Ken Ham Meets Everything is Terrible

Every once in a while Everything is Terrible has a fun denialism-overlap as they show some ad for a terrible piece of quackery, or in this case a great cut of Ken Ham speaking nonsense to a group of very unfortunate children. This is child abuse. Not the creationism bit, but the embarrassingly-shoddy job he does presenting his evidence which seems to consist of poorly-drawn cartoons of men standing next to dinosaurs and an overhead projector.

The Crackpot Caucus

Timothy Egan nails it, the Republican caucus is composed of crackpots and cranks.

Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

He then goes on to cite multiple examples of what should be career-fatal stupidity that has been routinely ignored and inadequately mocked in the media. My favorite?

Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.” Clean energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. You never know.

“You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

I think we need to thank Akin again. He managed to say something so grotesquely stupid, so insanely backwards in terms of its scientific validity and misogyny that we’re actually seeing dialogue about scientific illiteracy in congress again. Perhaps his comments were the straw that broke the camel’s back?

Are Liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives Part II?

About a month ago I asked if denialism is truly more frequent on the right or is it that the issues of the day are ones that are more likely to be targets of right wing denialism? After all, one can think of slightly more left wing sources of denialism like GMO paranoia, 9/11 conspiracies, altie-meds, and toxin fear-mongering. The mental heuristics that cause people to believe, and then entrench themselves, in nonsense seem generalizable to humanity rather than just those attracted to conservative politics. Why should those who identify as liberal be any different? Wouldn’t they just believe in nonsense with a liberal bias?

Lately, Chris Mooney has been taking a different tact on explaining the apparent discrepancy between liberal vs conservative rejection of science with the suggestion the conservative brain is fundamentally different.

First of all, it’s not a matter of education. Whenever people complain that disbelief in evolution or climate change or whatever is a matter of education, they’re simply wrong. We can not educate our way out of this mess, and the problem isn’t that the Republicans arguing this nonsense are any less educated. Chris agrees and cites evidence:

Buried in the Pew report was a little chart showing the relationship between one’s political party affiliation, one’s acceptance that humans are causing global warming, and one’s level of education. And here’s the mind-blowing surprise: For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.

For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science–among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.

And it’s not specifically education on or awareness of the specific topic, as self-reported knowledge of the topic resulted in opinions among conservatives more likely to be aligned against the scientific mainstream. Orac points out this is not an old phenomenon and maybe the Dunning-Kruger effect which we incorporated into our unified theory of the crank. This is the “incompetent but unaware of it” phenomenon, that the more incompetent people are, the more likely they are to be falsely confident of their own abilities and unable to recognize competence in others..


But the most fascinating part of this article is when Mooney mentions a study to see if liberals were comparatively incompetent in judging the science in an area of high liberal bias – Nuclear power. This would seem to provide an answer to the question from my earlier post, that is, are we missing an equivalent liberal tendency towards denialism because we’re not asking the right questions?

It looks like my hypothesis of possible equivalence might have to be rejected …
Continue reading “Are Liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives Part II?”

Teach the (right) controversy

So, McCain’s picked a running mate. We don’t know much about her, but she has advocated “teaching the controversy” when it comes to Creationism. I’m sure her views will become more clear over the next several weeks, and we’ll let them speak for themselves. I’m simply interested in the idea of “teaching the controversy” (TTC).

First of all, I agree with the idea. A current events or social science class should delve into the details of the creationist cults and their assault on science. But I have a feeling that when theocrats talk about “teaching the controversy”, that’s not what they mean.

What they mean is “teach our creation myth alongside real science in biology classes”. Why should one theocratic cult’s myths be dragged into a science class? I have no idea. I thought that Dover pretty much dealt with this, but the cdesign proponentsists are always looking for a wedge, and “teaching the controversy” is just such a wedge.

So why not teach it in bio?

Because first of all, TTC is almost always code for teaching creation myths as being equally valid as evolution. Of course the fact that one is religious mythology and one is science is often left out. In a social science class, the Dover decision could be discussed, etc. In biology class, the scientific method and our understanding of life is the proper focus. To perhaps give a paragraph to creation myths would be interesting. I always loved the first section of each chapter of my science books where they would give a brief history of the topic. For example, an intro to biology could start with:

As long as humans have walked and thought, they have pondered their origins. For over a million years, these ponderings were limited to superstition. In the last two centuries, with the development of modern scientific method, we have gained a remarkable understanding of life in a remarkably short time. Genetics, cladistics, and molecular biology have worked together to give us a clear picture of the development and evolution of life on Earth.

Or we could just skip that and say “Shut up. Goddidit.”

Hello? Disco Institute? Are you reading?

Perhaps I have delusions of grandeur, but after all, this is the (checking) 15th ranked science blog on teh intertubes. But despite my high profile, I’ve heard no responses to my challenge to the Creationism Cults.

