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View Diary: Conservative Science Denial in Local and National Media (157 comments)

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  •  Talking about and reinforcing the rules of (17+ / 0-)

    science and scientific inquiry frequently would be helpful. The fact that in science, one has to prove something and build a foundation of proven things to assert something new is helpful. It isn't just unsupported assertions and spurious arguments, which the R's and evangelicals are so damned fond of. Really understanding that proof and supporting assertions is required would make things easier. The deniers just make stuff up and tell others that science does the same thing, it undermines the understanding of the process and how solid the process is.

    When they start in on how science is always changing its collective mind about things, I usually use the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant to illustrate. One feels the elephant's side and states that an elephant is like a wall, another holds the trunk and says it's like a great snake, the one holding a leg says an elephant is like a tree, and another holds the tail and says that an elephant is obviously like a rope.  When they finally work their way around to each other, discovering how the parts are connected, the definition of the elephant changes. As we discover more of our universe and environment, we update our views, that's all.

    Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

    by FarWestGirl on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 12:47:50 PM PDT

    •  What people most often don't understand... (27+ / 0-)

      is that science is a process and a methodology, above all else. It's not just a collection of facts/beliefs and theories binding them together. It's the way that facts are collected and synthesized into theories, which are then tested empirically, and subject to peer review and replication, that most distinguishes science from mere philosophy or religion. In other words, science is unique in that a) all knowledge is considered provisional (and this isn't a flaw, but a strength) and b) it is inherently self-correcting and self-refining, in that theories can be thrown out and replaced with new ones that explain more of the evidence or do so more elegantly and precisely.

      This flies in the face of the type of reasoning that people typically engage in, especially when it comes to things like religious beliefs. I'm convinced that a large portion of the public simply does not have a deep understanding of this idea, because what they know about science is just what they remember being taught in school years ago. And that experience was often simply being told to memorize a big list of "facts", rather than being given an actual understanding of why the process is so powerful and different from other kinds of human thinking. You see this all the time in the public and media reaction to new scientific discoveries, where the idea that something has overturned previous ideas is presented as if it were evidence of scientists'  lack of trustworthiness. What scientists get, and the general public doesn't, is that certainty is a very destructive thing when you want to expand knowledge. Scientists (and to a less degree, lawyers) are the only group in our society with a formal system for overturning previously incorrect ideas and acknowledging their mistakes.

    •  Agreed. Some simple rules of evidence (10+ / 0-)

      of how science differs from a collection of anecdotal stories. Scientific evidence must be reliable, repeatable measurement of operatinoally defined phenomena. understanding this alone would go a long way. They also need to understand the concept of falsifiabilty of hypotheses. These can be explained with numerous examples in easily understood terms such as the elephant story.
      It can be done, we just have to make it happen on a daily basis.

      "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

      by RonK on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 01:27:28 PM PDT

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    •  The goal of science is not to "prove" an... (15+ / 0-)

      explanation is correct. The goal is to develop an explanation for a set of observations and then test that explanation to see how well it accounts for further observations. A scientific explanation is always tentative and subject to revision.

      A comment by Johnva above correctly states that:

      In other words, science is unique in that a) all knowledge is considered provisional (and this isn't a flaw, but a strength)...

      Provisional explanations, not matter how many times they are tested, remain provisional (and "unproven"). I don't intend to scold, but to make clear how scientific thought operates.

      Sadly, conservatives often build on this, saying, "Science has been unable to prove..." I think the only fair response is to point out that scientific inquiry has never been about proving anything, but rather explaining things in natural ways that can be tested and retested.

      •  While this is all true... (17+ / 0-)

        it's also very important to point out that many scientific theories have mountains and mountains of empirical evidence behind them (good examples include the theory of evolution, the germ theory of disease, and special relativity). So while scientists consider them provisional as part of the methodology (and rightfully so), they are also more well-supported by observations than almost anything else that human beings believe. Their utility in making predictions and explaining observations, in other words, is immense. They have been tested and retested by thousands of scientists over many years, and are unlikely to be overturned anytime soon (though they COULD be, if facts were discovered to contradict them and a better theory were created to replace them).

        Denial of any of these theories, without serious, serious evidence against them and expert-level understanding, is monstrously ignorant and monstrously arrogant. Creationists are literally saying that they know better than all the tens thousands of scientists that have worked on evolution and its consequences, and not offering ANY reason to back that up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and evolution has that extraordinary evidence to back it up. A HUGE amount of evidence, as well as a more elegant theory, would be required to ever overturn it. None of the alternative "theories" (they don't even deserve the word) offered by creationists even come close to meeting this requirement.

        •  Arrogant and ignorant (6+ / 0-)

          applied to the same person, and these adjectives fit many of the creationists I have run into, is abhorant. That is what we are up against.

          What can you do with someone who is absolutely sure they are right and refuses to listen to anything else.

          Nothing!

          We need to get to the uncommitted quickly.

          "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

          by RonK on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 03:08:45 PM PDT

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        •  My bother in law, now retired, is a climate (8+ / 0-)

          scientist out of the Earth Science area of NASA (James Hansen).  He worked on the Antarctic Ozone Hole, then later LIDAR from earth and eventually space to study particle dispersion up to 12 miles.

          As such he was very much involved in climate change, impacts thereof and advancing information on causation.

          He said it never failed: at climate conferences there would be 99 scientists who had serious papers and discoveries to share, and one "bozo" who would proclaim that there is no man made climate change.

          His utter frustration was the media attention would always surround the one who was making a mess of things.

          Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

          by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 05:33:19 PM PDT

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          •  Sadly true (5+ / 0-)

            The media has been taught to present both sides, even when there is essentially one side. This is not ony unfair, it is bad journalism. But unfortunately it happens all the time.

            I am disappointed that NPR usually takes this tact as well. They need their funding from congress and dare not take a stance on the truth. Fair and balanced . sure.

            "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

            by RonK on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 05:49:17 PM PDT

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            •  I find NPR worse than that on US politics: (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              princesspat, RonK, johnva

              they go to rw think tank types and same type congressperson when presenting a story. Yagggh.

              The coverage I find most helpful is in depth overseas or other national information whether cultural, natural or political. No other news outlet seems to pay much attention outside our borders.

              Thanks again.

              Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

              by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 07:05:57 PM PDT

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        •  My favorite response is to drop something very (6+ / 0-)

          heavy, and in the silence after remind them that gravitation is also a theory. We can decribe its effects, we can calculate that effect to a degree capable of landing something the size of a golf cart on a mote hundreds of millions of miles away on a moving target, but we don't know really what it is or why it works, we can only measure it indirectly, (weight). So in spite of the fact that's its technically 'only' a theory, we're pretty darned sure it exists. That's a layman't thumbnail, of course, but it generally goes over pretty well. Or at least leaves them flummoxed. ;-)

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

          by FarWestGirl on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 06:49:44 PM PDT

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          •  Yes, I use gravity too. (8+ / 0-)

            my barber was going on about how science does not really know how old fossils are. I mentioned carbon 14 dating. She said well, we really don't know about that either and won't for hundreds of year when can check today's results. It's all theory ...

            I then asked if she believes in gravity. Of course she does. Then I say, we know a lot more about carbon 14 dating than about gravity. She was stunned but did not know what to say other than well, we'll just have to wait and see.

            End of conversation.

            "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

            by RonK on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 08:38:53 PM PDT

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            •  lol n/t (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              princesspat, johnva

              Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

              by FarWestGirl on Wed Oct 12, 2011 at 03:51:06 AM PDT

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            •  Technical nitpick (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              johnva, RonK

              Carbon-14 dating is quite limited in its ability to establish the age of fossils due to the timespans involved. Other forms of radiometric dating are used when talking ages of millions or billions of years (14C has a half-life of about 5730 years, so it's going to be pretty much completely absent from anything over 50,000 years old).

              Banksters are harmful for the same reason neutrinos are harmless: neither are inclined to share what they've got (wealth and energy, respectively)

              by ebohlman on Wed Oct 12, 2011 at 05:49:13 PM PDT

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              •  Thanks for the information. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ebohlman

                there is nothing wrong with being acccurate and that's not being picky.
                Thanks.

                "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

                by RonK on Wed Oct 12, 2011 at 09:28:39 PM PDT

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      •  OTOH, the "prove" thing serves another (5+ / 0-)

        purpose: to aid those who break down everything into "right" and "wrong" so that they can, eventually, be "right" if necessary, and thus prevail.

        A truly inquiring mind, like a philosopher's, a sage's or a scientist's, will be filled with deep, penetrating questions that, when answered, will yield more and deeper questions. Only shallow minds are concerned with "proving" things and with right and wrong. Shallow isn't any more "wrong" that deep and penetrating is "right"... but shallow minds will not be able to grasp deep concepts or offer insightful answers.

        •  Another take on this is that education (5+ / 0-)

          corrupts faith or so one of my wife's professors told her while attending a religious based university.

          Stay shallow and stay faithful.

          "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

          by RonK on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 03:02:39 PM PDT

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          •  Too many of them equate ignorance with innocence. (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            princesspat, RonK, Cornbread Maxi, johnva

            That conflation is the largest part of where the problem is based. Innocence is a good thing, to be prized, (even though to remain fully innocent is to remain infantile), and they can't tell the difference between the two, so they try to maintain both. ::sigh:: It's like trying to explain the difference between blue and green to someone who's colorblind. First you have to convince them there is a difference and that the rest of us aren't just making it up to mess with them. And given that that's something that many of them would do, for laughs or for leverage, it impairs our credibilty in trying to get through to them. It's never easy. ::sigh::

            Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

            by FarWestGirl on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 07:01:07 PM PDT

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      •  Agreed. (4+ / 0-)

        The proof thing goes nowhere with them. They are black and white. There is either god or the devil. Which are you for?

        Religion asks the "why" questions of untimate truth... Because God said so.

         Sciences ask more "what" questions. When X changes, what happens to Y?

        "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

        by RonK on Tue Oct 11, 2011 at 03:17:06 PM PDT

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      •  not only that ("not ot prove")... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        princesspat, RonK

        but a cornerstone of disciplines of science, especially Physics, is to be able to "predict"... that is, we may find exceptions to the general rule of gravitational attraction in the future, but right now, for almost anything a person will work with. I can predict what will happen if he or she drops it.

        "Predicting" how things work is what makes progress possible, whether it's gravity or Quantum Physics.

        And yes, Physicists and scientists are willing to go back and revise their ideas/assumptions about how things work when observations in controlled circumstances indicate problems with predictability.

        People who "Believe" things can't predict anything. Except "miracles".

        Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

        by blindcynic on Wed Oct 12, 2011 at 10:17:15 AM PDT

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        •  Well said. (0+ / 0-)

          Any discipline that aspires to be scientific, also aspires to predict what ever their subject matter, be it the action of neural connections, neurotransmitters, or group behavior. Some of course, are better than others at their various predictions.

          But prediction truly is the cornerstone.

          "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

          by RonK on Wed Oct 12, 2011 at 09:36:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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