Sunday, March 29, 2020

What's Wrong with Philosophical Arguments? (continued)

 
New Version: In keeping with the theme of this essay,
this is a revised version based on edits from before and
after a Human Values Network meeting discussion.
This is the result of a collaboration, without giving credit to
individuals who made the contributions. (People are welcome
to add comments at the end of this article.)


Summary: Are debates between adversaries the best way to
establish what is true?  Is it better to use more cooperative
methods?


Is there a problem with the way the arguments and discussions are made 
when they are done in an adversarial, confrontational way?  Prof. Martin Lenz 
argues in the following excerpts from his article that there are problems 
with the way philosophical arguments are done.  Interested readers should 
follow the link and read the entire article.  (Prof. Lenz will have a book 
coming out soon.)

Maybe I should explain what I mean by an adversarial argument, 
for people who are not involved in science or academia.  
A classic example of an adversarial situation is a legal 
trial in which there is a prosecution and a defense lawyer 
and they are opposing each other, in an effort to give both 
sides to a judge or jury, to come to a decision that is reasonable.  
Academic adversarial situations don't have both sides in the same 
room, and they can go over decades.  One scholar may write a paper 
or give a talk at a conference that makes a hypothesis to explain 
 a observation.  Perhaps at the same conference, or over time in 
print, others criticize or point out limitations.  These can lead 
to arguments or disagreements that can last for years.

Being known for a discovery may help the academic get grants or funding, 
so there may be a monetary reward.  But that reward is usually a secondary 
consideration.  The main motivation is to be known for a discovery, for 
getting a reputation for expertise, and for recognition among peers.

Exerpts from article at 
https://aeon.co/ideas/the-adversarial-culture-in-philosophy-does-not-serve-the-truth

Professor of history of philosophy explains why adversarial
criticism is antithetical to truth
By Martin Lenz

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been 
republished under Creative Commons.
Written January 12, 2020 

"Philosophical discussions, whether in a professional setting or at the bar, frequently consist of calling out mistakes in whatever has been proposed.... This adversarial style is often celebrated as truth-conducive. Eliminating false assumptions seems to leave us with truth in the marketplace of ideas... "I doubt that it is a particularly good approach to philosophical discussions.... [It implies that] Claims are either true or false; arguments are either valid or invalid.... "...A more fluid attitude towards authorship [is] if you discuss an idea among friends, tossing out illustrations, laughing away criticism and speculating about remote applications. "The appropriate metaphorical resources for naming this philosophical practice should not be derived from warfare but from playgrounds, where reinvention and serendipity guide our interactions." "[But then] whose idea is it at the end of the night?..."
This last point gets into the issue of why people do this sort of thing in the first place, namely to get credit for the idea or "own" it. They are remembered for the idea. They want to be remembered by getting their name on a Law or Principle or Hypothesis. This is a source of meaning for people's entire careers as scientists or scholars in some subject area. Lenz makes good points but for somewhat wrong reasons, in my opinion. For a lot of problems in society, the solution has to come from getting people to cooperate to act together. If one smart philosopher comes up with an answer but can't convince other people to do it, then it won't solve the problem. If he/she can address criticism but not in a way that is inspiring and charismatic, people won't follow the lead even if they can't see a logical flaw. They must be convinced to buy into the goal and the path forward. This is a reason that, in business, a committee is needed to work on a project, because if many people don't agree to work on it, the project won't get done. That doesn't mean that there aren't questions with true/false answers that can be decided by adversaries. That's the way the court and legal justice system is set up to determine if someone is guilty or not guilty. This also leads into another point that Lenz makes. When a group solution is accepted and then modified by a group discussion, the idea doesn't belong to one person any more. One person may have originated the initial idea. But the person can't continue to claim ownership if there are contributions from many people. In the world of science, this issue is addressed by having multiple authors on publications. Usually, there is no notation about which author worked on which part of the paper. In movie projects, there are credits at the end that go on for many minutes with details about who had which jobs. But if you buy a product like an iPhone, it has a company logo on it, but who knows what person actually worked on which parts? There may be a wonderfully innovative part of the phone that no one knows who came up with the idea. It is also a problem of coming up with new ideas and finding new ways to encourage new ideas and new ways to do things that can solve social problems. As Lenz wrote, new ideas come from a sense of play, which takes an extra kind of trust and collaboration. Are the ideas for free, and people only get paid for the work of developing them? Some say that Ideas are a dime a dozen, so they are cheap. Is work the only thing that is paid for? Patents can be filed for new inventions, but the inventor doesn't get paid unless there is actually a product or service that is developed and sold based on the patent idea. Getting solutions to work, like getting videos to "go viral," is an entirely different effort from coming up with an idea. It comes from marketing to promote an idea. It is getting others to be excited about it. If people are only paid for promoting ideas, but not for coming up with new ideas, will we have a society that advertises but doesn't create? As an example, I just heard a lecture on Da Vinci. He had a lot of engineering drawings of inventions with exploded diagrams showing the parts to machines. Even now, it is not known whether he actually invented the machines, or whether he just drew machines that were in common use that someone else built. Is he getting some credit just because he was the guy who wrote it down and made the drawings? During the group discussion, people pointed out a number of ways that ideas and development work are done without giving credit to anyone. Open source software is written with input from many people. Glenn Curtiss developed many inventions for airplanes in the 1910-1920's that were shared, partly with competitors like the Wright Brothers' company, to help build new planes, partly for the World War I effort. Curtiss was very successful. Jonas Salk didn't parent polio virus in order that everyone had access to it. Thomas Edison took a lot of credit for inventions that were collaborations of his research lab. See recent movie "The Current
War" between Edison and Tesla.

