PZ Myers vs. Unscientific America: Part II

By The Intersection | July 14, 2009 11:30 am

In this post, we continue our response to PZ Myers’ review of our book, Unscientific America. For those who’ve just arrived, we previously laid out the course our response would take here, and began to respond here. This is the third post, and there will be one more after it.

5. American Anti-Science. Myers claims the book “entirely neglects the anti-scientific forces.” This is false.

First, Chris wrote an entire book dealing with this problem. That book, The Republican War on Science, dealt very extensively with the anti-science forces and put them in their place.

Unscientific America tries not to reinvent the wheel, but rather to go beyond its predecessor–and indeed, we’ve been describing it as the sequel to The Republican War on Science. This time around, we don’t structure the book by scientific topic, so you won’t find chapter-length refutations of the creationists, the global warming deniers, and so on. However, Chris has refuted them all at great length elsewhere, and they get more than adequate licks in the new book as well. (Indeed, we’ve added some smackdowns of the anti-vaccinationists this time around!)

Perhaps Myers would have preferred a book that contained nothing more than entertaining skewerings of anti-science idiocy–but Chris wrote that book already. Unscientific America tries to take the next step and explore the reasons for the disconnects between science and society, because understanding the true nature of anti-science sentiment and its causes is no less important than debunking it. They’re both important.

6. Root Causes. Myers claims the book “demands we avoid addressing the structural roots” of the problem of science in society. That’s false.

A more charitable reading would be that we differ with Myers about what the root causes are, or place different emphases upon them. Clearly, he thinks religion is a much bigger root cause–if not the only root cause–than we do. But why then doesn’t he just say that we differ, instead of mischaracterizing our position?

We too want to address root causes–we just don’t think religion is the root of all our problems. It is one cause of anti-science sentiment, to be sure–a very prominent one. But not the only one. Our book also deals with many others: The nature of the media; the nature of politics; the nature of the scientific community, and so on. It may be easier to simply single out religion, but we’re not convinced it gets us where we need to be.

7. Science in the Entertainment Industry. Chris spent a month out in LA meeting with experts on the entertainment industry or talking with them by phone, trying to work out why science often gets such a bad shake in film and on television. The result was a report on how the entertainment industry works, and why scientists are often unhappy with the result–and what can be done to change this. (Some of this content is now reiterated in our Salon.com adaptation from the book.)

From this chapter, Myers finds a single sentence about Richard Dawkins to quote [his emphasis]:

Dawkins and some other scientists fail to grasp that in Hollywood, the story is paramount—that narrative, drama, and character development will trump mere factual accuracy every time, and by a very long shot.

This Myers dubs “exasperating nonsense, in which Mooney and Kirshenbaum are discussing how to get science into the popular media.”

Myers is quoting out of context in order to criticize us. Here’s what he (and all of his readers who have not read our book) are missing.

Dawkins was quoted in the New York Times saying that the film Jurassic Park didn’t even need to have human characters in it, because the dinosaurs were so stunning. His words were: “The natural world is fascinating in its own right. It really doesn’t need human drama to be fascinating.” We provide this quotation, and the accompanying context, in the book. Myers does not.

Assuming Dawkins was quoted accurately, these words shows how little he understands about mass entertainment. A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made). That was our point. Dawkins’ statement about Hollywood and Jurassic Park epitomizes the type of mindset that has kept scientists from having more productive encounters with the entertainment industry.

Now look at how Myers strives to defend Dawkins against us:

What Mooney and Kirshenbaum fail to grasp is that to a scientist, factual accuracy must be paramount; it is not a matter on which we can compromise. Further, what they fail to recognize, and what they excuse for Hollywood, as that accuracy does not have to compromise narrative, drama, and character! They berate Dawkins as if he has no awareness of the basics of what makes a good story, which makes me wonder if they’ve read any of his books at all — do they think he simply drily recites a body of abstract thoughts at the reader? Perhaps they should take a look at The Ancestor’s Tale(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) to discover that he actually has addressed this imaginary deficit.

But of course, in context, it is absurd to think that factual accuracy would be paramount in a movie like Jurassic Park.

And for that matter, what can Myers possibly be saying about Dawkins’ admittedly very good writing? That The Ancestor’s Tale could be made into just as successful a movie as Jurassic Park, which grossed nearly $ 1 billion worldwide? Again, that’s pretty hard to believe.

8. Solutions. Myers claims the book “offers no new solutions.” That’s false–the book is brimming with solutions. Chad Orzel even found one we couldn’t fit into the main text–the idea of forming a Science PAC to get more scientists elected to Congress–buried in an endnote, and built an entire discussion around it.

There are solutions in each chapter of the main body of the book, broken down by sector–politics, media, entertainment, religion. And then there is the grand solution in Chapter 10–which emerged from our collaboration, and which we don’t think either of us would have come up with on our own. So far as we know, it really is new in its particular way of analyzing the academic pipeline and finding, in it, a solution to our problems at the science-society interface.

Again, we would ask that readers consult the book, rather than Myers’ review, to determine whether it really offers “no new solutions.” And we’d also direct them over to the review at RealClimate, where a productive discussion about solutions has, indeed, been sparked by the book.

This difference in perceptions in these reviews is certainly remarkable. It’s clear that those who are invested in the “New Atheism” have a strong negative reaction to the book–but is that surprising, in that the book strongly criticizes the “New Atheism”?

But for those who do not have such a strong investment, yet care about the promotion and communication of science–like Michael Mann of Real Climate, Darksyde of Daily Kos, and many others–the book has prompted much valuable thought, response, and commentary. We’re very honored to see that it is having this effect.

In our final post, tomorrow, we will conclude our responses to the claims in PZ’s review.

Comments (188)

  1. J.D.

    You continue to assert facts not in evidence. You have yet to make the case that PZ or Richard Dawkins or others that you throw in this “new atheist” grouping of yours have negatively impacted science understanding and perceptions overall in society. You now state that based on a Dawkins comment WRT the movie “Jurassic Park”:

    “A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made). That was our point.”

    You might want to check out the numbers on “Walking With Dinosaurs” and all the related documentaries that came out shortly after that. Granted they did not go into movie theaters but their viewership and DVD sales are off the charts and they are not only extremely informative and scientifically accurate but entertaining without the need for people in the story.

  2. Davo

    Now that you have taken the time to provide a response to PZ, maybe a response to Jerry Coyne’s review of the book would also be instructive. I would be especially interested in knowing what you think of this

    I’ll start with my overall opinion of the book, which is that it is confused, tendentious, evanescent, and preachy. Yes, there are some useful parts, in particular the emphasis on science communication and the need to reward those who are good at it. But these solutions are hardly new; indeed, I could find little in Unscientific America that has not been said, at length, elsewhere. And what is new—the accusation that scientists, in particular atheist-scientists, are largely responsible for scientific illiteracy—is asserted without proof

  3. John Kwok

    @ J. D. –

    None of those videos were ever released commercially in movie theaters and I strongly doubt that – if they had been released – they would have been as commercially successful as the “Jurassic Park” films have been, for the very reasons Chris and Sheril have stated.

    As for “root causes”, Ken Miller may have provided them in his book “Only A Theory” when he noted that there is a longstanding tradition of Americans questioning authority, including, of course scientists.

  4. This set of points, I think, is stronger than your first set. I still disagree with your characterization of the differences between Sagan and Dawkins (from your last set), but you haven’t said anything here which leaps out at me like that. Of course, all of these points are difficult to understand in context without reading the book, something which I have been unable to do as yet given my being in Germany…

    I guess I don’t have to say on this set of points. I’ve typed all this already, though, so I’m going to post it anyway. Sorry for the inanity.

  5. Sorbet

    I still cannot see how you are making the case that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have contributed to scientific illiteracy to any reasonable extent. And this in spite of the fact that Dawkins has written many best-selling books on evolution and biology.

  6. Screechy Monkey

    Chris and Sheril, do you really think that Dawkins’ NYT quote means that he thinks the movie would have made more money without human characters?

    I don’t know how you get from “[t]he natural world is fascinating in its own right. It really doesn’t need human drama to be fascinating,” to “these words shows how little he understands about mass entertainment. A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made).”

    The actual Dawkins quote seems pretty clearly to me to be an expression of what Dawkins thinks is fascinating. It’s that same sense of wonder and enthusiasm for science that you praise so highly when it came from Carl Sagan. I don’t see anything in that quote that suggests that Dawkins thinks he knows how to do a better job of generating movie ticket sales.

    I’m sensing a real pattern here. You keep bringing up the point that “some scientists are religious” no matter how many times you’ve been told that this isn’t in dispute, and is not what the compatibility argument is about. You’ve been exposed as misrepresenting Dawkins, suggesting that he claims that science definitively disproves god even though he’s said no such thing. Now you’re taking an innocent quote that you would have praised if it came from the mouth of Saint Carl, and using it to construct another strawman.

    You’re either really really bad at communication, or you’re just dishonest.

  7. @J.D.#1 and Sorbet #4
    Well, yes, I’m still a little mystified as to the support for their claim that the “New Atheists” are damaging science education. These points don’t address that aspect of the argument, though, unless I somehow skipped that part while reading (it has been a long day, so it’s possible).

    I actually quite like the idea of an organization trying to get more scientists elected to congress. Scientist involvement in politics is, I think, a very important thing that we ought to see more of.

  8. Marc

    Confrontational and aggressive approaches frequently provoke hostility and defensiveness, and they are very unlikely to be successful in changing people’s minds. This is hardly a controversial point, and it encapsulates a serious problem with the Meyers-style approach to religion.

    Scientists value expertise in their field. However, many of the anti-religious advocates are not well-versed in their understanding of religion (which comes in more flavors than, say, US protestant biblical literalism). The resulting discussions are full of sweeping – and poorly reasoned – generalizations about “religion” which can be directly traced to ignorance about the subject.

    Finally – there are many causes of scientific illiteracy. Certain forms of religion are one ingredient, but there are others. For example, climate change denialism is very strong among libertarians, who are a strongly anti-religious group in my experience. There are economic interests opposed to science as well. The single-minded focus on *all religions* as a problem for science is simply incorrect.

    If I understand their argument correctly they would focus on #1 and #3 above as their disagreement with the New Atheists. I’d add #2 as a major problem that I see with the common online arguments.

  9. Jeff

    Somehow I think M/K wouldn’t be so keen on so-called “New Atheists” entering politics. I guess only the right sort of scientist should get involved. Can’t be scaring the uninformed with facts about reality. Oh no.

  10. Michael Fugate

    How do you communicate science to Rush Limbaugh?

  11. Sven DiMilo

    In our final post, tomorrow, we will conclude our responses to the claims in PZ’s review.

    Will you be treating the second part of Myers’s review?

  12. Peter Beattie

    Right out of the gate it’s idiocy:

    » the intersection:
    Myers claims the book “entirely neglects the anti-scientific forces.” This is false. First, Chris wrote an entire book dealing with this problem. That book, The Republican War on Science, dealt very extensively with the anti-science forces and put them in their place.

    So, your defence to the claim that UA doesn’t deal with the problem is to say that that claim is false because TRWoS deals with it. I mean, how stupid do you think the people who read this are?

    Clearly, he thinks religion is a much bigger root cause–if not the only root cause–than we do. But why then doesn’t he just say that we differ, instead of mischaracterizing our position?

    Because you don’t differ. This sentence is from your first chapter: “And then there’s religion, the source of perhaps the single deepest fissure in the science-society relationship.” That’s what PZ would say, except you don’t seem to agree. Curiously, neither with what you wrote nor with what you didn’t write. Under those circumstances it’s rather hard to tell whether you’re saying anything at all.

    Dawkins was quoted in the New York Times saying that the film Jurassic Park didn’t even need to have human characters in it, because the dinosaurs were so stunning. His words were: “The natural world is fascinating in its own right. It really doesn’t need human drama to be fascinating.” We provide this quotation, and the accompanying context, in the book. Myers does not.

    You really are quite a piece of work. First, why is RD representative? You give no arguments. Then, PZ says RD would probably agree that “accuracy does not have to compromise narrative”, which you counter with “it is absurd to think that factual accuracy would be paramount in a movie like Jurassic Park”. Which for one thing is a different point and for another, well, you fail to give arguments for that as well.

    But what’s probably worst in this farce of a reply is that you don’t provide context, you distort. The two quotations from Dawkins are in no way logically connected in the original article. At best, that’s a stupid mistake to make for anyone with journalistic or scientific pretensions.

    the book is brimming with solutions. Chad Orzel even found one we couldn’t fit into the main text–the idea of forming a Science PAC

    When you think it can’t get any more bizarre… Chad Orzel found just one specific solution in your book worthy to write about. In his initial review he only does some hand-waving, “They close with some suggestions regarding ways forward from here”, without any specifics. His second piece he closes with, “We could all use some brilliant suggestions right about now.” He obviously didn’t find any in UA. For you to suggest otherwise is preposterous.

    And finally there’s this little gem of close reasoning:

    It’s clear that those who are invested in the “New Atheism” have a strong negative reaction to the book

    Just how much philosophical illiteracy it takes to come up with a ‘but you would say that’ argument is hard to say. But you’re certainly doing your best to disappoint. To end with a textbook example of an ad-hominem argument is really the crowning glory of this puff piece. For all it’s worth, it seems that you don’t want to be taken seriously.

  13. Mel

    “How do you communicate science to Rush Limbaugh?”

    You might as well ask how one person can drink the ocean or blow out the sun. I think you can try, but I think Rush is so full of himself and so absolutely sure of his position that you would get nowhere. So I would guess the best answer would be that it would be much more productive to spend your time and effort on someone without an absolute ideological commitment and vested interest in not understanding you.

  14. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Agreed. Thankfully there are a number of conservatives who will listen, like for example, National Review’s John Derbyshire.

