Pharyngula

A little more on the Bell debate

Now Matt Nisbet weighs in, and Mike Haubrich gives an amazing summary of not just what I said, but what I meant to say.

One thing I referred to I called the “science education extinction vortex”, and referred to this hastily drawn diagram:

i-3e894a4cea8d2f23692f0181074c9bb7-sci_ed_ext_vortex.gif

My point was that we have all these forces working together to amplify a problem, and slapping some nice words on it to make people feel good about it all isn’t going to change things unless we actually commit to making substantive corrections to those institutionalized problems.

Comments

  1. #1 Philboid Studge
    September 30, 2007

    “…we actually commit to making substantive corrections to those institutionalized problems.”

    What, fer example?

    Better firewalls between religion and state? How ? Tell me, I’ll get right on it.

  2. #2 Fernando Magyar
    September 30, 2007

    A different take on:

    “…we actually commit to making substantive corrections to those institutionalized problems.”

    It may be interesting to ponder what might ensue if the US economy has a complete meltdown, Nah, that will never happen.
    Party on!

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    September 30, 2007

    The specifics I proposed were: 1) more support for schools and teachers — be an activist for better science teaching in your schools; 2) the establishment of secular/atheist/humanist institutions to compete with and weaken religious institutions; and 3) vote the rascals out, and that an organized voting bloc of the godless would help shift the electoral calculus.

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 30, 2007

    Nah, that will never happen.

    Unless China somehow gets a wacko boss who doesn’t care about consequences (think W) and calls the loans in.

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 30, 2007

    Nah, that will never happen.

    Unless China somehow gets a wacko boss who doesn’t care about consequences (think W) and calls the loans in.

  6. #6 inkadu
    September 30, 2007

    Moving to the reservation is good thing.

    Sigh.

    PZ — Your suggestions are all good, and I think Nisbett would agree with all of them. Except for number 2 — the secular political organization. I’m sure he’d be all for that, but he wouldn’t science involved. This is why this debate is kind of stupid, on his part, because there is no way science is not going to be front and center of any secular political movement.

    If we stop shooting back, maybe they’ll go away.

    I just don’t get the mentality.

  7. #7 Heather
    September 30, 2007

    We have a new math teacher at the school where I teach. His truck is plastered with religious stickers, including a huge one that says “God’s word is eternal…Darwin’s is not.” There is a link to AIG’s website…and a vanity license plate with religious references.

    I am so glad this person is not teaching science! Can’t do too much harm in a math class, I suppose. I am assuming he is professional about it and not bringing up his beliefs, as they really don’t have to do with the algebra 1-2 curriculum.

    One good side of the NCLB legislation is that with all the teaching to the test, there isn’t much time for the whole evolution/creationism debate to come up. That can wait until college, when maybe they’ll be able to understand the meaning of evidence, theory, and hypothesis instead of just regurgitating what they heard from theis pastor.

  8. #8 Bond, James Bond
    September 30, 2007

    One wonders how America has made it all these years with so many religious lunatics running around????
    Maybe they just don’t know that the corrupting influence of religion is destroying America….If you could get this message out I’m sure everyone will see your point and cling to your non-belief in anything bigger than this life!!!!!

    According to the Gallup Poll, belief in God has always been very high in the United States, ranking in the mid-90 percent range over the last sixty years. Interestingly, while 95 percent of Americans believe in God, only eight in ten envision that the Supreme Being is one who watches over them and answers their prayers. And even fewer, six in ten, recently declare their complete trust in God.

    When the Gallup Poll asked Americans how important religion was in their lives, six in ten (about 58.7 percent) say it is very important. In fifty years of measurement, the highest percentage regarding the importance of religion (75 percent) was registered in 1952; the lowest (52 percent) in 1978.

    According to a 2000 Gallup poll, 64.9 percent of respondents believed that religion has the ability to answer today’s problems. This particular statistic has ranged from a high of 81 percent in 1957 to a low of 53 percent in 1993.

