Science magazine reports:

In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans’ knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang. …

“Discussing American science literacy without mentioning evolution is intellectual malpractice” that “downplays the controversy” over teaching evolution in schools, says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom.

For nigh-30 years, the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators report has included survey data on civic science literacy, and these questions have been part of that package since the beginning. Jon Miller, who designed those questions, has explained his goal as asking questions that will be as relevant today as they will be in 100 years, a hard task but one necessary for long-term trend monitoring.

When the NSB was preparing the 2010 report, they put the same poll in the field, with questions about evolution and the big bang. The draft report sent around for internal administration review included a section discussing the results of those questions (Science has the censored chapter). At the last minute, John Bruer – the NSB member responsible for editing that chapter, decided to spike the discussion.

He and another NSB member defend the decision. Bruer told Science “his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions ‘very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding’ of the two topics.” Louis Lanzerotti, the chair of the NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee, added that these questions are “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.”

These arguments just don’t hold water. If Bruer had a problem with this 3 years ago, he had time to devise a new question in time for the 2010 report. Lanzerotti insisted that “officials had not had a chance to alter the questions because the volume of work that goes into producing the Indicators is ‘vast,’ unlike ‘writing a 2000-word news article.'” Which is all well and good, but Yudhijit wrote this article over the course of 2-3 weeks, while Bruer had 2-3 years. And the notion that asking people whether “humans as we know them have developed from earlier species of animals” is a question that “conflates knowledge and beliefs” is bull. By that standard, a question that asks whether the continents have moved from their current position over millions of years” would also measure beliefs rather than knowledge, but that question’s responses were still reported.

And even if the question were flawed (a position that Matt Nisbet defends), this is the wrong way to fix it. Evolution is the central organizing principle in biology. Biologists know that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” And biologists and anyone else aware of American politics knows that evolution is a contentious issue in American public life. Those two facts mean that any discussion of American attitudes and knowledge on science which omits any mention at all of evolution cannot be complete or adequate. This is why I called it “intellectual malpractice.” If the question is flawed, replace it with a better question, and do it in a way that maintains data continuity. Survey researchers have established protocols to do exactly that. According to Tom Smith of the National Opinion
Research Center in Chicago, “NSF hasn’t asked him to make any changes in the survey, which is now in the field for planned use in the 2012 Indicators.” In other words, the only step the NSB has taken to address questions it regards as “flawed” is censoring a public discussion of the question. They’re still paying for polls which ask the question, and it wasn’t until Science started poking around (prompted by questions from yours truly) that they announced plans for a review of the surveys used to measure science literacy.

Furthermore, a review of the chapter’s censored section shows that a lot more was cut than the supposedly flawed question. The chapter had a discussion of a 2008 paper which surveyed science teachers and how they teach evolution. It included a discussion of the history of the creation/evolution conflict in the US, the challenges posed to evolution education, and the complex nature of resistance to evolution. It explains how differently asked survey questions on evolution get different results, which gives readers a context for understanding of what is and isn’t measured by that question.

Is all of that relevant to public attitudes toward science? Public knowledge of science? Yes and yes.

So how does Bruer explain his objections to the evolution question?

When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: “There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution,” adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer “false” to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: “On that particular point, no.”

The fact that some scientists question “certain aspects of the theory of evolution” does not justify omitting any discussion of evolution. As Bruer admits, those scientists still accept that humans share common ancestry with other animals. This question doesn’t touch on aspects of evolution that are subject to scientific controversy. People who reject the scientific consensus – whether for religious reasons or from ignorance – are not scientifically literate.

Bruer has expressed a hope that “indicators could be developed that were not as value-charged as evolution.” However value-laden evolution may be, it is still good science, and no one is fully scientifically literate who cannot accurately answer simple questions about evolution or the Big Bang.

It’s good to see that the White House is upset as well. Spokesman Rick Weiss told Science “The [Obama]
Administration counts on the National Science Board to provide the fairest and most complete reporting of the facts they track.” It’s clear that the 2010 Science and Engineering Indicators don’t live up to that standard. The administration will name 10 new members of the 25-member board in May. Lanzerotti’s 6-year term will expire then, while Bruer’s will end in 2012, after the next Indicators report has been issued.

Comments

  1. #1 Chad Orzel
    April 9, 2010

    While I agree that the omission is problematic, I have to disagree with you on one point: you write that:

    f Bruer had a problem with this 3 years ago, he had time to devise a new question in time for the 2010 report. Lanzerotti insisted that “officials had not had a chance to alter the questions because the volume of work that goes into producing the Indicators is ‘vast,’ unlike ‘writing a 2000-word news article.'” Which is all well and good, but Yudhijit wrote this article over the course of 2-3 weeks, while Bruer had 2-3 years.

    If you look at the data in the report (PDF of the relevant chapter), you’ll see that they are using data from a survey done in 2008. So at most they had one year to come up with better questions and get them into the survey, which would be awfully fast for that sort of thing (you need to write new questions, agree on possible wording, test them with small samples to make sure you haven’t introduced new sources of confusion, get them approved for the final survey, etc.).

    If the 2012 report, which will presumably use data from a 2010 survey, fails to include better evolution questions, then you can nail them for slacking. There’s a long lag between surveys and reports, though, so the “we didn’t have time” argument is not as stupid as it appears.

  2. #2 TB
    April 9, 2010

    Yup, appointees left over from the previous anti-science administration. The key here is not that they just censored the chapter, but they censored it after the official review.

  3. #3 Matti K.
    April 9, 2010

    “Bruer has expressed a hope that “indicators could be developed that were not as value-charged as evolution.””

    Sounds very accommodationist to me.

  4. #4 Joshua Zelinsky
    April 9, 2010

    I’m not an expert on this at all but as I understand it, Bruer’s position is one that serves at the pleasure of the President. So fire him.

  5. #5 Josh Rosenau
    April 9, 2010

    Chad: I take your point. However, the article says that “NSF hasn’t asked [NORC] to make any changes in the survey, which is now in the field for planned use in the 2012 Indicators.” So “we didn’t have time still doesn’t hold up. Nor does it explain why the chapter was written including the evolution data, and only had that section removed after drafts had been circulated outside NSB.

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    April 9, 2010

    Josh Zelinsky: The NSB is presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed, but is considered an independent body. A member could be forced out, I suppose, but we associate such interference with science more with a previous administration than this one.

  7. #7 Jason F.
    April 10, 2010

    Having read your entry and Nisbit’s post on this, I can’t help but to keep having one question run through my head: Is it possible to be Biblically literate but not a Christian?

    You see my point? I can read through the Bible, attend Bible studies, and come away with a pretty good understanding of what the Bible says. I just don’t happen to believe it’s the “word of god” (or whatever similar phrase you choose).

    Similarly, isn’t it possible for someone to read Carl Zimmer’s “Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea”, attend a few biology courses, and come away with a pretty good understanding of what evolutionary theory says, yet still reject it as valid?

    In the same way I can say I understand that the Bible says Jesus was the son of god and died for my sins–thus making me “Biblically literate”–yet reject it as true, can’t a fundie Christian understand that evolutionary theory says humans share a common ancestry with other primates–thus making them “scientifically literate”–yet reject it as true?

    Basically, it seems to get down to how one defines “literacy”. Does “scientific literacy” mean “acceptance of the conclusions of science” or does it mean “understands science and its conclusions”?

    Or, to look at it another way, who’s more scientifically literate, the person who reads Zimmer’s book, attends courses, and understands the science but rejects it, or the person who accepts it without knowing much at all what it’s based upon?

  8. #8 Jason F.
    April 10, 2010

    Oh, and just so we’re clear, I still think the decision by Science to omit this from the report was a terrible one.

  9. #9 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    can’t a fundie Christian understand that evolutionary theory says humans share a common ancestry with other primates–thus making them “scientifically literate”

    That doesn’t really make them scientifically literate in any way that’s important.

    Basically, it seems to get down to how one defines “literacy”.

    Yes.

    Does “scientific literacy” mean “acceptance of the conclusions of science” or does it mean “understands science and its conclusions”?

    It means the latter, but I suspect you don’t understand what understanding science means.

    Or, to look at it another way, who’s more scientifically literate, the person who reads Zimmer’s book, attends courses, and understands the science but rejects it, or the person who accepts it without knowing much at all what it’s based upon?

    Neither is scientifically literate.

    http://saltycurrent.blogspot.com/2010/04/you-people-wouldnt-know-scientific.html

  10. #10 Jason F.
    April 10, 2010

    Well SC, how ’bout you post your definition of “scientific literacy” instead of the equivalent of nothing more than “you’re wrong”?

  11. #11 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    Well SC, how ’bout you post your definition of “scientific literacy” instead of the equivalent of nothing more than “you’re wrong”?

    I posted a link to my blog post about this which contains one. I’d be happy to elaborate.

    (By the way, it was an NSB decision reported in Science, not a decision by Science.)

  12. #12 TB
    April 10, 2010

    Regarding scientific literacy, Jonathan Wells has at least one PHD in – I think – molecular biology. Aside from other criticisms, I think it would be inaccurate to say that he is scientifically illiterate.

  13. #13 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    Regarding scientific literacy, Jonathan Wells has at least one PHD in – I think – molecular biology. Aside from other criticisms, I think it would be inaccurate to say that he is scientifically illiterate.

    I’d say you’re wrong. I think the chance that he genuinely understands science and is 100% a charlatan is very small. (Although I’ve seen enough people lie to know that blatant, conscious dishonesty is possible.)

  14. #14 Jesse
    April 10, 2010

    SC, I saw your argument that scientific literacy means understanding why science works the way it does. I can think of a few ways to measure that. But Jason is also asking a slightly different question, which perhaps gets into the realms of philosophy: I can certainly understand why science works as it does, and why it is better than magical thinking to understand the physical world.

    But, understanding that, I can also reject it. Am I still scientifically literate?

    It’s easy to say someone is wrong because they don’t understand your argument. But I have met plenty of people who do understand whatever argument I am making, and still reject it. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. Maybe they do.

    People do this alll the time — and I suspect you do as well — in other fields, I don’t think you’d describe yourself as having no understanding of fundamentalist religious belief, but you reject it anyway. And I am not talking about scientific claims, necessarily — one can reject it on ethical grounds. But again, is it because you don’t understand it, or because you do?

    But perhaps that’s overthinking it a bit.

  15. #15 TB
    April 10, 2010

    SC: “I’d say you’re wrong.”

    Well sure, because your idea of literacy adds a litmus test on belief. I don’t like how Wells uses his knowledge either, but that’s a different question than whether he has the knowledge and understands it sufficiently enough to apply it.

  16. #16 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    SC, I saw your argument that scientific literacy means understanding why science works the way it does. I can think of a few ways to measure that. But Jason is also asking a slightly different question, which perhaps gets into the realms of philosophy:

    I’m really not interested in whether it gets into the realms of philosophy in your view. If your argument has merit, it doesn’t matter what “realms” it falls in. Anyway, my argument is social: what understanding of scientific literacy should/do we consider important?

    I can certainly understand why science works as it does, and why it is better than magical thinking to understand the physical world.

    It’s not just better. Magical thinking gives us no real knowledge of the natural world. Understanding why and how science does is absolutely central to scientific literacy.

    But, understanding that, I can also reject it. Am I still scientifically literate?

    You’ll have to be more specific. Scientific knowledge is based on the reasoned analysis of evidence, the acceptance of well-established facts and processes, and the rejection of those notions and hypotheses that are contrary to or not founded in evidence. There is no evidentiary basis on which to reject science, so if you do so you don’t understand it. But the question isn’t about that, but about the rejection of a well-established scientific fact (like “The earth revolves around the sun” or “Millions of people died during World War II”). Knowledge of what science is means you accept these, and rejecting them for unevidenced reasons means you don’t understand the fundamentals of science (or are lying or crazy). I wish to avoid getting too hung up on words here, but what would you call someone who thinks that well-evidenced facts can be discarded at will if not scientifically illiterate? Are there any facts that people could deny that would lead you to make this assessment, or are only those denied for certain reasons excluded?

    It’s easy to say someone is wrong because they don’t understand your argument. But I have met plenty of people who do understand whatever argument I am making, and still reject it. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. Maybe they do.

    Science is not an argument.

    People do this alll the time — and I suspect you do as well — in other fields, I don’t think you’d describe yourself as having no understanding of fundamentalist religious belief, but you reject it anyway. And I am not talking about scientific claims, necessarily — one can reject it on ethical grounds. But again, is it because you don’t understand it, or because you do?

    Are we talking about science or not? I reject it based on science; not fundamentalism. However, tests on fundamentalist literacy, I would hold, do rely on scientific premises. If I took a test on fundamentalist Christian knowledge and my answers demonstrated that I didn’t understand what fundamentalism was (I do, by the way – grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church) – say, that it had nothing to do with the Bible – or that I was referring to verses that weren’t in the Bible or completely distorting meanings that were obvious, that would in fact mark me as fundamentalist illiterate. Fundamentalists appear to emphatically reject scientific knowledge, but that’s only in certain realms (reality).

    The point is that the NSF and I and many others recognize the importance of science to humanity. People there and others constantly complain that science education is too often the memorization of facts, which doesn’t equal scientific literacy in the sense that’s important – education in the basics and practice of knowledge generation and accumulation. I agree. But the arguments being made about this survey show a lack of appreciation for what science really is. Or, in reality, a lack of courage in standing up for real scientific literacy.

    Well sure, because your idea of literacy adds a litmus test on belief.

    No, science adds such a litmus test, in that beliefs have to be logical, well-formulated, and established by evidence. Why else would the NSF ask about heliocentrism or evolution? Why is every opinion not considered equally scientific knowledge? Understanding this is more foundational than individual facts in various disciplines.

    I find Jason’s question, and a good deal of this discussion, very strange. Do we want students and citizens who are scientifically literate in the sense that they understand that knowledge needs to be based in empirical evidence and that science has developed methods for reducing error and accumulating real knowledge (and what those are), or students who can parrot facts but don’t understand what a scientific fact is or how these are derived, and think any opinion about the world is as good as any other? Knowledge of facts isn’t unimportant, but far less so than real scientific literacy.

  17. #17 Jesse
    April 10, 2010

    Let me put this question another way then.

    We have a physicist. He has published papers and has contributed much to the field. He might even be a Nobel winner.

    He says, “I believe God created the universe.”

    Is he scientifically illiterate? I’ve just described the Astronomer Royal (Rees).

    It’s one thing to ask if people know why science works the way it does. Whether they believe those conclusions is a different question entirely.

    This has come up in the surveys, by the way. When you ask people if the theory of evolution posits common descent, you get a large majority answering “yes.” If you ask whether they believe in common descent the answer is often “no.” That says to me that plenty of people understand (at least in a rudimentary way) the science. They just don’t accept it.

