Pinker vs. the AAAS on the politicization of climate change—and science in general

May 3, 2022 • 11:00 am

The other day Steven Pinker received a form letter from Ann Bostrom, one of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), asking for money to support action on climate change. (Bostrom is also a professor of environmental policy at the University of Washington.)  The AAAS also publishes Science, one of a handful of the world’s best science journals.

Below is part of Bostrom’s letter (her entire solicitation is below the fold; bolding is hers):

My research career has focused primarily on two important areas: Risk perception, communication, and management; and environmental policy and decision-making.Though these are two distinct areas of study, I see them as two sides of the same coin. If key decisionmakers—like politicians on Capitol Hill—don’t understand the risks of climate change, how likely are they to pass meaningful policies to mitigate those risks? If someone is deeply concerned about climate change, but doesn’t believe the government can effectively address it, how strongly will they support policy action?My personal quest to answer questions like these keeps leading me back to the same conclusion: It is essential that each of us support and uplift science to inform and spur action on climate change.

That’s why this Earth Day, I am asking 300 generous donors to step up and make a tax-deductible gift to the AAAS Flexible Action Fund to support our nearly 175-year-strong mission to build trust in science and fortify key decision-making with evidence. Can I count on you to be one of them?

As you’ll see from his response below, Steve was distressed by the invitation and the AAAS itself. His complaint? That the AAAS is being unscientific and counterproductive in its strategy to enhance scientific literacy and action on climate change. The organization is and has been unscientific in assuming that rejection of science is simply caused by a deficit in knowledge; and it’s been oblivious to empirical data suggesting that this rejection is in fact largely political—a problem the AAAS relentlessly exacerbates with its recent but aggressive left-wing branding. Finally, Steve argues that the organization’s steadfast refusal even to consider alternative explanations to left-wing orthodoxy leaves it proposing what are probably ineffectual solutions to major problems. There is, for example, no mention of nuclear power.

(Steve also reproduces a tendentious and offensive tweet that one of the organization’s former editors issued attacking journalist Jesse Singal and psychologist Paul Bloom. This is just one example of how ideology has permeated the journal.)

Needless to say, Pinker refused to become one of the “generous donors”, and chided the AAAS for politicizing science in its “lurch to the left.” That politicization, he feels—and I agree—is a strong impediment to the objectivity needed to solve any scientific problem. Climate change is one such problem, and its solution is hampered by tribalism.

Steve gave me permission to post his response to Ann Bostrom, which I’ve put below. He also received a short response from Holden Thorp, Editor-in-Chief of the Science family of journals, which I also have permission to publish.

First, go below to the fold to read Bostrom’s solicitation, and then read Pinker’s response here (with tweets enclosed). Finally, read Thorp’s tepid response—actually a nonresponse.


Pinker’s response to the solicitation:

Dear Professor Bostrom,

I recently received your solicitation for a donation to the AAAS. I share with you an interest in risk perception and communication, as well as environmental policy, topics which I explore in my recent books Rationality and Enlightenment Now. I also share your concern that politicians on Capitol Hill, and the American public, be aware of the risks of anthropogenic climate change and how they can be reduced.

For precisely these reasons I cannot in good conscience agree to your request to donate money to the AAAS. The Association is currently making these hazards worse, not better.

First, it is astonishing that an association for the advancement of science does not take a scientific approach to public acceptance of scientific conclusions. The letter that went out over your name assumes that the problem is a lack of access to scientific evidence. Yet as I’m sure you’re aware, studies of public opinion by Dan Kahan and others have shown that deniers of the scientific consensus on climate change, evolution, and Covid are no less informed than believers. Presentation of scientific arguments, moreover, does little to change their mind.

The difference is political: the farther someone is to the right, the less they believe the scientists on these hot-button issues. My own experience as a scientific communicator confirms that there is enormous distrust of the scientific and academic establishments, because people believe these establishments have been captured by the political left and that any dissent from orthodoxy will be met with censorship or cancellation.

The solution is obvious. Scientific organizations must cultivate a reputation for objectivity, neutrality, openness to debate, and consideration of evidence for alternative hypotheses. Yet it is precisely in these areas that the AAAS, including Science magazine, have been making the problem worse.

I will give three examples of how the AAAS appears to be going out of its way to alienate any politician or citizen who is not a strong leftist.

  1. Science magazine appears to have adopted wokeism as its official editorial policy and the only kind of opinion that may be expressed in the magazine. An example is the recent special section on the underrepresentation of African Americans among physics majors, graduate students, and faculty members. This situation is lamentable and worthy of understanding. But the six articles in the issue assume as dogma that the underrepresentation is caused by “white privilege”: that “the dominant culture has discouraged diversity,” and “white people use their membership in a dominant group to assert political, cultural, and economic power over those outside that group.” Though Science is ordinarily committed to open debate on scientific controversies, no disagreements with this conspiracy theory were expressed. And though the journal is supposedly committed to empirical tests, no data were presented that might speak to alternative explanations, such as that the cause of the under-representation lies in the pipeline of prepared and interested students. If we want to increase the number of African Americans in physics, it matters a great deal whether we should try to fix the nation’s high schools or accuse physics professors of white supremacy. Yet Science magazine has decided, without debate or data, to advocate the latter.
  2. SciLine, the AAAS resource for journalists touted in your fundraising message, includes a webpage with primers on climate change.  This includes the following articles on energy:

“Wind energy in the United States”

“Biomass energy in the United States”

“Hydropower in the United States”

“Renewable energy in the United States”

“Geothermal energy in the United States”

“Solar energy in the United States”

Notice anything missing? There is nothing on nuclear energy in the United States. This is despite the fact that nuclear energy is currently the carbon-free source that exceeds every one of these alternatives in US energy consumption, and despite the fact that such esteemed climate and energy scientists as James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, and Kerry Emanuel have written that “in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power”,

For the AAAS to omit any mention of nuclear power in its resource for journalists on climate change is deeply irresponsible and can only be explained by the fact that nuclear power fell out of fashion among left-wing and Green political factions more than 40 years ago.

  1. Last year, Science’s editor for the behavioral sciences, Tage Rai, posted racist, unsourced, obscenity-laced tweets which libeled an important science journalist (Jesse Singal) and accused a distinguished psychologist (Paul Bloom) of bigotry for interviewing him. (See screenshot below.) This was because they discussed hypotheses about transgender issues that disagree with the tendentious and scientifically dubious orthodoxy. Though Rai has since departed from Science, this kind of communication should not be the public face of this country’s premier journal for science.

As best I can tell, awareness of the hazards of politicization of science among the officers of AAAS and the editors of Science is zero. Certainly the issue has not been broached in its communications or the pages of the magazine. Yet this lurch to the left is distorting their coverage of vital scientific issues such as climate change, and is in danger of alienating the majority of American legislators and citizens who are not hard leftists.

I urge the AAAS and the editors of Science to become mindful of this vital issue for the future of science in this country.

Sincerely
Steven Pinker
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology
Harvard University
William James Hall 964
33 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

www.stevenpinker.com

sapinker@twitter

facebook.com/StevenPinkerPage

Enclosures:

Tweet from former behavioral sciences editor of Science, Tage Rai [JAC: below]

Solicitation letter from Prof. Ann Bostrom [JAC: below the fold]


Here’s the AAAS’s response to Pinker from Holden Thorp, the Editor in Chief of Science and its stable of journals. (I’ve redacted phone numbers and email addresses.)

From: Holden Thorp Sent: Sunday, May 1, 2022 10:02 AMTo: Pinker, Steven Subject: FW: Response to “Setting an ambitious goal for Earth Day”

Dr. Pinker,

                Thanks for your note.  We’re sorry to lose you as a donor, but I disagree with your analysis.  We will continue to cover the evidence for and impact of systemic racism.   Thanks for your support of AAAS in the past.

Holden

Holden Thorp

Editor-in-Chief, Science Family of Journals1200 New York Ave NWWashington, DC  20005


JAC:  Thorp’s non-response is disturbing. “I disagree with your analysis,” he says. Does that include the issues of both systemic racism and nuclear power.? We don’t know, as Thorp doesn’t mention what he disagrees with!

Pinker is an AAAS Fellow and crafted a long and reasoned argument. He surely deserved more than a “thanks, but no thanks” reply from the editor of Science!

This suggests that Thorp is simply not interested in engaging with a reasoned argument, wedded as he is to Science‘s “wokeist” ideology. And believe me, I’ve seen that wokeism many times, not just in Science but in Nature and its own stable of journals.

The explicit wedding of the world’s two premier science journals to political ideology is not a good sign, as it prioritizes politics over science. And all too often, politically infused science is ineffective science.

 

Click “continue reading” below to see Ann Bostrom’s original solicitation for donations:

Continue reading “Pinker vs. the AAAS on the politicization of climate change—and science in general”

A brave Kiwi

January 31, 2022 • 1:15 pm

Sociologist of education Elizabeth Rata was one of what I call “The Satanic Seven”: a group of  seven professors from the University of Auckland who took a public stand in a magazine against teaching Maori “ways of knowing” as co-equal with science.  The “Listener letter”, published last July, is so well known (and also infamous) that it now has its own Wikipedia page. The infamy comes from an assertion that would be uncontroversial in most places: the claim that government proposals to ensure equal co-teaching of modern science with the indigenous “way of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or MM) were unwarranted and a recipe for disaster.

