Live On Daily Kos At 9am!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 12, 2009 7:06 am

Over at Daily Kos, DarkSyde will post his review of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future at 9am ET.  Chris and I will be online ready to answer questions and discuss the book in comments.

Come join this morning’s virtual discussion…

UPDATE: The review is now live here….key quote:

Unscientific America by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum is a must read for anyone who cares about understanding or reversing the long national slide into pseudoscience and willful ignorance that has periodically gripped America. The book neatly follows up Mooney’s best seller, The Republican War on Science, into a broader, nonpartisan narrative of an entire nation enamored by the nifty gizmos and life saving applications of science, yet saddled with a long history of anti-intellectualism that periodically spills over into open contempt. It’s a dose of stiff but sorely needed medicine for baby boomers and genx’ers who grew up during a short thaw in that icy antiscience trend by way of a cold war, a hot space race, and one great communicator named Carl Sagan.

Comments (79)

Links to this Post

  1. Chris Mooney dishonest exposed « Skepacabra | July 13, 2009
  1. Peter Beattie

    Brilliant, exactly what I’ve been waiting for. At last, an opportunity for you to clarify what your concept of ‘scientific (il)literacy’ actually means and what your solutions to the problem might be.

    Here are all the things Chris said about those two question in a whole hour of online debate:

    “scientific literacy, in the sense described in our book”
    “it’s not just ignorance. the book unpacks all of this”
    “religion is the key factor on some issues … politics is the key factor on others … religion is definitely a major factor here”
    “we are saying, give people opportunities to be innovative. we’re being mischaracterized.”
    “i really have to ask that you read our book, rather than its misrepresentation in skewed reviews.”
    “Not everything has been tried–see some of the suggestions in the book. We still desperately need a public more deeply attuned to science so that we’re ready for the next spate of big science controversies”
    “broader scientific literacy, in the sense described in our book”
    “we find certain professions or walks of life that have particular issues with science….politicians, religious leaders, reporters, entertainers….the book unfolds this whole picture”
    “we want new opportunities for scientists to innovate, creatively, in communication. and new careers for them.”
    “offer them the courses, first. especially the science graduates. then, also offer them the careers in outreach, careers that don’t exist right now.”

    So, instead of offering a single scrap of definition of ‘scientific (il)literacy’, Chris says, ‘Read our book!’

    In terms of solutions to the problem, he says, ‘The problem is that there is too little outreach to the public and too few opportunities for people in science to do that outreach; so let’s improve outreach!’

    You do realize that that’s a complete joke, don’t you? How do you propose to improve outreach? Of course we’d want courses and opportunities, but what should they contain? The rate at which you’re passing up opportunities to give even a hint of anything specific in your approach makes you look increasingly as if you’re simply plugging your book.

    Oh, there’s Sheril, of course. She has one thing to say about the above questions:

    “we argue to focus on bringing religious America more towards science”

    Okay, I guess now we really know exactly what to do.

  2. Chris Mooney

    Peter,
    Are you planning to read the book, or judge it from comments posted at Daily Kos?

  3. Ben Nelson

    Chris, I think that Peter is saying that the advice to read the book is not helpful in a productive conversation. What would be more helpful is if you addressed particular good faith criticisms on this blog, indicating in general terms how your book addresses the question.

  4. Peter Beattie

    I wasn’t even talking about your book, Chris. I was talking about your behaviour in this whole discussion, which seems to be to strenuously avoid engaging with any substantive opposition or even giving straightforward answers. (I’m sorry, but that’s what it looks like.)

    Why won’t you just say, ‘This is how we define scientific litercy’? And then give us a sentence of two, perhaps just copied out of your book? You could even say, ‘It’s on page x, go read it there.’ The same goes for specific solutions.

    As for your book, if you’d contemplate sending me a review copy, I would gladly review your book on the basis of what’s there and what isn’t. But as long as you refuse to give any details at all that might, in advance of reading it, make me think that it will be worth my while, I hope you don’t hold it against me that I’d have to respectfully decline. I am seriously interested in new solutions, but there are already so many items on my reading list that would-be list crashers mustn’t shy away from strongly advertising their strengths.

  5. Chris Mooney

    Hi Folks,

    I think we are putting out about as much information about our book as any author does. There is an excerpt. There are multiple reviews. There are blogs that quote from it vastly (although often misleadingly). There is a whole bloggingheads diavlog where we get into the meaning of scientific illiteracy. There are also articles/adaptations in the works.

    Most of it is here, and that which isn’t yet will be soon
    http://www.unscientificamerica.com/

    So it’s fine to ask questions, but we have put a lot of info out there, too.

    As for scientific literacy–we wrote a full chapter on this in the book–the entirety of Chapter 2, “Rethinking the Problem of Scientific Illiteracy.” The chapter is also heavily referenced, showing what the term has meant in the academic literature. Our particular take is based on the literature, and then goes a bit beyond it.

    Finally, I do not “strenuously avoid” discussion. I think I posted 20 responses over at Kos this morning, or more.

    What I strenuously avoid is biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion, and people who don’t seem open minded. I will continue to do that. Also, I put a limit on how much time I can engage on blogs, and when I do engage, I focus on threads or questions where I feel it will be productive. This is, of course, the best that I or anyone can do.

  6. John Kwok

    Chris,

    I just posted this over at Carl’s blog and thought it worth posting here (though I know I had said something similar here at the Intersection yesterday).

    Regards,

    John

    Carl,

    Heard the podcast last night and thought your dialogue with Chris Mooney went especially well. However, I’m more inclined to support your perspective with regards to the importance of high school science education (though I might add that it really should start earlier, in middle school, with an emphasis on the importance of experimental science), especially, as you noted correctly, that’s the best time to have rigorous introductions to basic sciences. By the time one enters college, most students not interested in science won’t – unless required to fulfill distribution requirements – take even a science course aimed at non-majors.

    I’m also a bit perplexed with Chris’s emphasis on Carl Sagan. There were others who were eloquent writers and “scientific ambassadors” like, for example, anthropologist Loren Eiseley, evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, physician Lewis Thomas, and especially, invertebrate paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould. Today we can count among our most gifted “science ambassadors” the likes of evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson, physiologist and ecologist Jared Diamond (who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences), physician Oliver Sacks, physicists Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss and Lisa Randall, invertebrate paleobiologist Peter Ward, vertebrate paleobiologists Mark Norell and Michael Novacek, and last, but not least, Norell and Novacek’s American Museum of Natural History colleague, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson (And I know I have ignored important contributions too from the likes of evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson and planetary scientist David Grinspoon, among others). So, to put it simply, I don’t think that the absence of a “Carl Sagan” is as dire as Chris would like us to believe.

  7. bob

    “What I strenuously avoid is biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion, and people who don’t seem open minded.” Chris, I can’t help but assume that this is a preamble to a wildly disappointing *substantial response* that’s coming tomorrow. Can we expect that you’re going to be calling PZ a fundamentalist, and claim that his mind is closed to what you’re proposing?

    As for you deferring to the book, I understand that you don’t want to copy-paste the entire thing online to placate people commenting on your blog. I just hope you yourself understand that many of us see absolutely no reason to ever buy it.

  8. DS

    Peter:

    As for your book, if you’d contemplate sending me a review copy, I would gladly review your book on the basis of what’s there and what isn’t. But as long as you refuse to give any details at all that might, in advance of reading it, make me think that it will be worth my while, I hope you don’t hold it against me that I’d have to respectfully decline.

