We Bend Science to our Beliefs

By Keith Kloor | June 2, 2012 6:18 am

My, how times have changed.

Thirty years ago, what was the likelihood of Americans electing a black president and accepting gay marriage? We really have progressed, haven’t we?

Or maybe not.

In 1982 (the year synthetic insulin was created via genetic engineering, by the way), 44% of Americans believed that God created humans in their present form some time in the last 10,000 years. Today, according to a new Gallup poll, that view is held by 46% of Americans. Below is a graph from Gallup that shows how the “prevalence of this creationist view” has remained essentially unchanged since 1982:

Trend: Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings? 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so

As Gallup notes:

Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans’ views of the origin of the human species since 1982. The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.

More broadly, some 78% of Americans today believe that God had a hand in the development of humans in some way, just slightly less than the percentage who felt this way 30 years ago.

All in all, there is no evidence in this trend of a substantial movement toward a secular viewpoint on human origins.

Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.

So what do we make of this? That nearly half the United States is anti-science or scientifically illiterate? I kinda doubt that and I bet many of you do, too. Well then, what about our attitudes on some of those notoriously controversial issues, such as climate change and genetically modified crops? We know that a preponderance of the scientific literature finds global warming from man-made greenhouse gases to be true and GMOs to be safe. Yet there are sizable blocks of people who cannot be persuaded of either.

People reject the consensus views of science for various reasons–religious, ideological, cultural. We’re increasingly learning about why this is and how it leads to polarization on some issues, like climate change and genetic engineering. Many journalists and scientists are wrestling with the implications of social science research that suggests informed citizens will not necessarily base their views on better and more information.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, geoengineering
  • kdk33

    Are gallop polls scientific?

  • Michael Larkin

    We know that a preponderance of the scientific literature finds global warming from man-made greenhouse gases to be true and GMOs to be safe. Yet there are sizable blocks of people who cannot be persuaded of either.”

    Can’t speak to GMO literature, but AGW literature has been proven to be pal-reviewed. Who knows what it would look like if it hadn’t been? Who knows what papers haven’t got published because the establishment has kept them out?

    Who knows how many studies did not receive funding because they threatened to challenge the consensus, or were proposed by the wrong sort of people?

    Sorry, Keith, I don’t buy the notion that mere weight of number indicates anything conclusive.

  • Anteros

    I’ll nitpick with your contention that the scientific literature finds GM to be safe.

    Actually, maybe it’s more than a nitpick because whether something seems safe, or feels safe is a subjective value judgement. It isn’t something that science can answer for individuals.

    I don’t think that the vast majority of Europeans who choose not to have anything to do with GMOs are either anti-science or reject science. They are listening to something other than science, primarily something emotional and imaginative.

    If your 46% is a genuine figure concerning honest beliefs I’m staggered. From a British perspective it just doesn’t compute. Even the average Christian over here was on the evolutionary bandwagon by about the 1870s.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “From a British perspective it just doesn’t compute.”

    See here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/01/evolution-darwin-survey-creationism

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? I’ve come across a few creationists – I used to spend a fair amount of time arguing about it – but I’ve generally found it to be a minority view, and rarely an issue. I’ve conversed with conservatives in the US, and I know plenty of people in Britain, and yet we keep on seeing these surprising survey results.

    And given even the Vatican sorta gave up on the idea, and the UK has been pretty secular for decades, it does makes you wonder who these people are and why they’re not more visible.

  • harrywr2

    #3

    If your 46% is a genuine figure concerning honest beliefs I’m staggered.

    You have to look at the other two answers. They were humans developed over millions of years from lower life forms. I may not be completely up to date on the latest in evolutionary science but I don’t think anyone is claiming human beings have been around for ‘millions of years’.

    To make matters worse the poll was ‘which statement more closely matches your belief’

    I think current evolutionary science says humans beings evolved from apes or monkeys in the last couple of hundred thousand years….

    10,000 years is closer to 200,000 years then a million years

    Having said all of that the US has always been far more religious then the UK.

  • kdk33

    The gallop poll suggests ~80% of americans believe in a creator god.  But they force these folks to choose a creation date, and to choose between extremes.  For many, if not most, it is a meaningless question.  (My religous beliefs do not compell me to put a time/date stamp on creation).  Most likely the question was answered not on what was explicitly asked (the date), but on what the answerer thought was implied.For example:  many christians see humans as being fundamentally different and apart from other creatures.  The “guided evolution” choice may have seemed less consistent with this view than the “created in current form choice”, so they choose the later, but not because of the date.Also worth mentioning is that the issue is so politicised and emotional that many see these kinds of questions as science versus god and they are sick of being painted as superstitous, anti-science, ignoramuses.  Some yapper calls on the phone and starts asking these questions and you are likely to get some protests votes.Polls suck.  This one more than most.

  • Fred

    Keith,
    You disparage those who take an anti-science position on evolution, yet espouse a global warming theory that has been questioned or refuted on numerous points (i.e. absence of evidence for a positive CO2 feedback effect, climate models that ignore solar effects, evidence that CO2 levels follow not precede climate changes, etc.). Your pet global warming theory is used to throttle economic development and increase human misery with only glancing recognition and comment from you (i.e. you have indicated some support for an environmental movement consonant with the needs of economic growth).

    I am no religious fundamentalist, but their views on evolution are far less socially pernicious and damaging to scientific progress and economic development than belief in and support for global warming theory. And, unlike climate scientists, they are not frightening taxpayers into squandering billions of dollars on “research” that ultimately lines their pockets.

    Trying to look “enlightened” by looking down on the religiously-motivated beliefs of the fundamentalists is an old and tired ploy.

  • kdk33

    The gallop poll suggests ~80% of americans believe in a creator god.  But they force these folks to choose a creation date, and to choose between extremes.  For many, if not most, it is a meaningless question.  (My religous beliefs do not compell me to put a time/date stamp on creation).  Most likely the question was answered not on what was explicitly asked (the date), but on what the answerer thought was implied.

    For example:  many christians see humans as being fundamentally different and apart from other creatures.  The “guided evolution” choice may have seemed less consistent with this view than the “created in current form choice”, so they choose the later, but not because of the date.

    Also worth mentioning is that the issue is so politicised and emotional that many see these kinds of questions as science versus god and they are sick of being painted as superstitous, anti-science, ignoramuses.  Some yapper calls on the phone and starts asking these questions and you are likely to get some protests votes.

    Polls suck.  This one more than most.

    and so does this editor.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I think current evolutionary science says humans beings evolved from apes or monkeys in the last couple of hundred thousand years”

    The split between humans and chimpanzees probably occurred around 5-7 million years ago, but obviously humans have evolved quite a lot subsequently. Homo Sapiens evolved from other human species – anatomically at least – around 200,000 years ago, but there’s only evidence for modern human behaviour from around 50,000 years on. It’s hard to say, really.

  • Hector M.

    Creationism is not just “against the preponderance of scientific opinion”: it is totally opposed to rational scientific inquiry. It could not be equated to dissent on more secular matters. A more scientific approach to the abundance of fundamentalist religious views would ask why this particular country, possibly the most advanced in terms of capitalist development, scientific achievement and pervasive presence of modern science in all spheres of life, holds such as vast number of people with utterly pre-modern views. Such views are historically associated to resistance against the most threatening or disconcerting aspects of the economic and social system. American society is the most exposed to the naked forces of the market (that is its strength, arguably) and those forces are, well, threatening. You are exposed to the constant danger of being fired, or your life to be changed by sudden technological change, and you take refuge in some supposedly secure traditional beliefs. Give me my old religion, as the song says. Something very similar, at the other extreme of the development scale, is happening in the Arab world, where religious fundamentalism is a way to resist the onslaught of capitalism on traditional ways of life (family, role of women, children, and so on).In America, capitalism is “sold” to the masses as a benevolent system that ensures your welfare and enables you for the pursuit of happiness, but in fact nothing keeps the same system from evicting you from your house, firing you at almost no notice, or creating huge ghettos for the excluded that then turn anti-social. Before these contradictions and the resulting anguish, one looks for something certain. Taking refuge in some primordial if atavist beliefs easily evolves from that. Other developed capitalist countries (e.g. Europe) provide more secular security in the form of welfare, and such beliefs do not arise. It remains to be seen whether those other countries can actually maintain their welfare systems in the future, and whether some other form of disgruntled fundamentalism would not then arise also there.

  • kdk33

    Opium of the people.

