Culture War By Proxy

By Sean Carroll | March 12, 2008 11:32 am

John McCain thinks he’s hit on a good strategy for the upcoming Presidential campaign: make fun of scientists.

WEST GLACIER, Mont. — If you’ve heard Sen. John McCain’s stump speech, you’ve surely heard him talk about grizzly bears. The federal government, he declares with horror and astonishment, has spent $3 million to study grizzly bear DNA. “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal,” he jokes, “but it was a waste of money.”

A McCain campaign commercial also tweaks the bear research: “Three million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Unbelievable.”

Three million whole dollars! Just think what we could do with so much money.

The Washington Post article goes on to note, what should come as no surprise to anyone reading here, that the grizzly bear study is actually very interesting and worthwhile science. The researchers, led by Katherine Kendall of the U.S. Geological Survey, performed the first accurate survey of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem. They discovered the happy news that this formerly endangered species had substantially rebounded, thanks in part to three decades of conservation efforts. The kind of thing that you actually have to go out and collect data to discover.

Completely beside the point of course. John McCain doesn’t care about grizzly bears one way or the other, and to him 3 million dollars is chump change. What he cares about his the symbolism — enough to highlight it in his stump speech and TV commercials.

McCain is tapping into a deep strain of anti-intellectualism among American voters. Some of us tend to take for granted that questions about the workings of the natural world should be addressed by scientists using scientific methods, and that attacks on science must be motivated by external forces such as economic or religious interests. What scientists tend to underestimate is the extent to which many people react viscerally against science just because it is science. Or, more generally, because it is seen as part of an effort on the part of elites to force their worldview on folks who are getting along just fine without all these fancy ideas, thank you very much.

In the old-time (1980’s) controversies about teaching creationism in schools, pre-Intelligent-Design, one of the most common arguments was that school boards should have “local control” over the curriculum. Defenders of evolution replied that this was clearly a ruse to disguise a religious anti-science agenda. Which may have been true for some of the national organizations behind the movement; but for many school boards and communities, it really was about local control. They didn’t want to be told what to teach their kids by some group of coastal elitists with Ph.D.s, and creationism was a way to fight back.

Don’t believe me? They are happy to tell you so to your face. Consider the case of John Derbyshire, columnist for the National Review Online. Derbyshire is admittedly a complicated case, on the one hand writing books about the Riemann hypothesis and on the other proudly proclaiming that he reads Blondie and Hagar the Horrible for “insights into the human condition.” And he is also generally pro-science and pro-evolution in particular. But nevertheless — despite the fact that he is smart and educated enough to understand that evolution is “right” in the old-fashioned sense of right and wrong — he will state explicitly (and quote himself later in case you missed it) that

I couldn’t care less whether my president believes in the theory of evolution. In fact, reflecting on some recent experiences, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t prefer a president who didn’t. [Emphasis in original.]

And why is that? I wrote a whole blog post explaining why it is important that the President understand and accept the workings of the natural world, but obviously Derbyshire disagrees. The reason why is that scientific understanding is too often the bailiwick of elite leftist snobs.

Possibly as a result of having grown up in the lower classes of provincial England, I detest snobbery. I mean, I really, viscerally, loathe it. This is one reason I hate the Left so much…

Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in real science, which would I choose? Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?

The real point is not who you would choose in such a situation — it’s that Derbyshire sincerely believes that these are the kinds of choices one typically needs to make. One the one hand: character, spirit, dedication, and pseudoscience. On the other: amoral, hedonistic drudges (sic) who believe in real science.

Derbyshire is not alone. Conservative commentator Tom Bethell has published a Politically Incorrect Guide to Science in which he takes down such Leftist conspiracies as evolution, global warming, AIDS research, and (um) relativity. At Tech Central Station, Lee Harris pens a passionate defense of being stupid more generally:

Today, no self-respecting conservative wants to be thought stupid, not even by the lunatics on the far left. Yet there are far worse things than looking stupid to others—and one of them is being conned by those who are far cleverer than we are. Indeed, in certain cases, the desire to appear intelligent at all costs can be downright suicidal…

In a world that absurdly overrates the advantage of sheer brain power, no one wants to be seen as a member in good standing of the stupid party. Yet stupidity has been and will always remain the best defense mechanism against the ordinary conman and the intellectual dreamer, just as Odysseus found that stuffing cotton in his ears was his best defense against beguiling but fatal song of the sirens.

Again: most sensible conservative commentators are quick to say “of course, all things being equal, it’s better to be correct/intelligent/scientific than otherwise.” But they truly don’t believe that all things are equal. The real fight isn’t against science, it’s a much broader culture war. Science is being used as a stand-in for a constellation of things against which many Americans react viscerally — elitism, paternalism, snobbery. Presenting better science and more transparent evidence isn’t going to change this attitude all by itself. We need to address the underlying cause: the relic anti-intellectual attitude that still animates so many people in this country.

The grizzly bears will thank you.

  • matt

    “Yet stupidity has been and will always remain the best defense mechanism against the ordinary conman” – is this meant to be a joke? yup, i’m not too smart to get tricked by a conman, i’m too stupid.

  • Neil B.

    Matt, based on my bitter experiences I don’t think it’s a joke. One thing I really can’t stand is people griping about snobbery and all that. If you have reason to be rather sure, it should be OK to confidently explain your point. One big reason I think the lower-right hates intellect: the lower right considers guile and simplemindedness in defense of their interests to be OK. They don’t put verity and logical fitness first. They really don’t want people slicing through straw men and various canards and fallacies. To oppose the success of such rubbish, we really need “logic training” for students. I mean, the formal subject directly (about fallacies and quality reasoning etc.), not as mere rub-off from other subjects like math and science.

  • John Merryman

    As the president is bent on proving, stupidity is the worst of crimes, because it is so often harshly punished. When the bill finally comes due, insight will make a comeback.

    Or, as Forrst Gump’s mother put it, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  • Roman

    “McCain is tapping into a deep strain of anti-intellectualism among American voters”
    But you Sir didn’t mention that this is only the third strain on his list of strains he is tapping into.
    First, he’s tapping into a deep strain of anti-bridging among American voters – with his opposition to building The Bridge to Nowhere. It is obvious where he is coming from – everybody knows that dems will build bridges, not churches!
    Next, he is tapping into deep strain of anti-rockandrollism among American voters (by refusing to fund Woodstock museum) – well, we all know what he is trying to do here, don’t we?

