Why The Scientifically Literate Can Believe Silly Things

By Chris Mooney | July 26, 2011 10:07 am

If you understand motivated reasoning, then you understand that high levels of knowledge, education, and sophistication are no defense against wrongheaded views like climate change denial and anti-evolutionism.  What I’ll call “sophistication” may even make these phenomena worse, at least among those with deeply ideological or religious views.

The reason is that when we “reason” in areas where we have strong beliefs, our emotions come first and then we rationalize our pre-existing views. And those better at generating self-affirming arguments will be better rationalizers, will fall in love with their own seemingly brilliant arguments, and their minds will become harder to change (but they’ll love to argue).

According to a recent report in Science, those designing the National Science Foundation’s next Science and Engineering Indicators report–and particularly the much cited Chapter 7, which discusses the public’s views and knowledge about science–are now grappling with this problem. The issue involves measuring scientific literacy, and how to treat survey questions over evolution and the Big Bang–questions where religious conservatives who may be otherwise perfectly scientifically literate are going to say they don’t accept what science tells us.

Here’s Science:

Can a person be scientifically literate without accepting the concepts of evolution and the big bang? To many scientists and educators, the answer to that question is an unqualified “no.”

But the National Science Board—the governing body of the National Science Foundation (NSF)—isn’t sure that rejecting evolution for religious reasons automatically undermines a person’s scientific literacy. And its attempt to distinguish between knowledge and belief in how people respond to an NSF-funded biennial science literacy survey has drawn fire from critics who view the changes as surrendering scientific ground to religion.

For 2 decades, the survey has included two true-false statements: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” and “The universe began with a huge explosion.” Two expert panels assembled last year by NSF have suggested qualifying those statements with the phrases “According to evolutionary theory” and “According to astronomers.” The board has decided to ask NSF to give the new versions of the questions to half the respondents on its next survey and to analyze the results.

The change infuriates Jon Miller, a science literacy expert at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and architect of the original questionnaire, which is now used by several countries. “If you are altering the questions in that way, you are doing it for religious reasons,” he says. “We don’t make statements like, ‘According to some economists, we had a recession’ or ‘According to the weatherman, we had a tsunami.’”

I’m sorry, and I know he’s an expert and all–and has pioneered research on scientific illiteracy–but I think Jon Miller is wrong here. The proposed alterations to these questions are important, because many religious conservatives both know what the evolutionary and Big Bang theories are, and yet also reject them–and the smartest of them can probably generate many arguments for why they do so. It doesn’t make any sense, in my mind, to call such people scientific illiterates or ignorant. That would suggest that they lack knowledge, but they obviously don’t.

There is, however, a much stronger argument for calling such people evolution or Big Bang “deniers.” The key point here, though, is to recognize that illiteracy/ignorance and denial are not the same phenomena, because denial is often highly informed and sophisticated. The sooner we recognize that, and separate these two problems, the sooner we’ll be able to tackle both of them–independently.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Motivated Reasoning

Comments (68)

  1. Somite

    Chris. Motivated reasoning is not an universal condition. It is the reason why deniers exist. Evolution and the Big Bang are not just and idea “according to…”. They are reality as we know it and motivated reasoning is not an excuse for their denial.

  2. Chris Mooney

    Motivated reasoning is a human universal that can be partially checked if we are aware of it and set up safeguards and systems to control it.

    The issue here is not whether it exists but whether people who engage in it, who have a lot of knowledge, are scientifically illiterate. I don’t think they are.

  3. Agreed.

    Emotional investment in ideas makes disabusing those ideas difficult if not impossible. Most people lack the integrity of character to let the facts take them where they will, rather than squishing those facts through a prism of self-comforting delusion.

    Relatedly, education is no escape from believing absurd things; in fact, in some important ways, it promotes it. “Ordinary” people, non-intellectuals, daycent folk – etc – are generally more in touch with reality and correct about important issues than ivory tower academics, who secretly think that assaulting common sense is a virtue in itself because it allows them to display their intellectual virtuosity, leading them believe and construct ornate fact-eschewing beliefs (rather than true ones) and then, with their advanced argument-
    postulating skills, finding ways to intellectually butress this mountain of self-serving crap.

  4. Cmdr. Awesome

    I am curious – I’ve seen a number of studies (mostly in conjunction with this blog, go Chris!) which correlate general scientific knowledge with increased strength in irrational denial. Have there been studies done that show similar effects in people who have studied critical thinking (or psychology that is specifically related to how badly our brain fails us)?

    As much as I’d like to believe that critical thinking or appropriate psych studies would show an inverse trend, I can’t help but suspect that motivated reasoning would even trump learning about motivated reasoning – the denialist would simply assert that their opponent was falling victim to it and that made their stance invalid, for instance.

  5. Chris Mooney

    #4 Kahan studied literacy, and numeracy, and found they made the problem worse

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/06/24/do-scientific-literacy-and-numeracy-worsen-climate-denial/

    These are not the same as critical thinking, to my mind. However, note that mathematical reasoning requires actual conscious thought, so it does require getting past quick-fire emotions.

    I believe scientists can to some extent train themselves to hold emotions in check, or require themselves to go through processes of checking and verification that will lead them to discard at least some ideas they might otherwise want to believe–and I believe journalists also learn some of these mechanisms, like fact checking. These processes are even better at checking individual biases when they are enforced by others, like peer reviewers or an editor.

    So I would push more for norms, like the norms of science or good journalism, than training in critical thinking.

  6. kirk

    Most if not all deniers I talk to have a random collection of facts rather than a coherent theory/hypothesis/conjecture about the relevant facts. They ‘know’ (can report a knowable fact) about Gettysburg from a tour of Gettysburg where they absorbed some facts while they ‘know’ (mere belief or revealed wisdom) that the South shall rise again.The default position of these folks is that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and they pray for revealed reasons not discoverable reasons. The motivation to tie everything up in a bundle drives them to further lunacy regarding causes and conditions. Their mental machinery is constantly associating the ‘right’ reason we can coherently compare apples and suitcases – not even the wrong association of apples and oranges.

  7. Chris

    All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!! Mat his noodly appendage touch their minds and allow them to think on their own.

  8. kirk

    Maybe we should call a crack pot theory a th33ry. An invisible pink unicorn told me there was a r33son we should know that.

  9. Cmdr. Awesome

    I had seen the Kahan article when you posted it before; to me it seemed like it was inspecting a person’s knowledge of general sciences. While it is a good point that math requires you to think and not act emotionally, I’m not sure I would agree that it’s equivalent to what critical thinking brings to the table in terms of forcing you to…well, think critically about non-mathematical problems.

