Pharyngula

Hubris, gall, arrogance…inanity

Would you believe that Andy Schlafly, head kook at Conservapædia, wrote a letter to Richard Lenski, demanding release of his data to Schlafly and his crack team of home-schooled children? Schlafly is a creationist and ideologue of the worst sort; he has no qualifications in biology, and only wants the data because he doesn’t believe it, and would no doubt then use his vast powers of incomprehension to garble it.

That isn’t noteworthy, though. We expect creationists to act like indignant idiots when the facts are shown to them. What’s really cool is that Lenski wrote back.

Dear Mr. Schlafly:

I suggest you might want to read our paper itself, which is available for download at most university libraries and is also posted as publication #180 on my website. Here’s a brief summary that addresses your three points.

1) “… your claims, that E. Coli bacteria had an evolutionary beneficial mutation in your study.” We (my group and scientific collaborators) have already published several papers that document beneficial mutations in our long-term experiment. These papers provide exact details on the identity of the mutations, as well as genetic constructions where we have produced genotypes that differ by single mutations, then compete them, demonstrating that the mutations confer an advantage under the environmental conditions of the experiment. See papers # 122, 140, 155, 166, and 178 referenced on my website. In the latest paper, you will see that we make no claim to having identified the genetic basis of the mutations observed in this study. However, we have found a number of mutant clones that have heritable differences in behavior (growth on citrate), and which confer a clear advantage in the environment where they evolved, which contains citrate. Our future work will seek to identify the responsible mutations.

2. “Specifically, we wonder about the data supporting your claim that one of your colonies of E. Coli developed the ability to absorb citrate, something not found in wild E. Coli, at around 31,500 generations.” You will find all the relevant methods and data supporting this claim in our paper. We also establish in our paper, through various phenotypic and genetic markers, that the Cit+ mutant was indeed a descendant of the original strain used in our experiments.

3. “In addition, there is skepticism that 3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000.” We make no such claim anywhere in our paper, nor do I think it is correct. Proteins do not “appear out of the blue”, in any case. We do show that what we call a “potentiated” genotype had evolved by generation 20,000 that had a greater propensity to produce Cit+ mutants. We also show that the dynamics of appearance of Cit+ mutants in the potentiated genotypes are highly suggestive of the requirement for two additional mutations to yield the resulting Cit+ trait. Moreover, we found that Cit+ mutants, when they first appeared, were often rather weak at using citrate. At least the main Cit+ line that we studied underwent an additional mutation (or mutations) that refined that ability and led to a large improvement in growth on citrate. All these issues and the supporting methods and data are covered in our paper.

Sincerely,

Richard Lenski

Wow. That was far more polite than they deserve, but good for Dr Lenski. Unfortunately, Schlafly will now use the reply as an opportunity to smugly regard himself as a serious player, and he will also ignore the substance to continue to deny that evolution occurred. But maybe, just maybe, someone in the collection of deprived children subjected to Schlafly’s tutelage will notice that real scientists can give substantial replies to his usual ignorant nonsense.

Comments

  1. #1 Bill Dauphin
    June 18, 2008

    demanding release of his data to Schlafly and his crack team of home-schooled children?

    Oh, and I forgot to mention over in the Not just the creationists thread that the whole homeschooling thing is yet another example of the “we don’ need no stinkin’ experts” syndrome: Because parents teach their kids so many things in the normal course of life, they’re apt to assume that academic teaching is no different, and that no special subject-matter knowledge or pedagogical skill is required.

    Arrogant fools!

  2. #2 Randy
    June 18, 2008

    He demands the data? He can damn well repeat the experiment for himself if he doesn’t like it.

  3. #3 Tom
    June 18, 2008

    I usually deliberately refrain from looking at anything having to do with Conservapædia, but I did look at this one due mainly to my respect for Lenski. The Talk Page on this exchange is a scream. Schlafly all but admits that:
    1. he hasn’t actually read any of Lenski’s team’s publications
    2. he knows basically nothing about the matters involved in Lenski’s research
    3. he doesn’t care about any of it, since the “real” issue is that Lenski is “withholding” information (and not, for instance, about the fact that Schafly’s whole worldview has been empirically disproven)

    Schlafly really is a maroon.

  4. #4 boomer
    June 18, 2008

    The positive side of this, is that Schlafly’s urgency shows that some creationists at least understand the importance of this experiment as another nail in the coffin in the case against creationism. And on the flip side, it is clear that many creationists will not see this as evidence of “macro”evolution… I’m sure we will be hearing “but it’s still a bacteria” more timest than we care to.

  5. #5 Glen Davidson
    June 18, 2008

    I don’t think he’ll be able to use this reply to show that he’s a serious player, except to the already hopeless. It only demonstrates that he’s unable even to properly read a scientific paper.

    Typical. If he isn’t asking for data that were published and that he’s too dull to understand, he’s asking for data to prove his own strawman (three new proteins).

    Once again it appears that the creationists think that the only people who can properly challenge science are those who have avoided any knowledge of science up to this point. You know, the dialectic, where opposites meet, and what is more opposite than knowledge vs. ignorance?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  6. #6 Alex
    June 18, 2008

    I read a couple articles about the experiment. But I don’t remember reading about why there was citrate in the culture medium. Anyone know?

  7. #7 freelunch
    June 18, 2008

    You can worship your own ignorance or you can go out and learn. The Schlafly family has been worshipping its own ignorance for years. Andy just decided that wasn’t enough. He chose to be an ignorant fool and tell the world how mockworthy he is. I will happily treat him with the respect he has earned.

  8. #8 minimalist
    June 18, 2008

    So Schlafly thinks that the authors claim of “three mutations” equals “three proteins”, and he judges himself qualified to evaluate technical data?

    What would he even do with it? Could he even hold the data right-side-up? I keep getting visions of a small herd of chimps running rampant, grabbing up large sheafs of printouts and scattering them everywhere, hooting uncomprehendingly.

  9. #9 Schwa
    June 18, 2008

    “Andy Schlafly, B.S.E., J.D.”

    Bovine spongiform encephalopathy? That would explain a lot.

  10. #10 Remy-Grace
    June 18, 2008

    @#1, not everyone who is homeschooled has their parents teach them, or do it for religious reasons. I’m “homeschooled” because my dad’s job makes us move like every 10 months, which sucks btw. My parents don’t teach me at all and I learn way more about evolution than all of my friends in public/private schools :P

  11. #11 Stanton
    June 18, 2008

    Schafly demanding data from Dr Lenski is like a 7 year old demanding his mother drive him to NASA headquarters to ask the chief commander there what kind of cheese the Moon is made of.

  12. #12 minimalist
    June 18, 2008

    Schwa (#9):

    “Andy Schlafly, B.S.E., J.D.”
    Bovine spongiform encephalopathy? That would explain a lot.

    Actually it stands for “Bull S*** Enabler, Junior Dumb***”

  13. #13 SC
    June 18, 2008

    The Schlafly family has been worshipping its own ignorance for years.

    And for this Phyllis is awarded an honorary doctorate. It’s a scary world.

  14. #14 Ed Darrell
    June 18, 2008

    I note Schlafly is “B.S.E.”

    What in the hell is that? Boy Scouts of Estonia?

    Google tells me it might be “Bombay Stock Exchange.” Or, perhaps, “bovine spongiform ecephalopathy.” At the Komen Foundation, it’s “breast self exam.”

    Look, I grew up in the potato and strawberry fields (next to the sagebrush — I’m not kidding). My law degree isn’t from one of those fancy Christian schools, but from a mundane, top-20 law school. Am I so sheltered to have not encountered “B.S.E.” before?

    In Schlafly’s case, is it “Bull Shit Excelsior?”

    Will someone enlighten me, please?

  15. #15 doubtingfoo
    June 18, 2008

    They didn’t make a monkey from e. coli therefore there was no macro evolution.

    Damn, every time I read something about e. coli I get that stupid Ricola commercial in my head! RiiCOLAAA!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFaO0ALa0Hc

    Eeeee Coliii!!!

  16. #16 Chondrus
    June 18, 2008

    I have doubts that anyone who does not know that it is E. coli rather than E. Coli would have a chance of understanding the articles.

  17. #17 Tom
    June 18, 2008

    Good on ya, Remy-Grace, #10. Certainly homeschooling would be a benefit to some really advanced students, for reasons that must be obvious, or others with special circumstances such as yours (which is not to say that you aren’t one of those “really advanced students” as well).

    Still, surely you’d admit that most kids (at least in the US) who are homeschooled are homeschooled because their parents have views that are so, um, idiosyncratic that they don’t fit into any regular school curriculum.

  18. #18 CalGeorge
    June 18, 2008

    Why do people who waste their lives on crap find pleasure in harassing the people who do REAL work?

    Get a life, Andy.

  19. #19 SC
    June 18, 2008

    Bachelor of Science in Engineering
    Bachelor of Science in Education (more likely, in this case)

    But I prefer Boy Scouts of Estonia :).

  20. #20 windy
    June 18, 2008

    Funny that Schlafy managed to find the PNAS submission guidelines but not the actual paper.

  21. #21 Bob O'H
    June 18, 2008

    This sounds like Walter ReMine, who demanded the source code for a simulation Leonard Nunney published in AnZF a couple of years ago. Of course, the model was perfectly well described in the paper, and ReMine wasn’t claiming that the simulations were wrong, so he could simply have coded them himself (I reckon it would take me less than a day, including debugging). A colleague at ESEB last year observed that this meant ReMine was lazy as well as stupid.

  22. #22 Sven DiMilo
    June 18, 2008

    I don’t remember reading about why there was citrate in the culture medium.

    See here

  23. #23 SC
    June 18, 2008

    Still, surely you’d admit that most kids (at least in the US) who are homeschooled are homeschooled because their parents have views that are so, um, idiosyncratic that they don’t fit into any regular school curriculum.

    Jesus Camp cited the percentage of homeschoolers in the US who are Evangelical Christians. I can’t remember the exact figure, but it was very high (I’m thinking around 80% or 85%, but I may be wrong).

  24. #24 schmeer
    June 18, 2008

    Boomer #4,

    this experiment as another nail in the coffin in the case against creationism

    How many nails can fit into the lid of one coffin? Oh well, it doesn’t matter when the friggin zombie inside the casket just disregards the existance of the lid and rises again.

  25. #25 Bill Dauphin
    June 18, 2008

    Remy-Grace (@10):

    I’m sure there are good reasons for homeschooling in individual cases, and I’m glad it’s working for you (as an aside, if you’re not being taught by your parents, then by whom? professional tutors?). But I was, as Tom (@17) correctly intuited, referring to homeschooling as a movement (i.e., “the whole homeschooling thing”), which typically involves kids being taught by their parents (or by their parents’ equally self-”trained” cohorts), usually for ideological reasons.

