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    Maybe Assistant Comment Editors Shouldn't Write About Science
    By Hank Campbell | January 16th 2012 08:00 AM | 32 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

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    Tom Chivers, Telegraph's assistant comment editor, may think he is being all edgy and cool by claiming Republicans - 50% of America - are anti-science. In reality, he is like an Emo-haircut wearing kid dressed in black insisting he is an outsider while he dresses like all the rest of them.

    So Rick Santorum doesn't buy Evolution. So what? What Chivers actually knows about adaptive radiation can dance with an angel on the head of a pin.  He doesn't "accept" science, like progressives constantly try to frame it in smug tones, he simply believes it.  And he should. Evolution is the foundation of biology but it doesn't make him intellectually superior because he believes some aspect of science blindly. A whole lot more Democrats 'accept' astrology than Republicans, does that make all Democrats anti-science?  

    Pres. Obama did not accept the science that vaccines didn't cause Autism, yet he still got elected in 2008.  Was he 'turning his back on the Enlightenment' the way Republicans supposedly are?  Of course not, he is a progressive and so the fix is in.

    When progressives deny the value of animal research in science, they are bequeathed false equivalence positions like it is simply 'moral' but if a Republican 10 years ago limited federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research to existing lines it was not a 'moral' position, it was 'anti-science'.  The fact is that almost all scientists state animal research is necessary for science progress and 62% of Republicans agree but only 48% of Democrats 'accept' that science. And no one in media seems to mention it.

    The reason? Bloggers and journalists who parrot that stuff are siding with the party they are voting for anyway and rationalizing a science-y reason they are correct but in reality there is no rationale.

    I don't want to pick on Chivers but this is real schlock; "Fifty-two per cent of Republican voters reject the theory of evolution, saying mankind was created in present form within the last 10,000 years", which he basically seems to have made up.  The actual number is 39% of Republicans and what he leaves out is that 30% of Democrats also deny evolution. Luckily, it seems The Telegraph has no editors much less fact checkers.  "Religious conservatives have difficulties with science, notably evolution and a lot of medical research" - umm, like what?  No Republican objected to stem cell research for 40 years - can he cite some Republican campaign against bone marrow research? - and it isn't Republicans who object to therapeutic cloning,  nuclear transfer of a patient's own genes,  the Obama administration bans it even though the majority of Americans and the majority of scientists are in favor of it. Why isn't Obama or Democrats anti-science for that one? There are a whole raft of anti-science positions that 'atheist progressives' - I guess that must be the counterpart to whatever a 'religious conservative' is, since Chivers does not define it but he thinks that is what all Republicans are - have adopted, including a lot of medical research.  Percentage wise, there are far more Democrats in the anti-vaccine movement than there are Republicans in the anti-evolution one.

    He quotes Chris Mooney extensively and if you are a young guy trying to get noticed in the progressive writing world, that is a pretty good strategy - except Mooney is no expert on Republicans or neuroscience, unless it is in the same way Rush Limbaugh is considered an expert on Democrats, so citing him as a source for claims like that Nixon "actually changed conservative psychology", whatever that means, seems a little silly.  No one who knows anything about Republicans or conservatives ever claimed Nixon was one.  He was not even close but young people who do no research may think the terms are interchangeable.  Tom, if you love Mooney's work and want him to notice you, that's cool, but writing a whole article quoting his favorite insults about Republicans is a little too much fawning.

    And this is just weirdly nonsensical; "America is becoming an intellectual two-speed nation, with a technocratic, informed elite and a scientifically illiterate rump who are falling behind economically in their increasingly knowledge-based economy. The GOP is increasingly the party of the uneducated".

    My gosh, he is just a poster child for everything that is wrong with the cult fringe of modern leftists; if you are one of them, you are 'elite' but if you are not, you are literally an ass. They truly believe this stuff. Luckily, science academia, outside the kooky fringes, is immune to this silliness.  Science works because most researchers care more about science excellence than being part of a transparent political agenda. If you hear a scientist complaining about Republicans being anti-science, just accept that you got one of the kooks and be on your way. Trust me, most scientists are not buying it, even though they vote Democrat.

    Mooney can get away with this kind of thing and I will read it and give it a fair shake because he has earned his stripes. I may not agree but he makes cogent points and that forces me to reconsider what I may have thought or it sharpens my arguments against his claims if I continue to disagree.  I am not middle-of-the-road on everything, I have positions on one side or another and sometimes they change. I completely get that Republicans are goofy on some issues, putting their politics ahead of science - what is missing is similar widespread recognition in science media that Democrats are doing the same thing.  Instead there is flat out denial and The Top Cliché Of 2011 - "false equivalence." A larger problem is that there just aren't many Republicans in academia any more. As I have written many times, it is easy to demonize people you do not see in the hallway and the recurrent sneers and jokes about Republicans is as damaging to the spirit of science as it is to fairness in old media.  