  15. James T

    “””5. American Anti-Science. Myers claims the book “entirely neglects the anti-scientific forces.” This is false.”””
    Wait. You claim this is false, and then go about making excuses for why it is actually true. In a book called “Unscientific America”, you should have talked at least for a few pages about the forces driving anti-scientific thought in America.

    “””6. Root Causes. Myers claims the book “demands we avoid addressing the structural roots” of the problem of science in society. That’s false.
    A more charitable reading would be that we differ with Myers about what the root causes are, or place different emphases upon them. Clearly, he thinks religion is a much bigger root cause–if not the only root cause–than we do. But why then doesn’t he just say that we differ, instead of mischaracterizing our position?”””
    According to what I know of the book, you gloss over the religious forces and rightwing forces attacking science in an attempt to be accommodating and politically correct.

    “””Assuming Dawkins was quoted accurately, these words shows how little he understands about mass entertainment. “”””
    Most likely, he wasn’t being completely serious, and was somewhat joking.
    For some reason, throughout this book, you seem to be completely incapable of figuring out when someone is completely serious, and when they are having a laugh.(As it was with the Pluto’s a planet folks, too)

    “””A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made). “”””
    Ironically, this film does exist. It’s called “Walking with Dinosaurs”, and it was so successful that they made sequels.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walking_with_Dinosaurs

    For the last, I believe Myers was claiming that the book did not put forth any specific solutions, and/or the solutions were not good enough.

    Seriously. You haven’t won any of these points. Just give it up. You wrote a half-way decent book that was just wrong about some things and was inadequate on other topics. You’ll make some money.

  16. Erasmussimo

    I’d like to weigh in on the role of scientific accuracy in narrative with the claim that scientific accuracy has absolutely no role to play in narrative. None, nada, zero, zip. Stories aren’t about science, they’re about people. People started telling stories long before science existed and many of our best stories have absolutely nothing scientific in them. Stories are about the human condition, and often they violate basic rules of human behavior to illustrate deeper truths. There wouldn’t be any horror stories if they adhered to realism, because no person in his right mind would willingly enter the haunted house. The Star Trek universe is full of scientific absurdities, but that’s irrelevant because Star Trek is fiction, not science.

    It is entirely possible to create a story that is consistent with scientific truth, but to make scientific accuracy a priority will surely compromise the quality of the narrative.

    One last item: if Mr. Myers really did write:

    to a scientist, factual accuracy must be paramount; it is not a matter on which we can compromise.

    then Mr. Myers must be a lousy teacher, because teaching requires the teacher to compromise the full truth and teach only a simpler version of the truth to the student. As the student learns, the teacher can reveal more of the truth, but simply dumping the unmitigated truth upon students will only confuse them.

  17. — You might want to check out the numbers on “Walking With Dinosaurs” and all the related documentaries that came out shortly after that. Granted they did not go into movie theaters but their viewership and DVD sales are off the charts and they are not only extremely informative and scientifically accurate but entertaining without the need for people in the story. J.D.

    If there is a commercial success, Hollywood will follow. And they’ll probably still throw in a love interest angle and the dinosaurs would talk. I’ll bet that Tom Hanks would voice a folksy herbivore. I’d bet money on that.

    — Somehow I think M/K wouldn’t be so keen on so-called “New Atheists” entering politics. I guess only the right sort of scientist should get involved. Can’t be scaring the uninformed with facts about reality. Oh no. Jeff

    I’d be 100% in favor of new atheists running for office but only if they run as Republicans. The funny thing about political office, you’ve got to get the most votes to win, Bush v. Gore was an exception. The new atheists would be ballot box poison. So if you want to run them, run them as Republicans. Though, I’d be very surprised if one of them could even get a major party nomination.

    As I said here last week, look at what happened when the Edwards campaign hired Amanda Marcotte and had to deal with the disaster that her blog archive presented to them. That’s a good preview of what your idea would look like in the real world.

  18. Stu

    “teaching requires the teacher to compromise the full truth and teach only a simpler version of the truth to the student. As the student learns, the teacher can reveal more of the truth, but simply dumping the unmitigated truth upon students will only confuse them.”

    Of course! It’s absolutely impossible to say “hello students, this is a simplified version of the truth; the full version will come later”.

  19. You don’t have to convince Rush Limbaugh to win in politics, you have to win over the winning margin, who are going to be mostly religious.

  20. Mel

    @13

    I agree fully. Scientific accuracy is not a paramount concern to telling a story – telling a good story is. I suspect, though, that you would agree with me that the problem is with so many entertainments simply being sloppy with science that is ancillary to the plots. For instance, consider deGrasse Tyson’s criticism of “Titanic” having completely made up a star field for the night of the sinking, when it would have been very easy and cheap to check with an astronomer to find out what the sky really looked like them. My favorite, though, is from a movie from a few years back. I think it was “Mission to Mars”, but it might have been the other bad Mars movie that came out about the same time. There was a point in it where biologists were looking at a bit of alien DNA, examining it. They have up a picture on a screen of a typical cartoon of the double helix as though that is how we actually analyze DNA (Sanger sequencing outputs can be made to look quite cool, actually). They zoom in, and one perks up, saying something like,”did you see that? Go back, zoom in. That chromosome looks human!” And what have they zoomed in on? A phosphate group. They could have hired a freshman biology undergrad and avoided that error. That was pure sloppiness that had nothing to do with telling the story. You are correct that scientific accuracy can never be a paramount concern, but they should at least try a little harder to still be as accurate as they can.

  21. Mel

    “You don’t have to convince Rush Limbaugh to win in politics, you have to win over the winning margin, who are going to be mostly religious.”

    Yes, absolutely correct, and what is the saying? “Politics is the art of the possible, not the ideal”

  22. John Kwok

    @ Erasmussimo –

    Scientific accuracy in fictional narrative can be important sometimes, which is why noted planetary scientist Carolyn Porco was the scientific advisor to the latest “Star Trek” film. In creating and filming his memorable science fiction television series “Babylon 5″, its series creator, J. Michael Straczynski, was especially respectful of science, in depicting, for example, the movements of space station Babylon 5’s Star Fury fighters, and the rotating sections of EarthForce Destroyer-class warships. But of course, his main objective was in telling a memorable story, the same task faced by current “Star Trek” producer and director J. J. Abrams.

  23. “Assuming Dawkins was quoted accurately, these words shows how little he understands about mass entertainment. A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made). That was our point. Dawkins’ statement about Hollywood and Jurassic Park epitomizes the type of mindset that has kept scientists from having more productive encounters with the entertainment industry.”
    “That The Ancestor’s Tale could be made into just as successful a movie as Jurassic Park, which grossed nearly $ 1 billion worldwide? Again, that’s pretty hard to believe.”

    Hey Guys! Wake up! If you are extolling Jurassic Park as some kind of boone for the philosophy of science then you are PART OF THE PROBLEM! You are propagating “UNSCIENTIFIC AMERICA” by doing this. I can’t think of a more anti-science storyline than that of Jurassic Park. This from an author that later went on to write “State of Fear.” This book is a fictional account of environmentalists/terrorists who attempt to fool the world into believing in global warming by orchestrating storms and laser induced sea level rising. I lost even more respect for Crichton when I heard he met George w. Bush in 2005 to council him on the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” When Jurassic Park came out in theaters I was too young to appreciate reading and I ate that movie up, every bit of it. The animatronics, the acting, the story, I loved it all. What I was not aware of was the ripples of philosophical fear a story like this would send through the consciousness of the general populous. “Scientists will destroy humanity with their insatiable fervor and lust for power and control over god’s creation!” Michael Crichton may be in Mensa but he knows not what he does. He erodes the promise of the enlightenment and the general consensus that the United States was founded on. The idea that improvement of the human condition is perpetually possible. He would relegate us to a happy status quo where complacency is celebrated. A world where the scientific method is distrusted is a world where children can be denied vaccines and denied exposure to the education required for them to contribute to progress. A world where nuclear physics and genetic engineering are banned. Laws can not change the conscience of the people, but voices, keyboards, and pens can.

    Sex and Fear sell things in America. In science at least you can study sex without fear. It seems like you two do a pretty good job of not talking about science and focusing on the Oprah-worthy trite topics of pop-science. That is why your blog isn’t that popular. You two are are more focused on what will sell rather than the balance of scientifically enlightenment and entertainment. I suggest reading Ed Yong for two weeks and just think about things without writing anything down. The blogging-heads mentality turns people into reflective surfaces rather than internalizing thinkers. Think about what you are saying before you barf it all over the internet!

    Reading the part of your post about Jurassic Park made me sick to my stomach!

    Sincerely,
    Tom Paine’s Ghost
    http://www.tompainesghost.com

  24. Craig B

    “This difference in perceptions in these reviews is certainly remarkable. It’s clear that those who are invested in the “New Atheism” have a strong negative reaction to the book–but is that surprising, in that the book strongly criticizes the “New Atheism”?”

    Sad. That has only been a part of the responses here and on PZ’s blog, and the division into “us and them” seems to me to be coming entirely from M&K.

    There is something unfortunate, too, about pointing to climate change denier as a positive view of science in entertainment, though M&K do acknowledge the climate change stuff.

    Look, certainly discussing how to change our society’s woeful lack of understanding of science is important and M&K have offered valuable help in that. It’s just too bad that they think their way is the only way and that the continue to devalue the people fighting harder than anyone to change the way things are rather than talk about ways to supplement that effort for audiences that are not going to listen to serious science, with or without the atheism.

    What really matters, as Sagan was so eloquent about, is to get people to understand that science matters as citizens. I see students all the time take that very seriously, whatever their level of understanding of science, or lack thereof, going in. Yes, some people will never change for religious, political, or other reasons – but many do if they just are presented opportunities and reasons to learn.

  25. Not to be too much of a paleo-pedant here, but there are a few statements RE: Jurassic Park that are not quite right.

    1) “A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made).”

    The Jurassic Park franchise set the bar high, but there have been at least two other popular, successful attempts to popularize dinosaurs “running around” by themselves. The first was Disney’s “Dinosaur”, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosaur_%28film%29#Reception) which did moderately well. It could be argued, though, that since the dinosaurs talk there is still a “human” element to it.

    The second was Walking With Dinosaurs (which has spawned numerous spinoffs including a popular arena show). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walking_with_Dinosaurs#Critical_reaction) Maybe it has not made as much money as Jurassic Park and is not strictly “Hollywood”, but by all accounts the series has legs and can be considered a popular success. It reinforces Dawkins’ point that natural history by itself can be interesting.

    This is not to say that every movie or show involving dinosaurs should follow the same format, but rather that such an approach can be successful.

    2) “it is absurd to think that factual accuracy would be paramount in a movie like Jurassic Park.”

    Well that depends on what kind of “accuracy” you are talking about. The focus of the films were the dinosaurs, and the filmmakers have continually consulted with paleontologists to make the dinosaurs as realistic as possible. There are still some mistakes and things that are not 100% accurate due to needs of the story, technical constraint, or scientific debate, but it seems that the filmmakers put a lot of effort into getting the dinosaurs right. Recall, as well, that the heroes in these films were scientists (even if science had created the monsters in the first place).

    As I said, these are minor points, but as a dino-phile I couldn’t keep my trap shut.

  26. Jon

    Clearly, he thinks religion is a much bigger root cause–if not the only root cause–than we do.

    When you’ve got a hammer and you spend all your free time whacking things with it, you tend to think all salient problems look like nails.

  27. Reggie

    “And for that matter, what can Myers possibly be saying about Dawkins’ admittedly very good writing? That The Ancestor’s Tale could be made into just as successful a movie as Jurassic Park, which grossed nearly $ 1 billion worldwide? Again, that’s pretty hard to believe.”

    There are a lot of books that are highly entertaining that would not translate well to film. Is Hollywood really the best or only source for reaching the masses? And besides, should we really lower the standards of good science to that of “The Fast and the Furious” level just to become popular?

    It seems like M&K are missing the boat on many of the arguments. They claim that if only we’d read their book, it will all be explained. Does that come with a money back guarantee, then? Coyne’s review of the book has me thinking that I might be better off waiting for Dawkin’s new book on evolution to spend my hard earned money on.

  28. NewEnglandBob

    More “framing” from the “Militant New Accommodationists”. This is spinning so fast that it is making everyone dizzy.

  29. Paul

    “When you’ve got a hammer and you spend all your free time whacking things with it, you tend to think all salient problems look like nails.”

    It’s not like PZ Myers admitted that there is a problem with science education, and solutions are needed. No need to acknowledge that, it’s much more fun beating on strawmen.

  30. John Kwok

    @ Erasmussimo –

    None of my best science professors in both college and graduate school emphasized that “factual accuracy must be paramount; it is not a matter on which we can compromise”. They often stressed that, in addition to knowing basic facts, one also needed to know how to pose the right kinds of questions – in other words, hypotheses – how to frame them and to design suitable means of collecting data, whether it was designing experiments, or know exactly where, in the stratigraphic column, to look for suitable fossils. They did this knowing that facts can – and often do – change in science, as for example, with recent controversy over Pluto’s status as a planet. Nor does, I might add, Ken Miller emphasize “factual accuracy” only in his introductory biology course, but also, in his lab sections, the importance of designing suitable experiments and data collection (Maybe that’s why he has earned awards from prominent American professional scientific organizations like AAAS and a certain biologist from Morris, MN hasn’t.).

  31. Jon

    It’s a straw man to say that PZ Myers “thinks religion is a much bigger root cause–if not the only root cause”?

  32. Jon

    Not to mention some of the commenters on this blog, who have come right out and said that it is the only root cause, or close to it. Religion is the root of all evil. That’s pretty extreme.