    That’s the difference. ou seem to be assuming that is someone answers the latter question “no” then they are scientifically illiterate. C S Lewis was far from illiterate in that regard. He just chose to reject the many of the premises. Quite rationally, I might add. Same with the Jesuits (who produced some top notch scientists, in their day).

    And saying people are lying or crazy isn’t terrifically helpful. If you take the existence of God, for instance, as axiomatic, as unarguable as the existence of the universe, then you’re going to come to a different set of conclusions than you would. And really, you can’t, ultimately, prove or disprove the existence of God, anymore than you can prove why a certain system of ethics is better or worse.

    This is why this can get awfully close to the realm of philosophy. I mean, you can’t prove that we aren’t in the Matrix, either (the old brain in a vat problem). But saying so doesn’t make one scientifically illiterate. (In a sufficiently cleverly designed system, you couldn’t tell one way or the other).

    See what I mean? Part of what I am getting at is how you phrase the questions about science itself. I;m not arguing that one belief system is any better or worse, or that science can’t tell you anything. Just that how you ask about science will determine whether someone looks scientifically literate or not. I think the whole way the question is posed ignores the compartmentalization people engage in on a daily basis.

  18. #18 TB
    April 10, 2010

    SC: “No, science adds such a litmus test, in that beliefs have to be logical, well-formulated, and established by evidence. ”
    Science adds no such litmus test, especially in terms of literacy and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.
    Are you suggesting that all beliefs in all circumstances need to be included in order to judge whether a person is scientifically literate?

  19. #19 Rorschach
    April 10, 2010

    If the 2012 report, which will presumably use data from a 2010 survey, fails to include better evolution questions

    There are no “better evolution questions”. What would they be, questions that don’t make the evangelicals uncomfortable?

    If you deny that evolution is true because you dont understand how science works and because this question comes too close to your religious ideology and the answer is therefore rejected because of its value implications, then you are just as illiterate wrt science as someone who doesnt go to school and doesnt read books.

  20. #20 John Morales
    April 10, 2010

    TB:

    Are you suggesting that all beliefs in all circumstances need to be included in order to judge whether a person is scientifically literate?

    I don’t think so — I think SC is suggesting that if someone rejects a well-established scientific theory (e.g. evolutionary theory) on a basis contrary to scientific epistemology (to quote SC: “logical, well-formulated, and established by evidence”) then that person is either not scientifically literate or else is intellectually dishonest.

  21. #21 John Morales
    April 10, 2010

    Jesse,

    If you take the existence of God, for instance, as axiomatic, as unarguable as the existence of the universe, then you’re going to come to a different set of conclusions than you would. And really, you can’t, ultimately, prove or disprove the existence of God, anymore than you can prove why a certain system of ethics is better or worse.

    Oh dear. You’re here equating the assuming the existence of God¹ with assuming the existence of the universe, and you’re equating objective facts with subjective opinions when you invoke ethics.

    Think about it: without assuming the existence of the universe² (aka solipsism), you cannot apply the scientific method; on the other hand, without assuming the existence of God, you can apply the entirety of the scientific method.

    In short, the former is mandatory for scientific literacy, the latter is otiose (to say the least).

    ¹ Which God?
    ² Better stated as ‘reality’.

  22. #22 TB
    April 10, 2010

    John: well, I’m not clear that’s the case. His blog post suggests even people with advanced degrees could be considered illiterate. Would that extend to a religious scientist, for instance, who would otherwise be considered literate according to the NSF survey?

  23. #23 John Morales
    April 10, 2010

    TB:

    Would that extend to a religious scientist, for instance, who would otherwise be considered literate according to the NSF survey?

    My point is that I think SC’s definition of scientific literacy includes possessing an understanding of the epistemological basis for the scientific method, not just factual scientific knowledge and/or the ability to apply it in certain domains.

    The answer to your question clearly depends on how you define ‘scientific literacy’.

    That said, what sort of scientist rejects a well-established theory, except on a scientific basis? :)

  24. #24 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    Let me put this question another way then.

    We have a physicist. He has published papers and has contributed much to the field. He might even be a Nobel winner.

    He says, “I believe God created the universe.”

    Is he scientifically illiterate? I’ve just described the Astronomer Royal (Rees).

    First, the examples we’ve been talking about are those in which people have denied well-established scientific facts. But I would say that he holds a view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science.

    But the point isn’t whether I would consider such a person to be scientifically illiterate. Again, the question is what form of scientific literacy do we consider most important: a grasp of facts and sometimes processes (in some, very few, cases at an advanced level) or an understanding that science (and thus all knowledge of the world) is grounded in evidence and developed through a collective process of testing beliefs against the evidence and discarding those that can’t be supported. In a world in which powerful interests are working hard to confuse people, I would rather have young people who understand the latter. Who have, as Sagan called it, a Baloney Detector. This is what science is about, and it’s multipurpose.

    (I asked you if you would consider people who denied well-established facts to be scientifically illiterate and you didn’t answer. Why?)

    It’s one thing to ask if people know why science works the way it does. Whether they believe those conclusions is a different question entirely.

    This is incredibly vague. Why do you think science works the way it does? What conclusions are you talking about? In science, conclusions are based on evidence. Someone accepts some scientific conclusions on the basis of authority and rejects others on the basis of authority. That person doesn’t understand science. (On what basis do you think these people accept other scientific facts, anyway?)

    This has come up in the surveys, by the way.

    I’m well aware of this.

    When you ask people if the theory of evolution posits common descent, you get a large majority answering “yes.” If you ask whether they believe in common descent the answer is often “no.” That says to me that plenty of people understand (at least in a rudimentary way) the science.

    It shouldn’t, even in a rudimentary way. To recognize words and connect them to a theory does not really demonstrate any sort of understanding. I can do this in a number of fields and have no idea what I’m talking about.

    They just don’t accept it.

    That’s the difference. ou seem to be assuming that is someone answers the latter question “no” then they are scientifically illiterate.

    I’m not assuming anything. I’m making an argument that they are. Because science is fundamentally about evidence-based belief and methods to ensure that our beliefs are evidence-based. That’s what science is. Just as fundamentalism is Bible-based belief, science is reality-based belief.

    C S Lewis was far from illiterate in that regard. He just chose to reject the many of the premises. Quite rationally, I might add. Same with the Jesuits (who produced some top notch scientists, in their day).

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. Which premises? That scientific knowledge is based on evidence?

    And saying people are lying or crazy isn’t terrifically helpful.

    To whom?

    If you take the existence of God, for instance, as axiomatic, as unarguable as the existence of the universe,

    …you’re doing something incompatible with science.

    then you’re going to come to a different set of conclusions than you would.

    Than who would? What scientific knowledge is based on axioms or premises that aren’t derived from empirical evidence?

    And really, you can’t, ultimately, prove or disprove the existence of God,

    “God” is a nebulous, ill-defined concept that doesn’t even rise to the level of a hypothesis. It’s not unfalsifiable; it’s not worthy of scientific consideration. To the extent that people have tried to define it, there is no evidence for it and there is therefore no sound scientific reason to maintain a belief in it.

    anymore than you can prove why a certain system of ethics is better or worse.

    This is why this can get awfully close to the realm of philosophy.

    Ethical systems are founded in socially-agreed values (which are not, like gods, fact claims), but the empirical consequences of our actions can be observed to determine if they’re in keeping with our values. By the way, you may find

    Allen Wood, “The duty to believe according to the evidence.” International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion (2008) 63:7–24

    of interest. It’s, y’know, in the realm of philosophy. :)

    I mean, you can’t prove that we aren’t in the Matrix, either (the old brain in a vat problem). But saying so doesn’t make one scientifically illiterate. (In a sufficiently cleverly designed system, you couldn’t tell one way or the other).

    You can’t be serious.

    See what I mean? Part of what I am getting at is how you phrase the questions about science itself. I;m not arguing that one belief system is any better or worse,

    Are you suggesting that science is a belief system? That astrology, say, is not necessarily better or worse at evaluating fact claims and developing knowledge about the natural world?

    or that science can’t tell you anything.

    That would be ridiculous. You do realize that, right?

    Just that how you ask about science will determine whether someone looks scientifically literate or not.

    The earth revolves around the sun. True or false?

    I think the whole way the question is posed ignores the compartmentalization people engage in on a daily basis.

    Please explain what you mean in relation to this survey. The evidence and its being the only basic for justified belief doesn’t go away because you don’t get it or can’t deal with it.

    What exactly do you think science is? What do you think makes it distinctive? Do you think it’s superior to other “ways of knowing,” and if so, how?

  25. #25 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    John: well, I’m not clear that’s the case. His blog post suggests even people with advanced degrees could be considered illiterate. Would that extend to a religious scientist, for instance, who would otherwise be considered literate according to the NSF survey?

    1) I am female (and pretty tired of people making that assumption).

    2) My blog post says that (though I think you inserted the “advanced” part), and I’ve said it here about creationists. People with science degrees can be scientifically illiterate. That’s the extent of my claim. Individual religious people with science degrees, like any other people with science degrees, may or may not be scientifically illiterate. (If they are real scientists in the sense of conducting and publishing scientific research, it’s highly unlikely that they are.)

    Science adds no such litmus test, especially in terms of literacy

    It most certainly does. That’s what science is.

    and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.

    Are you suggesting that all beliefs in all circumstances need to be included in order to judge whether a person is scientifically literate?

    The survey is about the natural sciences, so this is tangential. But I would say that someone who would say that World War II didn’t occur because her religion denies it would be both historically illiterate and scientifically illiterate (though I would simply state this as the former, as I consider history to have the same evidentiary basis as science). In general, it’s a matter of degree, though in some cases the illiteracy is clear.

  26. #26 Dan L
    April 10, 2010

    I personally will be more confident in the pronouncements
    and actions of the NSB when slightly less than 50% of them
    have been appointed by the Bush administration.

    I cannot imagine that anyone appointed during that administration
    did not pass an explicit ideological test on the proper political
    conflation of “knowledge and beliefs.”

  27. #27 SC (Salty Current)
    April 10, 2010

    and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.

    This is troubling. Are they claims of fact? Then of course the evidentiary requirement applies.

  28. #28 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 10, 2010

    Jesse #17

    We have a physicist. He has published papers and has contributed much to the field. He might even be a Nobel winner.

    He says, “I believe God created the universe.”

    Is he scientifically illiterate? I’ve just described the Astronomer Royal (Rees).

    Rees uses a God of the Gaps to put a god into the time before 1×10-47 seconds after the Big Bang but otherwise Rees agrees with mainstream astrophysicists about the Big Bang. Compare Rees to Rick Warren, who says he knows and understands evolution but given a choice between evolution and the Bible goes with the Bible. Rees isn’t scientifically illiterate, Warren has made a conscious decision to be scientifically illiterate.

  29. #29 Tulse
    April 10, 2010

    For me, in terms of public policy and the role of the NSF, the important question isn’t whether the public knows a particular set of scientific facts, but whether instead the public accepts science as the best method by which we come to understand the natural world. Someone who can tell you that what scientists think of human origins but who nonetheless doesn’t believe it because of their religion is much more troubling to me than someone who may not know about evolution but would be willing to believe it if they did. The latter case is simple ignorance, whereas the former is the willful denial of the most successful epistemological approach we have.

    So I don’t understand folks like Nisbett who dismiss these results as not really representing “scientific illiteracy” because they are instead motivated by religious belief. The willingness to ignore reality for the sake of a several thousand year old book is far more problematic.

  30. #30 TB
    April 10, 2010

    SC: it’s laudable that you’re not applying your idea of literacy in a broad brush way.

    A couple of points though:

    – Science is not a living being, it does not do tests – especially the political version of a litmus test.
    – I still disagree with your idea of literacy. I think you want the idea of a literate person to exclude the notion that they can also be dogmatic. Illiteracy is a different kind of challenge to overcome than dogmatism, although illiteracy can result from dogmatism. But, as Wells proves, a person can be literate enough to earn an advanced degree yet still hold unreasonably to dogma.
    I would probably call Wells a number of things: Illiterate is just not one of them.

  31. #31 TB
    April 10, 2010

    “and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.”
    SC: “This is troubling.”

    Why is it troubling? If they’re not scientific ideas – if it’s a preference for one sports team over another, what does that have to do with whether they’re literate regarding the sport itself?

    I think you’re trying to introduce measurements into the idea of literacy that have not “and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.”
    SC: “This is troubling.”

    Why is it troubling? If they’re not scientific ideas – if it’s a preference for one sports team over another, what does that have to do with whether they’re literate regarding the sport itself?

    I think you’re trying to introduce value judgements of belief into the idea of literacy that seems to trump measurements of knowledge. I don’t think that’s useful in terms of measuring literacy.

  32. #32 TB
    April 10, 2010

    Apologies for the slightly garbled post. Smart phone is not always smart.

  33. #33 John Morales
    April 11, 2010

    TB @30

    But, as Wells proves, a person can be literate enough to earn an advanced degree yet still hold unreasonably to dogma.
    I would probably call Wells a number of things: Illiterate is just not one of them.

    This is a repetition of your claim @12.

    You might note my #20 (additional emphasis added):

    I think SC is suggesting that if someone rejects a well-established scientific theory (e.g. evolutionary theory) on a basis contrary to scientific epistemology [...] then that person is either not scientifically literate or else is intellectually dishonest.

    (cf. Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D. by Jonathan Wells, Ph.D.)

  34. #34 TB
    April 11, 2010

    John: Yes, I am reasserting my opinion because I don’t find the alternatives to be convincing.

    UNESCO’s definition of literacy: the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” Via wikipedia.

    And, yes, I’m familiar with Wells and his motivations. We may not like how he uses the knowledge he’s gained, but that doesn’t mean he’s illiterate.

  35. #35 SC (Salty Current)
    April 11, 2010

    SC: it’s laudable that you’re not applying your idea of literacy in a broad brush way.

    I don’t know what you mean. I think you’re confused.

    Science is not a living being, it does not do tests – especially the political version of a litmus test.

    It doesn’t have to be a living being or do anything. By virtue of what science is, it imposes certain requirements for literacy.

    I still disagree with your idea of literacy. I think you want the idea of a literate person to exclude the notion that they can also be dogmatic.

    Strange sentence. Scientific literacy includes very fundamentally understanding that beliefs about the world are based on evidence (I stated this more fully above), that well-established facts in science are based on voluminous evidence, and that these are not rejected except on the basis of other evidence.

    I’ll ask you the same questions I asked Jesse: What exactly do you think science is? What do you think makes it distinctive? Do you think it’s superior to other “ways of knowing,” and if so, how?