  • Fred

    <p>Hector (#10) links belief in creationism to support for a salutary system of economic organization (capitalism). Thus, it can be argued that such a belief is superior to belief in global warming.</p><p> Belief in global warming similarly defies scientific evidence and is linked to support for public policy positions highly damaging of economic welfare and ultimately of scientific progress (a poor society will not have resources to support advanced scientific inquiry). Indeed, many believers of global warming say that to believe in it necessitates support for socialism (a highly inferior mode of economic organization).  Belief in creationism is more socially beneficial than is belief in global warming.</p>   

  • Mirik

    @Fred: You will ignore this because you have your tribal glasses on. But with a modicum of self-criticism you can find the answers to all your rehashed false ignorant shibboleths on climate readily available on the internet by climate scientists.I can’t believe the moron argument of CO2 following warming is still taken serious. You can debunk that with no knowledge at all and just a medium amount analytical thought when you know two hemispheres of the earth have different warming/CO2 records and noting that the VAST majority of actual warming in such periods occurs AFTER the release of CO2 due to the warming ocean CO2 release feedback.”A change in Earth’s orbit warms the southern oceans which releases more CO2 into the atmosphere. The extra CO2 trapped more heat from the sun and amplified the warming. It also mixed through the atmosphere, spreading the warming to the tropics and northern hemisphere” @Keith:Been reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World (recommended to everyone; http://www.bookdepository.com/Demon-Haunted-World-Carl-Sagan/9780345409461?selectCurrency=USD/?a_aid=m ) and he predicted the ongoing decline of science literary in the US due to the political landscape of science-illiterates populating congress and business taking over the reigns of power. Not to mention the decline of quality television and the rise of sensationalist nonsense, reality-tv and other brain-destroying media. Also laments the failure of the US school-system to inspire and engage children.Anyways, super relevant to this discussion. Book is about 15 years old now, but reads as if written yesterday. We’re in a small dark-age, to stay with the global warming theme.

  • Hector M.

    @Fred (#12): For the record, I did not allude to superior or inferior beliefs –or economic systems. I was talking of what happens, not what ought to happen, or what is better or worse. In fact, social and economic systems are not “decided upon”, they do not emerge from a “social compact” among hitherto independent people who “decide” to organize society in a certain way. Social systems evolve. Capitalism is evolving since its early beginnings among craftmen, merchants and moneylenders in the Middle Ages, through their use of scientific discoveries to revolutionize production, to its present global reach (where the political power of individual nations is not enough to “govern” it). We, and our parents and grandparents, were born and will die in it, as will (most probably) our children and grandchildren (although it is difficult to tell what the shape of the economy will be in 400 or more years). So, even if you think that a particular economic organization is good or superior, it matters little to this discussion.As for climate change, the opinions of most people have little scientific weight: they are based mostly on previous ideological frameworks and are centered on policy, not on the soundness of scientific theories on which most can’t begin to speak seriously. There are certainly different opinions about the science of climate change (some of them silenced by pal review and gatekeeping, of course), but these differing opinions are of a more technical nature and are, to a degree, independent of subsequent policy options. But people in favor or against specific policies would try to prop up or tear down the alleged scientific evidence (for or against those policies). Something similar happens with other issues in science that collide with religious or moral beliefs (say, stem cell research). One may be morally or ideologically for or against it, but that does not impinge on the theory and practice of growing organs from stem cells. Such politicization of science in the name of morals, politics or religion is unable by itself to say anything meaningful to the scientific debate. It may motivate scientists to pursue one or another avenue of research, but the ultimate validity of conclusions would not depend on their agreement with the scientists’ prejudices. However, such irrational or a-scientific beliefs are quite powerful as a way of distorting both scientific and policy debate. 

  • harrywr2

    #10Other developed capitalist countries (e.g. Europe) provide more secular
    security in the form of welfare, and such beliefs do not arise.
    Having been an employee and employer on both sides of the Atlantic I think Europe does a better job at providing the ‘illusion’ of job/financial security then the US. On the flip side the US unemployment compensation system is somewhat more generous.I think your primary point that in times of ‘uncertainty’ either via social change or financial change people gravitate towards institutions/lifestyles/beliefs that offer at least the illusion of  ‘certainty’ is correct.

  • Hector M.

    @harrywr2 (#15):Worries leading to the illusory security of “my old religion” afflict not only those in need of welfare benefits. In fact, they are most prevalent among middle-class Midwest-type WASP Americans. They are torn between their faith in the market system and the threats that system throws upon their lives and beliefs, from scientific techniques shaking traditional values (e.g. stem cell) to policies involving more taxation or more State intervention (e.g. climate policy) to unwanted immigrants to prolonged economic slumps to terrorism to crime and many other features of a modern society. America is a society founded on a mythical notion that it is a nation of farmers and craftsmen, a nation of honest God-fearing hardworking entrepreneurs, but that myth goes against the grain of a modern society immersed in a high tech globalized economy where national States and international rules and organizations play an increasingly important role. The resulting Angst would call for more secular protection, but more secular protection goes against the myth of individual independence and ruthless competition. Moreover, Europe is now encountering the limits of its cozy system of welfare capitalism. In this scenario, one easily turns to the less secular protection of traditional beliefs. This in turn may lead people to irrational acts. As luddite workers fought nascent capitalism by destroying machines, modern protesters may smash McDonald shops and throw stones at a Wall Street bank windows on one side of the spectrum; on the other side it may cause a retrenchment on traditional beliefs, and may even lead some deranged people to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma or machine-gun dozens of liberal youngsters at a Norway island. Similar feelings beset an devout Arab father at the sight of women in miniskirts or young people drinking and listening to rock and roll. Society is falling down is the sentiment evoked in such situation.Facing a system grown much larger, stranger and threatening than they thought or like, they feel they are sinking in shifting sands. Disconcert and fear beget insecurity and fuel irrational beliefs and actions.

  • DeNihilist

    Hector @ 10, What about scientists’ like Dr. Spencer? Or even Einstein was known to quip about God, something along the lines that God would not create a chaotic universe, when he was arguing against Quantum mechanics.

  • Sashka

    nearly half the United States is anti-science or scientifically illiterate?

    I don’t see why anyone would find this improbable.

    We know that a preponderance of the scientific literature finds global warming from man-made greenhouse gases to be true and GMOs to be safe.

    As I’m sure you know if the public was offered only what is actually known about AGW instead of the C prepended and the whole package of policies attached, we wouldn’t have this never-ending debate.

    As for GMOs, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on that and I have no reason to believe (no offense) that you know more about GMOs than you do about climate. Do we really know that it’s safe or we don’t have any evidence to the contrary yet?

    it does makes you wonder who these people are and why they’re not more visible

    My guess they are quite visible. But not where we live.

  • Cary K

    People are preconditioned in a number ways – left/right seems somewhat instinctively ingrained – so is Faith/Reason – many are trained to rely on FaithFaith that everything will be okay, God wouldn’t allow X to happen, etc.Reason dictates that only in the last 50-100 years, has mankind figured out how to destroy life, or much of it, on the planet – Faith hasn’t caught up to this fact, and is in the way of sensible solutions that are now requiredWe’ll get there, but how much damage will we do in the meantime, and which political parties will rise in response to what is clearly required to move us forward successfully is very much an open question and opportunity 

  • Steven Sullivan

    #5 ‘You have to look at the other two answers. They were humans developed over millions of years from lower life forms. I may not be completely up to date on the latest in evolutionary science but I don’t think anyone is claiming human beings have been around for “˜millions of years’.

    Neither is the question.  Accepting for now the dubious utility of referring to  organisms as ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ on an evolutionary scale, it’s true that Homo sapiens has ‘developed over millions of years from lower life forms’.   All extant species have a lineage that traces ultimately back to single-celled organisms that by current estimates developed about 4 billion years ago.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #20,

    Nevertheless, if a lot of people think it’s only a few hundred thousand years, or interpret it to mean just the time humans were developing rather than all the non-human ancestors (or don’t think other apes are less advanced), and pick a category on that basis, that’s not the same as being a pure creationist. You could parse the question several ways, and there are many other ways to get it wrong.

    I really wish on these surveys they’d ask the question “Why?” But that might be too complicated to do by multiple choice.

  • biff33

    “”¦social science research that suggests informed citizens will not necessarily base their views on better and more information.”And scientists are even worse than informed citizens:http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/When-Continental-Drift-Was-Considered-Pseudoscience.html

  • Steven Sullivan

    So, in other words, a lot of people really *don’t* understand that humans have developed over millions of years (thousands of millions, really)  from so-called ‘lesser’ (ancestral)  species, which they, in fact, have. 

     I think most people, including creationists, ‘get’ that evolution means, for example, that one of man’s distant ancestors was a fish that crawled out of the water. I doubt they parsed these questions as finely as you suggest, and I doubt they had the knowledge to do so properly even if they wanted to.