    Church membership reached a high of 76 percent in both 1943 and 1947 and dropped to a low of 65 percent in 1988 and 1990. In 1939, when Gallup first began measuring church attendance, 41 percent of Americans claimed to attend weekly worship services. The high point for weekly observance of religious faith was reached in the midand late 1950s, when 49 percent of the population said that they attended church or synagogue once a week.

  9. #9 Andrew
    September 30, 2007

    Agreed. The whole system is sick.

  10. #10 Karen James
    September 30, 2007

    Dear PZ,

    Something Mike Haubrich says in his summary caught my eye: that both you and Greg Laden said fixing primary/secondary science education is paramount because “By the time they get to college it is too late.”

    I squirmed when I read this, not because I think early science education doesn’t need a great deal of attention, but because I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that college is not too late for life-changing science education.

    It’s the story of my life: raised in the Evangelical Vatican (Colorado Springs), indoctrinated with young earth creationism, a born-again Christian, etc. etc. [insert creepy Christian fundamentalist framing] and, just to hit it home, you can see Focus on the Family from my mother’s living room window.

    Not until I went to college did I learn evolution (my high school biology teacher was a creationist and simply “skipped over that part”). And learn it I did, and loved it, too. It changed my life, literally. I went on to get my PhD in genetics and am now doing evolutionary research at the Natural History Museum in London.

    Please don’t give up on the college kids. Their minds are still incredibly plastic, especially if they are escaping, eclosing you might say, from a fundamentalist religious upbringing.

  11. #11 nunyer
    September 30, 2007

    Heather:I am so glad this person is not teaching science! Can’t do too much harm in a math class, I suppose. I am assuming he is professional about it and not bringing up his beliefs, as they really don’t have to do with the algebra 1-2 curriculum.

    Don’t bet on it.

    One good side of the NCLB legislation is that with all the teaching to the test, there isn’t much time for the whole evolution/creationism debate to come up. That can wait until college, when maybe they’ll be able to understand the meaning of evidence, theory, and hypothesis instead of just regurgitating what they heard from theis pastor.

    No, with teaching to the test, students learn to accept the science from their authority figure, the science teacher. If another authority figure like their beloved pastor contradicts the science, then without knowing the meaning of evidence/theory/hypothesis the students won’t have any mechanism for judging the statements of either one.

  12. #12 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 30, 2007

    Karen, (#9) I would like to think your case were the rule, rather than the encouraging exception. And I was going by what PZ and Greg had said, as I am not an academic. (BTW – I accept comments at my site, too.)

    Thanks for the nice mention, PZ.

    “The Pharyngula Effect” can’t be confirmed, because the new site hadn’t had enough time to establish a baseline. Traffic jumped appreciably.

  13. #13 nunyer
    September 30, 2007

    dammit messed up the tags.

    trying again:
    Heather:I am so glad this person is not teaching science! Can’t do too much harm in a math class, I suppose. I am assuming he is professional about it and not bringing up his beliefs, as they really don’t have to do with the algebra 1-2 curriculum.

    Don’t bet on it.

    Heather: One good side of the NCLB legislation is that with all the teaching to the test, there isn’t much time for the whole evolution/creationism debate to come up. That can wait until college, when maybe they’ll be able to understand the meaning of evidence, theory, and hypothesis instead of just regurgitating what they heard from theis pastor.

    No, with teaching to the test, students learn to accept the science from their authority figure, the science teacher. If another authority figure like their beloved pastor contradicts the science, then without knowing the meaning of evidence/theory/hypothesis the students won’t have any mechanism for judging the statements of either one.

  14. #14 Molly, NYC
    September 30, 2007

    Clearly, it’s a waste of time trying to appeal to the kind of people who think evolution makes the Baby Jesus cry. And even people who appear to be on the fence–well, if they turn their back on science because it’s got atheists in it, they’re not on the fence.

    I think reframing does have a place, just not in sucking up to the Holy Joes.