    Wait, you’ve got to be kidding, right? Do you normally demand that authors personally summarize their positions for you before you read a book? As Chris pointed out, there’s an excerpt from the book on his website. There are a number of reviews floating around. He and Sheril have talked about the book in some detail a number of places. What more do you need?

    And then you have the temerity to ask Chris to send you a free copy?! You’d review it where, exactly?

    You obviously think it’s “worth your while” to spend hours reading and posting comments about it on blogs. I’ll bet you could have finished the actual book by now several times over. So what’s your hangup? If it’s money, and you can’t wait for your local library to get it, then post your address here and I’ll have Amazon send you a copy. But stop pretending that you’re entitled to some kind of special consideration from the authors.

  9. Chris Mooney

    Like Bob’s comment, for instance (# 7). As you can see, he’s totally pre-judged. These are the kind of people I don’t respond to (with this exception, to make a point), though I allow all comments critical of me.

  10. bob

    Surely you’re joking, Chris? Of course I “pre-judged” the book. I base my purchasing decisions upon reviews. How do you decide what to buy? Or do you just buy every book that you see? You’re acting like a child. (Apparently you think you’re a martyred child, though, and want everyone to know how strong you are for allowing negative comments on your blog. I, for one, am very impressed)

    I stand by my comment. And, after *yet another* lame response to a criticism (I think we’re well past a dozen now), I expect even less from your post tomorrow.

  11. John Kwok

    @ bob –

    Read the book first. I’ve voiced some criticisms about “Unscientific America” (e. g. “Pluto” controversy and Chris’s emphasis on Carl Sagan) here, but I am willing to suspend any really serious criticism until I get the book, read it, and write a review of it.

    @ Peter –

    Consistently you’ve been among the most thoughtful – and rational – supporters of Myers et al. here and I truly value the real dialogue that we’ve had. However, in this case, I have to agree with DS’s rebuke.

  12. bob

    Again, I see no reason to read the book. The reviews haven’t blown me away, and Chris’ response to criticism has been embarrassing.

    Moreover, I wasn’t criticizing the book itself in these posts. If you (or Chris, for that matter) had actually read what I wrote here, I said that I *understand* why the authors aren’t copy-pasting the entire book and/or giving out free copies to strangers willy-nilly.

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills; the responses to negative comments here seem like they’re addressing a funhouse mirror reflection of the original intent. How you folks have the gall to call others closed-minded or biased boggles the mind. Any negative comment gets you labeled a “PZ sycophant” or “New Atheist,” and from thereon out you’re treated like a caricature angry anti-theist. Once again, words like embarrassing and pathetic come to mind to describe these “responses.”

  13. Peter Beattie

    DS, you’re jumping to conclusions.

    Do you normally demand that authors personally summarize their positions for you before you read a book?

    First, I’m not demanding anything. I’m asking for information that I think would be valuable to me and should be easy to supply for Chris. And if I am about to read a book, I do indeed expect to see some substantive information on the main points the book purports to address. There is, however, no such information on the UA website, or on its back cover, or in the reviews, or in the discussions the authors have taken part in, as I have shown in comment #1.

    Again, I’m not demanding, I’m just saying that, as with every other book that I might want to read, I’m not going to read something that refuses to give me any specific information about how it addresses its main topic.

    What more do you need?

    I said that explicitly in comment #1: “How do you propose to improve outreach? Of course we’d want courses and opportunities, but what should they contain?”

    A sentence or two to address these questions cannot be asking too much, can it?

    And then you have the temerity to ask Chris to send you a free copy?!

    Excuse me? What I said was, if he refuses to volunteer any specific information about the major premises of the book, then the only way he can reasonably expect me, or anyone else, to read the book was to send me a review copy.

    You’d review it where, exactly?

    Not that it’s any of your business, but I have mentioned before that I’m a journalist, in a direct reply to a comment by Chris, so I suppose he might be aware of the fact.

    You obviously think it’s “worth your while” to spend hours reading and posting comments about it on blogs.

    Yes, the issue is worth my time, and productive discussion about it also is. Some people are willing to engage in that, that’s why I’m spending the time.

    But stop pretending that you’re entitled to some kind of special consideration from the authors.

    Asking for an answer to the question, “How do you define scientific literacy?”, is equivalent to saying that I’m entitled to special consideration from the authors? Tell me, have you visited planet earth?

  14. Peter Beattie

    @ John Kwok:

    I’m honestly trying to be as fair as I can. And I’m glad you appreciate that.

    As to what DS said, please see the previous comment.

  15. Peter Beattie

    Chris, thanks for your reply. A couple of points, though, if I may:

    I think we are putting out about as much information about our book as any author does. There is an excerpt.

    That excerpt does not address either of the central issues: How do you define ‘scientific (il)literacy’, and what would a specific solution look like?

    There are multiple reviews.

    Chad Orzel in his review just does a bit of hand-waving, saying that you “close with some suggestions regarding ways forward”. In his piece on popularization he says, “We could all use some brilliant suggestions right about now.” That doesn’t immediately seem to suggest that, in terms of solutions, he found anything to write home about in your book.

    Michael Mann in his review says that you argue that we have to “fundamentally reinvent the way that scientists are trained, so as to encourage and reward those who choose to serve as much-needed science liasons and science communicators”, and also come up with more appealing rewards for this kind of outreach. As I have said before, that’s not much more than to rephrase the problem, and one which pretty much everybody is aware of. The interesting question is, Do you have any specific ideas? Just a hint at the kind of direction you’re thinking in would be appreciated, in terms of how the outreach should be done.

    James Hrynyshyn’s review doesn’t even mention solutions.

    The Seed magazine review quote on the UA website conveniently omits the first part of the quoted sentence, “While the authors’ call for more friendly and magnanimous champions of science is far from a radical conclusion &hellip .”

    There are blogs that quote from it vastly

    Again, nothing of substance there. In fact, some reviewers have remarked on the lack of detail when it comes to suggesting solutions.

    There is a whole bloggingheads diavlog where we get into the meaning of scientific illiteracy.

    And once more, you avoid saying anything even remotely specific. This is the first paragraph from a comment I posted over at Carl’s blog, which as of this moment is still awaiting moderation:

    I think it would benefit the debate if we could actually try and define what we mean by ‘scientific (il)literacy’. Judging from the conversation, what I understand Chris’s position to be is that mainly there is a lack of factual knowledge, which is a thing easily ascertained in a poll. Then there’s the question of “how aware are they of the relevance of science to policy-making … to their own lives [and] is there a healthy relationship between science and society”. That’s it; just a bit of waffle, no specifics whatsoever. A little later in the conversation (around 7:30), Chris says that when it comes to issues like climate change and evolution, we can ‘in no way’ blame what’s going on there on a lack of factual knowledge or even a lack of education. There again he seems, at least to some extent, to equate education with a knowledge of facts.

    So it’s fine to ask questions, but we have put a lot of info out there, too.

    How do you define ‘scientific (il)literacy’, and what would a specific solution look like? Again, this is not primarily about the book (at least for us financially disinterested folks it isn’t), it’s about the issue itself. And I dare say, that to you should be worth a sentence each to address those questions.

    As for scientific literacy–we wrote a full chapter on this in the book … [that is] based on the literature, and then goes a bit beyond it.

    In the interest of the issue, which surely is of wider concern than any single author’s book about it, could you please give a short summary of what the core of your definition entails?