    Illiteracy is a different kind of challenge to overcome than dogmatism, although illiteracy can result from dogmatism.

    Both are illiteracy. Again, literacy means knowledge and understanding. The NSF shouldn’t really use the term “literacy” as science and a language aren’t analogous (Wikipedia definitions are worse than useless here – whatever specific term we use, we’re talking about the knowledge we as a society consider important). There are two major elements of scientific literacy/knowledge: the knowledge of facts, processes, theories; and the understanding of science as a, and the only reliable, means of acquiring knowledge about the world (and therefore its necessity for making and evaluating fact claims) and what it means for something to be established scientifically.

    Both are important, but the latter is more important. It’s the sort of literacy that is necessary for addressing key problems we face and for democracy.

    Tulse said it well:

    For me, in terms of public policy and the role of the NSF, the important question isn’t whether the public knows a particular set of scientific facts, but whether instead the public accepts science as the best method by which we come to understand the natural world. Someone who can tell you that what scientists think of human origins but who nonetheless doesn’t believe it because of their religion is much more troubling to me than someone who may not know about evolution but would be willing to believe it if they did. The latter case is simple ignorance, whereas the former is the willful denial of the most successful epistemological approach we have.

    Do you think appreciating science’s epistemic status is at all a component of scientific literacy/knowledge? Or do you just think it’s less important than memorizing scientific facts (regardless of whether people appreciate what it means for something to be established facts)? Do you think people should be taught and tested on facts/processes/theories without learning about – and understanding these within the context of – the epistemic nature of science? That this should be the limited focus of the NSF?

    But, as Wells proves, a person can be literate enough to earn an advanced degree yet still hold unreasonably to dogma.

    Wells is illiterate in the most important sense of the word.

    Why is it troubling? If they’re not scientific ideas – if it’s a preference for one sports team over another, what does that have to do with whether they’re literate regarding the sport itself?

    Good grief. You said: “and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.” We’ve been talking about fact claims. Beliefs, as distinct from values and preferences, are about fact claims. I made the distinction above in response to Jesse’s comment about ethics. (Please don’t offer some silly retort about how the word belief can be used in other senses; beliefs are is statements, values are ought statements.) I then asked you if you were talking about fact claims. Did you not notice that? What I was saying is that all claims of fact carry the evidentiary requirement – not only those made in specific disciplines or contexts.

    I think you’re trying to introduce value judgements of belief into the idea of literacy that seems to trump measurements of knowledge. I don’t think that’s useful in terms of measuring literacy.

    See above.

  36. #36 SC (Salty Current)
    April 11, 2010

    I think SC is suggesting that if someone rejects a well-established scientific theory (e.g. evolutionary theory) on a basis contrary to scientific epistemology [...] then that person is either not scientifically literate or else is intellectually dishonest.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/jonathan_wells_gets_everything.php

    You be the judge.

  37. #37 Jesse
    April 11, 2010

    SC: A person says they understand that evolution posits common descent. They say they understand that scientists, ideally, have hypotheses and try to test them, using the data they get to do so, and falsify other hypotheses as necessary.

    They say they understand that the scientific method is based on inductive reasoning, and even agree that it has given us a pretty good picture of physical reality. They don’t disagree with you on any particularly well-established fact.

    Then they say they believe in god. Are they scientifically illiterate? Yes? No?

  38. #38 Jack Jersawitz
    April 11, 2010

    There are some absurd arguments here.

    Science literacy consists in accepting as the basis of all knowledge the scientifific method, i.e., the method of winnowing out from a concrete, materal universe, that exists outside us, despite us, and despite our consciousness of it, an understanding of its process, i.e. how it came into being and how it exists, changes and develops. (Yes I am conscious of my use of the phrase came into being. By that I mean only big bang not anything finite as in beginning)

    All the rest is the various data composing one or another area of knowledge of that universe.

    Hence it is possible to be a “nuclear scientist” but still not a SCIENTIST if you are a Fritjoff Capra (The Tao of Physics) who believed he could approach the ancients understanding by having an experience sitting in his easy chair in his living room.

    Science is not any one specific area of discipline but rather the method underlying that discipline.

    Hence, evolution is not a “belief” but rather a conclusion based on collected material data which set out in a material matrix shows the process of not only organic things but also of the universe.

    Those who argue against evolution and for some kind of “creation” or other mystical concept are not worth the argument. The only valid response is to demand material evidence which if not forthcoming should constitute the basis of rejection of nonesense.

    The material, the concrete, is rational. All else notions, philosophy, arguments as to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    There are many who knowing little “believe” in science. There are others who knowing much and calling themselves “scientists” “believe” in irrational things not material and discoverable with the scientific method.

    I don’t like the word “believe.”

    Only those who consciously, deliberately, approach all things with the scientific method, can be said to be scientists despite the fact that some of them may, in actuality, know very little beyond the method itself which is science.

    Narrow? Yes. But essential. Look at all the above garbage it dispenses with and yet allows the continued and fruitful exploration and discovery of the laws and motion of our universe.

    Scientific literacy is not specific rather an understanding of a method of uncovering reality.

  39. #39 TB
    April 11, 2010

    SC: “Good grief. You said: “and most especially if the beliefs in question are not put forth as being scientific.” We’ve been talking about fact claims. ”

    No, I’ve been talking about literacy and whether someone’s personal beliefs automatically make them illiterate. I even posted a working definition put forth by UNESCO, one that – inconveniently for you – doesn’t contain the requirement of believing .

    I’m trying to understand your idea of literacy as it’s an idea that I suspect would disqualify a number of people who would otherwise be considered scientifically literate according the NSF’s survey.

    From the Science article: “When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: “There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution,” adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer “false” to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: “On that particular point, no.” (emphasis mine) ”

    Bruer thinks the survey is measuring different things than it actually is measuring, and I think you’re trying to measure different things than the survey is designed to measure – or at least apply a far more stringent requirement to how it measures literacy.

    SC: “‘Do you think it’s superior to other “ways of knowing,” and if so, how?” and “Wells is illiterate in the most important sense of the word.”

    People can have different “ways of knowing” yet still answer “yes” to both the questions highlighted in the article. That may not work with your personal political litmus test, but the purpose of the survey is to measure scientific literacy. Not that you respect the NSF all that much.

    SC (in her blog post): “The concept of scientific literacy advocated by the NSF (in this decision) and some assorted dillweeds…” It’s not the NSF, but Bush-era appointees to the NSF governing board.

    The question I have about your idea of scientific literacy might be seen in a person that would reside between Rees and Warren (described in commet 28): Would a biologist who is also a jesuit priest be considered scientifically literate under your idea of the term?

    As for Wells, I readily admit he’s an extreme example and I know about the crap he puts forth. But a person can have read all of Mark Twain’s works, accept that he’s considered an American master of literature, and still hate his writing and prefer to read cheap romance novels. It’s not a position I would agree with, but illiterate isn’t how I’d describe that person.
    I’m in no way defending Wells or what he’s done, but I’m also not going to let down my guard and underestimate him or others by dismissing him as illiterate. I really don’t care that your mileage may vary.

    @ 33 John Morales, OTH: Sorry, I should have replied a bit more. I do know a bit about Wells’ history and I do remember reading the article he wrote that you linked to. You said: ” … if someone rejects a well-established scientific theory (e.g. evolutionary theory) on a basis contrary to scientific epistemology [...] then that person is either not scientifically literate or else is intellectually dishonest.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you. But it seems SC would rather think Wells is illiterate rather than dishonest: “I think the chance that he genuinely understands science and is 100% a charlatan is very small.”

    I think his PHD proves him literate and capable, I think his adherence to dogma makes him dishonest about the science.

  40. #40 TB
    April 11, 2010

    @38: “Only those who consciously, deliberately, approach all things with the scientific method, can be said to be scientists despite the fact that some of them may, in actuality, know very little beyond the method itself which is science.”

    Great, then no one is a scientist because everyone holds irrational ideas about something. Well, that solves that!

  41. #41 SC (Salty Current)
    April 11, 2010

    Jesse,

    We seem to be entering a sort of pattern here: You ask me questions (which may or may not be related to the topic of the post), I respond to them with answers and questions for you, you fail to answer my questions and respond with more similar tangential inquiries. It’s ridiculous. Answer the questions that I asked you that relate directly to the topic, or don’t expect me to answer any of yours.

    SC: A person says they understand that evolution posits common descent.

    Saying that establishes a low level of understanding at best.

    They say they understand that scientists, ideally, have hypotheses and try to test them, using the data they get to do so, and falsify other hypotheses as necessary.

    What do you mean by “ideally”? Is testing hypotheses against the evidence integral to science, or not? What “other hypotheses”? Can you give an evolution-related example so I have some idea what you’re talking about? Because you’re sounding rather confused about science yourself. Do you think scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence? Do you agree with my basic definition of science above? If not, how and why not? (Seriously, anyone who can’t publicly acknowledge that scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence has no business criticizing this craven NSF decision.)

    They say they understand that the scientific method is based on inductive reasoning, and even agree that it has given us a pretty good picture of physical reality.

    It is based on an engagement with the evidence of the natural world. What do you mean by a “pretty good picture”? Why is science the only method that gives us reliable, accurate knowledge about the natural world? Or do you not believe that it is?

    They don’t disagree with you on any particularly well-established fact.

    It’s not a question of disagreeing with me, but of failing to understand what an established scientific fact is – how it comes to be established. The people who’ve answered the question “False” on this survey have rejected well-established facts and theory. That’s who we’re talking about.

    Then they say they believe in god. Are they scientifically illiterate? Yes? No?

    I have already answered this question above. It demonstrates a failure to hold one’s beliefs to basic scientific standards of evidentiary scrutiny in at least one significant area (which may have effects in others). This is incompatible with science, though I don’t think it marks someone as scientifically illiterate in the way rejecting well-established scientific theories does. It’s simply not as egregious an error to maintain belief in something unevidenced (and in this case either ill-formed or contrary to evidence) as it is to reject knowledge well established by evidence or to do both. This hypothetical scenario, however – in which, I’ll note again, the person you describe appears to be rather unclear – does not describe the real people under discussion.

    Now please answer my questions here and above.

  42. #42 SC (Salty Current)
    April 11, 2010

    No, I’ve been talking about literacy and whether someone’s personal beliefs automatically make them illiterate.

    What a dishonest simplification of my argument.

    I even posted a working definition put forth by UNESCO, one that – inconveniently for you – doesn’t contain the requirement of believing .

    Believing what? I was talking about a basic understanding of science.

    I’m trying to understand your idea of literacy as it’s an idea that I suspect would disqualify a number of people who would otherwise be considered scientifically literate according the NSF’s survey.

    From the Science article: “When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: “There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution,” adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer “false” to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: “On that particular point, no.” (emphasis mine) “

    Indeed.

    Bruer thinks the survey is measuring different things than it actually is measuring,

    Do you mean “…than it is intended to measure”?

    and I think you’re trying to measure different things than the survey is designed to measure – or at least apply a far more stringent requirement to how it measures literacy.

    I’ll try one, and only one, more time. If the survey isn’t designed to measure an epistemological understanding of science but merely the memorization of terms or even the grasp of more complex processes then it isn’t focusing on the right thing. That’s at the heart of my argument. If their definition of literacy doesn’t include an emphasis on understanding the evidentiary basis of scientific knowledge and the evaluation of truth claims then it isn’t measuring the sort of knowledge/literacy that is critical to develop in the populace. It’s hypocritical of these people to complain that science education is often rote memorization and then to exclude the question that gets at whether people have really understood what science is about.

    SC: “‘Do you think it’s superior to other “ways of knowing,” and if so, how?” and “Wells is illiterate in the most important sense of the word.”

    People can have different “ways of knowing” yet still answer “yes” to both the questions highlighted in the article.

    Only one way of knowing is valid for accumulating knowledge about the natural world. There’s a reason for that, and if you reject it you don’t get it. If someone answers True to the questions on matters her religion doesn’t oppose because someone said it and false to others because someone else said differently, that person hasn’t shown an understanding of science. That is not a “way of knowing.” It’s a failure. Do you disagree that the grounding of evolution and the ToE in evidence is the reason these are considered scientific knowledge? Are you suggesting that other ways of knowing provide equally valid means of gaining knowledge about the world to that of science, such that they are equal to science in accepting or rejecting fact claims? Such that understanding science does not require accepting its epistemic status? If so, what are they?

    That may not work with your personal political litmus test,

    Oh, knock it off with this “political” nonsense.

    but the purpose of the survey is to measure scientific literacy.

    And their definition of literacy appears from this episode to be in need of revision. Do you understand? I’m challenging their understanding of literacy as demonstrated by this episode. You appear to be defending it, but you haven’t supported that case.

    Not that you respect the NSF all that much.

    Actually, I rather do. They’ve also funded my research, and while the application process was irritating, it clearly showed that the people involved had a healthy respect for systematic engagement with empirical evidence.

    SC (in her blog post): “The concept of scientific literacy advocated by the NSF (in this decision) and some assorted dillweeds…” It’s not the NSF, but Bush-era appointees to the NSF governing board.

    That’s a silly quibble.

    The question I have about your idea of scientific literacy might be seen in a person that would reside between Rees and Warren (described in commet 28): Would a biologist who is also a jesuit priest be considered scientifically literate under your idea of the term?

    I’m tired of these hypothetical questions. I’ve said it’s a matter of degree, and in any case this isn’t enough information for me to make a judgment.

    As for Wells, I readily admit he’s an extreme example and I know about the crap he puts forth. But a person can have read all of Mark Twain’s works, accept that he’s considered an American master of literature, and still hate his writing and prefer to read cheap romance novels. It’s not a position I would agree with, but illiterate isn’t how I’d describe that person.

    This is another failed analogy. I’m not bothering with these other than to say that science isn’t about preferences but understanding reality.

    I’m in no way defending Wells or what he’s done, but I’m also not going to let down my guard and underestimate him or others by dismissing him as illiterate.

    Who says calling someone illiterate means dismissing him or letting one’s guard down? Where are you getting this stuff?

    @ 33 John Morales, OTH: Sorry, I should have replied a bit more. I do know a bit about Wells’ history and I do remember reading the article he wrote that you linked to. You said: ” … if someone rejects a well-established scientific theory (e.g. evolutionary theory) on a basis contrary to scientific epistemology [...] then that person is either not scientifically literate or else is intellectually dishonest.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you. But it seems SC would rather think Wells is illiterate rather than dishonest: “I think the chance that he genuinely understands science and is 100% a charlatan is very small.”

    It has nothing to do with what I would rather think. From the evidence I’ve seen, he appears to be both illiterate, in the subfield in which he holds a PhD and more generally, and highly dishonest.