There are collaborations, brain-storming sessions, and networking 
at conferences, in addition to presentations by individual or 
groups of authors.

There is an expression that good managers try to give 
credit to others rather than take credit for themselves to be successful.

Friday, February 14, 2020

What's wrong with Philosophical Arguments?

Summary: Are debates between adversaries the best way to 
establish what is true?  Is it better to use more cooperative 
methods? 
 
 
People have had philosophical arguments for thousands of 
years.  There has been some progress on some problems, 
but there are some topics, like ethics and rules of behavior, 
that have not given rise to rules that are considered to be 
philosophically definite. 
 
Is that because the problems are difficult, or is there a 
problem with the way the arguments are made?  Prof. 
Martin Lenz argues in the following excerpts from his article 
that there are problems with the way philosophical arguments 
are done.  Interested readers should follow the link and read 
the entire article.  (Prof. Lenz will have a book coming out soon.)

Exerpts from article at https://www.alternet.org/2020/01/professor-of-history-of-philosophy-explains-why-adversarial-criticism-is-antithetical-to-truth/
Or https://aeon.co/ideas/the-adversarial-culture-in-philosophy-does-not-serve-the-truth

Professor of history of philosophy explains why adversarial criticism is antithetical to truth
By Martin Lenz

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Written January 12, 2020  
  
 "Philosophical discussions, whether in a professional  
setting or at the bar, frequently consist of calling out 
mistakes in whatever has been proposed.... This  
adversarial style is often celebrated as truth-conducive. 
Eliminating false assumptions seems to leave us with 
truth in the marketplace of ideas...  I doubt that it is a 
particularly good approach to philosophical discussions.... Claims  
are either true or false; arguments are either valid or invalid....

"...A more fluid attitude towards authorship [is] if you 
discuss an idea among friends, tossing out illustrations, 
laughing away criticism and speculating about remote 
applications, whose idea is it at the end of the night?...

"The appropriate metaphorical resources for naming this 
philosophical practice should not be derived from warfare 
but from playgrounds, where reinvention and serendipity 
guide our interactions."


 Lenz makes good points but for somewhat wrong reasons. For a lot of problems in society, the solution has to come from getting people to cooperate to act together. If one smart philosopher comes up with an answer but can't convince other people to do it, then it won't solve the problem. If he (or she) can address criticism but not in a way that is inspiring and charismatic, people won't follow the lead even if they can't see a logical flaw. They must be convinced to buy into the goal and the path forward. This is a reason that, in business, a committee is needed to work on a project, because if many people don't agree to work on it, the project won't get done. 

