone who has a scientific background and who works at a church, I am dismayed at how effective creationists/ID purveyors are at communications.

    If the comments on this blog reflect the attitudes of the scientifically literate, then it’s too bad more scientifically literate people aren’t willing to learn more about framing in regards to religious audiences, because the ID crowd and the makers of “Expelled” are really very good at reaching those groups. These pseudoscientists know exactly how to frame their arguments.

    I am glad the National Academies are finally figuring out how to do this as well.

  62. #62 Unimpressed by 'Framing'
    March 31, 2009

    Nisbet, get over yourself and try to come up with a much better idea – framing is the kind of vacuous masturbatory journal stuffer that gives much of academia a bad name.

    You are so out-classed it isn’t funny.

    While I nearly always agree with Dawkins, I am somewhat concerned that he isn’t always sufficiently critical of the religious and other superstitious people. He is young, however, and he will learn.

  63. #63 The Last Sane One
    March 31, 2009

    SIR–

    I am very fond of your publication, Framing Science, for I tend to chuckle when watching a pseudo-academic lay claim to any valid interpretation of natural science. Perhaps the “doctor” of “communication studies” would benefit from reading some actual works in sociology and philosophy, for much of his ideas (and by extension his writings) can be dramatically improved through actual thought.

    In “framing” these so-called “frames of science”, one must realize that this notion of “frames” in the first place comes from a deep-seated anxiety when facing objectivity and external truths. If one reads the works of Paul Virilio, many of the “doctor’s” concerns, ideas, and terminology are echoed in them, although Virilio is curiously chronologically the predecessor to the “doctor.” The post-Husserl anti-Enlightenment current channeled by the “doctor” ironically fuels a reactionary aversion to science, not a “post-structural” or “postmodern” one, even if it uses the same arguments. I cannot say for sure what the good “doctor’s” position is on religious truths (or any metaphysical ones for that matter), but if he were to read (and not “deconstruct” or “dismantle” or “build frames to analyze on”) Steven Shapin’s works (the most recent of which is The Scientific Life), he would then perhaps better understand the nature of the morality and ethics of science. Now, this does not come from a flimsy “bioethics” perspective that bases itself on the newest crazes and passing fancies of the bio-research community (they always go for the flashiest issues, neh?), but rather a deeper structure of the role of the scientist, not as a higher moral authority, but rather, as an equivalent “worker”. If the good “doctor” had any decent education in the sociology or even the history of science, he would no doubt had encountered Max Weber’s “Science as a vocation.” One hopes he has at least cited (if not read) this seminal work in his writings. Then again, being a “scholar” of communication “studies”, the good “doctor” might as well just cite The New Yorker or Reader’s Digest as his sources.

    Now, I am by no means an adherent to Leo Strauss or any other neoclassicist who wishes to resurrect Plato and Lucretius as the sole authority on Truth (capital case “T”), but I do see a rather disturbing lack of humanistic education on part of scientists who have not received a proper liberal education (lower case “l”). This extreme hatred towards religion is not a product of reason, but of gross simplification of what religion really is. A systemic study of religion can be found in the works of Weber and Durkheim, who, incidentally, are a lot more convincing in their arguments than many of these so-called molecular biologists who merely point at a gel and scream “I see proteins present!!” As a physicist, sometimes I am embarrassed on the part of my fellow natural scientists in their absolute proud ignorance of the humanities, and sometimes even of the scientific method itself! I wager that the average sociologist knows in more detail and more depth the structure and proper methodology of science than your average chemist. It is appalling, yes, but then again, when responding to utter rubbish, like this blog, I can see where the ire comes from.

    In conclusion, I invite all of you to read an actual book with footnotes, full references, and articles/essays that are longer than five pages in length. This includes the grunting scientists and the good “doctor.” If we are to have an intelligent debate, please start with knowing something about the foundations. If not, you are merely sophists, arguing about nothing in regards to nothingness. Yes, that includes you, Mr Maher.

    With love and sincere admiration,

    The Last Sane One

  64. #64 bric
    March 31, 2009

    “You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.” – Samuel Johnson

  65. #65 Ambaron O'Coroin
    March 31, 2009

    In what way is this a question of ethics? The only ethic principle that the “New Atheists” are potentially violating is something like “Don’t lie”. If it were true that science cannot say anything about the claims that the various religions make about the world, then, since the “New Atheists” claim otherwise, I guess you could accuse them of lying. However, in order to make this argument you would have to show that science really cannot say anything about the likelihood that religious claims (such as the existence of some god or gods) are true. But I don’t see how you could possibly show this: while some religious claims are non-falsifiable at the most general level, there are often many falsifiable claims that derive from them. And any falsifiable claim is fair game for any scientifically minded person. For example, the claim that there is (at least one) omnipotent god is non-falsifiable, but the claims that this omnipotent god created the universe/life/humans, or that it answers prayers, punishes immoral acts or interacts with the physical universe in any other way are falsifiable and based on the evidence so far, there is every reason to believe that they are false. And that is really all that Dawkins is saying in “The God Delusion” and other public statments. Nowhere in the book does he deny the possibility that there is/are a god/gods, he just says that to the best of our scientific knowledge, it is very improbable.

    Now, one could argue that strategically the confrontational, outspoken approach of the “New Atheists” is non-optimal. I personally would not want to make that argument, as the appeasement/silence strategy hasn’t worked to well in the past 150 years or so. But I can see how one could make that argument. What I don’t see is how one can argue that the approach of the New Atheists is unethical.

  66. #66 MH
    March 31, 2009

    Matt,

    If you are going to make the effort to fiter comments individually, can you at least take the time to respond to some of them? As a communications expert, isn’t dialogue important to you?

  67. #67 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 31, 2009

    Hi everyone,

    I think many objections are clearly addressed in the text of the chapter excerpt or in past articles I have published on framing.

    For example, I explicitly note that as a social critic and pundit, there is nothing unethical about Dawkins expressing his personal opinions about religion. Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups. It also plays right into the hands of social conservatives.