    My daughter was tutored at home for a year while she was on chemotherapy (she’s fine now, BTW), so I know full well that there are often good reasons for “homeschooling” of some sort or another. But in her case, the teacher was a professional tutor provided by the public middle school that she would’ve been attending had her health allowed. Not the same thing.

  26. #26 SC
    June 18, 2008

    Found it: 75%.

  27. #27 Remy-Grace
    June 18, 2008

    Tom and SC, I’ve seen Jesus Camp, and the percentages they give seem about right. Most all homeschooled kids that I’ve met have been total fundies. One homeschooled girl I know through a debate group participates in the “god hates fags” protests on a weekly basis, and another thinks Barack Obama is the antichrist. But most of my friends go to public school, because the homeschool kids and/or their parents pretty much have a seizure once they find out that I’m an atheist and my parents are democrats.

  28. #28 Mold
    June 18, 2008

    Went to Wikipedia to see how old AndyTaylor Schafly was. If he was awarded his degree by a homeskool college (accredited in the Reagan-era)in the late 70s-early 80s it likely isn’t worth the paper it was mimeographed on. For those who weren’t around, Education was the hmm lackluster field of study. Many football players took this major as you could indulge in all the activities of an unpaid sports entertainer and still graduate. I personally observed a young woman become credentialed without any study or class time.

    The JD is most probably from one of the Reagan-era accredited skools. Politics counts. For more than 50 years many of these whiteys-only craptastic wastes of money were unable to place students as the curricula were not even up to decent high school standards. Enter St Ronnie. Now, by fiat, these skools are the equal of anything the Ivies or land-grants produce. And you wonder why they worship at his grave. Without St Ron, most of the Liberty grads would be paralegals or clerks in retail stores.

  29. #29 Andy
    June 18, 2008

    Regarding B.S.E.:

    I think it stands for “Bachelor of Scientific Euphemism.”

  30. #30 Stephen Couchman
    June 18, 2008

    Over at Loom, where there’s been an ongoing discussion about Lenski’s latest paper, I called his collaborator Zachary Blount a “rock star” for wading into the comments and giving his honest best attempt to answer the hooting, screeching creobots beginning to swarm there.

    Dr. Lenski, this isn’t so much “rock star” as “maestro.” Bravo.

  31. #31 Azkyroth
    June 18, 2008

    This is one of several reasons I avoid using the term “home school” for the correspondance coursework with which I graduated high school.

  32. #32 Mark C
    June 18, 2008

    I was homeschooled because my parents felt the school system sucked. Keep in mind this is Louisiana.

    I learned a lot of stuff, read a lot of different philosophies , history, science.

    What was irritating was having to send records to the state, and then somehow getting on conservative christian nutjob mailing lists….

  33. #33 QrazyQat
    June 18, 2008

    Scene: Schlafly opens a package.

    Schlafly: What’s this?
    Minion: That’s the data you ordered.
    Schlafly: This is data?
    Minion: What did you think you were going to get?
    Schlafly: You know, kinda, well…
    Minion: You have no idea what data is, do you?
    Schlafly: You’re fired!

  34. #34 Zeno
    June 18, 2008

    Andy Schlafly inherited his brains from his mom. Poor guy.

    I have a copy of Phyllis Schlafly’s pro-Goldwater book from 1964, A Choice, Not an Echo, in which Andy’s mom amply demonstrates her complete ignorance of matters intellectual. She cannot understand probability and statistics at all and was a pioneer in the “everyone is lying to us” school of political analysis (which, ironically, has become demonstrably true under the Bush administration).

    I quote some of Phyllis Schlafly’s goofball statements about statistics and political polling in my old post A Primer on Polling, in case anyone is curious and they don’t have a convenient copy of A Choice, Not an Echo lying about.

  35. #35 Blake Stacey
    June 18, 2008

    QrazyQat (#33):

    Not quite as epic as John A. Davison Orders a Pizza, but still good. :-)

  36. #36 arensb
    June 18, 2008

    Lenski’s response (and reference to specific papers on his web site) reminds me of a saying on talk.origins: scientists hide the evidence for evolution. In, like, books and such.

  37. #37 Capital Dan
    June 18, 2008

    That was polite, wasn’t it?

    I’d have told him to get bent.

    I mean, who does this Schlafly dolt think he is? He has done nothing but demonstrate time and time again that, not only does he not come anywhere close to understanding either the science or the methodology behind it, but he is perhaps one of the least qualified people to even be writing objectively about science.

    The man is nothing short of a complete and total embarrassment, and perhaps the last place anyone should look for a valid, honest answer to any question.

  38. #38 Scott D.
    June 18, 2008

    Like Mark C my parents homeschooled me until high school because the school system was shitty. I doubt I’d be nearly as interested in science if I had gone to a public school.

    That said, parents who homeschool their children for religious reasons do their children a disservice.

    Science: It works, bitches.

  39. #39 Jérôme ^
    June 18, 2008

    What is fun is that now all the morons on Conservapedia are insulting each other, and the ambiance there is clearly turning dictatorial.
    :-)

  40. #40 WRMartin
    June 18, 2008

    We, the scientists from Dumbfuckistan, request that the missing data we don’t have be provided to us by Dr. Lenski immediately, if not sooner. If this missing data that we don’t have is not made available to us on our terms then …

    [crap, my fundie indignation simulator ran out of steam]

    &lt/POE&gt

  41. #41 pough
    June 18, 2008

    Jesus Camp cited the percentage of homeschoolers in the US who are Evangelical Christians. I can’t remember the exact figure, but it was very high (I’m thinking around 80% or 85%, but I may be wrong)… Found it: 75%.

    Is that meaningful? Isn’t that roughly the same as the percentage of Christians in the US?

  42. #42 Alex
    June 18, 2008

    @22

    Thanks Sven. Great link.

  43. #43 Remy-Grace
    June 18, 2008

    @25, yeah I have professional tutors. My parents are smart and everything but I really don’t see how they could actually teach me chemistry or a foreign language or something of that nature… It really bugs me when parents who are a lot less bright than mine think they are qualified to provide their kids with a high school-level education.
    BTW, I’m glad that you’re daughter is all better. I know how hard that kind of thing can be on families, so congratulations on getting through it.

  44. #44 sjburnt
    June 18, 2008

    Wow. Phyllis’s son, huh? Wow.

    I went to Conservapedia for a look-see, and I was dumbfounded by the content. Honestly, I thought that a lot of the claims (on various atheist sites) about the god-fearing creationists were hyperbole, but this site cleared up that misconception right away.

    What a load of crap!

  45. #45 Holbach
    June 18, 2008

    I wish Richard Lenski had not replied to that moron Schlafly’s request for his data. Bug off, creationist crud and ask your god for that data. I wonder if he had also bothered Carl Zimmer for his data from his book on E. coli? I have considered his wife Phyllis a slimy crud long before I knew of him. How fortunate that the moron’s name contains the word “Laf”!

  46. #46 alcari
    June 18, 2008

    You should read the Talk page on the conservapedia link, it’s a vein of pure fundy gold and awesome comebacks.

    One of my favorites from said page:


    If Lenski doesn’t release all of the raw data accumulated over twenty years as Mr. Schlafly requests, it’s proof that he’s a fraud. If Lenski releases all of the raw data accumulated over twenty years as Mr. Schlafly requests, the sheer volume is proof that he’s trying to pull a fast one, and he’s a fraud.
    Is that correct?

  47. #47 Elf Eye
    June 18, 2008

    Pough, not all Christians are evangelical. Thank the FSM that the percentage of evangelical Christians in the US is nowhere near 75 %!

  48. #48 Jason
    June 18, 2008

    ugh, wtf!?

    What data is he requesting, exactly? I mean, if it’s summarized in the paper, and the methods are, he could re-do the experiment, I suppose.

    Or he could request the strain that’s Cit+ and sequence it relative to the proposed strain from which it evolved?

    But his request is so damn nebulous.

    To what extent is a scientist like Lenski expected to comply with this bogus request, given that the research may well have been funded by public monies?

  49. #49 Lana
    June 18, 2008

    Now, now, let’s not be too hard on poor Andy. He may have been neglected as a child. After all, his mother spent much of the 60′s and 70′s traveling about the country insisting that a woman’s place was in the home.

  50. #50 factician
    June 18, 2008

    Please post the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it, and note where in the data you find justification for your conclusions.

    Wow. That’s, erm, an amazing little request. I think I’ll fire off a request to CERN for raw data so I can “review” them.

    Erm, Mr. Schlafly? You keep using that word “review”. I do not think it means what you think it means…

  51. #51 Paul
    June 18, 2008

    @ #28 – Believe it or not, the JD is from Harvard, not some diploma mill. As for the engineering undergrad, I forget where, but it’s a legit university.

  52. #52 Monado
    June 18, 2008

    How can Andy Schlafly regard himself as a serious player when Prof. Lenski’s reply boils down to “RTFM”? As in “read the manual!”

  53. #53 factician
    June 18, 2008

    On second thought… given the intent of the PNAS guidelines, if I were Richard Lenski, I would mail Mr. Schlafly some of the strains involved in the experiment. Let him do it himself.

    Ha!

  54. #54 hje
    June 18, 2008

    This could be a preview of new creationist tactics–intimidate researchers by implying fraud or deception, and make unreasonable demands for access to the data, also known as a “fishing expedition.” Then–unsatisfied (quite naturally)–they run to their favorite idiot legislator to try to force an congressional investigation of the granting agency and the researcher.

    What a bunch of jackasses. It just shows how threatened these Luddites are by the inexorable progress made by working scientists (those that actually do research).

    The last few months have really exposed creationists and IDists for what they are–demagogues that will stop at nothing to get their way.

  55. #55 Capital Dan
    June 18, 2008

    Pough, not all Christians are evangelical. Thank the FSM that the percentage of evangelical Christians in the US is nowhere near 75 %!

    Posted by: Elf Eye

    Tell that to the evangelical Christians. They seem to think that everyone who believes in any sort of deity is an evangelical Christian and subsequently one of their own.

  56. #56 Kseniya
    June 18, 2008

    Lana wins the thread!

  57. #57 SpotWeld
    June 18, 2008

    On reading the talk page I see someone has pointed Mr. Schlafly to a link on the msu website of a small fraction of the raw data. It is, as expeccted, a large tabulation of (to the untrained) uncomprehensible numbers.

    On seeing this Schlafly waved it away demanding that the raw data be presented to him in a “clear and understandable manner”.