  • Michael T.

    I had a conversation over the weekend with an acquaintance who is by most accounts articulate and intelligent, however, I was somewhat aghast as his total disregard for fact. You know one of those conversations where evolution is just a theory, how could one possibly not see design in the world implying a designer, Earth is getting warmer not due to increased CO2 but the sun is just getting hotter, and so on. I was struck by the constant use of the word “believe”. For example, “I believe in relativity but I don’t believe in evolution”. There is something most telling here, people just don’t understand the scientific method and somehow think that belief is required. Ultimately, I think it reduces down to one of our most fundamental responses to the world – fear. The other side of fear is uncertainty, both pandering to our instincts for survival. As long as science is viewed as threatening, I “fear” we will make little progress as a species.

  • jeff

    Some anti intellectualism may be due to people just having bad experiences in school. They couldn’t compete in their academic environment, and they’re resentful. You may be looking at it from a winner’s perspective, but they’re not, and you’re vastly outnumbered. Others may simply be intellectual luddites to varying degrees – they don’t see any tangible benefit to intellectualism or even technology, and some may look at urban sprawl and the mind-numbing mediocrity of their lives and wonder if it all was worth it. In both cases, the common factor is that intellectualism just doesn’t give them or promise them anything. But religion does.

  • fh

    Typical English attitude.
    If you don’t hide your intelligence you are considered pretentious, middle class is a dirty word, and “lad” has acquired the status of “culture”.

    The idea that education, science and rationality would benefit the so called lower class plays no role here. In fact it’s easy to be a highly successful millionaire business owner and consider yourself lower class (and behave according to a Victorian era stereotype of what that means).

  • Neil B.

    Also, doesn’t real snobbery derive from just being sure, because of a sense of correctness, rather than relying on an external standard of objectivity? In that case, the left/science snobs aren’t really snobs, and the conservative/faith-based are snobs. Note also the obvious vanity and self-righteousness of right-wing radio commentators, and the ironic complaint that “leftists” are too “wishy-washy” and accommodating. The complaints can’t both be right.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Is McCain acting as a proxy for William Proxmire? Will he reinstate the Golden Fleece awards? Inquiring Argonauts want to know.

  • Lionel

    Some anti-intellectualism comes about when non-specialists ponder the difference between the multiverse/landscape and ID/creationism and suspect it’s that one generates taxpayer dollars for indolent physicists while the other doesn’t. At that point they feel conned and want their money back. Or, failing that, they take it out on the poor “Grizzly” folks. Blame them?

    One way of addressing their admittedly philistine complaints is to adopt the 3 step program sketched out by R.P. Feynman in the Character of Physical Law Lectures: 1.) propose a theory, 2.) make predictions implied by your theory, 3.) experimentally verify your predictions. Indeed, successful theories often sell themselves. (Eddington’s astronomical verification of GR turned Einstein into a rock star overnight.)

    On the other hand, snarky comments about 50+/- % of the taxpaying public may not be the best approach to securing research funding. Sometimes people just conclude you’re a snob and spend their money elsewhere. It turns out people don’t like to be insulted. Go figure.

  • mike

    Sean is right – this isn’t a true/false thing. It’s about attitudes. Unfortunately, the idea of the arrogant intellectual is more than just a stereotype. Over the past few years, it has become commonplace in the genetics talks I go to for a speaker to include some kind of scornful mockery of intelligent design. With evidence on our side, we ought to take the high road instead of mocking people’s beliefs (especially the cherished beliefs we may not share). If a scientist mocks me, my gut reaction is going to be “Oh, and what has your dark matter done for me lately?” Of course, it is probably a few eggs spoiling the basket, which means we just have to try all the harder to be understanding and considerate. Most people respect when they feel respected.

    Just looking at these comments, you can see quite a bit of arrogance. Oh, they are just resentful of our intelligence, they’re just stupid, what a bunch of cavemen, etc. These are the types of comments that drive people to hate intellectualism.

    It is certainly true that intellectuals don’t have a monopoly on arrogance, but the fact that Rush Limbaugh is proud shouldn’t excuse the same attitude in me.

  • Aaron

    Perhaps John Derbyshire should return to England, where “people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience” are fundamentalist Islamists who would like to kill him.

  • Jim Harrison

    Like everybody else, anti-intellectual right wingers devise theories to explain anomalies. It appears that scientists put a huge personal effort into gathering objective information about the world, including picky details like the genetic diversity of grizzly bears. But nobody could really be interested in doing something like that. Ergo, the real motives of the scientists are something different such as seeking political power or making fun of rubes, just as people who evince sincere interest in the arts must actually be social climbers or some other sort of fraud.

  • Barry

    Given Derbyshire’s long record of, well, sh*t, it’s more likely that he’s simply a liar. If the politics of his position (remember, his job is propagandist) requires a certain line of BS, then he’ll probably deliver. Not always, of course, but likely.

  • Mark

    I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the association of Derbyshire’s nonsense with him being English. If I wasn’t so afraid of Muslims, or of appearing pretentious, and if I didn’t want to be seen as just one of the lads, I’d present a detailed intellectual argument why such comments are complete bollocks.

    But I’d better keep my mouth shut. After all, those of us who grew up “in the lower classes of provincial England” must all think the same way.

  • Matt (with a capital M)

    I get your point, Sean, but I think you can generalize this conflict even further. The way I see it, while we see aspects of this struggle in the culture war, there’s actually an anti-science bent in all of us Americans, whether liberal or conservative. Because Americans as a whole are suspicious of authority. We’re descended from rebels, people who put there lives on the line against the oligarchy. Post modernism has done a lot to loosen the grip of one authority, the Church, on many of us, but I think there’s an knee jerk instinct in the average american layman not to wholeheartedly accept Science as its replacement, a new unchallengeable authority. I recognize that I’m painting with a wide brush here and ignoring the very obvious anti-elitism bent to, say, McCain’s attacks, but the reality is that people are picking and choosing their own personal preferred authority to buck. Based on discussions here, it appears to me that your beef with the anti-science right is no different than your beef with the pro-woo-woo/ESP crowd (who I suspect would tend to fall onto the left side of the culture war spectrum).