    Over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet has a good discussion on this important distinction that I make in the chapter:

    http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2009/03/framing_and_ethics_part_2.php

    –By political documentary standards, Expelled was a major success, ranking as the #5 top grossing pol doc of all time.

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=politicaldoc.htm

    And as I note in the chapter, it has had even more of an impact at the policy level. I discuss this in a recent article at Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

    http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/trojan-horse.html

  68. #68 Cannonball Jones
    March 31, 2009

    Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups.

    I’m not sure what your problem is with Dawkins et al arguing that religion is, in certain respects, a scientific question. The majority of religions make very clear and precise empirical claims about the physical world, for example the age of the earth and how it came into being. This is clearly a matter for science. Or am I misunderstanding what you’re getting at.

    As for attacking social groups and undermining respect, they seem to be very clear on the conditions where this is the case. Yes they attack such groups which practice stonings of rape victims, indoctrination of children, homophobia, etc. Good for them, I agree wholeheartedly. However they also realise that not all religious people are like that and may experience a far milder, almost harmless delusion.

    As for respect, well I just go back to Mencken on that one – “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” No-one has, to my knowledge, presented any remotely valid reason why I should respect any manner of religious belief. I will respect the right of someone to hold such beliefs but as long as those beliefs remain utterly unfounded, irrational and impact on the world beyond that person’s personal life then I’ll feel free to take pot-shots.

  69. #69 Armchair Dissident
    March 31, 2009

    “I think many objections are clearly addressed in the text of the chapter excerpt or in past articles I have published on framing.”

    Clearly they weren’t, or at least they weren’t adequetly and clearly addressed, otherwise the objections wouldn’t have been raised. Or are you accusing the objectors of some degree of illiteracy (as a professional communicator, I’m sure you’re not admitting that you can’t communicate).

    But, of course, you haven’t addressed the objection at all. You’ve merely re-stated your poorly thought-out idea that Dawkins in being unethical in what he’s saying, you’re continuing to re-use the nonsense term “New Atheist” and you’re continuing the claim that Dawkins “plays right into the hands of social conservatives”, when the social conservatives will use lies and distortion – irrespective as to what Dawkins may or may not write – to promote their position.

    What’s worse, you were caught out-right lying. You claimed Expelled was a remarkable success, when all the evidence is that his is clearly and obviously untrue. Why mention Expelled at all? You merely wanted to strengthen the idea that Dawkins et al are damaging; the evidence does not fit your theory, so you lied. You suggested that surveys show that scientists – as opposed to populist celebrities – are unitquely respected. Well, if that’s not an outright lie, I for one would love to see the data.

    Or is your response really one of, “all your objections are described in my book, which you can buy from all respectable retail outlets for the low-low price of $$$”, which one would expect from snake-oil salesmen.

  70. #70 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 31, 2009

    Some commenters have raised doubts about poll numbers that show overwhelming public support and trust in science and scientists generally. These findings are reviewed earlier in the chapter (not excerpted in the blog post) and come from the NSF Science Attitudes survey and a range of peer-reviewed studies in the area.

    Only on a few issues does widespread public support for science break down. These include evolution, stem cell research, and climate change but on these issues scientists still enjoy strong communication capital. Effectively and wisely employing this capital however takes audience research. That’s exactly what NAS did in putting together its evolution booklet.

    For context, consider these specific findings from the 2008 Science Indicators survey:

    Americans consistently and by large margins endorse the past achievements and future promise of S&T. This support has been evident in surveys conducted since 1979.

    * In 2006, more than half of Americans said that the benefits of scientific research have strongly outweighed the harmful results, and only 6% said the harms slightly or strongly outweighed the benefits. Other indicators yield similar results.

    * Americans’ positive attitudes about S&T cross demographic boundaries: men and women, college graduates and high school dropouts, and blacks and whites all express support…

    Support for government funding of scientific research is strong and growing.

    * In 2006, 87% of Americans expressed support for government funding of basic research, up from levels around 80% in past surveys dating back to 1979.

    * The percentage of Americans who said that the government spends too little on scientific research grew from 34% to 41% between 2002 and 2006.

    * Other kinds of federal spending, however, generate even stronger public support.

    The public consistently expresses confidence in science leaders.

    * In 2006, more Americans expressed a great deal of confidence in leaders of the scientific community than in the leaders of any other institution except the military. Despite a general decline in confidence in institutional leaders since the early 1970s, confidence in science leaders has remained relatively consistent.

    * On science-related public policy issues (including global climate change, stem cell research, and genetically modified foods), Americans believe that science leaders, compared with leaders in other sectors, are relatively knowledgeable and impartial and should be relatively influential. However, they also perceive a significant lack of consensus among scientists on these issues.

  71. #71 Tulse
    March 31, 2009

    Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question

    Whether the earth was created 6,000 years ago is a scientific question. Whether H20 can be transmuted into fermented grape juice is a scientific question. Whether there was a global flood that wiped out most of humanity is a scientific question. Whether pleas to supernatural beings ameliorate illness is a scientific question. Except for the weakest Deism, all religions make truth claims about the physical world, and those truth claims are thus scientific questions. I don’t see how this could be a controversial assertion.

    By political documentary standards, Expelled was a major success, ranking as the #5 top grossing pol doc of all time.

    That is a very rough notion of “success”. As I pointed out above, is unclear that Expelled made any profit after the reported production and marketing costs are factored. At its height it played on 1,052 screens, as compared to the #4 Bowling for Columbine which had its widest release at only 248 screens (less than one-quarter), but made $21.5 million (nearly triple that of Expelled), and compared to #3 An Inconvenient Truth, with a maximum of 587 screen but $24 million. In other words, Expelled made OK gross box office because it opened so wide, but that wide opening was expensive to market, and as a result it made no where near the profit of other, smaller political documentaries.

    it has had even more of an impact at the policy level. I discuss this in a recent article at Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

    With all due respect, I really don’t see any hard documentation regarding the policy impacts of the film in the linked article. I see mention that it has been shown to some legislators, but there is no specific data on how such showings have influenced actual policy. And frankly, the closing claim that “Over the next few years, Expelled’s enduring impact will be to serve as a vehicle for recruiting and mobilizing anti-evolution activists at the state and local level across the country” is nothing more than speculation, as it remains to be seen if Expelled has any “enduring impact”.

