Teaching the Controversy

When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives.

In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents.

http://www.discovery.org/a/1134

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognise that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health.

—Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 1969 (source)

“Teaching the controversy” has always been a rhetorical centerpiece of the intelligent-design movement, but it has become a more prominent part of their strategy in the wake of ID’s 2005 court defeat in Dover, Pennsylvania. Seeking to avoid blame for the Dover verdict, creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute pleaded that they had never wanted to teach intelligent design per se, but only the “evidence for and against” evolution.

The most sinister part of this argument is its apparent fairness. Who could object to teaching students all sides in a dispute? Hardly anyone, of course, which is why ID advocates sometimes trumpet polls showing that large majorities say students should be taught the evidence for and against evolution. That shouldn’t be a surprise: if there were legitimate evidence against evolution, even I would certainly want it to be taught, as I think most atheists would. But the problem is that these polls ask a loaded question by assuming that there is such evidence.

If there is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, then by all means, teachers should present all sides in a fair and even-handed manner. However, this is not a description which applies to the teaching of evolution. Creationists and their intelligent-design comrades have steadfastly avoided making their case to the scientific community (where it meets with near-unanimous scorn). Instead, they’re attempting to do an end-run around that scrutiny by forcing their beliefs into public schools before they have won the approval of practicing, qualified scientists in those fields. This is completely backwards from how these controversies are supposed to be resolved.

The problem with “teaching all sides” is that it can give fringe ideas a credibility they have not earned. Excessive concern for “balance” leads to presenting the speculations of cranks and crackpots as if they were on equal footing with the positions defended by vast majorities of qualified experts. (The media has a similar problem.) And this is very useful to advocates of pseudoscience, who often do not need to win the rhetorical battle outright; they can triumph merely by muddying the waters and preventing a consensus from forming around the truth. This is the same strategy employed by tobacco companies, as we can see from the second excerpt above, as well as by oil companies seeking to forestall regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

But with all that said, the idea of teaching the controversy isn’t an intrinsically bad one. There are plenty of subjects that have legitimate controversies where this commendable call for fairness could be better applied.

For example, how about sex ed? A great many religious conservatives – many of the same ones who call for teaching the controversy on evolution, I don’t doubt – change their tune when it comes to public-school health classes, demanding that students be taught an “abstinence-only” program that omits contraception, or mentions it only to discuss its failure rates. How strange. Whatever happened to fairness? Whatever happened to learning about all sides? Why can students make up their own minds about evolution, but not about how to protect themselves from STDs?

Better yet, how about the public schools that teach about the Bible? (There are plenty that do, using curricula developed by third parties such as the Bible Literacy Project or the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.) Here, surely, is a topic that’s ripe for teaching the controversy! Let’s have students read selections from The God Delusion or Losing Faith in Faith. Let’s have students hear criticisms of the Bible, like Richard Dawkins’ famous statement that the god of the Old Testament is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction… a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” – and then let’s show them the verses that he uses to back up that criticism! To borrow some terminology from ID advocates, shouldn’t the “strengths and weaknesses” of the Bible be “critically analyzed”?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Anne Cognito

    The keenest cruelty in this is how woefully misinformed many believing Christians have become, as a result of the movement within their own religion to suppress all knowledge that does not fall within the dogma of Young-Earth Creationism. I thought of this article, in which children wept over being taught evolution… because they thought learning biology meant they couldn’t be Christians anymore!

    !

    The mess in the public schools is only one part of the issue. The other part is all the people being led down the garden path in their congregations – their loyalty being perverted to serve an end that only a few of them would still pursue if they were well-informed.

  • http://6thfloorblog.blogspot.com Ceetar

    Teaching should start with the facts. It’s an interesting and insightful addition to start delving into the different opinions after that. (Of course, there aren’t facts for ‘intelligent’ design.)

    You can’t teach opinion before the student understands the facts. That’s how it happens that people will stubborn to what they’ve been told to believe about a situation or idea. Then people will try to form the facts to match what they believe to be true, rather than form beliefs about what they _know_ to be true.

    Even further, rather than supply the student with the sides of the debate, let them come up with them. Give them the facts, and then query them on what they believe. Very few things in the world are black and white, so why limit ourselves? If evolution was proved false, it doesn’t mean creationism is true. or vice versa. In many cases we find ourselves so wrapped up in one side versus the other, that we fail to consider that they both might be wrong.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    I hope advocates of teaching the controversy aren’t suggesting that we also teach revisionist views on the holocaust!

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    Thanks for the tobacco quote, which I recently read (unattributed) in Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and I’ve been meaning to look up.