    Especially in terms of the Kahan study itself – my understanding of it was that the climate change related question was presented as a simple question and a 1-10 range; there was no attempt to present scientific evidence and require that the study participant evaluate it rationally or mathematically. I realize that wasn’t the point of the study, but I don’t think we can make the claim that the numeracy portion of the survey says anything about how the subjects would apply critical thinking to the problem. I’m not sure if that makes any sense or not…

    I think the reason I’m so curious about the specific effects of critical thinking and psychology studies on people is an experience my friend related to me in his undergraduate critical thinking class. At the beginning of the term, the professor asked for a handcount of how many people believed themselves to be religious; it was a sizeable number (maybe 40% or so of the class, iirc.) At the end of the term, she asked again, and the number was down under 10%.

    That’s strictly anecdotal, I know, and it doesn’t take into account potential biases like dropouts (e.g. religious people may have felt that the course challenged their beliefs and quit out) but it’s a story that’s stuck with me, and I’ve always been curious if it held any real water or was just bollocks.

  10. Johnny

    Is this the beginning of scientifically literate climate deniers?

    I’d like to ask “How the Scientifically literate can believe in silly things….like disastrous human caused climate change”. Here’s the answer.

    Neither Chris nor anyone who thinks they believe in climate science, does not actually believe in climate science. What they actually believe in is the honesty and accuracy of the scientists and the peer review system. If the slug experts were predicting a slug apocalypse, they’d believe them too.

    Their final argument in any discussion is always distilled down to one idea. Science authorities hold this position, and therefore it is correct. We are unqualified to disagree.

    Now it seems that science is hedging its bets.

  11. Chris Caprette

    “It doesn’t make any sense, in my mind, to call such people scientific illiterates or ignorant. That would suggest that they lack knowledge, but they obviously don’t.”

    I think that you have made a false equivalency here or at least painted an incomplete picture. Where is the role of critical thinking in scientific literacy in your perspective? Science relies on rational and logical evaluation of evidence. If evolution or global warming are rejected based upon ideological (or emotional) grounds first and then defended with post-hoc rationalization then the denier has disengaged critical thinking from a scientific perspective. Is this not a form of scientific illiteracy?

  12. Johnny

    Suggested subject for your next column, since this is about “science communication”.

    Chris, do you support investigations and censorship of journalists who you view as “anti-science”?

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/milnes-vow-echoes-stalinist-censorship/story-e6frfhqf-1226102391516

    The Green Party of Australia is demanding investigations and censorship of their major newspapers that don’t adhere strictly to a pro-carbon law agenda.

    Does it concern you, as a journalist, that elected Green Party officials have so quickly resorted to calls to censor the press?

  13. Scientist

    It’s obvious that you cannot reason while having a particular belief. Ideas can be changed by reason but beliefs cannot. Anyway, the second question from that questionnaire is awful. The correct answer is “false.” According to the Big Bang theory, the universe DID NOT begin with a huge explosion. The Big Bang was an expansionary event that created space and time (space-time) as the expansion took place. It did not “explode” into being. An explosion is something that projects matter and energy in the surrounding space. The BB, on the other hand, created space. There was no space for it to explode into. Getting the questions wording correct is very, very important. Otherwise everyone who answered “false” was correct and everyone who answered “true” was incorrect.

  14. Since I’m not familiar with this survey I might be off base here but a couple points: First, science is broad and deep. One can have an extensive background in one field but not so much in another. Does that mean the person is scientifically illiterate? Second, I would group questions about evolution and certain aspects of cosmology on the same level as, “Does one plus one equal two?”

    While my first point argues for a more laid-back approach to the survey results with the second point I take the stand that within a specific field certain positions are simply unacceptable.

  15. Johnny

    @11 Chris Caprette

    If evolution or global warming are rejected based upon ideological (or emotional) grounds first and then defended with post-hoc rationalization then the denier has disengaged critical thinking from a scientific perspective. Is this not a form of scientific illiteracy?

    It is pure speculation that the rejection is ideological and not scientific.

    This speculation of motive allows the global warming alarmist to ignore the scientific evidence of a denier, and instead attack the denier’s assumed political ideology.

    Not very scientific, is it?

  16. Chris Caprette

    @Johnny #10
    Please provide any evidence at all of any of your claims.

    Were slug experts (malacologists, FYI) to predict a “slug apocalypse” whatever the hell that means, then they had better provide evidence that supports their argument and show that they made a robust effort to refute their claim, as climate scientists have done.

  17. Johnny

    @16 Chris Caprette

    Provide evidence of my clearly satirical reference about slug experts?

    Sure I’d love to. Please provide me with a government grant worth millions to study the problem and in a few years, I’ll have a fantastic report for your governmental committee. Maybe you can use it for a big pesticide scare campaign.

    Now if you’re done obsessing about slugs, please take note of the fact that your “political ideology” argument is nothing more than a technique to avoid the science of the denier.

  18. Al Cibiades

    Wow! Rarely has the scientific rationale been so strongly perturbed!

    In one sentence Chris says: “It doesn’t make any sense … to call such people scientific illiterates or ignorant. That would suggest that they lack knowledge, but they obviously don’t.”
    Then he follows it with:”There is, however, a much stronger argument for calling such people evolution or Big Bang “deniers.” ”
    Deial of what? the scientific truth? ‘Denial’ assumes an objective position. Doesn’t that just QED the contrary?

    I don’t think that there is any question that intelligent people can have extrememly divergent, and even outlying, beliefs, and that such beliefs do not (necessarily) imply any reduction in rational functioning, BUT the crux of the question was whether beliefs which not only do not SUPPORT CURRENT scientific orthodoxy (intentional), but argue against their acceptance from a (predominantly) religious perspective can be construed as “scientifically literate “.

    I guess one could argue that “scientifically literate” does not imply a scientific approach to the world or to thought any more than google’s language translator necessarily understands context and idiomatic expressions though it does “translate”, but I think this obfuscates the intent of the attempted distinction.

  19. Chris Caprette

    @15 Johnny
    Context Fail: CM referred to individuals that do precisely that (start with ideology before viewing the evidence) in his post. I pointed out what I thought was an important factor in science that was absent from his example of scientific literacy.

    Your wrote: “It is pure speculation that the rejection is ideological and not scientific.”