  72. #72 G. Tingey
    March 31, 2009

    RUBBISH Mr. Nisbet!
    “Religion” IS a scientific questiuon.

    LIKE:
    Why is it that no “god” or any entity even vaguely resembling such has remained completely undetected, no matter the sophistication of our devices?
    Yet religious so-called “leaders” have no doubts or hesitations whatsoever in proclaiming their certainty about the world, and life on it, and in giving (usually mutually contradictory) instructions….
    Said religious “leaders” are also proclaiming their socila, political and “Moral” authority, ALL OVER THE LANDSCAPE, with, remind us all, please – on what REAL basis does their authority and knowledge rest?

    Actually, I’ll tell you where their “authority” comes from:
    Christianity and judaism are a collection of Bronze-Age goatherder’s myths.
    Islam is a collection of Dark-Ages camelherders’ myths.

    And these people, according to you, it appears, at least, to be more qualified to speak out on philosophical matters than professional scientists.
    Especially ones like Dawkins, who has spent his whole professional life in the field of zoology….

    Please stop wasting our time with this nonsense, and switch your brain to “ON”….

  73. #73 Paul W.
    March 31, 2009

    If “Expelled” has indeed been used successfully as propaganda through advance screenings to legislators in order to shoehorn creationism/ID into science classrooms in various states under ‘Academic Freedom’ laws, then who cares if “Religulous” got more ticket sales and sold more DVDs?

    It’s not clear how “successfully” Expelled has been used in advanced screenings for legislators. Did it really change any legislators’ minds? I have no idea, but I’m skeptical it made a big difference.

    It’s very significant whether Expelled makes money, and especially whether it is unusually successful. The people who made it estimated that they would gross several times what they actually did, and that they would use the big profits to make more movies like that. They also predicted that the example set by their big success would help other people make right-wing political documentaries, by showing that it can be profitable and opening backers’ wallets.

    Because Expelled did not make money, they don’t have that money to make and market more anti-scientific movies, and others will have a harder time finding backers.

    Ben Stein isn’t the right’s answer to Michael Moore, or even Al Gore.

    Part of the context here on ScienceBlogs is that several science bloggers (Nisbet, Mooney, Olson) trumpeted the “box office success” of Expelled, and things like that. They talked about how Expelled grossed millions its opening weekend, and dismissed the fact that it got terrible reviews as irrelevant.

    I thought then and think now that the terrible reviews were relevant. They kept people away in droves—after the opening weekend, attendance plummeted and the movie only made a few million dollars beyond what it made that weekend.

    The only reason Expelled grossed as much as it did in its opening weekend is that it opened on several times as many screens as a typical documentary, and had an advertising budget of millions and millions of dollars. They bought a huge opening weekend, at a high price, and after that the movie pretty much tanked.

    When some of us pointed these things out, Olson and Nisbet maintained that Expelled was a success. Nisbet referred us to Olson, making him out to be a movie expert we were not qualified to disagree with. Olson said lots of movies lose money at the box office, but make it up in DVD sales. He said specifically that DVD sales are usually predicted based on opening weekend performance, and that Expelled should do well. I asked him to show his work, specifically how DVD sales are predicted and why we should expect the usual formula to apply to such an unusual movie, and he basically told me to shut up.

    Now some DVD sales figures are in, and they’re not good. They do NOT correspond to the big opening weekend that the Expelled people bought, but to the poor performance after that.

    Another piece of context is that Matt tried to make Religulous out to be a bit of a failure, saying its performance was “disappointing,” etc.

    Several of us immediately noticed the irony. Religulous cost considerably less to make and advertise, opened on half as many screens, and still grossed nearly twice as much money at the box office. It performed well. Not spectacularly, but it really was the “box office success” that Expelled wasn’t, actually making a profit at the box office, plus millions beyond that in DVD sales and rentals. In terms of price to gross ratios, it was several times as successful as Expelled, but because Matt wanted it to be a failure, apparently, he said it was one.

    (BTW, I’m not particularly defending Religulous. I enjoyed it, but I also agree with P.Z. that it was unfair in ways that make me uncomfortable. I’m also not saying that Expelled was a big flop, as I initially thought—just that it wasn’t the kind of success that Olson and Nisbet made it out to be, either.)

  74. #74 Gotchaye
    March 31, 2009

    Matt,

    I’m curious as to when, exactly, you see a speaking scientist as a person speaking as a scientist. I imagine that it’s generally recognized that it’s more-or-less misleading to say something like “as a scientist, I can tell you that religion is bunk”, but, even if Dawkins has done that a few times, he doesn’t do it on a regular basis. Are you saying that it’s assumed that any public statement that a scientist makes is made in his capacity as a scientist unless otherwise noted? Or just that anything that he says that touches on science is assumed to be said in a scientific capacity? What standard allows for “science is fun” to be a permissible personal opinion to offer whereas “religion is unnecessary/bad now that we have science” is not?

    I actually agree that there are -some- modern atheists who do tend to say things like “science shows that religion is (categorically) false”, but I don’t know that Dawkins has done that (has he?). Now, he does say things like “science shows that [certain religious belief] is false”, but that’s clearly true for beliefs such as creationism, and he’s eminently qualified as a biologist to make those claims. Yes, I suppose there are a few philosophical assumptions built in to claims like that (such that science tends to yield truth), but they’re not controversial ones, and they’re ones that we need in order for scientists to be qualified to say anything at all.