    He does invoke one famous bit of Mooney head-fakery that I especially like and it's good I do, because Mooney claims it once a week; that academics became overwhelmingly Democrats because all smart people do - older scientists who are still Republicans will be surprised to learn that young journalists believe they got stupid when they voted for the wrong party.  Chris is writing a whole book to try and neuroscience-y up that claim so we'll see how he does later this year. Here is the puzzle, though; if there are only 48% women in math classes, there is insistence we need to do outreach to change the 'hostile' climate in academia, but when Republicans are only 6% of science academia,(1) it is apparently wholesome and tolerant - just super smart for not letting any Republicans get tenure. How can both be true?

    Republicans turn their back on the Enlightenment By Tom Chivers The Telegraph

    NOTE:

    (1) You have to count social sciences as science academia, obviously. While biology allows a relatively enlightened 10% of Republicans in its higher ranks, the same as the humanities overall, sociology really drags down the average.  Although that number is conservative - a lot of academics claim to be 'independent' but think and vote as Democrats in America.

    Comments

    T Ryan Gregory
    I enjoyed this piece, because I think you present a rational response to what is certainly a stereotyping of conservatives. I'm not sure what the reason is for the lack of conservatives in American academia, given the percentage of the general population. I do know why there are fewer elsewhere in the world -- because most western countries are far more progressive in general than the USA. We have a Conservative party in Canada, and many of us consider them rather extreme -- but that's by Canadian standards. There is nothing even remotely close to George W., Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, et al. 

    Part of the reason Republicans become such easy targets for the anti-intellectualism claim is that this is what one sees in the debates. Newt Gingrich recently ran an attack ad that pointed out -- Mon Dieu! -- that Mitt Romney can speak French. (You can't even run for the leadership of a federal party in Canada if you're not bilingual).  Indeed, a lot of Republicans seem to run on a platform of anti-elitism, which to many of us elsewhere looks like anti-intellectualism (it sure isn't anti financial elitism).

    I agree that it's a more complex issue than many commenters suggest. But you do have to look at how the Republican party comes across given the set of candidates currently vying to lead it.
    Hank
    Hey Ryan, good to hear from you. I'm right in there with the criticisms most of the time and when it's well done, or at least thought out, that's fine by me (like with Chris Mooney) but this guy doesn't know anything and yet he is hoping to be one of the cool kids. I certainly agree anti-elitism for its own sake is bad, just like faux elitism by people who claiming because they are on the left they must be part of the elite. I wrote a pretty popular article asking for less false modesty by scientists who pretend some nobody knows as much as they do in their fields - and maybe any field - out of humility, and certainly I think the anti-elitism against smart kids in younger grades needs to stop.

    I think there is one good aspect to the current crop of Republican candidates; they are virtually the only chance Obama has of getting re-elected. I can't see how anyone would be excited about any of them so even with a confluence of judgment errors and bad luck against him, Obama basically can't lose to any of them.
    To be fair, the ad to which you refer was run by an independent PAC, not Gingrich. And it simply shows Romney speaking French to some overseas investors; no comment is made.

    Hank
    They did the same thing to Kerry in 2004.  Republicans are a little more pragmatic and have a disdain for pretension.  This, at least, explains why fewer Republicans are in the humanities.  The French hold a special place in political campaigns because a lot of women who vote Democrat coo when an American speaks French. Therefore Republicans will make fun of it. It obviously would be sort of silly to try that in Canada just like it would be silly to try and ridicule someone for speaking Spanish in the US.

    Equally silly claims are that Romney is so rich and out of touch he does not know what eggs cost.  Out of curiosity, in the common area of my office building I asked a few people what eggs cost and no one knew; including one lady whose family farm grows and sells eggs.

    Romney has flaws but he is the candidate the media created.  Like I said, they killed Huntsman - the most conservative guy of all - by painting him as a moderate.  Thus, Romney is the best chance Obama has of being elected.  He is pure vanilla and believes in nothing.


    "When progressives deny the value of animal research in science"

    What are you talking about?

    Seriously.

    I have no idea who you are referring to by "progressives" because I know a lot of people who I think you would class as "progressives" (although they wouldn't call themselves that) and not one of them is opposed to animal research.

    I think what you are doing is taking "new age hippy types" as some would call them as representative of "progressives".