    *sigh* In other words Andy Schlafly wants to be educated enough to that he can be as much an expert as the people writing the paper, but not expert enough that he must also admit that the paper is valid. (I.e. Make me smart, but not smart enough that I’m not stupid.)

  58. #58 Holbach
    June 18, 2008

    My error at # 44 Phyllis is his mother, not his wife. Oh what the hell, all in the same moronic family!

  59. #59 MAJeff, OM
    June 18, 2008

    So, Andrew Schlafly is that Uncle Mary’s brother, right?

  60. #60 Paul Lundgren
    June 18, 2008

    Lenski’s response can be boiled down to four words, “Read the paper FIRST.” Then Schlafly can ask questions.

    Of course, this assumes a genuine desire to learn…

  61. #61 Sanity
    June 18, 2008

    Doesn’t the moron realise what he means with “Raw data”?
    I’m not a biologist, but he fails to realise the sheer ammount of data 20 years of research produce, and how useless that data is to someone who doesn’t get it.

    We have this awesome supercomputer here at the university (in the world top 75), and the ammount of raw data we recieve for processing in “Stella” are staggering, in the order of several dozen gigabit per second. In laymen terms, that’s about a 60 meter stack of paper every second. Now, I’m sure their research doesn’t produce quite as much data as the LOFAR project, It’s still several trucks full of DVD’s worth of data.

  62. #62 Epikt
    June 18, 2008

    Ed Darrell:

    In Schlafly’s case, is it “Bull Shit Excelsior?”
    Will someone enlighten me, please?

    Borderline-Sentient Egomaniac.

  63. #63 Ben M
    June 18, 2008

    Schlafly is actually doing something interesting here. Look at the argument that he’s NOT making:

    “Lenski’s results, though touted as an example of evolution-in-action, do not in fact have any bearing on the falsehood of atheism Marxism Darwinism.” That’d be a perfectly acceptable line of ID argument, used to reject everything from genetic algorithms to human selection to peppered moths. Why not deploy it here?

    Instead, he seems to want to say “the bacteria did not do what the paper said they did.” Is this a tacit admission that Lenski’s experiment, as published, would be an explicit counterexample to the ID argument-by-incredulity? That, in the absence of fraud, Schlafly would accept Lenski’s data as proof of evolution? Sure sounds like it.

    Well, except for the fact that Schlafly’s standard seems to be “attack first and think later.” Who cares if the attacks contradict one another?

  64. #64 windy
    June 18, 2008

    given the intent of the PNAS guidelines, if I were Richard Lenski, I would mail Mr. Schlafly some of the strains involved in the experiment.

    Better yet, mail him that whole stinky tower of petri dishes they made in the lab.

  65. #65 chancelikely
    June 18, 2008

    @#40: No. It’s roughly the percentage of Christians in general, including all your run-of-the-mill Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and all the other middle-of-the-road or liberal churches that don’t have a problem with evolution.

    Fundamentalists are maybe 30% of the US population. So they’re somewhat overrepresented among home-schoolers.

  66. #66 BAllanJ
    June 18, 2008

    OH….moan….
    I followed the various links above and ended up in a Conservapedia Talk page… OMG… Are these people real? I think maybe we should ask for the original data they have….I’m not going to believe in Jeebus until they provide me with the originals of each and every book in the bible…. notarized.
    My brain hurts…I’m going for a walk now.

  67. #67 Epikt
    June 18, 2008

    hje:

    This could be a preview of new creationist tactics–intimidate researchers by implying fraud or deception, and make unreasonable demands for access to the data, also known as a “fishing expedition.” Then–unsatisfied (quite naturally)–they run to their favorite idiot legislator to try to force an congressional investigation of the granting agency and the researcher.

    There’s been a similar thing going on in the global warming denialist universe. Some of them have been demanding that GISS and others make the source code for their climate models freely available (even though executables for the GISS code are available online). Apparently, refusal to do that is evidence that they have something(s) to hide.

    Or just maybe, given the rampant dishonesty of the denialists, it’s due to the realization that if the source code were freely available, it would be trivial to alter it, then claim that it produced wrong answers.

  68. #68 Sam
    June 18, 2008

    I just found an infuriatingly ironic (given all the stupidity done in the name of religion) cartoon on Uncommon Descent. Thought it would be of interest here partly because it’s so silly, but also because PZ gets a mention in the comments.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/humor/darwinist-behavior-in-a-nutshell/

  69. #69 Ed Darrell
    June 18, 2008

    Zeno said:

    I have a copy of Phyllis Schlafly’s pro-Goldwater book from 1964, A Choice, Not an Echo, in which Andy’s mom amply demonstrates her complete ignorance of matters intellectual.

    And you can still function? You have a really durable brain, man!

    Alas, I have a copy of one of her other books, Strike From Space, about how them Russkis is beatin’ us up on ICBMs, etc. The stupid goes, um, all the way to the stratosphere. Maybe higher.

    Brain damage on a plate.

  70. #70 travc
    June 18, 2008

    Lenski is a very very nice guy. He gets his students, techs, postdocs, and most collaborators to work incredibly hard… because no one wants to make such a very nice man sad :)

    Personally, I think RTFP would be a sufficient response. (RTFP is just like RTFM, but for papers.)

  71. #71 Brownian, OM
    June 18, 2008

    I’m not a biologist, but he fails to realise the sheer ammount of data 20 years of research produce, and how useless that data is to someone who doesn’t get it.

    What’s the problem, Sanity? He’s probably got a licensed copy of Microsoft Access.

    Hey, why are you laughing?

  72. #72 CalGeorge
    June 18, 2008

    This could be a preview of new creationist tactics–intimidate researchers by implying fraud or deception, and make unreasonable demands for access to the data, also known as a “fishing expedition.”

    Yeah, and when they don’t get the data, they can cry foul.

    Andy will complain endlessly to his students that Lenski didn’t provide what was asked for, isn’t playing by the rules, has something to hide, blah, blah, blah.

    The global warming deniers have been using this tactic for years.

  73. #73 Eric Jones
    June 18, 2008

    Funny story about this post. I work on a military base. The internet is provided by the military for free, but comes with some limits. It blocks a lot of websites for various reasons, the most common of which are humor, chat, mp3, adult content, and personal pages. The reasoning is that the internet is provided for work, and not for fun. There are so many users on the base that it’s neccessary to limit the bandwidth to non-work related sites.

    Now, on to the funny part. When I tried to go to the link for the letter Andy Schlafly wrote, the page was blocked. It was blocked for a reason that I haven’t previously seen… Malicious Code. Lol

  74. #74 Etha Williams, OM
    June 18, 2008

    Heh. The Talk page is quite good. One of my favs:

    I was wondering how anyone possibly could conclude from this exchange that Lenski was hiding something. I came to the conclusion that some people must not understand how scientific scrutiny works. I wrote a guide.

    Scientific scrutiny works like this:
    Scientist A publishes results.

    Scientist B: A, I tried duplicating your experiment, but parameters x, y, and z that I need were not in your article. I need you to disclose to me x, y, and z that you used at the time. What are they?
    A: x, y, and z are such and such.
    B: Using x, y, and z, my result doesn’t agree with yours at all. Are you sure you did the procedures that you claimed?
    A: …
    B: You fraud!

    Scientific scrutiny does not work like this:
    A publishes results.
    B: I have Generic Skepticism toward your article. Under code viii of the Publication Criteria, I demand that you give me all of your data!
    A: … ok…? It seems that everything you would need is already in the article. Did you have something specific in mind?
    B: A has refused to attach all data he has ever used for the experiment. He is withholding information and thus hiding something.

  75. #75 Fedaykin
    June 18, 2008

    Dammit,

    Why did you have to mention Conservapedia? I just wasted 30 mins reading through their inanity (I have a problem controlling my morbid curiosity).

    Anyone who is up for a good laugh, read the article on Obama. Some choice snippits:

    “Obama claimed to have visited 57 states while campaigning for president of the United States, which of course has only 50 states. He could never explain where the false number of 57 came from, but it has been observed that there are 57 Islamic states and Obama was educated at an Islamic grade school while he lived in an Islamic country.[3]”

    “Obama has declared himself to be a Christian, yet never replaced his Muslim name with a Christian one as many do,[4], making his claim somewhat dubious. “

  76. #76 Kagehi
    June 18, 2008

    Tell that to the evangelical Christians. They seem to think that everyone who believes in any sort of deity is an evangelical Christian and subsequently one of their own.

    Well, until one of those people says they don’t believe X, at which point they could be their second coming and not be a “True Christian ™”. lol

  77. #77 Sanity
    June 18, 2008

    You know, it would be increadibly funny to gather all the data, send a few weeks printing it all out, then gather it in a few large dumptrucks and throw it all on Schlafly’s lawn.

    To bad it would kill several trees and cost quite a bit of money. It would be the prank of the century though, and probably shut the fool up for a while.

  78. #78 Les Lane
    June 18, 2008

    Starting with conclusions and rationalizing are distinctive characteristics of apologetics. The last few hundred years provide ample evidence of the superiority of science to apologetics for understanding the natural world. One hopes that those who are unfamiliar with the enlightenment will live to experience the virtues of science, but sadly some are immune to scientific understanding.

  79. #79 Taz
    June 18, 2008

    I love how in the Conservapædia thread he signs his posts “Aschlafly”. That’s gotta be pronounced “AssFly”, right?

  80. #80 SC
    June 18, 2008

    Better yet, mail him that whole stinky tower of petri dishes they made in the lab.

    Or arrange it so that whenever Schlafly orders a dish containing ground beef or spinach in a restaurant, his plate arrives with a card saying “Compliments of Dr. Lenski.”

  81. #81 Kseniya
    June 18, 2008

    That’s gotta be pronounced “AssFly”, right?

    I think it’s “Ash Laugh Lie”

  82. #82 dinkum
    June 18, 2008

    Has anybody found anybody actually agreeing with AssFly on the Talk page? There are several people repeatedly offering to sign his little email if he would stop being quite so much of a petulant, unprofessional little dickweed, but he’s stuck in a “yer either with us or agin’ us” loop and repeatedly threatening to ban them.

  83. #83 Jesse
    June 18, 2008

    Schlafly is a grade-A moron. He went on some tirade about STDs and when PalMD challendged some of his points, Schlafly immediately demanded to know PalMDs credentials. Pal informed him was an internist and then Schlafly went on to say that Internists receive no training in STDs.

    OT, but as I graduated from Washington University with my PhD this May, I was in the second row with my fellow PhDs. When Phyllis “Walking embodiment of hypocrisy” Schlafly got her honorary degree, I am proud to say that I stood and turned my back on this foul woman and the WashU leadership for their actions. My rough estimate was that ~1/3 of all the graduating students did the same as did a number of professors.