    Finally, I do not “strenuously avoid” discussion.

    I went out of my way, Chris, to say that “that’s what it looks like”. And I have given ample evidence for that point of view. It is, in all fairness, a reasonable conclusion. At least it is one that you can’t just wave away with a dismissive, “Didn’t!”

    I think I posted 20 responses over at Kos this morning, or more.

    As I have detailed in comment #1, in those 20 responses you don’t give a single substantive piece of information. I listed them all. Please go see for yourself. If you think there is substance in there that I have overlooked, by all means do point it out to me.

  16. Jon

    If an author’s job were to restate in exhaustive detail each and every point made in a book, then… [you at home, use your critical thinking abilities to complete this thought.]

    If you only read books that agreed with your views *exactly* on each and every detail… [ditto]

  17. bob

    Jon, thank you for so succinctly demonstrating my point about this blog’s valiant defenders not even reading what people are saying. No one is saying that Chris should give away the entire book, and no one is saying they wouldn’t read it if they didn’t agree with it.

    You are talking to yourself, because you’re certainly not addressing anyone here.

    When you’re reading to have an actual conversation, you’ll find people’s actual opinions right here on the page. Try paying attention to them, for a change.

  18. J.J.E.

    I’m really trying to envision under what circumstances Chris would try seeing the argument from the side he criticizes. I’ve typed and deleted like 4 or 5 sets of comments in this box just tossing around how to encourage him to do that and I come up blank given the long history of this discussion (about defining the problem of why Americans reject good science).

    I have deduced from his writing online that he can’t engage criticism well, at least in a blog format. And judging from the book reviews written so far (even the positive ones) his defense of his own ideas in print aren’t sufficiently high impact that I can wait until I go to book store for a lazy afternoon some day for a free read. His shot at personally marketing it to me (namely, his internet presence) failed to raise it above my threshold for purchasing in the short term (that despite the fact I got a lot out of TRWOS).

    Chris may have a great policy prescriptions for improving science literacy that appears only in print, but if so, then I’ll just have to risk missing it, as I see no evidence of it online, either from Chris or his positive reviewers. If only Chris showed a bit more ability to play devil’s advocate in his online presence, I’d feel better about paying money for his book. In all of his writing in the last several weeks, he seems focused like a laser on his own perspective and seems not to take the criticisms seriously, even as a rhetorical exercise. I completely understand if he doesn’t ACTUALLY take his criticisms seriously, but he should at least respond to them as if he did. That’s what debate is all about. Because, if Chris’s arguments in part deal with how scientists fail, I’d only spend my time and money engaging his argument if I felt he actually tried to understand the position of those he criticizes.

    Instead, Chris seems to like to state and restate his case (look at his link to Eugenie Scott’s talk) without addressing the objections that have been made to them earlier. For example, he won’t address the contention that his criticism of Jerry is mis-directed because Jerry never claimed that religious people couldn’t be competent professional scientists. Indeed, Jerry recently restated his position again: science and religion both aspire to explaining truths about the world, and the methods they use to do so are not compatible. This was in Jerry’s original TNR article, and yet here we are weeks later without Chris having actually tried to engage the sense of “incompatibility” that Jerry very explicitly provided.

    And now, when Chris is trying explicitly to hawk his book, he won’t even outline for one of his interlocutors a sketch of what would clearly be a selling point for that person, namely what concrete suggestions does Chris’s (and Sheril’s) book have to offer? If I could land one book royalty by typing in a sketch the length of a tweet, I’d sure as heck at least give it a shot. It would have been more solicitous than parrying that request, even if the response were redundant, and would have taken less time, too.

    From Chris’s stance here, I have come away with the impression that he is more interested in spreading his perspective than in engaging in dialogue. I’m not really into one-way interactions. It is unfortunate, as I had high expectations after reading TRWOS.

    Chris, can you dispel my impression that your book (and your blog) fails to understand the mindset of those perspectives it seeks to persuade?

  19. Jon

    I reread the thread above and still have the same response.

    By the way, answers to questions are out there. For instance, in answer to the question on what is scientific illiteracy, there’s a discussion here:

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/21093?in=02:34&out=04:49

  20. Jon

    (That was in response to Bob in 17.)

  21. bob

    Oh? You still think people are asking for the entire book, and are saying they only read things that they agree with?

    Well, I’m done, then. Have a good day. Might go for a walk in the woods, since it’s like I’m already talking to tree stumps here.

  22. I think you must have known what was going to happen when you wrote the book, which is supposed to be delivered this week. Don’t bother too much with the massive new atheist flack you’re going to get. You’re never, ever going to convince them, but they’re a tiny, though loudly obnoxious, minority within a very small minority anyway.

    The only people who want to hear the new atheist line are new atheists. I’m pretty sure there’s a much larger audience out there who want nothing to do with them. Once you get past “people are tired of that stuff” there’s not much else to say about it.

    —- Jerry recently restated his position again: science and religion both aspire to explaining truths about the world, and the methods they use to do so are not compatible. JJE

    Jerry Coyne isn’t credible on religion, he never will be. His a priori extreme anti-religious, bias discredits anything much he says in general on the topic. He ignores empirical evidence from the real world in favor of whatever backs up his bias. The large majority of the population of the United States has no reason, whatsoever, to believe anything Coyne says on the topic. Whether or not that well earned distrust spills over into what he says about science isn’t clear, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

    In a democracy, it’s the majority you’ve got to work with on getting anything done. Like it or not, science education and research funding depends on the support of religious voters. And that’s not an automatic guarantee, there’s no reason it couldn’t change. An intransigent, obnoxious minority intent on insulting the majority of voters won’t be any help in lobby for funding or securing education.

  23. Peter Beattie

    » Jon:
    I reread the thread above and still have the same response.

    By the way, answers to questions are out there. For instance, in answer to the question on what is scientific illiteracy, there’s a discussion [from 2:34 to 4:49]

    Then either you didn’t read or didn’t understand #15. I specifically and in detail referred to that conversation. And have you even listened to that part of it? If so, why don’t you give us your take on what it is that Chris is saying?

  24. DS

    Bob, it sounds to me like you put too much faith in reviews if you “base your purchasing decisions on reviews.” And since the only really negative reviews I’ve seen have come from Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers–2 people who have demonstrated considerable animus towards Chris–you’re acknowledging a very limited sample set. What about the positive reviews that have appeared, like the one that started this thread?

    To both Bob and Peter: Nobody’s requiring you to purchase a book you don’t want to read. However, it seems pretty stupid to hang around on the author’s blog criticizing that author while at the same time stating that you have no intention of reading the book.

    And Peter, I didn’t jump to any conclusions: I described exactly what you’ve been doing here. Your objection to my comments is based on the fact that you think what you’re doing is reasonable, not that you aren’t actually doing it.

    To summarize:

    You came to the blog of an author and announced that you wouldn’t purchase his book unless he – directly – responded to your requests for more information. I pointed out that you were being unreasonable–do you think authors have time to respond to these kinds of requests from every reader?

    Then, you made the totally unreasonable request for a free copy of the book. You did. Don’t pretend you didn’t. Again, how would authors survive if all potential readers insisted they shouldn’t have to pay for a book they weren’t sure they’d like?

    And by the way, I don’t care whether or not you’re a journalist, as you claim. However, if you really are one, then you should understand that book reviews are normally handed out by editors to people who presumably have not been engaging in protracted online arguments with the author of the book they are asked to review. So asking where you intended to ‘review’ the book is entirely legitimate, since ‘review copies’ are normally sent only to people who are in a position to actually review the book.

