Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Conservatives are Duh duh dumbing down America

Image result for noah's ark free clip artYou have to enjoy a sense of humor, and appreciate that fact is consistently stranger than fiction.

I recall the famous chair of the U of MN department of economics at the time, Walter Heller, opening one of his lectures with the line that all of the economists in the world laid end to end around the equator still could not reach a conclusion.  Well, as with the scientific consensus on global warming, it appears that an overwhelming preponderance of economists in the world likewise agree about the adverse results of Brexit.  And scientists agree (although they may differ on details) about the validity of the science of evolution.

The monument to ignorance, aka the Noah's Ark theme park in Kentucky inappropriately funded by public $$$$ just opened.......wait for it........to severe storms and flooding.  One has to wonder, following the pseudo-logic of many Christians, if God was expressing his disapproval?

The Ark is part of the anti-science / pro-creationism propaganda circulated by Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis  religious rubbish group.  The exhibit includes replicas of dinosaurs, two by two. 

Bill Nye correctly expressed the following rational, reasoned, and well-researched point of view as to the perils of pseudo-science on children:
"The influence is strong. I spoke with a lot of kids (and took a great many selfies). Almost all of them do not accept that humans are causing climate change — and that is the Answers In Genesis ministry's fault. Through its dioramas and signage, the organization promotes ideas that are absolutely wrong scientifically, while suppressing critical thinking in our students — which is in no one's best interest, conservative or progressive."
While it is possible the low turnout reported at the Ark monument to ignorance is the fault of bad weather, it is also possible that the Ark is one giant "turkey" as these projects go.  Bill Nye the science guy, a well-regarded proponent of science education and deemed one of our more successful science communicators noted:
"On a hopeful note, the parking lots were largely empty, and the ark building is unfinished. We can hope it will close soon."
On July 10th we celebrated, if celebrate is the correct word for it, the 90th anniversary of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee over the legal ban on the teaching of evolution.  Scopes was initially convicted (he DID teach evolution) but the conviction was overturned.  It is appalling that 90 years after the Scopes trial, we are still fighting the same battles with the anti-science Bible thumpers.

Sadly, as we see with the silly Ark in Kentucky, as well as continuing efforts by the crazy evangelical right to insert creationism into public spheres and into the public square (on the public nickle), not only in Tennessee but elsewhere I am appalled at the poor state of science literacy in a large segment of our political spectrum.

One has only to look at what is proffered as arguments against anthropogenic global warming (or to look at how often it is necessary to explain what anthropogenic means as a preface to holding a conversation) to appreciate the willful ignorance.

I am an unabashed science geek, a nerd; I spent a part of my last weekend binge watching a DVD from my local library on various scientific debates in paleoanthropology.  I particularly enjoyed the parts about how some sections of DNA respond differently to mutation that those which represent characteristics 'under selection'.  While enjoying binge watching science, I couldn't help but feel disconnected from so many people I know and interact with on a daily basis.

The DVD and accompanying brief book is part of the Great Courses series; this one was The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates, presented by John Hawks of the University of WI, Madison.  While this particular presentation dates from 2011, and is therefore already out of date in a few respects, the combination of the sciences of Paleo-anthropology with molecular genetics.  The application of molecular genetics provided new understanding of when and how species diverged using fossil remains.

What struck me so strongly in the larger context of the anti-expert, anti-'elite', anti-science message which I viewed on right wing blogs in the context of dismissing the conclusions of economists about the outcomes of Brexit in the UK, and in attempting to discredit scientists working on global warming, was the notion that we can AND SHOULD ignore people who actually know things, who study things, and who do practical as well as theoretical work in their respective fields. 

The DVD lecture by Dr. Hawks began with the scientific controversy over Ramapithecus, as to where it belonged and 'when' it belonged in the primate family tree.  Molecular genetics demonstrated that it was too old to be a direct human ancestor, but rather belonged elsewhere and further back in time than hominis (humans and those species closely related).  How the debate reflected the scientific process was as illuminating as the specifics of the debates.

In that context it is worth noting that the Pew Research Center study in 2014 and 2015 on Religion in Public Life found :
Roughly six-in-ten respondents in the 2014 Religious Landscape Study (62%) say humans have evolved over time, while about a third (34%) say humans have always existed in their present form, similar to other recent Pew Research surveys.
...Among those who believe that humans evolved, there is disagreement over whether this evolution has been due to natural processes or guided by a supreme being. A third of U.S. adults believe evolution has occurred due to natural processes, while a quarter say a supreme being guided evolution.
About two-thirds of Catholics (66%) and mainline Protestants (65%) believe humans evolved over time. By contrast, most Jehovah’s Witnesses (74%) and evangelical Protestants (57%) and about half of Mormons (52%) reject this view, saying human beings have always existed in their present form.
Atheists (95%) and agnostics (96%) in the survey nearly universally say humans evolved over time, and most believe that evolution has occurred through natural processes. Majorities of Buddhists, Hindus and Jews also hold this view.
Overall, respondents with a college degree are more likely than those with less education to say humans evolved over time due to natural selection. However, the impact of education varies across religious groups. Members of mainline and historically black Protestant churches, Catholics and religious “nones” with a college degree all are more likely than their less well-educated counterparts to say humans evolved over time. But evangelical Protestants with a college degree are no more likely than those without a college degree to say humans have evolved.
Conservatives would argue that moving a species represented by the fossil record to a different organizational position in understanding evolution would completely discredit all studies and conclusions in the sciences of evolution.  It does not.  Understanding how scientific debate and new science research result in some changes -- but also result in confirmation of other findings -- is an important part of science literacy that is antithetical to what passes as reasoning about science information on the right.  Sadly that is apparently missing, or is deliberately denied and ignored on the right in what appears to be willful ignorance.

Rather the right consistently engages in magical thinking, in extreme confirmation bias, and in denial of anything that does not comfortably fit their world view, which is appalling intellectual dishonesty and folly for determining policy decisions for the nation and the world.  Instead we have 56% of Republicans in Congress (more on some days) denying man-made global warming, evolution, and basic macro-economics.  Only a handful of states do not have climate deniers in their delegations to the House or Senate.  Are these politicians expressed beliefs sincere?  Nah, I would argue they don't care one way or the other what the truth is, they just find it profitable to pander to ignorance.  Because those same voters are for smaller government - even though there is no evidence that smaller government serves the country or the citizens well, nor is there objective evidence that our government has been too large.  And those same voters will act passionately but not rationally on regressive cultural attitudes regarding minorities -- be it equal treatment of women, of the LGBT, or ethnic minorities.

With promotion of ignorance, with the promotion of propaganda which can be defined as meeting the two criteria of being factually false, AND promoting emotional response rather than critical thinking,  the right has developed a rank and file that is easily deceived and even more easily manipulated into voting for bad decisions, bad policy, and destructive attitudes that are actively harmful to significant sectors of our nation.  Too often as with Brexit, as with Global Warming, and as with promoting anti-science Creationism, there is also self-destructive voting.

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