Creation “science” to this point has been based on bizarre teleologic arguments and arguments from ignorance. I was kind enough to give them a real experiment to do.

If Creationism is true, the Deluge occurred at a know recent time and very small founder populations of animals are responsible for all life on Earth. Therefore, genomic analysis (mitochodrial, Y-chromosome, etc.) should be consistent with this hypothesis (if Creationsism is true).

C’mon! Where are you guys? Get to work!

Helpful hints for Creationist Cults

Answers Research Journal, the teleologic, Apologetic, unscientific screed put out by Answers in Genesis has so far done nothing resembling science. But I now have an idea for them, although I’m not sure if it’s been proposed.

So far, their “research” has taken the form of trying to find “facts” to fit their conclusions that the Bible is an inerrant science and history text. Well, here’s an idea for them. Since I’m not a biologist, it will ned some cleaning up.

Hypothesis: The Biblical Deluge occured at a certain time which is knowable from scripture. The events surrounding it is known from scripture. Therefore, scientific facts should confirm these events.

What is one of the singular biological events of the Flood? Two. By. Two. A small founder population of each species to repopulate the globe. If this in fact happened, it should be possible to do genomic analysis to show a founder that dates back to the year of the flood.

This is actual science. Either genetic history of extant species bears out this few thousand year old founder hypothesis, or it doesn’t.

Onward Christian scientists! Show us what ya’ got!

L’affaire Lenski continues

When will the stupidity end?

Really. When?

As long as Conservapedia exists, the answer will elude us. The latest feculent flow of irrational idiocy concerns the Lenski Affair.

Just to remind you, a biologist named Lenski did a very cool experiment regarding evolution in E.coli. Some creationist cult leader was displeased. Since his god has apparently refused to smite the biologist, the cult leader has looked into legal remedies in the fight against biology. Apparently, his god isn’t smart enough to have come up with evolution.

Now it appears that an open letter is being drafted to the cultists. This is way too much fun.

Ham, Get on Message!

Jon Hurdle reports in today’s Times on nine Philadelphia-based institutions that are planning a “Year of Evolution” program for February 2009, to celebrate Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species.

Check out the comments of Ken Ham, which I think are totally off message:

Ken Ham, the president of the Creation Museum, said he expected to see more pro-evolution events as the Darwin anniversary approaches. Mr. Ham said that in response his museum was planning its own exhibits on the origins of life.

“The culture war is definitely heating up,” he said.

Mr. Ham, who also leads Answers in Genesis, a nonprofit group promoting a literal interpretation of the biblical creation story, defined the clash of ideas as “Christianity versus the relative morality of secular humanism” and said they were “two fundamentally different worldviews.”

He rejected the possibility that Christians could believe in evolution. “If you take Genesis as literal history, then of course the two are exclusive,” he said. “Christians who believe in evolution are being inconsistent.”

This is about the scientific case for creationism, right? So, why is Ham talking about the culture war? Don’t his comments basically support the idea that teaching creationism’s flavor of the week amounts to feeding the Christianity side of the “culture war?”

Ham needs to hire me. He should have said: “Intelligent Design does a better job explaining the fundamentals of how life first appeared on Earth and how a creator could have fashioned all the species in such a way that allowed microevolution to flourish. The Creationism Museum assembles the scientific evidence and philosophical evidence, much of which derives from liturgical sources, to make the case for Intelligent Design. The Evolutionists have to coordinate this event, because they are threatened by the Kuhnian revolution now underway that increasingly supports the maxims of Intelligent Design.”

I will go shower now.

Another of our failures as science educators

There’s been much written around here about the NYT’s David Brooks’ foray in to non-materialist neuroscience. Well, today the letters to the editor are in, and some of them are interesting (although most aren’t particularly sophisticated).

One in particular highlights some failures we’ve had as science educators (including a failure to educate editors):

To the Editor:

As an engineer, lawyer, computer programmer and Roman Catholic, I have a problem with the concept that the evolution of the species just happened. From an evolutionary perspective, we are probably somewhere in the chicken and egg debate.

As man supposedly evolved from a single-cell amoeba to the complex organism that he is today, we had to develop a complex brain to manage the process.

The first problem facing a self-developing species in its early stages would be the need to know that there is something out there to see, feel, hear, touch or taste. The second problem is that a complex brain could not survive the incredibly complex development process without the five senses in operational mode. And you can’t get the senses in operational mode until you have developed a sophisticated brain with the ability to communicate and interact with the senses.

Therein lies our chicken and egg dilemma.

Ken LeBrun
Stony Brook, N.Y., May 13, 2008

Ken has a few gaps in education, and it’s worth a bit of fisking:

Continue reading “Another of our failures as science educators”