    I think it’s also important to allow the kind of shorthand that many New Atheists use, which is, if perhaps unclear, certainly not unethical. “God” is only very rarely to be taken as “all conceptions of the divine” and almost always means “the conceptions of the divine held by particular (conservative) Christian sects”. If it’s understood that a scientist is only talking about gods that are supposed to have done something to the world that ought to be observable, then that scientist -can- be qualified to speak as a scientist on the evidence for their existence. Again – if scientists aren’t qualified here, then what exactly are scientists qualified in saying as scientists? There’s no epistemological issue at stake here that isn’t at stake when they talk about any other scientific theory.

    It’s not clear to me whether or not you mean to allow even that, though. Supposing for the moment that you’re not trying to stop scientists from pointing out that a God that created the universe 6000 years ago almost certainly doesn’t exist, we’re left with two other conceptions of God – deism and an historically active (but currently passive) God. I think that most New Atheists are actually pretty good about granting that science itself doesn’t really speak to whether or not there’s a deistic God, but that’s a bit beside the point. The number of deists in this country is rather small, and the number of deists who aren’t already okay with evolution is nearly zero. Deism really just isn’t very relevant to a discussion of modern American religious life, and most actual deists would likely find a lot in Dawkins to agree with. An historically active God is on face more promising, but I’d argue that the absurdity involved in saying that God stopped offering evidence for His existence just before we developed the tools needed to come to grips with it is so self-evident that one hardly needs a philosophy degree to speak on it. Again, though, this is still a marginal view – I imagine that the vast majority of people who are turned off of evolution by Dawkins are people who believe in a currently active God, and that many of the acts that they ascribe to this God are acts that scientists can be qualified to speak as scientists on.

  75. #75 Paul W.
    March 31, 2009

    For example, I explicitly note that as a social critic and pundit, there is nothing unethical about Dawkins expressing his personal opinions about religion. Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups. It also plays right into the hands of social conservatives.

    Matt, it seems to me that you’re mostly just repeating yourself without actually addressing the major points that have been raised. There are important points about both the content of what Dawkins says, and the strategic value of saying them.

    (1) You are again begging the question of whether Dawkins et al. are right in thinking that the nature and impact of religion are scientific questions which Dawkins can comment on as a scientist expressing his scientific opinion.

    I believe that Dawkins, Dennett, Boyer et al. is correct that belief in god(s) is a kind of popular delusion amenable to scientific study and explanation—and that the scientific evidence indicates that religion fails miserably as a way of knowing.

    If this is true, it is neither unfair nor unethical to say so, though it might be strategically inadvisable. It is also not what you insist on making it out to be—Dawkins using his stature as a scientist to oversell a mere personal opinion.

    Please stop asserting that it’s a personal opinion until you’ve made a good case that it’s not a valid scientific opinion.

    Dawkins has a right and perhaps an ethical duty to express what he believes is a valid and warranted scientific opinion.

    You are begging the the most basic content question again, as you have done repeatedly for years.

    (2) Strategically, most of us are familiar with your basic arguments for what we see as an appeasement strategy, trying desperately to avoid backlash at the expense of telling the hard truth.

    What you don’t seem to get is that we understand and appreciate those arguments but do not find them decisive. There are countervailing arguments, particularly Overton Window arguments, that we find comparably compelling. To my knowledge, you have never really addressed those arguments. That’s really tiresome, too.

    In effect, you are saying this:

    Since (a) Dawkins is wrong about the validity of religion being a scientific issue AND (b) Dawkins is wrong about respect for religion being unwarranted and dangerous and (c) Dawkins is wrong about fighting religion being a worthy activity AND (d) Overton Window arguments are weaker than pro-appeasement arguments, we should all agree not only with your basic arguments, but agree that they trump any countervailing arguments.

    Most of us on science blogs disagree with some of the propositions a through d, and many of us disagree with all of them. You insist on assuming those things, talking past us, and even daring to call people like us unethical for for saying what we honestly think and honestly think is important for people to know.

    If we are right, attacking religious belief and undermining respect for religion is not a scurrilous and unwarranted attack on groups of people. It’s a valid and warranted attack on harmful beliefs—no less ethical than criticizing, say, Republican or Communist ideology that we disagree with.

    And if we are right that there are crucial scientific facts about religion that reflect badly on it, we are no less warranted in criticizing religion on scientific grounds than in criticizing a political ideology based on contrary facts about social psychology, economics, etc.

    You are assuming something like NOMA. We deny NOMA. Either persuade us that NOMA is correct, or stop expecting us to believe conclusions based on NOMA-like assumptions.

    You are also assuming that Overton Window effects are not important or not decisive. Convince us, or stop calling us unethical for taking Overton effects into account in our strategizing, and failing to follow your appeasement strategies.

    Many of us agree with you already that in the short run, saying that science conflicts with religion is counterproductive in terms of defending the teaching of evolution. Dawkins himself says so.

    If you keep glossing over our reasons for agreeing about that, but still disagreeing with your conclusions and prescriptions, that’s deceptive and unethical.

    You are in effect “attacking a group of people” in the same sense Dawkins is, and you are being unethically deceptive by pretending to have addressed issues that you have not addressed.

    You seem to be following one of the ethically dubious strategies often associated with the term “framing”—you focus on your arguments for your position, and simply divert attention from your opponents’ arguments against it, rather than actually addressing their points evenhandedly.

    In certain contexts where stereotypical “framing” is particularly useful, that’s understandable or perhaps even necessary. If you have only a few paragraphs in an op ed or a couple of minutes on CNN to make your case, you often can’t waste time rebutting your opponents’ arguments; you won’t have time to make your positive case.

    But ScienceBlogs is not CNN. You do have the space and time to address your opponents’ objections, and address them thoroughly, rather than repeating the same old spin we’ve heard a bunch of times before.

    You have an ethical duty to do so—to actually engage in the kind of dialogue you say is important, rather than unfairly slandering groups of people who disagree with you by deceptive misdirection.

