Science, Propaganda and Popularity Contests

The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report in November showing that the notion of any “controversy” over evolution is rejected almost unanimously by trained biologists at Texas colleges and universities. In addition, scientists overwhelmingly oppose the proposition that public school students should be taught creationist-fabricated “weaknesses” of evolution rather than 21st-century science based on sound research and evidence. (It would be, as we have pointed out, like teaching that maybe the earth doesn’t really revolve around the sun after all.) The report’s findings are based on an extensive survey of biologists and biological anthropologists at the 35 public and 15 largest private and religious colleges and universities in Texas. Now the creationist pressure group Texans for Better Science Education is trying to counter those findings by pointing to polls of the general public that show stronger support for teaching so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. (Actually, we’re being generous in calling TBSE a “pressure group.” It’s mostly just a Web site with an e-mail list.)

Why has the “controversy” over evolution persisted among the public even though it ended decades ago in mainstream science? One big reason: evolution deniers — backed by well-financed pressure groups like the Discovery Institute in Seattle — have mastered the art of propaganda. Unable to win their arguments in the scientific arena, they have instead employed a complex strategy to persuade the general public that well over a century of scientific research and overwhelming scientific evidence are all wrong. It’s a deeply dishonest strategy based on the cynical belief that nonscientists can be persuaded by well-packaged pseudoscientific nonsense.

During the Texas State Board of Education‘s public hearing on proposed new science curriculum standards, evolution deniers tried to counter the results of the TFN Education Fund survey of biologists with the argument that science isn’t decided by popular vote. Well, that’s right. It’s decided by research and evidence provided by trained scientists — nearly all of whom say that all of the evidence supports evolution. But now evolution deniers fall back on the popularity contest they decried, pointing to polls of nonscientists in the general public.

The state board’s creationist faction and its allies are playing politics with the education of more than 4.6 million kids in Texas public schools. The result may well be that the next generation of Texas students are saddled with a 19th-century education in their 21st-century science classrooms. Evolution deniers are okay with that. After all, it means that promoting their pseudoscientific propaganda would be even easier — even if it also handicaps the ability of Texas students to compete and succeed in college and the jobs of the future.

Learn more about how the Texas Freedom Network is leading a campaign to Stand Up for Science.

10 thoughts on “Science, Propaganda and Popularity Contests

  1. During the Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing on proposed new science curriculum standards, evolution deniers tried to counter the results of the TFN Education Fund survey of biologists with the argument that science isn’t decided by popular vote.

    I do wish they’d make up their minds! They couldn’t help themselves from bringing up the Dissent from Darwin list, and at least one board member misconstrued it as a list of “eminent scientists” (ha!) who deny evolution. Anyone who bothered to read the Discovery Institute’s own FAQ would know that the list’s statment doesn’t deny evolution or support ID, even though it has been used for the fraudulent “academic freedom” strategy.

    Any time evolution deniers hypocritically complain that science is not decided by popular vote, point out that science is decided by evidence, and that their movement has failed to produce a single piece of data in peer-reviewed scientific research papers. When they dig out the DI’s list of “peer-reviewed” publications, point out that none of them present data supporting ID or refuting evolution (for the advanced level, you can also point out that most are independently-published books, not articles from science journals, and one paper was formally repudiated on the basis of academic misconduct).

  2. TFN has provided an enormously important service in sponsoring this survey. The creationist board members want “both sides of the scientific controversy” taught in the schools; but the survey shows that among biology professors in Texas, just about all are on the side of evolutionary biology. There is no controversy about this among the scientists. There are no two sides.

    The real scandal in the “Texans for Better Science Education” (TBSE) story is not its departure from the stance taken by creationist board members at the hearing. At the hearing, Dunbar said that “Science is not something that’s determined by majority vote. It’s actua … There is a scientific method,” and she insisted that the scientific method “trumps” even a 99.9% majority. Dunbar and McLeroy are posing as the ones who are defending real science against political contamination. (See http://curricublog.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/mcleroy-dunbar-protecting-science-against-political-interference/ .) Lumping Dunbar and McLeroy together with TBSE, as if they are single entity trying to have it both ways, risks diverting attention from the real mischief in the TBSE article.

    While the creationist board members will not sign on to the majoritarian rationale of TBSE, they will make use of the discrediting of the TFN survey. They must not be permitted to do that.