    Nonsense. I’ll give you an example. George Will is a long time conservative commentator and global warming denier. His political ideology is tied closely old extraction industry corporate interests. He routinely lies about climate science and misrepresents the work of climate scientists. I refer you to the <a href="http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?s=George+Will&submit=Search&qt=&q=George+Will+site%3Awww.realclimate.org&cx=009744842749537478185%3Ahwbuiarvsbo&client=google-coop-np&cof=GALT%3A808080%3BGL%3A1%3BDIV%3A34374A%3BVLC%3AAA8610%3BAH%3Aleft%3BBGC%3AFFFFFF%3BLBGC%3AFFFFFF%3BALC%3A66AA55%3BLC%3A66AA55%3BT%3A000000%3BGFNT%3A66A%5CA55%3BGIMP%3A66AA55%3BFORID%3A11%3B&searchdatabase=siteReal Climate blog (search term: George Will) for examples. His lying about climate science is demonstrable by reading his editorials and then checking his claims against the scientific articles about which he writes. He could be a left-wing loonie writing for the HuffPo and he would still be a lying hack. His ideology is irrelevant to the fact of his wrongness although it is relevant to the direction of his wrongness.

  20. Chris Caprette

    #17 Johnny

    “Now if you’re done obsessing about slugs,… ”

    Your definition of obsession is well out of the mainstream.

    “…please take note of the fact that your “political ideology” argument is nothing more than a technique to avoid the science of the denier.”

    When the deniers present any scientific evidence or arguments that haven’t been thoroughly discredited, I will certainly do so. You seem to be engaging in some serious psychological projection. I would suggest therapy but you’re probably a Scientologist. (In case you’re wondering, that last bit was sarcasm.)

  21. TB

    Johnny does bring up a valid point: ” What they actually believe in is the honesty and accuracy of the scientists and the peer review system.”

    Most people don’t have the time or the energy to look into the actual science itself, so they rely on the authority based on the system. Authority earned due to the successes from that system.
    That’s why advertising used to dress actors up as scientists to endorse their products.
    That’s why attacking the credibility of the people doing science can be successful – saying that someone is motivated by grant money isn’t questioning the validity of science in general, it’s attacking a human who may be “abusing” science for profit, an entirely different and easily understood argument.
    So part of science “literacy” might be to distinguish scientific arguments from non-science or political ones.

  22. Chris Caprette

    ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH forgot to close the html tag. Wish Discover would get a preview button to keep oafs like me from messing up.

  23. TB

    As a corollary, literacy might also involve how people choose to trust their sources of information. How able are they to reevalluate those sources in the face of legitimate criticisms?

  24. Gah! The Big Bang, despite the name, does not include a big explosion. It’s not just an oversimplification, it’s a description that leads to misconceptions. See: http://scientopia.org/blogs/galacticinteractions/2009/08/21/big-bang-a-terrible-name-for-a-great-theory-from-the-archives/

  25. Johnny

    @19 Chris Caperette

    Nonsense. I’ll give you an example. George Will

    The survey takers were not prominent conservative media personalities or politicians. Your George Will example is perfectly accurate, but completely non-representative of the survey takers in question.

    The survey takers were ordinary people. It is simply assumed that their beliefs are based on ideology and not science, but there is no evidence for this, its pure speculation.

  26. 1985

    5. Chris Mooney Says:
    July 26th, 2011 at 10:48 am
    #4 Kahan studied literacy, and numeracy, and found they made the problem worse
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/06/24/do-scientific-literacy-and-numeracy-worsen-climate-denial/

    A universal in the discussion of scientific literacy and the role it plays in all the various manifestations of denialism is the utter lack of understanding of what scientific literacy is on the part of the people, you included, who claim to study the subject.

    You have been told these things countless times, yet you haven’t moved at all in the right direction and continue to parrot the same falsehoods. Scientific literacy is not measured in any meaningful way by any of the following:

    1. The degree you have
    2. The number of correct answers you give on a True/False test with ridiculously easy questions
    3. The amount of scientific facts you can accurately recite

    Scientific literacy is your ability to think like a scientist; which includes the ability to recognize your own biases and do the necessary to prevent them from forcing you into reaching erroneous conclusions. A good scientist must be able to ignore all the ideological and cultural influences he has been subjected to in his life, no matter how strong they are. Very few people are scientifically literate by that definition (in fact few scientists are and almost no non-scientists meet the criteria) and nobody is perfectly scientifically literate, but it does not help anyone at all to ignore it and substitute it with something scientific literacy is not; quite the opposite, it does a lot of harm.

    By that definition it is precisely scientific illiteracy that is the cause of all those problems, because they all involve people unable to overcome their deeply ingrained biases and putting religion, ideology and politics first, and facts and logic second.

  27. Nullius in Verba

    #11,

    “If evolution or global warming are rejected based upon ideological (or emotional) grounds first and then defended with post-hoc rationalization then the denier has disengaged critical thinking from a scientific perspective. Is this not a form of scientific illiteracy?”

    I would say so, yes. But I would also say, if they are accepted on ideological or emotional grounds, then it is equally a form of scientific illiteracy. Science is not about conclusions, but the method by which you reach them.

    There are many people who believe in evolution for no other reason than that their teachers have told them it is true, and that it is the “scientific” thing to believe. They don’t know what the evidence is, they don’t understand the arguments for and against, and how the evidence supports or refutes each, they quite often don’t understand in any detail what the theory of evolution actually says. But they believe blindly on the authority of others, or on the basis of incomplete and illogical arguments.

    Who is being more scientific: somebody who says “I believe in evolution because that’s what the experts tell me”, or somebody who says “I don’t know whether evolution is true or not, because I have not personally checked the evidence”? By these science literacy scores, the latter would be counted scientifically illiterate.

    Even somebody who said “I believe in evolution because Kirk’s invisible pink unicorn told me” would count as scientifically literate, on this test.

    Once you start asking the right question, then maybe you can find out whether any particular form of denial is or is not scientifically illiterate. Why do you believe?

    #16,

    You can find the slug apocalypse here. But my favourite one was when the global warmers predicted that Europe would face an invasion of vampire moths. Would we have to mix holy water in with the insecticide…?