    Poll after poll has shown that a fairly abysmally large proportion of Americans either don’t understand or fail to accept the claims of evolutionary biology, and so this poll is no surprise.

    And that information/belief gap goes right to the top. Just look at the clowns the GOP put up for president this year, and what they had to say about evolution

  • Eric Adler

    Can anyone explain why Sweden and Germany have a higher level of acceptance of evolution than the US and many other countries?:Check out this article on international polling on  this question:http://ncse.com/news/2011/04/polling-creationism-evolution-around-world-006634Saudi Arabians mostly believe in creationism, 75%.Education and income increase the support for evolution. according to this poll. Of course we know that Republicans are less likely to support evolution than Democrats. .

  • kdk33

    Godless heathens

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    It’s easy to pick on Americans, as there is so much more data about them. And there are an awful lot of Yanks on the wrong side of  the Bell Curve. Seems like every week we see high percentages of Americans who don’t know who is president, don’t know where either Canada or Mexico are, don’t know what states border on their own. 

    Maybe someone will explain to me why it should be any different about scientific topics. Most Americans grow up going to church on Sunday (or Saturday or even Friday), hear the story about how the Earth was created and a week later we showed up and started messing with it. They may not believe it all literally, but the important thing is that so many Americans have organized their lives around a set of activities that don’t include learning that it just is going to be that way.

    Now maybe the people in all the other countries are smarter. Or just maybe they don’t ask people in Iceland, Ireland or Israel where Canada or Mexico are.

  • RandomReal

    A while ago (15-20 yrs?), I listened to/watched a program on NPR/PBS (Frontline?) about a woman from NYC, a Democrat, who traveled through the Mid-West and South to try to figure out why so many working class women in those regions voted Republican even though voting Democratic would be in their own self interest.

    Can’t recall most of the show, but the bottom line was simple to remember: the most overwhelming response was “Why should I vote Democratic when they call me stupid?”

    Similarly, the term “anti-science” carries the same connotation. Call the people whom you are trying to persuade stupid, and you have lost the any chance at persuasion.

    I think at least part of the part of the resistance to embracing evolution stems from advocates either explicitly or implicitly calling those who hold creationist views uneducated and unscientific, in other words, just plain stupid.

    However, I think something deeper is going on.

    Everyone has their own cosmology, usually shared by their friends and acquaintances. Many people’s cosmology is integrated with their religious beliefs. For some Christians, their belief that God can intercede in the affairs of humans and the processes of nature is foundational.

    Evolution and our modern cosmology challenges this foundation right there in Book I. If God can’t intercede or there is no God, what good is praying? It’s been a long process for the modern West to give up these tightly held beliefs, Louis Agassiz.

    Christianity is not unique in this regard: the “no miracles” foundation of modern science challenges many religious cosmologies. Why is Europe on the whole different? My armchair hypothesis is that the close relationship of church and state and the consequences of WWI & WWII along with a deep history of state sponsored religious wars, weakened many people’s faith in their respective churches — how could a just and benevolent God allow such widespread destruction and misery. We prayed and everybody lost. From the ashes, a new cosmology emerged with deep connections to the Enlightenment.

    In contrast, the US, with the separation of church and state and the smaller price of the wars in terms of infrastructure destruction, religious beliefs were not shaken — we prayed, we won. Add the Cold War against an atheistic enemy and you have a situation in which religious beliefs could be called upon by politicians of all stripes for support.

    This is a far too simple explanation, but the bottom line is that the US is far more religious than other industrialized nations. Given this, it is not at all surprising that evolution continues to be a focal point.

    Understanding evolution requires a great deal of effort and incorporation of concepts and findings from many disciplines. Even strong advocates for evolution really have very little understanding of the process. Recently, I heard two prominent Skeptics (no not those skeptics) proudly remark on their ignorance of the difference between RNA and protein. Their dislike and disdain for biology was palpable, and given the way that biology is taught in many high schools and colleges (a stultifying list of names and facts to remember), I can’t blame them. But this attitude doesn’t open people’s minds and attract them to the wonders of the biological world.

    With regard to GM crops, many advocates and critics tend to argue from ideologically motivated positions, leading to sometimes contradictory conclusions. For example, many of those who oppose GM bring up the distorting effect of the profit motive of BigAg. Yet, where were these same people when BigAg was lobbying for increased use of biofuels to combat global warming? The roots of opposition to GM go way back to the development of genetic engineering. Jeremy Rifkin has made a career out of forecasting ecological doom and gloom arising from the practice of genetic manipulation. I started studying molecular biology when Rifkin and other opponents were their most vocal, and it was my first exposure to extreme environmental advocacy. Over time, I became more and more skeptical to the “environmental/cancer scare of the week” and more cynical to the political and business motivations underlying the news stories.

    Anyway, I was too busy to care too much. It was only in high school that I participated in anything close to environmental study — eutrophication of a local lake. When we went into the town meeting to present our multi-year data, the local fisherman were expecting a fight, but we didn’t give them one. Rather, our proposals were quite moderate: don’t fertilize your lawn and choose phosphate-free detergents. I don’t really know whether our advocacy had any effect, but I was pleased when I went back for a reunion to see a town full of brown, dormant lawns. If it had any effect, it was only because the solution was easy and inexpensive (you actually saved on the cost of fertilizer and didn’t have to mow the lawn as often).

    I suspect that for any real, lasting solution to any large scale environmental problem, including global warming, the solutions will have to be economical and easy enough so that everyone, including critics, will adopt them without a second thought or a fight. Cheers

  • http://www.limitedinc.blogspot.com roger gathman

    The idea that GM products are safe is just bizarre.  Safe isn’t a scientific word. It has no scope. Spraying for mosquitos to destroy malaria was “safe” – it just ignored selection pressures, leading to a downtick in malaria and then an uptick. GM products are similarly “safe”, leading to monoculture and future disasters entailed by monoculture. Now, I know that you might think ignoring Darwinian selection is a nice, safe thing, and we can engineer the environment to do what we want to, but alas, that view has received hit after hit in the twentieth century. Scientifically, drilling for oil and creating the internal combustion engine was safe, but guess what? Collectively, it brought on a disaster that, as it approaches us, finds us locked in a system we can’t get out of. Sounds safe to you?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #23,

    “I doubt they parsed these questions as finely as you suggest, and I doubt they had the knowledge to do so properly even if they wanted to.”

    It doesn’t take any fine parsing. If you know the context, the meaning is obvious, and it takes a mental effort to see that it can be interpreted other ways. But if you don’t know the context, or are looking at it from a different context, the interpretation you pick up on can be random. It’s a common problem with surveys.

    “And that information/belief gap goes right to the top. Just look at the clowns the GOP put up for president this year, and what they had to say
    about evolution”

    You can’t believe what politicians say. And on issues like this, you can’t believe what people say in surveys, either. There is a difference between what people believe, and what people want other people to believe they believe. It may be that they understand the uses to which the poll results will be put, and ‘vote tactically’ to achieve the outcome they want.

    If you stand outside a football match and ask the fans “which is the best team in the league?” you will get a predictable answer. Do they really believe it, though? Or is it part of the game?

    The Gallup survey said 58% of Republicans were creationist, and 41% of Democrat, so while there is a political split it’s not as stark as the culture warriors might have it. There are plenty of creationist Democrats, and plenty of religious evolutionist Republicans. It’s not clear, either, which way the causal arrow points. Is it that being Republican causes or requires belief, or that atheists don’t declare themselves Republican because of their stance on the subject?

    As Tom said, most people don’t actually know much science. One of the things I particularly noted when I used to argue about evolution was that even the people who said they believed in evolution, and argued for it didn’t actually know very much about it. The most common argument for believing it offered was: “thousands of scientists say so”.

    And I found that a lot of cases of those who were doubtful or sceptical were simply people who hadn’t had it explained properly to them. They’d come up with questions and difficulties and bits that didn’t seem to work, and they’d be told to go away, thousands of scientists said so, you’re an idiot to question it. And obviously that makes people sceptical. (There were others who had had it explained, but wouldn’t accept it no matter what. You could tell the difference within a few exchanges, though.)

    The conclusion I drew was that the reason was that science teaching was terrible, relying on lecturing and force of authority to induce belief. On most subjects, where there was no widely accessible alternative view, students picked up the required belief by default. It only showed up in evolution because it was the only scientific subject with an alternative authority on offer. And for most people, it was simply a question of which authority they accepted. The believers in evolution were no more scientific than the disbelievers. It was simply that they trusted scientists.And so it is generally. Most people don’t know much science, and frankly don’t need it. It doesn’t matter to them how electricity really works or whether renormalisation is mathematically valid. They’re hairdressers and postmen and delivery truck drivers and people selling stuff in shops. They need a few scientific basics, for home repairs, safety, and helping the kids with their homework, and they get by. There is no actual need for them to know about evolution, and it frankly doesn’t matter if they don’t.It’s only importance is as a shibboleth in the culture wars, and as such, people use it to declare their tribal affiliations. Whether it’s wrong scientifically doesn’t matter, what matters to them is to stand up against the damaging cultural influences of the other side. And on subjects that are not so culturally significant, neither side is any more scientifically knowledgeable than the other.