    (Now I feel like some kind of cultural therapist, pointing out my own similarities with the despised enemy. Damn Obama and his politics of hope and inclusion. It seems to be working on me.)

  • andy.s

    Sean, Derb did not say that all people who believe in creationism are
    have character, spirit and dedication, while evolutionists are amoral hedonists; Derb himself is an evolutionist. That’s a very uncharitable interpretation.

    He is simply saying he prefers someone like Reagan, to Bill Clinton (to whom he is obviously referring) in spite of the former’s belief in creationism.

    In fact, most people would put the creationism/evolution controversy way, way, way down on their list of voting priorities, even if some professor did “write a whole blog post” about it.

  • fh

    Mark, no offense, I don’t think anybody suggested that English are all the same, nor that these attitudes are in some way confined to this island, but my comments about current English culture aren’t random stereotypes, they are based on living here in England for a considerable fraction of my adult live.

    There are many aspects about England I like, and then there are the ones noted above (and you don’t need to go very far to experience them).

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  • Peter

    Very interesting issue here. I agree that the grizzly DNA statement from John McCain was tactless at best, and an indicator of stupidity at worst. What is objectionable about it is not only that it shows he cannot see any benefit in pursuing ideas he does not understand himself, which would prejudice him against science funding, but also his implicit appeal to some “right-thinking and normal”, bogus “people like me and you” majority. I don’t understand why this anti-intellectual attitude is so prevalent on the American right. I presume John Derbyshire was referring to the Clinton/Bush dichotomy, but it is interesting that the choice still more often than not seems to be between right wing, religion and stupidity on the one hand, and left wing, science, and impotent relativism on the other.

    The snobs vs proles antagonism is not new – someone once said that against stupidity the gods themselves battle in vain. The thing is that to be stupid is only human. But that is no excuse for complacency.

  • Wow

    Wow, the snobbery here is amazing. Republicans hate intellectuals and science! Stereotype, much?

    I’m sympathetic to their viewpoint, and neither Sean or any commenter understands their real objection. They don’t object to science. They want proof that the $3 million is well-spent money that taxpayers have provided. I’m not making statements about the rest of the government, so don’t change the subject.

    Is a grizzly bear census and genetics study really a great way to spend $3 million? Sounds superfluous to me. I’m a scientist. I like science. But sometimes you gotta wonder: why do some people get so much cash to do stuff which very likely won’t have any practical use for anything? (And I say this in a cosmology den.)

    Scientists need to to be extra thankful that they get to be scientists at taxpayer expense, when the taxpayers often get no benefit from what they do. So when some taxpayers show interest in what you do, it might be best to explain nicely how you are using their money instead of berating and ridiculing them mercilessly. I think that’s the problem here. The bear-ologists might want to contact the McCain campaign and justify the usefulness of their study. I’d like to hear it.

  • Sean

    It’s not a “stereotype” when you are quoting people in their own words.

    Sorry that you are unable, without making any effort, to understand the interest in the grizzly bear study. Did you click the link and read about it?

    I hereby predict that the McCain campaign did not contact Katherine Kendall to ask what were the goals and prospects for her research, before running their ad. If they did, and they then spoke with other experts in the field, and came to a careful conclusion that this particular research was not the best use of Geological Survey funds, I’d be happy to post a full retraction.

    If, on the other hand, they just wanted to make cheap jokes about DNA testing, then I’ll stand by the post.

  • Elliot

    Latest estimates about the total costs of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts 1.7 to 2.7 TRILLION Dollars.

    I’m sure McCain has no problem spending that and then some.


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  • Mark

    I’m not offended fh – I truly am amused. But just to be clear, you did say this was a typical English attitude, and I would take issue with that if I could just put down my can of Special Brew and put some pants on over these Union Jack boxer shorts.

  • Tim Hollis

    The dumbing down of America is no accident…and no failure either.

  • Wow

    Hi Sean — thanks for the reply (22) to my post (21).

    I wasn’t responding directly to McCain’s churlish comments but more to the general attitude and some of the above comments. Yeah, McCain’s rhetoric is stupid, but I don’t expect much from a stumping politician, Republican or Democrat. But bad behavior on their part does not mean we have to behave badly too.

    I was responding to this kind of sentiment.
    Quoting Sean’s original post: “What scientists tend to underestimate is the extent to which many people react viscerally against science just because it is science”.

    That’s crap. I can guarantee that the public widely respects individual scientists as hardworking, creative people that do things that ordinary people cannot. There is much general goodwill from big things like the A-bomb, moon landing, pharmaceuticals, etc. However those taxpayers do not necessarily have respect for the large amounts of taxpayer cash used to found often apparently esoteric work with no practical value. I say this as a scientist who often likes to work on esoteric things with probably no practical value. I just don’t have the gall to ask for $3 million to do it.

    So, yes, I read the article. The scientist, and study, in question seems pretty impressive. But no where am I convinced this is a really necessary study. This is a problem with scientists in general. They are good at selling their ideas to fellow scientists, but not to the public. That is the root of the so-called “anti-intellectualism” of those who might rather have some of that $3 million used sensibly elsewhere, or just back in their pocket.

  • brummie

    “put some pants on over these Union Jack boxer shorts.”

    this makes no sense to me. Why would you need two sets of underwear on at the same time!?

  • Mark
  • Dan Mitchell

    My favorite section of your post was the “choice” quote: “Invited to choose between…”

    I wanted to modify it a bit:

    “Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in real science, which would I choose?”

    Or perhaps:

    “Invited to choose between a president who is (a) an amoral hedonist who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) a man of ability who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose?”

    The variations are endless.


  • fh

    Why indeed, I did! I apologize! That being said, you will never make me put milk in my tea! Never!

  • djm

    um, Odysseus didn’t stick cotton in his ears. He put wax in the ears of his crew – Odysseus lashed himself to the mast, because he wanted to hear the song of the siren himself. I’m sure there is more than one metaphor demonstrated by Harris’ ignorance here.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    We might stop for a moment and consider why there is this equation between a scientist who uphold evolution or big bang cosmology and the rest with immorality or sin. Consider the theology and theodicy of modern Christianity. Adam and Eve were created as perfect being presumably by a God who had some need to create what might be compared to an aquarium with beautiful fish. But what happened in the story. God was asleep at the switch. The much later prophet Isaiah spun a bit about Satan and his angels being kicked out of heaven, and well Satan decided to have some fun. In the form of a serpent he managed to get Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world and well that set a lot of stuff off. It is also the reason given that we die and that things in general die.