    A lot of people who aren’t especially pious (and their kids) tune out anything science-related because they think they can’t handle it–too technical, too many numbers and big words. Haubrich, for example, mentioned that flat-earth lady on The View. She’s probably not as idiotic as she sounded–just one more citizen who starts having out-of-body experiences whenever someone mentions something a bit technical.

    For these people, whose appetite for science is small, we may have to chop science education into smaller bites, and (continuing the food analogy) we may have to pick and choose which morsels are the most essential, since we don’t know at what point individuals will stop “eating” for good. If, for example,the general non-science-oriented public got a minimal non-elective biology education consisting solely of (a) evolution; (b) the concept of a “theory”; and (c) how scientists communicate with, and convince, each other as professionals (with particular emphasis on the importance and process of proving and backing up one’s claims, as the basic ethic of science)(1), and similar de minimus curricula for physics, earth science, etc. (2), they and we might be better served than if they got, eg, that meiosis/mitosis thing straight. I’m don’t see that emphasizing the minutiae that every non-science type forgets the week after the exam is better than teaching the bigger “meta” patterns. If that View hostess at least comprehended that scientists know more science than preachers and PR flacks, she might not have made such a fool out of herself.

    ______
    (1) Or some similar tiny set of facts and concepts. What’s the least you’d like non-scientist to know, that you figure they’ll retain?

    (2) This shouldn’t apply to math, obviously.

  15. #15 PZ Myers
    September 30, 2007

    Oh, no, I definitely do not give up on college students. My point wasn’t that they’re hopeless — far from it — but that the majority are not college-bound, and we have to emphasize general literacy in the sciences to correct our growing problems. Also, the ideas we argue over in the evolution-creation wars is like grade-school stuff, material that should be taught in high school, but isn’t. You shouldn’t have to go to college to get the foundations of genetics, cell biology, and evolution taught to you.

    It’s one reason we have quite a bit of contempt for some of those people on the creationist side. Even when they’ve got multiple advanced degrees, they’ve got the understanding of middle school children when it comes to biology.

  16. #16 Bronze Dog
    September 30, 2007

    I’m so glad I got in middle school biology. Whenever I watched Discovery Channel (during its better days) or read about some new discovery, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    And, of course, I got as frazzled as I do now when some IDiot wrote in the Opinion part of the paper, and was able to dissect everything without need for reference to the wonderful (and probably then not widely circulated) Index to Creationist Claims. Their errors were so fundamental and full of straw men, I got to wondering about one question I usually do when I bump into scientifically illiterate people: “How do you function in society?”

  17. #17 gerald spezio
    September 30, 2007

    If you take a look at Nisbet’s post about the debate, you will have to waste more brain cells on a non-issue, but you can’t miss Nisbet’s focus on his favorite yuppie topic – HIMSELF.

    Can you catch all “the pitches.”

    What else can a propagandist do?

  18. #18 David Marjanovi?
    September 30, 2007

    One wonders how America has made it all these years with so many religious lunatics running around????

    They just haven’t been in power for long enough. And they aren’t enough in the first place.

    But what exactly do you mean by “America has made it”? Do keep in mind that you’re talking about the country of the working poor — with 1, 2, or even 3 jobs, and no health insurance. “Made it” is something else.

    Church membership reached a high of 76 percent in both 1943 and 1947 and dropped to a low of 65 percent in 1988 and 1990. In 1939, when Gallup first began measuring church attendance, 41 percent of Americans claimed to attend weekly worship services. The high point for weekly observance of religious faith was reached in the midand late 1950s, when 49 percent of the population said that they attended church or synagogue once a week.

    Somewhere I’ve read that while half of all Americans claim to go to church every Sunday, only a quarter actually does. This hypocrisy is not found in, say, Europe, where people aren’t ashamed of not going to church. Do you think such hypocrisy is a healthy situation?

    (my high school biology teacher was a creationist and simply “skipped over that part”).