  • Jarmo

    #28

    The most disastrous invention ever regarding the environment is farming. It has destroyed a multitude of species, enabled humans to overpopulate the planet, create complex cultures, organized religions, standing armies, science etc. Should have been banned.

  • Mark

    Doesn’t anybody wonder what happened in 2011?

  • Sashka

    @Roger: what disaster?

  • AlaninAZ

    Its hard to take Mr Kloor seriously.  His connection of  GMO safety and climate science is absurd and reflects badly on his understanding of science. The issues are totally different and unrelated.  The GMO crops were developed by companies like Monsanto to lock farmers into their seed system. It is rational to question whether such a system is in the best interests of society. There are large financial incentives to make GMO’s seem safe and the industry funds studies to support that contention.  Only an idiot would not be skeptical of such studies.

  • Sashka

    @29: if you are suggesting that some people intentionally give wrong answers to express their tribal affiliation or stand up for their values then I am not buying.

  • David in Cal

    IMHO the overstating and politicizing of what we know about global warming has reduced the respect for science and possibly contributed to the reduced belief in natural selection.  Most GW scientists believe that man’s activity contributes to global warming, at least to some degree.  There’s something close to a consensus on that belief.  However, that belief does NOT say that there’s a scientific consensus on various related questions:– How big is man’s influence on GW?– Is man’s impact big enough to cause catastrophe?– Does GW do more good than harm?– Would Kyoto, carbon credits, etc. be worthwhile programs?– Are the various GW models reliable?Unfortunately, some people pretend that the consensus that man contributes to GW menas that these other points automatically follow.  That’s politics, not science.

  • stan

    “A while ago (15-20 yrs?), I listened to/watched a program on NPR/PBS
    (Frontline?) about a woman from NYC, a Democrat, who traveled through
    the Mid-West and South to try to figure out why so many working class
    women in those regions voted Republican even though voting Democratic
    would be in their own self interest.”Sounds like the same insane premise of “What’s the matter with Kansas”.  So typical of liberals to assume that the same policies that have wrecked Greece and are wrecking California are in the best interests of working class people.  As Walter Russell Mead has pointed out repeatedly, the blue model is broken.  It’s wreckage is causing pain and misery all over the world.  Strange that the stupid working class people can see it, but smart liberal elites still haven’t figured it out.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #33,

    If a survey asks me “Do you believe the world has warmed over the past 50 years?” I would have to think hard about my answer. The truthful answer is that I do, but I know from the cultural context that the results of this survey will be used to sell the proposition that “98% of the general public believe in dangerous anthropogenic global warming requiring immediate political action to prevent” which is a proposition I don’t agree with. And of course I will be given no opportunity to explain the nuances. So I might well answer the question implied by the social context, not the one written on the questionaire.

    It’s a shibboleth for a broader complex of beliefs, and people know it. You’re not asking because you want to know about people’s understanding or acceptance of science. If you did, you’d ask a question about electricity or refraction or something. No, you’re very obviously asking to obtain ammunition for the culture wars, to assess people’s political stance, and some fraction of people will answer accordingly.

    In a sense it’s more honest, since it’s answering the question the surveyors really wanted to ask, telling them more accurately what they really wanted to know.

    For example, suppose we asked the following question.

    Electricity is used to transport energy along conductive wires in which electrons freely move.

    1. You flick a light switch and the light comes on. Which of the following is closest to the speed at which the electrons in the wire move:

    a) Instantaneously, b) The speed of light, c) 2/3rds light speed, d) 100 miles per hour, e) Ten feet per hour.

    That’s a question that would test people’s understanding of science. There’s no political sub-text. There’s no implied threat to their social values. There’s no way to abuse a truthful answer politically.

    Trying to determine whether the subject really believes their answer to your loaded question is not something a survey is capable of determining. Some of them no doubt genuinely do. But just because a question is culturally loaded doesn’t mean that people are not answering honestly, either. This is not a simple issue.

  • Keith Kloor

     NiV (#29, #36)It sounds as if your default mindset is to assume everyone has an ulterior motive. Have you considered the possibility that post people don’t goes through life this way? It’s pretty fascinating to hear your assumptions of pollsters and respondents. 

  • Sashka

    NiV, I didn’t say you were not making sense. I’m just not buying the argument.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #37,

    I think people are sometimes more complicated in their motivations than a simple multiple-choice questionaire can capture.

    I’m trying to help explain a particularly odd result. As you said in your introduction, it’s not likely that half the population of the US are really that scientifically illiterate (everyone knows perfectly well what scientists say about evolution, at least in general terms), or anti-science (they’re not anti-science on other neutral scientific topics), so clearly something else must be going on in this particular case.

    The possibility that people are considering ulterior motives is not unlikely, or particularly unexpected. People do so routinely and subconsciously as part of normal social interaction – and in this case the possible motives are not hard to guess.

    Sometimes setting out a detailed analysis makes it appear more than it is, like dissecting a joke. I certainly don’t go around thinking people have sinister, hidden motives for everything they do. But people are not stupid, either.

    If they wanted to know about the scientific literacy or acceptance of science of average Americans, why did they ask a question about evolution rather than a question about, say, electricity? What’s your theory?

  • Sashka

    Because Bible says nothing about electricity? It’s interesting to test what people accept about “accepted” science when it’s contrary to what they hear every Sunday.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #40,

    Right. So you’re not testing scientific literacy, you’re testing belief in the Bible. So obviously people who take belief in the Bible as an axiom of their religion, or who want to make a point about freedom of belief, or are annoyed at politically-correlated attacks on their religion, or who are sceptical of the arguments for evolution they’ve been given, or who just didn’t understand science lessons, are going to repeat what the Bible says.

    Of course, if that’s what you wanted to know, you could have just asked “Do you believe in the Bible?” or “Do you accept the authority of the Bible over that of scientists?”

    But the point is that the question isn’t just about the acceptance of the science, and therefore neither is the answer.

  • BBD

    NIV

    The truthful answer is that I do [accept that GAT has risen over the last fifty years], but I know from the cultural context that the results of this survey will be used to sell the proposition that “98% of the general public believe in dangerous anthropogenic global warming requiring immediate political action to prevent” which is a proposition I don’t agree with. 

    But you also think that sea ice can impede glacial flow and that, by my own poor analogy :-) if you remove a wheel from a watch movement it will continue to function.

  • kdk33

    It’s interesting to test what people accept about “accepted” science when it’s contrary to what they hear every Sunday.I don’t know where you go to church, but evolution isn’t an issue and rarely a topic of discussion in mine.  This being Sunday and all, I had occasion to interact with some bible thumpers.  I mentioned this survey to a few and the almost universal reaction was that they wouldn’t have answered any of the questions – for many of the reasons NiV highlights.  But more importantly, it is a meaningless question.  Most – and nobody I know – frames their religion as bible versus science.  It’s a bit deeper and more nuanced than that – theology that includes a creator does not require a date, reaction mechanism, or temporal genomic map.  And I think most not-religous people are smart enough to know better.  For the most part it is a strawman that people like Keith want to use to beat up religion and (probably more importantly) political conservatives.  And it’s kinda disgusting really.

  • kdk33

    It’s interesting to test what people accept about “accepted” science when it’s contrary to what they hear every Sunday.

    I don’t know where you go to church, but evolution isn’t an issue and rarely a topic of discussion in mine.  This being Sunday and all, I had occasion to interact with some bible thumpers.  I mentioned this survey to a few and the almost universal reaction was that they wouldn’t have answered any of the questions ““ for many of the reasons NiV highlights. 

    But more importantly, it is a meaningless question.  Most ““ and nobody I know ““ frames their religion as bible versus science.  It’s a bit deeper and more nuanced than that ““ theology that includes a creator does not require a date, reaction mechanism, or temporal genomic map.  And I think most not-religous people are smart enough to know better. 

    For the most part it is a strawman that people like Keith want to use to beat up religion and (probably more importantly) political conservatives. 

    And it’s kinda disgusting really.

  • Sashka

    I don’t think there is an attack on freedom of belief in America, especially political. For a pol to attack religion would be suicidal. I think believers in this country feel pretty safe and protected. That’s why I’m not buying your theory. It’s not like a conservative pretending being in complete denial of GW.

