WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion.
The exchange came in a debate before an audience of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, as O’Donnell criticized Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ position that teaching creationism in public school would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.
Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that “religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools.”
“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked him.
When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O’Donnell asked: “You’re telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”
Update: The American Academy paper is now live. Download it here.
My Washington Post piece is receiving a truly unexpected blog critique. It is basically being criticized for being relatively brief, and not getting into that much detail. In other words, it is being criticized for being what it is by definition–a short newspaper commentary.
Thus Orac, PZ Myers, and Evil Monkey all fault the piece for not providing more on solutions. The irony is that the byline of the Post piece mentions that I’ve done a more in depth paper on all this for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. And that 15 page paper, in turn, is based on a reading of hundreds of pages of transcripts for four expert workshops put together by the Academy. There is more talk of solutions in the transcripts than the paper, and more in the paper than in the Post piece…and so on. As you’d expect.
In any event, the paper releases today, whereupon it will be available at this link. Thus far, the link isn’t working, but it should pretty soon.
So for those who want more detail, please download the paper. Or, if you prefer, criticize the Post piece and then download the paper!
[Note: There are other points to respond to in these critiques, especially from Orac. I'm busy preparing my talk about the paper for an event this afternoon at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but hope to address those tomorrow.]
Update: Just learned the American Academy paper will be available for download at this link tomorrow. But don’t go now, it just gives an error message….
Well, the piece yesterday prompted a lot of commentary on the blogs, on Facebook, on the Post website (214 last time I checked), and through emails directly to me. I want to make some remarks on some of the more interesting–and less interesting–reactions that I received.
First, though, a factual point: A lot of folks have asked when the American Academy of Arts and Sciences paper that all of this is based on will be available. The answer is Tuesday, and while this paper is being printed in hard copy–technically an “occasional paper” of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences–an online PDF will also be available. I will link as soon as that occurs. (Tuesday is also day the paper is being rolled out at the other AAAS–American Association for the Advancement of Science–and once again, details on the event are here.)
So, on to the responses. Read More
I’ve got a piece in this weekend’s Sunday Outlook section in the Post, entitled “If scientists want to educate the public, start by listening.” The argument is that although people often seem to resist science and argue back against it, they’re frequently motivated by nonscientific considerations at the core–nonscientific considerations that scientists themselves often don’t really understand. But alas, this means that arguing with them scientifically often doesn’t yield the desired result. Example:
Or consider the long-running controversy over plans to dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Although many technical experts have long argued that the repository would be safe, this has hardly convinced frightened and angry Nevadans. In 1991, the American Nuclear Energy Council even launched an ad campaign to educate the public about the Yucca Mountain plan but it backfired. Nearly a third of viewers became more resistant to the repository, and among those who were already opposed, their resolve strengthened. (Just 15 percent had a more favorable opinion of the repository after seeing the ad, and half of viewers did not change their minds.)
The piece also makes a similar point with respect to climate change and vaccination.
So then what is the solution?
Initiatives that engage the public about science policy in a two-way conversation — before controversies explode — show great promise. In Canada, for instance, the national Nuclear Waste Management Organization spent three years listening to the public’s views about how to handle nuclear waste disposal and promised that no dump or repository would be sprung on a community without its consent. Throughout the process, even critics of waste storage efforts remained engaged and supportive of attempts to come up with the best possible solution. In the United States, meanwhile, the federally funded National Nanotechnology Initiative has sponsored a great deal of social science research to explore possible public concerns that may arise as this new field of technology advances.
In sum, work with experts who understand the public to figure out what is driving concerns and resistance–and ideally, do so before you have a long running controversy with lots of bad blood and entrenched positions.
The Post piece mentions in my byline that I’m “author of a paper on the relationship between scientists and the public to be released Tuesday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.” Indeed, there is a much more detailed and lengthy paper that will be coming out shortly–as well as a public event on Tuesday at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to present the paper and engage in a discussion about it. You can register here to attend. Also appearing: American Association for the Advancement of Science President Alan Leshner, American Academy of Arts and Sciences Executive Director Leslie Berlowitz, and Resources for the Future scholar Robert Fri. For more details, click here.
Here it is. It’s damning, and the most powerful statement yet:
We hope that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the University of Virginia have the spine to repudiate Mr. Cuccinelli’s abuse of the legal code. If they do not, the quality of Virginia’s universities will suffer for years to come.
Importantly, the Post makes the point that there is no serious evidence to justify the inquiry. You would have to have good reasons for suspecting Mann of fraud; merely disagreeing with his results certainly doesn’t suffice.
But there is no good reason for suspecting Mann of fraud–misreading emails and taking them out of context does not constitute any such thing. Every inquiry that has looked closely and seriously into ClimateGate has found that there’s no there there. Or as the Post recaps:
For Mr. Cuccinelli’s “investigation” to have any merit, the attorney general must suppose that Mr. Mann “knowingly” presented “a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval.” Mr. Cuccinelli’s justification for this suspicion seems to be a series of e-mails that surfaced last year in which Mr. Mann wrote of a “trick” he used in one of his analyses, a term that referred to a method of presenting data to non-experts, not an effort to falsify results.