    In a curious way it is a bit similar to inflationary cosmology, for the whole thing was an unstable set up, just like the Higgs on the false vacuum which by a fluctuation slid off the peak in the “mexican hat” potential and started the big bang off. Just get rid of the Biblical mytho-poetic particularities.

    Well A lot of Hellenic ideas got mixed into Judaism at the 1st century BCE and certain interpretations of the prophets brought in this idea that Isaiah’s “born unto us a child is given,” and “By his stripes we are healed,” which BTW have different Judaic interpretations, meant that God had to come as a man to suffer and die for us so we can meet God without sin and have eternal life. As Luke puts it “Death, where is thy sting?” Great, it was a hot idea to come out of the 1st century AD.

    But wait a minute! Darwin sort of puts all that Genesis (B’raysheet) stuff into the same status as Homer’s Iliyad = Mythology. If that is the case there there was no original sin and fossils of trilobytes and dinosaurs indicate that death has been in the world since the dawn of life some 3.5 billion years ago. Well, that puts a crimp on the whole Jesus salvation plan. For some of these people the suggestion that Jesus was not son of God amounts to a seriously painful catharsis. To admit evolution and put doubt into the system is to literally shatter their internal psychological world. It gets that serious with some of these people.

    So this is where this strange equation with immoral behavior comes into the picture, for Darwin is saying there is no special creation, and indirectly there is then no original sin, which puts the whole salvific mission of Jesus into question. So to suggest evolution itself is a sin and a part of immoral behavior or sin, or as a way of supporting Satan’s plan of sin in the world. Thus evolution and evil get strangely equated. It is a bit odd, for evolutionary biologists have not gone around setting up the Spanish Inquisition, nor did Darwin advocate as did Martin Luther that Jews should be exterminated — something Hilter took up rather seriously four centuries later.

    There is a way of looking at this, the evangelical Christians and fundamentalists are completely out to lunch on a lot of things, but frankly they are victims of these Republican Sons of B***’s as the rest of us. They have been cynically exploited to garner votes by these vampires politicians and psychopaths. It is interesting that E.O.Wilson is forming some coalitions with evangelicals with respect to environmental issues, and the new televangelists such as Osteen are preaching a very different perspective on Christianity. Yeah, they are still a tad out of date on the science, believing a modern made over literalism on the Bible and Creation (The Jewish meaning on this is very different), rejecting evolution and skeptical of big bang and … . But honestly, don’t attack these people. Kid gloves are advised. In due time things may change.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • TC

    It seems that McCain doesn’t think there is an inherent value in pursuing knowledge simply for knowledge’s sake. And he’s not alone. Learning is fun, but we make it less than fun in school.

    One reason we’ve lost the joy of learning is the way science is taught in K-12 education. Instead of teaching a way of approaching problems and acquiring knowledge, K-12 educators tend to focus on the boring part. It’s not the individual educator’s fault, since K-12 curricula tend to be inflexible and discourage teacher creativity, but science should instill awe and wonder, not boredom, anxiety, and fear.

    We’re so fixated on grading, test scores, and other measurement in education that we miss the fact that learning is supposed to be fun. It’s fun to solve problems, to figure out how something works, to develop something that’s better than what came before. It’s not fun to memorize facts, sit in lectures, and regurgitate what you’ve been told. The trick is to work in the not fun bits with the fun bits, so that kids learn without really realizing it. That requires creative and dedicated teachers who are well trained and well supported by a school board who is not ignorant on science issues.

    In other words, it takes scientists being involved in local school boards where they live, and doing so in constructive ways.

  • Elliot

    It is also instructive that the current regime, following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, has invested billions of dollars in a missile defense system that is fundamentally flawed in its design, due to basic scientific principles (the well documented inability to distinguish between real and dummy warheads based on their infrared images alone). We can only assume that McCain will continue this waste of taxpayer money. Again more than a thousandfold larger expenditure than the Bear DNA project.

    This is why we need more scientists actively involved in policy making decisions to call out this nonsense, which will make us no more safe than our illegal pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation.


  • Dean

    Is it just me, or do you find it ironic that these same anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-evolution right wingers love to harp about their gas guzzling Humvees, blue-tooth phones, wireless internet and all the other gadgets and technical wonders of consumer culture? Aren’t all of these devices the net result of scientific breakthroughs? Is not oil the left over residue of plants and animals that decomposed over millions of years? Any one who drives a car with a gas driven internal combustion engine is ipso facto assenting to the theory of evolution just as any one who turns on a light in their bathroom is assenting to the theory of electromagnetism. Lets keep reminding these stupid bastards of these things…


    This goes way back. Proxmire… wasn’t he the one? Got a hair transplant. “Liberal” from … what, Wisconsin? Had this down to a comedy routine. Take some funded science project, and demonstrate how silly it looked in the eyes of the ignorant. He’d pull something out by the calendar… once a month, his version of the Fireside Radio thing.

    The ignorant don’t want to disabused of their ignorance, and there is much political hay to be made from this–lest we forget… not just from the right.

  • chemicalscum

    This whole thread has brought about a sudden attack of existential nausea. As someone who grew up working class in London not the provinces, I grew up with a strong dislike of snobbery, in particular the snobbery of the rich and powerful. However what what disturbs me is the subtly crafted ideology that is used to turn the righteous disgust of snobbery into an attack on the liberal intelligentsia. They are collateral damage in a war to support the rich and powerful. This together with the incorporation of these memes into spectacular society is the source of the nausea.

    However what Sean is dealing with and which and is plain from his blog post is something common to both the US and Britain and of course the Empire will pay well for such apologists. Its centre attracts them from its far flung Anglo-Saxon satrapies slavering from the mouth at such a prospect.

  • nlightnmnt

    This is specifically anti-intellectualism; Americans generally don’t mind elite sportsmen or elite businessmen or even elite entertainers, and the accusations of snobbery surely fit these types more than they fit a typical scientist.