    There is one very simple way you can answer your questions about Chris’s position: read the book. I’ve even offered to buy you a copy, out of the goodness of my heart. So decide whether you’re going to read it–and if you aren’t, why don’t you stop harassing Chris and do something useful with your time?

  25. There are very few who demonstrate the kind of palpable passion for science as Sagan did. In the list above there are very few (especially Tyson) who exemplify this. I would also add physicist Brian Cox as a good example of someone whose passion for science shines through. Here is a TED talk by his that demonstrates this:
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/06/29/090629fa_fact_kolbert

  26. Ben Nelson

    Chris, what if I were to say, “Your argument about x is wrong because it doesn’t rest on any evidence, and prime facie evidence contradicts it”. Sure, this is a challenge. Is that hectoring, fundamentalist, etc.? Do these challenges not deserve to be taken seriously?

  27. Jon

    21 and 22:

    On #15: Yes, that’s true. That was mentioned. I’d be lying if I didn’t say after reading so many of these threads with so many commenters from PZ Myers threads, my eyes start to glaze a bit. There’s a lot of you. (What that means, that there’s a lot of you, is another question.)

    Part of the problem is that during these appearances there isn’t time to discuss a lot of these things in detail. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more details in the book.

    Another thing is that when you speak in public, you have to consider a lot of different audiences. One part of the audience may be interested in one detail, another may be interested in another. It’s not like you’re delivering a paper for specialist science at a conference, where people will appreciate your excusions into all the gory details.

    It also may be that you don’t have time in your schedule to respond to a particular question properly.

    Somehow, I don’t think that there would be this kind of attention if it wasn’t for Chris’s disagreements with certain parties. I think it’s more an attempt to pile on for any reason whatsoever, even if the reasons border on pedantic. (After all, the people commenting in this thread haven’t even read the book.)

  28. Silver Fox

    Chris:

    A word of advise. You’re wasting time and energy editorializing your own work with people who have 1) not read the book or 2) read it with a preconceived bias. They have an agenda which is antithetical to the viewpoint of the book. They may be from a rat pack of another blog which is, at least tacitly if not overtly, urging them to do what they’re doing. They may be trying to discredit more out of a misguided sense of loyalty then from a sense of honest disagreement. You could resort to irony by suggesting that they take a reading comprehension course; you could suggest that their knowledge base is insufficient to understand the nuances of the book. There are many ways you could “blow them off”. But for heaven’s sake don’t engage them in a disputation that would suggest that you think they’re honest brokers.

    During interviews you want to tell audiences what the book is about not what’s in the book. You want them to buy and read the book. These interviews and book signings are advertising opportunities, not workshops on the content of the book. You speak for the book; let the book speak to the content. Have a good day.

  29. Ben Nelson

    Silver Fox, what are your considered criteria for distinguishing between “prejudice” and “judgment”? Is it proper and adequate to consider those that ask questions in good faith to be expressing either? If so, why?

  30. Peter Beattie

    » DS:
    while at the same time stating that you have no intention of reading the book.

    Where did I say that? And please don’t repeat the infantile mode of argument from your last post, where you said, ‘Yes, you did! Somewhere.’

    And you still don’t seem to get it, after I have repeatedly said so: My comment was not about the book. It was about the issue. Chris then stepped in to say that I should read the book. I said, that’s no way to have a discussion, but if he insisted to have the discussion by book proxy then he’d have to send me a review copy. After all, he didn’t give any reason to believe that the book actually does contain the answers to my questions; if he had, I actually would want to read the book, contrary to your ludicrous claims.

    As for doing something useful with my time instead of replying to made-up baloney: I should have, but simple courtesy sometimes gets the better of me.

  31. Silver Fox

    Ben:

    Silver Fox, what are your considered criteria for distinguishing between “prejudice” and “judgment”?

    I would have thought everyone knew that: Judgment is an outcome of knowledge while prejudice is the product of ignorance.

    I used neither word in my post. I used “bias” which would suggest that contrary to your terminology they are not in “good faith” or as I put it, they are not “honest brokers”.

  32. Thiago

    Just read about the Daily Kos podcast on Pharyngula, haven’t heard it yet, plan to soon. Left this comment there:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/an_annoyed_query.php#comment-1769504
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

    The part I don’t get in Mooney’s argument is this:
    “It is one thing to say that scientific norms and practices preclude ascribing any explanatory force to God in, say, the movement of atoms, or the function of DNA. It’s quite another to say they entirely preclude God’s existence”
    So god is in no way an explanatory force, he is not responsible for whatever it is that hysics, Chemistry, Biology, psychology, sociology and pretty much any other area of expertise studies. I agree with with Mooney on that (though I’m not so sure that’s his position anymore)
    But then he says that doesn’t necessarily means god doesn’t exit. I agree, like Dawkins does, but… if god has no role whatsoever, what’s the point of invoking it at all? If it’s not doing anything what does god do, besides existing?
    Furthermore I’d argue there are levels of existence… I have no doubt that god, as a concept or cultral phenomenon (usually spelled “God”), exists. But that’s not the same as saying that some sort of supernatural all powerful being exists.
    That god, which many theologians can relate to, according to Mooney, is no other than the god of the gaps. The twist is that this time they have the nerve to say that something like ‘god lives in the very hollow created by the absence of gaps’. Very pomo.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

    Now, please, Chris and everyone else: keep in mind that I haven’t read the book yet, and don’t think I will any time soon. I live in Brazil and the one bookstore where I can get imported books isn’t selling it yet, and when it does start selling the hardcover it’ll probably cost more than I can afford. So I won’t get around to reading it till the paperback comes out (which I’m really looking forward to). So this is a comment based on the very few paragraphs from the book I’ve read, particularly by the one quoted above.

  33. Ben Nelson

    Silver Fox, evidently I was not clear. I will rephrase. What are your considered criteria for distinguishing, in other people, expressions you deem to be prejudiced (result of preconceived bias), versus those that you deem to be considered judgments (coming from honest brokers)? What makes for a bad faith question?

  34. Jon

    They may be from a rat pack of another blog which is, at least tacitly if not overtly, urging them to do what they’re doing.

    PZ Myers’ attitudes about his commenters’ activities can be pretty interesting. This was a comment he left after hundreds of profanity laden comments were left on Chris’s blog after Chris disagreed that Myers and Dawkins were the best public science spokesmen to be at a particular event. It’s as if these questions could best be settled in the debating style of the characters in Lord of the Flies.

  35. Silver Fox

    Jon:

    I did not mention Myers or Dawkins in my post. It is interesting to note that you assumed that I was referrencing one of them. I said they “may be” from another blog’s rat pack. You went on to highlight a Myer’s post that was supposed to show his attitude about HIS commenters’ activities after hundreds of profanity laden posts were left on “Chris’ blog. In the post you referred to, Myers did not claim ownership of those who left the profanity laden posts but simply implied that Chris had brought it upon himself. Are you suggesting that you and Myers concluded that this was HIS rat pack?

  36. John Kwok

    @ Jon –

    I just noticed this over at that blog posting you linked too, and I think Linda had PZ pegged correctly back then (I think she’s been commenting here lately, and I think she still has him pegged right, if it is indeed the same Linda):

    PZ Meyers:
    You obviously have your fan base, although I’m not too sure who you are, or that I would want to read you.
    But I must say that you come across with an over-inflated EGO.
    The Intersection has lost NO credibility, only gained more CLASS in issues and presentation. But, they seem to be a different breed…

    Posted by: Linda | March 25, 2008 2:15 PM

  37. criteria for distinguishing between “prejudice” and “judgment”?

