Politicizing Science

Over at his blog, atheist actvist Hemant Mehta posted the following:

For the past few years, a member of Congress has introduced a resolution in the House to honor Charles Darwin on his birthday. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) did it in 2011, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) did it in 2013 and 2014, and Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) has did it in the years since.

He just did it again yesterday, introducing the resolution, officially known as House Resolution 44. It designates “February 12, 2017, as ‘Darwin Day’ and [recognizes] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

and adds:

As I’ve said before, it’s nice to see a member of Congress honoring science instead of denying it.

This is all yet another example of activists and politicians stinking up the place with their culture warring.  For this is nothing more than grandstanding that attempts to turn science itself into a political weapon and political debate. This is not “honoring science.”  It is politicizing science.  And the last thing Western civilization needs is the further politicization of science.

Look, I say this as an evolutionist  who accepts Darwinian evolution and who recognizes the importance of Darwin’s work.

The problem here is why, among all the great scientists of history, choose and recognize Darwin as the symbol of  “the importance of science in the betterment of humanity?”  Why a Darwin Day instead of an Einstein Day or a Newton Day?

For that matter, why a Darwin Day instead of a Fleming Day?  If we are to recognize the importance of science in the betterment of humanity, why ignore the scientist who discovered penicillin?  This discovery revolutionized medicine and has saved the lives of billions of people.   There is simply no debate that his discovery has resulted in the betterment of humanity.   It’s something everyone can agree on.

So why a Darwin Day instead of a Fleming Day?  Because everyone could rally around a Fleming Day without click bait controversies and political grandstanding.

I really wish activists and politicians would stop politicizing science.  It is, in the long run, very bad for science.

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18 Responses to Politicizing Science

  1. Dhay says:

    > … House Resolution 44. It designates “February 12, 2017, as ‘Darwin Day’ and [recognizes] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

    If it is important to publicly recognise the importance of science in the betterment of humanity, why not do the obvious, recognise that Darwin would have got nowhere without the scientific method, and honour “the father of scientific method” …

    Bacon has been called the father of empiricism. His works argued for the possibility of scientific knowledge based only upon inductive and careful observation of events in nature. Most importantly, he argued this could be achieved by use of a skeptical and methodical approach whereby scientists aim to avoid misleading themselves. While his own practical ideas about such a method, the Baconian method, did not have a long lasting influence, the general idea of the importance and possibility of a skeptical methodology makes Bacon the father of scientific method.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon

    … by designating it instead as ‘Bacon Day’.

    That should be popular with foodies as well as serious scientists.

  2. Nolan says:

    Let’s be clear that being pro-science does not imply being atheist. Given that this is (or should be) self-evident, it doesn’t make sense to tie the Darwin Day resolution to atheism. There are millions of theists who are pro-science and would support such a resolution.

    Unfortunately, though, there are also millions who are not pro-science, including our future vice president. It is not the fault of the pro-science crowd that much of the misinformation and ignorance about science, such as that displayed by Mr. Pence, is done from a religious stance.

    In the United States there is a long history of religion inappropriately meddling in science education. Darwin has long been the target, not Fleming. Darwin’s ideas are the foundation of modern biology, not Fleming’s. The understanding of science, including evolution and biology, is crucial to the future of the nation and the world. Knowing about Fleming’s accomplishments is nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle in comparison.

  3. Michael says:

    Unfortunately, though, there are also millions who are not pro-science, including our future vice president. It is not the fault of the pro-science crowd that much of the misinformation and ignorance about science, such as that displayed by Mr. Pence, is done from a religious stance.

    Your anti-religious bias is showing. Note how you omit that a New Atheist leader, and winner of the Richard Dawkins awards, is a vocal anti-vaxxer. Note also no acknowledgement of the animal rights movement and its anti-science posturing when it comes to animal experimentation (such posturing has included acts of harassment against scientists and domestic terrorism).

    In the United States there is a long history of religion inappropriately meddling in science education.

    And a long history of scientists and labs being harassed and terrorized by animal rights activists.

    Darwin has long been the target, not Fleming. Darwin’s ideas are the foundation of modern biology, not Fleming’s. The understanding of science, including evolution and biology, is crucial to the future of the nation and the world. Knowing about Fleming’s accomplishments is nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle in comparison.