  33. Peter Beattie at #12 writes: When you think it can’t get any more bizarre… Chad Orzel found just one specific solution in your book worthy to write about. In his initial review he only does some hand-waving, “They close with some suggestions regarding ways forward from here”, without any specifics. His second piece he closes with, “We could all use some brilliant suggestions right about now.” He obviously didn’t find any in UA. For you to suggest otherwise is preposterous.

    I found one specific solution that I’ve managed to find time to write about. I have more to say about the book, but I’ve been busy. Maybe tomorrow, but it depends on how the baby sleeps tonight.

    You’re taking the “brilliant suggestions” line out of context, in the classic style of quote-miners everywhere. That was not a comment about the book, but rather about a specific bit of academic culture that I was talking about in the post, having wandered fairly far afield from UA.

  34. John Kwok

    @ Laelaps –

    Both Disney and BBC Films tried this year an interesting experiment in releasing a full-fledged theatrical release, an approximately two hour documentary film based on their “Planet Earth” television documentary series. While visually it was spectacular, it didn’t gross anywhere within the range of such blockbusters as Disney and Pixar’s “Up” or Paramount’s “Star Trek”. So I think Dawkins was wrong in stating what he said – which I suppose is surprising since he was a good friend of Douglas Adams – no stranger to excellent fictional narrative in television and film – who, incidentally, introduced Dawkins to his current wife, actress Lalla Ward, who is best known for her work on the celebrated BBC television series “Doctor Who” (which, during her stint on this series, featured a young Douglas Adams as the series story editor – in the U. K., I believe the term is script editor).

  35. Paul

    “It’s a straw man to say that PZ Myers “thinks religion is a much bigger root cause–if not the only root cause”?”

    No, it’s a strawman to imply that PZ has a “bashing religion” hammer that he applies to every problem. Unless you didn’t understand your own metaphor?

  36. Stu

    John:

    You don’t seem to understand the difference between “factual knowledge” and “factual accuracy”.

    “recent controversy over Pluto’s status as a planet”

    There was no such thing. Are you repeating this canard just in attempt to defend Chris?

    Jon:

    “Religion is the root of all evil. That’s pretty extreme.”

    Yes. It’s also a complete strawman.

  37. Craig B

    I suspect that very few of you, including M&K, who don’t think religion is the main cause (not the only, but the main one) of resistance to science live and teach in most of the midwest, south, and non-coastal west.

    I teach college in Missouri, which is even more Bible Belt than Minnesota where PZ teaches. I’m not from this area and was shocked when I came here in the ’90s at how different it was from Chicago or the coasts. I think those of you who have not really spent time in such places would sing a different tune if you had. I have to be careful about offending religious sensibilities all the time – usually but not always successfully – and it is important to gear the message accordingly. From things he has said in the past, I know PZ is aware of that in his teaching as well. But if you haven’t been here, please don’t underestimate how dominant religion (Islam with international students as well as fundamentalist Christianity) is in the culture in the “heartland.”

    I don’t know of any way to quantify the various reasons for science illiteracy, but after bad education I have no doubt that religion is far and away the main reason (and also responsible for much of what is identified as “political”).

  38. “Nor does, I might add, Ken Miller emphasize “factual accuracy” only in his introductory biology course, but also, in his lab sections, the importance of designing suitable experiments and data collection”

    Oooooooooh – that sounds as if you know him. Do you know him? Do you know Kenneth (‘Ken’) Miller?!

    Ooooooooooooooooh!

  39. Jon

    Yes. It’s also a complete strawman.

    It’s close to what I’ve heard from some of the commenters on this site. I’ll give you that they’re just commenters. But it’s a good bet they got here from PZ’s blog.

    I think Chris is right. PZ Myers thinks religion is a lot more of the problem then he does, or most other people do. That’s not too controversial a statement to make, I don’t think.

  40. Stu

    “I think Chris is right. PZ Myers thinks religion is a lot more of the problem then he does, or most other people do. That’s not too controversial a statement to make, I don’t think.”

    Nope, that is accurate. But it’s also something entirely different than “religion is the root of all evil”.

  41. windy

    “Walking With Dinosaurs”

    Good point- doesn’t this make Dawkins look somewhat prescient, instead of hopelessly out of touch? And even if not, isn’t this blowing a single remark from 1998 completely out of proportion?

    Around that same time, a prominent scientist lamented the popularity of Dumb and Dumber and Beavis and Butt-Head – they were nothing but a glorification of ignorance, in his opinion. Chris and Sheril- may I ask you what your reaction to this remark is?

  42. Silver Fox

    MOZ:

    “I’m still a little mystified as to the support for their claim that the “New Atheists” are damaging science education.”

    The “New Atheists” damage to science is not small potatoes although it is part of a much larger picture that calls for damage control. The larger picture includes taking a society that is overwhelmingly spiritual in some form or other and trying to transform it into a purely secular, materialistic place. The scientific damage comes from their efforts to appropriate science as foundational in effecting the transformation from a spiritual society to a godless one.

    Additionally, the New Atheists have framed the conversation, or lack thereof, in terms of either/or. They see science as demanding a convergence to atheism. Any spiritual/religious values are impediments to this convergence and must be done away with.

    Enter Mooney with his accommodationism and you can see what drives their angst. This adds an element of “both” to the equation which threatens the “either/or” imperative. So, it cannot be allowed. It jeopardizes the entire transformational paradigm.

  43. Sven DiMilo

    Maybe that’s why he has earned awards from prominent American professional scientific organizations like AAAS and a certain biologist from Morris, MN hasn’t.

    Nope. It’s because Miller (Ph.D. 1974) wrote some textbooks (1990), and Myers (Ph.D. 1985) has not.

  44. “I have to be careful about offending religious sensibilities all the time – usually but not always successfully – and it is important to gear the message accordingly.”

    Yes but in your teaching, right? But that’s not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether one has to be careful about offending religious sensibilities even in public writing and speaking.

  45. tomh

    Jon wrote:
    “PZ Myers thinks religion is a lot more of the problem then he does, or most other people do.”

    And Mooney thinks atheists are a lot more of the problem than most other people do. Maybe more than anyone else does.

  46. John Kwok

    @ Sven DiMilo –

    Ken has earned his awards primarily because he has been a most effective defender of the teaching of evolution and a superb promoter on behalf of the teaching of valid science, ever since his very first debate against a creationist, Institute for Creation Research vice president Henry Morris, in the Spring of 1981 at Brown University’s hockey rink. Other notable debates include his Intelligent Design debates against Behe and Dembski in the mid 1990s on William F. Buckley’s PBS “Firing Line” television program and at the American Museum of Natural History in the Spring of 2002. He has also spent ample time testifying at county and state board hearings around the country. But his most celebrated testimony may be as the lead witness on behalf of the plaintiffs at the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial.

    My favorite mediocre Morris, MN-based evolutionary biologist hasn’t accomplished anything remotely similar to what Ken has done, which is why he’ll never receive prizes like the Society for the Study of Evolution’s Stephen Jay Gould prize (first awarded this year to Eugenie Scott) or the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award (Its 2008 recipient – awarded at its February 2009 annual meeting – was Ken Miller.).

  47. Craig B

    @44 Right, Ophelia, the classroom is what I meant. I’m outspoken (locally) outside of the classroom. I’m firmly on your side in this discussion.

    I was trying to make the point that I see a lot more of this than most people here do, and I think that goes for PZ as well. People at elite institutions in cosmopolitan cities have no idea, usually, of what it is like in the heartland. I grew up in Chicago and lived in Boulder-Denver before moving here. It really is like a different country. I think part of the problem that M&K and some commenters have is that because of their backgrounds, they really have no idea how deeply embedded and dominant religion is. Most of my students self-identify as fundamentalist Christians. Most of them know nothing of their church theology or history, either, but know that their ministers and families “give me the impression that I’m supposed to be against evolution and science.” That is a problem of education and religion, and I’d say 75% of my students suffer from it to various degrees.

  48. Peter Beattie

    » Chad Orzel:
    I found one specific solution that I’ve managed to find time to write about. I have more to say about the book, but I’ve been busy. Maybe tomorrow, but it depends on how the baby sleeps tonight.

    That’s fair enough. Then I misinterpreted your seven-day silence on the matter. My bad.

    You’re taking the “brilliant suggestions” line out of context, in the classic style of quote-miners everywhere. That was not a comment about the book, but rather about a specific bit of academic culture that I was talking about in the post, having wandered fairly far afield from UA.

    Quote-mining, eh? Strong stuff. In any case, I never said that was a comment on the book; I said you didn’t get any solutions from the book that seemed to fit the problem you were discussing, namely a problem that was clearly related to the book.

    But okay, let’s have a look at the context, then. You start off your piece on popularization by invoking UA and quoting from it a passage that shows the lack of rewards of popularization, disincentives even. You then talk about the rewards in the case of one of your own books. You come back to the main theme of rewards in the last three paragraphs:

    Those sorts of unpaid outreach activities go into the same “that and a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee” category as the paid variety. Blogging falls in there as well. Which is kind of a shame, because it’s activities like silly little tv news clips that put science in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise see it, and activities like blogging that help people learn whether they have the inclination and aptitude to do larger-scale outreach and popularization..

    By strongly discouraging young scientists from doing small-scale popularization (that is, by not including it as a positive factor in tenure and merit reviews), we cut some of them off from the opportunity to discover whether they would be good at the sort of outreach and popularization that is rewarded (albeit outside the academic system). Which leaves it for people who, for whatever reason, regard that sort of work as its own reward. Which is part of why there are relatively few scientists blogging, writing articles for the general press, and appearing in the media.

    I don’t have a solution to propose, alas. I’m just sort of thinking out loud, in print. If you have brilliant suggestions to offer, though, please leave them in the comments. We could all use some brilliant suggestions right about now.

    The first two paragraphs unambiguously echo sentiments that feature prominently in UA. So my quote of the last sentence is, I think quite clearly, in context. If you now say that wasn’t supposed to be the context, fine. But there is nothing in your text to suggest that.

  49. Long time reader, first time (and probably last time) poster. Been following this argument for a while and I’m a long time reader of this blog, PZ’s blog and many others. Rarely if ever feel the need to comment, but I have to say the hilarious beginning to this post and your extraordinarily ridiculous use of Dawkins’ quote about Jurassic Park just defy belief. And they seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg and so I find it hard to take anything else seriously.

  50. gillt

    @16:
    “scientific accuracy has absolutely no role to play in narrative.”

    It does if you’re writing science fiction and want a believable premise. Also, scientific accuracy includes things like gravity and human anatomy, basic principles that would be better classified as being taken for granted rather than as having “absolutely no role to play” in fiction.

    “Stories aren’t about science, they’re about people.”

    False dichotomy. Stories are about whatever you want them to be about.

    People started telling stories long before science existed and many of our best stories have absolutely nothing scientific in them.”

    Irrelevant. Again, realism assumes a major level of scientific accuracy about the observable world. Realism is a narrative form as old as any other.

    “Stories are about the human condition, and often they violate basic rules of human behavior to illustrate deeper truths.”

    What, pray tell, is a basic rule of human behavior? I’m at a loss. I think you should name a few.

    “There wouldn’t be any horror stories if they adhered to realism, because no person in his right mind would willingly enter the haunted house.”

    Is this your example of the violation of a rule of human behavior!?? Come on now. I went into a haunted house once as a kid. Why? Because I was curious and thrilled at the prospect of getting scared. The only thing I violated at the time was private property and my curfew. I had no idea I violated a basic rule of human behavior. That’s hilarious. I must have failed the Turing Test!

    Stephen King would be shocked to discover he doesn’t write in the Realist tradition. Double check your definition of realist.

    “The Star Trek universe is full of scientific absurdities, but that’s irrelevant because Star Trek is fiction, not science.”

    More precisely, Star Trek is Science Fiction. Personally I’m no fan, but like all good sci-fi Star Trek uses scientific ideas and concepts as a spring board to explore new and fanciful concepts. It is still grounded in realism. Let’s not confuse some scientific absurdities with a total eschewing of all science. There’s a great deal of sound science in Star Trek.

    “It is entirely possible to create a story that is consistent with scientific truth, but to make scientific accuracy a priority will surely compromise the quality of the narrative.”

    The first clause I agree with, the second is a matter of opinion, an opinion without any apparent support.

    “then Mr. Myers must be a lousy teacher, because teaching requires the teacher to compromise the full truth and teach only a simpler version of the truth to the student. As the student learns, the teacher can reveal more of the truth, but simply dumping the unmitigated truth upon students will only confuse them.”

    Myers was referring to scientific accuracy in science communication with respect to science journalism AND teaching. So how did you go from scientific accuracy is paramount to science communication to the interpretation that Myers thinks you should info dump the facts on top of a student’s head?

  51. @ John K

    Well if you’re going to talk about “Planet Earth” you have to talk about the show from which the 2 hour feature was ripped. Perhaps the feature film’s lack of theatrical success stems from the fact that most people had already seen it in long form (i.e. the BBC documentary series).

    Your point does not negate what I said about Walking With Dinosaurs. And, if you want to start considering wildlife documentaries, what about “March of the Penguins”? It has a narrative too and was (IIRC) considered extremely succesfful. Indeed, humans need not necessarily be included in feature-length films or series if you take your story straight from natural history. (Again, this is not to say that this should always be done, only that it can successfully be done.) Even if you don’t want to consider these efforts in the same ballpark as typical summer blockbusters they still refute the assertion in the past above that stories featuring animals themselves would never be made. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples that, while they might not gross as much as “Up” or “Star Trek”, as still popular and widely-viewed.