    Prejudice is pre-judging before evidence is presented,

    Judgement is, hopefully, what happens after evidence has been heard.

    In the case of a book, it’s the difference between judging something you’ve read, and something you haven’t yet or never will.

    I didn’t read Coyne’s book and so haven’t said anything about the book , I’ve read his blog and his TNR articles and I’ve had lots to say about those and him as a result.

  38. Ben Nelson

    Anthony, yes. Now when you encounter somebody asking a question, what are the characteristic traits of the question that show that it rests upon prejudice, as opposed to judgment? Walk me through the steps you use to determine when someone is an honest broker, and when they are unserious or mean-spirited.

  39. Ben Nelson, I couldn’t possibly answer those questions in the abstract because that’s not how real life happens.

    There’s a big difference between asking for the definition of two words and asking for the definition of people, who tend to be a bit more complex than the models people make of them in the abstract. Much as some folks in the behavioral sciences might wish, people are not models, they’re real.

    I didn’t construct an abstract Jerry Coyne, I read him and decided to not read the book yet. For all I know it could be the single, greatest book on evolutionary biology (for a popular audience) ever written. How in the world could I know that without reading it?

    Jerry Coyne, the man, I wouldn’t trust to say a true word about any religion or religious person because he’s an anti-religious bigot. For all I know he’s entirely reliable on evolutionary biology, though I’d rather read people in the physical sciences on those topics. I have the utmost respect for Richard Lewontin, whose review was what led me into looking into Coyne. His review might still get me to read it.

    I’m going to read Chris Mooney’s book because his two previous ones were fine pieces of journalism with a realistic grasp of politics and the effect of politics on science and the dangers of ignoring science in favor of politics.

  40. Jon

    In the post you referred to, Myers did not claim ownership of those who left the profanity laden posts but simply implied that Chris had brought it upon himself. Are you suggesting that you and Myers concluded that this was HIS rat pack?

    Here’s the post that caused the controversy, and this is the thread it provoked. At the very least, Myers should have said he didn’t identify with the most adolescent of his commenters–and I think he should have said something about profanity directed personally as not a great way to conduct discourse. But no, he implied that this was a perfectly cool way to go about things, as if things were best decided by large numbers of people shouting each other down and swearing at each other…

  41. Ben Nelson

    Anthony, thank you for your reply. My question was poorly phrased in its original form. The second formulation reflected my intent.

    What I am interested in here is the substantial critiques that have been offered in the comments pages, and why there has been so much trouble getting answers to them. There are quite a few important questions, I think, and they have not received due attention and care. The two most important, I believe, are questions of psychology, regarding cognitive compatibility, and the social psychology of conciliatory strategy when dealing with authoritarian personalities. There are others.

    According to Silver Fox and Mooney, it would seem that these questions are ignored because they have been interpreted as being posed for the purposes of theatre, not productive conversation. I find this puzzling, because it clearly means that my standards for deciding between those who are genuinely curious, and those who are spoiling for a fight, must be vastly different. Unless as it happens we agree that Mooney has been recalcitrant in his responses — do we?

  42. @ 24

    “Bob, it sounds to me like you put too much faith in reviews if you “base your purchasing decisions on reviews.” And since the only really negative reviews I’ve seen have come from Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers–2 people who have demonstrated considerable animus towards Chris–you’re acknowledging a very limited sample set.”

    You know what, I didn’t have considerable animus toward Chris until he stonewalled every single question I asked. I was somewhat doubtful about him, because of the whole framing thing, but I hadn’t revisited that in a very long time, and it had all faded. That mild doubt was countered by my admiration for Chris’s first two books and his journalism from that time, which I often linked to on my site, and also by a few friendly emails over the years and a quick hello at a reading Chris did. I had nothing that amounted to an animus. But then came Chris’s post about Jerry Coyne, which seemed both wrong and severely underargued to me, so I asked him some reasonable questions about it. He never replied – and the more he didn’t reply, the more irritated I got. Then there was animus.

    Then I read chapter 8 of the book, and my animus grew. That would be because I think chapter 8 an arbitrary unprovoked attack on atheists for…being atheists, a crime which is already more than sufficiently despised and reviled by the vast majority of the US population. It would also be because I think the chapter’s first two pages on PZ Myers are, again, unprovoked, and badly out of proportion. I think the later 3 pages on PZ’s crime of having a popular science blog have the same problem but more so (5 pages out of 132 – that’s a lot of space spent on one blogging biologist). Then I posted more comments here, all of course stonewalled – and here we are today.

    My point is – I don’t have a random out of nowhere animus – I have one that Chris Mooney did a lot to generate. He could have answered my civil questions about his article about Jerry Coyne – but he didn’t. He seems to stonewall almost anyone who doesn’t agree with him. (Almost – I did see him address some disagreements yesterday.)

    He says this is what he avoids –

    “What I strenuously avoid is biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion, and people who don’t seem open minded.”

    I don’t believe that. He avoids questions from Peter Beattie, for instance, which are none of those things.

    So yeah, I have an animus, but I have an animus for a reason.

    And I wouldn’t have given the book a favorable review even if I’d been on the warmest of terms with CM. I couldn’t have.

  43. Jon @ 28

    “Somehow, I don’t think that there would be this kind of attention if it wasn’t for Chris’s disagreements with certain parties. I think it’s more an attempt to pile on for any reason whatsoever, even if the reasons border on pedantic. (After all, the people commenting in this thread haven’t even read the book.)”

    I have. Carefully, taking notes.

  44. Jon

    #44. You’re one of the few who have on this thread.

    Remember, atheism isn’t the only issue we’re facing as a country. I sometimes worry that we’re looking at a rerun of 90’s identity politics, where oppressed political identities trumped all other concerns and people brought police whistles to campus lectures, disrupting what was said to denounce statements against whatever group they felt were being oppressed–some linguisting infringement causing some overblown, passionate aggrievement, etc.

    It created a lot of heat, but not much light… Not that the identities weren’t there, but the police whistles were an adolescent way to carry out discourse and set things back more than anything…

  45. And since the only really negative reviews I’ve seen have come from Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers–2 people who have demonstrated considerable animus towards Chris–you’re acknowledging a very limited sample set.

    “Animus”? This is very strange. Have you read my reviews of Storm World and Republican War on Science? I had been looking forward to his latest…until I learned I was one of the villains of the story.

    I’m also amused that the people who are most critical of this book on Mooney’s blog are the people who have read it — all these wild-eyed angry defenders of the book here haven’t! (Of course, in Kwok’s case, that’s SOP.) Comment after comment after comment by the ignorant, not that I’ll expect any of you’ll change after you’ve read. You don’t have animus, you’re now invested in it.

  46. DS

    Peter,

    Can the false indignation, ok? Remember this from comment #4?

    But as long as you refuse to give any details at all that might, in advance of reading it, make me think that it will be worth my while, I hope you don’t hold it against me that I’d have to respectfully decline. I am seriously interested in new solutions, but there are already so many items on my reading list that would-be list crashers mustn’t shy away from strongly advertising their strengths.