And they are. While MM has nuggets of truth gleaned from experience (but not experiment), it’s also a whole lot of other stuff as well: legend, fable, local theology, morality, and so on. And a lot of it is scientifically bogus, like the claim that Polynesians discovered Antarctica around 700 A.D. (The first real sighting of the continent was by a Russian ship in 1820.) Who could assent to teaching such nonsense as “true”? It’s even worse because New Zealand’s rankings in STEM education among comparable countries have plummeted in the last several decades. Teaching MM in science class will only make those rankings lower.

When I consider how hard the government and educational authorities at all levels are pushing this “equality-in-the-classroom” proposal, academia in New Zealand begins to look like a bunch of lemmings jumping off a cliff (yes, I know they don’t really do that). Knowing that the government’s proposal will hurt the country’s educational standing, they press on nevertheless, for satisfying the Māori—and a misguided interpretation of the 1840 treaty between settlers and the Māori—is more important than furthering the truth. New Zealand is wrecking its own educational system with out-of-control wokeness.

But like Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Rata has nevertheless persisted. Below is the link to a piece she just published in a popular NZ venue, Newsroom. It’s a short article which says much of what I’ve summarized above. But she’s braver than I, for even full professors and retired professors risk professional damage from speaking their minds. (Two signers of the letter who were also members of the Royal Society of New Zealand are still undergoing “investigation” for criticizing MM as a form of science.) You can read the piece for yourself, (click on the screenshot) but I’ll give just a few excerpts that I’ve indented.

From Rata:

A useful contribution is to consider the role of the 2020 Education and Training Act in the shift from science to ideology. The basic contradiction between universal science and the parochialism of the treaty ideology is found in that legislation.

“Treaty ideology” refers to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (often seen as the Māori version “Te Teriti”), which was signed by the British and some (but not all) Māori chiefs, and those chiefs only from the North Island. It’s thus unclear how widely the treaty applies now, and even its interpretation is not straightforward given that the Māori words have some different meanings from the English ones. Nevertheless, here are its three provisions as given in Wikipedia:

  • Article one of the Māori text grants governance rights to the Crown while the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown.
  • Article two of the Māori text establishes that Māori will retain full chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures while the English text establishes the continued ownership of the Māori over their lands and establishes the exclusive right of pre-emption of the Crown.
  • Article three gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects.

The problem is that the treaty has been stretched so far that it’s now interpreted to mean “the Māori get half of everything”, and in this case “everything” includes “half of the time in science class to promulgate the Māori way of knowing”. Nobody with any sense would agree with the latter construal, but wokeness overrides rationality as PM Jacinda Ardern leads her lemmings over the cliff.

But I digress, for it angers me that a pack of legends, superstitions, theology, and so on, larded with a few bits of knowledge gleaned from experience, should be given half the time in a modern science class. By all means (as the Satanic Seven emphasized) teach MM in anthropology or history class, but do not drag it into STEM. That’s not good for NZ or for the Māori, whose science education will be grossly deficient. It serves only to make the treaty worshipers flaunt their virtue. What a price to pay for that! And it’s not like the U.S. Constitution that can be amended for clarity or revision. Te Teriti is here to stay.

Dr. Rata:

The main Treaty principles clause requires the university’s council “to acknowledge the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi”. ‘Acknowledge’ can be weak or strong. Since the term first appeared in the 1990 Education Act it has morphed into the strongest interpretation as obligation and commitment. It is now very difficult for academics to question the ideological intensity which has swept through the university as ‘obligation’ is embedded. Prayers in the secular university go unchallenged. Treaty requirements in teaching courses are fulfilled. Funding applications without mātauranga Māori adherence are declined. Language is self-monitored for ideological lapses.

The legislation also holds a clue to the seemingly widespread support from academics for the Treaty ideology. Section 281 encourages the greatest possible student participation by under-represented groups. The assumption is made that adherence to treaty principles will provide this encouragement. That is unlikely. The educational underachievement of a section of the Māori population happens well before students reach tertiary education.

Fixing the lower STEM achievement of Māori students cannot be done by teaching MM in class. It must be done the same way that lower academic achievement of black and Hispanic students in the U.S. must be done: encouragement, cultural transformation, mentoring, and so on. (Really, I don’t know the solution, but I know it doesn’t involve teaching fable as truth.)

Teaching falsehoods in science will not create more equity. As Rata notes (my emphasis below):

University students from all racial and cultural groups tend to come from knowledge-rich schools which provide a solid foundation for university study. These are often the children of the professional class who have benefited from such knowledge in their own lives and insist that schools provide it for their children.

It is access to the abstract quality of academic knowledge and language, its very remoteness from everyday experience, and its formality – science in other words – that is necessary for success. Tragically this knowledge is miscast as ‘euro-centric’. The aim of the decolonisation and re-indigenisation of New Zealand education is to replace this knowledge with the cultural knowledge of experience.

But science is not euro-centric or western. It is universal. This is recognised in the International Science Council’s definition of science as “rationally explicable, tested against reality, logic, and the scrutiny of peers this is a special form of knowledge”. It includes the arts, humanities and social sciences as human endeavours which may, along with the physical and natural sciences, use such a formalised approach. The very children who need this knowledge the most, now receive less.

The science-ideology discussion matters for many reasons – the university’s future, the country’s reputation for science and education, and the quality of education in primary and secondary schools. But at its heart it is about democracy. Science can only thrive when democracy thrives.

Elizabeth will get into more trouble about this: her professorship will not insulate her from unwarranted criticism—or even punishment by the University of Auckland. But, admirably, she persists. As she says, MM doesn’t even come close to conforming to the International Science Council’s definition of “science.”

As far as I know term “Māoriphobe” has not yet been coined, but I’ll Coyne it here because it’s only a matter of time before people like Rata are tarred with it. (A more melliferous alternative is “Tiritiphobe”.)

And time is running out for NZ. Until its rational citizens wake up and try to understand what science is, and how important it is to both education and societal progress (NZ has been very good with vaccination, for instance, and MM didn’t give us vaccines), the rodents will keep jumping off the cliff.

And then there will be no rodents left, for every serious or accomplished scientist will have fled the country.

More from New Zealand, a nation whose science is circling the drain

January 23, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I’ve written a lot about New Zealand lately, in particular the schools’ and government’s attempt to force the teaching of “indigenous ways of knowing” (mātauranga Māori) into the science classroom as a system coequal in value with modern science. That means not only equal classroom time, but equal respect, treating indigenous ways of knowing as complementary if not identical to “scientific truth”. Note that I’m not dismissing the value of mātauranga Māori (henceforth “MM”) in some spheres, even science. For MM contains “practical knowledge”, like how to catch eels, that could conceivably be inserted into science courses.

And of course MM s the worldview of the indigenous people, and thus an important part of the history and tradition of New Zealand. It thus deserves to be taught in anthropology or sociology classes. But the science within MM is precious little compared with the larger titer of myth, legend, superstition, theology, and morality that are essential to MM. This other stuff is not a “way of knowing” and thus cannot be taught in science classes. Note as well that MM is also explicitly creationist. Do Kiwis really want to confuse students by telling them that Māori creation myths are just as “scientific” as is biological evolution?  Teaching MM as science is just as fraught as teaching any indigenous “way of knowing” as science: it’s a pathway that leads inevitably to the degeneration of science education in a country.

If you want to see what’s in store for New Zealand’s secondary schools and universities, have a read of the brochure below (click on screenshot to get a free copy), which is the University of Auckland’s “five year and ten year plans” for where it wants to go vis-à-vis education and reputation. I’ve read it twice, and have concluded four things:

a. There’s no “there” there: it’s all a bunch of chirpy aspirations about making the University a world thought leader, but without any tangible steps for doing so. I’ve rarely read a “plan” so devoid of content.

b. It’s abysmally written and loaded with Māori words that you can’t understand unless you’re fluent in the language (have a look, for instance, at the title).

c. It’s basically a plan for handing over half the curriculum and its planning to Māori, including teaching MM, though they constitute only 16.5% of the New Zealand population (Asians are 15.3%).

d. There is nothing at all about science in the plan except this lame quote from the “research and innovation page” of aspirations:

Be a research partner of choice for industry, policymakers and community organisations.

• Review promotion and reward systems to appropriately recognise the value of a range of research endeavours.

• Upskill and build capability of staff and students in research impact, engagement and science communication.

(“Upskill”? Is that a word.?) At any rate, you get the sense from the above of what’s in this screed: a lot of fine-sounding words without any substance. In fact, the one mention of science I’ve just quoted is the ONLY time that word is used in the entire 28-page vision statement, while the words “mātauranga Māori” are used six times. That’s way more than “coequal”!

The sole mention of science:

One of six mentions of MM:

And what kind of vision plan says nothing about science education?

The deep-sixing of modern science in NZ is pretty much a done deal, as the Ardern government has decided that the initial agreement between the “Crown” (settlers) and the Māori—embodied in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, known in Māori as “Te Tiriti”) should be interpreted as meaning that  Māori should ultimately get not just equity (since they’re a minority of Kiwis), but extra equity: half of the money and half of the power.

Now pushback by minority groups everywhere is largely about power, which is fine because oppression is a withdrawal of power. But my reading of the government’s push is that power is to be apportioned to indigenous people so that they get at least half the say in everything.

It’s as if the government of the U.S. decided that Native Americans got not only half the research funding for science, but half the say in teaching their “way of knowing” in science classes. This just won’t do, as times have moved on. MM rarely changes, and most of it cannot be falsified, while science steams its way forward. This is not to say that Māori shouldn’t have more power than they do already (I can’t speak to that), but that the government of New Zealand apparently is so ridden with guilt that it’s ready to hand over its science and its universities—not to mention its dosh—to Māori or to anybody who claims Māori ancestry.

