In my latest Science Progress column, I muse on the most recent developments on the anti-evolution front, and also examine the bigger picture:
In broader perspective, one might view this latest stage in our ongoing evolution conflict in the United States as presenting reasons for hope. After all, in the space of thirty years, we’ve moved from the stupendous absurdities of “creation science”—the attempt to teach students about a biblical flood having laid down the fossil record, about humans and dinosaurs living together (on the ark, among other places), and so on—to Texas’s vague, poorly written agnotology. That’s progress, if it’s to be measured merely by the substantive positions that anti-evolutionists are now forced to advocate.
However, it’s important to remember that “creation science” and “intelligent design” alike were beaten back in the courtroom, not in the court of public opinion. Legal challenges, not popular ones, have whittled down anti-evolutionism to its current lawyerly state. And unfortunately, such progress has no parallel in public surveys about evolution. There are tons of polls out there, but I’ve always preferred to rely on Gallup because, as the National Science Foundation notes, they’ve asked the same question repeatedly since 1982. And there’s no movement: 46 percent of the public agrees with the statement, “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
This is not merely anti-evolutionism; it is a specific and extreme form of creationism, the so-called “young earth” variety, which relies directly on biblical literalism. Such a stance rejects the past 200 plus years of science not just in the field of evolution, but in geology and, most assuredly, cosmology, where many of the same literalists question the Big Bang. This core anti-science swath of America wants far more than to have students “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records.” It wants its children entirely shielded from the teaching evolution, even though it has already raised them at home to doubt and disbelieve in the first place. That’s why the current, sneaky creationist language will serve its purpose: For every kid brought up to equate Darwin with a full frontal assault on religion and morality, only the slightest semblance of doubt and questioning will be seized upon and do its own work from there. Biology class won’t have any impact; the beliefs of childhood will last throughout life.
I go on to weigh what it would take to ever bring our evolution wars to an end. You can read the full column here.
Today I’m at the University of Virginia where I’ve met some terrific grad students involved in evolution and genetics. While wandering around, I also can’t help but also notice so many undergraduate women are wearing colorful rubber boots and it got me thinking about cultural evolution. I’ve yet to notice the trend at Duke, although perhaps it’s already making the commute 200 miles south. All of this makes me wonder about the distribution of popular styles and accessories and how interesting it would be to map the persistence of trends (perhaps using GIS?) over time. That said, I’ve a hunch that a quick scan of the literature would reveal some kind of related social models given we’re modeling everything these days from fisheries population dynamics to gene expression. I’ve no doubt the social scientists are on top of this one.
Still, I wonder how a new trend is born and what determines its boundaries. Surely there are always outliers, but many fads remain relatively localized as we shift latitude and longitude. For example, in Maine I expect to encounter Renys and Carhartts while in DC, long black coats and high heels are the norm. And how do such shifts occur temporally? What led to the end the Parachute pants phenomenon and how did emo get started and then go mainstream?
I’ve no real thesis with this post, nor the time to search the library here at Gilmer Hall on the UVA campus for data on population demographics. Yet it’s interesting to ponder on a rainy afternoon while waiting for a 3:30 lecture on plant genetics…
The second panelist from Saturday’s STS conference was Christine Luk from Arizona State University who’s talk was entitled: Engaging Women in Science and Technology Policy-making: Beyond the Paradox of Under-representation of Women
Instead of discussing the usual challenges women face, Christine is interested in why the gender gap persists despite enhancement of female status and social change. She began by highlighting regular policy recommendations that support affirmative action and the development of economic incentives for women. According to Christine, enrolling women in science and technology is not enough because it’s not merely about increasing our headcount. Rather she suggests we need a more visible role of feminist perspectives. I agree, yet I’m convinced this is a chicken and egg problem. We must place more bright and capable young ladies in the public eye who break the mold of what we’ve come to expect of a ‘female in S&T’.
However, what stood out for me during Christine’s talk was the Queen Bee hypothesis which suggests (if I understood correctly) that the limited number of women who do rise in these areas may actually suppress others from doing so.It’s an interesting theory, although I’m not convinced. In my own field of marine science, ladies are quickly climbing the ranks at record pace, not to mention Jane Lubchenco now heads NOAA. Furthermore, despite progressive social change, there will likely be a very long lag time for women to rise to visibly prominent roles across fields. Finally, we cannot hope to achieve gender equality in the S&T workforce under the status quo parameters. As I’ve written in the past, if we are to encourage women to stay in the system, then the system will need to undergo fundamental changes to accommodate more of us. I’m not sure whether that’s a practical expectation, or even whether it should be.
As for the queen bee hypothesis, it’s an idea I have not come across until now. Has anyone experienced this? The ladies I adore offline and around the blogosphere tend to be overwhelmingly supportive of each other. Thoughts?
The San Jose Mercury News has also now seen fit to print my column on George Will. See here. That’s two major papers that have run the piece, in addition to the Washington Post…and that may well be it. We’ll see. I haven’t achieved anything like Will’s original distribution, but on the other hand, I have reached a lot of people. It was an interesting way of spending time; not the kind of thing I can do very often, but in this case, definitely satisfying.
Meanwhile, we’re both traveling today–I’m off to the University of Oklahoma, where I’ll be the keynote speaker tomorrow at this conference on the communication of weather risks, and will be presenting a broader look at the problem of science communication. This obviously has a lot to do with the themes of the new book, and in the talk I’ll be trying out a lot of the material that will also wind up in our joint Unscientific America lectures–so we’ll see how they like it! Personally, I’m optimistic. In some ways there’s nothing easier than preparing a talk after you’ve written an entire book: All you have to do is pick out what you view as the best parts, and the organizational structure is already laid out for you.
Not that, er, the book is entirely finished yet. The galley sits on my desk, awaiting my return….
P.S.: Not that there’s much danger of misleading anyone, but this is definitely not an April Fools’ day post.