    The real scandal is in the dishonest effort to discredit the survey. The Zogby polls are being used not just to suggest that this is something to be decided by a majority of the general public. The explicit point is their claim to demonstrate that the TFN survey is “bogus.” They write “Any researcher, if results turned out to be as anomalous as the red points nearby (which are the TFN data), would double check before even releasing the information.” Further, they write, “Not only did TFN pick those who were invited to participate, OVER ONE-HALF of their hand-picked group (consisting of known pro-evolution segments of academia) did NOT RESPOND. While some undoubtedly just didn’t care, it is not a stretch to suggest that at least some of those who did not respond chose not to do so in order to avoid persecution (see “Expelled” below).”

    This argument was voiced by creationist board members at the November hearing. This is where TBSE and that board faction are in accord — not on a majoritarian rationale.

    It seems to me that it is absolutely crucial that the board be forced to acknowledge the reality documented by the TFN survey. The integrity and methodological soundness of that survey needs to be defended. Maybe there are other groups that are more established and better known than TFN which could not be disparaged (without instantly blowing the credibility of the one disparaging) as “a far leftist activist group” that could step up to the important task of making it undeniably clear to every honest Texan that those who have been found qualified to teach biology in Texas colleges and universities do, in fact, see these matters just as the TFN survey shows that they do.

  3. The original post said,
    –The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released a report in November showing that the notion of any “controversy” over evolution is rejected almost unanimously by trained biologists at Texas colleges and universities.–

    The deep flaws in that survey and its report have already been discussed in another TFN comment thread:
    http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2008/11/24/hearing-what-they-want-to-hear/

    –In addition, scientists overwhelmingly oppose the proposition that public school students should be taught creationist-fabricated “weaknesses” of evolution —

    Then how do you explain the term “strengths and weaknesses” in the first drafts of the new chemistry and astronomy standards, the term “strengths and limitations” in the second drafts of the new biology, chemistry, and physics standards, and the word “limitations” in the final (third) committee draft of the new biology standards?

    –Why has the “controversy” over evolution persisted among the public even though it ended decades ago in mainstream science? One big reason: evolution deniers — backed by well-financed pressure groups like the Discovery Institute in Seattle — have mastered the art of propaganda. —

    You are making the Discovery Institute a scapegoat for the controversy over evolution. The Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture started in the mid-1990’s (according to Wikipedia) but there was a big controversy over evolution before then — e.g., the term “strengths and weaknesses” was added to the Texas textbook proclamations in the 1980’s, the Edwards v. Aguillard decision was in 1987, and the McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education decision was in 1982. IMO the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision’s ruling on the scientific merits of intelligent design did more than anything else to promote the controversy, so if you want to blame somebody, then IMO you should blame Judge Jones. He admitted that he did not have to rule on ID’s scientific merits — he said that he did it because both sides asked him to.

    James F said (December 30, 2008 at 2:58 pm) —
    — Any time evolution deniers hypocritically complain that science is not decided by popular vote, point out that science is decided by evidence, and that their movement has failed to produce a single piece of data in peer-reviewed scientific research papers. —

    Speaking of hypocrisy, what about the hypocrisy of Darwinists who go running to the courts complaining that Intelligent Design has not been peer-reviewed and then have the gall to claim that the lack of peer review in law journals is irrelevant! The dirty little secret is that most law journals are not peer-reviewed or even faculty-reviewed but are only student-reviewed! And law journals are not just educational exercises for the students but are frequently cited by court opinions — the Harvard Law Review alone was cited 4410 times in federal court opinions alone in the decade 1970-79 alone — see
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2008/05/judge-jones-hypocritical-about-peer.html

    The irony here is that peer review in the law tends to be more effective than peer review in science — for example, it is easy to check the accuracy and contexts of citations in a law paper whereas it may be difficult or impossible to reproduce the experimental results in a scientific paper. I have heard of fraud in science journal papers but I have never heard of fraud in a law journal paper.

  4. If the garbage of evolution is taught to anyone, then the bible should be taught as complete truth. We did not come from apes. Science is nothing more than someones opinion. Most science should not even be taught in school. Just like the History that is taught in school is not the truth such as Columbus decovered America. The indians were already here, nor do we teach how The English came over and killed the indians to take over America. Wow you could even say The English were terrorist. Just like all the drugs created by science it might help with one problem but you get seven more problems from the side effects and now need seven more pills etc. Pills don’t heal they mask the problem until the body heals it’s self or the person dies. After fifth grade Science, History,Math,English, and Reading should stop. Then six grade and up should teach about different jobs what they contain etc. By ninth grade they should be training in a field. Then by graduation the majority could go to work while the very few go on to colledge. Coledge is just a money making bussiness just like McDonalds.