  84. #84 Sastra
    June 18, 2008

    Jason #47 wrote:

    What data is he requesting, exactly? I mean, if it’s summarized in the paper, and the methods are, he could re-do the experiment, I suppose… But his request is so damn nebulous.

    It should be clear — Schlafly wants to see the parts of the data where the numbers and figures give way to the phrase “… and then a miracle occurs!”

    Creationists seem to live in a comfy, small, safe little world which has been set up for them by a loving parent to be comprehensible and easy. You don’t need to read or understand scientific abstracts to disagree with them. Would the conclusion make sense to a small child? No? Then it must be wrong.

    God doesn’t make reality hard. It’s only put there for us to find Him, and even a child can do that.

  85. #85 Becca
    June 18, 2008

    @Bill Dauphin (#1)
    Homeschooling is not necessarily related to rejecting teachers as experts. Most homeschooling parents are well aware it takes a lot of skills (and patience!) to deal with 28 youngsters at one time, point them all in the same direction, ensure they are safe and don’t hurt each other, ensure they can perform on standardized tests, ect. Luckily, most homeschooling parents are not trying to do that (particularly the 28 kids at one time part!). Yet, there is a kernal of truth to your characterization… most homeschoolers do believe that in education, students are real experts at their own learning, and a caring parent observing them closely can gain great insight into how their child is doing.
    To me, that doesn’t sound so arrogant or foolish.

    @Tom (#17) There are definitely some very weird homeschoolers out there. For the record, I’m not attempting to defend all of their ideologies (for one thing, some homeschoolers contradict other homeschoolers). Yet I am unsure who (if anyone) the negative sterotyping of homeschoolers serves.

    @SC (#23/26) Is that acording to HSLDA? And how did they determine “Evanglical”?

    @Azkyroth (#31) I can definitely see why. Though personally, I think the sterotypes need to change, not the label.

    @Scott D. (#38) +1
    @Remy-Grace (#42) Well, you could always do what I did- skip high school.
    I do think that homeschoolers who don’t network and get help from a variety of people to educate their kids(particularly by the high school level) are doing their kids a huge disservice. But I also think that there are some aspects where homeschoolers have an easier time than school teachers, and it’s not at all arrogant to
    point that out.

    There, now that I’ve gotten my ranting out of the way:
    @doubtingfoo (#15) Damn, now everytime I hear it, it will be “Eeee Coliii”
    And on topic-
    @SpotWeld (#56) “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. I think you’ve got it dead right.
    and I like windy(#63)’s suggestion. Stinky petri dishes are very appropriate.

  86. #86 Paul Lamb
    June 18, 2008

    This is really a “David and Goliath” scenario for Schlafly. He has no serious hope (or intent) to disprove any science. He is merely rallying his followers by showing that the little guy can take on “big science” and come out the “winner.” It matters not to his followers that he is wrong. They are so culturally familiar with the “David and Goliath” meme that that is what is really “proven” to them.

  87. #87 PalMD
    June 18, 2008

    @Jesse,

    Among the inane and useless discussion I’ve had with Schlafly the Ignorant is the one you mentioned.

    His writing is classic denialism. Every piece of data that incrementally destroys his worldview is casually dismissed. Let’s remember this guy is the legal counsel for AAPS, the medical club that is against, well, science.

  88. #88 SC
    June 18, 2008

    Becca,

    I have no idea what their source was. Ordinarily, I’ll note when I don’t think a source is authoritative, but in this case – I was referring to a movie – I thought this was obvious (or I was just lazy, or some combination thereof).

    The Wikipedia page on homeschooling is a mess, including the stats on motivations (e.g., the source cited for a section about a “2003 U.S. Census survey” is a 2001 article), and the data don’t break down in a way that’s useful for answering the question at hand.

    I would love it if anyone with good, current data could shed more light on the matter.

  89. #89 WRMartin
    June 18, 2008

    SC, maybe you should send a letter to Wikipedia demanding the raw data! ;)

  90. #90 Michael Holding
    June 18, 2008

    Assfly’s unofficial biography:

    http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Andrew_Schlafly

    Synopsis: has failed hard at life.

  91. #91 Ben M
    June 18, 2008

    Psst. Via the CIA I was able to obtain satellite photos of Lenski’s undoctored notebooks. Excerpt below.

    • Mon 3/31/04. Coli experiment: no change. Gave lab tour to grp. from Satan-Is-Lord Middle School.
    • Tues 4/1/04. Coli experiment: No change. Flow cytometer broken, called repairman.
    • Wed 4/2/04. Coli experiment: No change. Repairman arrived—new guy, said Phil R. is sick. (Note: repairman had Levantine complexion, stigmata, beatific halo, beard & robe; I gave him the standard lab tour. Seemed to be excited about coli experiment, hard to tell since he only spoke Aramaic. I allowed him to perform a laying-on-of-hands with Flask #11.) Cytometer fixed.
    • Thur 4/3/04. Coli experiment: huge increase in density! Inexplicable.
    • Fri 4/4/04. Emergency lab meeting to invent fake Darwinian explanation for coli change. Dawkins, Myers, usual suspects joined by video conference.
    • Mon 4/7/04. Coli confirmed to be eating citrate. Work interrupted by prank calls (caller says something in Aramaic, laughs, hangs up).
    • Tues 4/8/04. Begin drafting PNAS manuscript. Per vidcon agreement, begin burning notebooks.

  92. #92 Brian X
    June 18, 2008

    Sanity #76:

    I’d have to dig through the Groklaw archives to confirm this, but I think IBM may have actually threatened to do this to SCO as an answer to one of their discovery demands. It could, however, have just been PJ being silly.

  93. #93 Bill Dauphin
    June 18, 2008

    Becca (@84):

    First, let me be clear that I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on homeschooling. My comments here on the subject have been based on anecdotal testimony (much of it posted here) from folks who have some sort of experience with homeschooling. I don’t doubt that there are people who do it well, and circumstances in which it is appropriate. That said…

    Homeschooling is not necessarily related to rejecting teachers as experts.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that people homeschool sepcifically because they reject the idea of expert teachers per se; rather, I was making the somewhat different assertion that when folks decide to homeschool (for whatever reason), they may underestimate the value of teachers’ training and skills relative to their own. (This was in the larger context of my observation, in another thread, that laypeople often underestimate the difference between themselves and the trained experts in the fields they choose to dabble in.)

    As a case in point, the catalog of skills you mention…

    Most homeschooling parents are well aware it takes a lot of skills (and patience!) to deal with 28 youngsters at one time, point them all in the same direction, ensure they are safe and don’t hurt each other, ensure they can perform on standardized tests, ect.

    …focuses almost exclusively on classroom management and behavioral supervision skills, as opposed to actual pedagogy or subject-area mastery. Perhaps without even realizing it, you seem to have bought into the notion that teaching is really just high-end babysitting. You say…

    …most homeschoolers do believe that in education, students are real experts at their own learning, and a caring parent observing them closely can gain great insight into how their child is doing.

    Well, I’ve had some experience with highly individualized, student-driven educational models (my sister-in-law lived with my family while she was taking Montessori training), and I know that even there, teachers (who are in my experience even more highly trained than their “conventional” counterparts) are teaching, not simply “gaining insight” while they watch the students do all the work.

    To me, that doesn’t sound so arrogant or foolish.

    It’s not foolish or arrogant at all to believe you can learn something by watching your kid learn; it might be a skosh foolish and arrogant to believe that all your kid needs in order to learn is for you to just watch (caringly, of course).

    Also, WRT “the 28 kids at one time part,” I certainly agree that overcrowded classrooms are counterproductive… but I would also remind you that socialization and cooperative learning are important parts of a school’s mission. There are critical aspects of learning and maturing that a school community provides, and that cannot be matched with a tiny handful of kids in a tutorial setting. (I once taught in a private school where my classes were, IMHO, too small to be effective.) If homeschoolers “clump” together to the extent that they can replicate those community experiences, they’re really not homeschooling anymore; they’re running a (probably unlicensed) private school.

    Again, I’m sure there are homeschoolers out there doing wonderful jobs. I continue to believe, though, that real schools with trained professional teachers better serve the interests of most students, most of the time.

  94. #94 Liz Ditz
    June 18, 2008

    SC @#86 — the homeschool universe is messy, period. I’m not sure really solid data could be developed, nationally.

    I follow it a bit here in San Mateo/Santa Clara counties, and the motivations for parents here do include some fundamentalist families, but more families who have a child (or children) who just doesn’t thrive in public education. It is also messy because families also move in and out of homeschooling. For example, I have met several families who homeschool for a few years while remediating their children’s learning disabilities, and then returned to conventional schooling. I also know of two families who homeschooled for a couple of years following episodes of bullying, and then were able to move to a new school district.

    Families also use community resources: for example, one young man I know “homeschooled” throughout high school — but took science & math at a local community college.

    The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) formed in part as an outgrowth of the Christian Home Educators Association of California. They have always had strong associations with fundamentalist Christians. They are likely to want to inflate the percentage of homeschoolers who are avoiding public school because of the teaching of evolution and so on.

    There are other, less formal organizations that seek to serve “the diversity of homeschooling families”.

  95. #95 SC
    June 18, 2008

    Thanks, Liz Ditz (whose link doesn’t work)! Interesting.

    I’d wager that with sufficient motivation (which I don’t possess – I’m interested, but not that interested :)), a study could be designed to answer the religion/motivation questions which takes the complexities of homeschooling into account. Don’t underestimate us social scientists!

  96. #96 ndt
    June 18, 2008

    Re: homeschooling. My college roommate was homeschooled for grade K-8, then went to public high school. In his parents’ case, the decision to homeschool was not religiously based. It was a rejection of professional teachers as experts because in their school district, in a small town in Iowa, the teachers weren’t experts. They (the parents) were able to give my roommate a pretty darn good education up through 8th grade. He lacked some social skills but so did I and I went to public school my whole life.

  97. #97 EvoStevo
    June 18, 2008
  98. #98 MyaR
    June 18, 2008

    Makes me proud to be Expelled! from Conservapaedia.

  99. #99 speedwell
    June 18, 2008

    But I don’t remember reading about why there was citrate in the culture medium. Anyone know?

    Yes. It was put there on purpose to help detect the presence of contamination. Since one of the defining characteristics of organisms classified as E. coli is that they do not digest citrate, it would supposedly have indicated contamination of the sample if something was eating the citrate. But to their surprise there was no citrate-eating organism in the sample besides the E. coli itself.

  100. #100 speedwell
    June 18, 2008

    Oh, Sven already answered that with a link. Sorry, it seems I didn’t have it exactly right either.