  • Justin

    Looking at the tobacco industry executive quote, I find it difficult to tell whether the unnamed executive really believes that smoking isn’t harmful. Does he know it is harmful but doesn’t care? Or are the quotation marks around “body of fact” supposed to be sarcasm indicating incredulity?

  • http://eyeblister.blogspot.com David Dvorkin

    Of course, teaching the controversy, or teaching other theories (using the word the way they do), should also include teaching other creation myths and giving them just as much credence as the Old Testament one.

    I’d like to see that point emphasized in the public debate.

  • Valhar2000

    David, that was the whole point of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, before people got all silly about it. Nothing that a few well told lies from the pulpit couldn’t handle, of course.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Good post. And the quote from the tobacco company really puts it in perspective.

    I’d like to add: Very few educators object to the idea of “teaching the controversy”… in an appropriate context. It would, for instance, be entirely appropriate to teach the controversy about evolution in a history or social studies class. It’s an interesting historical and cultural event, and worth exploring in that context.

    But ID advocates don’t want the controversy taught in history or social studies classes. They want it taught in science classes. And in science classes, it’s wildly inappropriate. Culturally, of course there is controversy over evolution, and it would be foolish to deny it. But scientifically, there is no controversy. Zero. Nada. Zilch. The scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and it comes from every single branch of the biological sciences (and some of the non-biological sciences as well, like geology). There are some specific debates over some of the details about how exactly evolution has proceeded and is proceeding… but from a scientific viewpoint, the basic fact of evolution is no more controversial than the basic fact of gravity.

  • http://imaginary-review.blogspot.com Phileas

    I’m all for ID being taught in much the same way as I was taught about Lamarckism in Biology class. After many lessons going through the ins and outs of Darwinian evolution, our teacher mentioned, “By the way, there’s a competing theory called Lamarckism. It goes like this….[explain briefly]…any questions?”
    Student: “Isn’t that complete nonsense?”
    Teacher: “Yes. Moving on…”

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    Very few educators object to the idea of “teaching the controversy”… in an appropriate context. It would, for instance, be entirely appropriate to teach the controversy about evolution in a history or social studies class. It’s an interesting historical and cultural event, and worth exploring in that context.

    This is exactly right. Of course, if the cultural controversy is taught in social studies classes, etc., the fundies still come out looking like idiots.

  • http://www.isaiadis.com stavros

    I also agree with Greta’s remarks. Science classes should be about giving students the best we have in each field. If “teaching the controversy” had to be applied the way they want, then even General Relativity has some serious issues when pitted against Quantum Mechanics in certain contexts.

    Ahhh, screw the IDiots, I am going to the Darwin exhibition. Anyone in London want to join? :-)

  • Virginia

    ” Here, surely, is a topic that’s ripe for teaching the controversy! Let’s have students read selections from The God Delusion or Losing Faith in Faith. Let’s have students hear criticisms of the Bible, like Richard Dawkins’ famous statement that the god of the Old Testament is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction… a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” – and then let’s show them the verses that he uses to back up that criticism! To borrow some terminology from ID advocates, shouldn’t the “strengths and weaknesses” of the Bible be “critically analyzed”?”

    Man I really liked that…… let them taste their own magezine.

  • yaab

    The historicity of Christ is a great topic for “teaching the controversy.” Since most “established” biblical scholars accept that Christ existed as a historical figure (even skeptics like Bart Ehrman), with a small minority presenting a dissenting view, the parallel to the “evolution debate” is striking. The a-historicists actually make a fairly compelling case, much more so than ID proponents, so I think we really need to present both sides. I doubt the Great American Public will share my enthusiasm, however. ;)

  • Alex Weaver

    Man I really liked that…… let them taste their own magezine.

    Magazine?

    Well, at least it’s good for fiber. Their attitudes suggest that they aren’t getting nearly enough. ^.^

  • Leum

    I’ve always felt that we should teach the controversies in evolutionary theory. Specifically, the debates within the field. Get people actual evolutionary biologists to explain what they’re trying to demonstrate, the resistance they encounter, and why they think they’re right.

    Of course, this material would go over everyone’s head, but I think the spluttering of the creationists upon hearing the teacher say, “Oh, that controversy. We’ll get to it after we listen to Derrick Zwickl’s lecture on phylogenetics.”

    In all seriousness, I think one of the most powerful arguments for creationism’s and I.D.’s being bunk is the fact that the arguments on both sides are comprehensible with only a tiny amount of research.

  • bestonnet

    The key to understanding them is that they don’t actually want to teach that there’s controversy, they want to teach their religion as being true but they can’t get away with that so they see teaching that it’s controversial as being less worse than teaching that their beliefs are wrong (which is basically what teaching evolution as being fact does).

    It’s hardly the only issue on which those people do this kind of thing (something about lying for Jesus).