    There is a danger, in this complex world we face, of not actually engaging with other people and relying on cardboard cutout stereotypes. You castigate Chivers for this. But he's not the only one.

    Hank
    I have no idea who you are referring to by "progressives" because I know a lot of people who I think you would class as "progressives" (although they wouldn't call themselves that) and not one of them is opposed to animal research.
    This is like saying I don't know anyone who voted for Bush so therefore he did not get elected.  Your anecdotes - no matter how numerous - are not evidence.   I don't know any Republicans who deny global warming or evolution - not one - yet the person who wrote the article in question seems to think 100% of Republicans (and conservatives - he does not know the difference) deny both. And polls prove a lot do deny those - but on both sides of the political aisle.  Who I know personally is thus irrelevant.

    Are you contending right wing people constitute the majority of animal rights activists instead?  Your proof of that is going to be revolutionary.
    "Are you contending right wing people constitute the majority of animal rights activists instead?"

    Of course not - the question is whether animal rights activists constitute a majority of left wing people! I don't think they do. And my evidence for that was that I know lots of more-or-less lefty people who are strong supporters of animal testing. Of course I never claimed that all progressives agree with that - I'm not saying anything about all progressives. You were.

    "This is like saying I don't know anyone who voted for Bush so therefore he did not get elected."

    No, a better analogy would be: someone says "Americans voted for Bush, therefore Americans are stupid/awesome/whatever" , I say "But I know lots of Americans who didn't vote for Bush". They would then say "Oh, I meant some Americans are stupid/awesome/whatever".

    If you'd said "some progressives" I'd have no problem.

    Hank
    I suppose but you are also reading me for the first time; I have drawn numerous distinctions between progressives and liberals, even though in America they both mostly vote Democrat.  So my choice of 'progressive' was precise whereas colloquially it is overused, and often incorrectly.   Likewise, a biologist who sees a television advertisement claiming the newest model of a car has 'evolved' might be mildly annoyed whereas the public will not notice it as an issue.

    Religious cranks and kooks on the fringe who think pollution does not harm us are not representative of all Republicans, and certainly not conservatives, so I assume your annoyance for imprecise language - since you note that the hippie fringe is not all of the left - apply to the broad strokes Chivers used as well?  I can't tell because you didn't seem to have any objection to it where he did it.  
    Also, wtf:

    "No one who knows anything about Republicans or conservatives ever claimed Nixon was one."

    Pretty sure Nixon was a Republican. He may not have been a particularly conservative one, but he was a Republican... actually one could make a good case that he was a fairly conservative Republican by the standards of the time, not by modern standards of course, but anyway, that's debatable.

    As for the idea that Nixon changed Republican psychology... have you read Nixonland? Makes a pretty good case that yes he did.

    Hank
    You're reading sentence fragments. The sentence I was responding to, though you left out the important part, was how Nixon 'changed conservative psychology'. He did not.  Before Nixon was president, conservatives said Nixon was not one of them. While he was president, conservatives said Nixon was not one of them. After he was president, conservatives insisted Nixon was not one of them.

    Republican and conservative are not interchangeable, any more than all animals are cows or all Democrats are against animal research and vaccines.
    You hit the nail on the head in your penultimate sentence, although I would rather say it is non-leftists instead of Republicans per se who do not get tenure. (Somehow I think Romney could pass muster were he so inclined.) Posting here under a pseudonym I won't out myself with anecdotes, but Progressivism is the established and state-subsidized religion of the post-Christian West. What a fun blog this is to read even if the principal is a bit defensive and thick skinned at times.

    Hank
    What a fun blog this is to read even if the principal is a bit defensive and thick skinned at times.
    ha ha ... we are the 6%???  For posting uncomfortable ideas like that academia is not intolerant of minorities or women I have had people imply I must be a shill of some secret right wing cabal and then for posting posting uncomfortable ideas like that pollution actually pollutes I have been lumped in as a leftwing commie, fag, junkie liberal.   Basically, it's easy to be defensive after 5 years of enduring the same rationalizations and slurs.

    I'll try to dial it down, though.  :)
    it's easy to be defensive after 5 years of enduring the same rationalizations and slurs
    5 years? You're just a beginner. After another 20 you'll revel in it! :)
     
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Do you really revel in it Derek or are you just completely disillusioned?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    You've got to be disillusioned before you can enjoy it.

