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Citizen MD [American Medical Association op-ed against Intelligent Design]
American Medical Association ^ | 12/02/2005 | Paul Costello

Posted on 12/03/2005 6:18:54 AM PST by Right Wing Professor

I’m afraid we live in loopy times. How else to account for the latest entries in America’s culture wars: science museum docents donning combat gloves against rival fundamentalist tour groups and evolution on trial in a Pennsylvania federal court. For those keeping score, so far this year it’s Monkeys: 0, Monkey Business: 82. That's 82 evolution versus creationism debates in school boards or towns nationwide—this year alone. [1]

This past summer, when most Americans were distracted by thoughts of beaches and vacations or the high price of gasoline (even before the twin hits of Katrina and Rita), 2 heavy-weight political figures joined the President of the United States to weigh in on a supposedly scientific issue. US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Arizona Senator John McCain, and President George W. Bush each endorsed the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution in the science classroom. Can anyone reasonably convince me that these pronouncements were not just cynical political punditry but, rather, were expressions of sincere beliefs?

So you have to ask yourself in light of all of these events, are we headed back to the past with no escape in the future? Are we trapped in a new period of history when science, once again, is in for the fight of its life?

In times like these, as inundated as we are by technical wizardry, one might conclude that American technological supremacy and know-how would lead, inevitably, to a deeper understanding or trust of science. Well, it doesn’t. Perhaps just the opposite is true. Technology and gee whiz gadgetry has led to more suspicion rather than less. And a typical American’s understanding of science is limited at best. As far as evolution is concerned, if you’re a believer in facts, scientific methods, and empirical data, the picture is even more depressing. A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Science found that 64 percent of respondents support teaching creationism side by side with evolution in the science curriculum of public schools. A near majority—48 percent—do not believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution is proven by fossil discoveries. Thirty-three percent believe that a general agreement does not exist among scientists that humans evolved over time [2].

What if we become a nation that can’t chew gum, walk down the street, and transplant embryonic stem cells all at the same time? Does it matter?

New York Times journalist Cornelia Dean, who balances her time between science reporting for the Times and lecturing at Harvard, told me that she believes that science stands in a perilous position. “Science, as an institution, has largely ceded the microphone to people who do not necessarily always embrace the scientific method,” she says. “Unless scientists participate in the public life of our country, our discourse on a number of issues of great importance becomes debased” [3].

Others, such as journalist Chris Mooney, point to the increasing politicization of science as a pollutant seeping into our nation’s psyche. In his recent book, The Republican War on Science, Mooney spells out the danger of ignorance in public life when ideology trumps science.

Science politicization threatens not just our public health and the environment but the very integrity of American democracy, which relies heavily on scientific and technical expertise to function. At a time when more political choices than ever before hinge upon the scientific and technical competence of our elected leaders, the disregard for consensus and expertise—and the substitution of ideological allegiance for careful assessment—can have disastrous consequences [4].

Jon D. Miller, PhD, a political scientist on faculty at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine, believes that the sophisticated questions of biology that will confront each and every American in the 21st Century will require that they know the difference between a cell and a cell phone and are able to differentiate DNA from MTV. For decades, Miller has been surveying Americans about their scientific knowledge. “We are now entering a period where our ability to unravel previously understood or not understood questions is going to grow extraordinarily,” says Miller. “As long as you are looking at the physics of nuclear power plants or the physics of transistors [all 20th Century questions]…it doesn’t affect your short-term belief systems. You can still turn on a radio and say it sounds good but you don’t have to know why it works. As we get into genetic medicine, infectious diseases…if you don’t understand immunity, genetics, the principles of DNA, you’re going to have a hard time making sense of these things” [5].

Culture Wars and 82 Evolution Debates

Yet in some corners today, knowledge isn’t really the problem. It’s anti-knowledge that is beginning to scare the scientific community. Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, calls 2005 “a fairly busy year” when he considers the 82 evolution versus creationism “flare-ups” that have occurred at the state, local, and individual classroom levels so far. According to a spring 2005 survey of science teachers, the heat in the classroom was not coming from Bunsen burners or exothermic reactions but rather from a pressure on teachers to censor. The National Science Teachers Association’s informal survey of its members found that 31 percent of them feel pressured to include creationism, intelligent design, or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classroom [1]. Classrooms aren’t the only places feeling the heat. Science museums have also become conflict zones. In her New York Times article, Challenged by Creationists, Museums Answer Back, Dean detailed special docent training sessions that will enable the guides to be better armed “to deal with visitors who reject settled precepts of science on religious grounds” [6].

These ideological battles aren’t likely to vanish any time soon. If anything, an organized and emboldened fundamentalist religious movement buttressed by political power in Washington will continue to challenge accepted scientific theory that collides with religious beliefs. So one must ask, is it too farfetched to see these ideological battles spilling over into areas of medical research and even into funding at the National Institutes of Health?

Now I am not asking for a world that doesn’t respect religious belief. My education as a Roman Catholic balanced creed and science. In the classroom of my youth, one nun taught creationism in religion class while another taught evolution in science, and never the twain did meet.

Where Is the Medical Community?

The medical community as a whole has been largely absent from today’s public debates on science. Neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychiatric Association has taken a formal stand on the issue of evolution versus creationism. When physicians use their power of political persuasion in state legislatures and the US Congress, it’s generally on questions more pertinent to their daily survival—Medicare reimbursement, managed care reform, and funding for medical research. Northwestern’s Miller believes that the scientific community can’t fight the battle alone and that, as the attacks against science accelerate, the medical community will have to use its privileged perch in society to make the case for science. “You have to join your friends, so when someone attacks the Big Bang, when someone attacks evolution, when someone attacks stem cell research, all of us rally to the front. You can’t say it’s their problem because the scientific community is not so big that we can splinter 4 or more ways and ever still succeed doing anything” [5].

So what does one do? How can a medical student, a resident, or a physician just beginning to build a career become active in these larger public battles? Burt Humburg, MD, a resident in internal medicine at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center, is one role model. He’s been manning the evolutionary ramparts since his medical school days in Kansas in the late 1990s when he became active in Kansas Citizens for Science. On a brief vacation from his residency volunteering as a citizen advocate for the federal trial in Pennsylvania, he said education is the key role for the physician. While he realizes that medical students, residents and physicians might not view themselves as scientists, per se, he sees himself and his colleagues as part of the larger scientific collective that can’t afford to shirk its duty. “The town scientist is the town doctor, so whether we want it or not, we have the mantle—the trappings—of a scientist” [7].

It is time for the medical community, through the initiative of individual physicians, to address not only how one can heal thy patient, but also how one can heal thy nation. There are many ways to get involved; from the most rudimentary—attending school board meetings, sending letters to the editor, and volunteering at the local science museum—to the more demanding—running for office, encouraging a spouse or partner to do so, or supporting candidates (especially financially) who are willing to speak out for science. As Tip O’Neill, the larger-than-life Speaker of the House of Representatives, famously declared, “All politics is local.” Speak out for science. Isn’t that a message that should be advanced in every physician’s office?

Northwestern’s Jon Miller concedes that speaking out may come with a price, “It won’t make…[physicians]...popular with many people but is important for any profession, particularly a profession based on science” to do so [5]. Consider this: shouldn’t civic leadership be embedded in the mind of every blooming physician? In the end, doesn’t combating this virulent campaign of anti-knowledge lead us back to that old adage of evolutionary leadership by example, “Monkey see, monkey do?” Seize the day, Doc.


1. Survey indicates science teachers feel pressure to teach nonscientific alternatives to evolution [press release]. Arlington, Va: National Science Teachers Association; March 24, 2005. Available at: Accessed November 21, 2005.
2. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press: Reading the polls on evolution and creationism, Pew Center Pollwatch. September 28, 2005. Available at: Accessed November 21, 2005.
3. Dean, Cornelia. E-mail response to author. September 27, 2005.
4. Mooney C. The Republican War on Science. New York, NY: Basic Books; 2005.
5. Miller, Jon D. Telephone interview with author. September 29, 2005.
6. Dean C. Challenged by creationists, museums answer back. The New York Times. September 20, 2005. F1.
7. Humburg, Burt C. MD. Telephone interview with author. October 3, 2005.
Paul Costello is executive director of communications and public affairs for Stanford University School of Medicine.
The viewpoints expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: ama; crevolist; idisjunkscience
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To: Mamzelle

No, Baby Fae is not a poster child for anything. Baby Fae is a tragedy.

As for ego...evolution said the material would not be compatible, Biblical literalism dismissed the evidence.

121 posted on 12/03/2005 12:13:15 PM PST by From many - one.
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To: From many - one.
And from one ambitious surgeon who wanted to experiment, the whole scientific world will collapse!

Will you be joining the Democrats soon to stave off this calamity?

122 posted on 12/03/2005 12:17:29 PM PST by Mamzelle
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To: From many - one.
If anything the anti-scientists are more like Marxists thany anything else we've seen recently...think Mao's flowers blooming and the overthrow of the educated in Stalin's Russia.

And Hitler's policies ran a few brilliant scientists out of Germany just before an important war (just when he needed them the most).

123 posted on 12/03/2005 12:19:16 PM PST by Coyoteman (I love the sound of beta decay in the morning!)
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To: Stultis
If this is so then why are those who would expose such "grave weaknesses" directing 99.99% of their effort toward pushing the debate in front of high school students, and into other such popular and political venues where there can be no possible decisive result; and only 0.01% of their effort toward making their case before the professional scientific community, for instance with original scientific research?

Don't you realize how utterly bizarre and ahistorical the behavior of antievolutionists is in this respect? No group of scientists who sincerely believed they possessed a superior new theory, or a compelling refutation of an existing theory, would ever, or have ever, behaved in this way.

A scientist pushing a new, fringe, controversial, etc, idea will seek to recruit working scientists, or at least advanced science students likely to soon begin a research career, who can help develop and advance his ideas; NOT high school students, or even college students taking intro-biology to fulfill a course requirement, who can contribute nothing!

A scientist who sincerely believes that his new ideas have real scientific merit wants other scientists in the end to notice, consider and test those ideas. Therefore such a scientist will NEVER attempt to force adoption of his ideas in secondary school and introductory curricula, knowing this can only INCREASE hostility toward them in the scientific community, as it will appear to be an attempted "end run" around the process of peer review.

Well said!!!!!!

124 posted on 12/03/2005 12:31:01 PM PST by 2ndreconmarine (Horse feces (929 citations) vs ID (0 citations) and horse feces wins!!!!!)
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To: Mamzelle
And from one ambitious surgeon who wanted to experiment, the whole scientific world will collapse!

It was not intended as an experiment you unbelievably ignorant clown!

125 posted on 12/03/2005 12:34:06 PM PST by balrog666 (A myth by any other name is still inane.)
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To: Mamzelle
It's a turf war, pure and simple. Fear. They fear they'll lose the freedom to openly ridicule their own students, fear a loss of prestige, loss of postion--perhaps even loss of money, lest a grant find its way into the ID crowd.

Oh yeah, I'm just shaking in my boots!!! LOL. Some ID'er snake oil salesman with an 8th grade education could really compete with me. This is beyond funny.

Here's why it is really funny. My personal publication record, all by myself, over the last ten years, exceeds all those published on ID by anyone anywhere. The entire scientific output of ID is less than just me. (And my peer review record isn't all that great, I tend to publish more in proceedings).

But these guys are going to take my programs??? Yeah, right.

126 posted on 12/03/2005 12:39:13 PM PST by 2ndreconmarine (Horse feces (929 citations) vs ID (0 citations) and horse feces wins!!!!!)
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To: balrog666

Oh, it was an experiment all right--one they had no business attempting, but it was a different time. Now they do that sort of thing in SKorea... Heart surgeons did a lot of that in the late seventies and early eighties--this was surely a case of overreaching ego. I don't quite know what the evo-keeing is about, though. Would a chimp's organ have done better?

127 posted on 12/03/2005 12:40:36 PM PST by Mamzelle (evogracious#6--you unbelievably ignorant clown!)
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To: Matchett-PI
"The quote accurately reflects what Ruse believes. Your protest is just a reflection of your embarrassment at his honesty. LOL

However, the claim is sometimes, and more plausibly, made that evolutionary theory, along with some other scientific theories, functions as a kind of attitudinal metaphysical system [Ruse 1989]. It is (in my opinion, rightly) thought to influence the kinds of problems and solutions dealt with by science. There is no problem with this, since in order for a discipline to make any progress, the field of possible problems (essentially infinite, to use a malapropism) must be restricted to some set of plausible and viable research options. The theory of evolution as now consensually held acts to narrow the range and limit the duplication required. This is harmless, and is true of any field of science.

Ruse also describes what he calls "metaphysical Darwinism" [Ruse 1992] (as opposed to "scientific Darwinism") which is indeed a metaphysical system akin to a worldview, and which has expressed itself in numerous extra-scientific philosophies, including Spencer's, Teilhard's, and Haeckel's, or even the quasi-mystical views of Julian Huxley. These must be considered separate to the scientific theory, and are often in contradiction to the actual scientific models.

Other than this, the "metaphysic" of evolution by selection is primarily a research-guiding mindset that has been extraordinarily fruitful where no others have been [Hull 1989]. However, as a metaphysic, evolutionary theory is fairly poverty-stricken. This is what should be true of a scientific theory; for the number of conclusions beyond the empirical evidence that can be conjectured is unlimited. Any theory that committed itself to a metaphysical conclusion as a logical inference would be almost certainly false.

Those who need Cosmic Meaning need not fear that any version of evolutionary theory prohibits it; although neither does nor can it support it. Those evolutionists who have either argued in favour of Cosmic Meaning on the basis of evolutionary theory, or have argued that there can be no Cosmic Meaning because things evolve, are both wrong. The conclusions do not follow from the premises, simply because 'is' does not imply 'ought'. John Wilkins

John Wilkins, the author of the above quote, is a Philosopher of Science who has actually read and understood Ruse.

I suspect you have not.

128 posted on 12/03/2005 12:41:50 PM PST by b_sharp (Science adjusts theories to fit evidence, creationism distorts evidence to fit the Bible.)
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To: From many - one.
I am not advocating the following, just throwing it out for your input

It might work in a red state. Dems around here are pretty conservative - they have to be. On the other hand, I don't know if I could really bring myself to vote for a Dem. It just seems wrong :-)

I was more interested in targeting the more extreme fundamentalist Republicans. Santorum, for example, isn't fundie, but he's been outspokenly anti-evolution, and he's in trouble anyway. It would be better to target such guys in a primary, though.

129 posted on 12/03/2005 12:45:36 PM PST by Right Wing Professor
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130 posted on 12/03/2005 12:47:36 PM PST by Mamzelle (evogracious#6--you unbelievably ignorant clown!)
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To: Mamzelle

Don't be silly.

131 posted on 12/03/2005 12:48:21 PM PST by From many - one.
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To: CarolinaGuitarman; Matchett-PI
"She knows this, it has all been explained to her. She just doesn't feel compelled to be honest about it."

Whatever her personal ethics are, it is always useful to show the Lurkers the reality of her posts.

BTW, you are doing a heck of a job.

132 posted on 12/03/2005 12:49:12 PM PST by b_sharp (Science adjusts theories to fit evidence, creationism distorts evidence to fit the Bible.)
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To: Matchett-PI
Of course the bottom line is the fact that we wouldn't even be having this "debate" if the people who have the God-given responsibility for their own children's education, were allowed to send their children to the school of their choice (religious, or otherwise).

On that we fully agree. No sarcasm. School vouchers is one of the reasons that I am a conservative.

It is also a central point for another reason. If the schools could be chosen by parents, then we would all care a lot less about what the government and the creationists (IDers) believe. They could all have their fairy tales.

One of the mistakes of creationists / IDers make is that they assume that we (Darwinists) argue so strongly because we are "afraid" that "our theory" might be challenged. But the reason is the same as for you creationists: we are really uncomfortable with some of the things people teach or want to teach our children.

133 posted on 12/03/2005 12:51:48 PM PST by 2ndreconmarine (Horse feces (929 citations) vs ID (0 citations) and horse feces wins!!!!!)
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To: Right Wing Professor

I think you're right on both would have to be a red state, if at all and targeting the primaries would be a better approach.

134 posted on 12/03/2005 12:53:08 PM PST by From many - one.
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To: From many - one.

Of course you'd have to promote Dems in red states. Blue states are already Democratic.

135 posted on 12/03/2005 12:54:53 PM PST by Mamzelle (evogracious#6--you unbelievably ignorant clown!)
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To: Matchett-PI; CarolinaGuitarman
"You had it spelled out for you in post #71. Stop trying to make me responsible for your inability to comprehend it. :)

The message and the value of post 71 is easily understood. What is hard to understand is your penchant for presenting 'quote mines'.

For those lurkers out there.
A quote mine is a quote taken out of context and presented in such a way that its meaning is changed. The usual purpose is to make the original author appear to be agreeing with the miner. It is a contrived use of the 'Appeal to Authority' logical fallacy.

136 posted on 12/03/2005 12:56:04 PM PST by b_sharp (Science adjusts theories to fit evidence, creationism distorts evidence to fit the Bible.)
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To: Right Wing Professor


137 posted on 12/03/2005 12:59:43 PM PST by LiteKeeper (Beware the secularization of America)
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To: Coyoteman

Agreed. But he did manage to keep most of the non-Jewish smart folk. Marxism might be called the (temporary) triumph of the Yahoos.

138 posted on 12/03/2005 1:02:17 PM PST by From many - one.
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To: 2ndreconmarine

He prodices unfounded criticism.

139 posted on 12/03/2005 1:05:13 PM PST by furball4paws (The new elixir of life - dehydrated toad urine.)
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To: Right Wing Professor; From many - one.

It wouldn't work. It's like trying to move a 300 ton marshmallow (Ghost Busters, anyone?). Those who are not absorbed are alienated.

A third party seems most logical, but attempts so far have been pretty dismal failures.

140 posted on 12/03/2005 1:08:10 PM PST by furball4paws (The new elixir of life - dehydrated toad urine.)
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