  5. Larry Fafarman wrote:

    Speaking of hypocrisy, what about the hypocrisy of Darwinists who go running to the courts complaining that Intelligent Design has not been peer-reviewed and then have the gall to claim that the lack of peer review in law journals is irrelevant!

    As I’ve said before, the practice of modern science requires presentation of evidence, and the basic mechanism for that is publication of experimental data and analysis in peer-reviewed research papers. Judge Jones simply took into account the fact that ID has failed to do this in assessing the scientific merit of ID. The state of peer review in law or any other field does not alter this fact.

  6. Melody, Human’s are primates and evolved from earlier primates. “apes” is a less rigorous term and under some uses, you are correct that it’s definition excludes humans, but if you accept your classification as a mammal or an ape, then presumably your parents were also mammals and apes, so you are descended from them. Our classification as primates is not just based on the superficial resemblance, but on many details of shared anatomy and genes. In the sense of “shared genes” we are “related” most closely to the great apes, the chimps, bonobos and gorillas. Perhaps you are under the misimpression that the rare instances in which past individual life forms were fossilized is the main evidence for evolution. In actuality, most of the evidence for evolution is alive today, sharing our genetic code and genes. Just as we share more genes with our cousins than with strangers, we share more genes with the great apes than with more distantly “related” life forms.

    You don’t seem familiar with science and the scientific method, so I am surprised you have such strong opinions about it. Perhaps you should learn more about them yourself, and not just rely on what you have heard from others.

    The “Native” Americans we are familiar with in N. America were themselves not the original discoverers of America but part of the second, third or fourth wave of immigrant/conquerers before Europeans. Perhaps some curricula don’t cover this, but I certainly did in the homeschooling of my children. We should be responsible for our own life long learning, we are not helpless victims of the deficiencies of our earlier education. If we can read and have access to the internet or libraries, we have no excuses for ignorance.

    You over emphasize the difficulties posed by drugs. Do you doubt that despite their side effects, that anti-biotics, beta-blockers, anti-hypertensives and anti-coagulants have saved millions of lives? Some of these provide real cures, and others don’t just treat symptoms, but reduce the risk of development of future problems. Unfortunately, all who use drugs will probably eventually die, just like those who don’t use drugs. Hopefully, you will be a fully informed consumer of any drugs you use.

    Perhaps there should be more emphasis on vocational education and less on academics, but I doubt one size fits all, which I think is your point. Shouldn’t these decisions be left in the hands of the parents and the students?

  7. James F said (January 2, 2009 at 4:15 pm) —
    — Judge Jones simply took into account the fact that ID has failed to do this in assessing the scientific merit of ID. The state of peer review in law or any other field does not alter this fact. —

    And I “simply took into account the fact” that the lack of peer review in law journals (as I pointed out, the journals typically are not even faculty-reviewed but are just student-reviewed, and the law journals have been frequently cited in court opinions) means that Judge Jones’ peer-review standard for science represents an extremely hypocritical double standard. The “state of peer review” of ID “does not alter this fact.” You are obviously extremely upset about the fact of this extremely hypocritical double standard — that is why you keep arguing about it.

    BTW, the Supreme Court said in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993), that “the fact of publication (or lack thereof) in a peer reviewed journal will be a relevant, though not dispositive, consideration” —

    Another pertinent consideration is whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication. Publication (which is but one element of peer review) is not a sine qua non of admissibility; it does not necessarily correlate with reliability, see S. Jasanoff, The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers 61-76 (1990), and in some instances well grounded but innovative theories will not have been published, see Horrobin, The Philosophical Basis of Peer Review and the Suppression of Innovation, 263 J. Am. Med. Assn. 1438 (1990). Some propositions, moreover, are too particular, too new, or of too limited interest to be published. But submission to the scrutiny of the scientific community is a component of “good science,” in part because it increases the likelihood that substantive flaws in methodology will be detected. See J. Ziman, Reliable Knowledge: An Exploration of the Grounds for Belief in Science 130-133 (1978); Relman and Angell, How Good Is Peer Review?, 321 New Eng. J. Med. 827 (1989). The fact of publication (or lack thereof) in a peer reviewed journal thus will be a relevant, though not dispositive, consideration in assessing the scientific validity of a particular technique or methodology on which an opinion is premised.
    — from http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-102.ZO.html

    Also, the Supreme Court said, “Some propositions, moreover, are too particular, too new, or of too limited interest to be published.” If scientists believe that there is no “controversy” about evolution, they are not likely to be interested in articles that criticize evolution.

    BTW, Daubert, which is considered to be the current judicial standard for deciding scientific questions, was not mentioned at all in the Kitzmiller v. Dover opinion. The pertinent rules in the Federal Rules of Evidence — particularly Rule 702 — were not mentioned either.