  28. Al Cibiades

    #26 equates “scientific literacy” with objective, critical analysis. I would second this equation in that it avoids the slippery slope toward theological justification which Jon Miller rightfully rails against.
    However,
    We have ample evidence of intelligent, sincere, well-minded scientists (if I can apply that term in this context) who promulgate the non-scientific concept of the “Intelligent Designer” – that mechanism which puts the capsella/leggoblock/erectorset pieces of existence into “meaningful apparitions” known as human beings.
    Is Dr Michael Behe. PhD, who teaches Biochemistry at Lehigh University, who believes in “irreducible complexity” as evidence for the Intelligent Design-er, and author of Darwin’s Black Box, a vehicle to “teach the controversy”, scientifically literate?
    I guess in the final analysis, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, (or Robert Heinlein, or Harry Callahan): Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one. So, is the mathematician who gambles in Las Vegas “scientifically literate”? Does it make a difference if the surgeon is a Republican or a Democrat? Or if the astronomer believes in God?
    These are obviously distinctly different parts of the human anatomy – thought. belief. knowledge. analysis. Yet they are all housed in the same conundrum – our heads.
    Does it make a difference that Dr Behe believes in intelligent design? Not to me, directly, BUT he and his ilk defend the non-Darwinian, deus ex machina approach to teaching Biology. It muddles the boundary between belief and knowledge and reduces the analytical capacity of science and learning.
    This DOES affect me.
    To diminish the boundary between “science” and “analysis” with the mungible term: “scientific literacy” ALSO produces poor science and poor analysis.

  29. Johnny

    @20 Chris Caprette

    When the deniers present any scientific evidence or arguments that haven’t been thoroughly discredited, I will certainly do so.

    Does peer reviewed evidence from NASA Satellites confirming that climate model’s energy balance equations are completely wrong count as “evidence”?

    Data from NASA’s Terra satellite shows that when the climate warms, Earth’s atmosphere is apparently more efficient at releasing energy to space than models used to forecast climate change have been programmed to “believe.”

    Full Paper:
    http://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/3/8/1603/pdf

    Summary:
    http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/new-paper-on-the-misdiagnosis-of-surface-temperature-feedbacks-from-variations-in-earth%E2%80%99s-radiant-energy-balance-by-spencer-and-braswell-2011/

    ——-

    Just this week more peer reviewed evidence was published that completely debunked the death of the Great Barrier Reef alarmism, and another was published debunking East Antarctic Ice loss.

    Chris Mooney, I dare you to research and write a blog post showing how the climate alarms that have either failed to come true, or have been disproven by further research. Show us your a journalist and not a propagandist by writing for the “other side” for once.

  30. argillic

    Maybe, extending the metaphor, they ought to be called scientifically aliterate.

  31. 1985

    27. Nullius in Verba Says:
    July 26th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Who is being more scientific: somebody who says “I believe in evolution because that’s what the experts tell me”, or somebody who says “I don’t know whether evolution is true or not, because I have not personally checked the evidence”? By these science literacy scores, the latter would be counted scientifically illiterate.

    You will never be able to learn enough to critically evaluate the conclusions of the experts in each and every area of science. So what are you going to do – ignore those conclusions until you learn enough (which will never happen for most fields), or decide that you know enough without actually knowing enough (which is obviously a very bad thing but quite widespread nevertheless)? Or you’re going to descend into ideologically-driven anti-intellectualism masked by a lot of pseudo-intellectual babbling like you seem to usually do?

    Some basic trust in the integrity of the scientific enterprise as a whole is always needed. Otherwise progress is impossible. That assumption is indeed sometime violated, however, that happens nowhere nearly as often as the loudly paranoid lunatics will have you think; and if we make sure that proper scientific thinking is universally taught and developed, and that ideology, politics and religion are relegated to their rightful places (i.e. to complete irrelevancy) then such cases will be almost non-existent.

  32. Johnny

    @1985

    You said:
    You will never be able to learn enough to critically evaluate the conclusions of the experts in each and every area of science. So what are you going to do – ignore those conclusions until you learn enough (which will never happen for most fields)…

    Then logically I can learn enough in some fields, to critically evaluate the conclusions of the experts. I’m not a Climatology expert, but I am a forensic data analysis expert. In this area, I have more expertise than the climate scientists themselves.

    Climatology’s reliance on derivative measurements instead of raw temperatures is the clearest evidence of fraud. Temperature anomalies, record breaking days, deaths, property damage, and even heat indexes are part of the trickery.

    Temperature anomalies allow scientists to define one time period as “normal”, so they can then refer to any variation from that time period to be “abnormal”. Think of all the times you’ve heard its an abnormal heatwave, or rainstorm or blizzard.

    Record Breaking Days is another media metric designed to provide impressive numbers. We hear announcements of how many cities had “record heat”, but the counter-story, the cities that did not record any records, is never mentioned. 10 cities may have record heat, but it allows the media to ignore the other 500 with slightly below average temperatures. Changes in the station location or sensor technology easily create new “record days” by simply being a degree different than the old one.

    Deaths and Property damage are always impressive numbers. Population increase and inflation are usually ignored. When factored in, you don’t hear about it, because then it becomes a non-story for the media.

    Finally even the new Heat Index of temperature and humidity creates false impressions with higher numbers then the old temperature only measurements.

  33. Sergio

    Comment 11 hits the nail on the head. It definately makes sense that critical thinking is a crucial part of scientific literacy. It is absolutely correct that global warming deniers, evolution deniers, etc are not engaging in a rational or logical evaluation of the evidence, otherwise they wouldnt be deniers. If you deny the obvious conclusion based on emotional rationalizations you are definately not scientifically literate. Chris Mooney is making bad excuses for these people.

  34. JohnA

    So we are learning about scientific literacy from Chris Mooney, an arts grad with no scientific credentials? Amazing.

    Oh and its lovely that Chris brackets “climate change denial” and “anti-evolutionism”. Because they are clearly related only in Chris’ fertile imagination when looking for ways to smear his opponents, especially when those opponents carry advanced degrees in mathematics, physics, geology, meteorology or statistics.

    Where Chris is completely blind to his own prejudices is his conjoining of “climate change skepticism” with “denial”, a catch-all argument of “moral depravity” borrowed straight from fundamentalist religion, especially primitive Calvinism.

    This week we have had Glenn Beck’s comparison of the young people killed by a madman on an island in Norway with “Hitler Youth” and Joe Romm’s ‘discovery’ that the madman responsible was a “climate change denier”.

    For those of us who live in the real world, such “proofs” only exist to demonstrate the extreme poverty of their belief systems, which are so remarkably authoritarian, divisive and deeply related that I’m amazed they don’t shack up together.

    But Chris Mooney has a bully pulpit just like Beck and Romm, and democratic debate and the niceties of civil society are beyond him

  35. 1985

    34. JohnA Says:
    July 26th, 2011 at 4:32 pm
    Oh and its lovely that Chris brackets “climate change denial” and “anti-evolutionism”. Because they are clearly related only in Chris’ fertile imagination when looking for ways to smear his opponents, especially when those opponents carry advanced degrees in mathematics, physics, geology, meteorology or statistics.

