Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shermer on Skepticality

I just listened to the Skepticality podcast that was on the topic of Expelled (it's from a few weeks ago). There were interviews with Richard Dawkins and Michael Shemer, who were both able to see the the film at an advanced screening. The Dawkins interview was pretty unremarkable, but I really liked what Shermer had to say. He is very genuine and open minded and makes some very good points. You can download it for free on iTunes or listen to it on

Friday, April 18, 2008

Expelled is out today....

So Expelled comes out today. I actually forgot that it was out, until I googled it to see if Expelled Exposed has overtaken it in the search results yet. It hasn't, but it has moved from the second to the first page. Anyway, it's playing in the movie theater near me. The masochistic part of me wants to see it, but I will absolutely not pay to do so. Another part of me wants to stand outside of the movie theater handing out informational packets about evolution, with the URL of Expelled Exposed or something. But I have 2 exams and an essay to worry about so I don't have the time to create these packets and stand outside of the theater distributing them. I also don't live in an area where too many people will buy into the message of the movie. Hopefully.

If you are as depressed about the whole Expelled thing as I am, this may cheer you up (From

Monday, April 14, 2008

Expelled Exposed

So I've been quite busy lately, and haven't had time to update. But I have been instructed by the "CENTRAL COMMITTEE OF THE EVOLUTIONARY APPARATUS DIRECTIVE" to drop in and post this link: Expelled

Oh and you all should do it too!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mooney and Nisbet at Princeton

On Monday I attended Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet's talk entitled "Framing Science: Journalism and Science Debates" at Princeton University. I intended to write about it much sooner, but I really haven't stopped moving/working since then. And now it seems like there isn't much point in doing so. Mooney has been posting a series on framing on The Intersection, which basically discusses everything that was said at the lecture, plus more. I commented on this post, stating the main problem I had with the premises he was proposing:

I think I understand what you are advocating and I think it will work for specific issues. I also don't think it should be dismissed or derided, as many have been doing as of late. It is essential to consider our strategy when addressing the public, and you have starting an important conversation. However, I think that instead of focusing our efforts on convincing the public to see it our way on each specific issue, we should work on trying to change number three in your premises. I don't think getting people to accept scientific truths for the wrong reasons should be what we are aiming for. I understand that it is important to push some issues, like global warming, because it is an urgent problem. But for issues such as evolution, in which convincing the general public is not QUITE as urgent, we should aim to get them to accept it for the same reasons that the science community does: because all the evidence is there. I know this is not currently how most Americans decide what to believe, but that is what we should be trying to change. We shouldn't be telling people: "this scientific theory doesn't conflict with your belief system, so don't worry your pretty little heads about it and just take our word for it." Instead we should try to promote critical thought and rational inquiry, and hopefully people will be able to come to the right decisions on their own.

Maybe this is too idealistic...but personally I think that accepting a beautiful theory like evolution for the wrong reasons is just as bad as not accepting it all all. I hope I'm not misunderstanding you premises, and if I am, please correct me.

James Hrynyshyn at Island of Doubt has posted his own critique of framing, which I also agree with for the most part. I may have more to say on the subject after there has been a bit more conversation about it on The Intersection, but that's it for now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

On Blogging as a Student

I have been wanting to start a blog for the past 2 years...ever since I started reading ScienceBlogs actually. However, I have been hesitant about actually going through with it, mainly because I'm only 18 (19 in 2 days!). I am still constantly changing my opinions on almost everything. I only became and atheist and skeptic 2 years ago, although I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. And I very often say things that I realize later are just plain wrong. Every journal I have ever kept has been a good source of mocking laughter a year or two later.

There are a few reasons I finally decided to do this thing. First of all, I need to improve my writing. I have never been much of a writer, but I discovered that I actually do enjoy writing about science. I'm hoping that I can develop that ability in this blog, so please try to bear with any incoherency as I do so.

The second reason is, despite the fact that they do change, I have some very strong opinions. And as I wrote in my first post, I need somewhere besides my facebook to rant about them.

And lastly, even though I still do change my mind about many things, I think that I am finally becoming the person that I am likely to remain for the rest of my life. And hopefully, as I embark on this strange journey through college and into adulthood, this blog will help me sort things out.