  • Sashka

    @kdk: I think it’s quite a meaningful question. Either you believe Bible or science. Nuances on top of that are very much allowed but the question doesn’t go away.

  • Keith Kloor

     KdK33,You’re projecting. I’m not beating up on anyone. The point of the post is the headline and it applies to everyone, irrespective of political orientation.  NiV (39)-My theory is just what I’m getting at in this post–that people’s beliefs in how the earth/humans were created, in GMO’s, in climate change, etc, are largely shaped not by science, but by a religious/cultural/ideological worldview.

  • kdk33

    Sure Sashka, you can find people who believe all kinds of stuff – on any side of any issue – but fot most…

    not only is it not meaningful, it isn’t even a question.  It doesn’t go away because it never appeared.

    Your assertion that it is either/or reveals how little you understand. Which is OK, until you start telling us superstitous, anti-science, ignorant bible thumpers what it is we do and don’t believe. Then we tend to get kinda irratated and answer pols like this one exactly as NiV suggests – if we don’t hang up first.

  • GregS

    I find this “creation is NOT TRUE” trope rather baffling.It is like someone in a theater shouting, “You fools, it is just a  play!! It’s not real!!  Those are ACTORS on the stage!!”We all know that intellectually, but to enjoy something as simple as community theater we have to pretend that the guy who serves us lattes at Starbuck, is King Lear, not the barrista Daryl.What kind of a fool would actually poll people about whether or not creation is true?  Probably the same fool who would shout, “Do you really believe that Daryl is King LEAR!!” in a community theater.They shouldn’t be surprised by the answer, “of course Daryl is really King Lear.- now shut the F up”Look, religion is about social coherence, it is a transmitting the DNA of culture onto the next generation. It is about moral codes. It is about how to be.  It is about how to become.If we have to insist against reason that Daryl is King Lear to enjoy an evening at the theater, why would it strike anyone as odd that we would insist against reason that God created man 10,000 years ago to enjoy an entire lifetime?

  • Jarmo

    David Roberts at Grist seems to believe in the power of culture rather than science:

    From my perspective, widespread understanding of physical-science details is unlikely, among climate hawks or skeptics or the public generally, so it isn’t worth sacrificing one’s preferred values-based messaging to secure it. There is little such understanding on most scientific matters of policy significance; it is still possible to make policy in its absence.The long-term strategic goal is not “belief” in scientific results. It isn’t even particular policies that reduce carbon pollution. It is a loosely networked but intense and activated movement devoted to a shared vision of a better society (a future that makes sense, you might call it). It doesn’t have to be a broad consensus. It can and will start small. But it should serve as a cultural attractor, with the goal of growing large enough to motivate meaningful change.

    http://grist.org/climate-skeptics/winning-the-climate-culture-war/ 

  • Nullius in Verba

    #42,

    Sea ice is floating freely on water. At glacial speeds there is no significant resistance to movement. So how can it resist glacial motion? What does it react against to provide the backwards-directed force?

    When you’re talking about ice at the margins of the land (so it is not really free-floating, but stuck to the land) or when you are talking about multiple converging glaciers where the flow of one can apply force towards another, or when you’re talking about ice covering a fjord where the opposite wall resists the sideways flow of side-glaciers into the main channel, then you can get local effects.

    I had originally asked you the question about glacial flow to try to get you to think about the physics for yourself – what are the forces and principles it operates by? – instead of just quoting stuff from websites you didn’t understand. But of course you didn’t; you instead stored it up as a “gotcha!” to be rolled out again and again on future occasions.

    It’s a classic example of what’s wrong with science education – students memorising expert answers by rote instead of understanding how to reason it out for themselves.

    #44,

    The other thing to consider is that a lot of churches go for the ‘guided evolution’ version as doctrine anyway, or might even take a Deist approach – set up the rules and let it proceed unguided – on that question at least. It’s not critical to the sorts of reasons religion matters to people.

    #45,

    Other people do.

    The point is that science lessons in school ought to be about understanding, not belief – and for scientific reasons too. The question ought to be: do you understand the evolutionary theory, understand its consequences, mechanism, evidence, and reasoning? Can you apply it to figure out what the theory would predict? Nothing in science says you have to believe it – and yet all the surveys and all the tests ask questions about what kids believe.

    Freedom of belief says you can believe what you want, for any reason you like. Nobody can come along and tell you “you’ve got to believe this“, not even science. Especially not science, since science requires that assumptions be constantly challenged, and it’s useful therefore to have a diversity of opinions to keep the issue live. It’s important for this that they understand the theory they’re criticising, but belief in scientific orthodoxy has never been a requirement for doing science – it’s arguably an impediment.

    The problem is that schools don’t teach understanding, they teach belief. They tell you what the right answer is, and you memorise it, and you regurgitate it in the exam.

    #46,

    Belief is nowhere near that simple! Belief depends on context, it depends what mental frame you’re operating in, what paradigm or method you use.

    It happens even within science. When you do a simple mechanics problem, do you believe in Newton’s laws? Do you believe in frictionless planes and perfect spheres and inextensible, weightless string? Do you believe in rigid bodies?

    While you’re doing the problem, you believe implicitly. But if anyone asked a physicist whether rigid bodies actually exist, they would have to answer “no”. It’s a nonsense concept, requiring instantaneous action at a distance.

    Scientists pick an appropriate paradigm for the problem and switch into it; and while they’re there, they believe in the entities and interpretations of that paradigm.

    It’s a general feature of the human mind. It groups sets of beliefs and methods into multiple internally-consistent systems, and can switch between them. People say you “suspend disbelief” where something you see conflicts with what you know in other frames, but it’s more accurate to say that the other frames are simply inactive.

    Beliefs are compartmentalised. In the laboratory you believe in science. At home you believe in folk-physics. While reading Tolkien you believe in elves and wizards. At church you believe in miracles and mysticism. All in the same person, all sincerely held at the time.

    #47,

    Actually, I wasn’t asking for your theory about why people believe, but your theory about why the pollsters asked that question, rather than one about, say, electricity. I presume you mean that they were trying to test whether people’s views are shaped by science or other issues. My point was that the subjects of the poll know that, and moreover know why you want to know that, and can answer accordingly.

    In one sense, the answer to the question is trivial. Most people’s views are obviously not shaped by science. But there are lots of layers of meaning to this. Do you mean people’s scientific views or their general views? Do you mean scientific method, or scientific authority? If someone believed in an orthodox scientific conclusion for totally unscientific reasons, how would you count that? Is it because they take their ideological beliefs as axiomatic, or because conflicts with ideology lead people to enquire more deeply, that may lead them to well-founded scepticism? And are you making an implicit assumption in all this that science got it right and other methods got it wrong?

    The survey question can’t tell you the answer to your query. You can’t tell if a person’s disbelief in evolution is for scientific or unscientific reasons. Or even whether they’re telling you the truth about what they believe. You would need to ask further questions about why they believe as they do, and those who hire the surveyors are apparently not interested.

  • Anteros

    GregS –

    Good point. While I was reading about your guy in the theatre shouting ‘it’s not true!’ I had an image of Richard Dawkins pop into my mind.

    I’m not a believer, but Dawkins strikes me as more of a fundamentalist than most religious people I’ve met.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #51,

    I doubt Dawkins would actually do that – he says his favourite piece of music is St Matthew’s Passion; he’s a lot more tolerant of religion than people expect. The problem is there is a tabboo in Western society requiring that we show deference to other people’s religious beliefs, and Dawkins doesn’t subscribe to that, and breaks the rules at every opportunity. He considers churchmen to have no greater expertise or right to authority to rule on moral issues than taxi drivers, and considers it his right to say openly and without equivocation that these beliefs are untrue if he wants to.

    You could say he doesn’t mind people watching an actor play King Lear and believing in it, but he does object when he, as a non-theatre-goer, is required to bow to the actor and do as he orders because he’s the king.

    That’s my understanding of his position, anyway. But it’s certainly true that breaking the deference tabboo so forcefully grates, even with people who are not religious, and probably doesn’t win him many friends. Each to their own.

  • Sashka

    @kdk: I don’t recall telling anyone what they believe. So far we have a bunch of people who told everyone what they believe. It’s your right to try to spin every each way but – sorry – I’m inclined to take it at face value until I have a better reason not to.

  • BBD

    NIV

    I had originally asked you the question about glacial flow to try to get you to think about the physics for yourself ““ what are the forces and principles it operates by? ““ instead of just quoting stuff from websites you didn’t understand. But of course you didn’t; you instead stored it up as a “gotcha!” to be rolled out again and again on future occasions.