    I am not aware of a single Young Earth creationist who is not also a global warming denialist. The correlation becomes more diluted as you slide further down the ideological continuum but is strong nevertheless. Ever looked at what Uncommon Descent has to say about global warming?

    There are global warming denialists who are not creationists, that’s absolutely true. But the overlap between the two groups is enormous, and for a reason

  36. Chris Caprette

    @26 Johnny, the surface data was the subject of a recent post at RealClimate. In their opinion, backed up by data, RAP Sr. (one of the pages you linked to) overestimated the effect of the surface anomalies to which the paper you linked refers. From the abstract of the paper itself: “It is concluded that atmospheric feedback diagnosis of the climate system remains an unsolved problem, due primarily to the inability to distinguish between radiative forcing and radiative feedback in satellite radiative budget observations.” That doesn’t sound like what you want it to mean and it definitely is not: “…evidence from NASA Satellites confirming that climate model’s energy balance equations are completely wrong… ” My read of their conclusions likewise backs up this assessment. You’ve taken both the paper and RAP Sr.’s post and read into it your desire to discredit climate scientists as clearly indicated in your later comment:

    @30 “Climatology’s reliance on derivative measurements instead of raw temperatures is the clearest evidence of fraud.

    Horseshit, and shades of the ClimateGate manufacturversy. You’ve just indicted an entire field of scientific research and everyone in it by resorting to name-calling. From there you run off into an attack on “the media”. Pathetic.

  37. Nullius in Verba

    #31,

    “So what are you going to do – […] or decide that you know enough without actually knowing enough”

    Marvellous! Is that’s what you leaned in critical thinking classes? Is that the “proper scientific thinking” you want universally taught?

    You are an example to us all!

    #33,

    Yes, but what do you do about those people who are deniers as a result of engaging in rational and logical evaluation of the evidence? That’s the problem Chris is grappling with.

    #34,

    I’d say the same whichever side said it – qualifications or their lack is no way to judge credibility. Do they present the evidence to back their claims up? That’s the only question.

    #35,

    It took me ten minutes of Googling to find a list of 86. But it’s no more apposite a point than pointing out that all creationists I have heard of believe in gravity. You ought to take that comment to a critical thinking class and ask them to analyse it. The experience would be educational, I’m sure.

    The overlap between sceptics and most groups is enormous, because there are a lot of sceptics. It’s not much of a surprise.

  38. Chris Caprette

    @35 1985: “I am not aware of a single Young Earth creationist who is not also a global warming denialist.”

    Indeed, my experience has been that there is considerable overlap among all flavors of creationism and AGW denial. My feeling is that both groups independently seek out sources of information that confirm their biases and that the overlap occurs at the sources of information (e.g. FOX). I have suspicions as to why the sources of information overlap but I have no evidence to support that speculation so I’ll leave it there.

  39. Chris, how about … “they’re scientifically *antiliterate*”?

    And, speaking of antiliterate, Nullius, Johnny and the other trolls are out here in force again.

  40. Chris Caprette

    36. Nullius in Verba Says:
    “Yes, but what do you do about those people who are deniers as a result of engaging in rational and logical evaluation of the evidence? That’s the problem Chris is grappling with.”

    I’m not sure that is so. The deniers that I have met or whose writing I’ve read that also have technical knowledge do not treat the topic in question with the same degree of critical thinking. There are many creationists that are engineers, for example, but they suspend critical-thinking when asked about evolution almost certainly because they have suspended critical-thinking when it comes to their religious belief which is flatly contradicted by the abundant evidence for biological evolution (as well as much of geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy). They also trot out the same discredited arguments replete with misplaced scientific jargon. I recognize these because of my experience in the field.

    It is more difficult for me to evaluate the more sophisticated AGW deniers because I don’t have much understanding of the jargon in the field but I still recognize steaming piles of rhetorical horseshit when I smell them.

    Take the comments from Johnny above (assuming that they are all the same commentor). In comment 15 he made what I think is a valid argument assuming that his premise that the ideology of the individuals in the survey was assumed but never determined is true. That indeed would be a critical flaw in Chris Mooney’s argument. Had he done a better job of making that connection I would have been more receptive to it. In comment 29 he linked to one scientific paper and a web article that referenced that paper the conclusions of which he misrepresented not to address the topic of the post but rather to attack global warming science. In comment 32 he went on a rant that included accusing the entire field of climatology of perpetrating fraud followed by criticism of “the media” rather than the science. Note also the grandiosity in comment 32 when he claimed that his status as a forensic data analysis expert trumps the qualifications of climate scientists. Except for the article to which he linked and misrepresented he hasn’t actually argued against the science. Johnny failed the smell test.

  41. Why does this have to be about incompetence, stupidity, and denial verses scientific understanding? It’s just the tendency for a social group to hold a common belief even when there is no verifyable evidence. You don’t believe in Intelligent Design (ID) because it makes sense. Until the social group can be changed, no argument, no matter how scientific, will sway the herd. There is a tipping point that I don’t pretend to understand, but can be seen with the Copernican Revolution. Sadly there is also a revolution in pseudoscience as can be seen with the resurgence of fundamentalists and politics around climate change – or are those both politics? Look up ‘social proof’ on wikipedia. The problem is that you need sheep to make a flock. How do we create sheep that as a group don’t believe arguments based on logical fallacies?

  42. 1985

    38. Chris Caprette Says:
    July 26th, 2011 at 6:39 pm
    @35 1985: “I am not aware of a single Young Earth creationist who is not also a global warming denialist.”
    Indeed, my experience has been that there is considerable overlap among all flavors of creationism and AGW denial. My feeling is that both groups independently seek out sources of information that confirm their biases and that the overlap occurs at the sources of information (e.g. FOX). I have suspicions as to why the sources of information overlap but I have no evidence to support that speculation so I’ll leave it there.

    I don’t think it’s about sources of information; the underlying motivation is the same. The same ideology that rejects the theory of evolution also rejects climate science, because as I have said many times, on a fundamental level, the AGW debate (and sustainability in general) is about the place of humans in the cosmological order, with the scientific view differing so drastically from the religious one that most religious people are forced to choose between their religious views and the science (and we all know what most of them choose). That’s why creationists are a subset of the global warming denialists. Note that the view that humans are special and they play by different rules is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it crosses the boundaries of religion, and even people who are not religious, share it. In fact, I think most non-religious people have a strong anthropocentric bias and it is the minority of non-believers who have completely overcome it.