That being said, I am only a college freshman and I don't know much. So please, please point out when I'm wrong (and if you could do it nicely, that would be appreciated). And even though I may not agree with you, I will definitely take your comments with an open mind!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


PZ Myers has just written this post about Suzan Mazur, whom I have actually seen before but wasn't aware if it until now. Myers's post is about her article on the Theory of Form, but there is also a link to her article: Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism As Religion. It is hard for me to believe that someone would ever write this, especially since I was at both of the events she mentions. Right at the beginning of the article she says:
Atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins spoke to a packed auditorium at Manhattan's Ethical Culture Society Saturday night about his best-selling book, The God Delusion , admitting in a Q&A that followed being "guilty" of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion and vowing to "reform"
I can only assume she is referring to one of the questioners, who mentioned that referring to someone as a "Darwinist" is strange since we don't refer to people who believe in relativity as "Einsteinists," etc. This wasn't actually how he phrased the question, but I think I've captured the general idea. Regardless, there was no mention of Darwinism as a religion, and Dawkins certainly did NOT renounce it as one. He merely conceded that the questioner made a good point and "raised his consciousness" to this oddity, and that he will try to avoid using the term Darwinism in the future.

Next, she recounts her own question to Dawkins at Barnes and Noble in Tribeca, the night before. She asked him about the Altenburg Evolution Summit. She recounts the conversation rather faithfully, as far as I can remember, except for this:

Suzan Mazur: You might have a look at the story I put up.

Richard Dawkins: No. I'm sorry I've got to answer the question now.

Dawkins wasn't saying no to her request that he read the article. The moderator of the event tried to move on from the Mazur's question, because it was turning into more of a dialogue, and Dawkins was actually saying he must answer Mazur's question. It's not really that important and I don't know if Mazur left that out purposely, but I just figured I'd point it out. Anyway, the key point is this what Dawkins says about the Theory of Form:

I see a lot of value in that kind of approach. It is something we can't as biologists afford to neglect. However, it absolutely neglects the question where does the illusion of design come from? Where do animals and plants get this powerful impression that they have been brilliantly designed for a purpose? Where does that come from?

That does not come from the laws of physics on their own. That cannot come from anything that has so far been suggested by anybody other than natural selection. So I don't see any conflict at all between the theory of natural selection -- the gene-centered theory of natural selection, I should say -- and the theory of form. We need both. We need both. And it is disingenuous to present the one as antagonistic to the other.

I find it amusing the Mazur chose to interpret the combination of these two responses from Dawkins as him renouncing Darwinism and embracing the theory of form, because there is no way a vaguely intelligent human being who actually heard what Dawkins said at both these events would come to this conclusion. I have no clue what her objective is, but she just comes off as completely nuts.

In the comments section of Myers's original post, H.H. recalled the "Darwinism" question and Dawkins's response much better than I did:
During the Q&A session one young man stood up and asked Dawkins why he used the term Darwinism when referring to the theory of evolution. While noting that it is still common to do so in England, most American scientists eschew the term because of the manner in which it plays into the hands of creationists. We don't speak of Newtonism or Einsteinism, the young man pointed out, and referring to the theory of evolution as "Darwinism" might give some the mistaken view that evolution is nothing more than a religion or cult of personality.

Now here's the really amazing thing: despite being about 30 years the young man's senior, Dawkins thoughtfully assented. He agreed that the young questioner had a point, one which he hadn't fully considered before. Perhaps "Darwinian" has it's place, but maybe "Darwinism" should be retired as too likely to be misconstrued. We in the audience saw a respected writer and science advocate who was willing to reevaluate himself and his choice of expression, and we all loudly applauded Dawkins' open-mindedness and willingness to change. It was a great moment.

Well, Now That I'm Back...

I may as well stay for a while. It's a good diversion from the paper I should be writing. So in the last 48 hours:

  • The whole Expelled thing has died down a bit. However, as New Humanist points out, PZ's original post on his expulsion was fourth most popular in the world. Hopefully the hypocrisy of the makers of Expelled was exposed, but I'm still skeptical of whether it came to the attention of many people who didn't already have their minds made up.
  • Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math has an excellent post up about the framing issue. I agree with him completely.
  • Mooney and Nisbet Are going to be giving a talk at Princeton on March 31 about Framing Science. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to go. I'll come back here write about how it goes.