  • jmoy

    Deeply ingrained indeed. Professor Bhaer in ‘Little Women’ fights the atheists:

    “He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed

    to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and

    defended religion with all the eloquence of truth–an eloquence

    which made his broken English musical and his plain

    face beautiful. He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued

    well, but he didn’t know when he was beaten and stood to his

    colors like a man.

  • cvj

    3 million dollars is a lot of money. Bear research is interesting work. Forcing citizens to pay for it is not what our government should do. I agree with the argument that 3 trillion spent on Irag is wasted money: it should not have been taken from the tax payer to waste.

  • tacitus

    Derbyshire is doing what all the best political ideologues do — deflect attention away from a weakness or failing of his side using bluster and by demonizing the opposition. He doesn’t honestly believe that anti-intellectualism is better for him and American in general. He just can’t help the fact that American conservatism would be dead and buried if it wasn’t for the support of millions of fundamentalists who prefer religious dogma over reason.

  • tacitus

    3 million dollars is a lot of money. Bear research is interesting work. Forcing citizens to pay for it is not what our government should do.

    Then who should pay for it? Are bears a private asset of the landowners to do with as they please, or are they part and parcel of the American wilderness and a national asset to be looked after and treasured? If your answer is the former, what is to stop those landowners deciding that the best way to exploit this particular resource they own is to kill all the bears and sell their pelts for fur coats and the rest of their remains to the lucrative Chinese traditional medicine market? Hint: libertarianism isn’t the answer.

    The government has a duty to preserve what’s left of our dwindling wildlife and wilderness for the benefit of those generations to come. You can’t preserve what you don’t know about, and this research appears to be an important step in that process. Nothing wrong with that at all.

  • James Nightshade

    Perhaps we could revive an old slogan to describe the current funding priorities of Congress: “Millions for Bears, but not one Cent for Particle Physics!”

  • Brendan

    Some natural doubting of scientific theories is healthy. Michael T mentions in comment 5 that people shouldn’t think that belief is required in science – however unless you’re interested in personally going through and verifying all accepted knowledge, belief (in scientific systems of the past, etc.) is essential – and personally, most science students / grad students / faculty seem quite happy to take a lot on face value without the need to personally verify it, provided it is presented through the right channels (how else would you get anything done).

    However the system also needs people who are naturally curious as to whether commonly accepted theories are correct (otherwise mistakes of the past could possibly go unnoticed, and future conceptual innovations may be missed).

    People who believe in obviously dubious, sometimes silly things are perhaps just inevitable (if unfortunate) byproducts of a healthy degree of questioning (combined with a large spread of different types of people within a population).

    Then again, when these people are US presidential candidates, or when the proportion (and power) of these people goes beyond a certain rather small level, things are a little different…

  • Gordon Wilson

    Wow: Your statement that you are a scientist is rather scary to me, who
    believes that scientists are interested in the nature of an external reality, not
    folks who just want a better light bulb. Interest in other species is important to
    those of us who aren’t narrowly focussed human utilitarians.
    As for the use of studying grizzly bears, to quote Benjamin Franklin,
    “What use is a newborn baby?” Read some E.O. Wilson, maybe “Diversity” or “Life on Earth”

  • jick

    Is he the same John Derbyshire who wrote “Prime Obsession”?

    …Oh my god he is. I just googled his name.

    You’ve got to be kidding me. A man who wrote a book an the Riemann Hypothesis detests snobbery? I mean, just *reading* a book on Riemann Hypothesis in high school would constitute a crime of snobbery. (At least in high schools I know of… but I don’t think those in America would be much different.)

    Heh, actually, just *knowing* the name of Riemann would be snobbery to many people. What the hell was he thinking writing such a book? I confess I immensely enjoyed reading Prime Obsession; it would have been less enjoyable had I known what kind of bullshit he is. :(

  • notmehere

    The rich and powerful, in an attempt to prove solidarity with the “common man” feign respect for stupidity as needed. It certainly suits them to keep everyone else stupid. Much easier to fleece the public coffers, eliminate troublesome responsibilities like taxes, dismantle public education, entitlements and generally move us back to the guilded age. $3 million is a lot of money on it’s own. It is a pimple on a pimple of the ass of the federal budget.

  • CWhite

    Since Mr. Derbyshire likes either/or questions, here’s one I would love to hear him answer:

    Is it better to spend $3 million on:
    a) a study to determine whether or not grizzly bear conservation is working, or;
    b) 10.8 minutes of the Iraq war?

  • SD

    An essential feature of Anti-intellectualism seems to be this: what is X for? as in, what is algebraic geometry for?
    Through personal experience, I have realized that by virtue of the fact that a person is asking such a question, which indicates that the said person does not understand that knowledge can be an end in itself, he is precluded from understanding that the question is often meaningless. It’s a bit like asking what pleasure is for? Of course, it’s not for anything, we do things for the sake of it.
    Now, its an unfortunate fact, that most people just do not get this idea, so why should they feel happy if their tax-money is being used to fund such research?
    Even an excellent argument idea for funding ‘esoteric ideas’ (such as the one outlined in Tim Gower’s IMU keynote address: The Importance of Math ) generally fails to convince.
    It seems there is not much one can do to change the attitude among adults.

  • John R Ramsden

    The extract from John Derbyshire’s diatribe which Sean quoted makes perfect sense (allowing for some comical overstatement to emphasise his case) if the word “snobbery” is replaced by “officiousness”.

    One might argue that having written books, Derbyshire should be expected to choose his words with surgical precision. But if his diatribe was a press article, it’s more than likely that the words you read are not all his own but have been
    messed around and “simplified” by some oaf of an editor who may have feared the longer word would be less widely understood!

    With that change, I’d agree entirely: If a teacher with character can instill basic skills in their charges, and inspire them to be confident, self-reliant, patriotic, moral, and an asset to society, (and, yes, good Christians to boot 😉 then what does it matter if half of what they learn is rubbish?

    They’re more likely to challenge _that_ “orthodoxy” in due course, if it troubles them, and thereby learn to think outside the box than perhaps they would if educated from the cradle up by a bunch of right-on trendy mediocrities careful to spoon-feed them only approved dogma from our own time!

  • cvj

    Hi tacitus,

    To pay for the bear research the scientist should appeal to those who are interested in funding that type of work, clearly you and I are examples of such people. The scientist should apply the same techniques that business and non profit organizations use to generate funding. It’s a common practice and it works.