    Nicholas Humphrey’s What Shall we Tell the Children does raise some good points about how we should decide what to teach and why teaching science can be justified when teaching other things can’t be.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Tried to send a trackback from Panda’s Thumb but got an error. This comment will have to do it.

  • Valhar2000

    Leum, I disagree, at leats if you are talking about high school, which is where the “Teach the Controversy” rubbish is being pushed the most. Telling high-schoolers about the real controversies in biology would be useless, since most of them don’t have even a tiny fraction of the knowledge that they would need to begin to understand what the disagreements are all about. It would be tantamount to bringing in a guy regularly to talk at them in Swahili.

    The IDiots are largely to blame for this sorry state of affairs, of course.

    Honestly, it is better to concentrate of teaching them the basic stuff they will need to ble able to grasp the good stuff later on.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    “cdesign proponentsists”

    Really, does anything more need to be said?

  • john

    “If there is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, then by all means, teachers should present all sides in a fair and even-handed manner. However, this is not a description which applies to the teaching of evolution”

    There is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, and that issue is manmade global warming. I agree, we are not there yet with ID, therefore it should not be taught in government schools, but there are plenty of scientists who believe that solar radiation is responsible for todays global warming. Unfortunately, they are shoved asside. I have seen pictures hanging in hallways of a government school depicting the polar bears’ demise due to manmade global warming. I went home, and what do you know, I can book a Polar Bear hunting trip in Canada. Critical thinking my ass. Certainly we have been in a warming cycle since the last ice age left some 10k years ago. Now there are several indications that solar activity has been in decline for the past 2 years – here come those damned bitter cold winters again.

    I could go to the American Indian history taught in same schools, but I digress.

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/IconoclastIcon Tony Priddy

    It’s referred to as falsifiability; perhaps the creationists/ID proponents cannot grasp that concept.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    There is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, and that issue is manmade global warming.

    Not as much of one as you seem to think there is.

    I agree, we are not there yet with ID, therefore it should not be taught in government schools…

    Not there yet? Please. The cdesign proponentsists will never be there since it’s all re-hashed creationist arguments that didn’t fly the first time around.

    …I can book a Polar Bear hunting trip in Canada. Critical thinking my ass.

    Um…too easy.

  • Leum

    Leum, I disagree, at leats if you are talking about high school, which is where the “Teach the Controversy” rubbish is being pushed the most. Telling high-schoolers about the real controversies in biology would be useless, since most of them don’t have even a tiny fraction of the knowledge that they would need to begin to understand what the disagreements are all about. It would be tantamount to bringing in a guy regularly to talk at them in Swahili.

    That was my point, actually. I just didn’t make it very well. Actual controversies in any scientific field are unintelligible to laymen, just as the ID/natural selection “controversy” would be if were real.

  • RollingStone

    John-
    The fact that you can hunt polar bears in Canada says absolutely nothing about what causes global warming. You are illogically comparing “evidence” from two different sources with two different agendas. A school’s agenda is to present the truth. The travel and hunting industries’ agenda is to make money.

    If this “solar radiation” theory is being so unfairly treated, why don’t you present some unbiased evidence for it from some genuine scientists? YOU teach the controversy.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    To be fair, I believe John’s point is that polar bear demise is due (as much?) to hunting as climate change, not that hunting bears has anything to due with climate change.

  • bestonnet

    John:

    There is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, and that issue is manmade global warming.

    The scientific controversy over that issue is just as mad made as global warming.

    Every argument that people who call themselves global warming ‘skeptics’ have bought up have has been shown to be false and pretty much the entire scientific community accepts that global warming is caused by humans.

    John:

    but there are plenty of scientists who believe that solar radiation is responsible for todays global warming. Unfortunately, they are shoved asside.

    There are a few pseudoscientists that believe that who are shoved aside because they don’t have any decent evidence.

    For you see, we’ve been monitoring solar output for decades and it hasn’t been increasing while global mean temperature has been. Not to mention that the correlation between solar activity and global mean temperature stopped around the ’70′s.

    John:

    Certainly we have been in a warming cycle since the last ice age left some 10k years ago.

    As of late we’ve actually been in a slight cooling cycle, or at least would have been had we not emitted so much CO2 from fossil fuel fired generators (which would have been largely solved by now had the general public and politicians accepted the scientific consensus on nuclear power but that’s another rant).

    The natural cycles that the Earth goes through are quite predictable, predictable enough to know that we are not in a warming cycle.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Excessive concern for “balance” leads to presenting the speculations of cranks and crackpots as if they were on equal footing with the positions defended by vast majorities of qualified experts. (The media has a similar problem.)