    That’s another thing you don’t get outside of the USA and Turkey, at least among countries that aren’t very poor.

    You shouldn’t have to go to college to get the foundations of genetics, cell biology, and evolution taught to you.

    And indeed, I was taught all this in the last (12th) year of school… of course, only those who want to go on to university ever get that far…

  19. #19 David Marjanovi?
    September 30, 2007

    One wonders how America has made it all these years with so many religious lunatics running around????

    They just haven’t been in power for long enough. And they aren’t enough in the first place.

    But what exactly do you mean by “America has made it”? Do keep in mind that you’re talking about the country of the working poor — with 1, 2, or even 3 jobs, and no health insurance. “Made it” is something else.

    Church membership reached a high of 76 percent in both 1943 and 1947 and dropped to a low of 65 percent in 1988 and 1990. In 1939, when Gallup first began measuring church attendance, 41 percent of Americans claimed to attend weekly worship services. The high point for weekly observance of religious faith was reached in the midand late 1950s, when 49 percent of the population said that they attended church or synagogue once a week.

    Somewhere I’ve read that while half of all Americans claim to go to church every Sunday, only a quarter actually does. This hypocrisy is not found in, say, Europe, where people aren’t ashamed of not going to church. Do you think such hypocrisy is a healthy situation?

    (my high school biology teacher was a creationist and simply “skipped over that part”).

    That’s another thing you don’t get outside of the USA and Turkey, at least among countries that aren’t very poor.

    You shouldn’t have to go to college to get the foundations of genetics, cell biology, and evolution taught to you.

    And indeed, I was taught all this in the last (12th) year of school… of course, only those who want to go on to university ever get that far…

  20. #20 raven
    September 30, 2007

    Heather:

    We have a new math teacher at the school where I teach. His truck is plastered with religious stickers, including a huge one that says “God’s word is eternal…Darwin’s is not.”

    You have our sincerest sympathy. This is something one would expect on a shopping cart some guy is pushing around in the park.

    Stand back for a while. Past experience has shown that these guys can be dangerous. (No I’m not kidding, sometimes they kill). With any luck he probably won’t gun down the biology faculty. You can bet he would like to.

  21. #21 Graculus
    September 30, 2007

    that flat-earth lady on The View. She’s probably not as idiotic as she sounded–

    Shge probably is.

  22. #22 Heather
    September 30, 2007

    What amazes me is that the guy is CATHOLIC! One of the otehr new teachers noticed he was wearing a Jesus-fish polo shirt at new teacher orientation and he casually asked “so, are you relgious?” And the guy answere NO!

    Now we refer to the truck as “the Jesus Truck” and for a few days, it was the big mystery among my department – who was driving the Jesus truck?

    The whole thing with NCLB and our school is that there IS no science test. Everyone has been told that we need to work on reading, writing and math – and you are supposed to find a way to work it into the curriculum, no matter your content area. So if the rest of us are supposed to set aside our curriculum for the 3 r’s, you can bet that the math guy isn’t going to have any time to do anything but math. I’m a French teacher – but I’ve been told we are supposed to work on improving those test scores, so I need to do a couple of writing assignments (in English) each year, and find a way to work in math somehow. Well, after we do the Euro to dollar conversion, and Celsius to Farenheit – I’ve got nothing.

    I haven’t talked to the guy, but one of my friends has. He seems like a nice enough guy – but we’ve noticed his wardrobe consists of slacks and a religious-themed polo shirt. He’s got some alpha-omega shirts, Jesus fish, and several others. I suppose he could snap one day, or it could be a ruse to make us think he’s a nice guy. Meanwhile, he’s scoping out the heathens.

    BTW, I have a Buddha statue on my desk. I use it as a paperweight, it holds down the passes for me. They were on clearance at Target, 75% off, and I thought it would be useful. The few students who bother to care about such things generally ask if I’m a Buddhist, I tell them no, and that’s the end of that. Maybe I should stop by his classroom and check for Jesus paperweights?