  76. #76 Gotchaye
    March 31, 2009

    Something else: I worry that this is extremely condescending to believers. You’re obviously well aware by now that some scientists take what you’re saying as an unfair demand that scientists ‘play nice’, whereas you’re not nearly as vocal about the need for the people running the Discovery Institute to quit lying. You seem to suggest in your discussion of the “war on science” that the distortions of science we saw from the Bush administration are to be expected when scientists are sufficiently disrespectful of the right (when they call their distortions a “war on science”, for example, and other things that reinforce “deficit model thinking”).

    But isn’t it equally the case that these very distortions encourage deficit model thinking among scientists? Can’t one as easily say that the New Atheist rhetoric is perfectly understandable given the hostility communicated by many believers?

    In many ways, it’s as if you see the situation as being comparable to what’s been going on with Israel and Palestine (to avoid an argument, let’s stipulate that “what’s going on” is that, in the present, the primary motivator of the conflict is the historical tension and that one can’t point to one side as clearly at fault -right now-, even if one side or the other “started it”). But, instead of acknowledging that, whatever the original cause of the problem, both sides are acting understandably -now- and so ought to share responsibility, you’re placing the burden of reconciliation squarely on one party. Some people tend to do this with Israel too, and it’s always seemed to me that the message there was that only one side was civilized and reasonable enough to actually deal with.

  77. #77 Deen
    March 31, 2009

    Matt Nisbet said:

    For example, I explicitly note that as a social critic and pundit, there is nothing unethical about Dawkins expressing his personal opinions about religion. Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups.

    But you still haven’t explained why you think it is ethical for people like Kenneth Miller or Francis Collins or others to use their scientific position to talk about their personal view on religion. In fact, you even explicitly recommend that scientists do this.

    Please explain to us in simple words why this isn’t a clear case of a double standard.

    Now maybe you don’t agree that many religious claims are open to scientific inquiry. In that case I suppose you could then argue that Dawkins and others hold an indefensible position but are promoting it anyway, which I guess you could call unethical. However, you have not yet established that their arguments don’t hold up to criticism. And as long as the truth of their claims is undecided, there should be nothing unethical about defending these claims. Especially not when many people think these claims have some merit.

    So I would like to see you make a good case on why you think science never applies to any religious claim. Also, it would be nice if you could do this without offending any believers, including the ones who consider their idea that the age of the world is 6000 years old a basic tennet of their religion.

  78. #78 kelebek
    March 31, 2009

    thanks

  79. #79 Scatman
    March 31, 2009

    This is a very refreshing perspective, Professor Nisbet. It is good to finally see a clearly reasoned piece of writing here on Scienceblogs, especially since this network serves mostly as a New Atheist rag. Have you considered lending your poignant criticisms of Dawkins and his ilk to Dr. Dembski’s blog, Uncommon Descent? I think you would find that they are much more willing to listen to diverse viewpoints than the average PZ Myers zombie, and I’m sure they’d be happy to have you!

  80. #80 Mike
    March 31, 2009

    The problem here, of course, is that a sizable population of the people concerned about scientific creationism being injected into biology education are militant atheist culture warriors. They have no problem with sacrificing education in favor of other social agendas, or are simply uninterested in considering which is more important. The latest excuse seems to be the idea that if they are extreme enough they will drive the majority to a reasonable compromise, but all they’re actually doing to convincing the majority that the scientific community is compromised of atheists with hidden social agendas. What we have is not just one ideological minority determined to use biology education in service of a social agenda, but two, both far right evangelicals and militant atheists. Their tactics and propaganda are surprisingly similar. Unfortunately, they get most of the attention in the controversy.

  81. #81 Ric
    March 31, 2009

    Mr. Nisbet, I don’t think you answered my question, at least. How is Dawkins, who is a famous scientist, to express his opinions on religion without his scientific reputation coming into play? He would literally have to disguise his identity. Or do you recommend profuse disclaimers about how his opinions on religion have nothing to do with science? But the problem is that that would be a lie, because his scientific expertise informs his opinion on religion. Dawkins, and scientists in general, if they were to subscribe to your views, are caught between a rock and a hard place: they either have to do science and keep their opinions to themselves, or disavow science and speak out.

  82. #82 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 31, 2009

    Matt, claiming that Expelled was a success because it influenced legislators isn’t accurate. The movie was part of a coordinated push to get legislation. It wasn’t that the movie encouraged any such legislation by itself. Moreover, the type of legislation in question shows up regularly anyways. There’s no evidence that the movie substantially increased how many proposals of such legislation occurred. Finally, all such legislative attempts associated with the movie failed.

    As a moneymaker Expelled failed. As an attempt to pave the way for more right-wing documentaries Expelled failed. As an attempt to influence legislators it seems like Expelled was at best not very successful. Nothing you have presented takes away from the general conclusion: Expelled didn’t do well and it continues to do poorly. The Expelled as successful framing meme needs to stop. It just undermines your case.

  83. #83 Anton Mates
    March 31, 2009

    Matt,

    By political documentary standards, Expelled was a major success, ranking as the #5 top grossing pol doc of all time.

    Only because Box Office Mojo’s “political documentary” list does not include Religulous, which I would say is as “political” in its subject matter as Expelled. (Arguably, so is Super Size Me, which also outperformed the latter.)

    And, as they aim to alter public opinion on matters of science and religion, AIT and Religulous are certainly more comparable overall to Expelled than are most of the movies on that list. It’s not terribly significant (to your position) that Expelled beat out The Fog of War or The Trials of Henry Kissinger, for instance.

    (n.b.: I didn’t particularly like Religulous. But, coming out almost simultaneously with Expelled, and dealing with many of the same issues but defending the opposite viewpoint, its success is striking.)

  84. #84 Anton Mates
    March 31, 2009

    Anna K.,

    If “Expelled” has indeed been used successfully as propaganda through advance screenings to legislators in order to shoehorn creationism/ID into science classrooms in various states under ‘Academic Freedom’ laws, then who cares if “Religulous” got more ticket sales and sold more DVDs?

    Matt Nisbet cares, clearly. And so do the ID folks, which is why they continue to trumpet any evidence of market success they can find (witness Denyse O’Leary’s recent blog post on Expelled’s performance on Amazon.) And, really, we should care.