    I think his PHD proves him literate and capable,

    The link I provided above (I can provide others) clearly suggests otherwise.

    I think his adherence to dogma makes him dishonest about the science.

    They’re not mutually exclusive. He doesn’t understand a lot, and that which he does he lies about. And everything in between.

  43. #43 SC (Salty Current)
    April 11, 2010

    He calls the survey questions ‘very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding’ of the two topics.” Louis Lanzerotti, the chair of the NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators Committee, added that these questions are “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.”

    Yes! And they leave out all of the other forms of knowledge! I mean, why give scientific literacy any special status at all? That’s silly, isn’t it – asking these questions as if knowledge based on evidence is, like, special or something, when it’s really about beliefs, opinions, and preferences? What they should do is ask, for example, about human origins; they could test people’s knowledge of the ToE and all of the creation myths that have existed throughout human history. No one has to declare a preference for any one. That way, it’s fair and no one feels bad. And really, why is there a National Science Foundation at all? Isn’t that discriminatory towards other epistemic systems? Sounds political to me.

  44. #44 TB
    April 12, 2010

    Hilarious! You can’t distinguish between the political appointees of the board and the NSF itself. Then there’s this: “I’ll try one, and only one, more time. If the survey isn’t designed to measure an epistemological understanding of science but merely the memorization of terms or even the grasp of more complex processes then it isn’t focusing on the right thing. That’s at the heart of my argument.”
    Well, you’re welcome to your own opinion but that’s about all it is.You’re slinging around accusations of dishonesty but you’re bring pretty evasive yourself.
    So I’ll try one more time. You asked: “If someone answers True to the questions on matters her religion doesn’t oppose because someone said it and false to others because someone else said differently, that person hasn’t shown an understanding of science. ”
    I agree. But right now the Jesuit priest/biologist wouldn’t answer false to any of the questions on the current survey. Would your rework of the survey change things to challenge his worldview so that he would be considered illiterate?
    You’ve already stated you’re idea of literacy would mean certain people with advanced degrees would be considered illiterate. What survey questions would you ask that would end up with that result?
    And, no, I’m not going to knock it off with the political stuff as you’ve been using the language from a political movement so your motivations are clearly not purely scientific. You’re the one who’s talking about “ways of knowing.” To put it bluntly, are you looking to test for science, or are you looking to test for religion?

  45. #45 Jesse
    April 12, 2010

    SC: I was saying “ideally” because there are plenty of examples of people using the scientific method and being wrong. The old stuff about eugenics was based on the scientific method — but the scientists who did it forgot to question some of their own basic assumptions and ended up with bad theories. I was just trying to recognize that people aren’t perfect and we don’t live in an ideal world. And no, I don’t disagree with your definition of science.

    And yes, the earth revolves around the sun… so? I don’t know people who reject such basic facts unless they are flat-earthers.

    Science gives us a picture of the physical world that no other “way of knowing” (I hate that phrase) does. I don’t think we disagree there. It has a self-correcting mechanism (again, ideally, it doesn’t always work as seamlessly as we’d like, but then there are real humans involved who are not infallible). So I said it was a “Pretty good” picture. Not complete or perfect by any means, but pretty damned good.

    What I am trying to get at is that I can ask someone if they understand the scientific method, and they might say they do, and even give a pretty good definition. I’m lost when you say understanding science “epistemically” because it seems to me that they way you have it, it is not helpful. Why? Because everyone has some belief they take on faith, not subjecting it to scientific scrutiny the way we would, I dunno, relativity.
    We have to do that to get through the day.

    That is what I am talking about — it seems that you have a definition of scientific illiteracy that includes everybody on the planet at one time or another.

    I’d like to know how you would design a survey question to test this, is all. Being able to articulate what a theory says doesn’t seem to work for you, nor being able to articulate what a theory is (a model for prediction). What about being able to say that science is a tool (and the best so far) for understanding the physical world we live in?

    If I understnad you right, by the way, you would ask for a survey that poses the question “WHY does the ToE/Relativity/Gravity say what it does?” or maybe How did they arrive at said conclusions?

    That’s why I brought up CS Lewis, by the way. I think, judging by what he wrote, he understood science reasonably well. He just rejected the premise that everything about the world could be understood that way. At one level it’s an unproveable statement. But then you’re getting away from scientific questions. (That’s why I brought up the brain in a vat problem — I’d say it isn’t a scientific question because you can’t design an experiment to test it). More importantly Lewis understood the argument and rejected it. That’s different from saying “relativity is wrong.” (If anything, Lewis knew that science enables us to understand the world, he just didn’t think we should do so).

    People do compartmentalize. I have known a few scientists in my day and some of them still go to Temple or Church; I don’t think that makes them scientifically illiterate since they seem to understand their fields and how they got there pretty well.

    SC, I agree with you, I think, on a lot of things. But I think you are taking the position that people who don’t agree with you don’t understand the position you are taking. I would argue that a lot of the time they understand it and reject it anyway. And not all of those people are crazy or lying.

    Just to be clear: I do not see science as a belief system on a par with Wicca or whatever; it’s a tool for understanding the way things function. It’s an evidence-based tool. Thus far it’s the best one we have. But I do recognize that scientific reasoning isn’t something we use all the time. And if you are going to measure scientific literacy on a survey, you have to agree on what exactly you are measuring and what you are using as your definition of literacy. I can understand the epistemology of science and still reject some or all of a given field; the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    And that is why how you phrase the question is so important. It’s more than stringing words together. If I ask “Do you think cancer treatment is a good thing?” And follow with “Is science a good tool for understanding?” I will get a yes to both; if I replace the first question with “Do you think nuclear bombs are good?” The survey would come to very different conclusions about what people think about science.

  46. #46 SC (Salty Current)
    April 12, 2010

    Hilarious! You can’t distinguish between the political appointees of the board and the NSF itself.

    The decision has been made for NSF policy by the people charged with making that decision. If others override them, then the NSF will be acting differently.

    Well, you’re welcome to your own opinion but that’s about all it is.

    No, I’ve made an argument in support of my position. You have not. All you’ve done is dismiss my argument as “political” and continue to pose irrelevant questions.

    You’re slinging around accusations of dishonesty but you’re bring pretty evasive yourself.

    Not once have I been evasive or dishonest.

    I agree. But right now the Jesuit priest/biologist wouldn’t answer false to any of the questions on the current survey. Would your rework of the survey change things to challenge his worldview so that he would be considered illiterate?

    Argh! Why are you asking about Jesuit priests now? If someone wouldn’t answer False to any of the questions for which the correct answer is True (and I have no way of knowing whether they would, particularly as the RCC claims to accept the science but is rather slippery in general and does hold to “special creation” of humans, which some might consider to support an answer of False), then I haven’t called them illiterate. I’ve defined one group as scientifically illiterate: creationists. Why would I rework the survey to define anyone as illiterate? It’s not of interest to me where specific individuals or groups fall in terms of literacy, but whether we are measuring scientific knowledge and understanding. Yes, I would rework the survey to ask different questions. Are you under the impression that these would be something like “Do you believe in a deity?”? If so, you’re mistaken. Can you imagine some of the sorts of questions I’m talking about? If not, I can provide some.

    You’ve already stated you’re idea of literacy would mean certain people with advanced degrees would be considered illiterate.

    I do consider them illiterate currently.

    What survey questions would you ask that would end up with that result?

    FFS! The question already on the survey ends up with that result! “Humans as we know them have developed from earlier species of animals.” False? You’re scientifically illiterate. (Actually, let me be a bit more specific. If there were no reason to believe that people weren’t getting this wrong due to simple ignorance of this fact, then a wrong answer to this question alone wouldn’t be a marker of illiteracy; since there is, it often is, and the pattern of incorrect responses* certainly a general indication of illiteracy.)

    And, no, I’m not going to knock it off with the political stuff as you’ve been using the language from a political movement so your motivations are clearly not purely scientific.

    What? Is scientific knowledge based on evidence or not?

    You’re the one who’s talking about “ways of knowing.”

    Yes, science is the only valid way of knowing we have, and challenges to scientific knowledge must be based on scientific knowledge. That’s why it’s important for people to understand it.

    To put it bluntly, are you looking to test for science, or are you looking to test for religion?

    For science, as should be quite evident. I’ll try with another example. If someone rejected the greenhouse effect on a survey like this due to politico-economic ideology, I would call that person scientifically illiterate. Scientific illiteracy, whatever its ideological cause(s), is dangerous. Would you remove a question about the greenhouse effect if a large enough percentage of people in the US – exposed for years to propaganda from corporations and their think tanks – answered False to an equivalent question about this? Would you suggest that the question is really measuring belief and not knowledge? It is at root all about beliefs. Science, founded on an engagement with reality, requires beliefs to be based on evidence, and does not allow for the rejection of well-established knowledge to be discarded other than on the basis of evidence.

    Do you have any objections to the version of the survey I proposed @ #43? If so, what?

    *Do you accept that an answer of False here is an incorrect response? Why or why not?

  47. #47 James Sweet
    April 12, 2010

    Good post, Josh. I often disagree with your views on the conflict between science and religion, but here is a place where all of us can find common ground. While we may have varying ideas over how to respond to this data, censoring the data altogether is, indeed, “intellectual malpractice.” What were they thinking?!?

    Is it possible to be Biblically literate but not a Christian?

    For one thing, I think this is a false equivalency. As Josh explained, evolution is the bedrock on which our modern understanding of biology is built. If you reject the concept of evolution, your entire view of biology is skewed.

    Moreover, I think (as your follow-up comment demonstrates) that the argument over whether this entails “scientific illiteracy” is an irrelevant semantic argument. There is a reasonable definition of “scientific literacy” in which I think an evolution-denying fundie could be said to be “scientifically literate”. So what? It’s still a huge problem regardless.

    Whether we say, “Religion is causing people to answer questions in a scientifically illiterate manner despite their having been educated appropriately,” or we say, “Religion is causing people to believe abject falsehoods despite basic scientific literacy”, the meaning is the same. Tomato, tomahto.

  48. #48 SC (Salty Current)
    April 12, 2010

    SC: I was saying “ideally” because there are plenty of examples of people using the scientific method and being wrong.

    This is confused. Of course people are often wrong. Science is a collective enterprise that necessitates tests to determine if you’re wrong based on the evidence, challenging existing ideas through research, discarding beliefs that are unsupported by the evidence, and accumulating knowledge based on what is supported by evidence.

    The old stuff about eugenics was based on the scientific method –

    Eugenics was almost entirely pseudoscience.

    but the scientists who did it forgot to question some of their own basic assumptions and ended up with bad theories.

    Their ideas weren’t based on the evidence or existing science and they didn’t have “theories” in the scientific understanding of the term. (This should be a question on any survey of scientific literacy.)

    I was just trying to recognize that people aren’t perfect and we don’t live in an ideal world.

    That’s why science has developed methods for reducing the effects of assumptions and biases.

    And no, I don’t disagree with your definition of science.

    OK.

    And yes, the earth revolves around the sun… so? I don’t know people who reject such basic facts unless they are flat-earthers.

    But what if they did? What if their “worldview” argued against it and so they rejected all of the evidence? Any of these questions could potentially be answered False on the basis of some set of beliefs.

    Science gives us a picture of the physical world that no other “way of knowing” (I hate that phrase) does. I don’t think we disagree there. It has a self-correcting mechanism (again, ideally, it doesn’t always work as seamlessly as we’d like, but then there are real humans involved who are not infallible). So I said it was a “Pretty good” picture. Not complete or perfect by any means, but pretty damned good.

    Are there any other ways of knowing competing with science? At all?

    What I am trying to get at is that I can ask someone if they understand the scientific method, and they might say they do, and even give a pretty good definition.

    Please define what you mean by science. You say you don’t disagree with my presentation, but I don’t think I’ve seen you use the word “evidence.”

    I’m lost when you say understanding science “epistemically” because it seems to me that they way you have it, it is not helpful.

    It isn’t helpful to whom? Understanding what science is as a way of knowing is essential to understanding science. That scientists have been wrong before (which is of course expected) and don’t always adhere to evidentiary standards does nothing to weaken this.

    Why? Because everyone has some belief they take on faith, not subjecting it to scientific scrutiny the way we would, I dunno, relativity.
    We have to do that to get through the day.

    You’ve provided no evidence for either of these assertions. Let’s assume they’re true. Is taking things on faith compatible with science or not? How about ignoring or rejecting evidence in favor of faith?

    That is what I am talking about — it seems that you have a definition of scientific illiteracy that includes everybody on the planet at one time or another.

    This is tedious. You and TB have asked several questions about this and I’ve answered them clearly. Not adhering to the evidentiary requirement in every aspect of life is unscientific. It is incompatible with science, but it neither discounts a person from being a good professional scientist nor makes one scientifically illiterate. That is not my point, although my emphases in defining scientific literacy are of course based on valuing a critical and evidence-based approach in general.

    I’d like to know how you would design a survey question to test this, is all. Being able to articulate what a theory says doesn’t seem to work for you, nor being able to articulate what a theory is (a model for prediction). What about being able to say that science is a tool (and the best so far) for understanding the physical world we live in?

    The questions would concern the evidentiary basis of scientific knowledge. Beyond this, they would be along the lines of the tools in Sagan’s “baloney detection kit” (The Demon-Haunted World, pp. 203-218). It would go beyond this, though, to ask questions about peer-review, levels of certainty, and the accumulation of knowledge.

    If I understnad you right, by the way, you would ask for a survey that poses the question “WHY does the ToE/Relativity/Gravity say what it does?” or maybe How did they arrive at said conclusions?

    Well, more general.

    That’s why I brought up CS Lewis, by the way. I think, judging by what he wrote, he understood science reasonably well. He just rejected the premise that everything about the world could be understood that way. At one level it’s an unproveable statement. But then you’re getting away from scientific questions. (That’s why I brought up the brain in a vat problem — I’d say it isn’t a scientific question because you can’t design an experiment to test it). More importantly Lewis understood the argument and rejected it. That’s different from saying “relativity is wrong.” (If anything, Lewis knew that science enables us to understand the world, he just didn’t think we should do so).

    On what evidence were Lewis’ claims based? What did he propose as an alternative to science as an epistemic system? What knowledge has it produced?

    People do compartmentalize. I have known a few scientists in my day and some of them still go to Temple or Church; I don’t think that makes them scientifically illiterate since they seem to understand their fields and how they got there pretty well.

    See above.

    SC, I agree with you, I think, on a lot of things. But I think you are taking the position that people who don’t agree with you don’t understand the position you are taking.

    To be honest, I think they do. I think they won’t acknowledge what’s evident due to other, social and political, considerations. I think a respect for reality and evidence and its sociopolitical necessity, and basic intellectual honesty, trumps them, however.

