Skip to comments.Citizen MD [American Medical Association op-ed against Intelligent Design]
Posted on 12/03/2005 6:18:54 AM PST by Right Wing Professor
Im afraid we live in loopy times. How else to account for the latest entries in Americas 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 its Monkeys: 0, Monkey Business: 82. That's 82 evolution versus creationism debates in school boards or towns nationwidethis year alone. 
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 doesnt. Perhaps just the opposite is true. Technology and gee whiz gadgetry has led to more suspicion rather than less. And a typical Americans understanding of science is limited at best. As far as evolution is concerned, if youre 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 majority48 percentdo not believe that Darwins 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 .
What if we become a nation that cant 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 .
Others, such as journalist Chris Mooney, point to the increasing politicization of science as a pollutant seeping into our nations 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 expertiseand the substitution of ideological allegiance for careful assessmentcan have disastrous consequences .
Jon D. Miller, PhD, a political scientist on faculty at Northwestern Universitys 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 doesnt affect your short-term belief systems. You can still turn on a radio and say it sounds good but you dont have to know why it works. As we get into genetic medicine, infectious diseases if you dont understand immunity, genetics, the principles of DNA, youre going to have a hard time making sense of these things .
These ideological battles arent 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 doesnt 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.
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 States Hershey Medical Center, is one role model. Hes 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 cant afford to shirk its duty. The town scientist is the town doctor, so whether we want it or not, we have the mantlethe trappingsof a scientist .
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 rudimentaryattending school board meetings, sending letters to the editor, and volunteering at the local science museumto the more demandingrunning 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 ONeill, the larger-than-life Speaker of the House of Representatives, famously declared, All politics is local. Speak out for science. Isnt that a message that should be advanced in every physicians office?
Northwesterns Jon Miller concedes that speaking out may come with a price, It wont make [physicians]...popular with many people but is important for any profession, particularly a profession based on science to do so . Consider this: shouldnt civic leadership be embedded in the mind of every blooming physician? In the end, doesnt 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.
Yet another example that absolutely convinces me that creationists and IDers are intrinsically liberals. To wit:
Liberals love to be the victim.
Iders: poor us, we can't get our papers published because all the mean scientists are against us.
ml1954: poor us, we can't get our proposals funded because all of the mean scientists are against us.
Liberals believe in entitlements and "rights" that they don't have to work for, such as free health care, free child care, free education, free damn near everything without having to work for anything.
IDers: we want to have our Discovery Institute paid for and our researchers funded but we don't have to publish a single paper reporting on our "reseach". We are entitled to equal time with those, those .... Darwinists (who just happen to have published nearly 50,000 peer reviewed papers in that same 10 years).
A rather poor use of the Appeal to Authority fallacy.
Do you think Arthur C. Clark's 2001 a space Odyssey is a worthy subject to be discussed in a science class? The idea that a monolith acting in a Deus Ex Machina fashion acted on a select group of proto human species? Some ID types argue for ET intervention and or seeding of life on the planet, though I doubt Clarke would have had anything to do with them.
Or is 2001 more a discussion for philosophy class? Let's say 2001 is a good subject for discussion in science class...then what is so different about 2001 as opposed to a little discussion of the possible divine guidance where the origin of species is concerned?
ml1954: poor us, we can't get our proposals funded because all of the mean scientists are against us.
I'm not sure how to take your post. FYI, I'm on your side. If you are confusing me with that other ml poster, please see my tag line. I'm really going to have to start using the sarcasm tag.
My point was the IDers/Creationists want to have their theory become the governing theory in science (the Wedge document). If they get their way, "Proposal 3" will become one of the screening criteria for allocating research funds.
LOL. No need. It's why longshadow gave me the tagline (for free!). The responses I got were a lot rougher and more confusing (to me) before I got it.
You may call BS Repellant a fallacy if you like, but flat-footed, impotent stutterers are living proof of it's effectiveness.