    Now, it is not really possible to conclusively demonstrate any of the above, it almost never is with any factor operating on such a level. But the evidence is strong. One hundred times out of hundred, Chris Mooney will choose to talk about how liberals are just as biased as conservatives (as if it is meaningful subject to discuss), how the people on the right have to be approached carefully so that you don’t offend them, how open atheism is counterproductive, etc, etc. But he will never blog about this:

    http://www.resistingthegreendragon.com/

    Yet it exists and pretending it doesn’t will not make it go away. And not only it exists, but a not so radical (or at least, openly so) version of it is behind a lot of the environmental denialism.

  43. Nullius in Verba

    #40,

    “I’m not sure that is so. The deniers that I have met or whose writing I’ve read that also have technical knowledge do not treat the topic in question with the same degree of critical thinking.”

    Have you read mine?

    Likewise, I haven’t met many believers who apply critical thinking to their belief. It’s relatively rare that we get as far as a real discussion of our respective reasons; we rarely get past the basics.

  44. askew2

    One can be scientifically literate without agreeing with the scientific consensus on a particular topic; in fact, there are some real scientists who disagree with the consensus on AGW. And others, less expert, can have opinions either way.

    It has always been so: IIRC, Ernst Mach opposed the “atomic hypothesis” well into the 20th century. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t make policy on the basis of individual opinion. You make it on the basis of scientific consensus.

    There is a strong scientific consensus that global warming is real, is threatening, and is increasing due to human factors. Therefore it is appropriate to take political and economic action to reduce it.

    I may not have the personal scientific understanding to demonstrate AGW on my own — this doesn’t matter. The AGW hypothesis may be in error — this doesn’t matter (though that is one reason we need to keep modeling!)

    Unless I believe (a) that there is no consensus or (b) that the consensus is some sort of fraud or conspiracy, I must go along at least provisionally with attempts to deal with CO2. But these beliefs are (bizarre) social conclusions, not scientific ignorance, which is why people who believe these things are properly regarded as deniers or simply kooks rather than scientifically illiterate.

    If somehow I regarded CO2 as *not a greenhouse gas* then I would be scientifically illiterate. I think this sort of illiteracy is actually much less common than the kook/denier scenario (though sometimes James Inhofe makes me wonder; and of course the spokesmen for denialism will use whatever argument they can sell).

  45. bad Jim

    “Have you read mine?”

    That’s absolutely precious. Why does it put me in mind of “Charlotte’s Web”?

    I’ve been spending so much time on defenders of Thomist thinking that I can dismiss arguments by inspection without taking my glasses off. You don’t even need to read the label and the washing instructions, the brand is perfectly obvious to anyone in the market for that sort of thing.

  46. Blamer ..

    “It doesn’t make any sense, in my mind, to call such people scientific illiterates or ignorant. That would suggest that they lack knowledge, but they obviously don’t.”

    Yes and I suspect there are 2 breeds of knowledgable deniers:
    1. those who understand the weaknesses of the current consensus, and;
    2. those who can foresee that consensus shifting

    Those who have done their homework can feel quite confident that evolution isn’t very compelling and/or that climate-science is turning out not to be anthropomorphic. Those feelings are propelling the motivated reasoning which is leading them in the opposite direction to the science.

  47. Chris Mooney
  48. Sean McCorkle

    This is a really interesting discussion.

    Regarding the question of what is meant by scientific literacy, there are two components, in my view: (1) an understanding of the scientific process and scientific methodology, and (2) a well-rounded grasp, at a reasonable level, of the current body of scientific knowledge.

    (1) is very important, and probably isn’t being handled very well in the education system. Rosenau says it has to be part of a person’s world view. I would add that Robert Pirsig and Carl Sagan have made great cases that the scientific method is very useful in a person’s daily life.

    Note that the scientific method is more than “critical thinking” and “evidence-based reasoning”. Those also apply to things like law and philosophy. To understand the scientific process, one needs to understand things like experiment design, controls, biases, falsification, and a whole host of other things, many of which, I think, are best learned through hands-on methods and personal experience. One can learn about them, but not really understand them without exercising them personally.

    However, (1) is not sufficient for a well-rounded education in things scientific. In principle, a person who has internalized all of (1) could, in principle, derive on their own just about any scientific conclusion, except that it would take far longer than their lifetime would allow. The current state of our scientific knowledge, from fundamental particles through cell biology through evolution, geology, out to extragalactic phenomena was built over centuries or more by many tens or hundreds of thousands of people, using ever more sophisticated equipment. A single person, no matter how adept they are, will never re-achieve this on their own. Thus, it is critical that (2) is also a part of a person’s education.

    This latter point ties into a common dynamic in denialism. Many educated deniers are experts in subjects outside of the field they attack, and are often not well-rounded in the literature of the subject they’re attacking.

  49. TTT

    I’d say that if you really presuppose that entire fields of science operate due to venal corruption over “government grants,” then no, you are not scientifically literate, insofar as you have no clue whatsoever how scientific research is handled.

    The “grant” fable demands a permanently- and exponentially-expanding worldwide bribe fund, which has to act as a pyramid scheme to cover every graduate produced by every environmental program from every university in the world every year, and forward throughout the entire span of their research, during all of which time every single one of them will be automatically rewarded just for saying the same things everybody else has.

    Whenever somebody bandies around the “grants” notion in this context, they prove themselves absolutely ignorant of the individualistic / careerist drivers for scientists, any one of whom would stand to reap a far higher monetary and name-recognition reward by exposing the conspiracy than by taking part in it. Deniers keep squeaking “Galileo! Galileo!” like Wayne and Garth headbanging to Queen, but scientists also know who Galileo was and would certainly like to achieve his feat–if only they had the data to prove it.

    The fable is also absolutely ignorant of market operations even in criminal enterprises. There would have to be SOME material inputs into the bribe fund to have kept it going and growing over so much of the world for so many years–some good or service delivered, at some point in the chain, to somebody–yet they remain as elusive as the Yeti. The global bribe fund would have to have been in effect for decades before CFLs and Al Gore DVDs came along to supposedly keep the system afloat.

    This type of ill-considered conspiracism is not rare among right-wingers, some of whom are just as eager to explain that people become low-paid teachers in dangerous urban districts because they can get the summer off.

  50. Incredulous

    #49 TTT

    “The “grant” fable demands a permanently- and exponentially-expanding worldwide bribe fund, which has to act as a pyramid scheme to cover every graduate produced by every environmental program from every university in the world every year, and forward throughout the entire span of their research, during all of which time every single one of them will be automatically rewarded just for saying the same things everybody else has.”

    Yes, it is called tenure.