    I would argue that a lot of the time they understand it and reject it anyway. And not all of those people are crazy or lying.

    You’re still confused.

    Just to be clear: I do not see science as a belief system on a par with Wicca or whatever; it’s a tool for understanding the way things function. It’s an evidence-based tool. Thus far it’s the best one we have.

    It’s the only one we have that provides valid, accurate knowledge about the word. This is because of its evidentiary basis. Grasping this is essential to being scientific literacy.

    But I do recognize that scientific reasoning isn’t something we use all the time.

    The reasoned evaluation of evidence.

    And if you are going to measure scientific literacy on a survey, you have to agree on what exactly you are measuring and what you are using as your definition of literacy.

    Of course, and I’m arguing that the understanding of literacy adopted apparently by the people who made this decision and many of those criticizing them is limited and flawed.

    I can understand the epistemology of science and still reject some or all of a given field;

    You can’t understand this and reject established theories and facts in this way, no.

    the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Yes, they are.

    And that is why how you phrase the question is so important. It’s more than stringing words together. If I ask “Do you think cancer treatment is a good thing?” And follow with “Is science a good tool for understanding?” I will get a yes to both; if I replace the first question with “Do you think nuclear bombs are good?” The survey would come to very different conclusions about what people think about science.

    Science: Not about Preferences or Opinions Since Ever.

  49. #49 TB
    April 12, 2010

    SC: The decision has been made for NSF policy by the people charged with making that decision. If others override them, then the NSF will be acting differently.

    TB: Your reply doesn’t change my observation: There’s a difference between the political appointees of the board and the NSF itself.

    TB again: Well, you’re welcome to your own opinion but that’s about all it is.

    SC: No, I’ve made an argument in support of my position. You have not. All you’ve done is dismiss my argument as “political” and continue to pose irrelevant questions.

    TB: No, all I’ve done is given a definition of literacy used by a large, world-wide organization and questioned why your idea of literacy is better. I’m also trying to nail down your idea of literacy because I read your blog post in which you spent time railing against “other ways of knowing.” Like it or not, that opinion is shared by others who have a political agenda to advance their personal philosophical beliefs.

    My opinion is that we already have seen one set of ideologues interfere with the NSF, I really don’t want to see a different set replace them.

    TB again: You’re slinging around accusations of dishonesty but you’re bring pretty evasive yourself.

    SC: Not once have I been evasive or dishonest.

    TB: I didn’t accuse you of being dishonest. Don’t mischaracterize my objections.

    TB again: I agree. But right now the Jesuit priest/biologist wouldn’t answer false to any of the questions on the current survey. Would your rework of the survey change things to challenge his worldview so that he would be considered illiterate?

    SC: Argh! Why are you asking about Jesuit priests now?

    TB: That whole evasive thing, remember? Maybe you’re not doing it purposefully, perhaps you don’t realize that some of the language you’re using can be ambiguous. So I’m asking more pointed questions to nail down your intentions. As you likely know, surveys can suffer from bias so I’m wondering if you’re seeking to introduce some.

    SC again: If someone wouldn’t answer False to any of the questions for which the correct answer is True (and I have no way of knowing whether they would, particularly as the RCC claims to accept the science but is rather slippery in general and does hold to “special creation” of humans, which some might consider to support an answer of False), then I haven’t called them illiterate.

    TB: But you have implied that your changes to the survey would result in some people being considered illiterate who are not considered that way now. From your blog post: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate.”

    According to the Science story, there are people who the current survey wouldn’t show as being illiterate but, as you have said, you would consider to be illiterate. I’m trying to clarify if you would design a new survey to redefine groups of people as illiterate based on their personal beliefs.

    I am not seeking to change the survey – that’s a quality you share with the two current NSF board members.

    SC again: I’ve defined one group as scientifically illiterate: creationists.

    TB: Here’s a good example of why I’m wondering if you’re being evasive. Some people consider anyone who believes in a deity to be creationists. Rees, in the comment above, would be considered a creationist by some people.

    It is too bad that this kind of confusion has been introduced about an otherwise useful way of identifying a specific group of people hostile to evolution.

    SC again: Why would I rework the survey to define anyone as illiterate? It’s not of interest to me where specific individuals or groups fall in terms of literacy, but whether we are measuring scientific knowledge and understanding. Yes, I would rework the survey to ask different questions. Are you under the impression that these would be something like “Do you believe in a deity?”? If so, you’re mistaken.

    TB: And perhaps that’s the best answer I can get. Look, SC, I’m not trying to piss you off. But I’ve encountered too many people on comment boards like this who would seek to redesign this survey to further their own philosophy. You seem to be using the same kind of language as they do and think the current survey should be changed, so I asked questions.

    That’s not saying your approach wouldn’t be better. But perhaps it’s a sign of my own cynicism that I don’t take what you’re saying at face value.

    TB again: You’ve already stated your idea of literacy would mean certain people with advanced degrees would be considered illiterate.

    SC: I do consider them illiterate currently. (snip) I’ll try with another example. If someone rejected the greenhouse effect on a survey like this due to politico-economic ideology, I would call that person scientifically illiterate.

    TB: Here’s my concern: If someone answered correctly on a survey about the greenhouse effect but worked against remedies due to politico-economic ideology, I might be against that in many ways but I wouldn’t call them illiterate. And I would feel that any survey that purports to measure literacy but purposefully targets their politico-economic ideology would be biased. My concern would be focusing on measuring the scientific knowledge. I think politics are a whole different can of worms.

  50. #50 TB
    April 12, 2010

    Jesse:

    SC is someone who thinks she can design a better survey that the one designed by:
    – a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
    – the John A. Hannah Professor of Integrative Studies at Michigan State University
    – someone who has studied “scientific literacy in more than 40 countries, and the development of student and young adult knowledge and values in American society”
    – “has measured the public understanding of science and technology in the United States for the last three decades”
    – “is the Director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth”
    and on and on.

    I’m describing Jon Miller BTW, the man quoted in the Science article. “He served as President of the International Council for the Comparative Study of the Public Understanding of Science and Technology for six years. He has served as a consultant to the European Commission, the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy in Japan, and the China Association for Science and Technology.”

    http://dsme.msu.edu/people/jomiller.htm

    SC asserts that she can do better with nothing to back it up (like, say, a survey measuring scientific literacy that she designed and conducted). I don’t think we can break through an ego like that.

  51. #51 SC (Salty Current)
    April 12, 2010

    SC: The decision has been made for NSF policy by the people charged with making that decision. If others override them, then the NSF will be acting differently.
    TB: Your reply doesn’t change my observation: There’s a difference between the political appointees of the board and the NSF itself.

    If the board makes a decision on policy and it is followed, it’s a decision of the organization. This is ridiculous semantic quibbling.

    TB: No, all I’ve done is given a definition of literacy used by a large, world-wide organization and questioned why your idea of literacy is better.

    Here’s a specific definition of scientific literacy, from the NAS (NCES):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_literacy

    The scientifically literate person is able to understand experiment and reasoning. There is a rough comfort level with basic scientific facts and their meaning. Some basic issues that the scientifically literate person understands include: how data relates to law and theory, that theory is the highest form of scientific expression and the reasons for everyday phenomena including the seasons, water cycle.

    According to the United States National Center for Education Statistics, scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. It also includes specific types of abilities. In the National Science Education Standards, the content standards define scientific literacy.

    Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena. Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.

    Do I really need to highlight the parts that are in essence what I’ve been talking about?

    I’m also trying to nail down your idea of literacy

    Look, if you haven’t understood it yet, there’s not much more I can do.

    because I read your blog post in which you spent time railing against “other ways of knowing.” Like it or not, that opinion

    What opinion? That scientific knowledge is based on evidence? That “[a] literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately”?

    is shared by others who have a political agenda to advance their personal philosophical beliefs.

    This is meaningless and irrelevant.

    My opinion is that we already have seen one set of ideologues interfere with the NSF, I really don’t want to see a different set replace them.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    TB again: You’re slinging around accusations of dishonesty but you’re bring pretty evasive yourself.
    SC: Not once have I been evasive or dishonest.

    TB: I didn’t accuse you of being dishonest. Don’t mischaracterize my objections.

    You equated them. This is an absurd exercise. I’ve made my case. This will be my last response to you.

    TB again: I agree. But right now the Jesuit priest/biologist wouldn’t answer false to any of the questions on the current survey. Would your rework of the survey change things to challenge his worldview so that he would be considered illiterate?

    SC: Argh! Why are you asking about Jesuit priests now?

    TB: That whole evasive thing, remember?

    How is it evasive to respond to questions about irrelevant subjects and point out their irrelevance?

    Maybe you’re not doing it purposefully, perhaps you don’t realize that some of the language you’re using can be ambiguous.

    First, wrong. Second. If you find the language ambiguous, ask for a clarification. Don’t read assumptions into it and then go off on tangents.

    So I’m asking more pointed questions to nail down your intentions.

    I’ve stated my values and my argument several times. What else could you possibly need to know about my intentions? They have nothing to do with the validity of my case. Unless you’re arguing that scientific knowledge isn’t based on the reasoned evaluation of evidence or that understanding this and how it’s produced or that this aspect of scientific literacy is not important I can’t see that you have one.

    As you likely know, surveys can suffer from bias so I’m wondering if you’re seeking to introduce some.

    Scientific literacy includes both an understanding of what science is as a means of gaining knowledge about the world and knowledge of basic facts, processes, and theories. The survey as a whole I think has traditionally asked about both, though the former maybe not enough. I think at least equal weight needs to be placed on the former. This decision indicates that the former is being sacrificed for the latter. If so, that is a problem. If bias means that you’re testing for a certain type of knowledge and understanding that you consider valuable, then any such survey is biased from the start. Valuing certain kinds of knowledge is nothing to be ashamed of, and I don’t think any of these national organizations has traditionally disagreed with me concerning the importance of these aspects of scientific knowledge/literacy.

    SC again: If someone wouldn’t answer False to any of the questions for which the correct answer is True (and I have no way of knowing whether they would, particularly as the RCC claims to accept the science but is rather slippery in general and does hold to “special creation” of humans, which some might consider to support an answer of False), then I haven’t called them illiterate.

    TB: But you have implied that your changes to the survey would result in some people being considered illiterate who are not considered that way now.

    No. I’ve said that people who answer incorrectly to questions on basic, well-established facts and theories for reasons of ideology are illiterate. This would be captured by good questions about science, but this and related issues would be more clear and emphasized. Now, if questions focused on the evidentiary basis of science featured more (and I honestly don’t know to what extent they do now), and people got them wrong, yes, they would be demonstrating illiteracy. You seem to be suggesting that theists would get questions about science’s evidentiary basis wrong for some reason.

    From your blog post: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate.”
    According to the Science story, there are people who the current survey wouldn’t show as being illiterate but, as you have said, you would consider to be illiterate.

    No, you didn’t read the article correctly or me correctly or both.

    “When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: “There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution,” adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer “false” to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: “On that particular point, no.” (emphasis mine) ”

    Do you see what he’s saying? They wouldn’t answer False. Do you not think Jonathan Wells would answer False?

    I’m trying to clarify if you would design a new survey to redefine groups of people as illiterate based on their personal beliefs.

    No, for the zillionth time. This isn’t about “redefining” anyone as illiterate, but about making sure our survey instruments are designed to measure the kind of knowledge that is important and to encourage education to emphasize those kinds of knowledge. If people believe personal beliefs can be the basis for rejecting well-established facts or theories, they are illiterate.

    SC again: I’ve defined one group as scientifically illiterate: creationists.

    TB: Here’s a good example of why I’m wondering if you’re being evasive. Some people consider anyone who believes in a deity to be creationists. Rees, in the comment above, would be considered a creationist by some people.

    That’s not an example of my being evasive, but of your being a jerk. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt since you’re commenting on this blog and since we’ve talked about people who answered the question about human evolution False and Wells. People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists, but not in the sense that we’ve been talking about (OECs and YECs who do reject basic facts and theories). That I’m not calling these others illiterate for being theists I have made explicit now more than once, so it is disingenuous of you to refer to creationism in that broader sense in this context. It’s also insulting that you would suggest that I’m trying to sneak them into the definition of illiterate with regard to this survey which I’ve stated it several times. You’re either dishonest or stupid, and in either case I’m not interested in continuing this dialogue.

    It is too bad that this kind of confusion has been introduced about an otherwise useful way of identifying a specific group of people hostile to evolution.

    It’s too bad people like you are so dishonest.

    TB: And perhaps that’s the best answer I can get. Look, SC, I’m not trying to piss you off. But I’ve encountered too many people on comment boards like this who would seek to redesign this survey to further their own philosophy. You seem to be using the same kind of language as they do and think the current survey should be changed, so I asked questions.

    (See my answer to Jesse above.) I’ve assumed there are already questions that get directly at what I’m talking about, since it’s very clear that the NAS at least considers this a basic part of scientific literacy. I may still be right, and my suggestion that it’s necessary to alter the survey may be mistaken. But this decision (and the fact that the problem is being caught with regard to these questions and not more general ones about science) has me worried enough that I’m going to look into it further and at least encourage the NSF to reassert its commitment to basic scientific knowledge. And your arguments from authority are worthless.

    TB again: You’ve already stated your idea of literacy would mean certain people with advanced degrees would be considered illiterate.

    SC: I do consider them illiterate currently. (snip) I’ll try with another example. If someone rejected the greenhouse effect on a survey like this due to politico-economic ideology, I would call that person scientifically illiterate.

    TB: Here’s my concern: If someone answered correctly on a survey about the greenhouse effect but worked against remedies due to politico-economic ideology, I might be against that in many ways but I wouldn’t call them illiterate.

    Already this is a problem. I posited a hypothetical that, unlike yours, is parallel to that at issue here, in which people were answering incorrectly due to ideology. You didn’t respond, and are now transforming the question. I didn’t ask about whether you would consider people who answered correctly but otherwise did whatever to be illiterate. I asked about people who answered incorrectly due to a specific cause.

    And I would feel that any survey that purports to measure literacy but purposefully targets their politico-economic ideology would be biased.

    Do you think asking about the reality of the greenhouse effect targets their ideology? Do you think asking about the evidence underlying the greenhouse effect does? Do you think ansking about the evidentiary basis for scientific knowledge does?

    My concern would be focusing on measuring the scientific knowledge. I think politics are a whole different can of worms.

    Your problem is that you recognize scientific knowledge being based on evidence as a threat, but can’t acknowledge that.