    Yes, Expelled has been used as propaganda for legislators. But was that a great success? If there’s one thing the ID movement wasn’t already lacking, it’s propaganda! Legislators have been shown Unlocking the Mysteries of Life and Icons of Evolution (the video version) for several years now. What was Expelled going to do that the previous videos didn’t?

    There are, I think, two specific goals the DI & co. had for Expelled. One was to spark the general public’s interest in ID and fighting the evil Darwinists. That’s where sales are relevant, and I think they show pretty clearly that Expelled failed hard in this respect.

    The other goal was to persuade legislators of a particular antievolution frame—namely, that the Darwinist establishment is trying to squelch descent in laboratories and classrooms, hence we need to pass “academic freedom” laws to protect freedom of thought and expression.

    This has also failed. The only “academic freedom” bill to pass so far, the Louisiana Science Education Act, actually doesn’t use this frame at all. It’s really a “critical analysis” bill, based on the argument that students need to learn about the “weaknesses” of evolution in order to develop objectivity and critical thinking. This is the same frame that the creationists on the Texas BoE have been using, and it has very little to do with the “academic freedom” language that the DI markets and connects to Expelled. All the bills based on the latter language—the ones which talk about how students and teachers have an “affirmative right” to their beliefs, but live in fear of persecution, etc.—have failed. The Florida ones in 2008 came close to passing, but even they had to morph into “critical analysis” bills in order to pull it off–and when Senator Wise resurrected one of those bills this year, it was in “critical analysis” form.

    So, it seems to me, Expelled simply hasn’t done what it set out to do. It hasn’t changed the minds of many legislators, and it hasn’t had a big impact on the general public.

  85. #85 Mike
    March 31, 2009

    “You are again begging the question of whether Dawkins et al. are right in thinking that the nature and impact of religion are scientific questions which Dawkins can comment on as a scientist expressing his scientific opinion.”

    Your definition of science is incorrect. Science is limited because we are limited. There are limits to observation. Our ability to conclude things from observations is limited. Science is creative and evolves. Nothing in science is permanently conclusive. To insist that science can conclusively prove the non-existance of the supernatural is self-evident nonsense, and the majority of the scientific community understands that. The majority of the scientific community are not militant atheists. Dawkins, Myers, et al., are not publishing studies on religion in peer reviewed journals for other scientists. They are publishing propaganda in the popular media for general consumption. You don’t have science without peer review. Its not “scientific”. It is disingenuous to insist that militant atheists, bent on attacking religion, are studying religion scientifically. This is very similar to creationists insisting that they’re studying Genesis scientifically. They are defining science as anything they want it to be at the moment. But science is an actual defined process. At minimum, it needs observations, experiments, and peer review. They’ve done nothing of the kind.

    By presenting themselves as representatives of the scientific community on the subject of religion, folks like Dawkins and Myers are not being truthful, or responsible. They are unnecessarily advancing a social agenda at the expense of science education. Yeah, that’s unethical. They are neither representing the scientific community, nor are they producing peer reviewed science on the supernatural.

    And there’s no good reason for them to be doing this either. They can advance their agendas just fine without dragging down science education.

  86. #86 Paul W.
    March 31, 2009

    Mike,

    The problem here, of course, is that a sizable population of the people concerned about scientific creationism being injected into biology education are militant atheist culture warriors. They have no problem with sacrificing education in favor of other social agendas, or are simply uninterested in considering which is more important. The latest excuse seems to be the idea that if they are extreme enough they will drive the majority to a reasonable compromise,

    Perhaps the problem here is that you don’t understand Overton windows.

    One reason some of us are willing to “sacrifice education” in the short term is that in the long term, religion is the enemy of science. Not all forms at all times, of course, but the idea that religion generally deserves respect is a big part of the problem. (Read Coyne on this.)

    I used to think as you do, but the history of left-vs-right conflict in this country over the last few decades makes me think that a phenomenon you dismiss as a mere excuse is actually tremendously important. The religious right didn’t make “liberal” a dirty word by trying to avoid offending liberals; quite the opposite. It also didn’t win by silencing extremists and playing nice to capture the middle.

    (Who do you think understands framing better—Matt Nisbet or Karl Rove?)

    The kind of framing Nisbet advocates is largely the same as the pathetically failed short-term race-to-the-middle appeasement strategy that the Democratic party used with such disastrous long-term consequences for most of my lifetime.

    The success of the right in shaping political discourse seems to show that (1) fears of backlash are often wildly overrated, in the long run, and (2) the effect that you dismiss as a mere excuse, and similar other effects of social psychology, are much more important than common sense would suggest.

    Likewise, gays haven’t made the progress they’ve made by sitting down and shutting up. That might have been bad for the democratic party in the short term, but I think it’ll ultimately be good for the party in the long run, and either way, it’s unreasonable to expect gays to sit down and shut up when they’re being thrown under the bus.

    That’s the kind of thing Nisbet doesn’t want to talk about—apparent counterexamples to what he’s always saying, and presenting as simple common sense. Problem is, common sense is demonstrably wrong about these issues of strategy in some very important cases.

    Perhaps he’s right that the backlash is worse than the benefit in this case, in the long run as well as the short run. Perhaps Overton Window arguments, in the final analysis, don’t have as much force as Matt’s opposing arguments.

    But he’s not going to convince many people by continuing to ignore that very interesting conflict of short- and long-term strategies, misrepresenting his opponents as just “not getting” what he’s saying, and repeating the same spin we didn’t buy the last two dozen times.

    What many of us, as scientists, would like to see is a rational reconciliation of these seemingly conflicting ideas. When and why is silencing the “extremists” a good idea, and when it is it a recipe for long-term disaster?

    You are partly right that some of us do have different goals, and are willing to sacrifice some others’ favorite goal for our different goals, to some extent, in some cases. But what you dismiss as a “mere excuse” is also a sincere and thought-out opinion about long-term strategy toward goals we do share. If you don’t at least acknowledge that, we’ll think it’s you that doesn’t get it.