IN FACT, the scientific community, including a National Academy of Sciences panel, has pored over Mr. Mann’s work for more than a decade, and though supporters and skeptics still disagree on much, it’s clear that his conclusions are not obviously, premeditatedly fraudulent, particularly since they come with admissions about the uncertainties inherent to his work. Inquiries in Britain and one at Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Mann’s current academic home, also absolved him of wrongdoing with regard to the e-mail controversy, the latter noting in particular that there is no evidence that he “suppressed or falsified data.”
Over the weekend, everybody was emailing me this Washington Post Outlook article, which critiques my first book in the context of arguing that liberals are sneeringly dismissive of the conservative intellect, and guilty of “intellectual condescension”:
This liberal vision emphasizes the dissemination of ideologically driven views from sympathetic media such as the Fox News Channel. For example, Chris Mooney’s book “The Republican War on Science” argues that policy debates in the scientific arena are distorted by conservatives who disregard evidence and reflect the biases of industry-backed Republican politicians or of evangelicals aimlessly shielding the world from modernity. In this interpretation, conservative arguments are invariably false and deployed only cynically. Evidence of the costs of cap-and-trade carbon rationing is waved away as corporate propaganda; arguments against health-care reform are written off as hype orchestrated by insurance companies.
Let me go on the record as saying that I am no fan whatsoever of intellectual condescension. I think there is way too much of it on my side of the aisle. So I should be at least somewhat sympathetic with this author, one Gerard Alexander of the University of Virginia.
But here’s the problem. He gets my book’s arguments almost entirely wrong. First, I don’t argue that conservatives “disregard evidence.” The problem is that they make up their own evidence, using their own “scientists” to do so. They then use this pseudo-expertise to disregard expertise and consensus–a very different thing.
Second, I never argued conservatives were arguing “cynically.” It was obvious they believed what they said on matters of science. After all, they had their pseudoexperts to bank on.
Finally, I clearly distinguished between distorting the facts of science on the one hand, and making economic, moral, and policy arguments on the other. So a sentence like Alexander’s last one completely misses the boat: “Evidence of the costs of cap-and-trade carbon rationing is waved away as corporate propaganda; arguments against health-care reform are written off as hype orchestrated by insurance companies.” This stuff has nothing to do with the arguments of The Republican War on Science.
If there is ever a case for being intellectually condescending–and I’m not sure that there is–perhaps it’s to someone who critiques you while getting your arguments wrong.
Things have been so nuts for me over the past few days, I haven’t even been able to blog my Washington Post Outlook piece from Sunday about the need for better science communication in the wake of the devastating blow dealt by the ClimateGate scandal. The piece has been drawing tons of supportive private emails, as well as lots of online critiques and reactions, and fully 800 plus comments on the Post’s website, many of them from climate deniers.
Anyway, the article starts like this:
The battle over the science of global warming has long been a street fight between mainstream researchers and skeptics. But never have the scientists received such a deep wound as when, in late November, a large trove of e-mails and documents stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia were released onto the Web.
In the ensuing “Climategate” scandal, scientists were accused of withholding information, suppressing dissent, manipulating data and more. But while the controversy has receded, it may have done lasting damage to science’s reputation: Last month, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 40 percent of Americans distrust what scientists say about the environment, a considerable increase from April 2007. Meanwhile, public belief in the science of global warming is in decline.
The central lesson of Climategate is not that climate science is corrupt. The leaked e-mails do nothing to disprove the scientific consensus on global warming. Instead, the controversy highlights that in a world of blogs, cable news and talk radio, scientists are poorly equipped to communicate their knowledge and, especially, to respond when science comes under attack.
A few scientists answered the Climategate charges almost instantly. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, whose e-mails were among those made public, made a number of television and radio appearances. A blog to which Mann contributes, RealClimate.org, also launched a quick response showing that the e-mails had been taken out of context. But they were largely alone. “I haven’t had all that many other scientists helping in that effort,” Mann told me recently.
This isn’t a new problem….
Read here, there’s much more….on science communication strategies, how to fight the evolution war, and so forth. In essence, the piece builds on some of the central arguments of Unscientific America, but strained through the new example of ClimateGate, which is surely the number one reason yet that scientists have got to mobilize in the way that we recommended in the book. Hope you enjoy…
This post is simply to say that despite Siegel’s Herculean efforts, essentially the same item now turns up as an op-ed in The Washington Post. I’m sure Carl Zimmer will have much to say about fact-checking and the Post‘s op-ed page; but hey, it’s just presenting the “other side” on climate change, right?
I mean, so what if Sarah Palin asserts that the current warming is just part of a natural cycle, or confuses climate with weather–showing not only ignorance of basic climate science, but embracing positions quite contrary to accepted scientific knowledge. So what–because Republicans need their science too, and op-ed pages exist to let all sides to articulate their point of view–to say what they want to say and what they deeply feel, and do their best to attract lots of fans.
Just like Facebook does.
Go check out the Washington Post’s latest editorial:
Arctic Ice Is Melting
The 30-year decline is accelerating, new data show.
The report noted that the Arctic winter was 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average. This and other factors are causing the surface ice to melt. That ice is vital for reflecting the light and heat of the sun. Without it, the heat warms the Arctic Ocean, which then melts the ice below the surface of the water.