    Bollocks. You don’t know anything about the WAIS and your strange, reflexive contrarianism got you into trouble. The reason I am reminding you about this is because you are lying about what happened and – worse – trying to make out that the failure of comprehension is mine.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #55,

    As I recall, you were of the view that the entire West Antarctic ice sheet was going to destabilise and slide into the sea during the current century. Which I found very funny.

  • Jeffn

    I’m curious as to why you think cultural context doesn’t heavily influence the polling.
    Try this experiment, ask folks you know the following question:
    Who would make an excellent president of the United States?
    An excellent orator who can inspire people and has experience from service in the Senate and four years as president.
    Or
    A proven leader with business experience and bipartisan chops from experience as popular governor of a state that doesn’t traditionally vote for his party.

    My guess, any other year, 100% would say either would make an excellent president in general. But I bet you will find a different breakdown if you asked that today and an even more extreme breakdown if you asked it at a political rally this week. Remember, both parties have voted for candidates with both of the above backgrounds.

  • BBD

    NIV

    I think the expression used was non-linear response. You and the truth, eh?

  • Nullius in Verba

    #58,I think the expression used was “~5m sea level rise in a century”.

  • harrywr2

    #57An excellent orator who can inspire people and has experience from service in the Senate

    In the US we have only had 3 ‘sitting’ senators become president. The first two, Warren Harding and JFK didn’t live to the end of their first terms.

    IMHO Senators make lousy presidents. Just as members of corporate boards of directors make lousy CEO’s. It is one thing to give advice or hold someone accountable. It a different thing to actually be the one that has to take advice from multiple sources, make decisions based on that advice and then be the one ‘held accountable’.

  • Jeffn

    Harry, I don’t disagree. I felt the same about McCain and Obama. The point of the exercise though is to take to backgrounds that many would find satisfactory in general, but because of the obvious context would skew the poll.
    Try this, what if you cold called democrats right now and said “would you agree that candidates with experience in the senate are less qualified than those with gubernatorial experience?”
    My bet- the results would be very different than those taken in 1996 when Bob Dole(senator)ran against Bill Clinton (governor).
    I don’t think that says anything about Democrats other than that they understand that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  • Tom C

    Greg S – Very good analogy.  The one that has often come to my mind is of a nerdy kid watching something like a marionette show and completely missing the magic that is unfolding and the meaning of the story, but instead sneaking behind the screen and yelling “I see those strings that make the puppets move!”  What a clever boy!  Likewise with Dawkins et. al.  What clever boys!

  • Steven Sullivan

    kdk #44,#45, etc , paints a rosy picture: “Most ““ and nobody I know ““ frames their religion as bible versus science.  It’s a bit deeper and more nuanced than that ““ theology that includes a creator does not require a date, reaction mechanism, or temporal genomic map.  And I think most not-religous people are smart enough to know better. ”

       Tell all that to the generations of science teachers in states where religious groups have repeatedly, over decades, tried to ram creationism and ‘teach the [fake] controversy” into science curricula.  

  • huxley

    It shouldn’t be news that people’s views on science (and everything else while we’re about it) are affected by their religious, ideological views, and cultural views. Is anyone surprised by this?

    Is there anyone who believes that people are like the computer in that bad Star Trek episode which blew up in a shower of sparks when Capt. Kirk exposed a contradiction in the computer’s logic?

    Each of us is our own little country containing a multitude of voices speaking out across a wide range of positions. We are often predictable and we are often surprising.

    It’s interesting to look for themes and try to extrapolate from a person’s beliefs about A, B, and C to positions on X, Y, and Z. But in the end we are looking at tendencies, not syllogisms.

  • huxley

    The real surprise is in the “polarizing” link that KK provides that examined the relationship between scientific literacy/numeracy and concerns about climate change, and found, against expectation, a slightly negative correlation.

    Which is to say, in the population studied, the more aware the people were of science and numeracy, the less concerned they were about the risks of climate change.

    Of course, this blows a hole in the fond belief of the climate orthodox that those who disagree with their agenda are less knowledgeable and less able to understand numerical arguments.

  • Bobito

    @huxley “Is there anyone who believes that people are like the computer in that bad Star Trek episode which blew up in a shower of sparks when Capt. Kirk exposed a contradiction in the computer’s logic?”

    Do you read the blog comments? Many react in a “shower of sparks” when their biases are questioned. They just are not “surprised” when the other side is questioned…

  • Tom Scharf

    Another day to be proud to be an American…not.

    There are very few people who do not hold at least one belief that doesn’t stack up to the evidence.  Fighting the church over evolution is a tall task and I think most people just don’t have the energy or will to fight that battle.  It’s simply not worth the trouble.  Personally I just can’t be part of that club if it requires me to swallow that particular pill.

    Of course you can’t “prove” the universe wasn’t whisked into existence 6000 years ago, dinosaur bones and all.  You can’t prove God isn’t really a spaghetti monster living in a teapot on the opposite side of the Sun either.

    I tend to believe most people who answer that question on creationism know this issue has pretty low credibility.  You have got to wonder if they think they are sinning if they say they believe in evolution, and thus take the easy way out.    

  • huxley

    Hence, we now have the need for the orthodox to explain away how other smart, knowledgeable people aren’t on board with their agenda. Clealry it’s because religious, ideological, and cultural factors are distorting the abilities of these smart people to apprehend the truth as the orthodox see it.Keith makes clear that in principle these factors affect everyone, but the examples he provides overwhelmingly cut against those on the conservative side who oppose the “consensus” views of mostly liberal secular scientists. How the religious/ideological/cultural views of liberal secular scientists might affect those scientists is not examined at all.

  • huxley

    Hence, we now have the need for the orthodox to explain away how other
    smart, knowledgeable people aren’t on board with their agenda.

    Clearly
    it’s because religious, ideological, and cultural factors are distorting
    the abilities of these smart people to apprehend the truth as the
    orthodox see it.

    Keith makes clear that in principle these factors affect
    everyone, but the examples he provides overwhelmingly cut against those
    on the conservative side who oppose the “consensus” views of mostly
    liberal secular scientists.

    How the religious/ideological/cultural views
    of liberal secular scientists might affect those scientists is not
    examined at all.

  • huxley

    Bobito@67: Of course I read blog comments. No, I’ve never seen anyone blow up in a shower of sparks — or self-destruct, which  was my point.

    People get unpleasant and huffy. They may take their ball and go home, but they live to fight another day, often the same fight.

  • jeffn

    #64, Steven,
    I just did a search on the New York Times on “prevent teaching of evolution.” Lots of stories came up. The newest was a gaggle of stories eight years ago when the issue came up in Georgia, Ohio and Montana.
    The people of all three states affirmed the teaching of evolution.
    Here’s a nice little example: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/29/us/montana-creationism-bid-evolves-into-unusual-fight.html?src=pm
    This doesn’t surprise me- I grew up in the South attending conservative churches where nobody, ever, asked me to reject evolution and every public school taught it without controversy.
    In fact, we had a great time digging fossils of sea shells millions of years old on field trips.

  • Bobito

    @Huxley #71

    My point is that people are surprised by their own biases and not the biases of others. You stated “Is anyone surprised by this?” I say, yes, they are (or would be if capable of introspection).

    But rather than facing it, we get a manifestation of their cognitive dissonance that is similar to a computer going up in a shower of sparks.

    Unfortunately, as you point out, they don’t blow up, they just reboot for the next topic…

  • TanGeng

    First to highlight the methodology and expected margin of error.

    Results are based on telephone interviews conducted May 3-6, 2012 with a random sample of ““1,024″”adults,
    aged 18+, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of
    error is ±4 percentage points.
    For results based on the sample of ““534″”national adults in Form A and ““490″”national adults in Form B, the
    maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews
    conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum
    quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among
    landline respondents by region. Landline numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers, cell
    phone numbers are selected using random-digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random
    within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
    Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and
    phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, having an unlisted landline number, and being cell phone
    mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for
    the age 18+ non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of
    sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce
    error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. 

    All the variation is within the margin of error +/- 4% and it demonstrates no change. Gallup generally does a good job of sampling. The quality of the weighting is harder to quantify. They have breakdowns along religiosity, political affiliation, and education level. All these breakdowns show a skew in belief in creation of humans within the last 10000 years. I’m not sure which on is the active factor.Personally, I’m guessing that evolution/creation of humans on Earth just doesn’t matter materially to most people in society. Most people are biologists or geologists, so they can indulge their beliefs without little impact. There are lots of scientific fields with similar lack of challenge to the scientific orthodoxy.  If there is an alternate explanation in popular culture, they believe that. Otherwise, the general population is just ignorant.

  • TanGeng

    Oops, should be”Most people aren’t biologists or geologists.

