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Evolution and the Rutgers Community

February 22, 2007

Submitted by Dr. David Howe

Why has there been little interest in contributing to this blog so far? This is interesting in itself. Perhaps the Rutgers audience is more accepting of evolution than the rest of the US (33rd of 34, just above Turkey; see Miller et al., 2006, Science 313). People not accepting of evolution (fundamentalist Christians; people with less genetic and scientific literacy) may be hesitant to speak their beliefs in NJ. Maybe people don’t believe that lack of acceptance of evolution is an issue, or that science in general is that important (strange for citizens of the most scientifically and technologically productive nation).

To me, lack of acceptance is symptomatic of more serious conditions: politicization of science (witness the debates on global warming, environmental protection, sex education, stem cells, evidence for WMD, creationism vs. evolution in schools); people’s poor understanding of science (many Americans recognize concepts, but their understanding of them may be weak). These factors can lead to poor decision making, given the complexity of problems we face (potential pandemics, pharmaceuticals in our water, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and so on). Collectively, individual decisions can have society-wide effects. Many problems may not be immediately or acutely felt and thus may not be taken seriously. To this, add fear, inefficacy, and unwillingness to change and we have created a society poorly equipped to move ahead. We can overcome this inertia, and I take this blog as evidence.

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4 comments

  1. Thank you very much for your piece Dr. Howe. It seems to me that by and large, evolution is either contested on religious groups or people who, as you pointed out, recognize evolution but have a weak understanding of it.

    In this same vein I came across an article in PLoS Biology yesterday about how the “e-word” is often avoided in medical papers although pathogen resistence is one of the evidences of evolution. Indeed, it seems that many intelligent design advocates and creationists, if not engineers, are doctors or involved in medical professions, such people often claiming that evolution has no bearing on modern medicine. The paper can be found here.


  2. While I agree with your initial precipice, it is not just “fundamentalist Christians” that reject evolution; many different dogmatic religions take the same stance regarding this topic. Personally I am a deist and have never felt that there is any conflict between science and belief in god. In fact as a deist I reject organized or “revealed” religions all together and instead use science and reason to understand god (no I do not subscribe to “intelligent design).

    On the topic of the “politicization of science” or what is professionally referred to as “science for policy” or “advocacy science” I agree that such sociological trends are a problem. That being stated what I find odd is that you make your comments regarding that trend in such a manner that smacks of left leaning advocacy science. Now I know that this is only a blog and that there are inherent limitations of communication when using this medium, that being stated from the example you provide it certainly seems like you are couching advocacy science used to support left wing talking points.

    Some of your examples couched by the political left include global warming (a misnomer), or “where are the wmds”. In effect you seem to be doing the very thing that you express is undermining the progress of science. Both sides of the political spectrum attempt to apply advocacy science not just the “right”. For example I don’t how many times I have tore apart those would be left wing “experts” who say that missile defense is not technically possible, or that nuclear power is a far more economically viable environmentally sound energy source then say “wind”. Amazing that you failed to leave those examples out.

    In any case since you took the time out to put forward some examples that in your observation are indicative of “advocacy science” I took the time out to give you my response to them.

    global warming” – First the correct term is “global climate change” as the scientists that are involved in the analyzing the trend of global climate change do not know what the net sum value of that change will be. This in no means undermines the seriousness of the problem, where most rational people disagree is what type of problem it is, how it should be addressed (Kyoto would not address global climate change) and most importantly where the resources should come from to address it.

    “environmental protection” Again I do not know of any rational person that does not take the protection of our environment serious. Where allot of people differ is where environmental protection should be placed on the overall list of priorities. You can not look at “environmental protection” without taking into account all the other elements (economics, national security ect) that such policies will effect. In short you cannot look at any issue from a microcosm-esque perspective; no issue is an island unto itself.

    ”sex education” This is controversial? I don’t know of any reasonable person that rejects the idea of sexual education in schools. Yes there are some fundamentalists of all persuasions that caterwaul about such school programs, and while not undermining the egregious nature of their actions to stop education and science I would contend that such groups represent a minority in our society. What bothers me is the left wing teachers who under the dubious auspice of “academic freedom” use such classes to teach their own viewpoint on say the biological legitimacy of homosexuality. Such notions are couched in the identity politics of the radical new left that evolved in our universities in the late 60s.

    “stem cells” I support public investment in stem cell research with some guidelines, utilization of non viable IVF zygotes or adult stem cell research fine. I do not support the creation of zygotes with the goal of destroying them, at least not without some serous attempt to legitimize such actions via the perspective of triage.

    “WMD’s” Barring the fact that this issue is more in the realm of geo politics / international relations (A subject in which I have formal academic training), this issue is too involved to get into on a blog comment. Suffice to say that if you are making the tired left wing argument of “where are the wmd’s” as an attempt to undermine the perception of legitimacy regarding our interventionist foreign policy in Iraq, I would politely submit that you rethink your position carefully and stop regurgitating left wing talking points.