  101. #101 Blaidd Drwg
    June 18, 2008

    Re: Homeschooling:

    Yes, it is a ‘movement’ in the same way as the production of commercially valuable fertilizer is a ‘movement’ WRT cows.

    My sister-in-law has chosen to homeschool her two young boys, not through lack of instruction in class, but through ‘moral outrage’ (The school DARED to assign Harry Potter as an (elective) reading assignment).
    Her qualifications in education are miniscule at best – she is having to read ahead in the texts to keep up….and these boys are in 4th and 6th grade. I suppose she will give fair instruction for the next 3-4 years, but after that…

    Oh yes, and she is a Hovind-Robertson-Ham-Hagee style fundie, not that that should surprise anyone.

  102. #102 SC
    June 18, 2008

    The third sentence in my post at #93 is an abomination. My apologies to the English language and to all who have had the misfortune of reading it.

  103. #103 Dr. Pablito
    June 18, 2008

    I got blocked at Conservapedia ™ the first time I tried to post something. I was trying to correct a physics entry and got too shirty for their taste.

  104. #104 Stephen
    June 18, 2008

    Dunno if it’s been mentioned yet (100 comments to ready through!) but you can read their internal discussion about the letter at http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia_talk:Lenski_dialog.

    If you don’t have anything else going on, it can be interesting reading. Check out user Aschlafly. Anyone care to draft up a psych chart on him? 8)

  105. #105 Kel
    June 18, 2008

    Ahhh, conservapedia. Where Jesus and a fixation on homosexuality meet.
    http://www.conservapedia.com/Special:Statistics

    Though it seems now they are branching out to atheists and evolution too. Good for them.

  106. #106 Benjamin Geiger
    June 18, 2008

    I have to jump in here and add my name to the list of homeschooled students whose parents aren’t evangelical. I was homeschooled starting with seventh grade, because the school refused to do anything about the other students beating me to a pulp on a daily basis. (The fact that I was capable of working at a college level in second grade, but forced to sit through their garbage, was another aspect.)

    I have since moved, and currently live smack-dab in the middle of America’s wang, well within the bible belt. I did see something very encouraging at the library, though; there’s a “non-religious homeschooling support group” in the area: “Evolved Homeschooling”. On their flier, they say, “We’re committed to offering an accepting environment for the freethinking home school family.”

    I haven’t joined, as I don’t have any kids, but it warms my heart to see that the Christaliban haven’t completely taken over.

  107. #107 Julie Stahlhut
    June 18, 2008

    Schlafly is a grade-A moron. He went on some tirade about STDs and when PalMD challendged some of his points, Schlafly immediately demanded to know PalMDs credentials. Pal informed him was an internist and then Schlafly went on to say that Internists receive no training in STDs.

    And I’ll bet PalMD tore him a new one, even though PalMD is not board-certified in colorectal surgery. I call shenanigans!

    BTW, if you Google for the names Schlafly and Lenski, you will find out that this story is speeding through the blogsphere like a centipede on crystal meth. And Schlafly is definitely coming off like the boob that we know him to be.

  108. #108 molliebatmit
    June 18, 2008

    From Schlafly’s second email to Lenski:
    “If the data are voluminous, then I particularly request access to the data that was made available to the peer reviewers of your paper, and to the data relating to the period during which the bacterial colony supposedly developed Cit+. As before, I’m requesting the organized data themselves, not the graphs and summaries set forth in the paper and referenced in your first reply to me. Note that several times your paper expressly states, ‘data not shown.’”

    I LOLed. Hard. He really doesn’t get the whole peer review thing, does he? Or the whole “writing a paper” thing.

    I am totally going to start sending emails to my lab’s competitors asking for full access to their raw data, and I’m going to make sure to snottily point out that “several times your paper expressly states, ‘data not shown’”.

  109. #109 Kagato
    June 18, 2008

    #67:

    I just found an infuriatingly ironic (given all the stupidity done in the name of religion) cartoon on Uncommon Descent. Thought it would be of interest here partly because it’s so silly, but also because PZ gets a mention in the comments.

    Nice of them to completely fail to source the comic.

    It’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Pretty funny, usually irreverent, and typically consists of people being complete bastards to each other. (er, you know — in a funny way.)

  110. #110 steve s
    June 18, 2008

    Most of the commenters on the Talk page there:

    http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia_talk:Lenski_dialog

    Seem to basically call Aschafly a moron.

  111. #111 alan R.
    June 18, 2008

    Lenski should ask for Schlafly’s UPS account number. That way Schlafly can be billed for the shipping (that would only be fair). If that request alone doesn’t end it, the first severial thousand dollars of shipping boxes of paper and old lab samples will.

  112. #112 ndt
    June 18, 2008

    You know, it would be increadibly funny to gather all the data, send a few weeks printing it all out, then gather it in a few large dumptrucks and throw it all on Schlafly’s lawn.

    To bad it would kill several trees and cost quite a bit of money. It would be the prank of the century though, and probably shut the fool up for a while.

    Posted by: Sanity | June 18, 2008 2:52 PM

    So put all the data in a zip file and email him a 1.7 Gig attachment.

  113. #113 Kseniya
    June 19, 2008

    I thinking a “Letter of Invitation from Hogwart’s” style envelope blitz might be amusing. Does Aschlafly’s home have a chimney and a front-door mail slot?

  114. #114 Beth
    June 19, 2008

    Good luck anyone trying to get good data out of homeschoolers. Before I stayed home to homeschool my kids, I was a psychologist and I have to tell you, about the only thing that unites homeschoolers is a distrust of anyone trying to gather information about them!

    The fundies deeply distrust any authority that is not church-affiliated and everyone else distrusts it period. And so, while I find the community absolutely fascinating, it will remain decidedly under the radar I’m sure.

    While I agree that the majority of homeschoolers are evangelical Christians, I would argue that most are not your serious lunatic fringe. The homeschooling group I belong to is made up of liberal Christians, atheists, pagans and Buddhists and we are in Ohio for goodness sake.

    When I was considering homeschooling I thought I had to choose between the “submit to your husband” right-wingers and the “smoke pot with your kids” lefties. I quickly found out those stereotypes are more rare than one would think and the majority of homeschoolers are pretty normal. Fiercely private and not impressed with authority, but normal.

    Most of the people I know that homeschool do it because they enjoy their kids and like the lifestyle and I would say that is true even of most of the Christians. However, I need to acknowledge that I run in the opposite direction of anyone I think is really conservative so my perceptions are no doubt skewed.

  115. #115 mgarelick
    June 19, 2008

    Marginally on topic, and in response to #79: check out “Waiting Period,” by the great Hubert Selby. A guy has to wait two weeks to buy a gun, so instead of committing suicide he decides to kill his tormentor — with E. coli!

    “Bacteria don’t kill people — people with bacteria kill people!”

  116. #116 Carl
    June 19, 2008

    Why doesn’t Schlafly just ask if he can visit Lenski’s lab with several scanners and minions and scan in 20 years’ worth of lab books? Google did something similar. Maybe he’s too lazy though; these Bush-era conservatives seem like they want everything handed to them on a plate. They should learn to appreciate what 20 years’ of hard work involves.

    My proposal is as disingenuous as Schlafly’s.

  117. #117 Russell
    June 19, 2008

    I’m worried about Schafly’s desire to reproduce fluorocitrate experiments himself .His letter suggests he may have been bubbling HF through the Koolaid for some time

    Don’t try this in homeschool.

  118. #118 MarkW
    June 19, 2008

    #102:

    speeding through the blogsphere like a centipede on crystal meth

    Fantastic simile, I LOL’d, thanks.

  119. #119 John C. Randolph
    June 19, 2008

    PZ,

    Trying to package home schooling up with creationism was a rather gratuitous display of bigotry on your part. Public schools have turned out plenty of creationists, and as it happens, I know quite a few home-schooled kids whose parents chose to take their kids out of public schools because of the rather shockingly poor quality of instruction available.

    Hell, I went to high school in Fairfax County, Virginia, which is a pretty well-heeled suburb of Washington DC. Coming to the USA after attending schools overseas, I had a hell of a culture shock when I realized that some of the kids around me couldn’t read.

    Yeah, some crazy bible-thumpers home school their kids. So do a lot of parents who want their kids to get something better than indifferent babysitting by bureaucrats.

    -jcr

  120. #120 SC
    June 19, 2008

    He refers specifically to “Schlafly and his crack team of home-schooled children.” In the case of Schlafly’s movement, we know the motivation for homeschooling and the quality of science education provided.

  121. #121 Dennis N
    June 19, 2008

    One of the reasons Conservapedia was started was as a resource for home-schooled children. Crazy creationist type home-school children.

  122. #122 Mrs Tilton
    June 19, 2008

    I too am proud to have been Expelled! from Conservapaedia.

    I cleverly chose a nym that would not possibly raise any suspicions (Hiram T. Whickermeister III) and so was able to get away with it for a while. But eventually they caught me when I explained that the College of Cardinals, unlike most colleges, grants only postgraduate degrees.

    Happily, they haven’t managed to clean up all of the mess I made.

  123. #123 Bill Dauphin
    June 19, 2008

    Since this thread has turned, in part, into a symposium on homeschooling (and yes, I recognize my own culpability on that score!), a few more thoughts:

    I don’t dispute that the universe of homeschoolers extends far beyond the ideologically driven folks who inspired my original comment, and that there are life and community circumstances that can make homeschooling a perfectly rational choice, but Beth’s comments (@108) don’t necessarily reassure me:

    …about the only thing that unites homeschoolers is a distrust of anyone trying to gather information about them!

    The fundies deeply distrust any authority that is not church-affiliated and everyone else distrusts it period….

    …the majority of homeschoolers are pretty normal. Fiercely private and not impressed with authority, but normal.

    Most of the people I know that homeschool do it because they enjoy their kids and like the lifestyle and I would say that is true even of most of the Christians.

    I’m happy if people are appropriately skeptical of authority… but I’m concerned by the suggestion here that homeschoolers are indoctinating their kids to distrust the larger society. Similarly, while I find it heartwarming that parents are so eager to spend time with their kids, it strikes me as somewhat selfish to put their desire for personal gratification as parents above their kids’ need to grow and develop as participants in the larger culture.

    You see, I don’t buy the notion — implicit in conservative discussion of education and implicitly accepted in much of the liberal response to same — that education is essentially a service industry whose mission is to deliver information and skills to individual “customers” (i.e., students and their families) for the purpose of college prep and career training. Instead, I see education as a public-good enterprise whose “customer” (Gawd, how I hate business analogies for public functions!) is not the individual students but the larger community, and whose “product” is the development of good citizens.