  • BBD

    NIV

    #58,I think the expression used was “~5m sea level rise in a century”.

    Oh, okay, let’s settle for 2.5m with the rest by the mid-C22nd. Happy now?

    As I recall, you were of the view that the entire West Antarctic ice sheet was going to destabilise and slide into the sea during the current century. Which I found very funny.

    That’s only because you don’t appear to know that the WAIS as a whole is unstable because it’s a marine ice sheet. 

    It’s positively hilarious!

  • harrywr2

    #64,Tell all that to the generations of science teachers in states where religious groups have repeatedly, over decades, tried to ram creationism

    Or all the teachers who are endlessly being bombarded with demands to teach scientific facts that have extremely poor underpinnings…like Linear No Threshold theory…or that all Cholesterol is bad…

    My wifes uncle was a paranoid schizophrenic with a legal degree. The list of ‘court challenges’ he single-handedly filed against this,that or the other thing in his lifetime was in the thousands..possibly 10’s of thousands. All of them based on ‘imagined’ facts.

    We live in a world where even the certifiably insane are allowed the ‘keys to the courthouse’. Obviously, the more outrageous the claim the more ‘newsworthy’ it becomes in the eyes of some ‘media’ editors. Some of the certifiably insane people actually becomes leaders of others.

    For those who like to play ‘my tribe is better then your tribe’ there is no shortage of outspoken certifiably insane people that make good ‘poster children’ for all that is wrong with the other tribe.

  • TanGeng

    As usual, the methods for the “polarization” study are revealing.  Here is the excerpt about the test of egalitarian-communitarian vs hierarchical-individualistic that was used in the CCT test.

    We measured respondents’ values using scales associated with studies of the cultural theory of risk45. The first, Hierarchy”“Egalitarianism (Hierarchy), consists of agree”“disagree items that indicate attitudes towards social orderings that connect authority to stratified social roles (for example, “˜We need to markedly reduce inequalities between the rich and the poor, whites and people of colour, and men and women’). Items from the second scale, Individualism”“Communitarianism (Individualism), express attitudes towards social orderings in which the individual is expected to secure his or her own well-being without assistance or interference from society versus ones in which society is obliged and empowered to secure collective welfare in the face of competing individual interests (for example, “˜Government should put limits on the choices individuals can make so they do not get in the way of what is good for society’).

    Also a quick peruse through the supplementary information: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/extref/nclimate1547-s1.pdf shows a divergence in perception of risk of Nuclear Power risk between the two groups with greater scientific-numeric literacy of nearly the same magnitude as Global Warming Risk. The difference is that the initial gap in risk perception is much larger for Global Warming and both groups trended down with greater scientific literacy for Nuclear Power risks.  Here is the short little excerpt talking about Nuclear Power:

    To test the generality of this conclusion, we also analysed subjects’ perceptions of nuclear-power risks. Egalitarian communitarians and hierarchical individualists were again polarized. Moreover, here, too, the gap between subjects with these outlooks became larger, not smaller as scientific literacy and numeracy increased (Supplementary Table S5 and Fig. S3). Extending research that casts doubt on the knowledge-deficit explanation16 for public controversy over climate-change and other environmental risks, these findings suggest that bounded rationality is an unsatisfactory explanation as well.

    The entire experiment design begs the question of the polarization of the scientific community and their positions on the egalitarian-communitarian and hierarchical-individualist scale.

  • kdk33

    the WAIS as a whole is unstable because it’s a marine ice sheet. 

    This is atually not true.  WAIS applied, but failed the physical fitness exam (and mucked up the written bit as well).  In the end, WAIS joined the army.  Be all you can be, but not one of the few, the proud.

    It’s important to be accurate.

  • kdk33

    Tell all that to the generations of science teachers in states where religious groups have repeatedly, over decades, tried to ram creationism and “˜teach the [fake] controversy” into science curricula.  Sigh

  • Nullius in Verba

    #76,

    <rolls eyes> Off-topic, but briefly…

    “That’s only because you don’t appear to know that the WAIS as a whole is unstable because it’s a marine ice sheet.”

    It’s got nothing to do with it being a marine ice sheet. The basis of the instability claims is a model in which the top and bottom profiles of the ice sheet are fixed, and the only variable is the grounding line. The flow of ice across the grounding line rises as a function of the thickness of plastic ice at that point. If the thickness increases rapidly enough as you move inland, faster than the total accumulation rate reduces because of the smaller sheet area, then the rate of flow will increase unstably and the grounding line will retreat, until it reaches a place where the thickness reduces sufficiently.

    The model’s wrong because the upper profile of the ice sheet isn’t fixed – the ice sheet can stabilise by thinning – and because the grounding line is the point where the thickness falls below 9/10ths sea depth – and so it can only move inland if the ice sheet thins. As the ice is 2 km thick and resting in a 0.5 km deep hole, that’s not very likely. Not even the IPCC would go for their zany theory, and they’d eat bugs if they thought it would help make the case for catastrophe. But whether you accept that or not, the only thing being a marine ice sheet has to do with the instability is that the grounding line isn’t so obviously bounded by the coastline, and once ice crosses the grounding line it’s floating on water and can offer no backward resistance, except on a very local scale in special circumstances close to big lumps of rock.

    “It’s positively hilarious!”

    Yeah. Positively.

  • Steven Sullivan

    #72 Seriously? News from *eight years ago* was the most recent you could find about attempts to legislate ‘teaching the controversy’ in science class?  I think you need to step up your google skills. For example, Louisiana and Tennessee enacted antievolution laws in 2002 and 2012 respectively.  In those states, and in Texas, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, it’s pretty much a nonstop battle between the religious right and science teachers, over what gets taught about evolution in science class. Usually the teachers win, but not always, and it’s disgraceful that it even happens in the first place.If you’re actually interested in following such things, you could subscribe to an NSCE.org  (National Center for Science Education) newsfeed. 

  • Steven Sullivan

    #79 *sigh* indeed.   The Discovery Institute is proud of what it has wrought in Texas:”In 2009, the Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE) adopted new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that require critical scientific evaluation of the core tenets of Darwinian evolution as well as other scientific theories. For example, they require students to “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.” Even more specifically, the new TEKS require students to “analyze and evaluate” core tenets of neo-Darwinian evolution, such as common ancestry, mutation, natural selection, and sudden appearance in the fossil record. They also require critical investigation of the chemical origin of life. ”

    Calls for ‘critical thinking’ in this context were and are of course just dog-whistling to the religious (specifically Christian) right. It’s part of the ‘Wedge Strategy’ to worm creationism into science classes. It’s the the UD part of FUD.  

  • Nullius in Verba

    #83,

    Goodness me! We mustn’t have “critical thinking” going on in science lessons! Whatever next?

  • BBD

    NIV

    It’s got nothing to do with it being a marine ice sheet. The basis of the instability claims is a model in which the top and bottom profiles of the ice sheet are fixed, and the only variable is the grounding line. The flow of ice across the grounding line rises as a function of the thickness of plastic ice at that point.

    Which model are you talking about here? I only ask as there is a view that a thinner marine ice sheet at the grounding line is more buoyant in sea water and whoops…

  • kdk33

    Steven, some time ago I gave off replying to you.  I now remember why:

    1)  The article was from August 18, 2011 about a comment made by Rick Perry to a New Hampshire child during his campaign.  You can see the video here.  But thank you for demonstrating your mental accuity right away as it will save me time later.

    2)  I grew up in the south, live in the south, my kids go to school in the south, with my nieces and nephews and all other kdk relatives.  This is not a burning issue down here (as the story I linked illustrates).  The non-stop battle is between your ears and it seems that you are losing.

    3)  Yes, we encourage critical thinking down here.  We are not big fans of dogma.  But I want to thank you for demonstrating for all readers by fine example what anti-science actually looks like.

    The irony in your posts are rich.  But please do carry on.  You are the skeptics most effective tool (pun intended).

    And now I shall return to ignoring you.

  • Steven Sullivan

    1) The irony of reporters parsing the *literal* truth of  Rick Perry’s claim that creationism is taught alongside science in Texas, while not interrogating the peculiar language used by their sources contra Perry, is rich indeed.  That language, which you apparently think negates the history of Texas creationist assault on science curricula, is really part and parcel of it.  
    2)  Well shucks,  everything’d be peaceable down South, if outside agitators would just stop trying to light the fires of controversy.   Land sakes, what’s the NCSE on about? No one down South gets upset when their kids are taught science — as long as it’s the *right* science that knows its place.   
    3)  Funny how y’all are fervent devotees of ‘critical thinking’ when it comes to *certain* branches of *science*.  So fervent you’ll *single them out* in your educational guidelines if you have to…and they just *happen* to be the lines of inquiry that most threaten a literalist reading of the Adam and Eve story.  

