I mean it, don’t make me turn this car around …

There’s some discussion as to whether the previous post is likely to persuade young-earth creationists to change their minds.

I doubt it. But that wasn’t my aim in that post. My aim there was to point out that malicious gossip — slandering science and all scientists — is wrong and needs to stop.

That post is the equivalent of saying, “Stop hitting your sister.” That’s an inadequate statement in that it’s not a comprehensive argument for or against anything larger, yet nonetheless it sometimes needs to be said. Beliefs and character shape behavior, and in the big picture those are what matter most and thus what most need to be addressed. But in the short term, it is often necessary just to call out the bad behavior.

Malicious gossip is bad behavior. Slandering science and slandering scientists is simply wrong.

I respect young-earth creationists enough to believe that they already know this.

Now, just as “Stop hitting your sister” is not the only thing I have ever said or ever had to say to my daughters, so too it is not the only thing I have to say to young-earth creationists. They are also my family, and I love them too and also want what is best for them. As with my daughters, I want them to learn to face the world with compassion, courage, confidence and curiosity. I want them to study hard and get a good education so that they can pursue their dreams and make the world a better place.

But that’s not what the previous post is about. That post is just “Stop hitting your sister.” And I mean it, too. Don’t make me turn this car around …

"...roadkill to eat MAJESTICALLY, mammal!>_>"

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  • Magic_Cracker

    Or he’ll give you Creationist something to really cry about.

  • MaryKaye

    One thing I think is going on here is that a lot of people don’t know any scientists (or at least think they don’t).  We know from other areas of human life that if you don’t know anyone who’s X, it’s much easier to hold false  beliefs about people who are X.

    This was driven home to me at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution some years ago.  Creationists had a table outside the meeting, and I ended up eating lunch outdoors and talking to the woman at that table.  I don’t recall how, but she ended up asking what talks were happening, and I showed her the schedule.  She was very surprised, because she had expected that we were talking about how to further the Cause of Evolution.  In fact there were 5-6 talks on that, in the Education symposium, but that’s out of approximately 1000 talks.  All the others were about some critter or other, or about mathematical theory (like my talk)–they had nothing to do with supporting the Cause.  We were just doing science. 

    Creationism is essentially empty of any of that “doing-science” stuff.  It’s all argument and no experiment.  If all you know is Creationism, and similarly cut-down astronomy and geology and psychology, it’s going to look like that is what scientists do.  This is a fundamental error of fact, and it also makes it a lot easier to disregard scientists.

    I don’t know how to fix this.  Good science museums would help if people would go to them.  The Pacific Science Center here in Seattle is pretty decent.  But I suspect people who are not exposed to science have no interest in science museums, or see them as just propaganda centers.

    I come from a 100% liberal arts family myself, but my folks were interested amateurs, and they knew scientists in their institution.  I remember them inviting a colleague over for dinner:  I showed him a plant gall, and he cut it open to find a tiny animal inside.  It’s just like with gay rights:  if you actually know some gay people you are much less likely to be a bigot. 

  • But she hit me first!

    Play acting aside: Yeah, sometimes the basics need to be said.

  • Carstonio

    she had expected that we were talking about how to further the Cause of Evolution

    That’s the mentality of a proselytizer who views the world in absolute terms. Similar to how opponents of same-sex marriage assume that proponents are against opposite-sex marriage, or at least that it’s a societal choice between one or the other.

  • Similar to how opponents of same-sex marriage assume that proponents are against opposite-sex marriage, or at least that it’s a societal choice between one or the other.

    I wonder if trying to combat that could have been part of the impetus behind this ad in my state.

    [Added:] For those not familiar with the larger context, I have a post about it, but the short version is that we as a state collectively fucked up in 2009 by using a referendum to stop marriage equality from becoming law. In 2012 the same referendum process is being used to try to make marriage equality law. Hopefully this time we don’t fuck up.

  • SisterCoyote

    There’s some discussion as to whether the previous post is likely to persuade young-earth creationists to change their minds.

    Tangentially relevant: Today, I logged in at one of the school’s computer labs, sat down, and got an e-mail from my grandparents on reasons why Mitt Romney would make such a great president. I half an hour before class, in which I had planned to do history homework, and I wound up spending the entire time constructing a careful, cited, logical deconstruction, in which I answered every point, linked to indisputable facts, carefully pointed out that some of the arguments were also used to support Obama, and I had disagreed with them as well back then, explained that I respected, but didn’t really care about, either candidate’s religion… tried very hard to keep the tone light, used emoticons, the works.

    When I got out of class, I had a reply. One line. “Go ahead and vote for him, and if he gets in, you’ll get what you deserve.”