    It is this latter vision of education that justifies its being compulsory, and justifies the existence of public schools at all.

    It seems to me that homeschooling, no matter what the motivation or how successful it is in delivering academic content and skills, inherently ignores the additional missions of social development and cultural integration — exposure to diversity of ideas, ability to work cooperatively in small and large groups, the habit of considering shared community goals and objectives — that the school experience addresses.

    Now, I realize conservatives may think that’s a Feature, Not a Bug™, because conservativism is all about the individual, but I beg to disagree.

    I also believe (though I don’t claim to have evidence on this point) that it’s generally better for the individual students to be in the more socially integrative environmnent of an actual school.

    But all of this is a bit tangential to my original point (@1), which was that laypeople who take it upon themselves to do the work of professionals often underestimate the real extent and value of the training those professionals possess. This is true of amateur biologists (e.g., evolution deniers), amateur climate scientists (e.g., AGW deniers), amateur cosmologists (neo-geocentralists), etc. I’m not suggesting homeschoolers are necessarily comparable, and I’m sure there are some very talented and well-trained people teaching at home… but I’m reasonably certain that, on average, homeschooling teachers fall short of the level of training and skill required of the average public school teacher.

    PS to Kseniya (@107): I don’t think we have enough owls!

  124. #124 Walton
    June 19, 2008

    In response to posts #28 and #29:

    I don’t know what BSE stands for precisely, but Andrew Schlafly’s bachelor’s degree (from Princeton) is in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, according to various online sources. His JD is from Harvard Law School (though he has never practised law professionally). Just for clarification.

  125. #125 Josh
    June 19, 2008

    Bill’s comment #116 calls to my mind the homeschooling mom focused on in Jesus Camp and the scene where she relates to her children her amazing revelation (!!!) that science doesn’t prove anything (a true statement).

    She then, clearly impressed by the her devilish cleverness, dangles the implication that this critically hobbles the entire enterprise of science–whereby swinging (with a hockey stick instead of a bat) and managing to completely and utterly fucking miss the ball.

    I might be recalling this incorrectly, but I think that as the camera shot cut away, it, in a moment of unintended brilliance, panned across their computer sitting nearby…

  126. #126 SC
    June 19, 2008

    Walton, that was already clarified in the intervening comments – @ #50 and in the link provided at @ #88. As I noted above, BSE stands for Bachelor of Science in Engineering (or Education, which I thought was more likely here, but upon further consideration engineering makes more sense). For more on Harvard/Yale/Princeton and their policies, I recommend Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen.

  127. #127 Longtime Lurker
    June 19, 2008

    Carl@116:”these Bush-era conservatives seem like they want everything handed to them on a plate”

    I hope he has E.coli cultures handed to him on a plate every time he dines.

    The Schlafly family has been flinging poo for well over 20 years, so you’d think they’d have E.coli cultures going back for many more generations than Lenski’s lab.

    Conservapedia should change its name to ConservaPOEdia.

  128. #128 Kseniya
    June 19, 2008

    One of the many snicker-worthy ironies of Conservapwndia is that it addresses the alleged liberal bias of Wikipedia by offering itself not as a nominally balanced, middle-of-the-road alternative, but as one with a screamingly, blatantly far-right, anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-rational “conservative” bias of its own. Hilarious. Thinking conservatives world-wide should be up in arms about the misappropriation of their political philosophy, even if in name only, by these cretinous ideologues. What an embarrassment.

  129. #129 Sloan
    June 20, 2008

    I’m coming late to this conversation, but to add another perspective:

    Parents often home school their children because their local school district is in the crapper, as has already been pointed out. Another reason is that their child, for whatever reason, has difficulty functioning well in the typical school environment. That was the case with our son. So they wanted to medicate him, and we decided we’d had enough. Once we started home schooling him, he thrived. Fortunately he got over his difficulties, scored 1900/2400 on the SAT and a 29/36 on the ACT, and he’s now enrolled at Georgia Tech.

    Once the kids get to about 9th grade, parents usually hand them over to private tutors or home school cooperatives, because they realize that they lack the general knowledge to teach any of the subjects (parents who DON’T do this, IMHO, are making a big mistake). The co-op I’m involved in (I teach biology) is made up mostly of people with teaching degrees who have a substantial amount of experience in public or private schools. I don’t have a teaching degree, but I have a B.S. in both biology and chemistry from Berry College here in Georgia, some graduate-level coursework in biochemistry, and 24 years of experience working as a chemist at the Centers for Disease Control. And although I know some parents would object, I do teach evolution in my class…what it means, how it works, the evidence supporting it, and why the typical creationist arguments are wrong. Even if the kids don’t accept it, I insist that they learn about it so that they’ll be prepared when they reach college.

    I did have one child drop out this past year because their parents didn’t agree with my views. It upset me at the time, but if they can’t accept the truth, I can’t help them.

    By the way, I think Schlafly is an idiot. He obviously doesn’t understand the peer review process.

  130. #130 Walton
    June 20, 2008

    Kseniya at #128: “Thinking conservatives world-wide should be up in arms about the misappropriation of their political philosophy, even if in name only, by these cretinous ideologues.”

    Believe me, we are. I myself became disillusioned with Conservapedia very quickly (I used to edit there).

  131. #131 Bill Dauphin
    June 20, 2008

    Walton:

    I myself became disillusioned with Conservapedia very quickly

    This does you credit, but this…

    (I used to edit there).

    …does not. Why on Earth would a thoughtful person such as yourself even begin working with an “encyclopedia” that deliberately incorporated an ideological slant?

    More broadly, I’ve always wondered why conservatives who perceive liberal bias typically try to counter it with an opposing conservative bias, rather than taking a principled stand for actual fairness? Why is the response to the imagined bias of the Washington Post or CNN always self-consciously slanted outlets like the Washington Times and Fox News?

    Too often it seems that conservatives talk a principled game, but but play a purely competitive, unprincipled one.

  132. #132 Nick Gotts
    June 20, 2008

    Thinking conservatives – Kseniya@128
    Oxymoron alert! Oxymoron alert!

  133. #133 Kseniya
    June 20, 2008

    Nick, I felt certain that someone would pick up on that, and I hope you appreciate the way I sacrifice myself to set up jokes for other people here. ;-)

    Bill, I’m going to venture a guess that Walton initially did see in Conservapedia an opportunity to contribute to an unbiased online wiki, but quickly bailed as the true nature of the project (and its shamelessly hyperaccurate name) became clear. I’d cut him some slack on this one. It’s not much of a stretch to see how an idealistic right-leaning nineteen year old, who’s been influenced by some of our *cough* favorite American right-wing pundits, might perceive a need to counter the pervasively alleged liberal bias in virtually all media. Yet when he saw where the real bias was, he quickly bailed out on it – yes, to his credit – when he could just as easily have stayed with it, for ideological reasons, even knowing what he knew about it. His choice to reject it outweights his choice to get involved in the first place. IMO. We all make questionable choices; what matters is how we respond when we realize that we’ve made them. :-)

    Otherwise, I’m with you all the way. Aside from the inevitable effects of political relativism, the “liberal bias” of media in the USA is a myth. Most mainstream outlets are just that – mainstream, middle-of-the-road, and the landscape is dotted with leftist and rightist voices that become increasingly sparse as they get farther away from the middle. It’s a bell curve. Really, now – what else could it be? Sure, magazines like The Nation, Mother Jones and Rolling Stone betray their liberal biases without qualm or deception, and they have their counterparts on the right – US News & World Report, The National Review, The Weekly Standard, etc.

    The tendency towards relativism becomes clear when people talk about mainstream news magazines like Time and Newsweek. Liberals see those as being somewhat conservative, and conservatives see them as being somewhat liberal. (One Limbaugh conservative I worked with a couple of years ago called them both “Leftists rags”. I kid you not.)

    Anyway, to offer an example that’s more to the point, the Republican Noise Machine has been telling America for decades about the liberal bias of public radio. Well, guess what? That’s not true, either, yet everyone – even many liberals! – take it as an uncontestable truth. “Repeat a lie often enough, with enough conviction…”

  134. #134 Kseniya
    June 20, 2008

    (BTW, I realize the middle of the bell curve is not an absolute middle, but represents the mean of American political discourse. I tend to agree with some of our European friends who (ex)claim that there’s no left wing at all in American politics, and that most “liberals” are moderates.)

  135. #135 Nick Gotts
    June 20, 2008

    Kseniya@131 – I certainly do!

  136. #136 Bill Dauphin
    June 20, 2008

    Sloan:

    Thanks for your perspective (@129). This fact…

    Parents often home school their children because their local school district is in the crapper…

    Creates a certain philosophical dilemma for me: I obviously can’t expect parents to do anything less than the very best for their children… but approaches (including not only homeschooling but also vouchers and even regular private school transfers) that have the effect of selectively removing the brightest students and most committed families from the public school system make me grind my teeth. This has a kind of distilling effect, concentrating the obstacles public schools face by leaving them with (on average) less capable students and less engaged parents.

    Again, as a father myself, I can’t advocate that parents do anything other than the right thing for their own children… but as a citizen I can’t help thinking the best thing for all of us would be for those bright students and engaged families to stay in struggling schools and participate in making them better. (Note that local school boards are among the most accessible of all our democratic institutions.) [scratches head...]

    BTW, this…

    Once the kids get to about 9th grade, parents usually hand them over to private tutors or home school cooperatives…. The co-op I’m involved in (I teach biology) is made up mostly of people with teaching degrees who have a substantial amount of experience in public or private schools. [my emphasis]

    …gives me a chance to ask about something. I’ve always thought homeschooled kids miss out on some of the social benefits of attending an actual school. I’ve had a vague notion that co-ops such as yours exist, and that they might redress some of my concerns… but I wonder how they work/what they look like. Do they involve any sort of “campus” outside the participants’ homes (e.g., a suite of rented offices somewhere)? Do they involve (as your comments seem to suggest) a “faculty” of professional and/or experienced teachers? In short, to what extent do these resemble schools?

    And, while not meaning to put you personally on the spot, to what extent does forming a co-op like this amount to essentially opening a private school… while making an end-run around all the licensing and accreditation requirements (not to mention EH&S, ADA, and labor regulations) that “regular” private schools have to conform to? I really don’t mean to be making an accusation here; I’m genuinely curious about how this homeschooling world works.

  137. #137 Bill Dauphin
    June 20, 2008

    Kseniya:

    I’d cut [Walton] some slack on this one.

    Yah, I didn’t mean to be judging him too harshly, and I hope it didn’t come off that way. His “confession” just gave me a hook on which to hang a mini-rant about the fight (imaginary) bias with bias approach conservatives less principled than Walton too often adopt.