    That sound pretty much like you’re saying you’re not going to read the book. Actually–and speaking of ‘infantile’–it’s worse: like a small child throwing a temper tantrum, you hang around here on Chris’s blog kicking sand because he won’t cater to your demands, right now when you want it. My 6-year old has more self-control than you do.

    As for doing something useful with my time instead of replying to made-up baloney: I should have, but simple courtesy sometimes gets the better of me.

    Are you totally unaware of how pompous you sound? Basically, in order to get you to stop whining, I offered to buy you a copy of the book. Now that’s courtesy. All I’ve ever done is point out things that you have actually said, here, on this thread. All you’ve managed in reply is sputtering indignation and insults. I didn’t make you say those things, nor am I forcing you to keep coming back to add to your pompous, entitled pronouncements. If you really are so busy then, by all means, let’s see the back of you.

  47. DS

    Whoops – sorry about the formatting fail.

  48. John Kwok

    @ PZ Myers –

    I think I have said more than once that I haven’t read it yet and won’t comment fully until AFTER I have read it. That stands in stark contrast to what you and Ophelia did in “homing in” on Chapter Eighth.

    Any chance of contacting Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vanska soon for a crash course in tact and humility? Or getting a “friendly” reminder from Stuart Pivar?

  49. Jon

    I’m also amused that the people who are most critical of this book on Mooney’s blog are the people who have read it

    I don’t know about that, but I’ll give you a touche’ on the fact that I haven’t.

    I have it downloaded on my Kindle but still at the beginning (not everyone gets a review copy ya know…)

  50. Silver Fox

    Chris:

    Let the book speak for itself; that’s why you wrote it. If you try to engage in “serious conversation” (what a laugh), try to “lay out specifics” (which from the tenor of their posts they couldn’t understand), or satisfy “animus” (yes, one has “growing animus”; since it’s a woman I don’t guess that has anything to do with an enlarged prostate), you’re going to embroil yourself in a circular never ending tit for tat. Avoid it. Their “animus” will only grow and they will click even more on your blog which is good for advertising.

    Criteria for differentiating mean-spiritedness versus genuine curiosity?
    Look at the redundant denigration, similarity in language usage and sense the underlying emotionality.

  51. José

    Are you planning to read the book, or judge it from comments posted at Daily Kos?

    I’m currently not planning to read the book. The reason being that you won’t address criticisms raised by people who have read the book. Instead, you dismiss the criticisms as having come from angry people with a grudge against you. I’ll read your promised response to PZ’s review tomorrow with my fingers crossed, but I suspect that the delay has simply been a way for you to try and save face for your own questionable behavior. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

    Don’t refuse to engage people with valid criticism or honest questions by accusing them of having pre-judged you or being close-minded. Those are bush league, Discovery Institute tactics.

  52. Christina Viering

    Good luck with your book!

  53. Ugh, that formatting fail is horrendous. Hopefully this will correct it.

    Oh, and Ophelia, your comments about Chris dodging your questions is amusing. I’ve asked the same question of you several times on several entries and have received zero in terms of a response. Pot, kettle.

  54. Ben Nelson

    Silver Fox, then take those criteria, and apply them to my first post. I wrote: “Chris, what if I were to say, “Your argument about x is wrong because it doesn’t rest on any evidence, and prime facie evidence contradicts it?”

    To what extent would you regard this question, posted above, as denigrating or emotional? (I don’t quite know what you mean by “similarity in language usage”, you would have to clarify.) Is this overall a good faith question, or a bad faith one?

  55. Now remember everyone. No one has the right to judge anyone’s position until they’ve read their book. That means no one has the right to judge Hitler’s position until they’ve read his book (and if they never read it, they can’t have an opinion on Hitler’s position). I don’t care if Hitler had expressed his position elsewhere. You have to judge his position solely based on what he wrote in his book and that’s that. And also, one more thing. You’re not allowed to read Hitler’s book with any preconceived notions or prejudices of any kind. If you do, you’re just a dogmatic fool…which only means that no one is allowed to criticize you anymore because that’s the Meaney thing to do and not the Mooney thing to do.

    For The Great Mooney Zombies have spoken!

    This message is brought to you by the Chris Mooney Please, Please, Please Buy My Book Or You Have No Right To Have An Opinion Association and the Compare Yourself to Carl Sagan Every Chance You Get Foundation.

  56. Hank Roberts

    > “What I strenuously avoid is biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion,
    > and people who don’t seem open minded.”

    Funny, those are exactly the folks I can eventually get through to by patiently talking about science, trying to find terms they can recognize. Catch a lot of fish? Seen any pictures from old fishing trips? Notice how much bigger the fish used to be? What d’y’all think might be going on there? How about cutting trees? Did your grandpa always cut down the biggest straightest tree in the woodlot, and leave the little twisted ones behind to make seeds and acorns for you ‘Course not. What do you think he knew about?

    You want to convince people who _don’t_ think that science is a good approach that they actually do pay attention to the world and actually do have enough common sense to think about things, and that scientists do the same thing, the good ones?

    Practice is what you get — participating in biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion, with people who don’t seem open minded. You know what? It’s good for you to do that and show that you don’t get rattled because you’re not dismissing them even if they’re dismissing you. Sometimes they listen, eventually, because you make the effort so you clearly must give a damn by persisting.

    And if they think you’re turning the other cheek, so what? You know you’re just trying to get them to go to the library more often and learn how to look things up for themselves. And after a while if you keep refusing to tell them what they ought to think, and that they really can think for themselves, some will.

  57. Silver Fox

    “I’m not going to read something that refuses to give me any specific information about how it addresses its main topic.” -Peter

    “A sentence or two to address these questions cannot be asking too much, can it?” – Peter

    A sentence or two to give you SPECIFIC information on how it handles its MAIN TOPIC? Do you actually read what you write or are you so engulfed in pulling together any denigrating criticism you can think of that it doesn’t matter.

    “it seems pretty stupid to hang around on the author’s blog criticizing that author while at the same time stating that you have no intention of reading the book. – DS

    Of course, the reason you hang around is because your agenda is to criticise, not read – no matter how stupid it makes you look.

    “Chris, what if I were to say, “Your argument about x is wrong because it doesn’t rest on any evidence, and prime facie evidence contradicts it”. Ben

    I would say you’re an arrogant jerk for assuming that you were the only one who could interpret the meaning of the evidence – prime facie or otherwise.

    “if he insisted to have the discussion by book proxy then he’d have to send me a review copy. After all, he didn’t give any reason to believe that the book actually does contain the answers to my questions; if he had, I actually would want to read the book”. -Peter

    Well, if he told you, in discussion, the answers to your questions why would you read the book. You mean that all he had to say was “yes, Peter” the answers are in the book and you would run out and buy it. Do you really think anyone is buying that crap?

    “There are quite a few important questions, I think, and they have not received due attention and care.” Ben

    That’s why we read books, Ben, to answer the questions; but you say unless the answers are given to you in “discussion” instead of “book proxy” you won’t read it. You really should think these thoughts through, Ben, before you start banging on the keyboard.

    “Ophelia, your comments about Chris dodging your questions is amusing. I’ve asked the same question of you several times on several entries and have received zero in terms of a response. Pot, kettle.” -TomJoe

    Oh, Oh, looks like Ophelia got caught with her Animus down.

  58. foolfodder

    I considered myself to be open minded about these issues. Chris, dodging questions by those he considers biased, is also ignoring questions that I (and probably others) would have asked if they hadn’t already been asked. It shouldn’t really matter whether the people asking the questions are biased or not, only whether the questions are reasonable or not, as this is (I assume) being read by far more people than are going to engage directly in the comments.