Now, I'm tired of playing in this sandbox so I'm outta here and off to my dinner engagement. Ummmmm, ummmmm. :)
No. Let me go further: Hell, no!
The idea that a monolith acting in a Deus Ex Machina fashion acted on a select group of proto human species? Some ID types argue for ET intervention and or seeding of life on the planet, though I doubt Clarke would have had anything to do with them.
Yes, some ID'ers claim just that. So do the Raelians. Making crackpot claims is precisely what makes them complete whackos/psychoceramics/nutjobs/crazies/IDiots in the first place.
Or is 2001 more a discussion for philosophy class?
Creative writing class. Or maybe science/speculative fiction class.
Let's say 2001 is a good subject for discussion in science class...
Let's not and say we did.
then what is so different about 2001 as opposed to a little discussion of the possible divine guidance where the origin of species is concerned?
Absolutely nothing. Just as absolutely nothing distinguishes it from Last Thursdayism or Invisible, Pink Unicornism or the Great, Green ArkleSeizure or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or, pretty much, any BS description of pixies, fairies, elves and any three-headed monster you care to name.
Which is why it hasn't earned a place in science class.
Didn't think she could explain what the Darwin quote meant. Her evasive retreat is noted. :)
How would you do that? If there are no constraints on what the hypothetical designer could do, what possible observation could show that some structure wasn't designed?
For example, it has been found that certain genetic markers, ERVs, have the property that if one is found in both gorillas and chimps, it will also be found in people. The ToE hypothesizes that this is because people share a common ancestor with chimps, and that this common ancestor and gorillas have another common ancestor. Assuming this, the conclusion follows that the same pattern will be found for other ERVs and also other DNA structures. So far, this has always been observed.
ID cannot make this prediction; there is nothing to say whether the hypothetical designer was forced to maintain this pattern.
Finding counterexamples to this pattern would be a big blow against ToE.
In contrast, there is no possible observation that would have the same effect on ID. ID is vacuous; it can accomodate any observation.
That's why it's not science. That's why scientists get riled up when politicians try to pretend that it is science.
Tail between her legs? ;->
Clarke was definitely no creationist. We had a thread on him, many years ago: Arthur C. Clark's Views on Creationism. It's one of the first threads I ever posted.
Interesting Clarke thread; I especially like the retro fonts. :)
I've been a research scientist in the life sciences since 1965 and a staunch defender of evolution theory throughout my career. Having said that, I've come to the above, quoted conclusion several times before, especially when writing articles for publication and grant proposals.
The trend, at least in my field (endocrinology-neuroscience) is to develop well the 'discussion' section. That's the place in which the justification, and even more emphatically, the 'implications' are developed for the reader. It's also the place where the authors can get onto a slippery slope. I've always felt uneasiness having to depart, like this, from being a empirically-driven scientist to suddenly be called upon to become a seer. That, too me, is a shortcoming of scientists' trying "fit in" with the rest of the world via the media, etc.
What the scientist would do, if allowed, during a TV interview which asks, "But what's it all mean professor, about the future of mankind?"---is to say, "I have no idea. I'm going back to my lab do research your question further and, if I'm lucky I'll have partial answer for before I die. Wait right here."
In summary, "..the neeed to find purpose (evolutionary significance) in every facet of reality..." is strong. But it must be resisted simply because it can be a source of bias.
This reminds me of an anecdote about a wise man who, during a seminar he was giving, was asked:
"What is the future of the World going to look like in 50 years?" His response was to look at his watch and announce:
"It is 2:30 in the afternoon; in 4 hours, I will be eating dinner. I have no idea what I will be eating. If I don't know what I'm eating for dinner in 4 hours, how can I, or anyone else, tell you what the world will be like in 50 years?"
The "wise man" was the Dalai Lama.
BWAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA! There has been a documentary playing on one of the independent channels over the last couple of weeks with that very purpose with respect to physics. I think it was "What Do We Know?".