I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Some of the big stories n stuff about ILYBYGTH themes from around the interwebs this week:

The big one: Trump administration might redefine gender, at NYT.

Reactions:

Oh, no. Iowan burns gay-friendly books, at DMR.

Want to start your own NFL team? The Green Bay Packers got started for only $500, at HT.

acme packers

Got 500 bucks?

Want to succeed in life? Go to a rich-kids’ high school, at IHE. HT: MM

Why did Saudi Arabia kill Khashoggi? Mark Perry says he pointed out an unbearable truth, at AC.

David Berliner on the real roots of America’s school problems, at WaPo.

Difficult truths: Peter Greene on the hardest part of a teacher’s job.

Creationism and climate-change denial lose the standards fight in Arizona, at NCSE.

The latest from the Harvard trial: If you want diversity, forget about race and use this factor instead, at CHE.

Ouch. After all the shouting, Jennifer Burns offers yet another scholarly take on Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, at HPE.

Democracy in Chains promised to do many important things: insert Buchanan and public choice theory into our history of conservative thought and politics; highlight antidemocratic tendencies in libertarian thought; and probe the intersection of midcentury libertarianism, Southern segregation, and white supremacy. Unfortunately, the book is too heated, partisan, and shallow to accomplish these tasks successfully. Even more unfortunately, at a moment when the nation desperately needs new and creative political thinking, of the kind that often emerges out of liminal spaces between ideologies and academic disciplines, the book serves to reinscribe a Manichean right/ left binary onto the past. Rife with distortions and inaccuracies, the book is above all a missed opportunity to encourage critical thought about intellectual and political change on the American right. . . . MacLean’s eagerness for a conviction leads her to browbeat the jury. . . . Ultimately it is not a book of scholarship, but of partisanship, written to reinforce existing divides and confirm existing biases. As such it will not stand the test of time, but will stand rather as testimony to its time.

Thomas Aquinas and evolution, at Touchstone.

Catholics for Fundamentalist U: Notre Dame men’s group requests a porn filter for campus.

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How Many Climate-Change Deniers Do You Know?

Count em up. Or, if you’re a denier yourself, do it backwards: How many climate-change accepters do you know? A recent interview with sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund shows that the real issue with science denialism isn’t knowledge or ignorance. It isn’t religion or science. It’s something else.ecklund religion science

Ecklund is talking these days about her latest research. In the past, she asked elite academics how much they knew about religion. In her new book, she’s sharing her data about religious people. How many scientists do they know? What do they think about science?

In this interview, Professor Ecklund offers a compelling description of the real problem with climate-change politics. As she puts it,

Scientists tend to think that it’s all about knowledge. It’s not actually about teaching people better—there’s good science out there, there’s nearly total consensus that climate change is happening and that humans have something to do with it. But certain groups of constituents really need to build relationships with a scientific community. Once you have a relationship with someone, and you don’t think they’re crazy, then information can pass over that relational tie. [Emphasis added.]

Do religious ideas matter? Sure. Is scientific training important? Of course. But the real issue is trust. When people don’t trust all those “Al Gore” scientists, it doesn’t matter how much talking and outreach scientists do. As Ecklund suggests, if you thinks someone is crazy (or “ignorant,” or “wicked”), it doesn’t matter how many charts and graphs they show you. If you think someone is crazy or evil, you won’t believe what they tell you, no matter what.

And though it hurts to admit, the trust question goes both ways. For those of us who want to see more and better climate-change education, resistance can seem sinister. Indeed, in this very interview, the interviewer criticized Ecklund for being too naïve. The real problem with climate-change denial, the interviewer wrote, comes not from distrust or dissent, but from

well-documented lobbying and misinformation campaigns by fossil fuel interests—which target religious conservatives and the politicians who represent them with cultural kowtows…

In other words, it’s easy to see climate-change denialism as nothing but a dangerous mix of the ignorant and the wicked. For the interviewer, Ecklund’s research is suspicious because it goes against something “the general observer” knows full well. The irony is palpable.

People like the interviewer (and me) are just as susceptible to trust issues as are climate-change denialists. We don’t trust oil companies and their lackies, so we assume that climate-change denial must result from self-serving cover-ups. When research like Ecklund’s disrupts what we think we know, we’d prefer to deny it.

It’s easy to do, because most of us don’t generally hang around with people from the other side. Aside from the annual awkward Thanksgiving dinner, that is, most of us don’t interact with people who disagree about climate change or other tough topics. As Ecklund suggests, many climate-change denialists don’t have productive, healthy relationships with mainstream climate-change scientists. And those of us on the other side don’t know any real live denialists.

The result? We don’t trust one another. We don’t trust the other side’s motives. For denialists, accepting human-caused climate change can seem like a sucker move, a capitulation. For the rest of us, denying the well-founded scientific evidence for human-caused climate change seems the same.

Does ignorance matter? Yes. Does religion influence these issues? Sure. But beyond and behind those sorts of things, as Professor Ecklund points out, the real question is TRUST.

They Love You but They’re Going to Brexit

I admit it: I don’t get out much. I live in the USA. I study the history of the USA. I spend my time trying to understand parts of the USA that just don’t make any immediate obvious sense to me—things like creationism and fundamentalism. So my ears perked up when I heard that the new “kingmakers” in the UK were guided by “a mixture of old-time religion and secular nativism.” Based on the flurry of news about them, they certainly sound like US-style religious culture-warriors.

DUP

Look familiar?

But I don’t know much about it. Here’s what I’m reading: After Theresa May’s drubbing in the recent election, her Conservative Party has had to partner up with the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland. The DUP is an odd duck in Europolitics. As one European journalist described them, they don’t fit in in Europe, but “to an American, especially from the deep South, the party would seem much more familiar.”

After a quick look, it does sound eerily similar, but not exactly the same. The DUP are against LGBTQ rights; they are anti-abortion; they are climate-change deniers. Many of its leaders are regular church-goers; many leaders are creationists. Due to the turbulent and violent recent history of Northern Ireland, they also have ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.

Like many American fundamentalist groups, the DUP was founded by a Presbyterian hard-liner. The Reverend Ian Paisley—in yet another connection to historical American fundamentalism—was motivated by a political and theological anti-Catholicism.

Carl McIntire 1970

Carl McIntire, American Fundamentalist, 1970

Of course, there are big differences. Being anti-Catholic in Ireland is a world away from being anti-Catholic in Texas. Being a “militant” Presbyterian in a warzone is different from being a “militant” Presbyterian in New Jersey.

Yet the connections still seem palpable. According to The Economist, at least, the DUP is motivated by the same sense of usurped proprietary nationalism that fuels American fundamentalist outrage. As that paper put it,

What unites many voters of Protestant heritage, whether religious or not, is a feeling that the tide of history has, in some mysterious and unfair way, turned against them. . . . The DUP speaks to the fears and aspirations of those voters—sometimes in subliminally religious language and sometimes in more secular tones.

Educate me, SAGLRROILYBYGTH: Am I missing something? We hear time and time again that no other post-industrial society fuses together God and society the way American conservatives like to do. From what I can tell, the theocratic dreams and creationist textbooks of the DUP sound awfully similar.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

As the weather heats up, so do the interwebs. Here are a few stories we might have missed over the past week:

Stanford students call for greater ideological diversity on their elite campus.

Will individualized classroom material always help students? Not always. Dan Willingham explores a new study of adaptive vs. static practice.

Poaching teachers to North Carolina from low-pay Oklahoma.Bart reading bible

Conservative evangelicals pooh-pooh climate change on religious grounds. Jakob Erickson accuses at Religion Dispatches.

University of Chicago researcher finds—surprise!—left-wingers and right-wingers read very different science books. HT: V(F)W

How to get fired: One Texas middle-school teacher gave out “Most Likely to Be a Terrorist” and “Most Likely to Blend in with White People” awards.

Republicans pressure Secretary DeVos to sweeten the education budget.

Buzzfeed claims Trump is inspiring school bullies nationwide.

How did she learn to be Betsy? The New York Times looks at Secretary Devos’s evangelical schools and those of her children.

Whoops! It looks as if Liberty’s Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke too soon. He won’t be leading a higher-ed task force after all.

Say whatever you want, as long as it makes us look good: The University of North Carolina shuts down a history class that publicized its recent athletics scandal.

What the New Yorker Found in Ohio

…ahem. It’s difficult to know what to say at this point. Those of us living in flyover country like to rant and rave about the arrogant obliviousness of big-city fancy folks. Deep down, though, we hope we’re just jealous; we hope the New Yorkers and their ilk are a lot smarter than they seem. Time and again, though, the city slickers seem to go out of their way to prove they are just as ridiculous as they first appeared. Yesterday, for example, I took to these pages to complain about science-missionary attitudes. Today it just gets worse.

groucho marx surprised

I just don’t know what to say…

Today’s non-revelation comes from Amy Harmon, the author of yesterday’s article about science-missionary James Sutter. Harmon mea-culpa’d her way through today’s article, breathlessly sharing her revelations, brag-scolding herself for the “preconceptions that had shaped my original notions.”