    I don’t agree with the statement that government has a duty to preserve wildlife. I believe the citizens have that responsibility.

  • String Theorist

    > To pay for the bear research the scientist should appeal to those who are interested in
    > funding that type of work

    If the same argument were to be applied to the LHC….

    There is a non-trivial fundamental group to these things – go too far to the left and you are effectively the best friend of the far right. Bush did not beat Gore, Nader did.

  • senderista

    Dear Science,

    Thanks for the technology. Now f*ck off.

    Love, America

  • Linda

    Would you agree on adding the following question to the PhD application?:
    Do you beleive in God?

    I extrapolate that may be 20 years from now, PhD applicants might have to answer that questions while applying

    Byebye freedom of beleif!

  • Elliot

    so Linda, what’s the right answer 😉


  • cvj

    Hi senderista,

    It appears that the USA spends close to 300 billion a year on RD , with ~%70 coming from the private sector. Those numbers, as I understand it, have been steadily increasing since the 50’s. 50 Billion seems to be for basic research and around 60 Billion is on applied research. It also appears that the USA spends more then any other country on science. [1] ( I hope I’m not messing up the numbers!)

    I would use these numbers to argue that the USA is a major supporter of science.


  • John

    Just looking at these comments, you can see quite a bit of arrogance. Oh, they are just resentful of our intelligence, they’re just stupid, what a bunch of cavemen, etc. These are the types of comments that drive people to hate intellectualism.

    I agree. Sean is off in the weeds with this. He’s made assumption after assumption, all piled high atop assumptions. In short, he’s full of shit. Carry on, Rant Boy, but you’ll do it without me reading from now on. I’m done with the kneejerk arrogance here.

  • http://deleted Simon DeDeo

    John Derbyshire is hilarious. He is an enigma, wrapped in a contradiction, drizzled with shoulder-chips and steamed in a crackpot. He has the wonderful British talent [1] of saying something without saying something but then getting confused and saying it anyway. Best example (practically a test mass through his bizarre psychological field):

    Summary: I love ballet, except that sometimes it makes people think I am gay. Not that I hate gay people. Not at all! It is freakish and wrong. Gay people, not ballet, which I like. I’m just being contrarian, don’t mind me. Also: where are the lesbians?

    [1] I am British! Sort of. Dual citizen? Born there? Said “naff” a lot, called homework “prep”, make the cricket (third-eleven, created and disbanded the same year) and tried to imitate a working-class accent on the ride back to South Kensington? Yeah, kinda.

  • amnz

    Politically speaking (as ambiguous and relative as that is), that “relic anti-intellectual attitude” stems not merely from adamant religious beliefs or a class-based ethos, but from elite manipulation and appropriation of science throughout the course of history. Where’s this line between scientific inquiry and power? Or science and power for that matter? That elusive and contentious line reveals ways in which we may further develop “progressive” scientific institutions and “progressive” masses of voters.

  • Ben

    I think that the criticism may be a little misguided. I’m a scientist, and strongly support science. And I’m a naturalist, and strongly support research into Grizzly Bears. Still, I think McCain may have inadvertently raised a good point.

    There is a very good mechanism for selecting which science gets federal funding – the NSF review process. I think the NSF should get more funding, and wish it were able to support more research. It has experts who review research proposals, and prioritize research funding. This is a very good system, which uses well-informed people to deliver federal dollars for research programs.

    I DO NOT think that Congress should be selecting which science to fund through the earmarking process. I trust the NSF to select appropriate science much more than I trust Joe Congressman. It turns out that this particular Grizzly study was an earmark, not an NSF-funded project. This time, it did turn out that the earmark was useful and funded good science. Do you think that’s true of all earmarked research money?

    So it may be a mistake on his part, but I think McCain raised a good critique of pork, though he did so badly.

  • Sean


    “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal,” he jokes, “but it was a waste of money.”

    That’s not a critique of the appropriations process; it’s a cheap shot against a scientific research project that he didn’t bother to understand. The appropriations process is certainly worthy of critique, but making fun of research proposals with funny-sounding names isn’t the way to do it.

  • Elliot

    The crux of the issue to me is that McCain supports spending even more on the misguided war and it’s ultimate price tag of well north of a trillion dollars. He has no ground criticizing any other government expenditures however frivilous, particularly if they don’t kill and maim American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, until he can justify this boondoggle. And the simply fact is he can’t…


  • dan s.

    Hello all — a couple more cents into the pot…

    One element I’ve not seen in the thread is the politicization of science, and particularly evolution, from the political left. Take the hot-button issue of abortion, for an example: the pro-choice side, which tends to trumpet itself as a group of pro-science smarties endangered by the monolithic, looming religious right, drops science when abortion is the issue at hand. Suddenly, the discussion is waged in terms of ideology, or a dry sense of utility; or worse, the pro-choice people throw in scientific-sounding terms — it’s not a baby, it’s a fetus, you ignorant cretin! It’s not life, it’s a blastocyst!

    So in one of the most gut-wrenching, and public-riling, topics, science is used ideological propaganda. To those who have honest, existential opposition to abortion, this associates dead fetuses with science — with the idea that intellect is hostile to moral imagination.

    Not exactly the sort of association that helps conservative people embrace research science.

    Much the same thing has happened in recent years with evolution. Yes, it’s central to modern thought, and yes, people should understand that. I get that. But when any science is used as a shibboleth, it’s shorn of its facts as facts. Wielded to inflict political damage, it becomes a political issue. And science has gotten partially co-opted in the public mind, transformed from the engine of human thought and creativity, into a weapon for the culture war.

    This isn’t to dismiss the anti-intellectualism, etc., on the political right; I merely note that science is under-appreciated on the right, but that it is often abused by the left to inflict damage and sometimes emotional hurt. It’s not enough to THINK correctly, we must also ACT humanely; because no one changes their mind by being mocked.

    Science must be defended from politicization front and rear, from ignorance and arrogance. We ought not let the McCains of the world hit scientists with cheap shots. But those who see scientific terms and ideas as a way to advance their political agenda, especially by using them to crack people over the head, are doing it maybe greater damage.

    dan s. (a different dan)

  • Jay Gaines

    A cousin of mine worked on this particular grizzly research project and after sitting listening to him talk about it for hours on end, I’ve concluded the $3M was well spent.