    Aside from the inevitable effects of political relativism, the “liberal bias” of media in the USA is a myth.

    You’re preaching to the choir on that one, dear! Al Franken has pretty effectively debunked the “liberal media” myth (in Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)), as have Eric Alterman (author of the Altercation blog and What Liberal Media?), Media Matters, and many many others.

    Now I’m preaching to the choir, of course, but I wanted to get those links out there.

    PS: Look for the audiobook versions of Franken’s stuff; it’s more like performance than simple reading, and he’s a really funny guy.

  138. #138 Kseniya
    June 20, 2008

    His “confession” just gave me a hook…

    Oh! I misread you, then, and thought you were hanging the mini-rant on him specifically. (Well, that doesn’t change any or our points in any essential way.)

    I’ve been told the Franken audio-book is a good “listen” thanks to the material and to Al’s own reading. I haven’t read (or heard) the book yet myself, though.

  139. #139 Becca
    June 21, 2008

    I’m sure others here can understand this a bit- as a formerly-homeschooled sane (or so I like to think) agnostic biologist I find it a just a touch irksome to be lumped in with “crazy creationist type home-schooled children”.

    @ Bill Dauphin (#123)- Au Contraire! The public school I attended took polls of parents and students, and then implemented policies that flagrantly ignored the desires of both groups. This was actually part of our motivation for homeschooling. My father strongly felt these were not the right people to teach me about democracy. I somehow fail to be impressed with their encouraging “the habit of considering shared community goals and objectives.”

    Given the specifics of the social environment in the school I attended (bullying, ect.), I cannot they had the optimal method for encouraging the development of the “ability to work cooperatively in small and large groups”.

    Furthermore, given the reaction of my fellow students to the fact that my best friend and I were of different races, or their treatment of another friend’s lesbian sister, I cannot see that the “exposure to diversity of ideas” I got was on target.

    Dealing with undemocratic bureaucracies, unpleasant people and bigots are (sadly) skills with some utility in the world we live in. Nonetheless, are these skills so vital we must learn them (and relearn them) for 12 of our most impressionable years?

    To be perfectly blunt (and a bit petty), I’m not sure your training in being “exposed to a diversity of ideas” is complete, given your reaction to homeschooling (or for that matter, your initial reaction to post #131; which didn’t exactly seem open-minded).

    Has it ever occurred to you that the social development that occurs in schools is sometimes sufficiently sub-optimal that homeschoolers might actually be doing it better?

    As far as academics-, you say you have a passing familiarity with Montessori methods, yet you don’t seem to view the teacher as an “observer” rather than a “lecturer”. As John Holt said, “Learning is not the product of teaching”. A good teacher is like an enzyme catalyst- they make things happen more efficiently. However, learning is the product of the activity of learners- the best teacher in the world, can’t make it happen (the catalyst doesn’t convert a positive delta G to a negative one).
    It’s not that pedagogy and subject matter mastery can’t make a good teacher- it’s that a good teacher is not necessary, nor sufficient, for much learning that takes place. It’s not that homeschooling parents are ‘better experts on their kids’ than teachers (though that may be true)- it’s that the homeschooled pupil is the best expert on their own interests and present knowledge.
    It’s not the filling of a pail (even with fine, democratic ideals), but the lighting of a fire.

    In any event, I spent so much time responding to you because I do believe we have similar root goals- a knowledgable population with an appreciation for diversity as well as community, and the inclination to work on building positive communities. I just believe we have totally opposite ideas on how to get there- I think school is detrimental toward the holistic education of an individual (because it was for me), you think it is essential. Probably the truth is somewhere in between.

  140. #140 Beth
    June 21, 2008

    Bill @ 136 I wanted to address some of what you brought up @ 123.

    I value socialization highly as a psychologist and this is ironically often one of the great strengths of homeschooling. We have a homeschool group that is our main community. We go on field trips together, bring in guests, put on plays together, have science, history, social justice, and art fairs, go camping together, do community service projects together, have potlucks, generally all the things one does to build community. The kids have quite a bit of time together. In fact my kids are around other kids, both homeschooled and traditionally schooled, almost everyday and they are hardly an exception.

    Most kids at the elementary level can get done with their traditional school work in about 2-3 hours. So, far from keeping your kids isolated, you take them out to meet the real world for the rest of the time.

    My kids have the time for numerous extra curricular activities – scouting, music, soccer, marital arts, art classes, and gymnastics are the current interests. They accompany me as I do all the real world things they need to know. They learn socialization skills from me as they see me interact (for better or for worse). They spend time with my husband in the evenings because they don’t have homework. They spend time with both sets of grandparents each week. One grandfather is entering the last stage of his life and my kids will be closely involved with that process too – because they have time.

    This is what I mean when I say we enjoy being around our kids. It’s not that we are selfishly grabbing them all to ourselves refusing any outside influence. It’s that, because of the lifestyle, we have time to be a significant part of their lives. And I can tell you that being around your children that much really encourages you to emphasize character because you are the one that has to put up with them.

    Am I trained to make any subject interesting to a group of 30 kids? I wouldn’t have the first clue how to do that. However, there are other ways. We planned a trip to Mexico that coincided with our study of the Mayans in history. They climbed Mayan temples and played soccer in the evenings with the local kids in the village plaza. We read Mayan fairy tales for bedtime stories down on the beach. We studied coral reefs and the geology of limestone caves for science and then visited both. Keeping the interest of 30 kids in a classroom while trying to teach to a variety of abilities does take training. Learning however, can come as naturally as breathing.

    What I’m trying to say is that just because homeschooling makes it possible for you to isolate your children from the “real world” doesn’t mean that any more than a handful of parents actually do that. It also makes it possible for your children to have the time to more deeply experience it.

  141. #141 Bill Dauphin
    June 21, 2008

    Becca (@139):

    I find it a just a touch irksome to be lumped in with “crazy creationist type home-schooled children”.

    And I’ve been careful not to do that. IIRC, I’ve said something like “I know not all homeschooling is ideologically driven and I’m sure it works well for some…” in each of my posts save the first (@1), and that one wasn’t about ideological motives, either: I only gave homeschooling as an example yet another field where there’s a risk of underestimating the value of professional training. That’s an arguable observation regardless of the reason for homeschooling.

    That said, though, the only reason homeschooling is a topic in this thread is PZ’s original comment, which was about a specific set of “crazy creationist” homeschoolers; why would you assume anyone intended to “lump you in”?

    @ Bill Dauphin (#123)- Au Contraire! The public school I attended took polls of parents and students, and then implemented policies that flagrantly ignored the desires of both groups.

    This actually sounds more like a response to my comment (@136) about school boards being democratic than to anything I said @123. I wasn’t talking about the responsiveness of school administrators, though; I was talking about the fact the the school board (for which the administrators work) is (in most communities) the easiest/cheapest elected office a “regular person” can run for… and it’s also one of the most operationally responsive branches of government. If you want to change your community, run for school board… or just go to the meetings and speak up. The real power to make structural changes is with the board, not the principals.

    I somehow fail to be impressed with [the school's uresponsive administration] encouraging “the habit of considering shared community goals and objectives.”

    That’s a tiny bit of a quote-mine: I wasn’t suggesting those skills would be taught by the principals, or even as part of the curriculum. I was talking about the fact that developing these skills is an inherent part of the school experience, because students have group and class assignments, and participate in clubs and/or sports teams, and generally are forced to cope with group dynamics in all sorts of sizes and shapes of groups. You may still disagree with me about that, of course, but let’s be clear about what you’re disagreeing with.

    To be perfectly blunt (and a bit petty), I’m not sure your training in being “exposed to a diversity of ideas” is complete, given your reaction to homeschooling (or for that matter, your initial reaction to post #131; which didn’t exactly seem open-minded).

    Blunt, petty, and tangential! Well-played indeed!

    Actually, I’m quite sure my “training in being exposed to a diversity of ideas” is not complete; whose is? Still, I’m hard pressed to see that particular post as an example of my deficiency. Are you suggesting that Conservapaedia, Fox News, and the Washington Times do not have a conservative slant? I suspect each would tell you — and proudly! — that they do, and precisely for the reason I suggested: to counterbalance what they perceive as liberal bias in their preexisting counterparts. I’m not sure how saying that reveals my lack of “diversity of ideas,” and I’m quite certain it has nothing to do with the homeschooling part of the discussion.

    you say you have a passing familiarity with Montessori methods, yet you don’t seem to view the teacher as an “observer” rather than a “lecturer”.

    First, let me be clear that I don’t claim anything more than “passing familiarity” with Montessori methods. But I have been a teacher myself, and I can tell you that “observer” and “lecturer” do not constitute a binary choice. Lecture is just one pedagogical mode, and one of fairly narrow usefulness; why would you assume the only other option is not teaching at all?

    As John Holt said, “Learning is not the product of teaching”.

    Oh. I guess that’s why. But Holt isn’t exactly objective on the subject, is he? I don’t claim to be a trained philosopher of education, but my personal observation is that learning is not often the product of not teaching. “Teaching,” to me, indicates a huge and subtle range of ways of facilitating learning (and you’d be surprised how much “traditional” teachers know and care about that range). As I said, I’m no expert on Montessori… but IIRC Montessori-trained educators still call themselves “teachers”… not “observers.”

    I’m quite sure that a great number of kids will soak up knowledge like a sponge — particularly basic knowledge in their early years — with little or no assistance. But I’m also sure many would not… and only a vanishingly small number would bother to learn algebra or calculus or the difference between iambic and dactylic meter in poetry or the meta-language of grammar or how to properly dimension an engineering drawing without being taught those things… and, BTW, hardly any two “observed” learners would end up learning the same things.

    Taken to its extreme (which I don’t suggest you have done), this naturalistic notion that kids are the best experts on what they need would suggest they’d be better off if the adults would just get out of the way as soon as the kids can stand up and feed themselves. But have you read Lord of the Flies recently?

    [Beth@140] I value socialization highly as a psychologist and this is ironically often one of the great strengths of homeschooling. We have a homeschool group that is our main community.

    Well, I’m no more a psychologist than I am a philosopher of education, so I’ll defer to you on that score to some extent. But it seems to me that the community you describe is, almost by definition, smaller and more insular than the overlapping set of communities provided by traditional schooling. (That is, if it’s not a small, relatively “in” community, is it really still “homeschooling,” or has it just become an alternative [and likely unlicensed] school?)
    As a former teacher, and a parent, and a citizen of my community, I believe that most students (though I’m sure not all) are well served by getting out of their homes and joining diverse groups of their peers to work and play while learning a more-or-less standard range of facts and skills under the supervision of well-trained adults who are not their parents. I also think it’s better for society to have the majority of kids educated in this way. As I’ve said before, I think maximizing the potential of each and every child is only the secondary mission of schooling (albeit the primary mission of the parents). The primary mission of schooling is educating generations of citizens.

    And BTW, everyone’s horror stories about their public schools sound to me like reasons to work on fixing the public schools; by siphoning off the most committed families, the homeschooling movement does just the opposite.

  142. #142 Becca
    June 22, 2008

    Bill Dauphin-
    I didn’t intend to imply you made the logical error of assuming I belong to a group I don’t, but I was trying to put all my remarks in the context of “diffusing sterotypes”.

    I agree that public schools could function as a relatively accesible niche in our democratic system- but rarely do they seem that way to the students.

    I also agree with you that schools can foster skills in “the habit of considering shared community goals and objectives”. Nonetheless, I do not think they always do a good job. Furthermore, I think some sorts of group dynamics that occur in schools are not desirable.

    I think you can see how a school might not be an optimal academic environment for every single student, I really don’t quite understand why you assume it is an optimal social environment?

    For my own part, the habit of considering the community is an ongoing lesson, just as lessons on diversity should be ongoing for all of us. Nonetheless, I do believe I have managed to learn something about the value of community as well as a diverse group of people via art lessons, martial arts classes, homeschooling support group meetings, retreats focused on supporting families, cooperative work camp, girl scouts, 4-H, and a myriad of other learning situations that took place outside of conventional classrooms.

    As far as the academic side, people are naturally inclined to learn. If you don’t believe that people have an innate drive to learn, perhaps you truly have spent too much time in school.
    “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” It appears your curiosity has suffered so much, you cannot even imagine that some people do indeed have a drive to learn calculus, poetry, engineering drawing methods, and anything else you can think up.
    Having skilled teachers one can go to for help in learning things is an enormous asset. But the lifelong learning skill of identifying and recruiting individuals best suited to help you learn what you are most interested in learning- well, that is an enormous asset too. It is also a skill that can languish, atrophied from lack of use, far too long in a conventional educational environment.

    Ultimately, my best description of homeschooling probably came shortly after my first homeschooling conference (I would have been about 11 at the time). My father asked me what I thought of homeschooling, and I replied “the smart kids seem smarter, and all the kids seem happier”.
    Maybe I was wrong, or maybe these things aren’t true of the whole of the homeschooling movement. But I do not think there is a convincing argument to be made that these are bad places to start, either for academic or social side of education.

  143. #143 Bill Dauphin
    June 23, 2008

    Becca:

    “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” It appears your curiosity has suffered so much, you cannot even imagine that some people do indeed have a drive to learn calculus, poetry, engineering drawing methods, and anything else you can think up.

    This is two consecutive posts in which you’ve resorted to ad hominem (albeit admittedly relatively politely): You don’t have any more actual information about the state of my curiosity than you do about my respect for diversity of ideas… which is to say, none, apart from the fact that I take a somewhat skeptical approach to your bumpersticker slogans regarding homeschooling. The bit of uncredited (Holt again?) snark with which you began the quoted paragraph isn’t evidence of anything, or even an argument. It’s just as assertion of opinion, and being somewhat cleverly put doesn’t make it any more likely to be true or important.

    Look, nobody’s saying you’re a bad person because you were homeschooled (although twice now you’ve fairly unambiguously suggested I am because I wasn’t). I’ve said all along I believe the kind of highly individualized, self-directed learning works extremely well for some individuals, and I’ve acknowledged that many public schools are far from perfect… but the notion that school itself (as opposed to a particular failing school) is inherently destructive of intellect and curiosity is just not true. If it’s a “miracle” for curiosity to survive formal education, it’s one that happens with astonishing regularity, as miracles go. I say this as both a former teacher and as the parent of a very bright, curious, self-motivated young woman who just a week and a half ago graduated from a not-too-exceptional public high school and who is on her way to Yale next Fall. I know most of my daughter’s friends pretty well, and none of them seems particularly crippled in terms of intellect or curiosity.

    Your description of homeschooling…

    “the smart kids seem smarter, and all the kids seem happier”

    …misses a couple things (IMHO), the first being that all the kids were probably relatively smart and happy to begin with. By its very nature, homeschooling is resource-intensive; while I don’t have data on the point, I’d be shocked if it weren’t true that the vast majority (as in almost totality) of homeschooling families are middle-class and up, in socioeconomic terms. So those kids are probably starting out healthy, well-fed, and well cared for, coming from homes full of books and computers and educational toys… so how surprising is it really if they do well?

    The human animal is born with a facility for learning, and all of us have some level of curiosity. But not all of us have the same level of curiosity, and beyond acquiring basic living skills, indulging curiosity is a leisure activity. It does not follow that those with less curiosity or with less (or no) leisure to indulge it will automatically learn socially useful things in a socially useful timeframe.

    Which brings me to my second observation: From a public policy point of view, making smart kids smarter and happy kids happier is far less important than making average or below-average kids smarter and happier. And it’s less important than making sure all the kids acquire a certain consistent, shared set of skills and facts that are relevant to being good citizens and good neighbors.

    I hate to generalize from anecdote, but I note that the (non-fundy) homeschooling advocates (and Montessori advocates, as well) that I’ve talked to myself have generally had personal experiences with particularly oppressive, authoritarian public schools, and they seem to think all schools are like that, and inherently must be. My own experience suggests to me that, on the contrary, such schools are the exception rather than the rule.

    I believe deeply that communal education, provided by and responsive to the whole community, is a critical element of our democracy. If homeschooling or private schooling works better for you, well, good on ya’ mate… but if the homeschooling “movement” begins to threaten public education as an institution, I for one will be speaking up.

    But I won’t be speaking up on this thread anymore. Enjoy!

  144. #144 Evan
    June 25, 2008

    In case you want to make some fundamentalists look like idiots, all are welcome to say hi in this thread on my blog, which started over one of Lenski’s quotes that I found brilliant. Now I have fundamentalists braying…

    http://breaktheterror.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/stunning-quote-re-the-science-of-evolution-vs-faith-in-creation/

  145. #145 Luca Masters
    June 25, 2008

    Sorry for this off-topicness, but I feel like rambling about the home schooling issue.

    Homeschooling /college/ might be a bad idea, but high school? Read the books, do some hands on stuff, and find someone to answer questions when you don’t understand something. (And if you can’t, you’re forced to learn how to research and puzzle things out.) If you actually /want/ to learn, you will. School’s primary advantage is that it’s regimented to /make/ students do the work, /not/ that the teachers are experts at teaching /or/ the subject matter. The things I hear coming from high school teachers mouths scare me.

    We do need stinkin’ experts. Luckily, experts write books, which students can then read. No expert teaches high school. (Skilled professional educators do, but they’re very much a minority, very overworked, and slowly leaving because they’re not allowed to teach anything but rote test answers for NCLB.)

    Since we apparently hate Christians ;-), it’s also worth noting that in most places in the US, homeschooling is the only way for a child not to be taught by Christians, albeit usually not Fundamentalists. Unlike many public schoolers I know, I was never taught creationism/ID (except in philosophy, where it belongs, and that was college). Nor had I a high school teacher insist that there are only two kingdoms of life, that there are only three states of matter, that whales aren’t mammals, that all snakes have ‘ventom’ (and some have /poisonous/ ventom!)–all things my publicly schooled friends were taught (and then occasionally punished if they tried to contradict these ‘facts’).

    Growing up, I got the impression that evangelists were a significant portion of home schoolers, but my family avoided those groups and hung out with the people who home schooled because /they/ liked to learn and thus didn’t assume kids needed to be forced to just /sit/ and /listen/ for hours on end to do it. (My mom actually started grad school for teaching, but realised they were showing her how to make a bunch of kids keep quiet for hours, not how to /teach/ them. That, I suppose, put me in a different category than most home schooled children.) I certainly ended up with much more respect for science and scientific experts than my peers, and I haven’t been taught that learning is something unpleasant you do when a teacher forces you to. Some things I learned thoroughly because it interested me and some things I learned a little less than I should have because it didn’t (which I guess for a fundie means lots of Bible, not much science), but over all, I learned enough that I did very well in college. I had to study hard to catch up in one or two areas (but almost always got A’s) and was occasionally bored by the seemingly elementary content, but I was apparently educationally crippled by my previous educational experiences than most of the students coming from public school.

    As I mentioned earlier, we weren’t the normal home schooling family (when we started, it was VERY not normal to home school at all in NC), but home schoolers in general apparently do significantly better than average at the public university I attended (East Carolina). Maybe this is in part because the evangelistic home schoolers don’t go there, as you can easily home school college in North Carolina, but only if you declare yourself a divinity school (which we were NOT going to). Maybe it’s because we were used to not having someone force us to go to class, study, do our homework…it was a change for me to have to do things more on a specific schedule, but not a change to have to motivate /myself/ to learn the material.

    That’s all. Enough OT ramblings for today. :-)

  146. #146 leah
    June 27, 2008

    Also completely off topic, but agreeing with Luca Masters, I was home schooled through highschool, as were my siblings. I am currently finishing my PhD in evolutionary biology ( specifically population genetics of salinity tolerance in Arabidopsis lyrata). All of my siblings have also finished ( or are currently in) college at regular universities (University of Michigan, Michigan State and Yale. My youngest sister is 16 and starting at Michigan in the fall. While many home schoolers are fundies and crazies, many of us are people with unique life circumstance, or who grew up in very underprivileged school districts that do not provide college prep education (this was our case, the local high schools only began offering algebra in the last few years, and still does not offer calc). We rarely sat at home and did book work, instead we learned on the go, we learned german from a native speaker, spoke spanish at home 2 days a week, all completed a minimum of calc 2 in math and were voracious readers, and learned many skills from interning, volunteering and taking classes. We never had TV, and this is think was the single greatest thing my mother did for us. We also all started taking community college classes at 13 and had tremendous opportunities to learn and travel the world because of home schooling. I agree it can look scary sometimes, and at times I’m sure it doesn’t work, but that can certainly be said for many rural and urban public schools as well. I always cringe a little when people equate home schooling with crazy right wing fundies. We certainly weren’t and we were part of a thriving community of happy well educated liberals. My older sister is a biologist in Kenya working with hyenas, One of my brothers has his own software company and makes financial services software for small businesses. My other brother is currently traveling South America and will be back in school in the fall. My younger sister received a full scholarship to Yale for music, and is doubling majoring in music and robotics – these are real examples of the things home schoolers do, just like things public schoolers do. We’re well educated and fairly normal people, and likely most of us blend in enough that people never notice we are home schooled.

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