  52. Steve H

    As someone who actually practices outreach as the primary function of my 2nd job (the 1st being research), Chris and Sheril, from what I read in Salon, are much more on the right track then many others. Communicating with groups that have differing worldviews is a fact of life, and groups that ignore these demographics really fail to achieve any goals. Their ideas aren’t really anything new, just presented in a new way to a new audience. These are the very same ideas I learned in my graduate program, which had a strong public affairs component. Sadly, I think that New Atheists harping about this book don’t realize that their hatred of religious constructs can be equally applied to science, as both are constructs of man.

    Their argument seems to me that scientific literacy is not something that’s lacking in our youth or college graduates, but is something that is lost, or perhaps perverted, at a later time. From my experiences, I tend to agree with this.

    To me as local grassroots organizer, its important for scientists to be active in the community. You have to earn people’s trust first, rather than be an advocate solely. When you just proclaim others to be wrong, you are not being an effective communicator.

  53. Sorbet

    Do you know him? Do you know Kenneth (’Ken’) Miller?!

    Of course. Kwok has a beer with Miller every weekend and is best buddies with him. No wonder he cannot resist hiding behind Miller’s coat tails and invoking his name after every three sentences.

  54. Greg. Tingey

    When religion, especially a social-pressure-group “established” religion says one thing, and scientific observation and fact say something completely different, there is obviously going to be a problem or two.
    Never mind Galilei, or “women shall bear children in pain” (Ugh) what about This or better still, THIS
    Whilst most major religions condemn it as “evil” and “ungodly”.

    What is a supposed “believer” who happens to be a scientist think or do?

    Furthermore, if any god or gods exist, why are their traces and evidences getting weaker and weaker as our knowledge advances.
    Might that not signify something important, like the belivers are deluded, and backward?

  55. Nutella

    Oh, I am SO jealous! I want to be Miller’s BFF too!

  56. Silver Fox

    Ophelia @44

    Oh, so right Ophelia. When PZ is teaching about transitional species in the fossil records, students should have the common courtesy so as not to associate in any way his teaching with the fact that he is the tiresome old fart who believes religion is the root of all evil and that religious parents are tantamount to child abusers who are creating an intergenerational brood of delusionals

  57. Sven DiMilo

    I’m not disparaging Ken Miller in any way. I know he has solid anti-creationist bona-fides that date back to 1982. My point is that the reasons he testifies and gives talks and wins awards and is all celebrated and noted these days stem directly from the (excellent) textbooks he began publishing in 1990.

  58. gillt

    @52:

    “Sadly, I think that New Atheists harping about this book don’t realize that their hatred of religious constructs can be equally applied to science, as both are constructs of man.”

    Okay, I’ve taken the bait:

    What do you mean by science as a construct, here? Surely not the PoMo “just another like any other…construct.”

    Are you a sociologist, by chance :)?

  59. Let me endorse what Craig B said in comments 37 and 47. My views on religion changed dramatically after teaching in Kansas for three years, and more recently in a conservative part of Virginia. This after spending most of my previous life in the Northeast. Living in areas where fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity are the dominant social forces tend to make you less sanguine about how benign religion is.

  60. J.D.

    #52 Steve: Communicating with groups that have differing worldviews is a fact of life, and groups that ignore these demographics really fail to achieve any goals.

    Here comes the straw man setup. Science is actually something that has progressed quite well despite almost complete ignorance and outright opposition from the vast majority of humanity over its history. That’s because science works. It delivers real results. Although this book and many others including myself lament the sorry state of science literacy in the general public, in truth it is still at the highest levels in all of recorded history for as bad as it is. Could be a lot better of course and no one is suggesting not communicating but rather the disagreement is really about how communication should take place. Personally I don’t think there is a single answer but the integrity of scientific inquiry cannot suffer to accommodate emotional needs to believe.

    Sadly, I think that New Atheists harping about this book don’t realize that their hatred of religious constructs can be equally applied to science, as both are constructs of man.

    Oh boy. Equivocating religious belief to the scientific method is a disqualifier for you. What a bunch of post-modern hooey…

    When you just proclaim others to be wrong, you are not being an effective communicator.

    Take that up with the authors then as claims of “wrongness” on the part of the “new atheists” continue to be asserted without much qualitative much less quantitative evidence as to the negative affect on societies scientific literacy. Also, when you not only proclaim others to be wrong but also have a strong body of evidence to demonstrate how they are wrong then keeping this from them and others in an attempt to avoid confrontation or hurt feelings is not being an effective communicator. Nature does not conform to beliefs, sorry…

  61. Paul

    “I’m not disparaging Ken Miller in any way. I know he has solid anti-creationist bona-fides that date back to 1982. My point is that the reasons he testifies and gives talks and wins awards and is all celebrated and noted these days stem directly from the (excellent) textbooks he began publishing in 1990.”

    You mean scientists can do meaningful work outside of publishing in journals? Heresy. Next thing you know you’ll be promoting the idea that teaching science is a worthwhile endeavor.

  62. Jeff

    In the Newsweek article, Chris and Sheril only demonstrate once again that they don’t know what the hell they are talking about with respect to “New Atheists” and the resistance to injecting religion into science. Almost no one is saying you can’t be a good scientist and be religious. Clearly, you can. Stop claiming otherwise, you just come off as hacks.

    The “put up or shut up” moment when science and religion meets is this: while you can be religious and do good science, please demonstrate where religious belief informs or directly aids in scientific inquiry? Please show where specific religious beliefs actually intersect with good science. Otherwise, injecting religion into science is no different than homeopathy, astrology, or dowsing.

    And the fact is, some religious beliefs ARE made untenable by science. I guess it’s ok if a religious person states this (ie. your Dalai Lama quote in the article), but if an ATHEIST says it… well, they should just STFU.

  63. Sven DiMilo

    Next thing you know you’ll be promoting the idea that teaching science is a worthwhile endeavor.

    Maybe I should quit doing it and write a book about it instead.

  64. mE

    What about the old atheists?

  65. Josh

    “Next thing you know you’ll be promoting the idea that teaching science is a worthwhile endeavor.”

    Heh. Don’t try promoting that idea at a research university; you’ll risk being killed by the other faculty.

    /snark

  66. Craig @ 47 – ah right, I see what you’re saying.

    Good luck with that! :- )

  67. Skeptic

    Sorry, but after reading their arguments and browsing the book, I came away with the impression that the authors are intellectual lightweights who are insufficiently critical about issues and for whom relatively flippant non-issues like Pluto’s designation as a planet and the number of people on Facebook who support Pluto are somehow deeply related to the question of scientific illiteracy. I expected a little more scholarship and seriousness than that. Really, opening the book with the silly controversy over Pluto as a shining and serious example of scientific illiteracy or miscommunication?? Sorry, but the authors deeply disappoint.

  68. John Kwok

    @ Sven DiMilo –

    Ken was actively engaged in fighting creationists from 1981 until 1987, when the Edwards vs. Aguillard decision was rendered in the courts. He took a “sabbatical”, devoting virtually all of his time to his research, until a former student of his at Harvard University (Ken was at Harvard for four years before returning to Brown.), Joel S. Levine, asked him if he would be interested in writing an introductory biology high school textbook. He became reacquainted not only with “scientific creationists” but also, in particular, with the then relatively nascent “Intelligent Design” movement. If you were really acquainted with Ken’s past history, then you wouldn’t have posted that most absurd comment of yours (@ 43). I’m presenting this merely to set the record straight with regards to how and why Ken has been a substantially more important “player” in the creation vs. evolution wars than your favorite Morris, MN-based biologist.

  69. John Kwok

    @ Laelaps –

    My point does negate what you said with respect to “Walking with Dinosaurs” from a commercial theatrical perspective (Though as a former paleobiologist myself, I do share your sentiment with regards to how important “Walking with Dinosaurs” has been in inspiring other nature documentary films and television series of a similar content.). “March of the Penguins” is the exception which proves my point. If Hollywood film producers thought that ample money could be made, then you would have seen a lot more films of its kind shown in commercial theaters like AMC and Regal Cinemas multiplexes.

  70. Paul

    Is Kwok banned from saying any variation of “PZ Myers”? Saying “favorite Morris, MN-based biologist” is really getting tired.

  71. Sven DiMilo

    Ken has been a substantially more important “player” in the creation vs. evolution wars than your favorite Morris, MN-based biologist.

    I AM NOT ARGUING with that. I am pointing out that the reason for his importance (as illustrated by awards) is that he wrote the textbooks. That is not an “absurd” statement. (Tangentially, I am not aware of any involvement of Miller in the Edwards vs. Aguillard case, but I’d be happy to be shown otherwise.)

  72. But of course, in context, it is absurd to think that factual accuracy would be paramount in a movie like Jurassic Park.

    Probably so, but Myers was saying that to the scientist it’s paramount. So it’s not clear that he shouldn’t push for such a standard to be upheld by people writing about science.

    Anyway, why can’t they make reasonably accurate portrayals of science? I know they’re going to dramatize regardless, but they could at least start with accurate science, then dramatize. Exaggerating for effect is one thing, completely mucking up the science is quite another.

    But I will say that the Salon adaptation reads fairly well. Not especially novel, to be sure, yet of value. It’s much better than the Pluto section, which mistook a lot of fun had over the change in status as if it were serious opposition to the change. And which also trivialized the importance of using scientific criteria to set scientific nomenclature–what has been done so far almost certainly is not the end of the matter (some of the criteria are at least shaky, and “dwarf planet” referring to something that is not considered a “planet” does not follow normal scientific or vernacular language use), but at least it’s a good start.

    I hope the book is a lot closer to the Salon piece, then, and than the bit about Pluto. To know whether it is, I’ll almost certainly have to read it.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  73. John Kwok

    @ Sven –

    Not so. At least two of the major awards he has received in the past decade are due in large part to his 2005 Kitzmiller trial testimony, and the award citation for his 2008 Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award clearly states that he was nominated because of his excellence as the lead witness for the plaintiffs at the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial.

    I said Miller stopped participating in debates against creationists around the time of the Edwards vs. Aguillard case. I DIDN’T SAY THAT he was involved (He wasn’t. Scientific testimony came from the likes of Francisco J. Ayala and Stephen Jay Gould.). Are you in need of a refresher course in reading comprehension, maybe?

  74. John Kwok

    @ Paul –

    I’m getting tired of referring to him by his name. Maybe I should use instead in the future, the Militant Atheist Viking (He is proud of his Viking heritage) or Stuart Pivar’s favorite pal from Minnesota.

  75. Michael Neville

    Kwok has never recovered from being banned at PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula for excessive narcissism.

  76. Folks behind Walking With Dinosaurs claim its been seen by >700 million viewers since 1999. (http://www.newsweek.com/id/32882) I’m sure Jurrassic Park has had an even wider audience, but the claim that just watching dinosaurs would never work is patently absurd on its face.

    As @59 points out, it is interesting that M&K defer to the Dalai Lama when he says “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change,” but lambast the New Atheists when they say essentially the same thing.

    Perhaps M&K are waiting for the Dalai Lama to weigh in that Pluto is not a planet before blasting him for driving a wedge between science and the public.

  77. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia Benson –

    Say hello to David Klinghoffer for me. I think you have the potential of a great friendship with him, especially since you do act a lot like Denyse O’Leary.

  78. Sven DiMilo

    Yes, it’s my reading comprehension that’s at fault here, surely. Too bad I can’t take private lessons from a certain celebrated and sardonic Irish-American memoirist.
    I will make my point one more once: The reason. Ken Miller is prominent enough to have testified in Dover. Is because. He wrote some textbooks.
    That’s it.

  79. John Kwok

    @ Michael Neville –

    How come I haven’t been thinking of him, except when I read about him in this and related Intersection discussion threads? Your observation is one of breathtaking inanity.

  80. John Kwok

    @ Sven –

    Not so. He was called to testify as someone who has had substantial experience in testifying before state school boards in Kansas and Ohio, as well as county school boards, and also because of his prior experience in debating Intelligent Design creationists. His background as the co-author of one of the most popular high school textbooks, while important, wasn’t the only reason why he was chosen.

    I was actually thinking of having you ask Bill Dembski for substantial lessons in reading comprehension. Given your behavior, I think he would be a more suitable instructor than that memoirist.

  81. Sven DiMilo

    “The reason is because,” ouch. I will rap my own knuckles for that one.

  82. Sven DiMilo

    For freak’s sake, John.
    First, I am not criticizing him in any way! Drop your freakin shields!
    More to the point, ask your pal Ken yourself. Yes, by the time of Dover he had plenty of experience testifying in creationism court cases. Do you know why he had been called to testify so many times before? I will leave that as a li’l puzzler for you.

  83. to a scientist, factual accuracy must be paramount; it is not a matter on which we can compromise.

    then Mr. Myers must be a lousy teacher, because teaching requires the teacher to compromise the full truth and teach only a simpler version of the truth to the student. As the student learns, the teacher can reveal more of the truth, but simply dumping the unmitigated truth upon students will only confuse them.

    First off, he wasn’t talking about teaching. Quit quote-mining.

    Secondly, factual accuracy is still paramount when teaching the simplified version. The Bohr model of the atom must be taught accurately as well. The cloud model is not the “full truth” either, it is just an interpretation, if a closer representation than the Bohr model. It has to be taught accurately, of course, just as with the Bohr model.

    Simplification in teaching is not accomplished by giving up the requirement for accuracy.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  84. @Silver Fox #42
    The thing is, saying there is no basis for a belief structure that is not empirically based is essentially both the basis of the scientific method and the basis for a secular society. I do not see “New Atheists” arguing that it be mandated that people give up their beliefs or that you cannot be a scientist and religious. What they are saying is that there is no empirical basis for religious beliefs, and that a belief in the supernatural is philosophically opposed to the proper execution of science. Society at large may be a spiritual one, but it is not inappropriate (nor do I think that it is damaging) to engage that spiritualism in debate. Part of the problem is the knee-jerk resistance to that engagement, as though there is a special accord that should be given to religious beliefs as opposed to any other set of ideas, and that is to a certain extent what motivates the position of the “New Atheists”. It is like someone trying to convince you that to question his statements on the effectiveness of a product he is trying to sell you is offensive, as it impugns his trustworthiness. Usually when that happens it means he has something to hide. The unfortunate aspect of this is that there are a majority of people claiming this special protection, but you will not get past that without challenging it.