That doesn't mean that there aren't questions with true/false answers that can be decided by adversaries. That's the way the court and legal justice system is set up to determine if someone is guilty or not guilty. But even questions that look like they should be this kind of problem, like "Is it good to believe in God?" or "Is it right to kill?", can depend on situations or the group that a person is in. If someone is born and raised as a fundamentalist among a fundamentalist community, then the answer to the first question may have to be yes. For a soldier in battle, the answer to the second may also be yes.

This also leads into another point that Lenz makes. When a group solution is accepted and then modified by a group discussion, the idea doesn't belong to one person any more. One person may have originated the initial idea. But the person can't continue to claim ownership if there are contributions from many people. 

In the world of science, this issue is addressed by having multiple authors on publications. Usually, there is no notation about which author worked on which part of the paper. In movie projects, there are credits at the end that go on for many minutes with details about who had which jobs. But if you buy a product like an iPhone, it has a company logo on it, but who knows what person actually worked on which parts? There may be a wonderfully innovative part of the phone that no one knows who came up with the idea. 

This may seem like a modern problem that applies to intellectual property, but the same issue goes back to the dawn of civilization. As soon as people sold their labor and lost control of the goods that they produced, they lost the credit and meaning for doing the labor. For their effort to have a meaning, they had to get something meaningful in return. This may be the reason that money has gotten its value, not just as a measure for exchanging goods but also as a important value in itself. Money represents the way that labor matters in society. Similarly, for this reason, slavery has failed as a way to provide labor in society because slaves aren't given anything that shows the value of their effort. They only get punishment if they stop working. 

Group efforts are as old as civilization, but they are getting more important in technological society. How do we find a way to share credit on a group project? For example, I posted a version of this essay online. What if I edit it to add comments from the discussion of a group? Is the essay still mine, or do I have to add coauthors or give credit to people who made contributions? 

A current example is given by the website TikTok. People make 15 sec videos of lip synching or dancing to a song. The site is Chinese and they don't worry too much about copyrights. But it raises the question of who owns the video. Is the dancer stealing the music, or is it a friendly collaboration?  What happens if the videos help to promote the song to make it a number one hit, as happened for the song "Old Town Road"?

The modern problem is still whether people are paid, and what they are paid for. It is also a problem of coming up with new ideas and finding new ways to encourage new ideas and new ways to do things that can solve social problems. As Lenz wrote, new ideas come from a sense of play, which takes an extra kind of trust and collaboration.  

Are the ideas for free, and people only get paid for the work of developing them? Should ideas be valuable, or is work the only thing that is paid for? Patents can be filed for new inventions, but the inventor doesn't get paid unless there is actually a product or service that is developed and sold based on the patent idea. In government, companies write proposals with ideas about what they plan to do, but the proposals are written for free. They don't get paid until they carry them out.

Getting solutions to work, like getting videos to "go viral," is an entirely different effort from coming up with an idea.  It comes from marketing to promote an idea.  It is getting others to be excited about it.  It may even come from an employer who says "Do it in a new way or else you'll be fired."   

If people are only paid for promoting ideas, but not for coming up with new ideas, will we have a society that advertises but doesn't create? Is that the kind of society that we want to have?



Wednesday, January 01, 2020

How to get social change without wanting it

"Game of Thrones’ final season told flattering lies about wanting power." Although the article was about the TV show, it seems to me that the point of the article can be applied to the problem of activism and achieving social change.  But allow me to explain.

For anyone not familiar with Game of Thrones plot, the show is set in a fictional medieval time period in which several characters are competing to become the absolute ruler of the Seven Kingdoms by sitting on the Iron Throne.  One of the leading candidates, and a fan favorite to become ruler, was a woman named Daenerys (or "Dany") Targaryen.  But in the final three episodes of the series, this character strangely and inexplicably changes from a benevolent ruler into a tyrant who shouldn't be queen.  (I won't give away any spoilers from the plot, but this transition has generated a huge amount of fan criticism about the conclusion of the show, including a movement to redo the ending of the series.)