    Another good example is the MMR “Controversy” where Dr Andrew Wakefield, a maverick with (what was later proved to be) links to autism advocacy groups, was given equal weight in the media against the scientific concensus that there is no link between Autism and the MMR vaccine. As a result MMR vaccination rates fell significantly in the UK and elsewhere resulting in news released today that Measles infections have more than tripled.

  • bestonnet

    Actually Wakefield didn’t so much as have links to autism advocacy groups as with an ambulance chaser that was suing over MMR vaccine causing autism and who wanted and was will to use legal aid funds to pay for some evidence that MMR vaccine caused autism.

    Although there are plenty of such cases of manufactured controversy despite a scientific consensus we could list, just off the top of my head is: the Intelligent design crap, global warming deniers, MMR vaccine and autism, genetically modified organisms, second hand smoke (in fact how one of the leading global warming deniers got his start), nuclear power, mobile phones (along with base stations) and cancer along with all the other electrosensitively crap, pretty much all of alternative medicine, the entire ‘organic’ foods crap, pretty much anything to do with religion and probably quite a few others that I haven’t recalled.

  • john

    Yep, I am a manmade global warming denier. Are we in a warming trend? You bet, and I remember very well the bitter cold Chicago winters of the seventees, when some scientists were blaming manmade pollutants as the cause. I do not wish for a high of -7 and lows of -25.

    There are scientists who disagree(there goes that grant money)

    http://www.dailytech.com/Solar+Activity+Diminishes+Researchers+Predict+Another+Ice+Age/article10630.htm

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10783

    Best of all, is the frigid temperatures that will surely return. Then what?

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot, it seems they are studying the farting habits of cattle.
    What equipment they use is open for comical conjecture. Hey, but some real scientist(s)got grant money.

    http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20772&Cr=global&Cr1=warming

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Methane is a major greenhouse gas, John, and methane from cattle-raising is the largest source. You may choose to mock this, but that says more about your own juvenile, anti-scientific attitudes than it does about the validity of climate change. Clearly you are a true son of the know-nothing wing of the religious right.

  • Alex Weaver

    Yep, I am a manmade global warming denier. Are we in a warming trend? You bet, and I remember very well the bitter cold Chicago winters of the seventees, when some scientists were blaming manmade pollutants as the cause. I do not wish for a high of -7 and lows of -25.

    There are scientists who disagree(there goes that grant money)

    http://www.dailytech.com/Solar+Activity+Diminishes+Researchers+Predict+Another+Ice+Age/article10630.htm

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10783

    Best of all, is the frigid temperatures that will surely return. Then what?

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot, it seems they are studying the farting habits of cattle.
    What equipment they use is open for comical conjecture. Hey, but some real scientist(s)got grant money.

    http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20772&Cr=global&Cr1=warming

    BINGO!

  • john

    the ridger,

    No, global warming advocates have made the Polar Bear their poster animal. Global warming is supposed to be the end for Polar Bears. My point is, if they are nearing extinction, then why is Canada issuing hunting permits?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for conservation and less pollution, especially water pollution. I like clean air, clean water, and a clean landscape. But, this global warming thing has become too politicized as well as being just plain wrong.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    My point is, if they are nearing extinction, then why is Canada issuing hunting permits?

    I don’t use this word often, but this is a profoundly stupid argument. Do you think it follows, John, that because the government permits something, it is right to do so? Canada also permits same-sex marriage, so can we conclude that you think that must be okay as well?

  • john

    Sure ebon, I am “anti-scientific” or maybe a “pseudoscientist” or “a true son of the know-nothing wing of the religious right.”

    I’d be willing to bet there were more grazing animals(Bison and others) a few hundred years ago than cattle today. Not only that, as the white man was not in the Americas yet, most of them lived a longer life than the cattle of today.

    What will you say when in ten or so years when we get record cold temperatures. I’ll bet surely it will be mans’ fault – back to the seventees.

    Ebon, there are a lot, probably most, on the “religious right” that have bought into the manmade global warming scam.

    It appears Mars has the same problem going on concurrent with Earth.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1720024.ece

    Duh!

  • bestonnet

    john:

    It appears Mars has the same problem going on concurrent with Earth.

    We’re not actually sure if Mars is even warming and even if it is happening it is more likely to be because of albedo changes and not the sun (and not all the planets are warming and the ones that seem to be we can explain without reference to the sun which has been keeping it’s output steady).

    You can find the details on why you are wrong at: http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-other-planets-solar-system.htm

  • Alex Weaver

    I’d be willing to bet there were more grazing animals(Bison and others) a few hundred years ago than cattle today. Not only that, as the white man was not in the Americas yet, most of them lived a longer life than the cattle of today.

    1) The population of Bison in historical times was as high as 60 million; no other large grazing animal is believed to have been nearly so populous, and there are only so many species of them. One estimate has the population of domestic cattle now at over 1,300 million.