    What we have here is a matter of personal opinion. And clearly, you helped illustrate the anti-religious motivations behind Darwin Day (there is plenty of evidence of this, BTW). Look, the idea behind another holiday was supposed to be about recognizing “the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.” Because of Fleming’s “nice” work, billions of lives have been saved and bettered. Keep in mind, for example, that most medical procedures would be too risky without antibiotics. One suspects your opposition to a Fleming Day is rooted in the fact that while it does indeed illustrate an excellent example of the importance of science in the betterment of humanity, it doesn’t help your anti-religious posturing.

    Anyone truly and honestly interested in honoring science will choose a great scientist from history who will best unite people around the goal of honoring science. After all, the decision to officially honor science will, by definition, be political.

  4. Michael says:

    Here’s another candidate:

    Edward Jenner, FRS (/ˈdʒɛnər/; 17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English physician and scientist who was the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine.[1][2] The terms “vaccine” and “vaccination” are derived from Variolae vaccinae (smallpox of the cow), the term devised by Jenner to denote cowpox. He used it in 1798 in the long title of his Inquiry into the…Variolae vaccinae…known…[as]…the Cow Pox, in which he described the protective effect of cowpox against smallpox.[3]

    Jenner is often called “the father of immunology”, and his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human”.[4][5] A member of the Royal Society, in the field of zoology he was the first person to describe the brood parasitism of the cuckoo.

    When you think of all the lives that haved been saved by Jenner and Fleming, and the immense positive impact for all of humanity, I’m afraid Darwin’s discovery of natural selection as a primary mechanism of evolution doesn’t hold a candle in comparison.

  5. Kevin says:

    “Anyone truly and honestly interested in honoring science will choose a great scientist from history who will best unite people around the goal of honoring science.”

    I believe it was JT Eberhard – but I could be wrong – whom I asked “Why do you complain that Christians are anti-science, but you trash Francis Collins for writing a book seeking to reconcile certain Christians to science?” The response was that it was unacceptable to reconcile Christianity to science – the intent is to combat religion, not to promote science.

    Darwin, out of every possible option, is promoted for one reason and one reason only – his usefulness as a weapon against certain prominent Christian populations. The goal isn’t the promotion of science at all.

  6. TFBW says:

    Darwin’s unique contribution, in the words of Richard Dawkins, was to make it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. This is why Darwin and only Darwin will do as a candidate for a day of honour: it’s not about his scientific achievements in and of themselves (which are overshadowed by a great many other scientists), but about the politically enabling effect of his theory for those who want the intellectual high ground in the war against God. This is also why folks like Nolan, above, portray allegiance to Darwinism as identical with allegiance to science itself: the theory is politically vital to atheism’s influence in the scientific arena.

    It’s not uncommon to be supportive of Darwin without being an atheist, but it’s hard to be an atheist without being supportive of Darwin. (Hats off to Thomas Nagel for being a notable exception — an exception who has earned an icy glare from the New Atheists for his heresy.)

  7. SteveK says:

    And Edward Jenner did all of that without Darwin. How useful are Darwins contributions? “Not very”, said Jenner

  8. Dhay says:

    > ‘Darwin Day’ … [recognizes] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.

    If you want a day that will publicly recognise the importance of science in the betterment of humanity — science in its totality — you don’t name the day after one particular practitioner of science working in one particular speciality.

  9. FZM says:

    In the United States there is a long history of religion inappropriately meddling in science education.

    This may be a bit of a tangential point to the thread but while there is a lot of concern about religion having an inappropriate influence on science education, has the issue of inappropriate political influence on science education ever been looked at?

    Isaac Newton could be another candidate for having a Science day named after him.

    Some of the scientists who made major world changing medical discoveries are good though because their work illustrates how scientific knowledge has become so highly valued, because people can directly experience its impact in their own lives.

  10. stcordova says:

    Thanks Michael. For years I actually was naïve enough to think people celebrated Darwin Day because they really thought (mistakenly) that he was one of the top 10 ranking scientists of all time. I didn’t realize there was some nefarious reason behind it all. I was naïve enough to think this was being done for the reasons they said, to celebrate what they believed was science.

    But also at the same time, I could not help but notice this was an insult to scientists who are regarded in far higher esteem in the history books. Newton, Maxwell, Faraday, Einstein, Planck and so many others to be added to the list of scientists you mentioned. It seemed to single out Darwin was to insult the legacy of even greater scientists. Something about Darwin Day seemed wrong, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

    I never came to terms with the real reasons until now, because I found it hard to believe people could be so deceptive about their true agenda.

  11. Michael says:

    I wouldn’t say it’s all people. For example, if someone studies evolution or teaches it, it’s probably the case that they simply admire Darwin. But if you are talking about activists who do not study or teach evolution, check to see if they are atheists. I would wager this will be the case. My observations would thus apply to them.

  12. Dhay says:

    Another way to politicise science — Science with an Initial Capital as used by the Reason Rally was always political, likewise Reason — is to insist that Christians ** should be debarred from jobs and positions in science, especially from science’s top jobs and positions. Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris and some other prominent New Atheists tried and failed to get Francis Collins debarred from leading the NIH a few years back.

    ( ** Or other religious people, but it always seems to be Christians in practice.)

    Coyne is at it again: his blog post dated 21 January 2017 and entitled “Yet another accommodationist book” says:

    The authors? Amazon says this:

    Tom McLeish is a physics professor, chair of the Royal Society’s education committee, and an Anglican lay reader. He is the author of Faith and Wisdom in Science. David Hutchings is a physics teacher.

    Chair of the Royal Society’s education committee? What the bloody hell is a theist doing in that position?

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/yet-another-accommodationist-book/

    British law forbids and penalises discrimination against any person on the grounds of — well, a whole raft of grounds, which includes their religion. I’m amazed, frankly, that US law hasn’t caught up, yet — or is Coyne advocating something which would be illegal in the US also.

    Tom McLeish is Professor of Physics at Durham University, a prestigious university, and he’s a full Professor — many of the ranks of ‘Professor’ in the US would be termed mere ‘Lecturers’ in Britain; membership of the Royal Society is open to Britain’s elite scientists only; ‘Chair’ is normally an elected post, so we can expect McLeish was elected and honoured by his elite Royal Society committee peers and has their support and approval.

    I rather think Coyne could not make a rational argument, and realised it: his rant, above, looks very like an SJW-type freak-out, a burst of outraged emotion.

    Suppose Coyne got his way, in Britain or in the US — where does that end? Would he next be writing “Physics teacher? What the bloody hell is a theist doing in that position?” And I’m sure it would soon progress to “President of the United States? What the bloody hell is a theist doing in that position?”

    So what particularly upset Coyne — apart from his knee-jerk hostility to every “accommodationist™” whatsoever!? Well, McLeish’s website asks and answers:

    So why do so many people, and especially sadly, so many young people, think that they have to choose between science and Christian (or any) faith? Sadly the answer is because of misrepresentation and a covering over of truth by all sides:

    * The ‘conflict myth’ was really set off by two books in the late 19th century by Draper and White. Little read today and historically discredited, their polemic nonetheless lies underneath many peoples’ thinking.

    * Bad history, such as representing the Galileo affair as the clash of science with religion (when it can’t have been – all those involved on both sides were Christians and the arguments were almost entirely scientific ones) serve to bolster the impression of conflict.

    * A recent (20th century), theologically bad, way of interpreting the Bible that assumes that it gives us shortcuts to scientific answers, rather than setting out our task, has had terrible effects. For example, the pitting of ‘The Bible’ against ‘evolution’ is quite wrong.

    https://tcbmcleish.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/let-there-be-science-publication-day/

    In short, McLeish’s book Faith and Wisdom in Science is the very antithesis of Coyne’s own Faith vs Fact. No wonder Coyne has triggered.

    *

    Oh, and Coyne’s probably out of sorts because dogs are reportedly supplanting cats on the internet; that must be a heavy blow to a man so besotted with Polish talking cats:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38702996

  13. stcordova says:

    “I wouldn’t say it’s all people. For example, if someone studies evolution or teaches it, it’s probably the case that they simply admire Darwin. But if you are talking about activists who do not study or teach evolution, check to see if they are atheists. I would wager this will be the case. My observations would thus apply to them.”

    You’re right, that actually makes me feel better about the ones with innocent motives (some of them are my friends). Thanks for setting me straight.

  14. Dhay says:

    From my last response > … [Jerry Coyne’s] rant, above, looks very like an SJW-type freak-out, a burst of outraged emotion.

    Coyne seems to be a very, er, emotional person — positively weird, indeed: there’s his atheist conversion story, his obsession with fantasy Polish talking cats, his being ‘triggered’ by anything and everything he can label “accommodationism™” or “accommodationist™” or “accommodatheist™” into rants; or there’s his long-standing apparent inability to write the words “tw**t”, “d*g” and “G*d”; or his more recent on/off inability to write the words “Pr*s*d*nt” or “Tr*mp”.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/?s=*&searchsubmit=Find+%C2%BB
    (And ‘Older posts’ pages.)

    *

    Richard Dawkins famously said that:

    An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: ‘I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.’ I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

    Reading Coyne’s blog, it’s very easy to conclude that any variant of “accommodationism™” challenges Coyne’s concept of Darwinist evolution, ditto anything that challenges hard determinism such as, well, any variant of ‘free will’ which doesn’t boil down to unfree hard determinism; and it’s very easy to conclude that for Coyne, these make it impossible for him to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

    Why else the freak-outs.

  15. Dhay says:

    In his 24 January 2017 blog post entitled “Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) on The Rubin Report” Jerry Coyne says:

    There was of course, some discussion of politics and religion, some of which came from my view that the most effective thing we could do to get people to accept evolution would be to get rid of those religions that condition people to reject it (that includes Catholicism, which, although officially accepting evolution, also accepts the view that Adam and Even were the progenitors of all living humans, and 27% of whose American adherents reject evolution despite the Vatican’s stand). And, to get rid of religion, you need to effect social improvement.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/professor-ceiling-cat-emeritus-on-the-rubin-report/

    What does Coyne expect: if you seek to create an equivalence in the public mind between Darwinian evolution and atheism, a corollary is that you create the conditions for those who reject atheism to also reject Darwinian evolution.

    If you politicise science, you must accept the consequences.

  16. Dhay says:

    Hemant Mehta has just posted an anti-science blog post. I don’t know the ins and outs of US local legislation, so I’ll take the matter as being sufficiently accurately represented in his post:

    Science denial isn’t just coming from the White House.

    SB 55, the bill in South Dakota intended to weaken the teaching of evolution, just passed through the Senate Education Committee on a 4-3 vote.

    The bill would allow teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses of scientific information” — which is really just code for teaching things like climate change denial and Intelligent Design.

    [My emboldening.]
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/01/25/south-dakota-anti-evolution-legislation-gets-through-senate-education-committee/

    Just think of it: that excellent pro- good science, anti- bad science book by Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, likewise it’s sequel focussing on the drug companies, Bad Pharma, both of which do an excellent job of discussing the “strengths and weaknesses of scientific information”, would be banned from schools.

    Ditto any teacher-led discussions on the same subjects: does Mehta (and the crowd whose ill-considered prejudices he is pandering to) not want sceptical reasoning skills taught in schools?

    Students will, presumably, still be required in class or homework to use evidence and rationality ** to assess (eg) the motivations of Lady MacBeth, and whether Mr Darcy might be a bi-polar disorder sufferer. It seems strange to me that the skills of hypothesis formation, evidence assessment and rational thinking, including the ability to assess the pros and cons of your own and others’ thinking should be essential to English Literature, or History, or [insert subject here], but not essential to Science education.

    It could be argued that Mehta wants “proven” science to be unchallenged; but I observe that the claim that there is a consensus on climate change has been challenged by statistician WM Briggs, who tore a paper allegedly supporting claim apart on the grounds of bad, misleading statistics; and whether evolution is Darwinian (including Neo-Darwinian) or consistent with some versions of Intelligent Design is underdetermined by the evidence.

    Then there’s quantum mechanics and general relativity, each of which is confirmed evidentially by many experiments, in many ways and to a very high degree of precision, yet which are incompatible; should the incompatibility be swept under the carpet? Or there’s the competing interpretations of quantum mechanics. These are Physics undergraduate level concerns, but you wouldn’t shield Physics undergraduates from these scientific issues, nor school students from scientific issues at the level appropriate to their age and understanding – would you? Mehta would, it seems.

    Seems to me that Mehta is anti-science and anti-rationality.

    *

    If you don’t allow teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses of scientific information”, you give a free pass to climate change denialism, to homeopathy, to anti-vaxx ideas, even to astrology (which is impeccably scientific at the calculational level.) And that if there had been no discussion of the “strengths and weaknesses of scientific information”, we would still be stuck with phlogiston.

    Beware politicising science.

    *

    ( ** I note that the New Atheist conception of the breadth of what “science” comprises would include English Literature, and History, and [insert subject here] in “science”. If Mehta were to take the same line, his objection to intelligent critical examination of the issues in science would also extend to not giving intelligent critical examination to issues in English Literature, and History, and [insert subject here]. Oh, and where does it stop: are public universities to be debarred from teaching intelligent critical examination of issues – issues in general, in any subject – because anything involving reason and evidence and probing is allegedly “science, broadly construed”.)

  17. Dhay says:

    It was perhaps inevitable that Jerry Coyne would climb aboard the anti-SB55 bandwaggon alongside Hemant Mehta, and he has done so. In his blog post dated 28 January 2017 entitled “South Dakota Senate approves anti-evolution bill” Coyne provides a fuller and more informed objection to the SB 55 Bill than Mehta did, see my last response, but not a good one.

    The Bill is short, says Coyne; here’s the meat:

    No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/south-dakota-senate-approves-anti-evolution-bill/

    In my ignorance of the US and its ways I’ll assume that “the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48” are, in British English, the curriculum.

    If so, my only criticism is that it is only scientific information which is now (if the Bill passes) to be expressly allowed to have its strengths and weaknesses understood, analysed, critiqued and reviewed objectively: surely everything taught should be; surely that’s the gold standard of education.

    Coyne continues, lamenting that the alleged avoidance of making it “an explicitly religious-based bill” “makes it even worse because “scientific information” can pertain to global warming”.

    For myself, my heart bleeds for any scientific theory which needs protection from any expression of dissent, which needs thought-police to stifle alternative views. If you are serious about promoting ‘Science and Reason’, and these are not to be just a political slogan, you need to promote science and reason.

    But it’s evolution which is Coyne’s bottom line, literally, as per his link to a 2005 Guardian article which Coyne co-authored with Richard Dawkins; it’s a long article, so I’ll try to extract a representative flavour:

    In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) “default” assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of “let’s teach both sides”. One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty – the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2005/sep/01/schools.research

    I can sympathise with this passage to a point; but Theory B (Intelligent Design) comes in several flavours, B1, B2, B3 … and some (though not all) of these flavours are underdetermined by the evidence; which is to say that scenarios where there is a God who occasionally meddled, or who took accurate aim and didn’t need to meddle thereafter, (there may be more) are as consistent with the evidence for Coyne/Dawkins type mechanistic deterministic evolution (Theory A) as that Theory A is – the evidence doesn’t enable us to decide one way or the other. On the evidence we have, Theory A succeeds only against some of the variants of Theory B.

    That there is such a thing as underdeterminism by the evidence, and practical examples of cases where that happens, is surely something that should be taught.

    But no, the very idea is a ‘trigger’, and the Guardian article is an outburst in response.

    Coyne and Dawkins would like us to think their article fully scientific and fully rational; but I see both its strengths and its failings.

  18. TFBW says:

    Coyne inhabits a simple, black-and-white world where one is either entirely supportive of Evolution (and thus Science), or an enemy of it (and thus a proponent of Religion). Any legislation which allows that Evolution might have “weaknesses” is therefore an obvious Creationist plot. It’s really that simple. For Coyne, the Science/Religion divide is not only an intrinsically political thing, but also a binary, polar, political thing: the players are Science and its mortal enemy, Religion. He’s even opposed to anyone who sees the landscape in anything other than black-and-white terms, which is why he has his trademark term of contempt, “accommodationist”.

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