VanDerWerff also criticizes this transformation of the character, writing:
The argument the show tried to advance throughout its run was that Dany’s desire for the Iron Throne had caused her to lose sight of her larger goals — that the truest way to determine who should gain power was looking for someone who didn’t actually want to sit on the Throne. Lord Varys came right out and said this..., “Have you considered the best ruler might be someone who doesn’t want to rule?”  
VanDerWerff continues by arguing that the desire to be queen shouldn't disqualify a candidate from being queen.  Why should that make any sense?  Does wanting a position of power immediately make a person power-mad and therefore undeserving of having power, because they may be tempted to use the power for their personal benefit?

In order to understand this problem, it is important to understand the role of prosocial behavior (sometimes called "altruism") in the role of a ruler.   I've written previous essays about the development of prosocial behavior from group selection in evolution, here and here.  

The prosocial behavior of a ruler or leader is useful to the group if the leader is thinking about the best interests of the entire group, not just the best interests that are personal to the leader alone.  A leader like a king, general, or CEO of a corporation has their authority recognized by members of their organization because they are given the responsibility to act in ways that are a benefit to the entire organization.  For complex organizations, without a leader of that kind, the organization would simply fall apart and be ineffective.

But even though a leader has the responsibility for the entire organization, the person still has personal interests.  No one who understands human behavior would think that personal interests are erased.  As a result, the leader has to show a balance in their behavior.  They have to demonstrate their interest and commitment in the organization to keep the trust of the members.  They have to make their personal interests look secondary, even if these interests aren't actually less important to the leader.

This dichotomy can look like it is a deception, or it can actually be a deception.  The best leaders with oratorical capabilities can convince most of the members of the group that they are sincere.  Barack Obama used the slogan "Yes We Can" to convince people to work together to solve problems under his leadership.  John F. Kennedy had the memorable line in his inauguration speech, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." On the other hand, Pres. Donald Trump is clearly personally benefiting in financial ways from his presidency from his hotels and real estate rentals, although he claims he is losing money compared to what he could otherwise make. However, such claims may make him look more truthful to some people compared to other politicians who claim to be altruistic.

These conflicts of interest can be troubling for dictators or absolute monarchs.  To return to Game of Thrones, the idea of giving absolute power to a monarch with personal goals and no oversight can be dangerous.  This is the source of discomfort for aristocrats about a ruler like Dany, who may make choices based on her personal goals and preferences that are binding on the entire society.  Dany would have to give an indication that she could restrain her goals based on advice from her advisers.

Activists who are attempting to create social change have a similar problem.  They have a personal conviction that change to society is necessary, and they have a personal stake in causing society to change.  But that personal interest is exactly what makes them suspect as leaders.  In the same way as Dany, it is difficult for followers or other members of society to know whether the activists will show restraint and prudence to the opinions of others, if they are given positions of power.

This kind of conflict of interest is unavoidable in group selection.  For a leader to generate social change among all the members of society, they have to look like they don't want it too much.  They obviously want it to some degree, but they have to be willing to yield their desire to social pressure and political prudence.  Abraham Lincoln is considered to be a great president because he had the ability to balance many competing interested among factions of people, rather than simply considering his own opinions.  

Good leaders or social activists have to convince other people that the ideas and goals are good for everyone, but if other don't agree then they won't be forced to agree.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

I am not afraid of social justice

By Mathew Goldstein

It is unfortunately common for religious institutions, including colleges and universities, to require various employees to sign a statement of belief as a condition of employment. Students are also sometimes required to sign a statement of belief. Dissenting from that statement can result in being disemployed or dis-enrolled. This is no big surprise to anyone, religion and ideology are like hand and glove.