    2) Are you also willing to be that there were more cars, heavy vehicles, and powerplants a few hundred years ago?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I’d be willing to bet there were more grazing animals(Bison and others) a few hundred years ago than cattle today.

    I’d be happy to take that bet, because you would be quite spectacularly wrong. Modern factory farms raise animals at a far higher population density than natural habitat could ever support, which is only possible due to concentrated energy input in the form of fossil fuels. Many of the largest CAFOs produce more sewage annually than most major human cities.

    EDIT: Here are some numbers:

    The North American bison population was estimated to peak at around 60 million in the mid-1800s (source). The current U.S. cattle population is pushing 100 million, plus another 26 million from Mexico and 13 million in Canada (source). And that’s not even to count the hundreds of millions of other cattle being raised in countries around the world – plus other livestock, especially pigs, which produce huge amounts of waste and which were never found in huge herds in nature prior to the introduction of industrial feeding operations.

  • john

    links and counterlinks; the game would be never ending.

    OK then, we will see what happens.

    I am certainly not angry, but amused at the goings in the world at large, except when people and animals suffer.
    We all have lives to live, or in my faith, deaths to live. I mean no ill will.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    It should also be pointed out that the “global cooling” of the 70s was never thought by the consensus to be leading towards an ice age. In fact, we realize now that a big part of that very well could have been the ozone layer, which masked the heating rise that would have occurred. Once we stopped destroying the ozone (at least decreased our destructive force on it) temperatures began to rise again. Chris Mooney has a good layman’s discussion of this in his book, The Republican War on Science.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    links and counterlinks; the game would be never ending.

    Translation: “It’s been pointed out to me that one of the major underpinnings of my argument is flatly, factually, demonstrably wrong. However, I’m not adult enough to just say, ‘You were right and I was wrong.’”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    On topic, Science Progress has some interesting thoughts about what they call “manufactroversy“.

  • john

    I would be first to admit ms Greta, that I was wrong. People here seem to be saying the entire scientific community has accepted that current global warming is brought about by human activity. I disagree, there are enough scientists that don’t accept this, but of course they are labeled pseudoscientists.
    But alas, money is being made so some good may come of this boon. I never thought of Al Gore as stupid – what a salesman. He even buys carbon offsets so he can live in his 10k square foot house without being scrutinized. Of course he buys these offsets from his own company, smart very smart. How did Gore ever lose to dumbass Bush?

    http://money.cnn.com/2007/11/11/news/newsmakers/gore_kleiner.fortune

    Perhaps you really smart people can win $500k
    http://ultimateglobalwarmingchallenge.com/

  • john

    Last link; I promise. At least I wish for some reasoned debate in our schools.

    http://www.middlebury.net/op-ed/pangburn.html

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I’m sorry, but what does veiled criticism of Gore have to do with anything? Even if he’s a slimy a-hole who is seeking to profit from GW, or even if he’s the biggest hypocrite this side of anywhere, it doesn’t change the evidence.

    No, the entire scientific community has not accepted it, but pretty darn close. Those who are on the outside, seem to be so due to reasons that are continually debunked and/or have ties to the oil industry.

  • Leum

    john, Al Gore’s actions in no way damage or help the case for global warming being human caused. Likewise, to be fair, the fact that GM’s CEO flew to Washington in a private jet doesn’t alter the fact that GM will probably go under if Congress doesn’t bail GM out. We can argue the moral and rhetorical significances of both examples till the icecaps melt, but they aren’t important in the big picture.

    I looked over Junk Science’s challenge. As I am not a climatologist, I naturally lack the knowledge and ability to meet it, but I think it does have several problems:

    1) Vagueness

    Hypothesis Two states:

    The benefits equal or exceed the costs of any increases in global temperature caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions between the present time and the year 2100, when all global social, economic and environmental effects are considered.

    This hypothesis is ridiculously vague. Even if the challenger looks only at monetary factors, Junk Science can argue that the values of intangibles like, oh, not having your house flooded were overestimated.

    2) Junk Science is the sole determiner of whether a challenge is successful.

    Junk Science has a vested interest in a finding none of the challenges successful, which, combined with the vagueness of its hypotheses, makes being successful almost impossible (note also that Junk Science admits its terms are vague and declines to define them).

    3) “All entries must represent the original work of an entrant that has been produced specifically for the UGWC“. (emphasis added)

    This neatly prevents any research that has already proven the hypotheses from being submitted. Keep in mind that Junk Science is asking for a full-scale scientific paper and literature review, one that would be pretty significant to any researcher’s CV, but which they could not (if my interpretation of the requirement is correct) ever publish. This particular requirement discourages the research they claim to want.

    4) The two hypotheses are not related.