  52. #52 TB
    April 12, 2010

    You’re right SC, there’s nothing more to talk about – especially after this:

    ———
    SC: “I’ve assumed there are already questions that get directly at what I’m talking about,” and “Now, if questions focused on the evidentiary basis of science featured more (and I honestly don’t know to what extent they do now..”
    ———

    You’re criticizing the survey and you don’t even know what’s on the survey?

    I’m glad I finally shamed you into finding a definition of scientific literacy that you agree with, but you don’t even know if the survey adequately measures that or not. What an ego! What a waste of time this has been! You’re criticizing something you know nothing about!

    SC: If the board makes a decision on policy and it is followed, it’s a decision of the organization. This is ridiculous semantic quibbling.

    TB: You have no idea how many people in the organization knew about the chapter being pulled or what they tried to do about it. You really are a head case. Their work was CENSORED. You think they agree with the actions of those board members? Prove it.

    SC: How is it evasive to respond to questions about irrelevant subjects and point out their irrelevance?

    TB: You’re the one who made the bold statement that the NSF concept of literacy is wrong. Except the survey hasn’t been changed or modified – it was still conducted in it’s original form, one that the scientific establishment found useful for thirty years. It was the results that were censored, apparently by two board members after the official review. The NSF is still doing the work it’s been doing before the political hacks did what they did. You want to paint the whole NSF as a problem.

    Then you said this: “Is it important to contemporary society that a child can parrot facts about biology or cosmology if that child doesn’t understand why his or her superstitious beliefs don’t have the same status as established scientific theories, that the religious “way of knowing” about the world is no such thing, and that knowledge based on decades or centuries of research can’t be dismissed on the basis of ancient texts or the words of religious authorities, political hacks, or corporations? This is a central goal of the NSF?”

    So you make an idiotic assumption about the entire NSF and a survey you now admit to knowing very little about. You rail against “superstitious beliefs” and the “religious “way of knowing,” and then you make the bold claim that “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.”

    You’re arguing that the survey should be changed and that you know the best way to change it. Except you don’t know what’s on the survey or how it measures scientific literacy. And you’re offended when someone questions whether you might introduce some bias? You’re blinded by your own arrogance and ignorance.

    You make a prediction about results based on vague criteria that doesn’t explain anything at all. You claim: “People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists, but not in the sense that we’ve been talking about (OECs and YECs who do reject basic facts and theories). That I’m not calling these others illiterate for being theists I have made explicit now more than once…”

    Where? There are four “Millers” on this page before this post, three of them are about Jon Miller. The fourth is the first time you mentioned him. There are three uses of the word “theists” before this post, all used in your last post.

    SC: Don’t read assumptions into it and then go off on tangents.

    TB: Don’t use vague and evasive statements and then feel insulted when people question you about them.

    SC: What else could you possibly need to know about my intentions? They have nothing to do with the validity of my case.

    TB: Oh, I don’t know. When someone says something like: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.” It kind of suggests you already have a result in mind before doing the survey. So it’s valid to question whether you would be introducing bias into your survey in order to get the result you expect.

    You know, the survey you have in mind that’s WAY better than the current NSF one. The NSF survey being the one that was conducted by the NSF and then censored by two political appointees, not that you’re capable of understanding what difference that makes.

    TB: But you have implied that your changes to the survey would result in some people being considered illiterate who are not considered that way now.
    SC: No. I’ve said that people who answer incorrectly to questions on basic, well-established facts and theories for reasons of ideology are illiterate.

    SC: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.”

    TB: And you’re slinging around charges of dishonesty?

    From your blog post: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate.” According to the Science story, there are people who the current survey wouldn’t show as being illiterate but, as you have said, you would consider to be illiterate.
    SC: No, you didn’t read the article correctly or me correctly or both. “When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: “There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution,” adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer “false” to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: “On that particular point, no. ”
    Do you see what he’s saying? They wouldn’t answer False. Do you not think Jonathan Wells would answer False?

    TB: Actually, Wells isn’t a young earth creationist according to his testimony in the Kansas hearing. He’d probably answer true. (And then SC’s head exploded).

    SC again: I’ve defined one group as scientifically illiterate: creationists.
    TB: Here’s a good example of why I’m wondering if you’re being evasive. Some people consider anyone who believes in a deity to be creationists. Rees, in the comment above, would be considered a creationist by some people.
    SC, contradicting herself again: “That’s not an example of my being evasive, but of your being a jerk. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt since you’re commenting on this blog and since we’ve talked about people who answered the question about human evolution False and Wells. People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists, but not in the sense that we’ve been talking about (OECs and YECs who do reject basic facts and theories). That I’m not calling these others illiterate for being theists I have made explicit now more than once…”

    TB: You mean explicit like with this answer in comment 24? “First, the examples we’ve been talking about are those in which people have denied well-established scientific facts. But I would say that he (Rees) holds a view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science. But the point isn’t whether I would consider such a person to be scientifically illiterate.”

    Whether you would consider such a person scientifically illiterate IS the point, because you don’t seem to understand the issue (two board members censoring the work of the NSF). You did go on to say “This is incompatible with science, though I don’t think it marks someone as scientifically illiterate in the way rejecting well-established scientific theories does.”

    So it does mark someone as scientifically illiterate, just illiterate in the same way or to the same degree as others. See why I’m doubting your motivations?

    TB: It is too bad that this kind of confusion has been introduced about an otherwise useful way of identifying a specific group of people hostile to evolution.
    SC: It’s too bad people like you are so dishonest.
    TB: SC contradicts herself again: “People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists,…”

    Oh wait! You’re also “not calling these others illiterate for being theists.” Well that’s good. Except, like Rees above, that still leaves a door open for you to find them to be somewhat illiterate because they hold a “view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science.”

    SC: But this decision (and the fact that the problem is being caught with regard to these questions and not more general ones about science) has me worried enough that I’m going to look into it further and at least encourage the NSF to reassert its commitment to basic scientific knowledge.
    TB: And we’ll all rest easy because you’re on the job.

    SC: And your arguments from authority are worthless.
    TB: Didn’t make any argument from authority, I pointed out the qualifications, awards and experience of the person who originally designed the survey. You know, the one you don’t know anything about. And then I pointed out the dearth of experience and qualifications you brought to the table. You’re the one who criticized the purpose of the NSF survey (you know, the one that was censored) without knowing what’s in the survey.

    Who am I supposed to listen to? The established scientist who’s worked on it for thirty years or some goof on the internet? (The goof on the internet would be you).

    TB again: You’ve already stated your idea of literacy would mean certain people with advanced degrees would be considered illiterate.

    SC: I do consider them illiterate currently. (snip) I’ll try with another example. If someone rejected the greenhouse effect on a survey like this due to politico-economic ideology, I would call that person scientifically illiterate.
    TB: Here’s my concern: If someone answered correctly on a survey about the greenhouse effect but worked against remedies due to politico-economic ideology, I might be against that in many ways but I wouldn’t call them illiterate.
    SC: Already this is a problem. I posited a hypothetical that, unlike yours, is parallel to that at issue here, in which people were answering incorrectly due to ideology. You didn’t respond, and are now transforming the question.

    TB: I said earlier that I don’t disagree that if people answer incorrectly regardless of the reason, they’re wrong. My questions and scenario go to your demonstrated bias and whether you would include that in your survey to the extent it would count people as illiterate who would otherwise be reasonably found literate.

    Your answers leave the door open to that possibility. I wouldn’t trust a survey designed by you.

  53. #53 SC (Salty Current)
    April 13, 2010

    Ugh. I’m going to have to respond to this foolishness (you know nothing about my qualifications, by the way, so you have nothing to point to). I’m working, though, so don’t expect anything more until tonight at the earliest.

    I’ll leave you with this, however – the 2004 report

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind04/c7/c7s2.htm

    which contains this statement:

    Response to one of the questions, “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” may reflect religious beliefs rather than actual knowledge about science.

    The latest episode is indeed – as other evidence had indicated – symptomatic of an ongoing, problematic trend. As are many of the responses, including yours, TB. The definition I gave from the NAS and the NSF’s own understanding traditionally have (as I’ve noted several times) not differed from mine in requiring understanding of the evidentiary requirement for scientific knowledge. You dodge this fact, but what this is about is an insufficient appreciation of the need to emphasize and stand firm on that – probably in the survey itself, definitely in the reports and other public materials. What we see instead is a retreat, by government agencies, by organizations like the NCSE, and by a host of others. No one here has been willing to acknowledge this basic fact, even though I’ve asked repeatedly, because you recognize that doing so might lead to thinking about religious beliefs, like all beliefs, in these terms, which is precisely what science requires. You fear that emphasizing this fundamental aspect of scientific literacy would cause some theists to appear “somewhat illiterate.” Anyone who cannot acknowledge that scientific knowledge is fundamentally based on empirical evidence has a problem. It’s that simple. This is precisely what needs to be appreciated.

    By the way, maybe you could answer the actual substantive questions I asked in my last post. You still haven’t done so, and continue to dance around them.

  54. #54 TB
    April 13, 2010

    Yay! More ad hominems! I can’t wait. Actually, I think I’ll pass. I’ve got a few more comments and then I’m done with this thread.

    You said:

    “Response to one of the questions, “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” may reflect religious beliefs rather than actual knowledge about science.
    The latest episode is indeed – as other evidence had indicated – symptomatic of an ongoing, problematic trend.”

    That would be a quote from the part of the survey that “explains how differently asked survey questions on evolution get different results, which gives readers a context for understanding of what is and isn’t measured by that question.” You know, because there are different reasons for why an individual would answer a question wrong. For one thing, we know in some cultures educating women is frowned upon. If those women answer questions incorrectly, is that because they’re stupid or is it because they do not have the opportunity to become educated?

    I’m glad you’re able to use the internet to find information about the survey that you previously didn’t have before you spouted off. Like that definition of science literacy that, frankly, doesn’t differ substantially from the definition of literacy that I originally put forth.

    Where there is a difference between your view and the current survey (you know, the one you didn’t know anything about) is in emphasis and expected results. I think you would be happy to have a survey that reflects your opinion that any religious beliefs are some form of illiteracy, regardless if the people holding them were, say, the head of the Human Genome project.

    And I think you would do so because it fits the agenda of some atheists to paint anyone with religious beliefs as being essentially the same as religious fundamentalists. (Why else would anyone use “creationists” to describe anyone with religious beliefs regardless of whether those people actually support teaching creationism as science.)

    To do that, you need to redefine literacy, which you made clear on your blog post.

    SC: “You fear that emphasizing this fundamental aspect of scientific literacy would cause some theists to appear “somewhat illiterate.” Anyone who cannot acknowledge that scientific knowledge is fundamentally based on empirical evidence has a problem.”

    No, I don’t have a problem with that at all. I also don’t have a problem with the idea that religious beliefs are not based on empirical evidence. I just don’t think someone that holds religious beliefs is by default scientifically illiterate. We know that you do, we just don’t know to what degree you would push you bias into a survey about science.

  55. #55 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    TB:

    [1] I just don’t think someone that holds religious beliefs is by default scientifically illiterate. [2] We know that you do, [3] we just don’t know to what degree you would push you bias into a survey about science.

    1. Bully for you.

    2. Are you using the royal plural here?
    This is clearly your opinion and not a consensus.

    Note that SC @25 wrote, in part, “Individual religious people with science degrees, like any other people with science degrees, may or may not be scientifically illiterate.”

    3. Apparently, there is at least one thing you think you know (i.e. your 2 above) which is counter-factual, but I quite accept your confession of ignorance in this regard.

  56. #56 SC (Salty Current)
    April 15, 2010

    You’re right SC, there’s nothing more to talk about – especially after this:
    ———
    SC: “I’ve assumed there are already questions that get directly at what I’m talking about,” and “Now, if questions focused on the evidentiary basis of science featured more (and I honestly don’t know to what extent they do now..”
    ———
    You’re criticizing the survey and you don’t even know what’s on the survey?

    OK. You’re not following my argument, which may be in part my fault, though I suspect it’s more willful on your part. In my blog post, I’m not criticizing (primarily) the construction of the survey, but its interpretation. The problem is illustrated not only by the choice to remove the section discussing these two questions, but in that section itself. Specifically, with this: “Americans‘ responses to questions about evolution and the big bang appear to reflect factors beyond familiarity with basic elements of science….These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas, even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas (for additional details see NSB 2008).”

    This is the problem. These responses don’t reflect factors beyond familiarity with basic elements of science, because being able to distinguish scientific knowledge from nonscientific beliefs and how these differ is the basic element of science. As I said more than once, my response was to what their interpretation of the responses to these questions (in addition to other developments and my recollection of these reports in the past) signified about the understanding of scientific literacy characterizing these organizations and their view of scientific literacy and which aspects need to be emphasized. This interpretation of results clearly signifies a problem with their understanding and approach that goes back at least to 2004, as I’ve shown. Even if they had asked 50 good questions on the epistemic nature of science, this interpretation shows that they’re not making the important connection that needs to be made. But I had a general idea that the survey in the past hadn’t adequately measured this sort of fundamental understanding of science and the scientific process, and I think that’s being confirmed. I’ve found no evidence to suggest that I’m wrong; indeed, everything I’ve read further confirms my earlier impressions based on more limited data. If you see anything in the survey or report that does show me to be wrong, please present it. Otherwise you should STFU about what you think I knew when because it doesn’t help your substantive case at all.

    People are too focused on this single scientific area (evolution) and single antiscience force (Creationism – since you’re so prone to confusion I’ll use a capital C to distinguish it from general theistic ideas about “creation”). If people can reject some of the most well-established theories and facts in science on the basis of ideology, religious or otherwise, those people do not understand what science or scientific knowledge are and can’t be considered literate (where specifically the line is drawn isn’t important – it’s recognizing the larger issue). The idea that people can maintain this kind of “skepticism” about scientific facts in any area of science and still be considered literate is the problem. It’s the form of scientific illiteracy that needs to be addressed more thoroughly. You’re not engaging with my basic argument at all.

    I’m glad I finally shamed you into finding a definition of scientific literacy that you agree with,

    What are you talking about? I’ve presented the definition of scientific literacy several times. The one you presented is inadequate as a definition of scientific literacy. This is the definition from the NSF report:

    Scientific literacy can be relevant to the public policy and to the personal choices that people make. In developing measures for scientific literacy across nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2003) noted that literacy had several components:

    Current thinking about the desired outcomes of science education for all citizens emphasizes the development of a general understanding of important concepts and explanatory frameworks of science, of the methods by which science derives evidence to support claims for its knowledge, and of the strengths and limitations of science in the real world. It values the ability to apply this understanding to real situations involving science in which claims need to be assessed and decisions made. . . .

    Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity. (pp. 132–33)

    As the reference to changes made through human activity makes clear, the OECD definition implies an understanding of technology. The OECD takes the view that literacy is a matter of degree and that people cannot be classified as either literate or not. [This last part is a dumb non sequitur.]

