Not about religion

Back when Irene’s Mom used to live in Mississippi and we were in Wisconsin, we’d find ourselves driving through the deep south on occasion. A couple of times I heard some pretty extravagantly strange preachers on the radio. One I’ll always remember said something like

“We have nothing against freedom of religion. Everybody should be free to believe whatever they want, and no religion should get special treatment. But when it comes to the Bible, we aren’t talking about religion. The Bible is the revealed truth of God.”

Based on that, I find it easier to understand evolution denialists than climate change denialists. As far as I know, the Bible makes no specific claims about the radiative or thermodynamic properties of atmospheric trace gases. A pity.

If you find yourself in a position where it is very rewarding to take the Bible literally, though, an unreasonable model of the earth prehistory is pretty much explicitly  included. Once you “believe in” that, it is necessarily the case that great swaths of earth science and biological science are wrong. You are very much seeking the charlatan who will tell you in vaguely realistic terms how and why the science is wrong. It turns out the world has a sufficient supply of shameless and complaint and/or self-delusional PhD’s to provide cover for you if you want to “believe in” science and “believe in” the Bible at the same time.
Having achieved that, you will perceive any person advocating evolution as at best mistaken, but likely evil and probably to be damned to hell. This will be reinforced by their arrogant refusal to consider alternatives to their dire mistake in the classroom and in public discourse.
I see this as all about the dichotomy between how things are decided in science vs how they are decided in politics. In science, not every voice carries equal weight. This makes some people uncomfortable as it seems to go against the tenets of democracy. I think the best answer is Daniel Moynihan’s: “You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts.” 
Anyway, given the many similarities in tactics, including what seems to us a willful refusal to debate honestly, it’s worth it for us in the climate trenches to pay close attention to the evolution nonsense. One thing that all this makes clear is that there really is a quasi-religious, dogmatic belief that it is impossible that restraint on any human economic activity can be a good idea. This belief is, in some circles, as beyond challenge as the Bible is to a fundamentalist. 
It must be; this can account for their approach to evidence and I don’t believe anything else could. A small number of them must be lying through their teeth (as must some of those testifying against evolution). The number of consciously bad actors may be very small, though.

End Run around Board of Education?

Texas Freedom Network has a blog, which is reporting that the state legislature is not necessarily going to let the Texas State Board of Education have its way with the science curriculum:

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.

The only authority the board would keep under Senate Bill 440 is power granted under the state Constitution, primarily managing the Permanent School Fund. Removing that authority and eliminating the board altogether would require passage of a constitutional amendment, followed by approval from Texas voters.

We noted last month that state lawmakers had begun looking at ways to rein in the deeply politicized board. We wouldn’t be surprised to see additional legislation targeting the board.

More here.

Not sure how much to rely on TFN’s spin, but I sure hope this is more or less right. Hard as it may be for the rest of the world to believe based on our last eight years being governed at the federal level by rabid mole rats, there are certain traces of pragmatism among some parts of the Texas Republican party, and their numerical control of the legislature is slender.

Update: While in this article I refer to the departing federal administration as being constituted of rabid mole rats, in the other article I posted today I refer to them as drunken lemurs. I have been called to account for this discrepancy. I must say it is a good question. Most likely, it is a coalition of some kind between the two groups, which clearly have largely coinciding interests.

The end of Darwinism is nigh

The Darwinist hegemony over our culture has definitely peaked, according to a recent claim. Unfortunately, similar claims have been ongoing for well over a century. This does not bode well for the not-the-IPCC denial crowd going away anytime soon.

I guess we were getting that picture already, but it’s grimly interesting to see how long these sorts of things can persist.

H/T to Roger Coppock on the Global Change list for the link.


Authority and Trust

Orac’s view
gets it right as far as it gets it at all. Orac demonstartes that scientists who are threatened by N&M’s position can’t possibly be very introspective, because every communication is framed (and windowed too).

Everyone I’ve read on this lately seems to be missing a key point, though. It’s about trust.

Scientific communication occurs in a “trust but verify” world. In principle it is necessary to allow for your work to be checked, but in practice if you check more than a tiny fraction of what you are exposed to, you get nothing done. You know people who know people. When someone says something close to your own turf that surprises you, you check it, not because you mistrust the messenger but because the matter piques your interest. Progress emerges collectively, not individually, and by a process that is more social than formal, except perhaps in pure mathematics.

When you present a new result, you are asking people to put a very considerable amount of attention and care into considering it. They must weigh your demands against those of many others. The first thing they weigh is not your argument. It is who sent you. Then, what institution are you from. Then, did you reference the right people, or are you coming in from left field? Do you dress like someone from that field, do you tell the right jokes, do you have the right friends, are you casual but not shabby….

It is far from flawless, overly clubby, and cruel to people who enter science with this particular form of social radar underdeveloped. (Some call it classism or even racism, but the fact is that Canadians play better hockey because Canadians grow up surrounded by 1) hockey enthusiasts and 2) ice, so no one needs to teach them what those things are.) But cruel or no (and I myself haven’t been a beneficiary of this system) it is effective. It works. Truth emerges.

(There is a real problem of unearned and undeserved trust, but that’s for another time and place. I am here discussing how the system works at its imperfect best.)

Truth emerges through a network of earned and deserved trust, and generally not through the efforts of any individual person, no matter how talented.

The matter of how truth percolates form science to society is hardly different. We make social judgements far more than we make judgements of substance, because we do not have the time to judge everything on substance. We can only operate on the basis of trust that the social network is doing enough judgements of substance.

In my youth, my generation railed against authority, against the “establishment”. We had a common bumper sticker, “Question Authority”. Unfortunately, the bumper sticker stuck too well. Now there is nasty gluey stuff all over the bumper of society. My wife Irene has suggested an amended bumper sticker: “Question Authority but Listen to the Answer!

In those days when there was an establishment and it cared about science, if I were to investigate a scientific issue, I would get the best efforts of scientists to communicate to my level. I would not have been cut off at the pass by an organized posse of authority questioners, skilled in generating confusion and motivated by something other than truth.

What people who care about truth need to do first is understand that science flourishes in some social environments and not in others, that some social environments care about truth as an independent constraint and others will try to argue their way out of a hurricane. (“It’s not so bad. The levee is only broken in one or two places.”)

We can’t allow the network of trust to get broken. It’s already altogether too frayed. The costs aren’t just our comfortable science jobs at nice institutes with a few nice foreign jaunts every year. The entire fate of humanity is at stake, whether or not the climate change consensus is right.

In order to save the freedom of free nations we must save our collective competence. Our competence depends on respect for evidence, and respect for evidence depends on respect for the network of people who gather the evidence.

How do we deserve that trust, and how do we go about regaining it, in the face of highly skilled malign opposition?

I am still thinking about it and I hope you are too, but I am sure one crucial step is to respect your audience, no matter how wrongheaded they may be.

We should not suffer foolishness gladly, but as for fools, I defer to Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons. Paraphrasing, he has pointed out that the world is so complicated now that everyone is an idiot about some things.

We are all fools in some context or other.

That’s why, in order to survive and thrive, as individuals, groups, societies, and a world, the most important skill is knowing whom to trust.

It’s also why we should treat fools with respect and consideration, while fighting their foolishness. Tomorrow you will be someone else’s fool.

[This rambled a bit. I split off the opening into a separate posting. See above.]