    All of this, though, is opinion and conjecture without any data.

  85. @Glen, #84

    Sometimes accuracy is sacrificed for simplicity, but those cases are examples of poor teaching.

    Also, does anyone know why numbers sometimes shift after reloading the page? I’ve seen comments for example go from #5 to #7 with new comments appearing ahead of them.

  86. windy

    Sometimes accuracy is sacrificed for simplicity, but those cases are examples of poor teaching.

    It’s useful to keep in mind the accuracy vs. precision distinction too.

    Also, does anyone know why numbers sometimes shift after reloading the page?

    It’s when comments are released from moderation.

  87. Marc

    Some scientists end up unable to coherently explain things because of their concern about unimportant details. That is actually a problem: you end up not communicating effectively in the service of obsessing over not saying anything “wrong. In common parlance, nitpicking is an annoying tic which can get in the way of learning. There is such a thing as the relativity of wrong, to take the title of a good article by asimov.

    I think this is what folks are – unproductively – squabbling about here: whether Meyers is defending pedantry or preserving essential accuracy.

  88. Sven DiMilo

    Moz, some comments are being held for moderation and then released later into chronological sequence. I haven’t been able to figure out yet what is triggering moderation, exactly; most of mine go through but some get held. Seems to be correlated with length more than anything else so far.

  89. @Sven 89
    I see… yeah, I figured it was something like that, it’s just confusing because I’m used to referencing comment numbers so people know exactly what is being replied to (if it is a specific reply to a comment).

    And windy, you are right. Precision also comes into play.

  90. Ophelia Benson: Oooooooooh – that sounds as if you know him. Do you know him? Do you know Kenneth (’Ken’) Miller?!

    Ooooooooooooooooh!

    Ophelia, you constant ridicule John Kwok, then you troll his comments. Grow up.

  91. — What about the old atheists?

    The old atheists haven’t gotten as old as the new atheists.

  92. Heraclides

    Just not convinced with your replies (see also my comments on part I). Like my previous effort, I have not read any of the comments here or Myers’ reply before making my remarks.

    5: Pointing to some other work, doesn’t address the question. Myers referred to your current work. What the answer needs to quotes from the current work.

    6. Seeing both sides are opinions there is no “this is right”, but I’d point out that you are a whisker from contradicting yourself on your remarks to point 5 (there you say religion is major element, you wrote a book about it, etc.)

    7. I’ve addressed some aspects of this in the comments after your salon piece. Could you please given the full quote, that is one including what Myers’ quoted? I can’t see how Myers’ quote and your one are linked. (I also can’t help suspecting that you have taken Dawkins very slightly out of context yourself.) It’s true that Hollywood films (as opposed to “art house”, European, etc.) are rather timid about going beyond basic human drama formulas, etc. But as I pointed out in salon.com, that comes with the effect that many/most of their characters are “cardboard cutout” in a way that everyone recognises as artificial. Try this for size: how many Hollywood movie featuring scientists are character-driven as opposed to plot-driven? I think you’d find that they are almost exclusively that latter, or at least strongly lean that way.) I really think that the worry over Hollywood movie representations are really just minor annoyances. After all, plot-driven movies misrepresent pretty much all careers in the interest of plot. If a strongly character-driven movie did misrepresent badly, then, that’d be a shame, but I suspect most critics would say as much themselves without any intervention from scientists.

    (BTW A film with just dinosaurs running around would never have been so successful (and would never have been made) isn’t entirely true when looked at more broadly. “Natural history” documentaries are very popular with kids, they just are made by television companies rather than Hollywood.)

    8. I think Myers emphasis was on the word ‘new': are the solutions new. Seeing as you’re not giving them away here (bar one) and I have no means to check for myself, I can’t really comment, but I do think you’re missing what Myers was looking at, the “new” aspect, not if you offer solutions or not at all.

  93. Richie P

    This is a really interesting debate and personally I think I can see something of value in both the “new atheist” approach and the “accomodationist” approach. Despite the fact that the debate is interesting though, I cannot help but feel that it is a little over-heated and unnecessarily so. Maybe some of the protaganists and the posters on both sides of the debate could do with a reminder that we actually have a lot in common- we are all worried about scientific literacy and love the subject with a passion (none of us are exactly YECs are we?). Given this, it isn’t entirely obvious to me why we just can’t accept the fact that different people are going to have different approaches and leave it at that. This is particularly true since there are subtle (actually-maybe not all that subtle) differences in the chief concerns of the various protaganists. For some the sole concern is scientific education (as in the case of Mooney and Kirshenbaum) but for others the battle against religious indoctrination, the acceptablitiy of Atheism or the promotion of Humanism etc… may be causes that are also worthy of consideration.
    Personally I consider myself slightly more on Myers and Dawkins side of the debate, but my opinion could easily be shifted in the other direction if the accomodationists could come up with some strong evidence suggesting that the “New Atheists” really do harm science education. I have to admit I would find such evidence very surprising, but I am open minded on the subject. All I can say is that in my view Dawkins books are so well-written, inspiring and lucid that I find it hard to believe that the guy has damaged Science!!!!! I know that I have certainly learnt a heck of a lot from them!!!

    Also just a quick note- I have just watched a preacher on a you-tube video say to his flock that “evolution is a lie and all the scientists know it really”. With comments like this, I find it difficult to accept that religion is not the most important root cause.

    Dawkins may well claim that evolution and religion are almost incompatible, but I am pretty sure that this is just his opinion. He, just like all other non-fundamentalists, wants people to make there own minds up on the compatibility question. Unfortunately, the preachers and pastors like the man in the you-tube video don’t want this- they want to indoctrinate, and they are the real problem.

  94. Heraclides

    @2 Davo: Ouch. That’s a sharp review! (And they’re worried about PZ…!)

    @16 Erasmussimo: There is point where plot-driven Hollywood movies misrepresent when they really have no need to, it’s not black or white like you paint it. Poster 20 (Mel) gives some nice examples. It’s just they have this ridiculous drive to cardboard cutout action figures and a lack of enquiry as to how else something could be presented simply, yet (more) accurately. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that I could act as a consultant to movies! (By the way, there was a fine simplistic, yet accurate enough for the purpose, account of cloning in the open number of TV series I saw recently, using grapes and a pair of tweezers.)

    For others remarking on Scientific accuracy is not a paramount concern to telling a story, it can absolutely be, it just depends on the movie in question. If it’s action/plot driven, then most likely not. If it’s character-driven, it’ll dumb if it doesn’t have at least passing accuracy. People seem to be forgetting that there is such a thing as biographical movies! (To be fair, Hollywood is probably too timid to run with these.) I’m not keen on the fact that so often they expediently “can’t be bothered”, as Mel illustrated at post 20.

    @25 Laelaps (aka Brian): Good point, the animators often do a stunning job bringing the creatures to life. And the hero was a scientist, one with morals at that.

    (Not reading past #25…)

  95. TB

    @ 47. Craig B Says:

    (and including @ 60. Jason Rosenhouse)

    “Most of my students self-identify as fundamentalist Christians. Most of them know nothing of their church theology or history, either, but know that their ministers and families “give me the impression that I’m supposed to be against evolution and science.” That is a problem of education and religion, and I’d say 75% of my students suffer from it to various degrees.”

    Speaking as someone with fundies in the family – some who have lived and taught in Virginia – I understand what you’re talking about. I know from personal experience how frustratingly futile engagement can be – oh the family discussions! (I had Expelled brought up to me a week or so ago. I swear, I was just trying to relax and someone brought it up to me!)
    In spite of that, I don’t see naivety in advocating engagement with religious people because not all religious people – as the PEW survey shows – are fundamentalists.
    But, yes, I can see your point that in some places it sure seems like they are.

  96. CRS

    Are you going to explain how PZ Myers and Dawkins are contributing to scientific illiteracy, or not? So far the reviews of your book say that you don’t do it there, and clearly you haven’t done it here yet. If you can’t or won’t, then what is the point of making him so paramount a figure in your book?

  97. Ophelia Benson (#44) said: “Yes but in your teaching, right? But that’s not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether one has to be careful about offending religious sensibilities even in public writing and speaking.

    Why do you think the best strategy to teach science in the classroom is different in this regard from the best strategy to teach science to the general public? Those who have been labeled by Mooney & co as “New Atheists” and criticized for not effectively communicating science to general public take issue with the charge that their public atheistic views get in the way of their public science communication. I don’t know who is right, but if the public expression of atheistic views (e.g. that only atheism is sensible in the light of science) does not interfere with science communication, then why is it important to keep it out of science classrooms? If the impossibility or near-impossibility of Mary’s virgin birth follows from biology textbooks as naturally as any biological fact, then why avoid mentioning it in biology classes?

  98. Michael Kingsford Gray

    94. Richie P Says:
    …I think I can see something of value in both the “new atheist” approach and the “accomodationist” approach. Despite the fact that the debate is interesting though, I cannot help but feel that it is a little over-heated and unnecessarily so. Maybe some of the protaganists and the posters on both sides of the debate could do with a reminder that we actually have a lot in common…

    It is in one vital, essential, paramount area that accomodationists and anti-accomodationists differ:
    Truth

    By definition, accomodationists MUST lie about reality, either by omission** or direct commission when they claim or imply that religions/churches do not make testable scientific claims that are OUTRIGHT false.
    Because all of them do make claims on reality.

    This is the most important and very real difference between the two camps, and it is a gaping chasm.

    The accomodationists and the anti-accomodationists (New Atheists) are on the opposite ends of the spectrum as far as this is concerned.
    _____________
    ** Vis: Not talking about religions dangerously false claims, and wishing that others would do likewise.

  99. Jon

    By definition, accomodationists MUST lie about reality

    WTF. How many times have I heard the word “lie” on this blog? Accusing me or someone else? This accusation is completely data free. I challenge you to go through any thread and tell me where I “lied”. Get a life, people.

  100. tomh

    @ #98 tom w said: “I don’t know who is right, but if the public expression of atheistic views (e.g. that only atheism is sensible in the light of science) does not interfere with science communication, then why is it important to keep it out of science classrooms?”

    Because there is no reason to bring up religious claims in a science classroom and besides, once you open that can of worms there will be no time to teach science. There are also Constitutional concerns once you bring religion into a classroom. Teach science in a science class and let religionists deal with the fallout outside of school.

  101. bonze

    I thought I’d toss in another comment with respect to Crackergate. I just picked up Michael Lewis’ “The Money Culture” at my local library and found it starts off with a relevant quotation from H. L. Mencken:

    The iconoclast proves enough when he proves by his blasphemy that this or that idol is defectively convincing–that at least one visitor to the shrine is left full of doubts. The liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe–that the god in the sanctuary was a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.

  102. tomh (#102), the constitutional concerns excepted (they are well taken), how is that difference from teaching the general public science? If students in a science class find it terribly distracting, I don’t see why the general public shouldn’t be expected to also be distracted by atheistic views mixed into science communication. Furthermore, the so-called “New Atheists”, as I understand them, are arguing that there is no distinction between science and their inferences/conclusions that religions are false. If so, isn’t it tragical and undesirable that science teachers and lecturers must refrain from talking about the scientific inferences that rule out the truth of religions?

  103. MAGonzalez

    What I can see from the arguments in the book, and many other posts, is that most people dont really understand the “New Atheists”.

    Our main cause, simply put, is to separate, Completely, Science and Religion. They are incompatible.

    The world has over 9 billion people. 9 BILLION!!! You cant expect all to accept a “belief”. Most of the world believe in other types of faiths and superstitions.

    Science is a universal language, we manage to find explanations for what happens in the earth and solutions for our problems via ways everybody can follow. And if we find something, anybody can try and disprove it, or, if unable to, Accept it as a FACT.

    Religion is a way of life some people choose, it is to be taught in families and at home. School and public settings are places where objectivism and fact should prevail. Not personal belief.

  104. John Kwok

    @ Sven –

    Ken Miller was called to testify at the Dover trial because he has been one of the leading critics of Intelligent Design creationism, because he has been quite effective in debating creationists, because he’s become publicly well known for both his critiques of Intelligent Design and other flavors of creationism (If he wasn’t do you think he would have been a consultant to the PBS NOVA miniseries of Evolution?), and last, but not least, because he is the coauthor of what is regarded as the most popular high school biology textbook. If the issue was solely the fact that this was the textbook used at Dover High School, then Ken didn’t have to speak, his co-author, Joel S. Levine, would have been equally qualified. But Eric Rothschild, his colleagues at the prominent Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, the head of the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU (another attorney, but I have forgotten his name), knew that they were going up against potentially not only the Thomas Moore Legal Center (representing the Dover Area School District board), but also the Discovery Institute. They needed – and they got – relevant scientific and philosophical “superstars” to serve as expert witnesses on behalf of the plaintiffs. Ken Miller was one of them.

    Sven I think you’ve forgotten that Ken Miller has been among the harshest, most effective, critics of the Intelligent Design concept of Irreducible Complexity.

  105. @ #56

    It’s nice to see civility is alive and well. But when has the “tiresome old fart” claimed that “religion is the root of all evil” or that “religious parents are tantamount to child abusers who are creating an intergenerational brood of delusionals”. Quotes would be great.