    It would be interesting to look at the stats - that I am sure exist - of elective behavior per academic area. While I am sure nowadays there is a preponderance of liberals across all fields (maybe other than economics), it seems there is a big difference going from hard sciences to humanities. Moreover the share of conservatives in academia has been going down with time. Now if you are a young conservative today interested in history or psychology or education, why would you even consider pursuing an academic carrier? You either choose a different field or become a "closet" conservative. In hard sciences, the consequences are muted, but, say, in the field of education they are catastrophic.

    Hank
    it seems there is a big difference going from hard sciences to humanities.
    Yes.  In fields that plain and simply require a certain brain skill set, the self-deception regarding politics is less evident - the more technically smart people are, the less biased.  In the humanities and social sciences, the skew is wildly left, in the life sciences about 60% left (though that will change, younger people entering and older people retiring will make it more like the social sciences) and as you go toward chemistry and physics, etc you have parity. Engineering is on the right.

    The anecdotes are rampant about those closet conservatives but they are just that; anecdotes.  People don't want to go on the record because they truly feel there will be an impact if they don't keep quiet or play along with the invective.  I find it hard to believe - militants in academia complain about their special interest agendas all of the time without recourse - but I have never been in academia so perhaps it is true.  I know in the private sector it does not exist, though government-funded people contend that the private sector is much worse - and I have the secret White Guy decoder ring, so if people were going to be sexist, racist, discriminatory they would do it around me.

    Instead, engineering, a 'right-wing field' has the most parity in income - women get 96% what men get, and the environmental sciences have the most disparity in female/male wages, despite their being left wing - women are paid in the 70th percentile what men are paid.

    If the contention will be that there is something 'incorrect' with a right wing brain, it can only be because 'incorrect' means treating people on their merits rather than their cultural classification. 
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I have the secret White Guy decoder ring, so if people were going to be sexist, racist, discriminatory they would do it around me.
    Just wondered what that is? Sounds like a Science20 version of 'the Lord of the Rings'. Does it make you invisible around sexists and racists? Does it eventually corrupt you if you do not have non-racist, non-sexist, non-discriminatory, pure scientific thoughts? Is Gerhard Gandalf? Looks like it might be working on the guy commenting below this comment, who's talking about the merits of 90% of Jews voting republican....
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    You may also be interested in the Jewphone, (http://www.phillytalkradioonline.com/archive/katz_jeff3.html) which, when challenged to explain why no Jews were in the WTC on 9/11, then Philly talk radio personality Jeff Katz explained to some of his more credulous anti-semitic callers had informed him and his coreligionists of the impending Zionist attack.

    I understand the fact that women always go to the lady's room in bunches is connected to some grand conspiracy. Perhaps you could enlighten us? :)

    Engineering is on the right.

    Holy cow. I had no idea my political leanings correlated with my interest in career fields. That is, indeed, fascinating.

    Thanks, Hank, those are useful numbers, I expected worse. Unfortunately even a first-rate science mind does not guarantee sanity (even though, as we have established, there is tendency towards sanity.) I have observed it time and again. One of the most extreme examples is Ed Witten, a bona fide genius who was on the Hard Left when young (probably still is, those things rarely change.)

    You know coming from the former Soviet Union and having spent most of my career here mixing with very smart folks, both in and outside academia, I could never arrive at a plausible explanation of the phenomenon. You just love that person, so smart and witty and quick-thinking, until... God forbid it comes to politics. You just accept the fact but never fully reconcile with it. Liberals seem to me like a separate species, mysterious.

    Btw as you may know, Russian (mostly Jewish, ethnically) immigrant community is very successful, probably the most successful ever, grossly overrepresented in academia (mostly in sciences). With this group, more than 90 per cent vote Republican (the fact even more striking that it was American Jews who had made it possible for us to come here, later supported us, and took very good care of us here.) Now you have a big slice of the American Jewish community voting Republican, as a coherent sub-group! Can you imagine that?

    Same applies to basically all East Euro's, and, I am told, to Cubans. In the second generation, this pattern starts to change, and college-educated grandchildren will be no different from their brain-washed peers. Liberty is a tender flower indeed, difficult to cultivate if you have never know different.

    I thought Science20 was created because most science sites were too political.
    I see a troubling current taking place on this site: the straw-man progressive as target of a libertarian editor.
    Fuck that.

    Hank
    It isn't a straw man if it's real.  Science and politics are intertwined, there is no way for them not to be when government has sought to take over a large chunk of science - ignoring the scientization of politics or the politicization of science would be putting our heads in the sand.

