Saturday, August 27, 2005

When Science, and the Philosophy of it, Meet Blogs and the Press

I feel sorry for Elizabeth Lloyd. I haven't read her book, as I'm not really up on all of he "evolution of the orgasm" literature, so reading a critique of a particular perspective would be pretty pointless. But what is painfully clear is that she has been a victim of the inability of the press to understand science, and the further inability of people to look past the bad reporting and their own prejudices when evaluating science. If ever there was an argument for better science education and reporting, it is Lloyd's post over at Philosophy of Biology. She provides several examples of outrageous comments on her book and the ideas within it. I'll just give a couple:
  • And we all think Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd is something of an Uncle Tom for women.
  • Thinking women, liberal or conservative, will not be thrilled by this book. Fundamentalist Christians, on the other hand, will be ecstatic.
As these and the rest of Lloyd's examples show, conservatives aren't alone in their politicized ignorance of science. Lloyd notes that she didn't "cherry-picked the worst of the bloggers; these are nearly all intelligent and relatively scientifically-informed feminists who are keenly worried about what theyhave heard." I think Lloyd's description of them as "scientifically-informed" may be a bit generous, but if it is accurate, then the quotes she attributes to them are that much worse, because they are made by people who should know better.

I've always believed that there are two general kinds of creationists: the ignorant and the stupid. The ignorant are your everyday, gardenvarietyy creationists, who would ask you things like, "If evolution is true, then why are their still moneys?" or claim that "Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics." These are people who know nothing about evolution (or thermodynamics, for that matter), and show it in everything they say about it. The vast majority of these people don't really care about evolution, and could go days or weeks without ever thinking or talking about it. For them, it's largely about religion and culture, and science is at most a scapegoat. Then there are the stupid creationists. These are the people who do have a little knowledge of evolution, or mathematics, physics, or chemistry, and who use it to actively campaign against evolution for largely political (notice I didn't say religious) and self-aggrandizing purposes. They're the ones who spend as much of their time as they can talking about evolution and science; who make sure that the ignorant remain that way, and that they think about evolution and science as much as they can, but from the stupid creationists' perspective. They really have enough knowledge to see where they are wrong, or at least to know that they don't know enough to make theclaim that they know what they're talking about. Feminists who are "scientifically informed," but still spout nonsense like the above, clearly without having read Lloyd's book, are no better than the stupid creationists, and just as dangerous as them. And just as in the case of creationism, the press is helping them along.


Clark Goble said...

I have *huge* problems with the polemic in Pinker's The Blank Slate. As often as he speaks on something I'm familiar with he gets it wrong. (Which isn't to say he gets wrong some of the people adopting the labels) But I do think he does an excellent job pointing out the politicization of science by both sides. Yeah he gets the details wrong a lot (as it appears he did in the Harvard President issue of women scientists). But he does raise some great points along the way.

Chris said...

Yeah, since you've been around this blog for a while, you probably know how much bad science reporting bugs me, and I think the political skew on science is one of the reasons that science reporting is so bad. The politicization of science affects science reporting in two ways:

1.) The completely bogus tendency to present "both sides" of the issue, and "both sides" almost always means what conservatives think and what liberals think about a particular theory or finding. This is worst in the discussions of Intelligent Design creationism, but it shows up in other places as well (global warming also comes to mind).

2.) Reporters know that they have a story when they see a finding that they can make relevant (often through twisting the actual science) to current political or social issues. So that's the science that gets reported. Often that means they report very preliminary work (like that study on male bisexuality a couple months ago), or work that goes against the all the other existing data and that has yet to be replicated.

It's just annoying, and it's frustrating for me, as I'm sure it is for many others, that there's nothing I can really do about it. Posting about it on my podunk little blog is just a form of anger management.

Anonymous said...


i'm that guy who antagonized you a lil bit over noam marc and tecumsah.

especially that last part there, what you said about ignorant Vs. stupid is DEAD ON TARGET.

it's funny that the "stupid" side is in someways the "smarter" side (actually, just more informed), and that they are the actively blundering side, constantly fudging around, futzing up this and that cockamamie crap about creationism versus evolution. i like how you classified the "ignorant" side as being able to weeks or however long without thinking about it at all-- it doesn't matter to them.

i worked with a fundamentalist christian. christian radio all day. labor job.

i'm actually a trained laboratory psychologist.

here's the best part: the fundamentalist once exclaimed to me that a "famous-- this guy's credible-- a famous mathematician said, he said that THE CHANCES OF EVOLUTION HAPPENING ARE ONE IN TEN TO THE FORTIETH! and that, that's TECHNCALLY IMPOSSIBLE, it's so small. evolution is illogical."

no obviously we all know about the gaping wholes in those idiotic tirades


i told one of my sci-colleagues (a superior actually) that short anecdote about the fundamentalist.

my scientifically-minded colleague (expert phonetician) scoffed said said: more like one in ten to the NEGATIVE fortieth.

that was just hilarious to me. dead-on. wish i thought of it at the time, vis-a-vis the fundamentalist, but i would have had to explain what exponents actually mean, and all that...

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