    A good understanding of basic scientific terms, concepts, and facts; an ability to comprehend how science generates and assesses evidence; and a capacity to distinguish science from pseudoscience are widely used indicators of scientific literacy (for a different perspective on scientific literacy, see sidebar ―Asset-Based Models of Knowledge).

    but you don’t even know if the survey adequately measures that or not. What an ego! What a waste of time this has been! You’re criticizing something you know nothing about!

    See above about what I’m arguing and criticizing. This is the portion about “Reasoning and Understanding the Scientific Process” (note that the report draws on other surveys as well):

    Past NSF surveys [?] have used questions on three general topics—probability, experimental design, and the scientific method—to assess trends in Americans‘ understanding of the process of scientific inquiry. One set of questions tests how well respondents apply principles of probabilistic reasoning to a series of questions about a couple whose children have a one-in-four chance of suffering from an inherited disease. A second set of questions deals with the logic of experimental design, asking respondents about the best way to design a test of a new drug for high blood pressure. An open-ended question probes what respondents think it means to ―study something scientifically. Because probability, experimental design, and the scientific method are all central to scientific research, these questions are relevant to how respondents evaluate scientific evidence.

    In 2008, 65% of Americans responded correctly to the two questions about probability, 38% to the questions testing the concept of experiment, and 22% to the questions testing the concept of scientific study. Scores in the probability questions fluctuate each year but are relatively stable over time; however, between 2006 and 2008 the combined scores of the two probability questions declined. Scores in the other scientific process questions were generally higher than they were in the mid-1990s, but decreased somewhat in 2008 (appendix table 7-13). Performance on these questions is strongly associated with the different measures of science knowledge and education (appendix table 7-14). Older Americans and those with lower incomes, two groups that tend to have less education in the sciences, also score lower on the inquiry measures. Men and women obtain similar scores in these questions (table 7-4 and table 7-6). The 2008 GSS included several additional questions on the scientific process that provide an opportunity to examine Americans‘ understanding of experimental design in more detail and benchmark their scores to national results of middle school students. From 29% to 57% Americans responded correctly to questions measuring the concepts of scientific experiment and controlling variables (appendix table 7-13 and 7-15). However, only 12% of Americans responded correctly to all the questions on this topic and nearly 20% of Americans did not respond correctly to any of them (figure 7-13). These data suggest that relatively few Americans have a generalized understanding of experimental design that they can reliably apply to different situations. The proportion of Americans with a strong grasp of experimental design does not vary by sex. However, Americans who answered at least three of all the four combined experimental knowledge questions correctly are more likely to have a college education or higher, have taken more courses in math and science, and have a clear understanding of the scientific method. They are also more likely to be in the top income bracket, and respond correctly to factual science knowledge and probability questions.

    Adults‘ scores in the experimental knowledge questions are similar to middle school students in one question (question 2 in Table 7-7) but lower in two others, out of the three questions where the comparison was possible.

    This is a handful of questions on the GSS, with only one or two focusing on “what it means to study something scientifically.” (None on the broader process of accumulation of scientific knowledge including peer review, common logical errors, etc.). This is insufficient. Further, how poorly Americans did on this section needs more attention. But the failure to appreciate the seriousness of this is shown in the fact that they’re not connecting it to the incorrect responses to the content questions.

    SC: If the board makes a decision on policy and it is followed, it’s a decision of the organization. This is ridiculous semantic quibbling.

    TB: You have no idea how many people in the organization knew about the chapter being pulled or what they tried to do about it. You really are a head case. Their work was CENSORED. You think they agree with the actions of those board members? Prove it.

    Again, you’re misunderstanding. My problem is with the basic interpretation that shaped both this section of the report and led to its removal. The report shouldn’t have been censored. That section (which appeared in the 2004 and 2008 reports) should have been changed because it’s stupid. Moreover, you keep bringing up Jon Miller, but he agrees with me that people who answer these questions incorrectly cannot be called literate and that the argument made by people in the NSF (those who wrote the reports and those who removed that section) doesn’t hold up. Do you disagree with that argument or not?

    SC: How is it evasive to respond to questions about irrelevant subjects and point out their irrelevance?
    TB: You’re the one who made the bold statement that the NSF concept of literacy is wrong.

    I actually think their concept of literacy in the report is good. This doesn’t appear to be the concept of literacy that the surveys, in recent years at least, have been designed well to assess, nor is it the concept of literacy that forms the basis for the interpretation of data in this recent report.

    Except the survey hasn’t been changed or modified – it was still conducted in it’s original form, one that the scientific establishment found useful for thirty years.

    You’re extremely confused. Jon Miller designed the original survey, and administered it for many years. While he did try to keep some consistency in the questions so as to be able to detect trends over time (such that these two questions, including the stupidly-worded one about the Big Bang which should have been changed long ago, have been included I think since the beginning), he did change them to reflect new knowledge and areas significant in public discussion. It isn’t conducted in its original form. And Miller stopped administering it for the NSF (though it appears he’s continued to conduct related research) in 2001. I don’t know the reason for this, but it sounds like the direction they were moving was a problem for him.

    Miller is a social scientist who understands what’s involved with survey design, implementation, and interpretation. Certainly the interpretation of the survey is a problem, but it appears to me that the survey instrument itself needs some work if it is to measure the key elements of scientific literacy. For all I know, Miller might agree with that. I have no idea. In any case, it should be done by a group of social and natural scientists. The reason to maintain consistency is that responses can be compared over time and across countries, but if other considerations – including those whose importance is revealed by earlier surveys – come to the fore, surveys should change to reflect that.

    It was the results that were censored, apparently by two board members after the official review. The NSF is still doing the work it’s been doing before the political hacks did what they did. You want to paint the whole NSF as a problem.

    Gah. See above.

    Then you said this: “Is it important to contemporary society that a child can parrot facts about biology or cosmology if that child doesn’t understand why his or her superstitious beliefs don’t have the same status as established scientific theories, that the religious “way of knowing” about the world is no such thing, and that knowledge based on decades or centuries of research can’t be dismissed on the basis of ancient texts or the words of religious authorities, political hacks, or corporations? This is a central goal of the NSF?”
    So you make an idiotic assumption about the entire NSF and a survey you now admit to knowing very little about.

    I’m responding to the report. Produced by the NSF, and marking a continuity with earlier reports.

    You rail against “superstitious beliefs” and the “religious “way of knowing,”

    You just quoted my questions but then failed to respond to them. How can a discussion proceed when you consistently engage in such tactics?

    and then you make the bold claim that “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.”

    Yes. It’s the same claim that Miller makes. Someone who answers incorrectly to these questions for reasons of ideology cannot be considered scientifically literate. Do you disagree with that? If so, why?

    You’re arguing that the survey should be changed and that you know the best way to change it. Except you don’t know what’s on the survey or how it measures scientific literacy. And you’re offended when someone questions whether you might introduce some bias? You’re blinded by your own arrogance and ignorance.

    See above.

    You make a prediction about results based on vague criteria that doesn’t explain anything at all.

    I’ve made no such predictions.

    You claim: “People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists, but not in the sense that we’ve been talking about (OECs and YECs who do reject basic facts and theories). That I’m not calling these others illiterate for being theists I have made explicit now more than once…”

    What? That’s not a prediction. This is what I’ve argued: Creationists (YECs and OECs) get this wrong due to ideology. This demonstrates that they don’t understand the basic nature of science and what scientific knowledge is. They cannot be considered literate. Again, Jon Miller is saying the same thing. You asked whether I would consider theists to be illiterate. That would depend entirely on their responses to questions about basic scientific literacy. It would for anyone.

    Where?

    Every place I responded to your questions about this.

    There are four “Millers” on this page before this post, three of them are about Jon Miller. The fourth is the first time you mentioned him. There are three uses of the word “theists” before this post, all used in your last post.

    You’re determined to be muddled. The reason I mentioned Ken Miller is that he’s a person who’s been discussed elsewhere on the scientific blogosphere as a creationist (not a Creationist) because of his belief in theistic evolution. I have no doubt that Ken Miller is scientifically literate.

    TB: Don’t use vague and evasive statements and then feel insulted when people question you about them.

    They’re only vague and evasive to you due to your determination to read an agenda into everything I say. Step back, lay aside what you think you know about me, and reread my argument.

    TB: Oh, I don’t know. When someone says something like: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.”

    Yes, Creationists and others cannot be considered scientifically literate if they reject well-established science in favor of belief. Have you even bothered to argue this point?

    It kind of suggests you already have a result in mind before doing the survey.

    I don’t have to do any survey. That conclusion is based on the (correct) interpretation of the existing survey.

    So it’s valid to question whether you would be introducing bias into your survey in order to get the result you expect.

    I simply can’t imagine what sorts of questions you think I have in mind. How about you give me two examples of questions that you think I would include in a survey of scientific literacy that you think would lead to “bias.” Try to understand that what I’m arguing for would make targeting specific beliefs or belief systems totally counterproductive.

    You know, the survey you have in mind that’s WAY better than the current NSF one. The NSF survey being the one that was conducted by the NSF and then censored by two political appointees, not that you’re capable of understanding what difference that makes.

    See above.

    TB: But you have implied that your changes to the survey would result in some people being considered illiterate who are not considered that way now.
    SC: No. I’ve said that people who answer incorrectly to questions on basic, well-established facts and theories for reasons of ideology are illiterate.
    SC: “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.”
    TB: And you’re slinging around charges of dishonesty?

    What aren’t you understanding here? When I say “can be called” I’m talking about now. People who respond incorrectly to the question – the existing one – based on ideology are illiterate. This is true whether they have a sixth-grade education or a PhD. That is what I’m saying. I haven’t said anything about people who would answer this question correctly, and I haven’t implied anything like what you’re claiming. This is really about people who would answer questions concerning a basic understanding of science wrong. This includes specific content questions and those about the scientific process. I’m honestly having a difficult time imagining what sorts of questions about either of these you think I would include that would present some sort of systematic bias against theists.

    Do you see what he’s saying? They wouldn’t answer False. Do you not think Jonathan Wells would answer False?
    TB: Actually, Wells isn’t a young earth creationist according to his testimony in the Kansas hearing. He’d probably answer true. (And then SC’s head exploded).

    OK, WHAT?! Show some evidence, against the mountain of evidence to the contrary, that would indicate that Wells (an OEC) would not answer this False.

    SC again: I’ve defined one group as scientifically illiterate: creationists.
    TB: Here’s a good example of why I’m wondering if you’re being evasive. Some people consider anyone who believes in a deity to be creationists. Rees, in the comment above, would be considered a creationist by some people.
    SC, contradicting herself again: “That’s not an example of my being evasive, but of your being a jerk. I was giving you the benefit of the doubt since you’re commenting on this blog and since we’ve talked about people who answered the question about human evolution False and Wells. People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists, but not in the sense that we’ve been talking about (OECs and YECs who do reject basic facts and theories). That I’m not calling these others illiterate for being theists I have made explicit now more than once…”
    TB: You mean explicit like with this answer in comment 24? “First, the examples we’ve been talking about are those in which people have denied well-established scientific facts. But I would say that he (Rees) holds a view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science. But the point isn’t whether I would consider such a person to be scientifically illiterate.”
    Whether you would consider such a person scientifically illiterate IS the point,

    No, it really isn’t. But since I’ve said that I wouldn’t consider someone a scientific illiterate who understands what science is and wouldn’t reject well-established facts or theories it’s really not relevant. Again, you’ll have to give some examples of the sorts of questions you imagine I’d include that trouble you.

    because you don’t seem to understand the issue (two board members censoring the work of the NSF).

    That is not the issue. The people who removed that segment didn’t do so because they disagreed with it, but because they agreed with it. The argument in the report was basically: “These questions [Miller’s, apparently] are poor measures of scientific literacy.” That’s the reason the board members gave for removing the section on them. It’s the same stupid thinking, and it’s wrong. See above.

    You did go on to say “This is incompatible with science, though I don’t think it marks someone as scientifically illiterate in the way rejecting well-established scientific theories does.”

    So it does mark someone as scientifically illiterate, just illiterate in the same way or to the same degree as others. See why I’m doubting your motivations?

    FFS. Replace “in the way” with “as” or “like.” Listen, give a couple of examples of questions you think I’d include.

    TB: It is too bad that this kind of confusion has been introduced about an otherwise useful way of identifying a specific group of people hostile to evolution.
    SC: It’s too bad people like you are so dishonest.
    TB: SC contradicts herself again: “People like Ken Miller and other theists are creationists,…” [Nice ellipsis.]
    Oh wait! You’re also “not calling these others illiterate for being theists.” Well that’s good.

    Yes, and that’s what you asked originally.

    Except, like Rees above, that still leaves a door open for you to find them to be somewhat illiterate because they hold a “view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science.”

    I need questions you think I’d ask on such a survey and what you think their responses would be. Two examples. Please.

    SC: And your arguments from authority are worthless.
    TB: Didn’t make any argument from authority, I pointed out the qualifications, awards and experience of the person who originally designed the survey.

    In support of an argument, which would be an argument from authority, even if it made sense here, which it doesn’t.

    And then I pointed out the dearth of experience and qualifications you brought to the table.

    You’re right. Other than my doctorate in sociology and the fact that my current research involves the history of science I bring nothing of that sort to the table.

    Who am I supposed to listen to? The established scientist who’s worked on it for thirty years or some goof on the internet? (The goof on the internet would be you).

    See above.

    TB again: You’ve already stated your idea of literacy would mean certain people with advanced degrees would be considered illiterate.
    SC: I do consider them illiterate currently. (snip)

    As does Miller.

    I’ll try with another example. If someone rejected the greenhouse effect on a survey like this due to politico-economic ideology, I would call that person scientifically illiterate. [My questions were here.]
    TB: Here’s my concern: If someone answered correctly on a survey about the greenhouse effect but worked against remedies due to politico-economic ideology, I might be against that in many ways but I wouldn’t call them illiterate.
    SC: Already this is a problem. I posited a hypothetical that, unlike yours, is parallel to that at issue here, in which people were answering incorrectly due to ideology. You didn’t respond, and are now transforming the question.
    TB: I said earlier that I don’t disagree that if people answer incorrectly regardless of the reason, they’re wrong.

    That wasn’t the question. Of course they’re wrong. If you’re at all honest, you’ll answer this and the other questions.

    My questions and scenario go to your demonstrated bias

    You haven’t demonstrated anything. I’ve defined scientific literacy in no way that differs from the NSF’s own definition.

    and whether you would include that in your survey to the extent it would count people as illiterate who would otherwise be reasonably found literate.