    Politics is not why we exist, that is what makes us different than pretty much every other site.  I wasn't kidding when I said three places wrote virtually the same piece bashing Republicans regarding science in the same week.  So one site out of 20 that noting both sides have their goofy contingents is bad?  Where will the public go to get context if no one has any courage to stand up to runaway partisan goofiness?  What does libertarian have to do with it?   It is the same root word as liberal and if we still had liberals in science media instead of the kooky progressives that have infected the place, there would be no problem. I'm more liberal than libertarian so if there were no progressives running those publications and instead people like me, they would also take shots at everyone who deserves it, rather than only taking shots at the party they don't want anyone to vote for.

    A very interesting article going deeper than the superficial and all too common left vs. right.dichotomy. It's not clear to me, however, that you're right in stating that Obama doubted the relationship between autism and vaccines. He definitely did in 2008 say "Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it." But the "this person" he refered to is apparently someone in the crowd. And yes, while all available evidence, then and now, is not at all supportive of a relationship between autism and vaccines, Obama's current position is clearly relevant. Thoughts?

    Hank
    I hope that like anyone else he got smarter. The context of that example is a goofy writer (and a whole bunch of other goofy people) continuing to dredge up Bush limiting hESC research 10 years ago to existing lines with federal money and claiming that means Republicans are anti-science and they 'banned' it - a complete lie.  If we can defend Bush's rationale a little, since most in science media blatantly do lie about it, the technology to create the stuff was only created in late 1998.  Clinton held off dealing with it so Bush comes into office and sees a tiny amount of money - $15 million - in funding, and has a moral position against what researchers claim they want to do with the new technology.  Moral.  The same way progressives rationalize their anti-science stance against animal research.  If you read the debate at the time, his stand was very unpopular with Republicans, Bush was just about the only one who liked the idea of limiting the funding in that area.   Regardless, the NIH doubled its budget under Republicans.

    So if people can invoke Bush from 10 years ago it is certainly fair to invoke Obama from 3 years ago.  But partisan pundits who try to hide their political contempt behind science are not interested in fairness, they are interested in being spin doctors. It's a cancer in science media.
    Your response is disappointing. I had hoped that you would have (or get) some information to back up your fairly strong claim. But no.

    Moreover, given that Obama recently extended the Combatting Autism Act (see http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2011/09/30/obama-signs-autism-act/14150/)
    whereas Bush placed extensive limits on use of federal funds for stem cell research throughout his tenure, the parallel you attempt to draw just doesn't hold.

    I liked your original argument but unfortunately think your response to my question may make you guilty of the same kinds of errors in logic you criticize others for. Too bad.

    Hank
    Moreover, given that Obama recently extended the Combatting Autism Act 
    whereas Bush placed extensive limits on use of federal funds for stem cell research throughout his tenure, the parallel you attempt to draw just doesn't hold.
    He limited federal money to existing lines created over two years.  Claiming that was 'extensive' is in defiance of 100% of the claims of biologists at the time about what hESC research and the technology could do and was doing - that is why there were only a few hundred lines, more were not needed.  The lines were only an issue when people tried to make it a political cause and the NIH spent hundreds of millions on hESC research in the next eight years. Are you claiming the money was wasted because there were 200 lines instead of 300? A world of good was also done with iPS and adult stem cells, along with hESC.

    Or are you trying to claim that hESC research somehow impacted autism research?  Or that Obama is simply better because he is now supporting a cause you work in?  The vaccine-autism link was debunked long before 2008, so his beliefs were clearly anti-science. 

    My contention remains that it is suspect for a journalist to frame left-wing animal rights protesters as simply having a 'moral' position while right-wing people are framed as anti-science for having a moral dilemma about hESC.  Nothing in your comment changes any of that.
    rholley
    And now the same Assistant Comment Editor is bringing together Evolutionary Psychology and the desertion of the Costa Concordia by Captain Francesco Schettino.

    On bravery, cowardice, evolution and the Costa Concordia

    Does this arouse the Wrath of Hank?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Hank
    He's a clown so I don't want to give him free publicity twice.  He is of the 'be outrageous for attention' school of shameless attention-whoring.

    But whaaaaaa? That poster - of the greatest Star Trek movie of all time - is outstanding!  I should get hair extensions and have a real one made of me and Photoshop'ed in there.
    Hair extensions? Gods no. You are actually quite sexy. Or at least that avatar pic is.

    Gerhard Adam
    Good thing you avoided it.  Invoking evolutionary psychology, selfish gene theory, and even a dash of kin selection, he hits all the irrelevancies he can find without making a bit of sense out of any of it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Having studied several courses in psychology, I find it very interesting that most of the great lessons from the some of the most famous psychology studies would not have been learned if we applied the same standard of ethics in the past as we do now. That said, it makes for a very interesting question. Are our strict ethical standards stifling progress? I think so.