  106. Mel

    Adding to what tomh says in #102, if you really want to see how bad things can get for science education, then by all means try to get science teachers to start attacking the religious beliefs of their students and advocating atheism in science class. You will soon see massive backlashes from enraged parents that will include large numbers of First Amendment law suits. You will also see the rise of huckster demagogues eager to ride a wave of religiously-fueled populism to positions of power where they will work all kinds of havoc with educational standards and other policies. That will likely go to the point of decimation of grant-funding agency budgets. No, that is a route to follow only if you hate science education and think it is too good now. Believe me, the religious right would LOVE for that to happen, and would be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect if they thought it possible. Sorry, but no deal.

  107. RBH

    Craig B @47 wrote @44 Right, Ophelia, the classroom is what I meant. I’m outspoken (locally) outside of the classroom. I’m firmly on your side in this discussion.
    I was trying to make the point that I see a lot more of this than most people here do, and I think that goes for PZ as well. People at elite institutions in cosmopolitan cities have no idea, usually, of what it is like in the heartland. I grew up in Chicago and lived in Boulder-Denver before moving here. It really is like a different country. I think part of the problem that M&K and some commenters have is that because of their backgrounds, they really have no idea how deeply embedded and dominant religion is.

    I’ve sat in a hearing room in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, with a gallery full of fundamentalists for 20 days this last year, and I wholly agree with Craig B’s remarks. The gist of the teaching of a fundamentalist Christian middle school science teacher was captured by one of his former students, who testified under oath that what he learned from Freshwater was “Science can’t be trusted. Science can’t teach us anything.” Welcome to the heartland of America.

  108. Silver Fox

    CRS @98

    “Are you going to explain how PZ Myers and Dawkins are contributing to scientific illiteracy, or not?”

    Gee, CRS you and MOZ seem to be in the same state of confusion. It really doesn’t take a rocket sceintist to figure that out. This is the explanation I gave MOZ earlier on this thread:

    MOZ:
    “I’m still a little mystified as to the support for their claim that the “New Atheists” are damaging science education.”

    Explanation:
    The “New Atheists” damage to science is not small potatoes although it is part of a much larger picture that calls for damage control. The larger picture includes taking a society that is overwhelmingly spiritual in some form or other and trying to transform it into a purely secular, materialistic place. The scientific damage comes from their efforts to appropriate science as foundational in effecting the transformation from a spiritual society to a godless one.

    Additionally, the New Atheists have framed the conversation, or lack thereof, in terms of either/or. They see science as demanding a convergence to atheism. Any spiritual/religious values are impediments to this convergence and must be done away with.

    Enter Mooney with his accommodationism and you can see what drives their angst. This adds an element of “both” to the equation which threatens the “either/or” imperative. So, it cannot be allowed. It jeopardizes the entire transformational paradigm.

    To appropriate science as a vehicle for promoting their primary agenda, atheism, is damaging to science.

  109. Ichthyic

    They see science as demanding a convergence to atheism.

    lies and strawmen. that’s all you clowns have.

    In point of fact, PZ has taken great pains to repeatedly detail the fact that this is NOT the case.

    That they see atheism as more compatible with science is much closer to being accurate. Like saying not playing football is more compatible with becoming a professional baseball player.

    It’s obviously possible to do both, but it’s just as obviously an extra effort to do so. Miller is a great case in point. It’s obvious he can be both religious and a scientist (is he still publishing in the primary lit these days?), but it’s just as obvious this takes a tremendous effort to compartmentalize the two interests, and this often comes through in some very muddled thinking on his part whenever he has to rationalize potential conflicts between the two interests.

    what i see in defense of MK’s book in this thread is instead a series of defensive rhetorics coming from people, namely SF and Kwokster, that have personal axes to grind and not a lot of logic to invoke.

  110. Ichthyic @111: (is he still publishing in the primary lit these days?)

    Why do you ask? If he doesn’t does that make him NOT a scientist? PZ hasn’t peer published in years.

  111. Ichthyic

    oh, btw, while Miller is so often used as a shining example of the ability to allow religion and science to share the same stage, if you actually read how he describes his religion these days, he’s retreated so far afield from standard catholic dogma it’s a wonder he still claims to be religious.

    here, you can read it in his own words:

    http://www.millerandlevine.com/evolution/Coyne-Accommodation.htm

    “One can indeed embrace science in every respect, and still ask a deeper question, one in which Coyne seems to have no interest. Why does science work? Why is the world around us organized in a way that makes itself accessible to our powers of logic and intellect? The true vow of a scientist is to practice honest and open empiricism in every aspect of his scientific work. That vow does not preclude the scientist from stepping back, acknowledging the limitations of scientific knowledge, and asking the deeper questions of why we are here, and whether existence has a purpose. Those questions are genuine and important, even if they are not scientific ones, and I believe they are worth answering. To me, those answers lie in faith.”

    so, Miller’s “faith” lies in addressing why he thinks existence has a purpose.

    now that’s conflict resolution for ya!

    contrast that with the Biologos site of Francis Collins, to see how the compartmentalization fails in the OTHER direction.

  112. John Kwok

    @ TomJoe –

    While Ken hasn’t published original scientific research in years, he still maintains a lab, mentors graduate students, and is apparently still conducting research. Moreover, I understand that he had made an important discovery pertaining to cellular membranes years ago (In stark contrast, a certain Morris, MN-based evolutionary developmental biologist hasn’t made any significant discoveries in his chosen field.).

  113. Mel

    @Ichthyic

    You are free to take a look at Miller’s CV at http://research.brown.edu/pdf/1100924768.pdf?nocache=1322280569 to judge his bona fides.

    He is listed as an author on 53 peer-reviewed papers, with the vast bulk of them being original research papers. He may not be an active researcher right now, as it is obvious that he has shifted his efforts to education and public advocacy, but, with that body of work, he has more than enough credibility. You may see how he harmonizes his religion and his science as muddled thinking, but it works for him, and he has never to my knowledge gone out and said that his thinking is absolutely correct or urged that all should hold the same thinking. I, frankly, don’t think it matters. Much of his value as a spokesman is that he makes clear to those who hold their religious views dear that it is possible for a person to be both religious and scientific, and thus that they need not reject science. You may disagree with this idea, but it a valuable thing to make clear in a country where religion is a major force that is clearly central to many people’s lives, and is not going anywhere any time soon (no matter anyone’s feelings on that fact). I am not trying to be argumentative, but am just stating how things are as I see them.

  114. Ichthyic

    If he doesn’t does that make him NOT a scientist? PZ hasn’t peer published in years.

    Not that this debate hasn’t occurred before, but no, if one is not publishing in the literature, and one is not currently doing any research, one has given up essentially being a scientist. If you don’t actually play baseball currently, would you call yourself a baseball player, even if you were a pro for several years? If you now sell carpet for a living, that would make you a carpet salesman that knows a lot about baseball.

    I’m not currently publishing in the primary lit either, since I’m busy working with educational nonprofits, so, I wouldn’t describe myself as being a scientist either. I can describe myself as having BEEN a scientist, since I have published and have done a lot of work in the field, and might yet again be one. People like PZ, Miller, and Dawkins would better be described as science popularists and educators than as working scientists.

    that said, it’s a fine distinction, and it’s perfectly acceptable IMO to describe people who have done science in a professional capacity as scientists AND educators AND popularists. Really the only reason I mention it was that I hadn’t heard of a paper coming from Miller in a while now, and was curious if he was still publishing.

    I figured his number one fan, JK, would certainly know.

  115. Ichthyic

    He may not be an active researcher right now, as it is obvious that he has shifted his efforts to education and public advocacy, but, with that body of work, he has more than enough credibility.

    116 clarifies why I asked.

    not an issue of credibility, so don’t misconstrue it as that.

  116. Mel (#108) says: “Adding to what tomh says in #102, if you really want to see how bad things can get for science education, then by all means try to get science teachers to start attacking the religious beliefs of their students and advocating atheism in science class. You will soon see massive backlashes from enraged parents that will include large numbers of First Amendment law suits. You will also see the rise of huckster demagogues eager to ride a wave of religiously-fueled populism to positions of power where they will work all kinds of havoc with educational standards and other policies. That will likely go to the point of decimation of grant-funding agency budgets. No, that is a route to follow only if you hate science education and think it is too good now. Believe me, the religious right would LOVE for that to happen, and would be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect if they thought it possible. Sorry, but no deal.

    Since #102 was in response to me, I’ll note that I am not advocating that science teachers should attack religious beliefs in science class. I am asking a question: If, as so-called “New Atheists” say, the goals of science communication to the general public are not compromised by criticizing religion and advocating atheism at the same time, then what is the rationale keeping criticism of religion out of the science classroom? If religious beliefs like Mary’s virgin birth can be ruled out in the same scientific way as phlogiston, the caloric, and the ether, then I don’t see any rationale for why believers in the former should be shielded while believers in the latter three should have to hear that they are mistaken. You, like tomh, seem to think that atheism and criticism of religion in science class would actually compromise the teaching of science. So why do you think that the same mix of science and atheism in public doesn’t similarly compromise the teaching of science to the general public?

  117. John Kwok

    @ Ichthyic –

    I’m more likely to be a number one fan of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles and Elton John, NOT Ken Miller.

    @ Mel –

    Ken Miller has stated that whenever science and religion may conflict for him, then science HAS PRECEDENCE over his religious views. He has also said that those who subscribe to faiths hostile to science should discard such faiths ASAP, preferably immediately. Militant Atheists have created a caricature of Ken that doesn’t quite hold up to reality.

  118. Mel

    Just looked it up, and by comparison, PZ Myers has twelve listed peer-reviewed publications, with the last being in 2002, but his career emphasis has clearly focused more on education. He is also not at a research intensive university, so this record is not unusual. Miller clearly had a longer intensively research-oriented career than Myers, but they both have put in their time at the grindstone and are deserving of respect and attention as scientists.

  119. Ichthyic

    You may see how he harmonizes his religion and his science as muddled thinking, but it works for him

    the question is:

    why bother cobbling together a dysfunctional motor with bailing wire and chewing gum if you don’t have to?

    there is nothing physically out there forcing us to accept the idea that any specific religion is necessary.

    Moreover, attempting to rationalize compartmentalization leads to rather muddled thinking, as you can clearly see in both Collins and Miller’s writings when they attempt to do so.

    saying “religion is never going anywhere any time soon” ignores whether there are good arguments to maintain it or not. You can guess which side of that I come down on.

    Isn’t it about time to tell the adult he doesn’t need his security blanky any more?

    Isn’t past time to start weeding this inane and hindring meme out of society?

    And yes, unlike Mooney et. al., there is copious evidence of religions’ role as a hindrance to education:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/316/5827/996

  120. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    PZ also admitted to me in private e-mail correspondence that he’s nowhere nearly the eminent scientist that his colleague, distinguished University of Wisconsin, Madison evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll is. Moreover, unlike Ken Miller, he has not made any major discoveries in his chosen specialty within the biological sciences.

  121. Mel

    @Ichthyic

    I didn’t think it was for you. I was really just throwing the numbers out there because it seemed like a good opening to do so. The man has had an impressive output that I can only envy right now with my piddly record of only two publications so far (and one in preparation!).

  122. Ichthyic

    Ken Miller has stated that whenever science and religion may conflict for him, then science HAS PRECEDENCE over his religious views.

    this, by definition, means he never managed to reconcile them, but instead just chose to delete those areas of conflict within his religion.

    He has also said that those who subscribe to faiths hostile to science should discard such faiths ASAP, preferably immediately.

    as he himself appears to have done.

    this is exactly why those of us with any sense say accomodationism is a lie.

  123. Ichthyic

    PZ also admitted to me in private e-mail correspondence that he’s nowhere nearly the eminent scientist that his colleague, distinguished University of Wisconsin, Madison evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll is.

    you’re a narcissistic sociopath, you know that?

  124. John Kwok

    @ Ichthyic –

    Vatican Observatory astronomer and planetary scientist Guy Consolmagno, who is also Curator, Papal Collection of Meteorites and a Jesuit brother, has also said that when science and religion conflict for him, then science must take precedence. It is a sentiment I have heard too from other religiously devout scientists. Ken isn’t unique in making this declaration.

  125. Mel

    “Isn’t it about time to tell the adult he doesn’t need his security blanky any more?”

    It isn’t my right to do so. People have an inherent right to personal conscience, I prefer not to violate that, and who am I to arrogate to myself the perceived right to do so?

  126. John Kwok

    @ IChthyic –

    I don’t think you’d know a narcissistic sociopath if one came to your front door (On second thought, I have met one in person, Stuart Pivar, and have had e-mail contact with three others; Bill Dembski, David Klinghoffer and PZ Myers.).

  127. As for “root causes”, Ken Miller may have provided them in his book “Only A Theory” when he noted that there is a longstanding tradition of Americans questioning authority, including, of course scientists.

    Y’know, I have a lot of respect for Miller, and have recommended Finding Darwin’s God to folks I dunno how many times . . . but for whatever reason, at least re: evolution he really seems to be missing the obvious. I’m not saying that American populism/anti-elitism/question-authorityism don’t play a role, but it really is remarkable how well they seem to correlate with what religion (or none) people belong to . . . .

    (Of course, it’s more complicated than this- for starters, members of these various denominations & religions tend to differ from each other, on average, in some pretty important-seeming ways. But seriously, the folks most likely to deny evolution also tend to be the kind of folks who don’t actually come across as people into questioning authority per se, y’know?)

  128. Mel

    @John Kwok

    I really don’t think PZ Myer’s eminence or lack thereof is relevant to any of these discussions.

  129. Paul

    “Vatican Observatory astronomer and planetary scientist Guy Consolmagno, who is also Curator, Papal Collection of Meteorites and a Jesuit brother, has also said that when science and religion conflict for him, then science must take precedence. It is a sentiment I have heard too from other religiously devout scientists. Ken isn’t unique in making this declaration.”