Right wing political commentary in particular exhibits a tendency to be hyper-partisan. President Trump promotes this divisive partisanship and he is operating in a larger environment of hyper-partisanship within the Republican Party at large that pre-dates his election. Almost everything is painted good or bad based primarily on whether it supports or opposes the agenda of the Republican Party as defined by the elected leaders with close to every other consideration being assigned secondary priority, resulting in lots falsehood and hostility. Unfortunately many people appear to be attracted to this hyper partisanship. The same religious people who tend to be associated with those religious institutions that impose belief statements on employees and students are disproportionately supportive of the Republican Party.  The reasons for this are most likely multi-dimensional, but I would be surprised if these two aforementioned negative tendencies are not related to each other and are not reinforcing each other.

Secular institutions, insofar as they prioritize free-thought, tend to have more academic and intellectual integrity. But free-thought at our secular colleges and universities is also under attack. And this attack originates mostly from Leftist activists. Motivated in part as a counter reaction to a nasty tendency within the Right to malign some minorities, and also to the influence the Right has with the Republican party that controls many states and most of the federal government, the Leftist attacks on free-thinking have become a significant problem. Former president Obama has recently joined a growing chorus of people who are speaking out against the intolerant and authoritarian excesses exhibited among some on the Left. 

The Left tends to predominate in secular academic institutions, and it is often in such institutions that they have been shouting down and blocking, sometimes even physically attacking, speakers who they decide should not be allowed to speak. They issue demands on their schools, including demanding that particular people be fired or that people be hired based on their willingness to endorse Leftist ideology. They demand that campus newspapers take sides when reporting news by excluded expressions of opinions or perspectives that they dislike, or by not interviewing people they dislike, or by not interviewing anyone who works for employers that they do not like. They engage in unrestrained campaigns of denouncement, hostility, and ostracism, to intimidate other students and faculty into restricting their expression and goading them to express Leftist compatible views. 

A recent example a lack of commitment to facts and destructive control over school policy exercised some on the Left at some academic institutions is the Gibson’s bakery incident. Gibson’s Bakery won $31.5 million in punitive and libel damages and attorney fee reimbursement from Oberlin College because school staff actively sided with students and some faculty who falsely accused the bakery of racism and promoted a boycott of the business, starting the day after a black student too young to legally purchase alcohol was arrested for shoplifting several bottles of wine while requesting to purchase one bottle. In the absence of a commitment to facts, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. 

About six students are arrested each year for shoplifting at that bakery, most of them caucasians. Local businesses where students shop absorb a significant yearly cost from shoplifting, most of which is by students, so they have good justification to be intolerant of shoplifting. To this day Oberlin College is in full denialism mode, refusing to acknowledge its responsibility for stopping its purchases from the bakery and for allowing its employees to publicly endorse and promote the racism slander based boycott while they were on the payroll. Gibson’s bakery, which has been in business continuously since the late 1800’s and barely survived going bankrupt during the boycott, is only one high profile example of this problem. There are an ever increasing number of innocent victims of misdirected Left wing attack campaigns, with the passive or active support of faculty and sometimes also the academic institutions. If this continues then there should be more such lawsuits with large monetary awards against this mismanagement by those academic institutions.

An explanation of how the Left is promoting its own brand of censorious, discriminatory, anti-intellectual, self-righteously judgmental, closed minded, ideology under a “Social Justice Warrior” banner, from inside secular institutions, successfully targeting some colleges and universities in particular, often with support from some professors or university executive staff, written by Lee Jussim, a professor of social psychology at a Rutgers University, My Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement has been published on Quillette.com. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Impeach Trump

It is important for Congress to impeach Trump, and not for the political reasons of favoring Democrats.  The reason is that Trump is clearly taking pride in breaking or violating any and every norm that has been part of the presidency and the federal government since the time of George Washington.  Perhaps the norm-breaking was inevitable.  Other presidents have also broken norms, and in the process expanded the power of the office of president.  But Trump has taken it to new levels.  He, and his lawyers, are now taking the position that the president is exempt from oversight by Congress for anything.  He is arguing that he can legally shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and nothing will happen to him.

This is simply unacceptable, and it violates the entire principle of separation of powers and checks and balances that is an integral part of the U.S. Constitution. 