    It is not a matter of conspiracy. It is a matter of going along with the status quo. You seem to have the vision of these researchers being devoted scientists searching out “TRUTH”. Most research is done by graduate students who totally depend on keeping their advisors happy. After you get through graduate school, you work your rear off kicking out as many papers as you can dealing with the same advisors who are editors and reviewers of the journals and conferences while you slog away on tenure track. You don’t have the luxury of doing anything really original until you get tenured. By then, most just don’t care enough any more to go against the flow.

  51. 1985

    49. TTT Says:
    July 27th, 2011 at 10:09 am

    ….

    Not only that, pretty much all alleged conspiracies, global warming in particular, would have to involve scientists all over the world, including China and the Soviet Union, and must have started during the Cold War, a time when the internet didn’t exist and scientists the two sides of the curtain could only see each other very rarely. Makes perfect sense…

  52. Chris Caprette

    Just more expert-bashing from the anti-intellectual wrong wing.

  53. graeme mciver

    Well, there’s a lot of scientific illiteracy or dishonesty disguised as literacy about. I looked at one climate change denial book “Cool It”, at the urging of a skeptical uncle-in-law. On one of the first pages I looked at, simplifying the figures somewhat, the author described a temperature rise of 1 degree centigrade from 10 degrees as a 10% change. Well no. If you don’t see why, convert the temperatures to Farenheit and repeat the calculation. Different answer. % changes in anything have to be measured from a real zero. In the case of the Centigrade scale, real zero is -273 degrees. So the temperature change was about a third of one percent.
    Now the argument being made required a high temperature change to be quoted. My reaction was that if the author of a book on climate change had so little knowledge of the nature of temperature then I wasn’t going to read his book.
    In another case, there is a graph going round with climate denial that purports to show some sort of temperature rise in the Middle Ages. The temperatures shown are actually fluctuating wildly at the time as compared with any other time. I would surmise because of measurement inacuracies in primitive times. I would draw a graph through the middle of of the figures unless someone gave me a good reason to ignore the lower temperatures. But no, the line is drawn “over the top” of the data.
    I find a similar sort of scientific literacy in 911 denial websites. People don’t want to believe something so they’ll believe anything wreathed in references and scientific data such as, say, the melting point of steel. But why is there so little skepticism about things people don’t care about such as continental drift?
    The reason I ,provisionally, believe climate change is happening as described in the scientific concensus is because when I was a chemistry student in the sixties I learned about the infrared spectrum of carbon dioxide and understand it. If I went into my greenhouse on a sunny afternoon and it was no warmer than the outside then I would look for the open windows. Until someone can convince me where the extra heat caused by the extra CO2 is going to and that heat loss will continue, then I know what I think.
    I say “provisionally” because that’s the only way to believe in anything.
    As far as denial of Natural Selection goes, that’s different. It’s generally on the grounds of religious belief, and you can always find reasons for God to have made the evidence to appear to be as it is.

  54. Nullius in Verba

    #44,

    “You don’t make policy on the basis of individual opinion. You make it on the basis of scientific consensus.”

    Consensus is opinion. You make it on the basis of scientific evidence.

    “But these beliefs are (bizarre) social conclusions, not scientific ignorance,”

    Why?

    #45,

    “I’ve been spending so much time on defenders of Thomist thinking that I can dismiss arguments by inspection without taking my glasses off.”

    Me too. The curious thing is the selectivity of such sight. I see such flaws on both sides of the debate, many people see them only on one side (generally, the side they personally disagree with). My view is that human reasoning is subject to unconscious biases, theirs is that they are right and everybody else is an idiot. Who is to say which of us is right?

    #48,

    I agree. Very good comment.

    “Many educated deniers are experts in subjects outside of the field they attack, and are often not well-rounded in the literature of the subject they’re attacking.”

    And many educated believers, too.

    #50,

    I don’t presuppose anything. We simply observe that there are obvious errors and poor practices in certain parts of climate science, that their authors refuse to correct the issue, and that the rest of the scientific community in the main remains silent about it. The few who don’t get verbally attacked. There are several possible explanations, conspiracy is only one.

    Considering the amount of time spent on writing about the oil-funded right-wing conspiracy of deniers, I’m not sure why you’re so sniffy about other people’s conspiracy theories. But I’m not interested in them anyway. The main issue for me is fixing the errors and unscientific practices.

  55. Nullius in Verba

    #53,

    Lomborg’s book is a poor choice, in my view. He’s not really a climate sceptic. Some people just like to portray him that way because they don’t like his message on the economic implications or his other environmental views. If you want a better idea of the way sceptics think, then ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ by Montford is a lot better.

    “I would draw a graph through the middle of of the figures unless someone gave me a good reason to ignore the lower temperatures. But no, the line is drawn “over the top” of the data.”

    Me too. I don’t know which graph this is, so can’t really comment. But that doesn’t sound like a justifiable practice.

    There’s another graph I know of where they used a particular method to reconstruct temperatures – a method that sceptics argue doesn’t work. Because of the way the method is calibrated, it is forced by the mathematics to fit real temperatures in a certain interval (it’s scaled and weighted to fit), but outside this interval it rapidly wanders away. In fact, their supposed ‘thermometer’ registers a dramatic decrease in temperatures post-1960, when of course the temperature actually increased. It also drops off the bottom of the chart prior to 1600.

    So would you agree that the proper scientific approach would be to silently truncate the record prior to 1550, then chop off the post-1960 bit, splice on the instrumental record, smooth over the join, and then truncate at 1960 again? And then not tell anyone how it was calculated or allow them to see the raw data, so they have to guess?

    There are plenty more examples, but one is sufficient to test the principle. Do people on hearing of this sort of thing immediately condemn it as unscientific, or try to construct excuses for it? It’s another form of scientific literacy test, I’d say.

  56. TTT

    Considering the amount of time spent on writing about the oil-funded right-wing conspiracy of deniers, I’m not sure why you’re so sniffy about other people’s conspiracy theories

    I actually don’t consider oil funding of deniers to be a “conspiracy,” since it is in no way a secret–you can plainly trace the funding issues on public documents and, for the last decade or so anyway, those involved don’t even tend to deny it.

    But even *if* it were a closely guarded secret with everybody involved lying to cover it up, Mister Occam would find the two allegations to be very different. “Oil-funded deniers” describes a relatively small number of people acting towards their own economic and careerist self-interest through a well-defined value chain, whereas “grant-funded fake science” describes an immense number of people acting against those self-interests with a payoff method that makes the Underpants Gnomes look like Goldman-Sachs. The plot holes just have to be fixed or else it insults the intelligence of the audience.

