Laelaps

Chris Mooney has a new article out with the title of “Enablers” in which he charges that scientists are essentially drawing attention to creationism, global warming skeptics, etc. by actively refuting pseudoscience. What should we do instead? Well, there doesn’t seem to be much of an answer to that;

Couldn’t all the energy and resources bestowed on rebutting our enemies be better used to help promote our friends–perhaps, say, by devoting resources to getting the word out about individuals who have written pro-environment books? Rather than reacting, couldn’t we be setting the agenda?

Given the present state of mass media and that well-written science books can sometimes be hard to come by, I don’t think saying “Give a hoot, read a book!” is the solution. What “setting the agenda” would actually mean is left ambiguous, but while I agree that there needs to be a bigger push behind positive science education, I think the active refutation of pseudoscience is also very important. It’s a bit of a catch-22 situation; if reporters write about the release of Expelled and no one says anything to refute it, then it seems like they’re on to something. If science groups issue statements about how Expelled is bunk, then they’re just part of the evilutionist orthodoxy. In the second category, though, it can at least be hoped that people can be directed to another resource, learn something about evolution, or become interested enough about the topic that they start to look at the subject more themselves. (I realize this isn’t the case for everyone, but I first became intensely interested in evolution after I found out there were people who said it never happened.)

I also get the feeling that there’s a bit of disparity between the reaction of the science blogosphere to Expelled and the public reaction to the film. In the science blogging community, Expelled is denigrated almost daily, and it’s a hot topic. Outside of people already invested in the issue, though, it doesn’t seem like people are paying much attention. Creationist groups already interested in seeing it will likely rent out some theaters on the opening weekend, but who really wants to spend 12 bucks watching Ben Stein lecture them about science? The film might be in shiny, expensive packaging, but if it’s as boring as it looks it’ll have more success over the long run being sold at Christian bookstores than in the theater.

Journalists often like to make up controversies when they might not actually exist. Every time there’s a high-profile case of a man cheating on his wife, you see articles like this that make it seem as if the scientific community is hotly debating whether we’re “meant to be monogamous” or not. It’s pretty clear that we’re socially monogamous animals but that nature does not dictate morality, so the cookie-cutter reporting techniques serve to confuse more than they enlighten. Given this reality of the way stories are written, I would imagine that reporters will continue to call scientists for quotes when creationist movies come out or global warming denialists get together for a convention. What are they supposed to say? “I’m not going to say anything; that’s emboldening the creationists,”?

Perhaps I’m a bit miffed about Mooney’s article because of the curt way it ends. Playing on the “bad scientist” theme (where scientists are all arrogant know-it-alls), Mooney writes;

We know so much, we scientists, we science defenders. We ought to know better.

Strong words for an article that offers plenty of criticism but almost no constructive suggestions other than “Shhh!”

Comments

  1. #1 Zach Miller
    March 19, 2008

    As you’ve probably noticed from the lack of this subject on my own blog, I try to stay out of the science/anti-science war. It just boils my blood a little too much. You could say that I’m not HELPING by ignoring the issue, but I also think that the media draws unnecessary attention to it. I don’t want to help in that regard, and besides that, science bloggers are preaching to a proverbial choir. The sad fact is that creationists simply aren’t clicking over to Science Blogs on a daily basis. They’re clicking over to Scripture Blogs instead, reading the daily Psalm, and blogging about how scientists are destroying children’s souls.

    Any attempt at refutation of some creationist attack on science would quickly devolve into a sarcastic insulting rant. I wish I could write on these subjects with your level head, Brian, but I’ve seen too much.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    March 19, 2008

    I also get the feeling that there’s a bit of disparity between the reaction of the science blogosphere to Expelled and the public reaction to the film. In the science blogging community, Expelled is denigrated almost daily, and it’s a hot topic. Outside of people already invested in the issue, though, it doesn’t seem like people are paying much attention.

    Chris Mooney has made me wonder about this before: when you’re in the middle of the science blogosphere, how do you tell the difference between science bloggers and the world at large — or even the larger community of scientists? When he wrote about the Presidential Science Adviser, he said, “the science world finds itself riven over just how far to go in advocating atheism and secularism,” which made me stop and think:

    I wonder how “riven” the “science world” really does find itself. Yeah, I’ve got that scarlet A on the sidebar of my blog, so I know I’m automatically disqualified from talking about this, but still, let’s try to get a little perspective: you’ve got a handful of people saying one thing, a handful of people saying something else, and everybody else just hunkering over their lab bench and hoping their grants get renewed. Maybe “science world” isn’t the best term to apply here; “fractious cabal of science popularizers” might be a better descriptor.

  3. #3 jon
    March 19, 2008

    The article you mentioned regarding monogamy is simply Feminist Propaganda (Do feminists publish anything that isn’t?). Any research into Pepper Schwartz will reveal that. Not sure what the Feminists are after. They’ve already destroyed the Patriarchy which humans progressed and evolved into (I guess they want to return to the Matriarchy found in Nature), they’ve destroyed the traditional family unit, and the rest of society slowly but surely follows. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the evil known as feminism to destroy itself. Not much else we can do since the Government and Feminists work hand and hand in legislating misandry (VAWA & IMBRA). Oh well. Destroy the family; destroy the country. Daniel Amneus was right about The Garbage Generation and Baskerville has covered this in Taken Into Custody.

  4. #4 ERV
    March 19, 2008

    Are you serious? Are you friggen serious? The same Chris Mooney that wrote this in ‘The Republican War on Science”???

    “But scientists have too often failed to counter creationist efforts ar a local level, preferring to remain in their ivory towers.”

    *flips off Mooney for the millionth time.*

  5. #5 Dan
    March 19, 2008

    Yeah, I used to like Mooney. Then he started writing with Nisbet, and I was hoping that Mooney was just humoring him. Apparently my hopes have been dashed, and Mooney as gone Looney.

  6. #6 John Pieret
    March 19, 2008

    Hmmm … given that Mooney has enabled pseudoscientists by wasting all the energy and resources involved in publishing two books about them, I wonder how he will make amends. Give his all his royalties to a university to establish a sciencxe scholarship, perhaps?

  7. #7 BrianR
    March 20, 2008

    Mooney says:
    “Couldn’t all the energy and resources bestowed on rebutting our enemies be better used to help promote our friends–perhaps, say, by devoting resources to getting the word out about individuals who have written pro-environment books? Rather than reacting, couldn’t we be setting the agenda?”

    He wants scientists to devote time to publicity for pro-environment (what does that mean, anyway) authors instead of debunking what should be debunked? Ugh … I need to read the whole article before I fully react to a statement like that.

  8. #8 Laelaps
    March 20, 2008

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Well, except jon… Your rant on feminism has little to no relevance to this post, and it’s little more than arm-waving. I’m not going to immediately delete the comment since you never got a fair warning, but any more “Feminists/Gays/Etc are destroying the Family” nonsense will be dumped.

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    March 20, 2008

    They’ve already destroyed the Patriarchy which humans progressed and evolved into

    That’s an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Where is it?

    they’ve destroyed the traditional family unit

    My parents will be interested to hear that they’ve somehow been destroyed.

  10. #10 Dana Hunter
    March 25, 2008

    I’m coming late to this party, but I just want to point out why it’s essential that scientists answer pseudoscience, even when they feel they’re only preaching to their choir:

    People like me (total layperson) come to sites like this in order to get accurate (and entertaining) information about science, which we then take back to our (extremely total layperson) friends and families who don’t read blogs. Facts in hand, we are then able to beat out the flames of woo and wishful thinking when they flare up. Said friends and family look at me in awe, say “Wow, I didn’t know that,” and two delightful things happen. I’m seen as smarter than I am, which is nice, but the truly warm fuzzies come from friends and family thinking just a wee bit more critically and not getting deceived by pretty spin jobs because of the information I was able to give them, because of you.

    Debunking is vital. And it’s fun. And it teaches more science than you realize. I’ve learned a hell of a lot of science by seeing scientists completely deconstruct pseudoscientific claims.

    Carry on.