    Also, to those saying “read the book”, as far as I’m concerned, this is still a debate based foremost on the criticisms about Jerry Coyne, not one on criticisms of Unscientific America. It seems rather unfair for Chris to engage people in a debate and then break off, saying “to find out why you’re wrong read my book”.

  59. Mitch

    “What I strenuously avoid is biased, unproductive, or hectoring discussion,
    > and people who don’t seem open minded.”

    So you decided to have a liveblog on the DailyKos then? Good Luck with that one. If its one place to have bias, unproductivity, hectoring, or close minded individuals then the Kos is the place.

  60. RandomActsOfReason

    The fundamental disconnect seems to be that Chris and Sheril seem continuously to refer to “science” as a body of knowledge, rather than a way of thinking, as in “the scientific method” or “critical thinking”.

    This seems to be the source of the notion that a) science and religion are not in conflict, and b) Dawkins, Myers et al’s critique of religion is, to quote Mooney, basically the result of a “category error’.

    In fact, the real issue (in terms of what affects us in the real world, particularly when it comes to the conduct of our democracy and the promulgation of public policy) is the inherent conflict between a worldview that is developed as the result of scientific thinking – built upon empirical evidence, logic and skepticism, applying peer review and all the other tools in the toolkit – and a worldview that is developed as the result of faith-based thinking – built upon received dogma that is necessarily unquestioned (if it had empirical support, it would not require faith, and if it were not believed, it would not be an act of faith).

    Furthermore, the relevant critique by the so-called “New Atheists” (as well as by skeptics throughout history, and those of us who don’t consider ourselves part of any Capitalized Movement (a Lumping and Labeling Often Used to stereotype, exaggerate and dismiss complex arguments), is that applying the scientific method/critical thinking is inherently incompatible with faith-based thinking – because it approaches a given problem from the exact opposite end.

    According to this critique, it is religion as an institution and a privileged, protected mode of thought in America, which it is unacceptable to challenge or even critique – that is the primary cause of the very problems the authors justly expose in America.

    The argument that the answer to the problem is to stop attacking religious thought is simply astonishing.

  61. Random Acts, I fundamentally disagree with your characterization of how democracy developed and why. I don’t think it had much to do with science, it had everything to do with people’s experience and history. It has to do with law and, as Holmes famously said, the life of the law isn’t logic, it’s experience. I think one of the major failings of the new atheism is its appalling ignorance and absurd disregard of history and the professional methods of history. The fact is that both modern democracy and science have had their greatest success and influence primarily in countries where monotheistic religions have predominated. I don’t draw the lesson from that, that democracy and science are not possible in the presence of polytheism or atheism, I see that it is an empirically based fact that religion doesn’t preclude the flourishing of both democracy and science.

    You might want to look at who were the greatest enemies of Athenian democracy, Socrates and Plato were among them.

    You also, as new atheists uniformly do, ignore the boundaries that science exists within. You talk about “scientific method”. The methods and tools of science are there to limit the focus on specific aspects of the universe. The limits of focus as an essential part of gaining reliable information, in almost all cases only about what is being focused on. Obtaining reliable information about the material world is the entire reason for science to exist. It doesn’t do anything else.

    You want to give science a universal application that it can’t have due to its own requirements. There is nothing rational about asserting that can be done.

  62. Peter Beattie

    Oh goodie, it more ‘Yes, you did!’ from DS.

    That sound pretty much like you’re saying you’re not going to read the book.

    You really have no idea what a condition is, do you? I mentioned two under which I would actually like to read the book. Ignore arguments all you like; maybe that’s what you’re here for. After all, Chris has lately been setting a really good example.

    Are you totally unaware of how pompous you sound?

    That from the guy who said, “I’ve even offered to buy you a copy, out of the goodness of my heart.” You’re funny.

    Whoops – sorry about the formatting fail.

    And the argument fail. But unfortunately, it seems that that’s not something anyone around the blog is willing to fix. Pity.

  63. Silver Fox

    Fool: @60

    “as far as I’m concerned, this is still a debate based foremost on the criticisms about Jerry Coyne, not one on criticisms of Unscientific America.”

    Really? Jerry is not capable of taking care of himself: He needs Foolfodder to come to his rescue. Really? How stupid do you think people are?

  64. Thinking about it more, what happens in actual life, the actual occurrences of what actually happens, is superior to any abstract theoretical model of it.

    It’s by comparing the attempted models of real life, to what can be found out about real life, that you can judge the quality of the model. Even logically coherent models of reality that don’t correspond to reality turn out to be fiction.

    It’s on that basis that the fact that modern democracy and modern science developed and predominated in monotheistic cultures is sufficient to dispose of the new atheist model that both are incompatible with monotheistic religion. That history doesn’t preclude both happening in other cultures and anyone who claims that has no basis to conclude it does. But the new atheist theory that all or even most of religion is a danger to both is entirely contradicted by observation of the real world.

    As they never like to hear, the observation of officially atheistic governments (as opposed to neutral, secular governments and even many governments with state religions) is that they are quite able to do science in the absence of democracy, but I don’t believe a single one has actually been a democracy. And science can suffer quite badly under those governments as the famous Lysenko folly shows.

    Justice, one of the foundations of democracy can’t be found by science. Equality has often been denied with “science”. Science can’t find any of the major civil rights, it can’t even be used to form the separation of church and state. All of those depend on human experience and a reading of real history, not the make-believe models of allegedly scientific new atheists.

  65. foolfodder

    @Silver Fox,

    Bravo on missing the point.

  66. Davo

    Stem cell research can provide justice to millions suffering from debilitating diseases, justice that has been denied by those who would accord greater importance to a mass of one hundred cells. Also, religion too cannot provide a good reason for separation of church and state. Our moral zeitgeist is often independent of both science and religion.

  67. Davo, religion can provide a good reason for the separation of church and state, it’s bad for religion. Some religious arguments for the separation of church and state go back to the gospel story of Jesus saying to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. You should go look at the history of the separation of church and state, you might want to look at Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

    The members of minority religions and religious dissenters were among the first to call for the separation of church and state.

    Stem cell research is opposed by several religious groups, it’s explicitly supported by many religious groups and individuals, some on the basis of religious arguments. As are the rights of women to control their own bodies.

    Stereotypical thinking is one of the foundations of the new atheism. It’s part of their failed attempts to model reality.

  68. John Kwok

    @ Skepacabra –

    Only a fool of a Took like yourself (or more likely, a willing servant of Mordor) would make such a rather inane – and IMHO bordering on insane – comparison (@ 56) between not commenting on “Unscientific America” fully until having read it in its entirety and the words and deeds of Adolf Hitler. But I suppose what more can I expect from someone who is obviously enjoying his membership in the Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg Collective.

  69. Ben Nelson

    FF, don’t waste your time, SF is not an honest broker.

    Anthony, assuming it is true that rapid-discovery science could only be found in monotheistic cultures, how does that have any more bearing on the compatibility argument than Scott’s argument did?

  70. Ben Nelson, go back and read what I ACTUALLY said and it was NOT” that rapid-discovery science could only be found in monotheistic cultures”.

    I never said that, in fact, I said anyone who said that would have no basis to come to that conclusion.

    I said that it was an indisputable FACT of history that both modern science and democracy arose and flourished in cultures where monotheism predominates. That they couldn’t also flourish in cultures where polytheism or atheism predominates is, I believe, being proved wrong.