    There is nothing that is going to get a lot of these people to change their minds. Appeals to conscience, appeals to logic, appeals to facts, bloody ten pounds of olive branches – they don’t care. The facts don’t matter, and they never will.

  • Carstonio

    Great ad. My state, which is also where Amaryllis lives, is taking a similar approach, with a yes vote to confirm legalization. While I’ll be voting yes, it’s still infuriating that any group’s rights are being decided by popular vote. Maybe it will help that the gambling question also on the ballot is drawing some of the attention.

  • Hilary

    As someone who works in biotech (not quite a scientist, but I have a bio undergrad degree, and most importantly I get to wear the white lab coat) thanks.  I get it – you don’t like people who lie about science, or scientists. 

    Fred, you’re awesome. 

    Have you ever considered you’d make a great Jew?  That whole ‘don’t be a jerk’ post was the best modern comparison of how Rabbi Hillel defined the entire Jewish biblical Law: “What is hateful to yourself, don’t do to others.  The rest is commentary, go and study.” Hillel was a generation just before Jesus.  We still like him so much we name our college groups after him.  Might be his other famous quote: “Do not say, when I find time I will study.  Time is never found, only made.”  

    Rabbi Fred’s Divine Law: Don’t be a jerk, go learn something.


  • banancat

    I think those commenters on the previous thread were essentially tone-trolling.  Just because your message might not be effective for some goal that you never even specified doesn’t mean that it’s untrue and shouldn’t be said.  It honestly sounds like a more polite version of the stuff I hear on feminists blogs about not talking about rape culture because it might scare men away if we don’t treat them all gently and coax them into the realization that rape is always wrong.

  • hidden_urchin

    I think it’s also hard for some grandparents to acknowledge that their adult grandkids may be equally or even more knowledgeable on a topic than they are. My grandmother likes to respond to me with, ” Well, when I was your age I thought I knew everything too.” As I see it, she spent the last couple of decades dictating my beliefs to me. Now that I have thoughts independent of, and frequently in conflict with, her own she doesn’t really know what to do. Especially since I argue based on facts.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    When I got out of class, I had a reply. One line. “Go ahead and vote for him, and if he gets in, you’ll get what you deserve.”

    Sadly, you could bat that right back at them, and it would still apply. 

    Or you could say   “Obama’s already President.  So far, he’s gotten us better healthcare and a dead Osama bin Laden.”

    The way I figure it, the main reason to debate the hardcore Fox-Heads is for the benefit of an audience.  One-on-one, it’s mainly just an exercise in futility.

  • Joshua

    My experience has been that with the passage of time, greater life experiences, and being able to see things from the other side now, that yeah, some people older than you really were just stupid all along.

    In my case it wasn’t my grandparents, I haven’t reached that age yet. Just one generation up.

  • Joshua

    “Go ahead and vote for him, and if he gets in, you’ll get what you deserve.” 

    Yes. Yes, that is how voting works. You can congratulate them on having nutted that one out.


  • FWIW, Fred, while reading the previous post, I was completely thinking about it as being about the sin of pride.  (I may not believe in this “sin” stuff, but it won’t be for lack of understanding.)  Then I got to the comments, and it was all off on a completely different tangent.

  • Lori


    When I got out of class, I had a reply. One line. “Go ahead and vote for him, and if he gets in, you’ll get what you deserve.”  

    Damn that’s ugly, especially coming from your grandparents. I’m so sorry they said that to you. (My dad thinks I’m misguided and making the baby Jesus cry, he’s not full on ugly about it.)

  • Eesh! The sad thing is, if you’d been any less inclined to try and be conciliatory to them you could have said “Go ahead and vote for him, and if he gets in, you’ll get what you deserve,” and unfortunately been a lot more correct. :(

  • SisterCoyote

    Ai, thanks, dudes (all of you). I left school in something of a big angry thundercloud, but really it’s not worth the mental energy. I ranted to both of my sisters, and they both went “…Wait, you replied to one of those e-mails? What were you thinking? When has Grandma ever allowed a petty little thing like evidence, logic, or fact to get in the way of her opinion? Never argue politics with them!” And really, they’re right.

    It’s a little painful to realize that disagreeing with them on politics has opened such a gaping chasm; back when we lived with them, I used to be especially close to my grandfather, and I miss talking to him, walking with him. But in the end, as just about every one of my sibling, and all three of my dad’s sisters have realized, it’s just not worth it. If I have to just delete their e-mails on sight to keep things civil, it’s what I’ll do.