    And really, do you really expect us to sit still for being thrown under the bus? That’s asking a lot, and Matt should at least acknowledge that and say “pretty please?” rather than acting as if we’re dishonest, evil, or plain stupid for objecting to being thrown under the bus. Get real.

    Maybe we are “militant atheist culture warriors,” or maybe we’re just not the shortsighted appeasers some of you other people are, for good reasons. Perhaps our goals, though different in some ways, are more in accord than they seem when you understand the longer-term and larger-scale strategic issues. And perhaps we’re sick to death of being expected to act as though we agree with things we don’t, which are often used against us in insulting ways.

    Here’s a basic framing principle for you: when you have arguably unreasonable expectations that somebody sacrifice their goals you don’t share, and follow strategies they don’t think are as good as you say, say please rather than stooping to misrepresentation and insult. Pretty please, with a freakingcherry on top.

    Maybe we’re stupid, maybe we’re selfish, and maybe we’re wrong. Maybe. But we’re not that stupid, not that selfish and not that wrong.

    But if you want to make absolutely sure we disagree with you loudly and often, go right ahead and continue to misrepresent our opinions, goals, and strategies sophistication in unflattering ways.

  87. #87 Dave
    March 31, 2009

    ~”I think many objections are clearly addressed in the text of the chapter excerpt or in past articles I have published on framing.

    For example, I explicitly note that as a social critic and pundit, there is nothing unethical about Dawkins expressing his personal opinions about religion. Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically, drawing upon the rhetorical authority of science to stigmatize and attack various social groups. It also plays right into the hands of social conservatives.”

    Well said Matt!

  88. #88 Heraclides
    March 31, 2009

    I think Paul W’s post is worth reading.

    Further my earlier post, I think that you also need to bear in mind who the intended audience is. Are the audience the “well and truly religiously converted”; are they those who are uncertain about religion; are they those who religion is not an issue but hold other anti-science or pseudo-science attitude (e.g. “anti-vaccine” groups); etc.

    (After writing this, I see that Janet comes to this same point, from a slightly different angle: see the first link in Matthew C. Nisbet | March 31, 2009 9:02 AM.)

  89. #89 Richard
    March 31, 2009

    I’m not a big fan of people like Dawkins and Myers, although I would hesitate to call saying that science is incompatible with religion unethical, if they truly believe it. I think the best thing that scientists and science advocates can do is to speak up and express their diverse viewpoints. I whole-heartedly agree with the NAS’s more conciliatory stance on religion and science. I think the best way to counterbalance the new atheists is to speak up and let the public know that, on science and religion, we all don’t speak with one shrill voice. That’s why I’m glad there are people like you speaking out and there is a site on ScienceBlogs called Framing Science, as well as Pharyngula. Keep up the good work!

  90. #90 Heraclides
    April 1, 2009

    religion is a scientific question

    I think that you need to carefully distinguish also between religion and belief in religion.

    Furthermore, why don’t you tell us what parts of both you can and cannot study scientifically? I think it might be a useful exercise for you. As a few starter examples, statements religions make about:

    - real-world events and real-world things

    - history

    - “supernatural” things

    - morals (bearing in mind that some of these may prove, in part, to reflect so-called “instinct”)

    - why some people seem more prone to religious beliefs than others

    - what events/stresses/etc bring on susceptibility to religious belief

    - the effectiveness of prayer

    and so on.

  91. #91 Paul W.
    April 1, 2009

    To insist that science can conclusively prove the non-existance of the supernatural is self-evident nonsense, and the majority of the scientific community understands that.

    What planet are you from? Everybody understands that, so-called “New Atheists” included, and old atheists like me. I can’t think of an atheist who doesn’t know that, except maybe one really annoying crank who got banned from Pharyngula.

    Nobody is claiming that they can absolutely prove the nonexistence of the supernatural (for reasonable interpretations of “supernatural”) or of something that somebody might reasonably call a god.

    Certainly not Dawkins or P.Z. (Or me, for that matter.)

    We militant atheists—or is that uppity atheists?—just think that there’s good reason to think it’s unlikely that there’s anything you’d really want to call a god, especially in the sense of something that you ought to worship.

    The majority of the scientific community are not militant atheists.

    No, but the majority of militant atheists aren’t what you assume they are, either. You’ve been listening to too much anti-atheist and anti-”militant atheist” propaganda.

    On the other hand, the large majority of top scientists and philosophers are in fact atheists, and I’d wager that the majority do not believe that science and religion are really compatible in the sense Matt wants to promote. Their atheism isn’t just a “personal choice” made on a whim, and they don’t respect religion in a general way.

    I’d wager further that the majority do not buy into NOMA, and do think that it’s within the scope of science to analyze religion and show that it’s generally a load of old bollocks, both in terms of factual content and in terms of moral authority. (They’d differ a lot on the aesthetic value and cultural utility.)

    Perhaps you would call them “militant” atheists, if they bothered to push their actual opinions publicly—they’d mostly agree with Dawkins and disagree with Matt.

    The majority of the National Academy or the Royal Academy may be over-the-top, extreme atheists, from your point of view. Just quieter ones than Dawkins, for the most part.

    That’s what Matt apparently doesn’t want you to know. The NOMA-ish, compatibilist views he’s promoting are not the received view among the relevant experts—even the ones hes getting on board with his propaganda, such as the NAS.

    Dawkins is not beyond the pale—he’s pretty mainstream, in fact, just unusually vocal.

    It seems to me that if Dawkins or Matt is out in left field about this stuff, it’d have to be Matt; for Matt to say Dawkins is speaking out of turn is ridiculous and exhibits a certain chutzpah.

    I’d like to see Matt do a study of what the NAS members actually believe about science and religion, rather than what audiences are likely to believe the NAS about. I guarantee you it’d be a real eye-opener.