It is important for Congress to take this opportunity to specify exactly what actions that Trump is taken that are impeachable offenses.  The impeachable offenses have been poorly defined in the past, mostly because past presidents have done little that rises to the standard.  Pres. Bill Clinton was impeached for one lie under oath.  Other presidents weren't impeached even after actions that may have been far worse, like Pres. Reagan's Iran Contra scandal.  But none of these presidents took the extreme efforts of Trump to get away with anything he can possibly get away with.

Congress also has to take measures to punish witnesses who refuse to testify, or testify falsely.  It is clear that Trump will tell everyone not to testify.  Without actual punishment to these people by Congress, this effort to obstruct justice will clearly continue as long as he can get away with it.

I just sent the following message to several members of Congress.  At this point, it appears unlikely that Trump will be removed from office, because he seems to have the unrestricted support of Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans.  Even so, it is important for the House to investigate Trump's actions and specify which of them, specifically, are impeachable.  This is necessary for the survival of constitutional democracy. 

"Please make every effort to impeach President Trump.  Trump makes every effort to break norms of government.  Congress has a duty to investigate which of his actions are impeachable offenses.  Even if he is not removed from office, it is important to take the opportunity that he presents to specify which of his actions are impeachable.  It is also important to enforce punishment on other members of the Trump Administration who refuse to testify truthfully to Congressional oversight."

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Common weak arguments for teaching evolution

By Mathew Goldstein



Director of Teaching and Learning Tim Murtha and Craig Rezac, a faculty member with the Brainerd High School science department, a public school in Minnesota, recently gave an update on the biology curriculum taught to students. The President of the school district, Sue Kern, then questioned the validity and practical benefits of teaching the theory of evolution to students “Darwin’s theory was done in the mid-1800s and it’s never been proven,” Kern said. “So I’m wondering why we’re still teaching it.”

Craig Rezac replied: “The interesting thing about theories is that we have to find information to disprove it. There hasn’t been any information found to disprove the theory of evolution. As we learn more about DNA, it only solidified it. It’s based on observation. It’s based on fact.” Kern then asked “With regard to Christian students — how do you do that? They’re taught not to agree with that, so.”

“This is science and science deals with facts. It doesn’t deal with belief,” Rezac said. “It doesn’t have to be a dilemma or a concern for someone to choose between Christianity and evolution — that’s not what this is about. You can actually embrace both. It’s my duty as a teacher to teach science and not teach religion. That’s the separation of church and state.” 

I disagree with Ms. Kern. But I also partially disagree with Mr. Rezac. Americans United for Separation of Church and State agrees with Mr . Rezac precisely where I disagree, and there are other secularist and some science focused organizations that make similar arguments. I am concerned that this commonly expressed defense of the validity and benefits of teaching modern knowledge, as exemplified by Mr. Rezac, is substantially flawed and therefore weak.

There is no such thing as a no beliefs science. Conclusions about how the universe works, including the billions of years old evolution of life, are necessarily also beliefs that we humans hold. The assertion that “science doesn’t deal in beliefs” is dubious and therefore is a weak argument. Furthermore, this is not a harmless mistake because it is somewhat anti-intellectual, it disregards the importance of anchoring our beliefs in modern knowledge. For example, the earliest identifiable fossils are microbial mats, called stromatolites, formed in shallow water by cyanobacteria. The earliest stromatolites are found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone located in Western Australia. Knowledge is a rationally compelled belief because it is unambiguously empirically evidenced. The theory of evolution is also unambiguously empirically evidenced.

The second weakness is the argument that “you can embrace both” evolution and particular religious beliefs. Maybe, maybe not. This depends on whether or not there is a mutually exclusive conflict (in my view there is a pervasive, fundamental, conflict). It is inappropriate for public school educators to tell anyone else that any particular belief about how the universe functions that they hold is not Christian and/or is not mutually exclusive with a conclusion reached by biology. Sometimes there is a conflict and blaming those who fail to “embrace both” merely because there are others who do is circular, it is an unresponsive response. Furthermore, on closer examination it turns out that many people who sincerely claim to embrace both are actually compromising, embracing the theory of evolution incompletely, but that is a different topic.