    Also, my ideas about co-evolution have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal — does that mean that those ideas are not worthy of consideration? You have made an extremely arbitrary fetish out of peer review. BTW, my ideas about co-evolution are in the “Non-ID criticisms of evolution” post-label group of articles on my blog:
    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/search/label/Non-ID%20criticisms%20of%20evolution

    Anyway, as I pointed out numerous times already, there is no constitutional principle of separation of pseudoscience and state and there are valid reasons for teaching pseudoscience: broadening students’ education, encouraging critical thinking, increasing student interest, helping students learn the material, helping to prevent misconceptions, and helping to assure that technically sophisticated scientific criticisms are taught by qualified science teachers.

  8. You are obviously extremely upset about the fact of this extremely hypocritical double standard — that is why you keep arguing about it.

    No, I just can’t understand where you’re going with this claim – the kings of Dover trial historical revisionism, Casey Luskin and his Discovery Institute colleagues, have never used this argument. As far as I know, you’re the only one making it. It’s very unusual. Now, if you feel that Judge Jones is a hypocrite, that’s obviously not an opinion anyone is going to change. My point, as always, is that the fact stands that ID has presented no data in support of its claims in the scientific literature.

    The case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals is quite interesting, thank you for bringing it to my attention. A specific technique may indeed be valid prior to publication, but widely-used scientific techniques inevitably appear in peer-reviewed publications.

    Also, the Supreme Court said, “Some propositions, moreover, are too particular, too new, or of too limited interest to be published.” If scientists believe that there is no “controversy” about evolution, they are not likely to be interested in articles that criticize evolution.

    First, evolution is of very broad interest, so it does not fall into this category. Second, it’s not that scientists “believe” there is no controversy about evolution, it’s that no evidence refuting it has been presented.

    Also, my ideas about co-evolution have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal — does that mean that those ideas are not worthy of consideration? You have made an extremely arbitrary fetish out of peer review.

    The practice of modern science depends upon peer review. Since you have not submitted your ideas for consideration, scrutiny, and discussion by the scientific community, your ideas cannot properly be called part of the scientific literature. By all means, submit your ideas, but keep in mind that data is generally the first step in presenting new ideas, not untested hypotheses (this is what passes for papers from the Discovery Institute, for example; they are data-free). Be aware, too, that peer-review is very rigorous; you need to present at least a technically sound piece of work to be published.

    Finally, I’m all for a teacher discussing pseudoscience as long as it is made clear that is pseudoscience (my high school biology teacher did this for creationism during our lessons on evolution, for example) and that it doesn’t take a significant amount of time away from the actual science lesson.

  9. James F Says:
    — I just can’t understand where you’re going with this claim – the kings of Dover trial historical revisionism, Casey Luskin and his Discovery Institute colleagues, have never used this argument. —

    There are lots of good arguments that they have never used.

    — As far as I know, you’re the only one making it. It’s very unusual. —

    Does that make it wrong?

    — Now, if you feel that Judge Jones is a hypocrite, that’s obviously not an opinion anyone is going to change. —

    The legal profession in general is hypocritical about this.

    — My point, as always, is that the fact stands that ID has presented no data in support of its claims in the scientific literature. —

    For the umpteenth time, that “point” has nothing to do with my charge that the law profession has a hypocritical double standard regarding peer review.

    — The case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals is quite interesting, thank you for bringing it to my attention. A specific technique may indeed be valid prior to publication, but widely-used scientific techniques inevitably appear in peer-reviewed publications. —

    The issue here is whether something is valid, not whether it is widely used.

    Also, the Supreme Court said, “Some propositions, moreover, are too particular, too new, or of too limited interest to be published.” If scientists believe that there is no “controversy” about evolution, they are not likely to be interested in articles that criticize evolution.

    First, evolution is of very broad interest, so it does not fall into this category. —

    But specific criticisms of evolution might not be of broad interest. So far as I can see, I am the only one on the Internet who is making criticisms of evolution that are based on co-evolution. If anyone else is doing it, I would very much like to know about it.

    — Second, it’s not that scientists “believe” there is no controversy about evolution, it’s that no evidence refuting it has been presented. —

    That is just your own opinion.

    –The practice of modern science depends upon peer review. —

    The Supreme Court has spoken (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993)): “the fact of publication (or lack thereof) in a peer reviewed journal will be a relevant, though not dispositive, consideration.”

  10. Based on your complaint against Judge Jones, however, isn’t it hypocritical of the Supreme Court to make a ruling about peer review?

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