    H1 is a strictly climatological claim, while H2 is a massively interdisciplinary one, requiring extensive research in economics, sociology, ecology, environmental science, climatology, and probably several other social and natural sciences I’m not even aware of. To meet this challenge, several researchers would have to meet up and work on a project that would take up months of time they could devote to more important research, or to research they could actually publish.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Oh, my. So the people behind Junk Science pose a challenge and then anoint themselves the sole judges of whether any given entry meets their criteria? Judge, jury and prosecutor all in one? That’s positively Hovindesque.

    But even Hovind didn’t add the twist that an entry has to be based on evidence that has never been published previously in any format. And, to make this challenge even more ridiculous, the final twist is that you have to pay to submit an entry ($15, and the site helpfully notes “There will be no refunds of entry fees”). Precisely how stupid do these people think we are?

    If you really and truly are impressed by these carnival-sideshow stunts, John, or if you draw any conclusions from the fact that no one has yet won this challenge, that says a lot about you and the level at which you view the world. Real scientific debates are not settled by cheap and transparent theatrics, but by genuine challenges being raised and answered in the only forum that should matter: the pages of peer-reviewed scientific literature. And in that forum, a clear winner has already emerged: the theory which says that human emissions of greenhouse gases are producing a significant and dangerous warming trend on the planet’s climate. This is an argument supported by the vast majority of practicing climatologists, and no longer contradicted by any peer-reviewed papers I know of. These days, most of the denialists would rather spend their time collecting speaking fees from the fossil-fuel industry.

  • Leum

    Greenfyre points out another problem:

    “All data used in an entry must be publicly available and readily accessible to the public.” Notice the double condition? If your “proof” is based on material freely available at some institute like for example the Max Plank Institute in Göttingen, but you have to drop by to pick up a copy … well that’s not “readily accessible to the public” now, is it? So if the proof involves access to data that is not online, forget it. I’ll note that people rarely publish the raw data, but I bet that’s what Milloy is expecting.

  • bestonnet

    Carbon credits are for the most part a fraud (and are more like a modern day indulgence than a way of helping the environment, given that most of them just aren’t expensive enough to actually encourage activities that would help the environment (if they were no one would be buying them)) but that doesn’t exactly have anything to do with whether global warming is happening.

    As for junkscience.com, whilst not related to whether or not the information there is true (and I certainly would not believe any of what’s there unless I could confirm it from another source) it is known that Steven Milloy was created by the tobacco industry to create confusion about the effects of passive smoking and that part of the agenda of the tobacco industry has been to try to discredit everything from the EPA.

    PS: If you want to remove my incomplete previous message that was accidentally posted before I finished this I won’t mind.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    People here seem to be saying the entire scientific community has accepted that current global warming is brought about by human activity. I disagree, there are enough scientists that don’t accept this, but of course they are labeled pseudoscientists.

    Not sure why I’m bothering, since john has not once shown himself in this blog to be interested in evidence or rational argument. But for the benefit of anyone else reading this thread (and to return, more or less, to the original topic):

    A handful of scientists doth not a genuine scientific controversy make. You can find a handful of scientists to support pretty much any proposition: that evolution is bunk, that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that the earth is flat, that a steady diet of beer and buttered Twinkies is the best prescription for a healthy heart. The fact that a handful of scientists disagrees with the overwhelming preponderance of evidence and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community tells you exactly nothing. (Except that the human race has more than its share of cranks with a Galileo complex… and that includes scientists.)

  • Virginia

    Greta, I am not surprised with John’s response. Time and time again if you present facts, statistics, EVEN those from the Christian community, those Fundamentalists will try to undermine the reliability of those facts (yes, I presented a Barna Group Study about how Christians are perceived, and that fundie keeps trying to undermine the validity of that study by citing irrelevant points without even quoting a comparative study) — and what John is doing is just trying to stray away from the argument by presenting anonymous authority….

  • Robin

    John is not trying to engage in reasoned debate; John is an attention troll, and he’s being successful.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Ebonmuse “Canada also permits same-sex marriage, so can we conclude that you think that must be okay as well?”
    Actually, Canada only permits hunting gay-married polar bears. It’s a travesty.
    “That’s positively Hovindesque.”
    …which is like Kafkaesque, but with dinosaurs and tax fraud.

    John “But alas, money is being made so some good may come of this (global climate change) boon.”
    Actually, real money is in climate change denial. Shell has little to gain from environmentalism (and much to lose), but a lot to gain from fighting it, maintaining the status quo. Between people whose vested interest is their grandchildren and those whose is the next quarter, go with the grandkids.

    OMGF “I’m sorry, but what does veiled criticism of Gore have to do with anything?”
    But…he’s got a beard! Beards are like disguises for your face. He’s hiding something. Think about it!