  • Henry Holland

    Summary: I love ballet, except that sometimes it makes people think I am gay. Not that I hate gay people. Not at all! It is freakish and wrong. Gay people, not ballet, which I like. I’m just being contrarian, don’t mind me. Also: where are the lesbians?

    Against my better judgment, I clicked the link you provided and as a result, a small part of my soul just died. I could spend time refuting his obvious bullshit, but this is choice:

    What irritates and annoys me is the dishonesty of homosexual propaganda — the massive campaign to pretend that human nature is something different from what it, in fact, is.

    Homosexuality, as far as all the research I’ve read on it can tell, has existed across all human cultures, in all time periods. So, Mr. Dah-bi-shire, it *is* part of human nature, it’s not something that arose at Stonewall in 1969. Or English public schools! :)

    imposing the stain of salacity on perfectly decent old English words like “gay”

    I’ll assume he has no problem with “perfectly decent old English words” like faggot or queer being “stained”.

  • Zitron

    For all sense what you say undoubtedly makes, we should also be aware that the Democratic candidates sometimes trash scientific consensus as well. A paramount example is the NAFTA issue. Consensus among reasonable economists is that NAFTA has been overall positive. However, the candidates play to the deep strain of “anti-intellectualism” of protectionism.

    Not too different from the skepticism about evolution theory, if you think about it.

  • John R Ramsden

    Excellent post (#64) dan s.

    On a lighter note, now these guys have finished their grizzly bear study, perhaps they should start another investigation this time into how to curb criminal behaviour by bears.

    On the BBC news website today “Bear convicted for theft of honey”
    [ ]

    The taste of honey was just too tempting for a bear in Macedonia, which repeatedly raided a beekeeper’s hives. Now it has a criminal record after a court found it guilty of theft and criminal damage.


    The case was brought by the exasperated beekeeper after a year of trying vainly to protect his beehives.

    For a while, he kept the animal away by buying a generator, lighting up the area, and playing thumping Serbian turbo-folk music. But when the generator ran out of power and the music fell silent, the bear was back and the honey was gone once more.


    Because the animal had no owner and belonged to a protected species, the court ordered the state to pay for the damage to the hives – around $3,500 (£1,750; 2,238 euros).

    The bear, meanwhile, remains at large – somewhere in Macedonia.

  • Haelfix

    The leftist blogospheres irratating attempts to portray every republican as antiscience is beginning to stink of desperation.

    Not only b/c McCain is generally proscience and has very reasonable views on 80% of important science, but also b/c the corresponding democrat often has just as many bizarre views as well (Hilary’s communion with the dead, Obama’s views on ethanol subsidies) that we must never talk about.

    Totally lame and transparent.

    (Incidentally 3million dollars is a ridiculous price tag for this research and could be far better appropriated for far more deserving research)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The leftist blogospheres irratating attempts to portray every republican as antiscience is beginning to stink of desperation.

    It’s unfortunate that it seems well-founded in fact. During the last election cycle, at least six state GOP parties had support for intelligent design and/or other forms of creationism.

    For all sense what you say undoubtedly makes, we should also be aware that the Democratic candidates sometimes trash scientific consensus as well. A paramount example is the NAFTA issue

    That would only be relevant if one considered economics to be a science.

  • Lionel

    This discussion is starting to resemble those perennial arts funding debates with the usual preening self-regard on the part of those with their hands out. No, you’re not arrogrant, but anyone who balks at subsidizing the the (n+1)st “Elephant Dung on the Madonna” wall hanging is an uncultured boob, and probably a “rethuglican” to boot. Of course, this pose by the scientific elite conveniently absolves them of the need for any introspection on the stagnant condition of their discipline. For example, when the finishing touches were put on the Standard Model the leisure suit was in style. Whatcha been up to lately? Right: 10^500 alternative universes and counting. Cool. The check’s in the mail.

  • ike

    Anti-knowledge might be a better phrase than anti-intellectual, and it is also something of a top-down phenomenon.

    The fact is that science and technology can cause all kinds of problems in stable, feudal societies based on inherited wealth and power – which is, historically speaking, why the “British aristocratic disdain for science” was so common. There you are with your coal monopolies and your giant horse stables and buggy whip factories, and along comes some technologically trained peasant with an internal combustion engine and liquid fuels. Highly disrupting.

    That’s not a new phenomenon. The Roman Emperor Diocletian had all the alchemists persecuted and their texts burned c.290 AD – all because he believed they really had figured out how to make gold, and he feared such knowledge would destabilize his empire. That might have put chemistry back a thousand years.

    What if, for example, every U.S. citizen had a good understanding of electricity and could read their own meter, or even set up their own rooftop solar system? That’s not too good for the established electricity utilities – who try to convince the public that electricity is “just too complicated to understand – leave it to us.”

    In the worst cases, as societies drift towards authoritarian or even totalitarian structures, creative thinking and scientific innovation are replaced by rote memorization and extremely narrow training. This is because science is one of the primary threats to “authority” – one doesn’t need the sanction of the god-king to publish papers. Science, socially speaking, also doesn’t really exist without the free and open exchange of information – a notion that can be a real threat to all kinds of authoritarian structures.

    Maybe we can put it this way: if scientists are the new high priests of society, then they, just like the old high priests, will jealously guard their authority and their knowledge – and the general public will snigger about the snobby and corrupt high priests. However – shouldn’t we leave the high priest function to religious and political figures? Scientists should be focusing on research and education, anyway – not providing “expert testimonials” for the public relations industry, for example…

    Another thing: the most rabid anti-intellectual can suddenly change their tune once they realize that scientific and technical (for example, medical) knowledge can save them a lot of trouble. Appeal to people’s sense of enlightened self-interest, maybe?

    Meanwhile, here in California a good chunk of our public teachers are currently getting pink slips… which doesn’t seem to be the case for prison guards.

  • Stephen

    The leftist blogospheres irratating attempts to portray every republican as antiscience is beginning to stink of desperation.

    It’s well known that the media has a very liberal bias.

  • Elliot

    dan s.,

    I don’t disagree that people on the left have “mis-used” science as well. In particular, I believe that the left attack some aspects of sociobiology unfairly on the basis of ideology and disregarded the science.