    How does he explain mammalian pathogenesis in the case of Mary? Not snark, I’m truly curious. If you invoke “miracle”, that puts lie to the science over religion priority.

  130. Missing link from #128 here (pew polling on acceptance on evolution between different denominations & religions in the U.S.)

  131. Paul @131: I assume you meant to say “mammalian parthogenesis”. I imagine their response would be “we can’t explain it”. Seems like a perfectly reasonable response to me. There are a lot of things which science cannot explain currently, or perhaps ever will answer. We won’t know until we get to the end of the age and tally it all up.

  132. Ichthyic

    Ken isn’t unique in making this declaration.

    exactly MY point, which you seem to have missed.

    accommodationists aren’t even accommodationists!

    It’s a big lie, and it deserves to be pointed out, and those promulgating it who know better (that means Mooney and the others who view this as a tactical gambit), should be mercilessly ridiculed at least until they acknowledge the underlying facts.

  133. Reply to myself in what should eventually be post #133: it’s “parthenogenesis” … duh.

  134. Just think, if I thought I was the eminent equal of Sean Carroll, then I’d be the narcissistic sociopath.

    If anyone cares, I won’t just say it in a private email, I’ll shout it publicly: I do not regard myself nor do I present myself as a scientist comparable to Carroll. My ego is not too badly bruised, though, because few are; in fact, no one else on this thread, including the two hosts of this blog, are his equal in science.

    It’s a fact that deserves a big fat “So?”. Only a flaming twit would think it relevant.

  135. PZ @136: then why bother with a response?

  136. Ichthyic

    Just think, if I thought I was the eminent equal of Sean Carroll, then I’d be the narcissistic sociopath.

    too late, PZ, Kwok thinks you a sociopath even though you didn’t claim publication equivalence with Carroll.

    let’s say it together, shall we?

    projection!

    whee!

    Is he still threatening you on facebook?

    that was some damn scary stuff.

    :P

  137. Feynmaniac

    I think Ken Miller needs to get a restraining order on Kwok.

  138. Ichthyic

    why bother with a response?

    why bother to ask?

  139. tomh

    @ #130 “I really don’t think PZ Myer’s eminence or lack thereof is relevant to any of these discussions.”

    It’s always relevant to Kwok. In the combined threads on this blog he has repeated it 172 times.

  140. “Really, opening the book with the silly controversy over Pluto as a shining and serious example of scientific illiteracy or miscommunication?? Sorry, but the authors deeply disappoint.”

    The controversy over Pluto is NOT silly. The public inherently gets that something is very wrong when a tiny group of scientists, in a very convoluted process, make a political rather than scientific decision. That is exactly what the IAU did, and Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of New Horizons, was completely accurate to call it “an embarrassment to astronomy.” More than that, it was an embarrassment to science. Anyone who thinks this issue does not matter should go to the IAU web site and watch the August 24, 2006 session and vote, which comes off like a circus. Natually, when people see scientists behaving in a petty, self-centered way, ignoring the viewpoints of some of the leading experts in their field, they will be less than excited about science. In short, Pluto does matter.

  141. Wowbagger

    Has Kwok always written in that style, or did he just take it up after reading The Da Vinci Code? Everytime I read one of his fawning descriptions of someone whose name he’s dropping I can’t help but think of ‘Renowned curator Jacques Saunière…’

    It wouldn’t surprise me if we’re told that he and lauded, bestseller-writing, millionaire author Dan Brown are firm friends.

  142. Marion Delgado

    Not bad, Chris and Sheril. A good response overall.

  143. Marion Delgado

    My favorite review snippet, from Adventures in Ethics and Science:

    http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2009/07/book_review_unscientific_ameri.php

    It struck me, while reading this book, that the root problem here is no fundamental flaw in the American character, but a capitalist system that squeezes out spaces for things that are not expected to sell widely for the lowest costs to produce. Science is brimming with complexities. Explaining it, understanding it, takes time and effort. But if the news media and Hollywood (and politics, too) are harbingers of doom for a scientific America, it makes it seem just as likely to me that a long term solution will involve replacing extreme capitalism with something different. Show me the alternative and the plan to implement it, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and help.

    Of course, Mooney and Kirshenbaum take as given that extreme capitalism is an immovable object in this system. Meanwhile, they take aim at another element of the system with a fair bit of inertia: the job description of the scientist. Scientists, they argue, should see public outreach, communication of science to a variety of non-scientific audience, and even political engagement, as part of what they’re supposed to be doing as scientists:
    . . .
    Let us pause for the already overburdened scientists in the audience to take a deep breath.

  144. @Silverfox

    Rather than repeating your initial response to me to someone else, you might want to notice that I had also responded to you.

  145. Thomas Morison

    I respect people who consistently act on their own convictions. Mooney and Kirshenbaum (in this blog at least) seem to have failed at this. They seem to have failed at keeping their eye on the wider goal they assert to believe in.

    Part of being a good communicator is avoiding alienating others. Getting into a blog war, would seem to do just that. They have failed to bring even seemingly compatible ideologues together.

    PZ Myers however, has once again lived up to his convictions. Well known for his powerful skeptical vitriol – he has at least won my respect for consistently treading his own path.

    It is in this sense that someone with some balls and beliefs (consistent convictions) – who doesn’t claim to unite the masses – can win my respect over those who claim to unite (Mooney and Kirshenbaum), but fail for such obvious reasons.

    More substance and respect for the (ever-present) audience next time – less bickering amongst yourselves – PLEASE!

  146. Wowbagger

    Mozglubov, don’t waste your breath on Silver ‘All fear Nergal!’ Fox. He’s allergic to including anything resembling intellectual honesty or meaningful content in his posts; I’d hazard a guess that he’s only cluttering up this blog because no-one on Pharyngula will give his drivel the time of day.

  147. Richie P

    #100 Michael Kingsford Gray and #101 Jon-

    Jon, in fairness to Michael Kingsford Gray he doesn’t directly accuse you of lying. However, I agree that LIE is too strong a word. “Accomodationists” don’t lie per se, rather they adopt a strategy of putting a spin on things that is very favourable to religion. The question is- is this worth doing?

    The anti-accomodationists PZ, Dawkins, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne et al are actually the ones who are less strategically minded. They adopt a default policy of criticising bad ideas wherever they find them (Sam Harris I think said something like this) regardless of what the political/social consequences might be. Of course, it just so happens that religion contains a fair number of bad ideas, and so it feels quite a bit of their wrath. Now, Chris Mooney might think this is a reckless approach that risks alienating those who we should be encouraging to make steps towards Science. He may have a point, but I cannot help but have some sympathy for PZ, Dawkins etc…..

    The problem with all this strategising is that there is no way of knowing what the consequences of our actions might be- it seems to be little more than guesswork on the part of the accomodationists (in my opinion). Take for example, Mooney’s request for Atheists to stop criticising Francis Collins on the basis that he will bring religious folk towards acceptance of evolution. Will the appointment of FC as NIH director really have this effect? Who is to say that Collins won’t succeed in bringing people who are already evolution accepters towards religion instead? I mean the guy is pretty preachy when it comes to his religious convictions. The simple answer is we have no way of knowing what the outcome of the appointment is going to be. Given this, why shouldn’t we adopt the approach of being honest, and honestly criticising when we think it is needed. Providing that the criticisms don’t get out of hand (unfortunatly they did in the whole “Crakergate” affair), I for one cannot see what is wrong with this.

  148. TB

    @ 131 Paul asks

    “How does he explain mammalian pathogenesis in the case of Mary? Not snark, I’m truly curious. If you invoke “miracle”, that puts lie to the science over religion priority.”

    I’ve seen this question asked a lot. Actually, there are a range of views among the religious. Certainly the dogma of the miracle is most popular, but the range also includes the interpretation that Virgin means simply without original sin, and extends all the way to the idea that Jesus’ divinity doesn’t require any virgin birth at all – that it was a construct to fit previous scriptural writings.

    However, regarding miracles that may or may not have occurred centuries ago – atheism can certainly claim them to be false, but science can simply say there is no evidence of this claim and it certainly doesn’t happen now so there’s no need to waste time considering it. Kind of what Sagan said.

  149. El Guerrero del Interfaz

    Coinciding very much with Jason and Craig with a little bit of outsider point of view.

    After becoming an atheist, I’ve lived several year in Europe without any problem and without feeling being in a closet or some necessity to get out of it. It was living in the United States during a few years that made me a militant “new atheist” (although the term was not coined at this time). It was definitively religion, USAmerican fundamentalism, that made me change.

    Even if we do agree with M&K’s thesis that the “new atheists” are the main cause (I don’t), at the end it’s still the religion at the root of it as it’s the reason why there are militant “new atheists” in the first place. It’s just a response to invasive religious behavior. Although PZ is generally right, I agree that his manners are not always the sweetest. But I understand that very well because I also was much more aggressive when religion was stepping on my feet all day long.

    Times have changed. Now anyone can be overtly atheist, it’s not hazardous anymore. More and more are coming out and speaking their mind everytime. Nobody can change that. Accomodationists have to live with that. They cannot go back in time.

    Religion has always pounded on atheists very hard. Now atheists are defending themselves and fighting back. If you want to stop the fight, ask first who begun it. That’s the main thing “new atheists” are asking. Stop hitting us and we’ll stop hitting back.

  150. Craig B

    @99 First, my situation is complicated by the fact that I don’t teach science; I teach writing and use science to model reasoning and evidence, as well as to connect to our theme of informed citizenship (you can’t be an informed citizen without some basic understanding of science and scientific thinking).

    That said, there are a couple of other factors. One is that for most of us there is a difference in how we might talk to those we know vs. those we don’t know (good comments on that at PZ’s blog). In a classroom, I hope students won’t drop or tune out and, usually, I can see their personal potential and needs, while I might not care about some people tuning out or being offended in a larger, more abstract venue. Take, for instance, one of my favorite current students, a 30-something African American man who is back in school and doing well after time spent in jail and rehab centers. He’s always saying “bless you” to me because, culturally, it’s the only shorthand he has for what he’s trying to say. I think in a few years he will have other ways to articulate his appreciation, and he is already learning how to participate in academic discourse. Would there be any value in my telling him that I’m “offended” by his blessing me? No, of course not – not to mention the human element that it’s more difficult to offend one on one even in those cases when someone might need a talking to.

    There are also some gray areas that can involve legal or ethical concerns. I have a student now who is trying to get the ACLU (!) to get me fired because I won’t let her spout her Christian beliefs constantly in comments (this is an online class) and because I criticize her use of answersingenesis as a legitimate source (in this case on climate change). Her conflict with me started when I had posted a link to a Phil Plait blog entry about a child dying from untreated eczema (yes, a rash) because of their belief in homeopathy. I used it as an example (this is the first week of the class) of why informed citizenry and some basic understanding of science was important and the focus of the class. Many people posted what you would expect, but she posted a long post about how good homeopathy was blah blah blah. That led to a conversation about anti-vaccines and I said something about Jenny McCarthy (my brother runs the Jenny McCarthy bodycount site) and how dangerous her lack of understanding of science was. This student thought I was “mean” tl McCarthy. So, with all of this going on from one very problematic student, I have to deal constantly with the deans about her complaints. I’m not the sort who backs down easily, but most of my colleagues avoid this sort of situation because it is easier to avoid it under the guise of constitutional concerns (of course, there are real constitutional issues as well) than to put up with such energy-sucking behavior.

    Finally, academic freedom defends freedom of expression from the teacher (not from students) within the field of study. I would think a biology teacher would be protected, but it’s a bit more gray for me since I am not teaching biology.

    I think, too, that there is a clear connection between the fact that I have to watch my words in class and my impatience with being told to do so in other venues. As others have said, that gets to M&K’s arrogance and condescension in telling us what we should be doing. They have no idea what they are talking about in the “real world” of science and education, and that is really the thrust of my comments about the realities of many parts of this country.

  151. bushbasher

    i was a huge fan of mooney’s “republican war” book. so, i’ve really found it painful to watch him now making an idiot of himself. however, the more he has dug in, the longer he has (seemingly deliberately) failed to honestly address the clear and strong concerns of his critics (and targets), the more i think, to hell with him.

    i’ve been trying to decide what mooney’s real message is. and actually, it seems pretty simple. it’s not really anything to do with strategies or respect or philosophical categories or anything of the sort. all it is, is that mooney thinks atheists shouldn’t be so uppity.

  152. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    My observation about PZ is relevant for this reason. He started Pharyngula in 2002. Before that, no one had heard from him. Meanwhile, others, including Ken Miller and Jerry Coyne had been busy attacking Intelligent Design creationists since the 1996 publication of Michael Behe’s “Darwin Black Box”, if not before. Unfortunately, I will concede that I have probably stated my sad, but true, observation about PZ too often, but it has been in response to his sycophants who believe that Ken Miller is no better, simply since he’s just a “textbook author” (Again that isn’t true for anyone who is aware who the leading critics of Intelligent Design creationism.). But again, it is by his own admission to me in private e-mail correspondence (which I won’t share, but PZ has gleefully done so at his blog) that he is clearly a mediocre evolutionary developmental biologist who doesn’t have the interest or capability of his colleague Sean B. Carroll in producing important research in evolutionary developmental biology.

  153. John Kwok

    @ PZ –

    Your little “demonstration” here online on Sunday about which awards you will never win should indicate to anyone that there’s more than a few screws loose in your warped mind. But don’t worry. I am certain that Stuart Pivar may cure what ails you (Now that I think of it, I may ask our mutual acquaintance – whom Pivar claimed as a good friend, but that acquaintance said it’s untrue – if he has Pivar’s e-mail address. If he does, I may offer him encouragement to “assist” you in getting the attention you clearly need.).