    Virginia “Time and time again if you present facts, statistics, EVEN those from the Christian community, those Fundamentalists will try to undermine the reliability of those facts…”
    Your problem is that you depend too much on “facts” and “evidence” (notice the use of scare “quotes”, like those commonly used by the Christian Right for gay “marriage” or U.S. “Constitution”). It’s the twenty-somethingth century, by gosh…go truthy!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Modus,

    Actually, Canada only permits hunting gay-married polar bears. It’s a travesty.

    Actually, Canada is more progressive than that. It’s Palin’s state up there that goes after the gay polar bears (married or not).

  • bestonnet

    Modusoperandi:

    Between people whose vested interest is their grandchildren and those whose is the next quarter, go with the grandkids.

    Even better is looking at the evidence, it’s quite possible that the people with the vested interest in their grandchildren are deluded and those looking towards next quarters earnings completely honest.

    Not the case with global warming but that doesn’t mean it won’t be on all issues, such things as “paid industry shrill” only serve as explanations, not arguments.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    OMGF “Actually, Canada is more progressive than that. It’s Palin’s state up there that goes after the gay polar bears (married or not).”
    Worse, most US states don’t recognize the marriages of gay bears that got hitched in Canada.

    bestonnet “Even better is looking at the evidence, it’s quite possible that the people with the vested interest in their grandchildren are deluded and those looking towards next quarters earnings completely honest.”
    Except that Exxon’s scientists aren’t going to publish anything that contradicts the pre-chosen conclusion, RJ Reynolds isn’t going to publish things that say smoking isn’t good, Ford isn’t going to publish things that… This is because they aren’t looking at the evidence. They’re only looking at their evidence. Not that they can’t be right, of course, but the scales are so heavily tilted in their favour that their conclusions are generally questionable.

    “Not the case with global warming but that doesn’t mean it won’t be on all issues, such things as “paid industry shrill” only serve as explanations, not arguments.”
    “Paid industry shill” should set off the bullshit detector (or make it twitch, at least). It’s not a slam-dunk against their arguments, but it’s certainly not a point for them. Of course, I represent Big Hippy. Take from that what you will.

  • bestonnet

    Modusoperandi:

    Except that Exxon’s scientists aren’t going to publish anything that contradicts the pre-chosen conclusion, RJ Reynolds isn’t going to publish things that say smoking isn’t good, Ford isn’t going to publish things that…

    and Dow Corning aren’t going to publish anything that shows silicone breast implants to be dangerous, Nokia aren’t going to publish anything that shows mobile phones causing cancer, vaccine makers aren’t going to publish evidence that MMR vaccine causes autism…

    This is because they aren’t looking at the evidence. They’re only looking at their evidence. Not that they can’t be right, of course, but the scales are so heavily tilted in their favour that their conclusions are generally questionable.

    There are many ideological groups on the other side of those corporations about which pretty much the exact same things could be said though about different issues. If you for some reason believe that a simpler life without the complications of modern technology is a good thing then you would be very likely to exaggerate the dangers of modern technology and understate the dangers of doing without it (which can be very real and much larger than what our technology provides).

    Not to mention that some on the other side are themselves corporate shrills for competitors of whatever their target is.

    Then of course there is normal incompetence which can happen on both sides although that actually seems to be less likely with corporations that have employed real scientists (as opposed to activist groups that often don’t have any).

    Modusoperandi:

    “Paid industry shill” should set off the bullshit detector (or make it twitch, at least). It’s not a slam-dunk against their arguments, but it’s certainly not a point for them.

    “Not even a slam-dunk”, it’s not even a point against them although it is a useful indicator that you need to have a close look at their arguments.

  • Robin

    gee, bestonnet, thalidomide and THP leap to mind.

  • bestonnet

    What exactly was that referring to?

    You really do need to be specific as to what the examples have to do with anything.

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    On the topic of education in schools:

    My undergraduate history essay this week is the wonderful ‘Why is America so religious?’ so naturally I’m reading around the subject (rather than just rely on DA :P). I know that education in America is largely handled by the individual states (?) but is it true that religious education generally isn’t taught?

    In the UK all students have RE classes where we learn the basics about the major world religions. It’s sometimes taught rather superficially (“so, which religion has which holy day?”) but nevertheless it still strikes me as a good idea to promote some understanding of world religions. As a positive side effect, any calls to teach creationism in science can be butted off by saying that that’s what RE is for.

    (Of course, in my RE lessons we sometimes had spirited discussions…!)

  • ex machina

    In the UK all students have RE classes where we learn the basics about the major world religions. It’s sometimes taught rather superficially (“so, which religion has which holy day?”) but nevertheless it still strikes me as a good idea to promote some understanding of world religions. As a positive side effect, any calls to teach creationism in science can be butted off by saying that that’s what RE is for.