The money issue had escaped my mind until I read the article below, which appears at a reputable website (Point of Order) and was written by a reputable journalist, Graham Adams. His point is that the drive to establish hegemony of MM has as a main goal the acquisition of money for Māori-centric research (I know of examples of this, but they’re quite trivial)—in fact, half of all money allocated for research. If you want to hurt scientific progress in New Zealand, that’s a good way to do it. One can of course—and should—try to interest Māori in modern scientific endeavors, but that’s not what Adams is talking about.

An excerpt (my emphasis):

The incendiary stoush was sparked last July by seven eminent professors stating in a letter to the Listener that indigenous knowledge is not science and therefore does not warrant inclusion in the NCEA syllabus as being equal to science.

Yet in the five months since the letter was published, virtually no one among those opposing the professors has argued convincingly that mātauranga Māori is scientific (even if some small elements of it could be called proto-science or pre-science).

On the face of it, the debate by now should have been declared a clear win for the professors and their supporters.   In rebuttal, their principal critics — including the Royal Society NZ, Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater, the Tertiary Education Union and prominent Covid commentators Drs Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy — have not gone beyond asserting that  mātauranga Māori is a valuable and unique system of knowledge that is complementary to science.

This view is not contentious in the slightest — and was explicitly endorsed by the professors themselves in their letter.

So, if most everyone agrees that mātauranga Māori is mostly not science but is nevertheless a worthwhile and complementary form of knowledge, the obvious solution to the standoff over including it in the NCEA curriculum would be to teach it as a component of, say, social studies. But not as part of the science syllabus.

That way, you’d think, everyone wins — Māori knowledge would be taught in secondary schools, and the argument over whether it is sufficiently scientific would vanish.

However, a simple accommodation of this kind was never going to be possible because the NCEA syllabus is merely the tip of a large iceberg of policies to recast our entire science education system — from schools to universities to research institutes — as an equal endeavour between Māori and non-Māori in which mātauranga Māori is everywhere accorded the same status as science.

And thats the rub, because “status” includes money.

More:

The NCEA syllabus represents just one small step in fulfilling a much wider co-governance programme based on a radical view of the Treaty as a 50:50 partnership between Maori and the Crown. For that reason, advocates of incorporating Maori knowledge into the science curriculum cannot afford to concede even an inch of ground to the professors and their supporters lest their stealthy revolution be undermined.

In short, the push to promote indigenous knowledge cannot be allowed to fail at any level for fear it will fail at every level.

The project to gain parity for mātauranga Māori throughout science education and funding is detailed in Te Pūtahitangi, A Tiriti-led Science-Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Published last April, it can be seen as a companion to the revolutionary ethno-nationalist report He Puapua and shows how a radical overhaul of the education system could, or should, be implemented.

This overhaul in fact gives more than equity to Māori when it comes to funding, for their research quality gets weighted 2.5 times as heavily as does research from non-Māori. This is likely to translate into big differences in research funding.  Not even in the U.S. will the NSF and NIH prioritize grants and research evaluations based on ethnicity. The NIH tried to do that, but stopped the practice when it became public and was seen as unfair. One possibility is to fund only projects that involve Māori scientists. But since there’s a paucity of Māori scientists, the NZ initiative is, I think, likely to shake out as “no funding except for projects that combine modern science with MM.”

While the University of Auckland touts how wonderful it is and how much of a world-class research institute it will be, it and the NZ government is simultaneously ensuring that the research quality and reputation of the entire country will go into the dumper. And it’s largely done out of guilt, for equity alone simply cannot justify these actions. Robin DiAngelo would make a pile in New Zealand!

In the next installment (not for a while), I’ll give some examples of MM “ways of knowing” that have been touted as scientific.

What are Maori “ways of knowing”, and should they be taught in science class as coequal to modern science?

December 19, 2021 • 10:45 am

I’ve been describing the big kerfuffle in New Zealand (well, it’s not a huge kerfuffle as the Kiwi public seems to know little about it) involving whether mātauranga Māori, (henceforth MM), which loosely translates to “Māori ways of knowing,”. should be taught as science alongside modern science in both secondary-school; and college science classes. In the past two weeks, I’ve been reading up on these ways of “knowing”, trying to understand them and to figure out how they can (or should) be fit into a science curriculum.  The more I read, the more puzzled I get about what exactly is going to be taught, but that’s no surprise since advocates of incorporating MM into science class are not specific about how and what will be taught. That’s important! There are FIVE questions I’ve had, and I’ll give some quotes below about the issues. At the end I’ll advance some tentative conclusions.

I’ve put references to the quotes as numbers, which you can consult at the bottom of this post.

WHAT IS MM? The definition of MM varies widely depending on what sources you read, but it can be regarded as a combination of theology, philosophy, mythology, morality, and a set of practical tools for how to get things done, both in the practical realm and in the human-relations realm. In quotes below, highlights (except the title are mine:

Mātauranga Māori Principle

This principle refers to the central value and recognition the University accords to Māori knowledges and ways of knowing. It refers also to the responsibility and honour we have as a knowledge institution to develop, nourish, protect, and help revitalise mātauranga, and to learn respectfully from Māori knowledge experts from the University as well as from communities outside the University.

For the purpose of this project, mātauranga Māori is defined as “the unique Māori way of viewing themselves and the world, which encompasses (among other things) Māori traditional knowledge and culture” (WAI262 p6).

Mātauranga Māori encompasses ancient knowledge of the human, natural and spirit worlds as well as modern and creative knowledge of these realms. It is knowledge developed collectively by Māori in the past, present and future. It refers not simply to knowledge but to ways of knowing.

Mātauranga Māori is a taonga, and as such requires protection. While iwi Māori are the primary kaitiaki of their knowledge, the University has an obligation to protect mātauranga Māori, and to provide a safe environment in which mātauranga can flourish. WAI 262 Waitangi Tribunal Report provides detail on the Crown’s kaitiakitanga obligations with regard to mātauranga.  (Source 1.)

Note that MM incorporates “ancient knowledge of the spirit world?” Is that really knowledge? If so, why is it better and truer than the other “ways of knowing” of indigenous people throughout the world?

Another definition:

Mātauranga Māori is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of Te Taiao (the natural world), following a systematic methodology based on evidence, incorporating culture, values and world view. Pūrākau (traditional Māori narratives) and maramataka (the Māori calendar) comprise codified knowledge and include a suite of techniques empirical in nature for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, and updating and integrating previous knowledge. They can be both accurate and precise, as they incorporate critically verified knowledge, continually tested and updated through time. After their arrival in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu many centuries ago, Māori developed various forms of codifying knowledge – many based upon oral delivery – each with its own categories, style, complex patterns and characteristics. Whakapapa is the central principle that orders the universe, demonstrates an interconnectivity between everything, and is a cognitive genealogical framework connecting creation of the universe to everything that exists within it via descent from ancestors. (Source 2)

Another:

Mātauranga Māori is about a Māori way of being and engaging in the world – in its simplest form, it uses kawa (cultural practices) and tikanga (cultural principles) to critique, examine, analyse and understand the world.

It is based on ancient values of the spiritual realm of Te Ao Mārama (the cosmic family of the natural world) and it is constantly evolving as Māori continue to make sense of their human existence within the world.

Eminent Māori scholar Dr Charles Royal describes Mātauranga Māori in this way: ‘he whakaatu, he whakamārama hoki i ngā ahuatanga o te Ao. Mā reira e mōhio ai te tangata ki te Ao, e mātau ai hoki ia ki ētahi whainga, ki ētahi tikanga. He mea ako, he mea whangai’ (2008, p.37).

In short, Royal thinks about Mātauranga Māori as something that helps explain and enlighten us about different aspects of the world around us, and in that process, a person gets to know about and understand some of the different purposes and meanings, some of the different ways of learning about his/her world that can be transferred from one person to another.  (Source 3)

More spirituality being dragged in.

IS MM SCIENCE?

I’ve read much more than the five references below, and it seems that MM is a gemisch of legend, mythology, oral tradition, morality, philosophy, theology, and practical knowledge. The latter, like learning how to navigate using the stars or how to catch eels, or how to judge which parts of the landscape will flood, are what I call “science construed broadly”. This knowledge (“practical knowledge”) is based on trial and error and a form of hypothesis testing—and can lead to empirical predictions. But the rest of MM, including its creationism, its reliance on gods, its spiritual and moral aspects, and its philosophy, are not science, but fall into other realms. If MM is to be folded together and taught as coequal to Western science, only the bits that are “science construed broadly” should be taught.

Hikuroa (reference 2) points out the differences between MM and science, and he appears to be an advocate for teaching MM:

Clearly there are significant similarities between mātauranga Māori and science. Specifically, pūrākau and maramataka comprise knowledge generated consistent with the scientific method. The critical difference is that mātauranga Māori includes values and is explained according to a Māori world view. Some other relevant differences are outlined in Table 1.

Mātauranga Māori is, first and foremost,mātauranga Māori, valid in its own right. Both mātauranga Māori and science are bodies of knowledge methodically created, contextualised within a world view. As demonstrated herein, some mātauranga Māori has been generated according to the scientific method, and can therefore be considered as science. While there are many similarities between mātauranga Māori and science, it is important that the tools of one are not used to analyse and understand the foundations of another (Hikuroa et al. 2011). Thus, mātauranga Māori is mātauranga Māori, scientific in part, and in the context of this special issue, extends the history of scientific endeavour back to when Māori arrived in Aotearoa and Te Wai Pounamu, many centuries ago.

Note the inclusion of values in MM, as well as the “everything that is interconnected” trope, a fuzzy concept at best. We also see spiritual in MM versus “physical stuff” in “science”. Tellingly, “intuition” as a method of knowing applies in MM, but not really in science: intuition isn’t a method, but sometimes a way of thinking of testable hypotheses.  The explicit inclusion of creationism in MM but not in science (a creationism whose story varies from Maori tribe to tribe) makes an important part of MM totally inviable as something to be taught in science class.

Here’s an explanation by the Māori for the creation of humans, all of us descending from a primal couple:

 In the New Zealand story, Tane took his daughter Hinetitama to wife in order that the human species might be continued. They had a daughter who was named Hinerauwharangi. She married Te Kawekairangi, but there is no explanation of how he had appeared on the scene so opportunely. Perhaps there was some adjacent Land of Nod after all. Be that as it may, the Matorohanga version gives human descent as continuing through this last pairing. A genealogical tree gives 28 generations from Hinerauwharangi to Ngatoroirangi, the priest of the Arawa canoe. Percy Smith has made the count from Tane and Hineahuone to approximately the year 1900 as 52 generations. Applying the time measure of 25 years to a generation and adding 50 years to bring it up to the present date, the genealogy reveals that the first human being was created about 1350 years ago, or in the year 600 A.D. The fact that the time is rather short does not render the genealogy less valuable to the person who can memorize and recite it.

This is far younger than Biblical young-earth creationism—it’s the creation of humans 1.3 millennia ago!

Some advocates of MM say that the mythological/spiritual part of MM can also be interpreted literally to comport with science, for example, the single set of primal parents in the creation myth has led some to say that this buttresses evolution and genetics, because it shows that all of us are related.

The way people refute the idea that MM is “just myths” (it isn’t all myths, but includes myths), is also demonstrated by Hikuroa:

Pūrākau are a traditional form of Māori narrative, containing philosophical thought, epistemological constructs, cultural codes and world views (Lee 2009). Pūrākau are an integral part of mātauranga Māori and were deliberate constructs employed to encapsulate and condense into easily understood forms, Māori views of the world, of ultimate reality and the relationship between the atua (deities), the universe and humans (Marsden 2003). In traditional Māori society, pūrākau were fundamental to understanding the world. This is contrary to the widespread belief in the science and wider community that the numerous collections of pūrākau (e.g. Reed 2011) are just myths, ancient legends, incredible stories and folklore. Pūrākau explained as myths invalidate Māori ontological and epistemological constructs of the world, and pūrākau understood as just storiesis an inadequate explanation of the importance of pūrākau in teaching, learning and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge (Lee 2008).

This reminds me of “scientific creationism” in the U.S., in which legend is said to presage later scientific findings. A frequent example used to defend MM is the legend of a giant water-dwelling lizard in New Zealand valley who flicked its tail back and forth, said to explain the floods in that valley that kept the Māori from building their sacred areas there. Like Augustine and Aquinas, who had both a literal and metaphorical interpretation of Scripture, this appears to apply to MM as well: if MM advocates can squeeze legends into the Procrustean bed of science, it supposedly demonstrates that MM is science.

One more bit from reference 3:

Mātauranga Māori provides insight into different perspectives about knowledge and knowing. The Māori epistemological penchant for trying to understand the connections and relationships between all things human and non-human first, ‘what is its whakapapa?’ provides a contrast to the western paradigm that tries to seek knowledge and understanding by a close and deep examination of something or someone in isolation first, ‘what does it/he/she do? What is it for?’

An initial question is, ‘who or what is this thing I am seeing in this world and how do I relate to it?’ Western knowledge’s initial question is, ‘what is the role that this person or thing has?’ In summary, the emphasis on the human element and the impact on the human element differentiates a Mātauranga Māori approach from a Western Pākehā approach. (Source 3)

One could be excused from conflating this kind of MM with modern New Age philosophies in the West.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH TEACHING MODERN SCIENCE? Advocates of MM characterize Western science as white supremacist and colonial, and find it deficient in the spiritual and moral aspects of MM. There are other issues as well—things about modern science said to be a problem. This is from reference 4:

Simplified versions of science taught in schools are collectively known as ‘school science’ in which the big three (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) still reign as specialised subjects in the last two years of the school curriculum. These simplified versions plus the quasi-religious devotion to an outdated ‘lockstep’ version of scientific method add up to a simplistic model of science taught in school that bears very little likeness to the diverse milieus of contemporary working science and scientists (Aikenhead, 2000). The conservatism and resistance to change of school science curricula has been documented for many years (Blades, 1997). It is reasonable to argue that school science must of necessity be simplified by comparison with the real world of working science. But textbook presentations of science also tend to the triumphalist, promoting the successes of science but omitting to mention its failures and disgraces (Ninnes & Burnett, 2001). Distorted textbook versions of science must be considered ideological, although the relevant intentions and effects form complex chains of power, difficult to discern.

Secondary science teachers may believe that teaching science through the scientific method aligns with tertiary science education, making a strong rationale for them to reject the proposed changes. But this belief is flawed on two grounds: first, since contemporary philosophy of science accepts that there is no one ‘scientific method’ (Okasha, 2016); and second, because tertiary science educators are also under pressure to introduce Māori knowledge into their curricula, and may well expect their secondary school colleagues to share this responsibility. The next section considers how science teachers could respond to the challenge represented by these changes in relation to each of the three Māori concepts in the titles shown above.

If school kids are taught that there is a single “scientific method”, as implied above, then that’s wrong. As I note in Faith Versus Fact, the practice of science itself is a toolkit with many tools, includng observation, consensus, predictions, hypothesis-testing, experiments, falsification, and so on. Not all of these tools need be used in any scientific endeavor. As Feyerabend said, “Anything goes”—so long as “anything” involves some of the tools of science. But teaching science is far more than just teaching the methods scientists use: it also involves imparting a body of knowledge to students, and, at higher levels, answering the question, “How did we come to know that?” What is evolution? How do we know it’s true? What happens when chemical bonds are formed? Why do we find marine fossils at high altitudes? And so on and so on. . . . Does MM provide ways to answer those questions that differ from the ways of modern science?

As for the conclusion that science is white supremacist and colonial, I reject it. Yes, science was used in some cases to colonize (invention of weapons and so on), just as architecture and chemistry helped the Nazis build gas chamber to gas Jews. But all that means is that some scientists used their knowledge in damaging ways. It does not mean that science itself is colonialist. The “whiteness” of science reflects that modern science was developed largely by white people–and mostly male. But whether something is true doesn’t depend on the race or gender of who finds it and, thankfully, scientists are becoming much more diverse. Are Asian scientists practicing white supremacy?

SHOULD MM BE TAUGHT IN SCIENCE CLASSES? My answer is, “by and large, no“, because much of MM is not based on science and the methods of MM are not the methods of science. It would simply confuse students to learn two incompatible ways of knowing, for that results in incompatible “facts” (e.g., creationism and evolution) presented as coequal.

This does not mean that the “science construed broadly” of MM—the practical knowledge that helped the Māori thrive and survive, shouldn’t be incorporated into science class. It’s good to do this not just to help Māori connect with modern science, but to show Kiwis that part of the indigenous people with whom they rub elbows were skillful in empirical endeavors using a form of science. But MM should surely NOT be taught as coequal to modern science in schools, and MM should occupy only a small part of science classes. MM, by and large should be reserved for courses on culture, anthropology, and sociology.

Elizabeth Rata (reference 5) has shown some of the deleterious effects that occur when MM replaces science (Rata, a Professor of Critical Studies in Education at the University of Auckland, was one of the signers of the original letter in The Listener):

Curriculum design in New Zealand’s bicultural context tends to favour sociocultural knowledge at the expense of academic knowledge. Here are two illustrative examples. The first is from a study of Māori teachers’ classroom practices (Lynch, 2017). The teachers had benefitted from an academic education themselves and intended this for their own children. However, in line with bicultural policy, they teach a sociocultural curriculum to their Māori students. The social studies teacher has replaced history and geography with kapa haka (traditional Māori dancing and chanting) to ‘provide students with an opportunity to learn… through a Māori lens’ (p. 56). Another teacher rejected the idea of educational success, calling it ‘white success’ and in opposition to succeeding ‘as Māori’ (p. 60). The second example is from the media (Collins, 2020). According to a school principal, the ‘dangers of prescribing a powerful knowledge curriculum’ are because it ‘is about whose knowledge’. A ‘Eurocentric’ approach is ‘a colonial tool of putting old western knowledge ahead of indigenous communities’.

Sound familiar?

WHY THE BIG PUSH, THEN, TO TEACH MM AS COEQUAL WITH MODERN SCIENCE? Everybody knows the answer to this, but dare not say so because it’s the Elephant in the Room. The Māori are being catered to because they were (truly) an oppressed group, and, as reparations, their culture is being valorized—including arguing that MM is science. Further, it’s said that teaching MM will enable young Māori to connect better with science and thus become scientists who will join other working scientists in New Zealand. And yes, Māori are owed a form of reparations and certainly equal treatment morally and legally. But this should not include teaching non-science as science and pretending that the non-science is science. It failed with Biblical “scientific creationism”, and it will fail with MM, except for the parts of MM that are scientific.

Nevertheless, MM will be taught in schools and colleges as a form of science. You don’t have to read much about government and academic initiatives to know that this movement is unstoppable. New Zealand, in this respect, is the wokest of all Western nations, for it’s the only such country willing to corrupt science in the service of equity. I pity the country, I pity its science teachers, and, above all, I pity the children who are bound for a confusing education in science, depriving them of all the wonder and glory of real science. I love New Zealand and its people, but they are being divided along racial lines the same way that we are in America.

Further parallels with the U.S. are palpable. The push for teaching MM is part of the extreme Leftist attack on modern science, propelled by a combination of postmodernism and a desire to dismantle the meritocracy. For science is perhaps the most meritocratic of academic disciplines, since everybody can check on whether you’ve had a good idea that produces truth.

__________________

REFERENCES (links are given to all publicly available documents).

1.) “Pūtoi Ako”, internal document of the Curriculum Transformation Programme of Auckland University

2.) Hikuroa, D. 2017. Mātauranga Māori—the ūkaipō of knowledge in New Zealand. Jour. Roy. Soc. New Zealand. 47:5-10.

3.)  Kia Eke Panuku organization. Undated.  Mātauranga Māori. Online at https://kep.org.nz/assets/resources/site/Voices7-16.Matauranga-Maori.pdf

4.)  Tuari Stewart, G. and A,. Tedoldi. 2021. Bringing Māori concepts into school science: NCEA.  Access: Contemporary Issues in Education. 41:77-81.

5.)  Rata, E. M. 2021.  Curriculum design in a bicultural context.  Research Intelligence. 148:22-23.

Maori “ways of knowing” to be taught as science in NZ universities

December 8, 2021 • 9:45 am

The kerfuffle continues about whether mātauranga Māori, or “Maori ways of knowing”, constitutes an independent form of science that should be taught in school science class as coequal to what we know as “real science”.  As I’ve pointed out before, this coequality is simply ludicrous, for mātauranga Māori is a collection of religious beliefs, superstitions, false assertions (e.g. biological creationism), as well as a few practical truths (e.g., how to trap eels). In other words, it’s by no means equivalent to modern science, and the well-meaning but misguided notion of supporting Maori students (as well as confusing all students) by teaching them “their own science” is a recipe for disaster and scientific backwardness. Even New Zealand’s Royal Society is supporting this disaster:

Richard Dawkins has pointed out the same thing:

Now I think I can speak for Richard when I say that neither of us are trying to denigrate the Maori people themselves, who have a proud history (as well as a history of oppression) that is well integrated into modern “colonial” culture. What we are trying to do is simply defend science and ensure that students who are seeking to learn science are not at the same time swallowing a hefty dose of untruths, religion, and mythology. And so we fight on, knowing that the desire to placate the indigenous people is sufficiently strong among Kiwi academics and government officials that they’re willing to degrade science to support ethnicity. But what they’re doing is disadvantaging Maori youth by buttressing their “ways of knowing” as “science”. That will not help any of them who wish to pursue scientific careers.

Previously I had been unclear about whether mātauranga Māori would be taught as equivalent to modern science in high school alone, or also at university. The following advertisement for a teaching fellow came to my attention, and it clearly implies that yes, universities are going to pollute science with mythology, falsehoods, and superstition.

Click on the screenshot to read the whole thing. Note that this is at the University of Auckland—the premier university in the country.

It’s pretty clear from the list of goals below that Maori ways of knowing are going to be taught as biological science. Bolding below the title is mine:

Te Whiwhinga mahi | The opportunity

Te Kura Mātauranga Koiora School of Biological Sciences (SBS) is seeking to appoint a permanent, full-time Professional Teaching Fellow (PTF) to support the School’s teaching practice and enhance curriculum development in terms of Māoritanga.

The Kaiwhakaako Mātauranga Koiora will work in partnership with other SBS academic staff to support teaching and learning practices that facilitate appropriate integration of indigenous knowledge, te reo, tikanga, mātauranga Māori, and kaupapa Māori into the curriculum.  To achieve this, the successful candidate will work collaboratively with academic staff to understand the opportunities and challenges for incorporating Te Ao Māori into the biological curriculum and will identify potential pathways for curriculum redevelopment and redesign that will support both Māori and non- Māori staff and students, and the wider community in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This is also clear from the qualifications for the job (again my emphasis):

Our successful candidate will bring:

    • Strong experience in teaching relevant to the tertiary sector, preferably in Biological Sciences
    • A post-graduate qualification in biology or related field, although we will also consider applicants with a biology undergraduate qualification and a relevant postgraduate qualification such as in education.
    • Well-developed understanding of principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi and their application in the work environment
    • Understanding of tikanga Māori and confidence navigating Te Ao Māori
    • Proficiency in te reo Māori is preferred
    • Experience of curriculum design and/or pedagogies to integrate mātauranga, tikanga and te reo Māori into courses for diverse cohorts of students.

It’s pretty clear, as other academics in New Zealand have told me, that the incorporation of mātauranga Māori into the biology curriculum is a foregone conclusion. That’s because it’s seen as a form of “inclusion”—misguided though it may be—and a form of inclusion that trumps teaching students real biology and other science.

I would urge New Zealanders and academics to stand up against this development, for its ultimate result will be the world viewing New Zealand’s science as a joke. By all means ensure that Maori have equal rights, and even affirmative action as reparations for their mistreatment, but for Ceiling Cat’s sake do not let their religion and mythology be taught as truth. It’s as if every biology class in American high schools and colleges were forced to teach Biblical creationism alongside evolutionary biology.

Wokeness invades London’s Natural History Museum

October 18, 2021 • 9:15 am

I’ve written twice before about the doings of Anna Krylov, a quantum chemist who’s a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California. She’s had a distinguished career even though she’s still young, but my interest was in her recent piece in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters:  “The Peril of Politicizing Science“, which I highlighted in this post.

The piece is a hard-hitting critique of the intrusion of ideology of any sort—from woke to right-wing to Communism—into science, much of the piece based on comparing what happened in Russia (where Anna lived) with what’s happening with the increasing wokeness of science in the U.S. and U.K.  With statements like the one below, her essay aroused both approbation and opprobrium. Kudos to the brave editor who published it!

A short excerpt. I’ve eliminated her numerical references to make reading easier:

Just as during the time of the Great Terror [in the Soviet Union], dangerous conspiracies and plots against the World Revolution were seen everywhere, from illustrations in children’s books to hairstyles and fashions; today we are told that racism, patriarchy, misogyny, and other reprehensible ideas are encoded in scientific terms, names of equations, and in plain English words. We are told that in order to build a better world and to address societal inequalities, we need to purge our literature of the names of people whose personal records are not up to the high standards of the self-anointed bearers of the new truth, the Elect. We are told that we need to rewrite our syllabi and change the way we teach and speak.

As an example of political censorship and cancel culture, consider a recent viewpoint discussing the centuries-old tradition of attaching names to scientific concepts and discoveries (Archimede’s [sic] Principle, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Schrödinger equation, Curie Law, etc.). The authors call for vigilance in naming discoveries and assert that “basing the name with inclusive priorities may provide a path to a richer, deeper, and more robust understanding of the science and its advancement.” Really? On what empirical grounds is this based? History teaches us the opposite: the outcomes of the merit-based science of liberal, pluralistic societies are vastly superior to those of the ideologically controlled science of the USSR and other totalitarian regimes. The authors call for removing the names of people who “crossed the line” of moral or ethical standards. Examples include Fritz Haber, Peter Debye, and William Shockley, but the list could have been easily extended to include Stark (defended expulsion of Jews from German institutions),( Heisenberg (led Germany’s nuclear weapons program),) and Schrödinger (had romantic relationships with under-age girls). Indeed, learned societies are now devoting considerable effort to such renaming campaigns—among the most-recent cancellations is the renaming of the Fisher Prize by the Evolution Society, despite well-argued opposition by 10 past presidents and vice-presidents of the society.

I added a link to the last example since I was part of that effort.

At any rate, Wikipedia says this about Krylov’s piece:

Krylov is an outspoken advocate of freedom of speech and academic freedom.  She is a founding member of the Academic Freedom Alliance and a member of its academic leadership committee. Her paper, “The Peril of Politicizing Science,” has received 55,000 views and, according to Altmetric, is the all-time highest-ranked article in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Note, though, that Krylov is no opponent of diversity. Like many of us, she is a liberal, and Wikipedia adds this:

Krylov is active in the promotion of gender equality in STEM fields, especially in theoretical chemistry. She created and maintains the web directory Women in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry, Material Science, and Biochemistry, which currently lists more than 400 scientists holding tenure and tenure track academic positions, or equivalent positions in industry, national laboratories, and other leading research establishments. She has delivered several talks on gender equality in STEM including a lecture at the international symposium in Uppsala, Sweden.

Later in August, I reported on a letter written by Krylov and many colleagues to her own university, objecting to public statements by USC’s Department of Gender and Sexuality studies about the Israel/Palestine conflict and the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism at her school.

This is all by way of background for the very short report below. Anna, who was in London, informed me that she had a great trip to the Natural History Museum, one that she documented in some of her pictures of London here.

But there was one fly in the ointment. As she said, “I I was shocked to see these stickers all over the place” in the Museum:

In other words, “Watch this space for self flagellation.”

That sticker bugs me as well. Why does every institution, including  natural history museums, feel that they have to apologize for and somehow rectify the views of our predecessors whose morality doesn’t comport with current views? As Anna said, this isn’t just one sticker—there are many.  I expect that every museum, art gallery, and historical display in the U.K. is going to go this way. They have no choice.

But Anna didn’t just get peeved, she wrote an email to the Museum which I reproduce below with permission (click to enlarge)

If the Natural History Museum responds (I’m not hopeful), I’ll let you know what they say.

Krylov (photo from Wikipedia)

Public acceptance of evolution grows in the U.S.

August 24, 2021 • 11:30 am

According to a survey just published in Public Understanding of Science, acceptance of evolution is increasing in the United States. Click on the screenshot below to read the article (it’s free), or access the pdf here.

The survey continued data collected over 35 years, but a lot of the methodology is described in the Supplemental Materials, which are not given in this link nor on the journal page, where I can’t find this article (it’s clearly an early publication).  Now other surveys have found a smaller percentage of Americans who accept evolution (see below), but it’s surely because of the different ways the questions were asked.

Here’s the question this survey posed to Americans:

The following question was used in all of the years in this analysis:

For each statement below, please indicate if you think that it is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, please check the “not sure” box.

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.

Acceptance must be the sum of “definitely true and probably true”, while rejection would be the converse.

So the question at hand is simply: evolution or no evolution of humans? And for the first time, acceptance of human evolution, now at 54% , was seen in a majority of those surveyed—an increase of 14% in the last decade. Rejection of evolution (red line) appears to be about 37%, while “don’t know” is about 9%. As the authors note, the increase in acceptance since 2009 or so seems to be due more to those who “don’t know” moving into the acceptance column than to rejectors moving into the acceptance column.

If you look at a similar survey of a Gallup poll over 36 years (below), you see a different pattern, but that’s because they surveyed for more than just acceptance of evolution: they asked whether people accepted human evolution as purely naturalistic (22%), accepted human evolution but with God guiding it (33%), or simply rejected human evolution in favor of Biblical creationism (40%). The figure for rejection is pretty much the same as shown in the figure above, but the difference in “evolution acceptance” is undoubtedly due to the fact that “acceptance” below includes evolution guided by God. If you added that up with the naturalistic acceptors, the Gallup poll would show that 55% of Americans “accepted” human evolution, again close to the data above. But there are two types of evolution being accepted, one involving supernatural intervention. (Intelligent design would qualify, in this way, as “acceptance of evolution.”)

The data, then, are not that disparate between the two polls, but the apparently heartening 54% acceptance of evolution in the poll above seems to conceal the fact that most acceptors see a hand of God guiding evolution. I don’t find a teleological or theistic view of evolution all that heartening, for it still gives credence to divine intervention. And although the authors mention that disparate results of different surveys depend on the questions asked, it would have been nice had they compared the data above with that below.

A few other points. First, among the demographic data (age, gender, education, college science courses, children at home, etc.), the most important factor determining acceptance of evolution is whether the respondent took at least one college science course.

But “demographic data” did not include religion, which, as usual, turns out to be the most important factor determining how one answered the new polls. (The authors play this down in the paper, perhaps because the National Center for Science Education, two of whose members or former members are authors of the survey, have always been accommodationists.)

Nevertheless, when you do a path analysis of how these factors interact, and parse out the individual effects of factors that normally interact (for example, Republicans are more likely to be religious, and therefore to reject evolution), you find that “fundamentalist” religion has by far the biggest effect on evolution acceptance—in a negative direction, of course. (Because I can’t access the supplementary material, I can’t see how they determined whether a religious person was “fundamentalist”.)

Here’s the complicated path analysis and the weight of each factor. Religious fundamentalism has nearly twice the effect, in isolation, of any other factor on whether one accepts or rejects evolution.

Two more points. More men than women accepted evolution (57% vs 51% in 2019, a reduced disparity from 1988, when the data were 52% and 41%, respectively). This is probably because, on average, women are more religious than are men. And in terms of politics, here are the data for its relation to evolution. As you might expect, the more liberal you are, the more likely you are to accept evolution, and there is a huge difference between conservative Republicans and Liberal democrats in accepting evolution (34% vs. 83% respectively in 2019).  Republicans just can’t get with the program!

 

There’s one other point I want to mention. The authors claim that it’s really “fundamentalist religion” that’s at odds with evolution, not really other forms of religion, though I’ve maintained otherwise. Here’s what they say:

Religious fundamentalism plays a significant role in the rejection of evolution. The historical explanation of the low rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States involves the central place of the Bible in American Protestantism. In a country settled piecemeal by colonists of varying religious views and without a state church, it was natural for people of faith, especially Protestants who already accepted the principle of sola Scriptura, to privilege the Bible—or their interpretation of it—as the primary source of religious authority and an inerrant source of information about history and science as well as faith and morals. In contrast, religion in European countries is strongly structured by ecclesiastic institutions and the public receptivity to creationism has been limited as a result (Blancke et al., 2014Branch, 2009).

It is thus a particular form of religion that is at the foundation of American anti-evolutionism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, not religion in general (see Coyne, 2012, for a dissenting view). Indeed, evolution is routinely taught in Catholic parochial schools in the United States, and mainstream Protestant denominations similarly accept evolution (Martin, 2010). While not all anti-evolutionism originates in Fundamentalism and its inerrantism about the Bible, it largely reflects a conservative form of Protestantism with relatively inflexible and inerrantist religious views (Scott, 2009), which we have been calling fundamentalism.

I would deny the claim that it’s only Protestant fundamentalism that’s at odds with evolution instead of religious belief in general. I say this for two reasons/

First, across the world, where Protestant fundamentalism doesn’t have such sway, you still see a negative correlation between religiosity and evolution. Here are data I published in a paper in 2012. There’s a strong negative correlation between religiosity and acceptance of human evolution across 34 countries, but it’s significant even omitting the U.S.point. Further, the only country lower in evolution acceptance than the US is Turkey, which is a Muslim nation.

More important, here are data taken from the Gallup survey mentioned above. Look at “religion”. Yes, Protestants are more likely to be creationists than are others (note that they don’t subclassify “fundamentalist Protestants”), but the Catholics, touted above as being good for teaching evolution in their schools, are still 34% young-earth creationist! What is taught is not always what is accepted!

No, it’s religion of all stripes in the U.S. that’s inimical to accepting evolution. I wish the authors would have mentioned these data as well.

Nevertheless, both surveys show a general acceptance of evolution, though I like the data from the Gallup poll better because it decouples theistic evolution from naturalistic evolution. What I teach is naturalistic evolution, and so I want to know what proportion of Americans accept evolution the way I teach it to students.

When will nearly everyone in America accept evolution, then? When America is like Iceland: a country that is basically atheistic.

Scientific American: Denying evolution is white supremacy

August 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

As we’ve seen, the once-respectable journal Scientific American is circling the drain, with an increasing surfeit of articles pushing a particular ideological point of view—a woke one. Well, this article, by writer Allison Hopper, has a bit of science in it, but it’s mixed with politics in such a toxic way that it’s almost funny. It’s full of unsupported assumptions and false claims, is based on no logic at all, and is false in its main claim for two reasons.  Those of you who still subscribe to this rag may want to either write the editor, Laura Helmuth, or cancel your subscription.

Laura had a distinguished career before she took over this journal (she has a Ph.D. from Berkeley in neuroscience and has edited or written for Science, The Washington Post, and Smithsonian). I have no idea why she lets this kind of tripe into her magazine. But she’s less to blame than the author, who doesn’t even have a coherent argument. All Hopper wants to do is show that American creationism has nothing to do with religion, but that white supremacy, not belief in God, is at the core of creationism.

Read and weep: this is a this is a three-hankie article:

Now over the last 12 years I’ve given plenty of evidence that creationism stems from religious belief: belief in the Bible for conservative Jews and Christians, and belief in the Qur’an for Muslims, with both books having their own creation stories. For one thing, I’ve never met a creationist who wasn’t motivated by religion, and all creationist organizations, including the Discovery Institute, are at bottom manifestations of religious belief, regarding evolution as inimical to belief in God. This is so obvious that only someone with a bizarre agenda could deny it.

Well, Hopper does deny it.  She says that the roots of creationism really lie in white supremacy and not religion. Here’s the logical connection that leads her to that conclusion.

a. If two falsities are in the Bible, they can be connected as causal.
b. Two falsities that Hopper deals with are Biblical creationism as limned in Genesis, and the claim that humans started out with white skin and then God, marking the descendants of Cain, made them black.
c.  The supposedly black descendants of Cain have been historically portrayed as bad people, and then as black people, as the “mark” given to those descendants is said to be black skin.
d.  Therefore the Bible evinces white supremacy, since humans, made in God’s image, started out white, but a bad subset of them were turned black.
e.  In reality, human ancestors were black, so even the Bible story is wrong.
f.  The white supremacy story comes from Genesis (4:15), a book that also tells the creation story.
g.   Ergo, creationism stems from white supremacy.

(Note, as I say below, the white supremacy argument is itself based on religion!)

You’ve already noted a number of fallacies in this argument. One is that if two bad things are in the Bible, particularly in the same part of the Bible, they can be connected, and one can assert that one bad part gave rise to the other. Well, there are a number of mass killings in Genesis: beyond the extirpation of humanity by the Flood, there’s also the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah. And of course the Old Testament itself is full of genocide. By this logic, one could say that creationism stems from an impulse to murder. (Indeed, Hopper connects creationism with “lethal effects” on black people!).

The other bit of “evidence” Hopper adduces to draw creationism out of white supremacy is this (I am not making it up):

In fact, the first wave of legal fights against evolution was supported by the Klan in the 1920s.

Well that’s a strong proof, right? No matter that a lot of people who didn’t support the Klan still went after evolution in the 1920s and before.

And that’s all the evidence that Hopper has. She makes no case that creationism comes from a desire of whites to be on top save the occasional depiction of our African ancestors as white people (and, because they’re often men, this shows misogyny as well). But that claim really argues that our view of evolution comes from white supremacy!

Do you think I’m kidding? Here are a few sentences from Hopper’s article:

I want to unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion and recognize that at its core, it is a form of white supremacy that perpetuates segregation and violence against Black bodies.

. . . At the heart of white evangelical creationism is the mythology of an unbroken white lineage that stretches back to a light-skinned Adam and Eve. In literal interpretations of the Christian Bible, white skin was created in God’s image. Dark skin has a different, more problematic origin. As the biblical story goes, the curse or mark of Cain for killing his brother was a darkening of his descendants’ skin. Historically, many congregations in the U.S. pointed to this story of Cain as evidence that Black skin was created as a punishment.

The fantasy of a continuous line of white descendants segregates white heritage from Black bodies. In the real world, this mythology translates into lethal effects on people who are Black. Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible are part of the “fake news” epidemic that feeds the racial divide in our country.

One bit of advice for Ms. Hopper: besides the obvious one that you’re wrong about where creationism comes from, PLEASE stop using the term “black bodies” for “black people”. Yes, I know the phrase is au courant, but it dehumanizes black people in the same way that “slaves” dehumanizes “enslaved people.”  You are using racist language. And what, by the way, are the lethal effects of creationism on black people? Is Hopper speaking metaphorically or literally here?

But I digress.

Hopper is right that the Genesis account of the Bible is creationist, and says that Adam was made in God’s image. But does it say what color Adam was? I don’t think so. It’s just assumed that he was white, but on this point Scripture is silent. In fact, we don’t know, though Hopper asserts it confidently, that the earliest human ancestors were black, though humans certainly split from our closest relatives, the bonobos and chimps, in Africa, and evolved black pigmentation at some point. This is because humans probably evolved from chimplike primates (as “naked apes,” we’re outliers), and chimps happen to have white skin. As the Encyclopedia Brittanica says:

Chimpanzees are covered by a coat of brown or black hair, but their faces are bare except for a short white beard. Skin colour is generally white except for the face, hands, and feet, which are black. The faces of younger animals may be pinkish or whitish. Among older males and females, the forehead often becomes bald and the back becomes gray.

Here’s a photo from Forbes, but you can find lots of photos like this.

Old and young chimps from NBC News:

It’s entirely possible that the first members of the hominin lineage after it split from the chimp lineage had light skin, and darker skin evolved later via natural selection. If this is the case, Hopper’s argument falls apart. But it doesn’t matter, because, really, who cares besides evolutionists and anthropologists—and energetic anti-racists like Hopper—about the skin color of the earliest hominins? I’m not claiming that the earliest members of the hominin lineage were white, and I’m certainly not making a case for white supremacy, for our later hominin ancestors were surely much darker. All I’m saying is that these early hominins could have been white or gray. Hopper has no way to be sure, and in that case she has no argument.

It is likely that after several million years, hominins in Africa did evolve dark skin, and that those hominins were the ones that gave us fire, tools, and other rudiments of culture. But I don’t see how that buttresses Hopper’s argument. Even if it did, her big fallacy is not assuming that the first hominins were black, but connecting white supremacy supported by some religionists with creationism, with the former giving rise to the latter.

Why does Hopper make this argument? Because she has a goal:

My hope is that if we make the connection between creationism and racist ideology clearer, we will provide more ammunition to get science into the classroom—and into our culture at large.

Good luck with that!  Because creationism really comes from religion, and accepting evolution would overturn the faith of many Biblical literalists (about 40% of Americans), you’re not going to change their minds by telling them: “Hey! Your creationism is really a manifestation of white supremacy because the story of Adam and Eve is a tale of white supremacy!”

But were Cain’s descendants really black? Hopper assumes that they were, and that’s how many people have interpreted the story, but let’s read what the Good Book says (King James version; Genesis 4:15).

And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

This is a “mark”, not dark skin, and I can’t find any scholar who interprets the Hebrew as meaning “dark skin”. Furthermore, the “mark” placed on Cain was not to identify him and his descendants as miscreants, but to protect them.  Here, from the King James Bible again, are verses 9-16 from Genesis 4:

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;

12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.

13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

16 And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

The “mark” is clearly given by God to protect Cain, so even if it were dark skin, for which there’s no evidence, it means that dark skin marked Cain and his descendants as people protected by God. How does that comport with Hopper’s narrative?

I’ve already gone on too long picking additional in Hopper’s Swiss cheese of a narrative, but I have one more bit of evidence that tells against her risible theory.  And that is this: historically, in the United States black people have been far more creationist than whites. If creationism draws from white supremacy, then haven’t black people heard the news?

Here are some data from a Pew Study in 2015: see bars 4-6 from the top:

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends: an insupportable argument, weakly based on erroneous science, and gracing the pages of what was once America’s premier science magazine. How low the mighty have fallen!

All I want to add in closing is that Hopper is dead wrong in claiming that the roots of creationism are not in religion, but in white supremacy. And, as the supreme irony in her argument, the “white supremacy” argument is rooted in, yes, the Bible! So even her main thesis is wrong. Yes, no matter how you slice it, even Hopper’s way, creationism is an outgrowth of religion.

In case they ditch this article, I’ve archived it here.

Neil deGrasse Tyson osculates religion, arguing that dissing religion impedes accepting science

August 17, 2021 • 9:15 am

Neil deGrasse Tyson prefers not to go after religion very strongly (though he has on rare occasions), believing that if you diss somebody’s religion, it prevents them from accepting the science you want to purvey—especially evolution. And he’s probably right, at least if you try to cover both subjects in a single lecture. The result is that Tyson is soft on faith, as you can see in the video below.

This video was put on YouTube last year, but I don’t know the venue or the title. Tyson shows a ranking of 34 countries and the degree of acceptance of evolution of their inhabitants. It’s well known data, but Tyson cherry-picks it to try to show that “religious” countries can be relatively high in accepting evolution, touting accommodation and giving us “hope in the world”. At least that’s how I understand his aim. Examples he adduces are these:

a). Britain is high in accepting evolution but was the country where the Anglican religion was founded. Tyson said that this shows that Britain was “a quite religious community” but is still “very high in this evolution support.” (That was centuries ago, and Britain is no longer so religious!)
b.) Likewise in Germany, where Protestantism was born under Luther, acceptance of evolution high as well. Ditto with Catholic Italy.
c.) Eastern bloc countries are low on religion, as you might expect as they were largely atheistic countries under communism, but fall in the middle on accepting evolution

Tyson finds this “hard to understand”, presumably because religion is supposed to be inimical to accepting evolution. He gives an anecdote about sending people who question the absence of God in the AMNH’s Big Bang exhibit over to the “human evolution” exhibit, concluding that the AMNH’s evidence for evolution is much stronger than the Big Bang in buttressing acceptance of evolution (he doesn’t mention physics). I grant him that, but so what?

Tyson then boasts about how he bested Dawkins in a panel discussion, showing a video of their verbal fencing. Tyson asks Dawkins whether, though Dawkins wants badly to promote evolution, doesn’t he undercut that purpose—and his role as “Professor of the Understanding of Science”—by being a vociferous anti-theist? Doesn’t criticism of religion dispel the “sensitivity” needed to get people to accept science?

It’s a fair question, and one that I’ve faced. Dawkins responds by saying, “I gratefully accept the rebuke” and then goes on to give his own anecdote. In the meantime, Tyson narrates the video by showing how successful he was in “dissing the dude” (Dawkins). Tyson is clearly showing off, but implicitly arguing that you can’t criticize religion if you want people to accept evolution.

The answer that I give is that you can be both an antitheist and a promoter of evolution—you just don’t do it at the same time. Does Tyson think that Dawkins should simply take off his antitheist hat and never criticize religion at all? That idea neglects the fact that the downside of religion goes far deeper than merely preventing acceptance of evolution. Look at what the Taliban does, for instance, or how Catholicism has led to all kinds of inimical restrictions on sex, to the terrifying of children, and to pedophilia. Look how hyperorthodox Jews turn women into breeding stock.  Religious wars and disputations have led to the death of millions. Next to that, creationism is small potatoes.

So no, Dawkins shouldn’t shut up. After all, The God Delusion was one of the best sellers of our time, moving more than a million copies.  And as the old Dawkins site “Converts Corner” attests, it helped dispel the religiosity of many people.  So Richard’s antitheism was instrumental in helping drive people away from faith and towards rationality—and science. (Note how many people in the Corner link the rejection of religion with the acceptance of science.)

At the same time, with his evolution books like The Selfish Gene, Climbing Mount Improbable, and (my favorite), The Blind Watchmaker, Richard not only educated people about science, but got them to accept evolution and its marvels. How many people have attested that it was Richard’s writings that brought them to accepting evolution and appreciating science?

So while Tyson may be right about dissing religion and selling evolution in the same lecture, Dawkins has been inordinately successful in not only helping drive religion from our world, but in getting people to accept and love science. You can say that without the first activity he would have been more successful at the second, but Dawkins, like me, has more than one goal in his life.

By the way, if you analyze the data Tyson presents in his talk above, it actually provides some support for the incompatibility of science and faith. What I did in the Evolution paper below (click for free access) was to correlate these 34 countries’ acceptance of evolution with their religiosity. And the correlation was negative. (As President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, which publishes the journal, I got the privilege of publishing one article, and I wrote this one. As you can imagine, it took some trouble to get it accepted, but the journal did print it!).

If you take Miller’s data shown in Tyson’s talk, and correlate it with the religiosity of the 34 countries, with each dot representing a country, you see a strong and significant negative correlation: the more religious a country is (moving right on the X axis), the less likely its inhabitants are to accept evolution (moving down on the Y axis). Here is that plot with the caption from my original figure:

Figure 1. The correlation between belief in God and acceptance of human evolution among 34 countries. Acceptance of evolution is based on the survey of Miller et al. (2006), who asked people whether they agreed with the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” (Original data provided by J. D. Miller.) “Belief in God” comes from the Eurobarometer survey of 2005, except for data for Japan from (Zuckerman 2007) and for the United States from a Gallup Poll (2011b). “US” is the point for the United States. The correlation is −0.608 (P = 0.0001), the equation of the least-squares regression line is y = 81.47 − 0.33x.

Now this shows a correlation, not causation, so it may not show, for example, that belief in God makes people resistant to accepting evolution. Another interpretation is that acceptance of evolution is the causal factor, and that leads people to become atheists (this may be true for some folks). But I think, as I said in the paper, a third factor is in play here that leads to the correlation: human well being. For if you plot either various indices of well being, like the UN’s “Happiness Index” or the “Successful Societies Scale” (a measure of social support) against religiosity, you find out that the happiest people, and the healthiest societies, are the least religious. (See my paper for the evidence) And if you lose your religion because your society, as a healthy and happy one, makes religion superfluous, you naturally begin to accept evolution. (As I always say, “you can have religions without creationism, but you can’t have creationism without religion.”) In support of the idea that low well-being makes one religious, I often cite the full quotation from Marx (most people leave out all but the last sentence):

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

At any rate, I believe Tyson distorts the data by cherry-picking individual points.

Therefore, my explanation for the correlation above, including social causation, is this, written in my Evolution paper:

Creationism in America, then, may be a symptom of religion, but religion in the modern world may itself be a symptom of unhealthy societies. Ultimately, the best strategy to make Americans more receptive to evolution might require loosening the grip of religion on our country. This may sound not only invidious but untenable, yet data from other countries suggest that such secularism is possible and, indeed, is increasing in the United States at this moment. But weakening religion may itself require other, more profound changes: creating a society that is more just, more caring, more egalitarian. Regardless of how you feel about religion, that is surely a goal most of us can endorse.

If you’re interested, read the paper, for it’s written not for professional evolutionary biologists but for the educated layperson.

By the way, the correlation between acceptance of evolution and religiosity also holds strongly for the 50 American states as well. I couldn’t get the data for religiosity of individual states, but in my lecture on the incompatibility of faith and science, I do show a slide in which I there is a bar graph depicting the acceptance of evolution in each state. I found separate data for the ten most religious states (red arrows) and the ten least religious states (blue arrows), and put the arrows next to the states in the bar chart.

As you see below, all the blue arrows are above all the red ones. That is, every one of the ten least religious states has higher acceptance of evolution than all of the most religious states. Why? I think the reason is the same as for the correlation among countries.

 

Thus endeth today’s sermon. Praise Ceiling Cat, and may fleas be upon him. Amen.

How do you change the minds of science deniers?

August 12, 2021 • 10:45 am

This article just appeared in Nature, and while it’s well intentioned, and gives advice that will work sometimes, it’s not, as the author implies, a panacea we can use to convince science deniers of the truth.

Click on the screenshot to read (it’s free).

Now there are lots of techniques for changing the minds of creationists, anti-vaxers, people who think the Jews plotted the 9/11 attacks, and so on. One is good old-fashioned mockery, and don’t think that that’s not effective. There are few things as effective at getting you to examine your views than being laughed at by people you respect (or should respect).  Then there is giving lectures on the evidence, or writing books about it. That’s what I spent much of my career doing to counteract creationists. I debated one of them once (Hugh Ross), but it was clear that the audience (the Alaska Bar Association) was in no position to adjudicate the evidence, and of course debate usually involves rhetoric rather than truth (viz., the “Gish gallop“). I won’t be debating creationists again.

Author Lee McIntyre has another way: a kindlier version of debating. McIntyre has just written a book on the topic; Nature gives his bona fides this way:

Lee McIntyre is a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University, Massachusetts, and author of the forthcoming book How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations With Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason (MIT Press, 2021).

And perhaps the specific beliefs of his opponents—those loons who believe in a flat earth—are the key to his success.

McIntyre feels that the way to convince someone who thinks the earth is a disc that it’s really a sphere involves first gaining their trust by respecting them, and then asking them leading questions.  So he first listens carefully to the deniers and then goes to work. Here’s how he describes it:

So how does ‘technique rebuttal’ work in practice? Here’s my experience. When I attended the Flat Earth International Conference in 2018, I chose to say nothing on the first day, although it was hard to keep my mouth shut when I heard that Antarctica is a wall of ice that keeps the sea from flowing off Earth. By the second day, I was glad I’d waited. I knew if I’d offered evidence, they’d say that space was fake and scientists were liars.

Although I didn’t convince any flat-earthers on the spot, I did learn how to get them to listen. I let them speak, then followed up with questions once the dialogue was rolling. Instead of refuting arguments, I asked, “What evidence might change your mind?” If they said they needed ‘proof’, I asked why existing evidence was insufficient. If they shared a conspiracy theory, I asked why they trusted the evidence for it. By doing that — and not monologuing the facts — I was able to let them wonder why they couldn’t answer my questions.

It is an axiom of science communication that you cannot convince a science denier with facts alone [JAC: I don’t believe that because I’ve seen it happen repeatedly]; most science deniers don’t have a deficit of information, but a deficit of trust. And trust has to be built, with patience, respect, empathy and interpersonal connections. Because I spent the first day listening, even committed deniers were interested in what I had to say.

At one Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, I had two ex-Hasidic Jews come up to me (in a single day!) and tell me that they realized evolution was true when they started reading about it as kids. That led to them abandoning not just creationism (a belief of many Hasids), but their faith—and ultimately they were rejected by their families. But it was the facts that did the job.

Unfortunately, McIntyre doesn’t actually tell us how many—if any—of the flat-earthers came around to his side.  If you know of a panoply of ways to convince science deniers that they’re wrong, the way to find out the best technique is to test the different techniques and compare the results after some months have passed. Nobody’s really done that.  Now virtually all methods will work on some people, but different methods may be required for different people, so I’m wary of McIntyre’s “one method cures all” approach.

He does report that it works (as all methods will) with respect to the vaccine hesitant:

Arnaud Gagneur, a researcher and physician at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada, and his colleagues conducted more than 1,000 20-minute interviews in which they listened to new parents’ concerns about vaccinations and answered their questions. Those parents’ children were 9% more likely to receive all the vaccines on the schedule than were those of uninterviewed parents whose babies were delivered in the same maternity ward (T. Lemaitre et al. Hum. Vaccin. Immunother. 15, 732–739; 2019). One mother told him: “It’s the first time that I’ve had a discussion like this, and I feel respected, and I trust you.”

Well, sure, that would work (to the extent of 9% success), but what if you show them an ad like the one I’ll put up later today: an ad depicting the ravages of Covid? (I’ve suggested something similar before: showing ads with the relatives and loved ones of those who died of the disease giving their heartbreaking testimony?)

What if you showed parents videos of kids with whooping cough or tetanus? Might that not work better? The problem with Gagneur’s experiment is that the control is “no intervention,” not a “different intervention.” If you’re weighing strategies to combat the science-deniers, you have to test them all.

With respect to my own bête noire—creationists—I’m wary of McIntyre’s method, for I’ve used it. When you use it on creationists, and then ask them questions, they don’t start listening to you simply because they respect you more (well, a few of them will), for you’re attacking not just science, but the entire foundation of their faith: the veracity of the Bible. Doing what McIntyre recommends might change some creationists’ minds, but it’s time-consuming. I’d rather lecture on the evidence for evolution, contrasting that with what creationism predicts, and let the chips fall where they may. In fact, just attacking religion itself might be a better way to dispel creationism than discussing scientific beliefs and evidence, for when religion goes, so goes creationism. You can have religion without creationism, but you can’t have creationism without religion.

This is why I’m always wary of those who tell me the best way to convince people of the truth of evolution, or of the efficacy of vaccination. (Remember Chris Mooney’s similar advice?) With science denialists, let a thousand strategies blossom!

So yes, by all means, if you’re so constituted, follow McIntyre’s recommendations below. They surely can’t hurt. But sometimes I just like to point out the follies of faith.

Where should you do this? Wherever science deniers can be found. Speak up in line at the pharmacy. Volunteer to speak at your kids’ school. Or, if you’re ambitious, join me at the upcoming flat-earth convention. I already have a physicist friend coming along.

Those who want to make a difference can learn how to do so. Resources are available through the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in Stony Brook, New York, and the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Public Engagement with Science in Ohio. It isn’t as comfortable as cheering with fellow marchers, but it can be more effective.