  92. #92 David Koepsell
    April 1, 2009

    Matt,

    I’m afraid you have finally jumped the shark. What you appear to have outlined might be a Code of Conduct, but I fail to grasp the ethical content of it. The closest you get is perhaps “don’t lie” and “be nice.” Of these two, only the “don’t lie” or rather “be accurate” proscription are vaguely “ethical” values. Now, codes of conduct can be helpful, but they require community consensus, and I don’t see much of that here. Nor do I think these proposed elements of a code of conduct are particularly helpful. They are certainly arguably unethical if they conflict with accepted duties of scientists, which they very well may.

    I hope the chapter makes clearer in what sense you think there is ethical content to these proposed norms.

    best,
    David

  93. #93 Mike
    April 1, 2009

    Perhaps the problem here is that you don’t understand Overton windows.
    One reason some of us are willing to “sacrifice education” in the short term is that in the long term, religion is the enemy of science. Not all forms at all times, of course, but the idea that religion generally deserves respect is a big part of the problem.

    No one understands Overton windows. Yes, the argument is quite popular at the moment, but society and the universe is much more complicated than the abstraction gives them credit for. Militant atheist scientists aren’t driving the population to a new enlightenment. They’re driving them to the “compromises” created by the Discovery Institute. Texas, Louisanna, Kentucky (did you know they’ve had an unchalleged straight up creationism teaching law on the books for a decade?), and all the other proposals throughout the country are symptoms, not causes. We’re losing. Individual schools have been forced to seek whatever compromise is offered them, and we haven’t given them any. There aren’t enough courts to handle this problem by themselves, even if there was anyone to bring the cases. This is taking place throughout the US, not just the south. In the north the problem is largely limited to deleting mention of evolution, essentially gutting biology education, but overt creationism can be found in private schools. Private schools are growing. Its being overly defensive to claim that I’m blaming Dawkins and Myers for this, or telling anyone to shut up, but I am insisting that Dawkins, et al., be truthful and not go out of their way to make the situation worse. They do not represent the scientific community in matters of religion. They do not perform and publish scientific research on the validity of religion. That isn’t spin, or politics. Its the truth. They can advance humanism just fine without misrepresenting themselves.

    Likewise, gays haven’t made the progress they’ve made by sitting down and shutting up.

    But gays haven’t insisted on pushing their way into the biology classroom either. There’s plenty of room within the popular pseudoscience of the day, but its intelligently not been made the lynchpin of the movement. Neither is science and science education the primary answer to a humanist social agenda. Its not logical, and, just pragmatically, it won’t work. The problem for humanists is politics and tolerance, not science.

    The kind of framing Nisbet advocates is largely the same as the pathetically failed short-term race-to-the-middle appeasement strategy that the Democratic party used with such disastrous long-term consequences for most of my lifetime.

    You’re misjudging the middle. The compromises on the table at the present time all involve redressing the old creationist “equal time” campaign. Any mention of “alternatives” in the classroom gives the clear message that “science” is essentially anything you want it to be, and that the scientific community has a hidden social agenda. If Dawkins and Myers actually respresented the scientific community that wouldn’t be just paranoia.

    Who do you think understands framing better—Matt Nisbet or Karl Rove?

    I think (I hope) that they’re involved in two different things. Framing, at least as it is conceived, does not involve being untruthful and misrepresenting the facts. In science education, it is apolitical. Politics should get the hell out of science education. Its too important.

  94. #94 EW
    April 3, 2009

    This is sad. As the evidence mounts that we were not created, those who cling to that mindset have to get ever more convoluted in their arguments.

    It is now amounting to let us stick our fingers in our ears and yell so we can’t hear you. Just admit it.

    There is no god.

  95. #95 Marion Delgado
    April 13, 2009

    Hmm.

    So you can’t buy a good opening box? It means nothing that more money was spent promoting Expelled than making it. It means nothing that it tanked per theater, and tanked after opening. It’s IMPORTANT to root around until you find a tortured category you can create to show it’s nonetheless a success. It means nothing that they paid video / DVD outlets to stock it, but it wasn’t rented. It means nothing that it got group ticket purchases on opening through churches. It means nothing that the prediction that it would make it up on DVD sales was wrong.

    Framer, frame thyself. Expelled is a paid infomercial for Intelligent Design brand creationism. Period. And that’s the “frame” that will keep it from being used as a weapon against science, education, and the people of the English-speaking world.

  96. #96 Nathan Ketsdever
    April 21, 2009

    Why are scientists as intolerant or at least insensitive as they claim their rhetorical victims to be? Some of these comments honestly border on hate speech. Although, i’m sure this happens on both sides of the aisle, don’t get me wrong.

    Inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t help heal what divide the nation. Its the same metaphor that goes on between the rhetorical divide between Bush vs. the so-called “terrorists” Scary.

  97. #97 Gingerbaker
    May 30, 2009

    So Matt wants credentialed scientists to not offer personal opinions on religion.

    Heck, I doubt that Matt would even want credentialed scientists to offer scientific opinions on religion.

    Do you really want the NAS, for example, to drop its accommodationist rhetoric and have an official public position on religion? Because if you did, surely this is what the NAS public position would properly be:

    1)Historical forensics has found no evidence to support the view that Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad existed, even though large amounts of evidence would be expected.

    2) Carbon dating of extant Abrahamic texts reveals no original source within three hundred years of the supposed time of Jesus.

    3) Forensic analysis of extant Abrahamic texts demonstrates copious interpolations and revisions of many if not most texts.

    4) There is no evidence for the presence or absence of any god, demon, angel, spirit, the human soul, heaven, hell, purgatory, or limbo. The principles of modern physics indicate that all of these entities are impossible.

    5) There is no evidence for any miracles, including those attributed to Lourdes, for example. Forensics has shown all investigated religious miracles to be frauds.

    6) Religious prayer has been shown to have no beneficial effects whatsoever.

    So, do you think the proper position of scientific institutions should be that as far as science can ascertain Jesus did not exist and that all religious claims appear to be fraudulent? Would that not be the true and honest scientific evaluation of religion?