  57. Bob

    I know a lot of smart idiots. I think the basis is really in culture and personality. Some folks are high self monitoring extroverts that prefer the party line, regardless of the mob that controls their thoughts.

  58. Harolddd

    Neither the original wording nor the new wording is optimal. The original wording is ambiguous because it doesn’t distinguish between fact and belief, or degree of certainty. Stated as agreement with a factual statement, as originally phrased, two respondents with the same level of certainty with the statement (say 80% certain), might respond differently because one interprets it as an absolute certainty issue while the other as simply whether it is probably true.

    The best improvement would be to ask the factual statement and allow the respondent to provide degree of certainty.

    Another option is to distinguish between personal belief, and scientific consensus.

    The proposed change in wording by adding qualifiers turns the question into one about current consensus. The results of those questions cannot be compared to previous years, and don’t tell us what the scientists believe.

  59. Nikki

    Comparing evolution and global warming is purely ideological ! The author is as affected by his left-liberal ideology as the evolution denying “Republicans” are . I am an atheist and believe in reason and rational thinking but I am not convinced about “man-made” global warming.
    Mainly due to the fact that most stake holders, from scientists to politicians in this debate are dishonest, fudging and bending data to prove their own views.
    The new left liberal “green-earth” “one world” people are no different from right-wing crazies, both are radicals. The new-age nonsense sounds more and more like religion which can’t be debated. The religion told people that gods were angry and they needed to sacrifice. Now Mullah Al Gore and party tells me to sacrifice comfort and sweat without air-conditioning; and use bike and car-pooling as “Mother Earth” is unhappy because we humans are being naughty ! No thank you !

  60. I agree with Chris that a well informed person who does not believe the science should not be called ‘scientifically illiterate’. I use the word ‘believe’ on purpose: in my definition, the word ‘believe’ implies a lack of intellectual involvement, and religious or gut feelings. ‘Believe’ one does in the existence of a higher being, or in life after death, and not in evidence. I purposefully never say that I believe in evolution or believe in anthropogenic climate change: I do not believe in either, but I am convinced by the evidence, just as I can be convinced that my mechanic knows how to repair my car (but I may be wrong, of course). Literacy should in my opinion just mean that one is well informed; I can be very well informed in the teachings of a religion, but not be a believer.
    As to the two questions shown, I do not really like the way in which they are phrased “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” and “The universe began with a huge explosion.” As to the latter, I would not really think that what we call ‘big bang’ has much of the character of an explosion as we recognize them on earth. And although I have sympathy with the phrasing of the ‘human evolution’ question, I do not like the way in which the sentence appears to imply that any shared ancestor is now supposed to be extinct (as in ‘earlier’).

  61. Denying accepted scientific conclusions based on your religious beliefs isn’t fine.

    If they were scientists with good reasons to deny the big bang or evolution, ok, however, it is just posthoc reasoning based on previously help conclusions and not at all any scientific reasons.

    Are you for motivated reasoning or against it?

    Whatever the solution to the problem of motivated reasoning is, I don’t think it’s caving in and re-phasing your scientific literacy questionnaires.

  62. Lloyd Hargrove

    If one is not party to a particular consensus, does that automatically make his own position in that regard positively and even “scientifically” wrong? I suspect there are some very important exceptions to that way of thinking in the historical record. May we all live long enough to realize the error of our ways.

    To get out of the box we sometimes have to think out of the box, or else we’re in the Red Queen’s race. If this sounds familiar, you might just be a scientist.

  63. Guy

    I find the qualifying statements (as someone with a degree in physics, and as someone who has published research) as quite refreshing and candid. A Tsunami can be directly observed, and an economic recession has a definition and it can also be indirectly observed, although there are arguments regarding how precise or accurate our observations are. So then one ought to qualify the recession at least by saying, “according to economists…” and provide the definition that they are using to define a recession – some people define it slightly differently with regard to “nominal” economic growth, or their political affiliation relative to the current Congress or President.

    Things in the physical world we were “sure” about 100 years ago have been proven invalid. Who’s to say that portions of the Big Bang Theory or Global Warming will not have been found to be significantly different from our current understanding, or found to be completely invalid, 50 or 100 years from now? It was all about the “ether” according to most scientists, just over 100 years ago. An “Ether Denier” might have been a complete buffoon or high prescient, depending on the argument he made against it’s existence.

  64. James Daniel Nelson

    Surely scientific literacy relates to an individual being well versed in scientific literature – so what? this does NOT make them a scientist. I am sure there are many people who know many religious texts word for word but would claim they are personally atheists… that would rate them VERY high on a religious literacy score surely?

    We are confusing literacy or level of education with an individual’s view of their world and their place in it. Religious people believe a higher power or god defines everything – all has been created for a “higher” purpose and reinterpretation/definition is unnecessary; a scientist looks for facts and evidence and tries to work out what it means by objective and empirical means – if the facts or evidence look different over time or on more detailed inspection then the conclusions may change and therefore the world view changes. A religious person and a scientist (assuming also an atheist for sake of argument) can see the same facts but arrive at different truths. It’s all a state of mind.

    Hence a true scientist cannot support religious or atheist viewpoints because there is no evidence to prove nor disprove the existence of a “higher” being… so a scientist should keep searching for evidence. However I am a practising scientist and from the evidence I have so far I am fairly satisfied that there is no god and live my life accordingly – happy. If compelling and independently verifiable evidence arises to the contrary – then as a scientist – I will have to modify my take on the world.

    Just my two-penneth worth

    Cheers
    James

  65. AtariBaby

    Forgive my ignorance but are we as dead certain about the Big Bang as we are evolution? I thought the origin of the universe was a much fuzzier concept. Does it really have equal weight with evolution, which has been tested to the degree it is considered a fact?

    That being said: I usually respect the integrity of a text that is careful to say “as far as we know”, and that often includes “according to”, but in this case I agree with Miller. It should be a given that if you’re reading a science textbook, that what you’re reading is “according to the scientists in this field of science”. At best, the added text is superfluous.

  66. Babel

    Most of the research in the Big Bang theory and Evolution are empirically based, but does it truly mean it’s the final verdict? In my research methods class we learned that nothing is truly empirical until it has been proven so. I don’t recall the Big Ban theory nor Evolution being the final say–if it was we wouldn’t be arguing over these things in funding and educational systems would we?

    Where is your evidence? I don’t think you have the right to call people irrational if they do not believe either of these theories. Rationality does not require one to believe in the Big Bang theory nor evolution. That’s like saying that one is going to hell if they do not believe in Jesus, God, or Alah.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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