    Your answers leave the door open to that possibility. I wouldn’t trust a survey designed by you.

    Again, provide examples of the sorts of questions you fear I’d include based on what I’ve said.

    Yay! More ad hominems! I can’t wait.

    I don’t think you understand what an ad hominem is. If you did, you wouldn’t make such a plainly hypocritical statement.

    That would be a quote from the part of the survey that “explains how differently asked survey questions on evolution get different results, which gives readers a context for understanding of what is and isn’t measured by that question.”

    Which is precisely what they’re wrong about. Which is my point.

    You know, because there are different reasons for why an individual would answer a question wrong. For one thing, we know in some cultures educating women is frowned upon. If those women answer questions incorrectly, is that because they’re stupid or is it because they do not have the opportunity to become educated?

    So you seriously consider the argument that women are innately dumber a reasonable possibility? That says quite a bit about you. In any event, we can be pretty certain why people got this wrong: not because of a lack of awareness of what the science is in this specific area, but due to the fact that the anti-science campaign in this area is effective – as it could potentially be in any other area -because they lack a fundamental understanding of science and what scientific knowledge is. This is the broader problem that has to be addressed (and can’t be on an issue-specific basis); not denied or swept under the rug.

    Like that definition of science literacy that, frankly, doesn’t differ substantially from the definition of literacy that I originally put forth.

    You need to read the various definitions and note the differences between the ones I posted (including my own) and the generic one you posted.

    Where there is a difference between your view and the current survey (you know, the one you didn’t know anything about) is in emphasis and expected results.

    I have no idea what you mean by “expected results.” That I’m promoting an emphasis on certain aspects of literacy I’ve made extremely clear. They’re already in the NSF’s definition – they’re just not applying them sufficiently in practice.

    I think you would be happy to have a survey that reflects your opinion that any religious beliefs are some form of illiteracy, regardless if the people holding them were, say, the head of the Human Genome project.

    Again, provide examples of questions you think I would include based on what I’ve said.

    And I think you would do so because it fits the agenda of some atheists to paint anyone with religious beliefs as being essentially the same as religious fundamentalists.

    This is ridiculous.

    (Why else would anyone use “creationists” to describe anyone with religious beliefs

    No, certain beliefs about the development of life on earth.

    regardless of whether those people actually support teaching creationism as science.)

    You’re the one conflating different forms of creationism here and throwing all of them under the YEC/OEC umbrella.

    To do that, you need to redefine literacy, which you made clear on your blog post.

    This is completely wrong. My definition of literacy does not differ from the NSF’s or the NAS’s.

    SC: “You fear that emphasizing this fundamental aspect of scientific literacy would cause some theists to appear “somewhat illiterate.” Anyone who cannot acknowledge that scientific knowledge is fundamentally based on empirical evidence has a problem.”
    No, I don’t have a problem with that at all.

    Funny, then, that you seem so fearful of emphasizing it.

    I also don’t have a problem with the idea that religious beliefs are not based on empirical evidence.

    ?

    I just don’t think someone that holds religious beliefs is by default scientifically illiterate.

    That is an absurd strawman.

    We know that you do, we just don’t know to what degree you would push you bias into a survey about science.

    Lunacy.

  57. #57 SC (Salty Current)
    April 15, 2010

    By the way, these two paragraphs in the 2008 report were also dropped in the 2010 report:

    Appreciating the scientific process can be even more important than knowing scientific facts. People often encounter claims that something is scientifically known. If they understand how science generates and assesses evidence bearing on these claims, they possess analytical methods and critical thinking skills that are relevant to a wide variety of facts and concepts and can be used in a wide variety of contexts.

    An additional indicator of how well people apply scientific principles in real world contexts is how they assess pseudoscientific claims, which adopt the trappings of science to present knowledge claims that are not grounded in the systematic methodology and testing associated with science.

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/c7s2.htm
    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c7/c7s2.htm

  58. #58 TB
    April 15, 2010

    @ 55 John Morales

    “Note that SC @25 wrote, in part, “Individual religious people with science degrees, like any other people with science degrees, may or may not be scientifically illiterate.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean anything because those individual religious people have not yet taken the survey she has in mind. And she wouldn’t make a claim about a specific individual without her idea of evidence. It’s basically a non-denial denial.

    Look at the tooth-pulling needed to get her to comment on a specific individual:

    @24: “But I would say that he (Rees) holds a view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science.
    But the point isn’t whether I would consider such a person to be scientifically illiterate.”

    Look at what she includes in her definition of scientific literacy:

    @35: “…and the understanding of science as a, and the only reliable, means of acquiring knowledge about the world (and therefore its necessity for making and evaluating fact claims) …”

    This is, as far as I can find, not part of the NSF’s definition of science literacy. This is bordering on the verge of scientism. Rees is currently not considered scientifically illiterate, but is by her definition. Her protestations about degrees of literacy are, IMO, a tactic meant to conceal her own intentions.

    3. Apparently, there is at least one thing you think you know (i.e. your 2 above) which is counter-factual, but I quite accept your confession of ignorance in this regard.”

    My opinion is based on the evidence provided as I’ve spelled out. Your opinion is only an ad hominem attack and so it is safely ignored.

    Nothing for SC. Nothing needed really.

  59. #59 SC (Salty Current)
    April 15, 2010

    I tried to post this a while ago, but it was held for moderation, presumably due to my including links to both reports:

    By the way, these two paragraphs in the 2008 report were also dropped in the 2010 report:

    Appreciating the scientific process can be even more important than knowing scientific facts. People often encounter claims that something is scientifically known. If they understand how science generates and assesses evidence bearing on these claims, they possess analytical methods and critical thinking skills that are relevant to a wide variety of facts and concepts and can be used in a wide variety of contexts.

    An additional indicator of how well people apply scientific principles in real world contexts is how they assess pseudoscientific claims, which adopt the trappings of science to present knowledge claims that are not grounded in the systematic methodology and testing associated with science.

    @ 55 John Morales

    “Note that SC @25 wrote, in part, “Individual religious people with science degrees, like any other people with science degrees, may or may not be scientifically illiterate.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean anything because those individual religious people have not yet taken the survey she has in mind.

    I don’t have any survey in mind. I’ve made an argument about the fundamental elements of scientific literacy that need to receive more emphasis, and nothing there differs from the definition of scientific literacy put forth by the OECD, NAS, NSF. It doesn’t matter, though, because that quote alone is enough to show that your assertion that I believe that “someone that holds religious beliefs is by default scientifically illiterate” is untrue.

    And she wouldn’t make a claim about a specific individual without her idea of evidence.

    I made claims about individuals (Creationists) based on the existing evidence. The quote above clearly shows that I don’t consider everyone with religious beliefs to be by default scientifically illiterate. I also said “I have no doubt that Ken Miller is scientifically literate.” So you misrepresent again. You’re the one making elaborate assumptions about the kinds of questions I would include (not that I think such a survey should ever be designed by a single person) based not on what I’ve said but on absurd suspicions about my motives, and then speculating about how non-Creationist theists would respond to them. Of course, you won’t answer my questions or share your specific fears with the rest of us, let alone explain their pertinence to the actual argument I’m making.

    It’s basically a non-denial denial.

    What nonsense. Your “argument” is one giant appeal to (presumed) motive with flights of irrelevancy.

    Look at the tooth-pulling needed to get her to comment on a specific individual:

    Tooth pulling? You asked me a question based on a hypothetical with limited information, and I answered it. You’ve consistently ignored my actual words and my questions.

    @24: “But I would say that he (Rees) holds a view that is unsupported by evidence and that maintaining that belief is incompatible with science.
    But the point isn’t whether I would consider such a person to be scientifically illiterate.”

    It isn’t. And since you’ve made no attempt to argue with the actual points I’ve made, I can only conclude that you have no response.

    Look at what she includes in her definition of scientific literacy:

    @35: “…and the understanding of science as a, and the only reliable, means of acquiring knowledge about the world (and therefore its necessity for making and evaluating fact claims) …”

    “…and what it means for something to be established scientifically.”

    This is, as far as I can find, not part of the NSF’s definition of science literacy.

    Of course it’s part of it. It’s the reason the organization exists. It’s the reason scientific literacy is important. Perhaps you would prefer something like I proposed @ #43…

    This is bordering on the verge of scientism.

    Oh? Is it also in the proximity of the neighborhood of it? Approaching the general direction of it? Perhaps you can describe for the rest of us those other means for acquiring knowledge about the world, and how they make and evaluate fact claims reliably without the need for science.

    Rees is currently not considered scientifically illiterate, but is by her definition.

    That is a lie. You said:

    We have a physicist. He has published papers and has contributed much to the field. He might even be a Nobel winner.

    He says, “I believe God created the universe.”

    Is he scientifically illiterate? I’ve just described the Astronomer Royal (Rees).

    You had to understand that I wasn’t calling him scientifically illiterate on the basis of that belief alone since you later changed to another example, which you explicitly noted was between Rees and Warren, and asked if I would consider a Jesuit priest who was also a scientist to be illiterate. You’ve been playing dishonest games.

    Her protestations about degrees of literacy are, IMO, a tactic meant to conceal her own intentions.

    You’re scaring me a little with this “sinister motives” bit. You persist in it in a way that’s completely divorced from what I’ve actually said. “Protestations” about degrees of literacy? Do you not recognize this? If you gave a test, would everyone who didn’t get a perfect score fail? You also continue to ignore that from my perspective focusing exclusively on any set of unscientific or antiscientific beliefs or claims – religious, political, economic – would be dumb and counterproductive. I agree with the portion of the 2008 report that argues: “If [people] understand how science generates and assesses evidence bearing on these claims, they possess analytical methods and critical thinking skills that are relevant to a wide variety of facts and concepts and can be used in a wide variety of contexts.”

    3. Apparently, there is at least one thing you think you know (i.e. your 2 above) which is counter-factual, but I quite accept your confession of ignorance in this regard.”

    My opinion is based on the evidence provided as I’ve spelled out.

    The “evidence” apparently being my attempts to explain to you how irrelevant your little hypothetical queries were. You made a claim that is demonstrably untrue: that I believe that “someone that holds religious beliefs is by default scientifically illiterate.” Not only did I not say this, I explicitly said it isn’t true. This was even quoted for you in the post to which you’re responding. The only thing you’ve spelled out is that you have a penchant for hyperinterpretive confirmation bias and can dance around an argument without addressing it even when it’s put to you several times.

    Your opinion is only an ad hominem attack and so it is safely ignored.

    I challenge anyone to find an ad hominem attack in John Morales’ post @ #55 (or any other post by him on this thread, for that matter…or possibly any post he’s ever written…).

    Nothing for SC. Nothing needed really.

    Ha. Expected as much. Color me disappointed.

    It’s one thing to ask if people know why science works the way it does. Whether they believe those conclusions is a different question entirely.

    Still wrong. (And interesting that this followed your discussion of Rees. You didn’t mention any scientific conclusions he disbelieves.)

  60. #60 John Morales
    April 16, 2010

    Sigh.

    SC @25: “Individual religious people with science degrees, like any other people with science degrees, may or may not be scientifically illiterate.”

    TB @54:

    We know that you [SC] do [think someone that holds religious beliefs is by default scientifically illiterate]

    [I refer to SC's above quote as rebuttal]

    TB @57: It’s basically a non-denial denial.

    Perhaps I’m too literal, it’s certainly been a failing of mine in the past; on the other hand, I try to be honest and to not misrepresent others.

    As I see it, in the quotation by SC above, the meaning is rather unambiguously contrary to your characterisation of it as a non-denial denial.

    What she wrote:
    (in natural language)
    “Anyone with a science degree, whether religious or not, may or may not be scientifically literate.”
    (in symbolic form)
    xSx → (Lx ∨ ¬Lx).

    Your characterisation:
    (in natural language)
    “Anyone religious is not scientifically literate.”
    (in symbolic form)
    xRx → (¬Lx).

    [S = Has a science degree;
    L = Is scientifically literate;
    R = Is religious.]

    My interpretation: you aren’t responding to what SC writes, but to what you think she means by what she writes. Unfortunately, what you think she means is not congruent with what she actually writes.

    It can be exasperating to be the recipient of such treatment.

    [This shall be my last post on this thread.]

  61. #61 TB
    April 17, 2010

    Time and again I’ve been accused of dishonesty in this thread for the simple act of quoting people’s words back at them.

    When SC chose – on her own blog – to combine a rant against religion with a demand for a different definition for scientific literacy it’s fair to question her objectivity. Especially when she makes a prediction about the results that seem to target people who would currently be considered literate, people targeted (as it would appear based on her own blog post) for no other reason than for their religious beliefs. I’m done with her – she can write volumes to try and obscure her original intent and it won’t sway me. (That intent, BTW, was used by a creationist blogger to make clumsy claim against Josh, as highlighted in a later post in this blog. Way to play into the worst stereotypes of science.)

    But then there’s John, who neglects to include that bias in his equations and puts it down to him just being literal. No John, you’re just cooking your numbers. Being dishonest to bolster Scientism? That’s as bad as lying for Jesus.

  62. #62 SC (Salty Current)
    April 17, 2010

    Shorter TB throughout the thread:

    “I’m going to read arguments and an agenda into SC’s words, completely divorcing them from context and failing to acknowledge statements and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I’m going to do so despite the fact that even if she had such an agenda it wouldn’t be relevant to her arguments here. I will not be swayed by reason or evidence, or engage in any way with the substantive case she’s made. Nor will I respond to questions, admit to my errors, or cease to hypocritically mischaracterize others’ posts as ad hominem attacks. In short, I will hold fast to my fallacious and unfounded appeal to motive so as to evade the important issues.”

  63. #63 TB
    April 22, 2010

    “‘m going to do so despite the fact that even if she had such an agenda it wouldn’t be relevant to her arguments here.”

    SC, you’re blind. You introduced the agenda. From your own blog post:

    “that the religious “way of knowing” about the world is no such thing”

    and

    “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing.”

    If you had simply tried to make a case about literacy I’d have had no reason to wonder about your motivations. Instead you made a case against religion and combined it with a new definition of scientific literacy. Then you hid behind the idea that, until such a survey is actually administered, you could not conjecture about who could be considered illiterate – even in a hypothetical sense. And yet you were happy to draw a conclusion – “I realize that this can be read as suggesting that even someone with a science degree can be called a scientific illiterate. That is in fact what I’m arguing” – in the absence of a survey.

    You claim to be simply discussing science, actually you’re engaging in the political sphere – that of advocating the new atheists position. Even the title of your latest blog post bears that out: “Questions for accomodationists.” No one but a new atheist would use that label in that challenging way.

    When you’re in politics, finding hidden motivations are crucial. You compromised your position with your own words. To expect people to ignore that is naive.

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