A better response would start by acknowledging that there can be genuine conflicts between what is taught in public schools and the sincerely held beliefs of families in the community. Instead, focus on the role of public schools and epistemology. It is the role of public schools to pass on to children our current state of knowledge according to the consensus of professional academic experts unaltered and uncensored, regardless of whether or not any families disagree with any of the conclusions. These are the conclusions of the experts who rely on a measurable, best fit with the available evidence, track record of success, thus enabling a consensus to be reached. Public schools do not adjudicate between the various other beliefs regarding how the universe functions that were not derived from, or are not supported by, a worldwide consensus of experts.

So the question asked by Ms. Kerns, while understandable given that the board members are elected, is misdirected insofar as it requests that public schools accept the conclusions local families have adopted in addition to, or instead of, the (potentially conflicting) consensus conclusions of the experts. The beliefs of the local families should be irrelevant. Popularity contests are not a viable alternative method of obtaining or disseminating knowledge regarding how the universe function. We are unable to determine the percentage of human protein making genes that are also found in bananas (about 44%, see https://www.popsci.com/humans-genetically-linked-to-bananas/) by a popular vote. When a student answers zero percent because the Bible said humans were created apart from plants and animals and biologists are mistaken whenever they contradict the Bible then that wrong answer should lower their grade. That student may need to find a career outside of biology after graduating public school.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Political cost associated with atheism

By Mathew Goldstein

PsyPost is a psychology and neuroscience news website that reports on the latest “research that has been published in legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific journals”. A study, Godless by Association: Deficits in Trust Mediate Antiatheist Stigma-by-Association, Andrew S. Franks, Kyle C. Scherr, and Bryan Gibson was recently published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. The researchers found that associations with atheism were linked to decreased support for political candidates among religiously affiliated — but not unaffiliated — participants.

The researchers’ initial study of 101 undergraduates found that religiously affiliated participants viewed hypothetical candidates as less trustworthy when their photo appeared next to words related to atheism. A second study of 157 undergraduates found that religiously affiliated participants showed reduced support for an explicitly Christian candidate who espoused support for atheist rights. A third study of 144 undergraduates, which was conducted 4 weeks prior to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, found that religiously affiliated participants who perceived Barack Obama to be associated with atheism were less likely to support him.

One of the researchers, Andrew Franks, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University comments on the study as follows: “I do not want people to think that this is a reason to avoid being associated with marginalized groups, however,” he added. “Rather, I want people to recognize that bias against groups such as gays, atheists, and racial minorities is so powerful among a substantial portion of the population that it can extend to friends and supporters who are not members of such groups, and I would like that realization to increase the urgency of fighting against these detrimental biases.” I agree with Andrews Franks.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Trump's War on Science

The Union of Concerned Scientists has compiled a list of the Trump Administration's efforts to silence the science that they don't like.  Although they don't involve locking scientists in cages, the kind of treatment that immigrants are getting at the southern border, the fact that they are ignoring science is a bad practice for the long-term benefit of the country.

There are a few particular points that are galling:

USDA announced a decision to relocate two of its research agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), from Washington DC to the Kansas City region. Scientists from these agencies have been quitting in large numbers as a result of this reorganization.   With almost no notice, the USDA decided to move major research agencies from the D.C.-area to Kansas City.  Scientists were given only a few months to decide to relocate their families or quit their jobs.  The rationale for the move seems to be largely fabricated.

According to the Huffington Post, "Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, ...speaking to the South Carolina Republican Party, brought up the USDA move and how many workers decided to resign because of it, calling it 'a wonderful way to sort of streamline government.'"  This move may also be illegal, since it isn't authorized by Congressional appropriation.

There is a general effort to suppress information on climate change in several agencies:  

Although these items may look insignificant by themselves, they show a larger pattern.  They all have the name of Trump on them, but clearly Trump had little to do with them personally in any detail.  They indicate that there are plenty of people in the Administration who are willing to take measures to follow Trump's directive to stop talking about climate change and pay little attention to scientific or rational discussions of issues.

This pattern may affect the way the government and the country is run for years into the future.