    In closing me also see a serious problem regarding “advocacy science”, especially when it is applied to research that is representative of leading sectors or current or supplanting k waves. Such advocacy approaches undermine efficiency and reduce the relative invention innovation cycles between the United States and would be up and coming peer competitor states (read china). I am just disheartened that those who usually complain about such advocacy science only seem to do it from their specific political perspective. All this comes from a technophile that just so happens to be a neo con.


  3. global warming is becoming such a obvious problem that someone somewhere other than Al Gore needs to step up to help drive the bus!


  4. I’m sorry to be rude but Mr Cappella’s quite frankly idiotic comments and egoism cannot go unanswered.

    ‘‘your comments regarding that trend in such a manner that smacks of left leaning advocacy science’’

    Funny how a supposedly enlightened man starts off with an Ad Hominem (or poisoning the well as it is otherwise known) attack: ie assume the author has a motive in order to justify your attacks on him and making yourself appear as the good-guy.

    ‘‘For example I don’t how many times I have tore apart those would be left wing experts’’

    Yawn, another internet tough guy color me unimpressed.

    ‘‘global warming – First the correct term is global climate’’

    Nitpicking and you know it.

    ‘‘the scientists that are involved in the analyzing the trend of global climate change do not know what the net sum value of that change will be’’

    Liar, the scientific community is virtually unanimous on what the sum value of climate change will be and these predictions have been born out; the fact that recent data suggests that they underestimated the effects does not change the fact that they were fundamentally correct (they were right about what was happening but not on how bad it would be).

    ‘‘most rational people disagree is what type of problem it is, how it should be addressed (Kyoto would not address global climate change) and most importantly where the resources should come from to address it ’’

    Another lie, the the scientific community is again virtually unanimous on the causes, what must be done to address it, and have made various proposals on were the resources can come from. It’s the politicians and the oil industries that are refusing to listen.

    ‘‘Again I do not know of any rational person that does not take the protection of our environment serious’’

    Have you been asleep for the last eight years? The Bush administration was unprecedented and unnecessary environmental degeneration and a relaxation of the laws governing environmental policy.

    ‘‘Where allot of people differ is where environmental protection should be placed on the overall list of priorities. You cannot look at environmental protection without taking into account all the other elements (economics, national security ect) that such policies will effect’’

    This is a straw man argument (a modified version of the old Al Gore loves Polar Bears more than he loves starving Africans), assuming that I have to choose one or the other (eg economics or nature) whereas in reality we can usually have both.

    ‘‘sex education. This is controversial? I don’t know of any reasonable person that rejects the idea of sexual education in schools. Yes there are some fundamentalists of all persuasions that caterwaul about such school programs, I would contend that such groups represent a minority in our society’’

    Again have you been asleep for the last eight years? The Bush administration is infamous for its abstinence only policies. And there are NOT fundamentalists of all persuasions behind the attacks on sex education; they are composed entirely religious groups and usually republican to boot.

    ‘‘What bothers me is the left wing teachers who under the dubious auspice of academic freedom use such classes to teach their own viewpoint on say the biological legitimacy of homosexuality’’

    Homosexuality is completely legitimate in scientific circles as it is well documented and studied in the natural world not just in Humans. Also this is another Ad Hominem attack, suggesting a left wing academic conspiracy as a cloak for your own homophobia.

    ‘‘stem cells. I do not support the creation of zygotes with the goal of destroying them’’

    ‘‘WMD’s” Barring the fact that this issue is more in the realm of geo politics / international relations, A subject in which I have formal academic training.’’

    True, this is a political matter, but it’s also a symptom of the attack on science/information when it disagrees with us attitude that’s becoming prevalent in America. And as a side note: I could not care less about your academic training so consider your attempt to impress/cower me as failed.

    ‘‘Suffice to say that if you are making the tired left wing argument of where are the wmd’s as an attempt to undermine the perception of legitimacy regarding our interventionist foreign policy in Iraq, I would politely submit that you rethink your position carefully and stop regurgitating left wing talking points’’

    Yadda yadda yadda, I would submit that you try actually saying something meaningful, as that was just you getting on your high horse and claiming that he’s wrong without actually making any attempt to prove him wrong, all style and no substance. Also as to the legitimacy of your interventionist foreign policy in Iraq you might want to note the: Fraud and False Statements, Title 18, Chapter 47, Section 1001 and Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Title 18, Chapter 19, Section 371.

    ‘‘In closing me also see a serious problem regarding advocacy science, I am just disheartened that those who usually complain about such advocacy science only seem to do it from their specific political perspective. All this comes from a technophile that just so happens to be a neo con’’

    In closing I am disheartened to see Dr. Howe’s points actually validated by your hack political attacks camouflaged as a scientific rebuttal. It’s like your response was actually proving his points about the politicization of science by creating distorted straw men of science in order to attack it while maintaining your polite, intellectual and reasonable facade. Sad really



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