    (Of course, in my RE lessons we sometimes had spirited discussions…!)

    Yeah, we do a little of that. When I was in school we got exposure to that in our world history and cultures class, but not much. A world religions class would go miles towards helping Americans understand their own religiosity. I think many schools avoid it not because of “separation of church and state” but out of fear of offending religious members of that school. There are many for whom an accurate portrayal of their own religion or the religion of others would be patently offensive.

  • Lorenzo

    Excellent article. And as for why Canada has raised the number of polar bears that can be hunted, it all comes down to -believe it or not- climate change and tribal ignorance and smugness. It is more or less as follows:

    Polar bears are moving south from the artic seas because of the melting of large chunks of ice. This gives the impression to local Inuit tribes that the polar bear population is higher than ever. The Inuit are wary of western, scientific knowledge and rely instead on their traditional knowledge, or Inuit qaujimaningit (IQ). The Canadian government, in turn, made a treaty with the Inuit that they would include IQ-friendly policies in the territories in which they live.

    So basically, Canada is following ancient, traditional knowledge instead of science for managing the polar bear populations.

    http://www.researchandpractice.com/articles/2-2/dowsley-1.pdf

  • Petey Wheatstraw

    Caveat: I’m religious (just so nobody has to go pecking away at this post to read into it).

    GK Chesterton once wrote the following about bigots: That they avoid one another. Bigots are people with competing views who carefully argue around each other without taking each other head-on. The Atheism/Religion debate has consisted mostly of this.

    I know what ID proponents mean when they say “teach the controversy,” and it is pretty much what you have described. However I know what I wish it meant: I wish I could have a beer with Chris Hitchens (who is, by all accounts, funnier and less abrasive in person). Or that I could have a rational discussion about the implications of religious belief vs. atheism, their place in public life, etc. without having to listen to people calling other people “idiots.”

    Sadly, on the internet, the “discussion” is at once more polarized and less engaging, consisting largely of people talking to other people who already agree with them about people they disagree with in the most scathing terms. I find this whole exercise boring and I want nothing to do with this issue unless I can talk with people who are not bigots.

  • santa

    As a retired biology teacher I have to tell folks that there is no TIME in a regular bio class to teach basic evolution. It is dealt with throughout the entire year to some degree, but in terms of actual teaching Darwin, the history, the theory, modern genetics and the subtleties of the theory of evolution, there is never enough time to explain it as well as one should. When creationism would come up, I would explain that we were not going to go into any religious explanations because the final exam was already 12 pages. I would ask how many students wanted a longer, harder final exam? That ended that controversy every time. I would have had to laugh and back down if everyone in class wanted to learn creationist nonsense but it never was the case. The most I ever had to do was point out there were MANY conflicting religious explanations and we would have to learn about ALL of them…but none of them were scientific so …we moved right along.
    There was no ID at the time and no attempt to shroud religion with a scientific cloak. Today I would just be blunt and say we are teaching the current understanding by the mainstream scientific community and there is no meaningful controversy within science as to the basic principals of evolution.

  • santa

    Petey,

    I agree. Many of us (scientists as well as religionists) prefer talking with others of a like mind. We don’t want to bother talking with “the other side”
    m rather stupid and it’s frustrating for him to deal with my stupidity at times.
    Some scientists enjoy the debate but it does get old. And I’ll tell you what is really at the heart of the problem we (scientists) have with ID type proponents. They are so often liars. The dover trial was a great window to the world of ID proponents and the lies they tell. Scientists may get things wrong, but science is eventually self correcting. Results get checked and rechecked and the truth doth win out in science. Not so with religious people. No lie, even after an oath is taken, is too large to tell as they showed us when they claimed that Panda’s and People was not about creationism and ID wasn’t the same thing. Then a first draft of the document was found and it was shown that they just swapped the word creationism for Intelligent Design.
    Proponents of creationism start with a belief and will do and say almost anything to support that belief system, including lying and deceiving. Any rational person, after reading the Dover transcripts would “get” the fact that teaching ID is against the law of the land but ID proponents still fight on, just changing their position to “teach the controversy” and trying to couch it as meaningful.
    Debating punctuated equilibrium vs. genetic drift in a population is one thing. Dealing with liars in order to defend the teaching of solid scientific principals is another entire thing and yes, many people get angry and tired because debating with religious people turns into trying to educate them or trying to point out the falsity of their positions or to simply catch them in a lie when they make some stupid claim about a scientific fact that is not true. All too common.
    I find THAT exercise to be boring and I want nothing to do with talking with religious nut cases. I’m happy to talk with honest people who are willing to listen to reason and who will put forth reasoned arguments for their position. Sadly, few religious fundamentalists fall into that category in my experience.