For example, Harmon reported that she actually liked one of the climate-change skeptics she met, even “admiring her spunk in the face of a hostile world.”

And Harmon was wowed by the fact that there was diversity—even in Ohio! Some of the students embraced climate-change science.

To Harmon and her editors, such things counted as newsworthy revelations.

I’m flummoxed and I could use some help. Am I being unfair to Harmon and her New York presumptions? Or is it depressing that the nation’s leading newspaper really considered it “news” that people had conflicting ideas about climate change? …that some climate-change skeptics had otherwise admirable personalities?

Science Missionary Flounders in Ohio Public School

It’s difficult to believe that smart, educated, well-dressed people still haven’t gotten the message, but apparently…they haven’t. It has just happened again: A well-intentioned science missionary has blundered into hostile territory. He was flummoxed when angry locals didn’t immediately embrace his message. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: If you really want to teach real science to creationists or climate-change deniers, you need to take a different approach.

Here are the details from the most recent episode: The New York Times carried the story of a smart and credentialed science expert who deigned to enter Trump territory to teach climate change. Some students balked. The teacher wasn’t prepared for such hostility. He doubled down in his attempt to help denialists see the light. Some did, but others turned implacably against him and his climate-change message.

00climateclass-02-master675

Why won’t you agree I’m right…?

Let me be crystal-clear from the outset. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to do a better job of spreading the word about real science. I am dismayed by Trump’s anti-intellectual climate-change denialism. I cheer and support all efforts to teach good science.

But I can’t understand how so many of my allies still suffer from the “missionary supposition.” Like the science teacher in this story, they think that the obvious truth of climate change (or evolution) is enough to convince everyone they meet. Even worse, as in this case, some science missionaries approach their mission fields with a lamentable arrogance. Students in this story didn’t like the way the teacher kept reminding them that he was doing them a big favor; telling them that he had given up higher-paying jobs to come help them. One particularly hostile student fled from the class, complaining that the message was only that she was “wrong and stupid.”

What should the teacher have done instead? Happily, the NYT called ILYBYGTH science-communication guru Dan Kahan. And Professor Kahan told them the obvious truth: Denying science is not about knowledge, it is about identity. When the people in this particular science class responded angrily to the science missionary, it was because they felt attacked, insulted, and condescended to.

Whether you’re Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, or a classroom science teacher, the lessons have been clear for a long, long time. If we really want people to know and understand climate-change science or evolution, we need to ditch our missionary suppositions. We need to get rid of our assumption that people who don’t agree with us are simply ignorant. Or evil.

Like any teacher worth his or her salt, our first goal should be to get to know our students, to connect with them as people, not to treat them as sadly deficient ignoramuses. If and only if we do that can we ever hope to be trusted enough to talk about sensitive ideological issues.

I’ll say it again: Nothing in this prescription includes watering down science to flatter hostiles. Never would I suggest we skirt controversy in order to keep everyone happy. Rather, the smart play is to recognize our own blundering missionary history. Instead of plunking down in hostile territory and assuming that locals will rush to embrace our message, we need to take time to understand why people distrust us.

Wrong Not Crazy

Are creationists crazy?  Dumb?  Ignorant?  Guilty of child abuse?

Of course, some creationists might be all or any of those things.  But in spite of the overheated accusations of some science advocates, creationists are not dumb or crazy BECAUSE of their creationism.  More to the point, assuming that creationists can only be crazy stops any authentic attempt to understand creationism.  In the long run, that sort of ignorance on the part of evolution educators hurts the cause of evolution education itself.

This is not a popular thing to say.  Creationists don’t like it because it suggests that many people think of them as idiots.  Many anti-creationists don’t like it because they take the idiocy of creationism as an article of faith.

When I made this simple point in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education a few months back, I was called an idiot and worse.

Recently, Josh Rosenau, Policy Director of the National Center for Science Education, emphasized this important idea in a talk to an audience at Santa Clara University.  Rosenau has argued this unpopular position before.

In his recent talk, Rosenau pointed out (minute 15 of the 45-minute video) that “Science Denial” may be wrong, but it is not irrational, nor is it antiscience.  People who do not believe in evolution often know about it.  People who do not believe in evolution have their own consistent, internally logical, socially supported intellectual community.  As Rosenau noted, creationism is often “driven by personal identity and deep, real, important concerns.”

Continuing kudos to Rosenau and the NCSE.  This message is often politically unpalatable, but it is the only way to make progress in these depressingly durable creation/evolution battles.  Name-calling and point-scoring only deepen the culture-war trenches.