    That said, I am not sure the abortion issue is one of those areas where the religious right, most notably the catholic church has completely disregarded any attempt at scientific discourse and declared “life begins at conception”. The simple fact is that nobody is pro-abortion. But the reasons for most abortions is sadly economic. When the Right is prepared to divert money from killing people in Iraq and create a solid economic safety net for all Americans which should decrease the number seeking abortions then we will be making progress.

    As I said nobody is pro-abortion. As a white male, I cannot possibly understand the agonizing choice that women go through. As such, I believe it should be up to the woman, her doctor, her god, or whoever she chooses to involve in the process to make that determination.


  • John R Ramsden

    ike (#72) wrote:
    > Anti-knowledge might be a better phrase than anti-intellectual,
    > and it is also something of a top-down phenomenon.

    Every person I know of limited education adores TV quizzes and marvels at the “intelligence”, as they interpret it, of players who reach the later rounds or win.

    They don’t make a distinction between having a head stuffed full of trivia and being able to acquire and put to good use a body of structured knowledge. The fact that smart people usually have both, so that the second tends to imply the first, reinforces this common belief that the converse also holds and the two are

    Even easier to confuse is the distinction between intelligence (a measure of ability to make meaningful connections? – people argue endlessly about the definition, but I think that captures at least some of its meaning) versus an intellectual (a person preoccupied with mental constructs, often idealistically and to the detriment of pragmatic and moral considerations).

    Intellectuals may be beneficial in abstracts sciences and maths and suchlike. But in politics, where the above mentioned considerations come to the fore, idealists and intellectuals, or worse still those who fancy themselves as such on no sound basis, can cause terrible and entirely avoidable disruption and suffering.

    Why do you think the UK has had no revolution for the best part of 500 years, and even that was largely rolled back within a few years? Because we distrust political intellectuals. Always have.

    Why did the French have a revolution 200 years ago, and four (or is it five?) new republics since? Because they love their political intellectuals.

    Why tens of millions of people die in China, Russia, Cambodia during revolutions throughout the 20th century? Because people were swayed by self-styled intellectuals.

    See what I mean? There’s a definite pattern there.

  • Neil B.

    Haelfix, McCain is despised by so many hard rightists (Rush/Hannity/Coulter/Ingraham) precisely because he does like science better than their Bush-like idols.

  • Jim Harrison

    I can’t claim to be pro-abortion since it is, after all, not a very efficient or economical form of birth control. I don’t think abortion is much of an evil, however, and I refuse to stoke hysteria about it by pretending that it always involves some “agonizing choice that women go through.” In many cases, I expect it isn’t agonizing at all, just a pain in the ass. Getting people upset about abortion has been very good business for various politico-religious entrepreneurs. The Hell with them. Do we always have to be the willing patsies of these creeps?

  • rich

    i didn’t like McCain to start with but the more i read and find out stuff like this the less i think of the so called war hero and washington outsider – he is just another career politician in bed with the usual suspects.

    and too old to be president.

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  • Bob Loblaw

    “What scientists tend to underestimate is the extent to which many people react viscerally against science just because it is science. Or, more generally, because it is seen as part of an effort on the part of elites to force their worldview on folks who are getting along just fine without all these fancy ideas, thank you very much.”

    I can certainly vouch for this. Just a few days ago, I received a phone call from someone interested in one of the naturalist walks I advertise locally where I live, on the topic of weather and climate. In these walks, I try to explain how people can interpret sky conditions, and also discuss anything else that people wonder about the sciences of meteorology and climatology, especially as it pertains to our region.

    It didn’t take long for the caller to start injecting all sorts of commentary about how the current climate change was entirely natural and could in no way be caused by humans. She then proceeded to portray global warming as a huge conspiracy being waged by international bankers to take away everyone’s SUVs. She also said that other ‘contradictory’ information was being suppressed by these same elite individuals. Oh, and that Planet X was also partly responsible for the current climate change too.

    So yes, there is a strong strain of anti-intellectual, or anti-knowledge sentiment in this country. What is frightening to me, however, is how it perceives itself as “truth-seeking”, when in reality it is merely attempting to convince itself of its own prejudices and assumptions. That it impugns the integrity of real people doesn’t matter to them. And they have to gall to think *I’m* arrogant?

  • Jess

    Wow (comment #21),

    If you really want information about the usefulness of the grizzly DNA study, it only takes a simple google search. The study provides information about the grizzly population in area of the northern continental divide such as number, age, sex, migration patterns, etc. that can be used to make management decisions for the 1 million acre area of Glacier Park and about 6-8 million acres of adjacent federal, state, and private lands. Tourism is rapidly becoming the number one economic engine in Montana, passing agriculture, and there are some indications that it has already done so. Millions of people spend billions of dollars in Montana every year to see and experience the (mostly) intact natural systems that exist here. If the simple existence of a few hundred of such a magnificent species isn’t enough for you, perhaps the economic impact is.

  • mark

    Some people share Derbyshire’s opinion; I have a different view. I think the anti-evolution business basically comes down to people want to live forever, and are upset, even terrified, that someone might convince them that when they die, that is the absolute end of their existence.

    Sometimes William Proxmire was on target with his Golden Fleece Award, but sometimes he was well off the mark, usually because he did not understand what he was sniping at. When will McCain start winding up his rants with “Nevermind!”

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  • Lab Lemming

    If you normalize candidate’s view on science to the traditional position of their party over the last 5 years, then McCain is by far and away the most scientific candidate.

  • Nathan

    Why does he think it is a waste of money is what is important. The answer is simple, it isn’t the role of the federal government to fund research into Grizzly bears. Don’t believe me, read Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. That’s the section that Congress largely ignores. It’s nice that a Presidential Candidate (and he isn’t my ideal choice by any means) has some intention of honoring parts of that piece of paper everybody (including voters) ignores.

  • Neil B.

    mark: I don’t think evolution shows that our existence must end when we die. As I have noted, ironically a computer program can survive the loss of the machine it first (or ever) ran on, and if there’s a “platonic supercomputer” out there, our minds might be able to run again. If we are conscious now from such activity happening, then we’d be conscious again, albeit maybe some ambiguity of identity. But once you’ve experienced Eastern states of ego-loss that isn’t such a big worry/

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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