skeptic - what if science were settled by a vote
I encourage people to check out their local skeptics groups. You can get a
listing of them from:
Organized skepticism needs more help. Any one of the leading 20 crack pot
things we struggle against have more money and support behind them than us. Anyone
in the greater Philadelphia area who is not at least a subscribing PhACT member,
The following is a great list from Carl:
CARL SAGAN'S BALONEY DETECTION KIT
Based on the book "The Demon Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark" published by
The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or
a.. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts
b.. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all
points of view.
c.. Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").
d.. Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your
e.. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
f.. Quantify, wherever possible.
g.. If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
h.. "Occam's razor" - if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well
Choose the simpler.
i.. Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be
false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the
experiment and get the same result?
Additional issues are
a.. Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person
taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.
b.. Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.
Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric
a.. Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.
b.. Argument from "authority".
c.. Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by
pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavourable" decision).
d.. Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
e.. Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).
f.. Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).
g.. Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).
h.. Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample
i.. Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing
astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average
j.. Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but
scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not
k.. Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.
l.. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of
cause and effect.
m.. Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable
n.. Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities
(making the "other side" look worse than it really is).
o.. Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental
science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").
p.. Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the
effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).
q.. Confusion of correlation and causation.
r.. Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack..
s.. Suppressed evidence or half-truths.
t.. Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get
around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find
new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"
Above all - read the book!
March 11, 2000
========================= I've always thought we should teach what young earth
creationism teaches in the schools . . . as part of some good critical thinking
and geology training to show young people common fallacies and to spot manipulative
propaganda. The following has some scary statistics:
Poll Finds That Support Is Strong for Teaching 2 Origin Theories
Evolutionary Biology Begins Tackling Public Doubts (July 8, 1998)
By JAMES GLANZ
n overwhelming majority of Americans think that creationism should be taught
along with Darwin's theory of evolution in the public schools, according to
a new national survey.
Some scientists characterized the seemingly contradictory findings as a
quixotic effort by the public to accommodate incompatible world views. But
in some ways, even as Americans continue to argue over what students should
be taught about human origins, the poll offers encouragement to both sides
in the debate.
The survey's results were released yesterday by the People for the American
Way Foundation, the liberal civil rights group that commissioned the poll,
which was conducted by DYG Inc., the polling and research firm in Danbury,
Conn. The survey involved extensive interviews with 1,500 people drawn
representatively from all segments of society across the country.
In results emphasized by the foundation, the survey found that 83 percent of
Americans generally supported the teaching of evolution in public schools.
But the poll, which had a statistical margin of error of 2.6 percentage
points, also found that 79 percent of Americans thought creationism had a
place in the public school curriculum -- though respondents often said the
topic should be discussed as a belief rather than as a competing scientific
As for evolution, almost half the respondents agreed that the theory "is far
from being proven scientifically." And 68 percent said it was possible to
believe in evolution while also believing that God created humans and guided
"You can read the poll as half-empty or half-full," said Daniel Yankelovich,
chairman of DYG.
He suggested that the public's sense that creationism and evolution are
compatible "translates in a pluralistic society and public to there being a
place for both."
Or, he said, the poll's results might reflect a postmodern feeling that no
single view can provide complete understanding of most issues -- as Mr.
Yankelovich put it, "the attitude, 'Well, you never know, hey.' "
People on all sides of the issue seemed to find something to like in the
Dr. David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, said that
he was "cheered that the majority of people are happy for evolution to be
taught in the schools," though he added that "it is logically inconsistent
both to believe in the theory of evolution, that humans did descend from
animals, and to believe the opposite, that they were created in their
Dr. James B. Miller, a senior associate at the program of dialogue on
science, ethics and religion at the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, said, "Part of what it shows is that there is broad public
support for the teaching of evolution in the public school science classes,
and that for many people, this does not represent any conflict with their
Dr. Duane T. Gish, a vice president of the Institute for Creation Research,
a California group that supports the teaching of creationism, also said he
was generally pleased with the results. Dr. Gish maintained, though, that
creationism should be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution
theory, a position that most poll respondents did not take.
The debate that was started 75 years ago in the Scopes trial and reignited
last year when the Kansas school board voted to remove most references to
evolution from state education standards, shows no sign of cooling.
Last month, a charter school in Rochester drew criticism when officials
there said creationism would be taught as an alternate theory to evolution.
Just yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio reported that a group called
the Young Earth Creation Club objected to the inclusion of evolution in new
science standards set by the state's school board.
Despite scientific evidence of an Earth that is billions of years old and
fossils that indicate one species evolving into another, the strictest
creationists believe in a literal reading of Genesis: that the universe,
Earth and all the planet's species were created a few thousand years ago in
essentially their present form.
Only about a third of the respondents in the poll, though, defined
creationism this way. Others said they understood it more loosely as
referring to God's having created humans, but not necessarily as described
in the Bible. People unclear on the exact meaning were read a definition
based on the looser version and were told that creationism was sharply in
conflict with standard evolutionary theory.
The poll did not offer other, more nuanced views of divine intervention,
like the idea that God infused humans with a soul and otherwise allowed
evolution to take its course.
Working from its definitions, the poll revealed a nation that is in many
ways widely fragmented in accommodating two powerful elements of American
The results indicate that about 30 percent of Americans believe that
creationism should be taught as a scientific theory, either with or without
evolution in the curriculum. At the other end of the spectrum, 20 percent
believe that evolution should be taught in science class without any mention
Most respondents, though, took the middle road, saying that evolution should
be taught as a scientific theory, while creationism should also be
discussed -- as a religious belief rather than a scientific theory.
"When you put it in terms of human evolution, you're referring to the
hottest button of a hot button issue," said Molleen Matsumura of the
National Center for Science Education in El Cerrito, Calif. "Even then,
there was a great deal of support for evolution."
The survey found little variation in responses by geographic region. But it
did determine that young Americans, 18 to 24 years old, and Americans with
relatively high education levels were more likely to support teaching
evolution and less likely to favor teaching creationism.
Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian and member of the Kansas school board who
voted to change the state's standards, said the survey's overall results
"would seem to be consistent" with opinion in Kansas.
But he objected to a question asking respondents' opinion of the Kansas
board's action, saying it did not describe the action accurately.
The question said the board had voted "to delete evolution from their new
state science standards" and asked respondents if they supported or opposed
But, Dr. Abrams said, "what we did was to allow local boards of education to
decide how they want to deal with evolution. We did not encourage the
teaching of creationism at all."
A researcher at DYG said that while the question necessarily condensed a
complex and divisive issue into a short sentence for the survey, the firm
stood behind the wording as impartial and accurate.
The answers to that Kansas question seemed to indicate that most Americans
disagreed with the board's decision. While praising the survey in general,
Dr. David W. Moore of The Gallup Poll also maintained that the Kansas
question was poorly worded.
More generally, though, Dr. Moore said the results of the survey showed how
much public opinion had changed from the days of the Scopes trial, when
"most people probably rejected evolution because they just couldn't believe
that human beings descended from apes."
Now, he said, it seems unlikely most people would object to that
proposition, "so long as scientists are not saying that God had no part in
the evolutionary process."
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company
Eric Krieg eric@...