  154. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    Oops, a couple of typos, which I am correcting here:

    “He started Pharyngula in 2002. Before that, no one had heard of him.”

    (Again that isn’t true for anyone who is aware who the leading critics of Intelligent Design creationism are.)

    None of PZ’s sychophants wish to recognize that Ken has been important in challenging and refuting Behe’s Intelligent Design “research” or have forgotten that he was an important scientific consultant to the PBS NOVA “Evolution” miniseries, or that he has debated creationists many times, either solely by himself, or alongside the likes of philosophers Philip Kitcher and Robert Pennock and physicist Lawrence Krauss. They wish to forget since, unlike their Messiah, Ken is really a somebody and their hero is a nobody who is known only for being the bizarre agent provocateur of Militant Atheism that he is.

  155. John Kwok

    @ Mel –

    OOPS again. I misspelled sycophant twice in my two most recent posts addressed to you.

  156. @John Kwok,
    You mention (each time with identical pomp) this private email exchange where PZ Myers declares himself nothing but a mediocre scientist who could never measure up to the other biological legends whom you so often cavort with, that I think you really ought to actually publish it, just so we can put the matter to rest.

  157. John Kwok

    @ Mozglubov –

    I won’t because it is private, and frankly, I’m not going to descend to PZ’s level by posting online anything that I realize was meant only for our eyes only. The only time I have ever willingly post private e-mail correspondence was when I had a rather bizarre exchange of e-mails with William Dembski. As much as I find PZ distasteful, he’s still someone who accepts evolution as valid science, and I simply won’t do it for this reason.

  158. That wasn’t actually my point… I was insinuating that you mention it often enough, it probably would be less of a slight to PZ to post it so that people can actually see what he said, instead of just hearing him repeatedly called a mediocre scientist.

  159. John Kwok

    @ Mozglubov –

    Maybe you should check again this thread and read PZ’s comment (@ 424):

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/09/classic-quote-from-pzs-blog-vs-classic-quote-from-realclimate/

    It was in response to my observation that, unlike Ken Miller, Myers hasn’t received any major awards from prominent scientific organizations like AAAS. Some of his sycophants have dismissed PZ’s “act” as sarcasm aimed at me. But if it’s just sarcasm, then why post scores of awards that he knows he’ll never win (Though he forgot to list the Society for the Study of Evoluion’s Stephen Jay Gould Prize, whose first recipient, NCSE’s Eugenie Scott, received hers at its June 2009 annual meeting.)? That, like “CrackerGate”, is not the act of someone who has all of his marbles in his head. I respectfully submit that he does indeed have more than a few loose screws in his narcissistic mind.

  160. John Kwok

    @ Mozglubov (@ 161) –

    I won’t do it for the very reasons I stated (@ 160). End of discussion IMHO on this very issue.

  161. Matt Penfold

    It is strange how in Kwak’s world it is ethical to claim to be quoting someone from an email, but not ethical to actually produce the email.

    If the emails were for Kwak’s eyes only, then why did he think he had permission to make even part of what was said in them public ?

  162. John Kwok

    @ Penfold –

    The ever shrewd judge of British character and opinion voices yet another example of his breathtaking inanity. Can we really believe you when you still assert that your country, the United Kingdom, doesn’t have a problem with evolution denial almost as serious as the United States, even when a recent opinion poll published earlier in the Guardian demonstrates otherwise? Or that a British Center for Science Education exists?

    If I didn’t know better, I would think you’re a Dalek pretending to be human.

  163. Feynmaniac

    Shorter Kwok:

    It’s private so I won’t publish it. I don’t do that(except for that time I did). That’s disrespectful. I’ll merely repeat what (I think) it said over and over on a public forum to defame PZ.

  164. John Kwok

    @ Feynmaniac –

    Contrary to your inane assertion posted recently over at Pharyngula, I don’t indulge in “hero worship” of Ken Miller. As I noted elsewhere here at the Intersection, I disagree with Ken’s acceptance of a “weak” anthropic principle and have pointed out Massimos Pigliucci’s elegant refutation of it over at Pigliucci’s Rationally Speaking blog. This stands in stark contrast to someone like Mike Haubrich who knows PZ personally, and yet, has never once criticized him in any meaningful way online. But even though I disagree with Ken’s view, it hasn’t prevented us from acknowledging our friendship. So much for “hero worship”, right?

  165. John Kwok

    @ Feynmaniac –

    Lawrence Krauss has criticized Ken Miller for being an “accomodationist” and espousing a “theistic evolutionist” perspective. But they are still friends. Are you going to accuse Krauss too of “hero worship” of Ken Miller? Your risible comment over at Pharyngula accusing me of “hero worship” of Ken is utterly ridiculous.

  166. Watchman

    The new atheists would be ballot box poison.

    True, but that’s no reflection on the “new”, for it’s well known that just about any atheist is ballot box poison. I assume this will change in a generation or two, but who knows?

    I love the Republican atheist idea, though, if only for the irony.

  167. Watchman

    John Kwok wrote:

    I won’t because it is private, and frankly, I’m not going to descend to PZ’s level by posting online anything that I realize was meant only for our eyes only.

    And yet, you’ve hardly kept it private. You’ve done everything to make it public except to quote it directly.

    Have you noticed that even when you take the high road, you still wind up looking up at most everyone else? You complain about “ad hominem attacks” directed at yourself, but what are you comments about PZ if not ad homs? You’re constantly attacking his accomplishment and his credentials, and insisting that he is “warped” and has “more than a few screws loose”. Have you even once addressed his actual arguments? Do you feel that you are the wounded party, that you didn’t start the ad-hom-ping-pong, but now that it has started, anything goes?

    For the record, I’m a fan of Ken Miller. His contributions and accomplishments are impressive and notable, and I’m pleased to have him on our side. Yes, OUR side. The side of the larger us, the inclusive us, the pro-science us – be we”new” atheist, theist, agnostic, accomodationist, or whatnot. There is a fence, and creationism is on the far side of that fence. Miller, despite his musings about a tinkering god, is clearly all the way over on this side. We can split hairs on the definition of “creationist” but IMO, by the commonly used and commonly known definition, nobody who supports the ToE can be called a creationist, regardless of their views on first causes.

    OT: Thumbs up on Sara Bareilles, BTW.

  168. “’recent controversy over Pluto’s status as a planet’

    There was no such thing. ”

    No such thing? What about the hundreds of scientists who rejected and continue to reject the IAU definition, as can be seen here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/planetprotest/

    What about the Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD in August 2008, where in depth discussion of this issue made clear there are two legitimate conflicting viewpoints? You can listen to the transcripts here: http://gpd.jhuapl.edu/

    A controversy does not just evaporate because some people wish it to do so.

  169. CRS

    “To appropriate science as a vehicle for promoting their primary agenda, atheism, is damaging to science.”

    No, I understand that is the case you are trying to make. I’m just frustrated that over and over again the basic thesis is offered as evidence to support itself, as you have done again.

    I’m just asking someone to explain *how* it is impeding to scientific literacy for a scientist to point out that widely held misconceptions about science are false. I didn’t realize we were worried about “damaging science”, whatever that means. I thought the problem set forth in the book was that the public doesn’t understand science. I know the solution in the book is “Make science more flashy and fun to learn”, and I’m all for that. Still though, what do PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins do, with their hugely successful blog and books, to detract from that solution?

  170. Mark B

    Wow. Kwok’s obsession with PZ Myers is painful to read. Time to move on. I am getting a kick at the way Kwok seems to have hijacked this entire thread with a barrage of increasingly frantic and defensive posts. As well, am looking forward to some poetry from him regarding his love for his BFF Ken Miller. It might make a nice change from his boring and repetitive attacks on Myers. Perhaps a sonnet? Kwok is truly a master name-dropper. He reminds me of students who submit papers to me with nothing but huge blocks of quotations separated only by single sentences.

  171. Mark T.

    Take your medicine newbies. Your lack of logic and taste reveals you.

  172. John Kwok

    @ Watchman –

    Referring to him as a bizarre agent provocateur or Militant Atheism is apt given “Crackergate”. And he’s admitted here that he’s a mediocre biologist. Both are fair criticisms.

  173. John Kwok

    OOPS, a typo: “bizarre agent provocateur of Militant Atheism” is the correct phrase.

    Thanks for the thumb’s up on Bareilles. She’s a very, very good songwriter.

  174. John Kwok

    @ Mark B –

    PZ is a splendid “name dropper” himself, judging from his ample posts. Then of course is what he posted Saturday here about awards not won which is absolutely priceless IMHO.

  175. David

    This is sad too because I read Mooney’s last book, “The Republican War on Science” and thought it was great. So far, from what I can tell about his new book – it fails horribly. How dare he even think of blaming Atheist Scientists for Scientific illiteracy in America. Does this guy have his head that far up his behind or what? Take a look at history man. It was the preachers and the faithful drones of ‘God’ who decided that Science and “Evilution” were the product of Satan. It was Evangelical Christians who began a campaign to demonize any form of science that didn’t agree with their narrow worldview. And this has been going on for nearly a hundred years.
    I read this in a book a few days ago, I forget which one – paraphrasing; the reason that people reject some aspects of science (like evolution) is because they’ve been TOLD to reject it by someone whom they trust more than they trust scientists. It’s quite that simple. For decades, pastors, christian apologists and creationist propagandists have been dragging the name of ‘science’ through the dirt of slander. They call it the work of the devil. And you blame the “new atheists”? Writers like Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Meyers were simply striking back at decades of ignorance, slander and propaganda. Don’t you get that?
    If the public fails to understand science, it is because they have no desire to understand it! But what of this lack of desire? Is THAT the fault of Atheists? Again, NO! Religious folks have no desire to understand science because they don’t think it’s important. They have “faith”, remember? They have “inerrant, holy truth, right? They have God on their side – so why on earth would they care about what Science has to say? They can find every thing they need in their Holy Book.
    We live in the information age, there is NO EXCUSE for ignorance now. If someone remains ignorant of science, it is because they CHOOSE to be willfully ignorant – that’s their problem. Mooney’s logic is nonsense – think about it. Sure, there are a few atheist-scientist writers who have taken the offensive against religion (thank god, and can you blame them after so many years of taking the defensive??), but so what? Don’t they have the right to express their opinion as well? And by the way – for every 1 book that Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris have written; there have probably been 200 other science books published that have NOTHING to do with Atheism. So you can hardly blame them for public ignorance.
    It’s 2010 – cable T.V. educational channels, the INTERNET, science magazines, bookstores and libraries in every city that have a pop science section – it’s hard to avoid it these days let alone remain completely ignorant!
    So stop pointing the finger. People don’t learn because they don’t want to learn – and yes, part of this has to do with their obsession with ‘faith’ – and their herd-like mentality which allows them to take the word of a pastor over the word of America’s leading intellectuals.

  176. Shirakawasuna

    John Kwok: being a mediocre biologist, in this case meaning less-accomplished (otherwise you’re lying), is not something for which to be criticized if you have *other focuses* like, say, teaching and popularization of your causes. I have to wonder what you really thought you were saying with that nonsense.

    If ‘Militant Atheist’ (why the caps?) applies because PZ Myers hurt a holy cracker publically, then I’m thinking ‘Militant Accomodationist’ has to apply to Chris and Sheril. The word ‘Militant Atheist’ is already being used as a pejorative, however, so use it at your own peril.

    And sorry, petty name-dropping is your quality, John. Own it.

  177. John Kwok

    @ Shirakawasuna –

    The criticism is valid when Jerry Coyne claims that the man from Morris, MN has a “first rate mind” (How come he’s not in your superb department then, Jerry?). I’m proud to be regarded as a “Militant Accomodationist”.

  178. Sam C

    This page is getting quite long, so I might not have read all of it…
    … but I don’t recall seeing any comments saying “well done Chris and Sheril, how right you are!”

    Which rather suggests that nobody is “buying” the arguments presented in this book. Communication failure? Problem on the science side? Or just wrong?

    The communicators aren’t communicating. Meanwhile the scientists continue sciencing.

  179. John Kwok

    @ Shirakawasuna –

    I don’t need to do any lying, period. PZ admitted here at the Intersection recently that he’s nowhere nearly as good an evolutionary developmental biologist as his illustrious, quite prominent, colleague, University of Wisconsin – Madison evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll. Again, it is really ironic that Coyne refers to PZ as a “first rate mind” simply because PZ isn’t associated with a biology department as important as the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution (Coyne’s department).

  180. Watchman

    JK:

    Again, it is really ironic that Coyne refers to PZ as a “first rate mind” simply because PZ isn’t associated with a biology department as important as the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution (Coyne’s department).

    Irony? Where? I see no irony there. Your point of view reflects your obsession with status. You are free to disagree with Coyne, but there’s nothing ironic about Coyne’s opinion.

    @ Shirakawasuna: John can’t even recognize, let alone own, his foibles. Nice thought, though.

  181. John Kwok

    @ Watchman –

    Jerry’s observation about PZ is ironic, because if it was really true, then
    PZ would have been his University of Chicago colleague a long time ago.

    P. S. I am well aware of my own foibles. Don’t need a reminder from you, thank you.

  182. Kseniya

    Jerry’s observation about PZ is ironic, because if it was really true, then
    PZ would have been his University of Chicago colleague a long time ago.

    That’s an questionable claim. You’re basically saying that Coyne has overestimated everyone whose intellect he admires IF that person isn’t by now a member of his department. (Oh really?!?) Furthermore, by implication, you’re calling Coyne either a liar or a fool. Is that really your intention, John?

  183. John Kwok

    @ Kseniya –

    I have the utmost respect for Coyne’s work as a prominent evolutionary biologist. But I have been quite critical of his harsh attacks against “accomodationism”, observing that I don’t see any sign of that at the NCSE website. So draw your own conclusions.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »