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America dumbs down
Maclean's ^ | May 15, 2014 | Jonathon Gatehouse

Posted on 05/16/2014 7:52:52 AM PDT by rickmichaels

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s signature discovery—first published 155 years ago and validated a million different ways since—long ago ceased to be a matter for serious debate in most of the world. But in the United States, reconciling science and religious belief remains oddly difficult. A national poll, conducted in March for the Associated Press, found that 42 per cent of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” confident that all life on Earth is the product of evolution. Similarly, 51 per cent of people expressed skepticism that the universe started with a “big bang” 13.8 billion years ago, and 36 per cent doubted the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years.

The American public’s bias against established science doesn’t stop where the Bible leaves off, however. The same poll found that just 53 per cent of respondents were “extremely” or “very confident” that childhood vaccines are safe and effective. (Worldwide, the measles killed 120,000 people in 2012. In the United States, where a vaccine has been available since 1963, the last recorded measles death was in 2003.) When it comes to global warming, only 33 per cent expressed a high degree of confidence that it is “man made,” something the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared is all but certain. (The good news, such as it was in the AP poll, was that 69 per cent actually believe in DNA, and 82 per cent now agree that smoking causes cancer.)

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.

In a country bedevilled by mass shootings—Aurora, Colo.; Fort Hood, Texas; Virginia Tech—efforts at gun control have given way to ever-laxer standards. Georgia recently passed a law allowing people to pack weapons in state and local buildings, airports, churches and bars. Florida is debating legislation that will waive all firearm restrictions during state emergencies like riots or hurricanes. (One opponent has moved to rename it “an Act Relating to the Zombie Apocalypse.”) And since the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., 12 states have passed laws allowing guns to be carried in schools, and 20 more are considering such measures.

The cost of a simple appendectomy in the United States averages $33,000 and it’s not uncommon for such bills to top six figures. More than 15 per cent of the population has no health insurance whatsoever. Yet efforts to fill that gaping hole via the Affordable Health Care Act—a.k.a. Obamacare—remain distinctly unpopular. Nonsensical myths about the government’s “real” intentions have found so much traction that 30 per cent still believe that there will be official “death panels” to make decisions on end-of-life care.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has been engaged in an ever-widening program of spying on its own—and foreign—citizens, tapping phones, intercepting emails and texts, and monitoring social media to track the movements, activities and connections of millions. Still, many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Last month, the school board in Meridian, Idaho voted to remove The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from its Grade 10 supplemental reading list following parental complaints about its uncouth language and depictions of sex and drug use. When 17-year-old student Brady Kissel teamed up with staff from a local store to give away copies at a park as a protest, a concerned citizen called police. It was the evening of April 23, which was also World Book Night, an event dedicated to “spreading the love of reading.”

If ignorance is contagious, it’s high time to put the United States in quarantine.

Americans have long worried that their education system is leaving their children behind. With good reason: national exams consistently reveal how little the kids actually know. In the last set, administered in 2010 (more are scheduled for this spring), most fourth graders were unable to explain why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and only half were able to order North America, the U.S., California and Los Angeles by size. Results in civics were similarly dismal. While math and reading scores have improved over the years, economics remains the “best” subject, with 42 per cent of high school seniors deemed “proficient.”

They don’t appear to be getting much smarter as they age. A 2013 survey of 166,000 adults across 20 countries that tested math, reading and technological problem-solving found Americans to be below the international average in every category. (Japan, Finland, Canada, South Korea and Slovakia were among the 11 nations that scored significantly higher.)

The trends are not encouraging. In 1978, 42 per cent of Americans reported that they had read 11 or more books in the past year. In 2014, just 28 per cent can say the same, while 23 per cent proudly admit to not having read even one, up from eight per cent in 1978. Newspaper and magazine circulation continues to decline sharply, as does viewership for cable news. The three big network supper-hour shows drew a combined average audience of 22.6 million in 2013, down from 52 million in 1980. While 82 per cent of Americans now say they seek out news digitally, the quality of the information they’re getting is suspect. Among current affairs websites, Buzzfeed logs almost as many monthly hits as the Washington Post.

The advance of ignorance and irrationalism in the U.S. has hardly gone unnoticed. The late Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer prize back in 1964 for his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which cast the nation’s tendency to embrace stupidity as a periodic by-product of its founding urge to democratize everything. By 2008, journalist Susan Jacoby was warning that the denseness—“a virulent mixture of anti-rationalism and low expectations”—was more of a permanent state. In her book, The Age of American Unreason, she posited that it trickled down from the top, fuelled by faux-populist politicians striving to make themselves sound approachable rather than smart. Their creeping tendency to refer to everyone—voters, experts, government officials—as “folks” is “symptomatic of a debasement of public speech inseparable from a more general erosion of American cultural standards,” she wrote. “Casual, colloquial language also conveys an implicit denial of the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated: talking about folks going off to war is the equivalent of describing rape victims as girls.”

That inarticulate legacy didn’t end with George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. Barack Obama, the most cerebral and eloquent American leader in a generation, regularly plays the same card, droppin’ his Gs and dialling down his vocabulary to Hee Haw standards. His ability to convincingly play a hayseed was instrumental in his 2012 campaign against the patrician Mitt Romney; in one of their televised debates the President referenced “folks” 17 times.

An aversion to complexity—at least when communicating with the public—can also be seen in the types of answers politicians now provide the media. The average length of a sound bite by a presidential candidate in 1968 was 42.3 seconds. Two decades later, it was 9.8 seconds. Today, it’s just a touch over seven seconds and well on its way to being supplanted by 140-character Twitter bursts.

Little wonder then that distrust—of leaders, institutions, experts, and those who report on them—is rampant. A YouGov poll conducted last December found that three-quarters of Americans agreed that science is a force for good in the world. Yet when asked if they truly believe what scientists tell them, only 36 per cent of respondents said yes. Just 12 per cent expressed strong confidence in the press to accurately report scientific findings. (Although according to a 2012 paper by Gordon Gauchat, a University of North Carolina sociologist, the erosion of trust in science over the past 40 years has been almost exclusively confined to two groups: conservatives and regular churchgoers. Counterintuitively, it is the most highly educated among them—with post-secondary education—who harbour the strongest doubts.)

The term “elitist” has become one of the most used, and feared, insults in American life. Even in the country’s halls of higher learning, there is now an ingrained bias that favours the accessible over the exacting.

“There’s a pervasive suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization,” says Catherine Liu, the author of American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique and a film and media studies professor at University of California at Irvine. Both ends of the political spectrum have come to reject the conspicuously clever, she says, if for very different reasons; the left because of worries about inclusiveness, the right because they equate objections with obstruction. As a result, the very mission of universities has changed, argues Liu. “We don’t educate people anymore. We train them to get jobs.” (Boomers, she says, deserve most of the blame. “They were so triumphalist in promoting pop culture and demoting the canon.”)

The digital revolution, which has brought boundless access to information and entertainment choices, has somehow only enhanced the lowest common denominators—LOL cat videos and the Kardashians. Instead of educating themselves via the Internet, most people simply use it to validate what they already suspect, wish or believe to be true. It creates an online environment where Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy model with a high school education, can become a worldwide leader of the anti-vaccination movement, naysaying the advice of medical professionals.

Most perplexing, however, is where the stupid is flowing from. As conservative pundit David Frum recently noted, where it was once the least informed who were most vulnerable to inaccuracies, it now seems to be the exact opposite. “More sophisticated news consumers turn out to use this sophistication to do a better job of filtering out what they don’t want to hear,” he blogged.

But are things actually getting worse? There’s a long and not-so-proud history of American electors lashing out irrationally, or voting against their own interests. Political scientists have been tracking, since the early 1950s, just how poorly those who cast ballots seem to comprehend the policies of the parties and people they are endorsing. A wealth of research now suggests that at the most optimistic, only 70 per cent actually select the party that accurately represents their views—and there are only two choices.

Larry Bartels, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University, says he doubts that the spreading ignorance is a uniquely American phenomenon. Facing complex choices, uncertain about the consequences of the alternatives, and tasked with balancing the demands of jobs, family and the things that truly interest them with boring policy debates, people either cast their ballots reflexively, or not at all. The larger question might be whether engagement really matters. “If your vision of democracy is one in which elections provide solemn opportunities for voters to set the course of public policy and hold leaders accountable, yes,” Bartels wrote in an email to Maclean’s. “If you take the less ambitious view that elections provide a convenient, non-violent way for a society to agree on who is in charge at any given time, perhaps not.”

A study by two Princeton University researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, released last month, tracked 1,800 U.S. policy changes between 1981 and 2002, and compared the outcome with the expressed preferences of median-income Americans, the affluent, business interests and powerful lobbies. They concluded that average citizens “have little or no independent influence” on policy in the U.S., while the rich and their hired mouthpieces routinely get their way. “The majority does not rule,” they wrote.

Smart money versus dumb voters is hardly a fair fight. But it does offer compelling evidence that the survival of the fittest remains an unshakable truth even in American life. A sad sort of proof of evolution.

TOPICS: Society

1 posted on 05/16/2014 7:52:52 AM PDT by rickmichaels
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To: rickmichaels
Granted the Earth is substantially older than 6000 years. Nonetheless, it is not billions or even hundreds of millions of years old, and evolution is still a BS ideological doctrine masquerading as a science theory.

The problem is with the basic laws of mathematics and probability, with which evolution is essentially incompatible. The (proportionally) biggest group of people not buying into evoloserism is mathematicians, and not Christians.

The best illustration of how stupid evolutionism really is involves trying to become some totally new animal with new organs, a new basic plan for existence, and new requirements for integration between both old and new organs.

Take flying birds for example; suppose you aren't one, and you want to become one. You'll need a baker's dozen highly specialized systems, including wings, flight feathers, a system for pivoting flight feathers so that they open on up strokes and close on down strokes, a specialized light bone structure, specialized flow-through lungs and a high efficiency heart, a specialized tail, specialized general balance parameters, a beak (since you won't have hands any more...) etc. etc. etc.

For starters, every one of these things would be antifunctional until the day on which the whole thing came together, so that the chances of evolving any of these things by any process resembling evolution (mutations plus selection) would amount to an infinitessimal, i.e. one divided by some gigantic number.

In probability theory, to compute the probability of two things happening at once, you multiply the probabilities together. That says that the likelihood of all these things ever happening at once (which is what you'd need), best case, is ten or twelve such infinitessimals multiplied together, i.e. a tenth or twelth-order infinitessimal. The whole history of the universe isn't long enough for that to happen once.

All of that was the best case. For the pieces of being a flying bird to evolve piecemeal would be much harder. In real life, natural selection could not plausibly select for hoped-for functionality, which is what would be required in order to evolve flight feathers on something which could not fly apriori. In real life, all you'd ever get would some sort of a random walk around some starting point, rather than the unidircetional march towards a future requirement which evolution requires.

And the real killer, i.e. the thing which simply kills evolutionism dead, is the following consideration: In real life, assuming you were to somehow miraculously evolve the first feature you'd need to become a flying bird, then by the time another 10,000 generations rolled around and you evolved the second such reature, the first, having been disfunctional/antifunctional all the while, would have DE-EVOLVED and either disappeared altogether or become vestigial.

Now, it would be miraculous if, given all the above, some new kind of complex creature with new organs and a new basic plan for life had ever evolved ONCE.

Evolutionism, however (the Theory of Evolution) requires that this has happened countless billions of times, i.e. an essentially infinite number of absolutely zero probability events.

And, if you were starting to think that nothing could possibly be any stupider than believing in evolution despite all of the above (i.e. that the basic stupidity of evolutionism starting from 1980 or thereabouts could not possibly be improved upon), think again. Because there is zero evidence in the fossil record to support any sort of a theory involving macroevolution, and because the original conceptions of evolution are flatly refuted by developments in population genetics since the 1950's, the latest incarnation of this theory, Steve Gould and Niles Eldredge's "Punctuated Equilibrium or punc-eek" attempts to claim that these wholesale violations of probabilistic laws all occurred so suddenly as to never leave evidence in the fossil record, and that they all occurred amongst tiny groups of animals living in "peripheral" areas. That says that some velocirapter who wanted to be a bird got together with fifty of his friends and said:

Guys, we need flight feathers, and wings, and specialized bones, hearts, lungs, and tails, and we need em NOW; not two years from now. Everybody ready, all together now:

You could devise a new religion by taking the single stupidest doctrine from each of the existing religions, and it would not be as stupid as THAT.

But it gets even stupider.

Again, the original Darwinian vision of gradualistic evolution is flatly refuted by the fossil record (Darwinian evolution demanded that the vast bulk of ALL fossils be intermediates) and by the findings of population genetics, particularly the Haldane dilemma and the impossible time requirements for spreading genetic changes through any sizeable herd of animals.

Consider what Gould and other punk-eekers are saying. Punc-eek amounts to a claim that all meaningful evolutionary change takes place in peripheral areas, amongst tiny groups of animals which develop some genetic advantage, and then move out and overwhelm, outcompete, and replace the larger herds. They are claiming that this eliminates the need to spread genetic change through any sizeable herd of animals and, at the same time, is why we never find intermediate fossils (since there are never enough of these CHANGELINGS to leave fossil evidence).

Obvious problems with punctuated equilibria include, minimally:

1. It is a pure pseudoscience seeking to explain and actually be proved by a lack of evidence rather than by evidence (all the missing intermediate fossils). Similarly, Cotton Mather claimed that the fact that nobody had ever seen or heard a witch was proof they were there (if you could SEE them, they wouldn't BE witches...) This kind of logic is less inhibiting than the logic they used to teach in American schools.

2. PE amounts to a claim that inbreeding is the most major source of genetic advancement in the world. Apparently Steve Gould never saw Deliverance...

3. PE requires these tiny peripheral groups to conquer vastly larger groups of animals millions if not billions of times, which is like requiring Custer to win at the little Big Horn every day, for millions of years.

4. PE requires an eternal victory of animals specifically adapted to localized and parochial conditions over animals which are globally adapted, which never happens in real life.

5. For any number of reasons, you need a minimal population of any animal to be viable. This is before the tiny group even gets started in overwhelming the vast herds. A number of American species such as the heath hen became non-viable when their numbers were reduced to a few thousand; at that point, any stroke of bad luck at all, a hard winter, a skewed sex ratio in one generation, a disease of some sort, and it's all over. The heath hen was fine as long as it was spread out over the East coast of the U.S. The point at which it got penned into one of these "peripheral" areas which Gould and Eldredge see as the salvation for evolutionism, it was all over.

The sort of things noted in items 3 and 5 are generally referred to as the "gambler's problem", in this case, the problem facing the tiny group of "peripheral" animals being similar to that facing a gambler trying to beat the house in blackjack or roulette; the house could lose many hands of cards or rolls of the dice without flinching, and the globally-adapted species spread out over a continent could withstand just about anything short of a continental-scale catastrophe without going extinct, while two or three bad rolls of the dice will bankrupt the gambler, and any combination of two or three strokes of bad luck will wipe out the "peripheral" species. Gould's basic method of handling this problem is to ignore it.

And there's one other thing which should be obvious to anybody attempting to read through Gould and Eldridge's BS:

The don't even bother to try to provide a mechanism or technical explaination of any sort for this "punk-eek"

They are claiming that at certain times, amongst tiny groups of animals living in peripheral areas, a "speciation event(TM)" happens, and THEN the rest of it takes place. In other words, they are saying:

ASSUMING that Abracadabra-Shazaam(TM) happens, then the rest of the business proceeds as we have described in our scholarly discourse above!

Again, Gould and Eldridge require that the Abracadabra-Shazaam(TM) happen not just once, but countless billions of times, i.e. at least once for every kind of complex creature which has ever walked the Earth. They do not specify whether this amounts to the same Abracadabra-Shazaam each time, or a different kind of Abracadabra-Shazaam for each creature.

2 posted on 05/16/2014 7:59:18 AM PDT by varmintman (It must really suck to be a Nazi in Kiev these days...)
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To: rickmichaels

“...bias against established science.”

So, we were smarter back when those numbers were more in favor of godless evolution? I guess, since we’re all so much stupider, it’s nice we have established science. That way, all us dummies don’t have to think anymore.

3 posted on 05/16/2014 8:00:26 AM PDT by demshateGod (The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.)
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To: All
They are now getting good radiocarbon dates for dinosaur remains, typically 20K - 40K years, in blind tests with the dating center at the University of Georgia.
4 posted on 05/16/2014 8:02:22 AM PDT by varmintman (It must really suck to be a Nazi in Kiev these days...)
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To: varmintman
The (proportionally) biggest group of people not buying into evoloserism is mathematicians, and not Christians.

Link Please

5 posted on 05/16/2014 8:02:40 AM PDT by qam1 (There's been a huge party. All plates and the bottles are empty, all that's left is the bill to pay)
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To: qam1

6 posted on 05/16/2014 8:07:36 AM PDT by varmintman (It must really suck to be a Nazi in Kiev these days...)
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To: rickmichaels

Just wonderin’ why, whoever, decided to use the picture of what appears to be a man and a woman with guns for the article? The section “devoted” to guns claims we are “bedeviled” with mass shootings. Huh? We are? If and when they occur they get more press time and almost instantaneous as well.

7 posted on 05/16/2014 8:09:53 AM PDT by rktman (Ethnicity: Nascarian. Race: Daytonafivehundrian)
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To: rickmichaels

“Barack Obama, the most cerebral and eloquent American leader in a generation”


8 posted on 05/16/2014 8:10:07 AM PDT by piytar (The predator-class is furious that their prey are shooting back.)
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To: varmintman

Your post stands as a confirming data-point for the claim of the Maclean’s article.

9 posted on 05/16/2014 8:11:04 AM PDT by headsonpikes (Mass murder and cannibalism are the twin sacraments of socialism - "Who-whom?"-Lenin)
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To: varmintman

So one mathematician at a meeting that took place way back in 1966 says he doesn't believe in Evolution and somehow that means "The (proportionally) biggest group of people not buying into evoloserism is mathematicians"

Really, that is what you are going with????

10 posted on 05/16/2014 8:16:29 AM PDT by qam1 (There's been a huge party. All plates and the bottles are empty, all that's left is the bill to pay)
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To: piytar

The biggest contribution to mass stupidity has been nihilism. Hello fruits of evolution! If this all just happened, what’s the point in knowing anything about it other than proving you’re the smartest person in the room? But if God made it all according to His plan, it’s a good idea for us to figure out why He did and what He wants from us.

11 posted on 05/16/2014 8:17:47 AM PDT by demshateGod (The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.)
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To: varmintman

That’s an exact copy of a post from 2011 from a banned user Wendy1946.

12 posted on 05/16/2014 8:23:26 AM PDT by Fuzz
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To: rickmichaels
South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis.

I think that their state bird is the mosquito.

13 posted on 05/16/2014 8:38:25 AM PDT by NCjim (Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.)
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To: Fuzz

Musta found it in the same place I did....

14 posted on 05/16/2014 10:28:58 AM PDT by varmintman (It must really suck to be a Nazi in Kiev these days...)
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