Pseudoscience Activism – The Week in Review

Hell may have just frozen over, if it exists.

I wish that was my headline, but in fact, the New York Daily News gets the credit.

Why has hell frozen over? Because a majority of Republicans now accept climate change as real. Not that they think they personally will ever be affected, mind you, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday. Of course, a competing poll released April 2 shows that 58% of Republicans still think global climate change is a hoax.  Yet another poll, this one by the Pew Foundation, indicated 56% of Republicans are still skeptical about global warming. The Pew Foundation’s poll showed unsettling support for the Keystone pipeline, just as another tar sands pipeline burst less than 20 miles from my home and made a nasty mess that will probably never be cleaned up. I have a friend whose home is directly affected.

But seriously, until the Republicans in office want do something about climate change, I’m going to assume they either don’t believe it or don’t care.

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Zack Kopplin. How often can we say one person’s name and how many giant upvotes can we give him?

Kopplin made appearances on Bill Maher and on HuffPost TV over the past week.

A Wall Street Journal editor scoffed at the pointlessness of research into snail reproduction, and said science should be funded only by the private sector because it is just a waste of government money.  I’d rip this one apart, but I don’t need to because Astronomer Phil Plait has already done so quite well on his Bad Astronomy blog:

So why do basic research, including that of snail mating habits?

Well, if you want to be bottom line about it, the more we learn about the natural world, the more we learn about us and the better our lives are. Why research moldy food? That later led to the discovery of penicillin. Why research how light works? That later led to discovering the laws of electricity, and the ability to communicate using radio, TV, and heck, the Internet. Why research quantum mechanics? That later led to the very computer you are using to read this.

How’s that for return on investment?

On the Huff Post TV spot, Zack was joined by a Pentecostal “children’s pastor” from Bismark, North Dakota, who said that 90% of Americans think that creationism ought to be taught right alongside evolution. Science does not bow to popularity, though. It relies on empirical evidence, testing, and proofs. Evolution has been observed, tested and proven.

Students should be taught the facts as the “fact experts” understand them, pointed out another guest on the Huff Post TV show. They should not be taught the facts that people simply want to believe are true. Our desire to believe the moon is made of green cheese, is contradicted by the experts who have actually studied it . It would therefore be foolish and pointless to invest our resources in an expedition designed to mine green cheese from the moon in order to feed starving Somalians.

“Where’s the tolerance in this?” complained another pastor on the show. “Evolution is a religion, too!”

Seriously? Tolerance? Either it’s science, or it’s not. If it’s not science, it doesn’t belong in science class. And evolution is a religion? If so, it’s the only religion ever supported by empirical evidence.

Zack Kopplin wants science research funded in a big way, and has started a new campaign to get that accomplished. Sign his White House Petition to show your support. A duplicate of the petition has been posted on Change.org.

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Teach the Math Controversy, Too.

I’m as big a fan of Phil Plait as I am of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. These are a pair of serious science guys who make science fun and interesting even for the science-challenged. I’ve read Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog since it was in Discover (still my favorite bathroom magazine, along with Archaeology), followed him to the New Yorker, and I now read Bad Astronomy at Slate. Anti-science makes Dr. Plait go ballistic. To wit: he wrote a great piece last week about “Teaching the Controversy.” Anti-vaccination, flat earth, climate change, creationism, geocentrism – it’s all about the controversy, right? Screw the science: let’s tell kids instead that non-scientists disagree.

Plait took on all the big “controversies’” in his post last Friday. The rate of global temperature change, North Carolina’s aborted resolution to establish a state religion, and the rest. But he emphasized the anti-vaccination issue.

Antivaxxers are responsible for outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, two deadly diseases that can conceivably be eradicated with vigilant vaccination. If a disease as hideous and as deadly as diphtheria gets a toe-hold again, unvaccinated people, particularly children, will die like flies in a matter of days. In a single outbreak between 1735 and 1740 diphtheria killed as many as 80% of the children under 10 years of age in some New England towns.

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Some creationists are planning to reconstruct Noah’s Ark on the Kentucky banks of the Ohio River. Yes, our friends at Answers in Genesis, who brought us the Creation Museum, are at it again. And if they ever start loading animals into the thing, they’ll get a clue as to why it’s a completely impossible tale. Let’s hope they try.

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Want to know what the Intelligent Design crowd is telling its followers to say in their arguments to us? Check out a site that masquerades as news about evolution: Evolution News and Views. (Is it just me, or does the anti-science crowd, like the anti-religious freedom crowd, consistently use misleading names?)

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The Next Generation of Science Standards announced the release of new science standards for primary, middle and high schools. A 41-member team of scientists and educators created the core standards, which focus on preparing students for college and careers in science. The standards emphasize practical application of science in the classroom, making sure that not only do students hear about science in a lecture and read about science, they actually do science, from the very beginning of their science education. These standards are not a curriculum. They are a goal of what students should be able to understand and do if science has been taught adequately in their classrooms.

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Got a legal question? Email me at anne@aramink.com. I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at www.aramink.com, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

  • http://inaweofeverything.blogspot.com Matt Prorok

    “Why has hell frozen over? Because a majority of Republicans now accept climate change as real. Not that they think they personally will ever be affected, mind you, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday.”

    The irony? They don’t think they’ll personally be affected by climate change during their lifetimes, yet I’d be willing to be they do think that Jesus will return during their lifetimes.

  • Otrame

    I once found an old family cemetery with most headstones dating to the early to mid 19th century. The most striking thing was the row of 12 stones representing the children of one man and his wife. At their deaths they were between the ages of 6 months and 19 years. They all died within a week of each other. That my anti-vaxx idiots, is diphtheria.

    • http://www.aramink.com Anne

      Diphtheria is scary as hell. Scarier, because diphtheria is actually real. Children get sore throats, and within days they have suffocated to death. They suffocate because their airways get swollen and filled with the sludge of the disease, and they can’t breathe. They die slowly, painfully, horribly, but oh-so-fast. And this is what anti-vax activists don’t mind happening again. “Batshit” has many definitions.

    • iknklast

      I had a student in one of my online classes derail a critical thinking discussion with anti-vaxx views, claiming her child had gotten Down’s syndrome from his vaccines. Another of my students (both of these were older students, non-traditional, with kids) became worried about his kids and decided not to vaccinate. I usually let students discuss freely, but I had to step into that one. It was not productive. I doubt I cleared up the mess, especially when my resident libertarian in the class showed up and began stirring the waters of “personal liberty”.

      Then there was a woman we knew, a nurse, who persuaded her daughter not to vaccinate the newborn. A nurse! (By the way, is it just the people I meet, or is there a huge percentage of creationists among nurses?) Fortunately, my mother-in-law, a woman never willing to mince words, told her not to be an idiot, she might as well drop him in the river and drown him outright (perhaps a bit overly dramatic, but…)

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

        Downs? Did your student care to explain how a vaccine made an additional chromosome magically appear in all her child’s cells? I know that scientific knowledge isn’t terribly widespread and all, but that’s just the basics of Downs syndrome.


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