    I did say that none of the officially atheistic governments that I’m aware of have allowed democracy. Unless you can name one or more, I’ll have to assume that is also a fact of history.

  71. Ben Nelson

    Anthony, you are right, and I apologize for my carelessness.

    But my question still applies: what bearing does contingent historical fact, which seems to be a Scott argument writ large, play on the question of cognitive compatibility?

  72. That historical fact is not contingent, it is what actually happened. That makes it as solid as the fossil record in support of any aspect of evolution and and in considerably more detail.

    “Cognitive compatibility”, is a question that only those who have had successful careers in science while they are religious can answer, you can’t get more valid evidence than their clear success of compatibility. That isn’t a matter that can be determined in the absence of their testimony. Their experience is the real world, new atheist theories are a model which ignore or arrogantly characterize their experience, generally against their testimony. Coyne, for example, is entirely incompetent to replace his baseless assertions for what they say.

  73. Silver Fox

    FF

    “FF, don’t waste your time, SF is not an honest broker.”

    Take Ben’s word for it, FF, SF is not an honest broker, neither is Ben.

    SF is a theist to the core and is convinced that accommodation is unworkable because there is absolutely no philosophical basis for any kind of negotiation between theists and the “new” atheists. Neither think the other should exist.

    The “New” Atheists see theists as delusional child abusers who deprive their children use of their most cherished gift – their rational faculty – by a kind of intergenerational acculturation to myths and imaginary fantasy beings.

    Theists see the “New” Atheists as a ranting, rather small but growing, rabble who are attempting to appropriate science as their own private domain as a foundation for their primary agenda – the promotion of atheism.

    Again, let me assure you that SF is not an honest broker.

  74. Davo

    Anthony McCarthy, quit calling anyone who disagrees with you a “New Atheist”. I am not a big fan of Dawkins and don’t agree with everything that he says, so save me the label please. The point I was making is that science can sometimes lead to justice, so can religion. Will you stop interrogtaing anyone who disagrees with you with the same monochromatic laser?

  75. Silver Fox

    Anthony:

    “Cognitive compatibility”, is a question that only those who have had successful careers in science while they are religious can answer, you can’t get more valid evidence than their clear success of compatibility.”

    Sorry Anthony, but your perception train has run off the rails.

    This is not about science and religion being compatible, they obviously are. The proposed accommodation is between “New” Atheism and religion where the latter see science as a neutral knowledge base and a neutral field of study which is compatible with theism and the former see science as an indispensable criterion in support of their disastrous life choice – atheism. They cannot allow science to accommodate theism because that would threaten their very raison etre.

    Now if you’re talking about “cognitive understanding” instead of “cognitive compatibility”, that’s a different issue. Both sides understand each other perfectly and part of that understanding is that they don’t want anything to do with the other.

  76. RandomActsOfReason

    Anthony McCarthy,

    addressing “New Atheism” as an “it” is a convenient way to avoid addressing substantively specific arguments made in specific case about specific things. It is a kind of demagogic hand-waving that serves as a subtle ad hominem, intended to discredit a commenter a priori, as in “ah, another New Atheist!” or, “as New Atheists says”.

    It is a logical fallacy: the identity of a messenger has no bearing on the merit of a specific argument, nor can a particular argument be dismissed by associating it with a label.

    This is a depressingly frequent tack here, apparently – I only came her because of the favorable review of the book on Daily Kos, and expected to find a high quality of intellectual argument and rational ferment on a blog discussing science.

    Instead, I find the same largely poorly grounded arguments, ad hominems and mischaracterizations one finds on any partisan ideological blog – the only difference here is the preponderance of multisyllabic words.

    I have now read hundreds of comments in every single post since this controversy emerged, and I’ve even gone back a bit farther on this blog. It’s all quite depressing. I see no signs of people engaging in thoughtful exchange of ideas with the intent of mutual learning and growth, just a lot of people digging in to attack the idealized straw men of their perfect demons.

    This is certainly not exemplary of scientific thinking, quite the contrary, it is faith-based thinking that seeks rationalization in service of confirmation bias.

    One of the biggest misconceptions I see in attacks on atheists (and, by the way, having mostly gray hairs at this point, I know as well as you do that these attacks on atheists are nothing new and have absolutely nothing to do with the writings of “New Atheists” over the past few years), is the notion that we arrive at our atheism irrationally, as an act of faith, and then, only then, do we look around at the world and say, “ah, religion is the enemy, I’ll try science”.

    The reason most leading scientists are atheists or agnostics is because it is likely the consistent application of critical thinking and the scientific method that led them to conclude that it is extremely unlikely a god exists, that there is no evidence for any supernatural phenomena, that science has worked just fine over the years as it continuously replaces supernatural explanations for phenomena with natural ones, and that there is no rational reason to suppose this trend will not continue.

    At least speaking for myself, I am an atheist because I approached the question rationally, not the other way around.

    And that, specifically, is why atheists have always been vilified and attacked over the past several hundred years since the birth of the modern scientific method of inquiry – because theists know damned well that rational thinking and the scientific method are, in fact, the greatest threat to the power based organized religions have built by inculcating uncritical faith-based thinking in the populace.

    That is why the arguments Mooney and Kirshenbaum are so dramatically counterintuitive and contraevidential; because the only way to increase the role of reason in government is to increase rational thinking in the public, and that kind of thinking is undermined directly by religion, which teaches religious or faith-based thinking.

    Now, I don’t expect, based on the patterns I observe of your call and response with other regulars here, that it is likely you will engage in the substantive argument respectfully and directly. Instead, it is likely you will find a way to sneak in some reference to “you, like other New Atheists” and will derail the conversation to a discussion about history, rather than current reality, and that you will prefer to talk about the early, tentative steps of the first scientific researchers – who, logic tell us, would all have been religious thinkers, since that is what preceeded scientific thinking – rather than talk about what we today consider thinking based on reason and the scientific method vs magical, religious or faith-based thinking.

    You see, the issue I have is not with any particular “religion”, nor with individual faith, per se; the issue I have is with the practical affect of widespread belief in imaginary beings affecting our world, and the belief that our decisions should be guided not by our shared ability to reason but instead by sectarian beliefs about mandates delivered from supernatural sources.

    Practically speaking, as a political activist, not a scientist, science reporter or even a science hobbyist, I am interested in the effects irrational thinking has on policymaking and public support for rational policies.

    It is quite evident that the primary barrier to more rational/scientific thinking is religious thinking, and it is religious thinking that must be addressed.

    Telling scientists to stop criticizing religious thinking will not cure America’s anti-science, anti-intellectual disease.

  77. Ben Nelson

    Anthony, perhaps we are at cross-purposes with the meaning of “contingent”. Contingent, as opposed to necessary. You were at pains to repudiate the idea that it was a demonstrated historical necessity for monotheism to be present in order for rapid-discovery science to emerge, yes? That’s all I’ve said, using different terms. Of course, just because a thing is contingent, does not mean it is irrelevant.

    I am unsure we disagree about that particular test for cognitive compatibility, though I would stress that testimony alone is insufficient, though necessary. If folks get along with two separate sets of views only by ignoring the relationship between them, then surely we don’t learn anything valuable by observing what people endorse in testimony. In order for us to demonstrate dissonance, people have to be confronted with the conflict to see how they respond. If this is true, then it’s not right to say that they are the only ones that can answer. The answers become evident only in experiment.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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