    But yeah, slander is a mess. If I had one wish (or possibly two, allowing for human selfishness), I’d wish that either humans couldn’t deliberately lie to cameras, or couldn’t type deliberate lies. Draconian, imposing on free speech, yes, but how awesome would it be if one day, all the Fox News Geezers in the world turned on their televisions to see Hannity, O’Reilly, Hume, and the rest of the gang stammering accidental truths to a national audience?

  • Considering the few times they’ve been caught doing it already, they’d probably find a way to do it with only half-truths and lies by omission anyway. A beautiful dream nonetheless, though.

  • LouisDoench

    I’ve taken to keeping a yardstick in the front seat and just swinging it wildy over my shoulder across the back seat. I feel I have a 33% chance of whacking the kid who deserves it… (I am completely kidding of course… Nobody uses yardsticks anymore.)

  • Jim Roberts

    I first ran into this with relatives who would forward the e-mails about Coke having HIV injected into it by an irate worker, missing children reports from half a decade ago, the usual, easily snopeable stuff. I would respond with a Snopes link. I’ve always loved the site’s rather breezy, easy, non-confrontational tone, but now there’s a suite of relatives who just won’t include me on e-mails. I try to be offended, from time to time, but in the end, they’re basically refusing to lie to me, and I’m okay with that.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    I have an aunt who forwards everything she got about Obama.  In 2008, after months of hysterical emails about “ZOMG 0BAMA ANTICHRIST!!!one11ELEVENTYone”  I began responding with Snopes. 

    The first time I did it, I got a phone call where she angrily tried to explain why the Snopes article was wrong.  The SECOND time I did, I got an angry message back that I was widely regarded as the family idiot, I had been for years, I’d just confirmed it for all and sundry, and she had better things to do with her time than engage with idiots. 

    I’ve seen her at two family gatherings.  She pointedly ignored me when I said hello the first time, and talked right over me the next time I spoke to her.  She hasn’t acknowledged me in any other way since.  Which is not exactly pleasant, because she was one of the people who actually helped raise me.

  • J_Enigma32

    There’s a handful of reasons this is the like it is:

    1. Anti-intellectualism and romanticism have always been close companions, and right now, both have very powerful holds over the United States. Take a close look at all of our fiction anymore: in most cases, science is wrong, scientists don’t know what they’re talking about, magic exists and science doesn’t get us anything, democracy is badwrong because it doesn’t work and we need a strong leader to step in and take over (Lucas is actually guilty of saying this) – and that’s what entertainment offers any kind of higher thought processes at all. The vast majority is dead-from-the-neck-up. 

    The things a society views as “entertainment” say a lot about the nature of that society. Our society does not view learning new things as a form of entertainment; take a look at the channel decay of the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and *especially* TLC (it used to stand for “The Learning Channel”). I’m not going to spend time knocking popular entertainment – if anything it actually *does* make people smarter – but it’s teaching people the wrong things. Writers in Hollywood have a huge responsibility, and they reach a lot of people with their message.

    2. Our paradigm of learning is all wrong. Learning is challenging beliefs that are closely held from childhood to force the student to see their world in entirely new ways. This type of learning should be done in *every* subject, because it’s not hard to do. Instead, we gear out students towards taking a test that they already know the answers too – open up the head, dump the answers in, let them regurgitate on a test.

    3. On the topic of learning, the most important subjects you learn in school: RWAM: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Metacognition. We teach the first three – not *well*, but we teach them – but that last one…. I tutor at a college, and we get a lot of remedial students and dev ed students; the vast majority of them could not tell you why they think what they think they don’t understand how they learn. When they come to me, I spend as much time trying to teach them how to understand their own thinking processes (“Now tell me why you selected that answer…”) as I do rehashing the material I’m tutoring in. Metacognition is arguably more important than even reading, writing, and math, but because it requires higher level thinking skills, the process isn’t necessarily there until 11th or 12th grade.

    Why isn’t science on that list? The scientific method is nothing more than an attempt to understand how you got from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’. In a sense, the scientific method is nothing more than a specific metacognitive process (note this doesn’t mean I’m saying we can’t teach *science* – anything but. I’m just saying that metacognition is more important, since metacognition and understanding how you think, and your own biases, is a basis for the scientific method and therefore, all of science).

     4. Hermetically sealed subcultures; “I don’t want my kid to learn about [X]” should not be an option if you’re in public schools. I should not have to send a note home telling you that I’m going to be teaching about evolution (Unless it’s along the lines of “I’m your child’s biology teacher, every day is going to be a lesson in evolution”). If you want to home school, that’s fine. Feel free. But the purpose of public education is to educate all kids equally. I’m not going to assume that simply because you’re the parent, you have what’s best for your child in mind. I’ve seen far too many examples to the opposite to believe that.