    No one with a clue about the history of culture wars in the US, specifically the evolution sub-branch, is fooled by the disingenuous rhetoric or ‘critical thinking’ that the Christian soldiers have adopted, and that you and Nullius are parroting so loyally.  Y’all come back when can at least say what the ‘Wedge Strategy’ reference meant. Or, like you say, ignore me; ignorance is what you do so well down there, after all.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Y’all come back when can at least say what the “˜Wedge Strategy’ reference meant.”

    We already know what the wedge strategy is. Would you happen to know what a ‘Wakalixes’ reference would be?

    Creationism in schools is just a symptom. The problem is how you teach science – by teaching scientific method and enquiry, or by teaching conclusions and calculations based on authority. Creationism could not survive half an hour in a science class teaching scientific enquiry – it would get torn apart in minutes by unanswerable questions and inconsistencies – it can only survive in an environment based on trusting authorities, and that’s what you’ve got, in the main. Creationists ought to be begging you not to cover creationism in science class, not to use it as a practice target, and only when you do will you have fixed the real problem.

    I’ve asked teachers in the past why they don’t teach scientific enquiry. They say they don’t have time. They’re given a very full curriculum, and there are exams at the end children need to pass, and they don’t have the time to cover all the complexities and controversies surrounding each bit of science – what the evidence is, how it was discovered, how scientists argued about it, what the limitations and known problems are. You’ve got to be able to calculate the kinetic energy of a particle for the exam – you don’t have time to talk about what kinetic energy actually is, what it means, where it comes from, how it fits with ideas like relative velocity, and so on. It’s half the mass times the velocity squared. Next topic.

    They say it doesn’t matter. They don’t need to teach scientific method because the vast majority of their class are not going to be career scientists. They’re never going to be able to figure this stuff out for themselves, it’s hard enough teaching them ‘half m v squared’. There are exams to pass, you know.

    And that’s why most kids come out of school thinking that science is what scientists say, and their role is to trust what the scientific authorities tell them. And that leaves them vulnerable to any other quack to come along, put on a white lab coat, and tell them they need to pay dollars for rocks because of ‘cosmic quantum crystal healing’. He’s wearing a white coat. He said ‘quantum’, and that’s science, that is. Trust him.

    They don’t have the tools to tell the difference, because you haven’t given any to them. The best you can do is stand up and shout “Don’t believe that other guy” which of course anyone can do. Some listen to one and some to another. And in their adult lives they will come across competing authorities and claims and controversies. You can’t keep them out, and it’s dangerous to try.

    But you’ll try anyway. For someone brought up to believe science is all about trusting the approved authorities, the only conceivable response to competing authorities with a different message is to try to keep them out. Exclude them from the temples of truth. Discredit them. Silence them. And when an idea doesn’t work, that only means you need to do it harder. We know where that road leads to.

    The new laws are just a tool, that can be used by either side. Yes, a creationist biology teacher could use it as an excuse to introduce creationism as a viable alternative and give the children no help separating the two. Conversely, an evolutionist biology teacher can use it as a shield against angry parents to say that they must teach controversy, and subject Genesis to an analytical dissection.

    It depends on the teachers, and what they teach, as it always has. By blocking your attempts to exclude all other voices, the law forces you to address the real issue. Your problem is not the Wedge but the Wakalixes.

  • BBD

    Were you thinking of Ollier and Pain’s model, by any chance, NIV?

  • Steven Sullivan

    NIV rides the high horse: “By blocking your attempts to exclude all other voices, the law forces you to address the real issue.  “That’s mendacity of the most odiferous order.  First,  science isn’t democratic. No science class teaches, or should teach every clamoring ‘voice’,  every ginned-up ‘controversy’.   All ‘voices’ are not equally worthy of  inclusion.  Controversies over roles of genetic drift versus selection, or over levels at which selection occurs,  have  legitimate scientific bases and are worthy of teaching in science classes (though probably too technical for teaching in depth at K-12) . ‘Controversy’ over whether god designed the  flagellum does not and is not.You want to teach something like that?  Teach it in civics or sociology or history class.  Because it’s really about political and culture warfare, not science.
    Second, TEKS wasn’t instituted because there was an issue with ‘exclusion of all other voices’.TEKS exists solely because some politically organized right-wing religious types felt their beliefs threatened by teaching mainstream evolutionary biology.That’s why your high-minded talk of teaching ‘enquiry’ is just bloviation.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “All “˜voices’ are not equally worthy of  inclusion.”

    And that’s exactly why you’ve got problems. You don’t try to persuade by winning the argument, you try to persuade by excluding any opposition. That’s a classic sign of having no case, and people will interpret it as such.

    Science is not a democracy, but it is a domain of absolute free speech and open debate.

  • Steven Sullivan

     Funny, the rhetoric you choose. Now it’s ‘opposition’, and scientists are supposedly trying to exclude ‘any’ of it? As regards teaching evolution, the  ‘opposition’  trying to legislate its  ‘voice’ into science classes claims to be scientifically motivated, but …it’s not.  As for having no case , tell that to the judge in Dover, PA. 

  • Nullius in Verba

    The judge in Dover PA had presentations of arguments from both sides – exactly what I’ve been saying. And as a result, science won.What do you think the judge would have said if the scientists had turned up, but locked the creationists out of the courtroom on the grounds that “All “˜voices’ are not equally worthy of inclusion”? Do you think the judge would have accepted that?

  • Steven Sullivan

    NIV, obviously judges do NOT believe *all* voices are worthy of inclusion in *all* venues. Otherwise they would not keep repeatedly thwarting the efforts of creationists to inject religion into science classes (and other curricula).  This is in fact why creationists have had to resort to subterfuge like ‘we’re just advocating critical thinking’ to influence curricula,    , even when history shows plainly that it’s not at all their goal. Evidence for that — e.g. the inept repurposing of creationist tracks with the goal of inserting them into science classes — was part of what convinced the Dover judge that this isn’t about excluding a legitimate scientific ‘voice’ at all.

  • Steven Sullivan

    And I don’t need to remind you, do I, that science is not a court of law?  We don’t legislate (yet) what ‘voices’ scientists must listen to.  Plenty of people profess to believe in astrology.  If a well-funded cabal of astrologers demanded to have its voice represented in astronomy classes and textbooks, do you think the courts would uphold them?

  • BBD

    Steve Sullivan

    Thank you. I’ve been waiting for you to come back and say exactly this for what feels like a long time ;-)

  • Nullius in Verba

    #94/95,

    You’re missing the point. The very fact that creationists want to inject religion into science class means science teaching is broken. They ought to be begging you not to cover their religion in science lessons, because if teachers were teaching the science properly, religious claims would get mercilessly ripped apart by the scientific method. That’s what it does.

    The reason they can get away with it is that you’re not teaching science, you’re using authority to impose a dogma, and you don’t want that authority to be used to impose any alternative dogmas. And I agree that nobody should be teaching creationist dogma in science lessons – but I’m far more upset that you’re teaching dogma as science at all and far less bothered about which dogma it happens to be. It’s also annoying, because there is in fact a very good scientific case for evolution and against creationism, and it causes immense damage to public understanding that you’re not using it.

    If a well-funded cabal of astrologers were to demand a voice in classrooms and textbooks, I’d give them one. And we’d show absolutely, unquestionably, by rigorous randomised double-blind experiment and demonstration, that it doesn’t work. (E.g. the class are given a randomised mixture of ‘genuine’ and faked/switched astrological predictions for the day, and they have to detect which are the real ones. Can they do better than chance?) The result of doing so would be to destroy belief in astrology, and to teach the class far more about what science is, how it works, and why belief is justified, than any dismissal or exclusion could.

    It would also be far more useful to people in their daily lives to know how to tell that the newspaper horoscopes are bogus than to be able to name the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The entire point is that science doesn’t arrogantly exclude astrology out of hand. It accepts it as a hypothesis for testing, and tests it. Astrology is not bogus because scientists say so, it’s bogus because when you test it it doesn’t work. And anyone can test it, and see that it doesn’t work. Science lessons are supposed to be about teaching you how to do that, and that you can apply that sort of thinking yourself in daily life.

  • Steven Sullivan

    What a canard.  Seriously, all it takes is money and political clout for something to earn a place in a  science curriculum, even if it;s only to show by a randomized DBT that it’s a joke?   That’s what you’re saying.   What a huge waste of valuable time.   There’s more than a century of scientific observation and testing behind evolution that CAN be taught, explaining why scientists believe what they believe now.   THAT is where the ‘authority’ comes from.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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