Saturday, January 4, 2014

I'm with the GOP. I don't believe in evolution if that's what it is.

Yesterday I riffed a little on stories we tell in the evolutionary sciences. I'm compelled to share a footnote to those thoughts with a rare weekend post.

You don't even have to know a story very well to claim it as your own or to prefer it over others. This is usually where people like to point out that so many creationists know little about the Bible. Stuff like that.

But, actually, a great example of a story that people prefer and even defend yet don't always understand is evolution.

How many people do you think are reading this NPR piece (and many others) about the recent Pew survey and are feeling pretty superior to the evolution deniers?

I'd say a good many.

Yet, how many of those enlightened evolution fans do you think noticed the ridiculous figure and caption "showing the evolution of humans" that went with the piece?

I'd say fewer than a good many.

"Culture Wars"...they're just the worst. For more on this, see my Evolution P.S.A. today...


Ken Weiss said...

Nice! I had thought that iconic evolution figure was first published in a Time-Life popular science book, and I knew of Huxley's figure from his 1864 Man's Place in Nature book. I didn't realize it was at Yale.

It shows how much misunderstanding there is even within the science. Brace used to rant about the widespread presentation of humans as a linear sequence of which none of the fossils that had been found (this was around 1970) were shown as side branches rather than direct ancestors.

Holly Dunsworth said...

This is by far my most popular PSA yet

Ken Weiss said...

The creation institute will offer you a job!

Holly Dunsworth said...

I thought the same!

Anonymous said...

Well what's new? Most of the hoi polloi don't know squat about science. "I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!"

I guess I try to be a science purist. Science knows no politics. Unfortunately, most scientist types don't hesitate to try to use science as a political tool.

I'm a libertarian and don't much like either of the two main stream political parties, who seem to me to behave frighteningly similarly on all the major issues (economy, empire building, domestic liberty, government largess).

That said, it's hardly fair to swab the "GOP" in the title of the post. By the numbers, 40% of those with that political affiliation believe in evolution. Somewhat xenophobic to tar them. Further, the numbers given suggest that the other main party boasts about a third of its membership as not believing in evolution. Hardly a bragging point.

As a second note, I very much dislike scientists using the word "denier" with regard to anything scientific. It's unscientific. It is a facebook/twitter attack, rather than a reasoned response. It is meant to foreclose argument by painting the opposition as insane.

I've seen it with climate change. I've seen people with PhDs in the relevant science call people on the other side of the debate "deniers." Very dangerous trend, if you ask me.

It's grown up name calling of the worst kind.

Worse yet, really, it will often play to the strengths of the person being attacked, because folks who don't believe in evolution or anthropogenic climate effects are going to tend to be folks who don't engage in rational, linear thinking as a wont. So, by name calling, the debate transmogrifies into a mud slinging contest:

Global Warming Loons.
Climate Change Deniers.

I suppose I have to leave open the possibility that humans, in groups, just don't have the cultural/social capacity to engage in structured debate and analysis when it involves a matter of personal interest, whether the intellectual dregs or the kings or all those in between.


Holly Dunsworth said...

Proof you can't event talk about the "culture wars" without getting pulled in.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Also proof that we're not immune to the defensiveness and misunderstanding of tone that's rampant on the Internet, here on the MT.

Which is a great excuse to bring up the fact that I'm kind of guilty of it with this post and my PSA post. The figure DOES show human evolution, indeed. Standing a bunch of ape skeletons together shows their shared variation and supports their common descent. So what's the big deal? Why'd I say it doesn't? The figure depicts a few strong and traditional misconceptions about evolution held especially by those who don't like it: linear change, progress, that we evolved from lower forms, meaning all other things are lower and less evolved, and that we evolved from species that are alive today. Just to name a few.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Also, point taken about "deniers." But I'm a creationism denier, a denier of all supernatural in fact, and I don't see anything offensive about that word for it in that context.

Holly Dunsworth said...

(defensiveness here too!) But, further, if the commenter (because it's not clear) and other readers don't see that I'm using the language of the "culture wars" as a device in this short post, then Darwin help us all...

Ken Weiss said...

Is sublety an entirely lost art?

Holly Dunsworth said...

No. Art's not meant to have public comments posted in perpetuity with it, maybe.

Manoj Samanta said...

Science is the new religion and some call it 'scientism'. Economics is the moral code of that religion.

I asked a kid whether evolution is taught in his college, and he said - "Ours is a liberal college. We learn about evolution, gay marriage, etc." So, 'evolution', which could be a scientific term like 'gravity', is now a political objective comparable to gay marriage, war industry or bailout of bankers.

Ken Weiss said...

A former undergraduate student of ours is now in a major medical school, and they have been provided only a short course on genetics, whose content in essence could have been given before the genomics age, in that the concepts were not much beyond old-term mendelism.