    Creationism is indicative of a larger, cultural problem in the United States. I’m not entirely sure how to fix it, either, and it won’t go away overnight. However, I’m reasonably sure that these are at least some of the major causes behind it.

  • J_Enigma32

     Thinking about my above example, when we teach evolution, we teach it wrong.

    We don’t show how it interconnects with the rest of biology. It’s a lesson off by itself; something independent from the rest of the field. This, of course, is backasswards since without the modern ToE, there’d be no biology. Evolution should, ideally, be integrated into every lesson plan you do from kindergarten up – that way, students can see how it works, and how it connects, and that makes accepting something like Creationism – which posits zero in the way of fixing the holes left by the removal of evolution from biology – that much harder to accept.

  • Jim Roberts

    Moreover, I’d argue that the concept of deep time is vital to all of science. Astronomy, geology, even archaeology – none of these make any sense unless you begin with the assumption that the evidence, not your preconceived notions, will tell you the age of the process.

  • Carstonio

     What you describe may actually be varieties of authoritarianism.

    I hear from adults who struggled with math in school, getting through by learning simple rules to get answers. When their children began studying the same concepts, for some reason the rationales for the rules became more clear to them. Math education these days seems to focus more on problem-solving, different ways to get the right answer, and that can frustrate people accustomed to seeing it as rules.

    Something similar may be going on with science. I’ve already mentioned that many people wrongly perceive scientists as pretenders to authority in the power sense and resent them for it. But also, people think of science education as a laundry list of facts to be learned or another orthodoxy to follow, instead of a methodology for explaining what we observe. Treating the atomic weight of chromium as no different from the winner of the Battle of Antietam.

  • SisterCoyote

     Ouch. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

  • MaryKaye

    I almost abandoned biology after high school–my first degree was in business computing instead –in large part because I hate memorization.  Taxonomy was particularly awful.  Without evolution, it’s just a totally arbitrary collection of Latin to memorize.  I didn’t develop a love for it until graduate school, when I re-learned it from an evolutionary perspective.  It is very cool to realize, for example, that apparently plants and animals developed multicellularity independently–so when plants seem alien, it’s because they really are doing things their own way.  It’s also cool, if humbling, to draw the tree of all eukaryotes based on ribosomal RNA and see that plants, animals and fungi are all a bunch of rather recent, short twigs–the “crown clades”–on a tree with a huge amount of depth and diversity, all in single-celled protozoa.

    I once attended a Pagan religous event where people were speaking in the personae of animals and plants, and my spouse unexpectedly took the point of view of the first photosynthetic cells–the ones who converted Earth’s atmosphere from nitrogen and CO2 to nitrogen and oxygen, and wiped out much of life on Earth in the process.  It was a powerful moment.  We’re not the only species to have made grand changes we didn’t intend, it turns out.

    And another discovery that goes with that one–I learned about this at the Marine Biological Laboratories, where the research happened–if you crack open tiny silt particles from seawater and do DNA sequencing on the stuff that comes out, you find that until you disturbed it, there was a complete *anaerobic* ecosystem in there.  An outer layer of oxygen-using bacteria passes waste material in to the core archaebacteria, which would be killed by oxygen, and receives back materials that they can use.  This was never noticed before because you can’t culture the archaebacteria–they die when you crack the core.  That ancient world is still here, carefully encapsulated.  How cool is that!?

    OMG, biology is cool.  How did my high school make it so dull?  Probably–I don’t remember specifically–by downplaying evolution and deep time.  I know that by the time my 10- and 12- years younger siblings went to high school, the textbook covered evolution in *one page*. 

  • Ima Pseudonym

    C’est la vie.   I’m sorry likewise.  No one needs that kind of a wall between them and their grandparents.

  • Nenya

    Whoa. The anaerobic micro-ecosystems sound frelling COOL. *jawdrop*

  • reynard61

    “(…H)ow awesome would it be if one day, all the Fox News Geezers in the world turned on their televisions to see Hannity, O’Reilly, Hume and the rest of the gang stammering accidental truths to a national audience?”

    Or, better yet, trying to physically stifle those truths a la Jim Carrey in Liar Liar. Now *that* would make FauxNoise worth watching!

  • The_L1985

     …Now I’m picturing Glenn Beck screaming, “THE PEN IS BLUE!  THE PEN IS BLUE!!!”

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m going to respectfully disagree that fantasy genre fiction has anything to do with why our country’s going down the loo. While I’ve seen fiction wherein scientists are wrong and evil (the Alien franchise) and democracy is badawfulwrong and we need a singular leader (Sword of Truth franchise), both are in the minority.