  23. #23 ngong
    September 30, 2007

    #16…Yeah, I’ve noticed that myself. My schedule, my consulting, my publications. Here’s Carl Sagan being nice. You won’t find any science on my blog, but here’s a password-protected journal you can check out.

  24. #24 sil-chan
    September 30, 2007

    There is one arrow missing in that diagram. One direction not observed. Perhaps we should attack the issue from the one missing arrow in that diagram. The politicians.

  25. #25 Monado
    October 1, 2007

    Here’s a link to a really devastating use of “framing.” Nuclear utilities re-define construction as finishing off the containment structure. That lets them grab, raze, bulldoze, layout, build… before officially “starting.” Tricky, eh? Remember this when creationists start to re-define “Evolution” as “teaching the controversy.” Oh, wait. They already have. Well, don’t let them get away with it.

  26. #26 Dave Eaton
    October 1, 2007

    But what exactly do you mean by “America has made it”? Do keep in mind that you’re talking about the country of the working poor — with 1, 2, or even 3 jobs, and no health insurance. “Made it” is something else.

    Are you arguing that the US isn’t near the top of the economic heap? I’m not asking this in any flag-wavy, US uber alles way- if anything, I think that some of the best arguments for the sort of progressive politics that seems to hold sway here is that the US does, in fact, have a lot of disposable income in the hands of a whole lot of people. So much so that great good could be done for very many while not causing much harm to the rest.

    Median income is near the top, productivity is near the top, etc. It isn’t pervasive poverty that I find outrageous, it is the persistence of the poverty and inequality.

    I grew up in a religious zealot haven in Kentucky. I have a lot of sympathy with the idea that religion can reinforce ignorance and lock people into poverty from seeing up close that some people are lazy and ignorant and happy to stay that way. Some irreducible residue like this will always exist, but I don’t think that this really explains our problems.

    So I think the original question was well-posed, if snarky: how is it that a nation of god-botherers is so successful, yet paradoxically unwilling to do much to alleviate suffering? A poverty rate of 13% is too high. An uninsured rate of 16-20% is too high. Nationally, the rate of holding down multiple jobs is between 5 and 10%- I don’t know if this is a crisis, though arguably it is too high.

    But it is too high because America very much has “made it”. Our economy can produce plenty of stuff, plenty of services, and plenty of plenty. Excess, even. One would not need to hammer down spikes of excellence to raise up the downtrodden. That’s what I find convicting. Not that America hasn’t made it- if that were the case, then poverty and destitution wouldn’t be an outrage, just a sign that our economic system wasn’t up to producing enough. I don’t think anyone thinks that that’s it, though.

  27. #27 Rieux
    October 1, 2007

    sil-chan (#22):

    There is one arrow missing in that diagram. One direction not observed.

    Actually, I could have sworn that when PZ put that diagram up on Friday night, each arrow had only one head; they all pointed clockwise.

    Is my memory faulty?

  28. #28 gerald spezio
    October 1, 2007

    Monado, Sounds like work for RE-FRAMING MAN, M. Nisbet,Ph.D.

    We hire RE-FRAMING MAN, to re-frame the trained framing scoundrels un-ethical frames designed to distort and manipulate.

    The evil framers respond with even more frames. Nisbet parries their foul distortions with more frames and whatever frames strike his fertile mind and seem like yuppie fun and games.

    Reframing MAN goes on and on about less and less, but we get plenty of due process. Nisbet gets lucrative fees.
    If this sound precisely like lawyering, you can’t say it because it’s not nice.

    In the end all the linguistic dancing frames make absolutely no sense to anybody, and the job is done.

    Thank you RE-FRAMNG MAN – OUR HERO.

  29. #29 Chris Clarke
    October 12, 2007

    Heather #6;

    I am so glad this person is not teaching science! Can’t do too much harm in a math class, I suppose

    As nunyer said up above, don’t count on it.

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