Friday I gave a talk on St George Mivart at the History of Science Society (HSS) annual meeting. All went well and our session – which also discussed Charles Kingsley, Asa Gray and popularizers of Darwin’s ideas – generated good discussion. A bunch of folks came up to me and said that I need to write a book on Mivart, so that was encouraging.
Anyway, I return from the meeting to be faced by a pile of grading. Such is the life academic.
SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 went off wonderfully yesterday. Big thanks to Jim Lippard for doing such a wonderful organizational job.
The picture above is me beginning my 20 minute gallop through the issue of academic freedom and the intelligent design movement. Shorter – and undoubtedly more coherent – version is:
- Evolution is not an unchallengeable orthodoxy within science and major areas (of evolution as fact, the pathway of evolution, and its mechanisms) have been challenged in the past by researchers working within the field. These researchers used the institutions of science (peer reviewed journals etc) to bring about change.
- Despite the claims of the DI, there is no evidence that there is active suppression of ID proponents in any way that would prevent them challenging the status quo using the institutions of science. There is no evidence of the academic freedom of ID supporters being infringed.
- There is currently no theory of ID and it is likely that any theory of ID would eventually have to fallback on supernatural action and thus violate the bedrock principle of methodological naturalism. Given the success of MN and its centrality to modern science, this would most likely mean that any ID theory would fail to convince the scientific community.
- The appeals to “academic freedom” to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution are spurious and indicate the lack of a positive argument for intelligent design and its ultimate reliance on supernaturalism.
Slides are here.
SkeptiCamp Phoenix beings in a few minutes. Jim Lippard has all the details and Magic Tony, one of the presenters, will be live-blogging the event, and there may also be twittering at #skepticamp. I’ll be adding bits and pieces as the spirit moves me.
I spent last Thursday and Friday at the Unchallengeable Orthodoxies conference hosted by the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor Law School in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. Lots of interesting discussion on academic freedom, scientific practice and suchlike. I presented a 20 minute case study on why I felt that evolution was not an unchallengeable orthodoxy and why creationist claims about being stifled or expelled do not hold up when examined in light of scientific practice and the history of science. It’s a talk that I’m working up into a longer version to be presented at the American Humanist Association Annual Meeting in June. That meeting is here in Tempe, and PZ Myers is to be receiving the Humanist of the Year award.
Next week there is a big conference here at ASU – hosted in conjunction with University of Cambridge – examining the concept of “Unchallengeable Orthodoxy in Academia and Science.” The general purpose of the conference is:
- To critically examine the precept that American and British universities and the scientific communities in these countries are, and should be places, in which people are free to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” (Quoting 1975 Statement of Yale Committee on Freedom of Expression).
- Specifically, the conference will investigate if there are in fact “unchallengeable orthodoxies” in these communities, and to the extent there are, whether there should be.
- Case studies of restrictions on ideas and research on racial differences, treatment of dissenters about global warming and the exclusion or marginalization of those who believe in creationism or intelligent design.
I am offering the case study on creationism/ID. I’ve been asked to be as neutral as possible and to restrict myself to laying out the claims and counterclaims of both sides without any normative interjections. And I’ve only got twenty minutes to do so. The participants are largely trained in the law, so this should be an interesting experience.
There is a public session on Thursday evening covering the topic of “Academic Freedom and the Treatment of Dissenting Ideas in the Modern University.” More details here.
The following is shamelessly lifted from Jim Lippard’s blog:
On March 28, SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009 will take place at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Participants include Mike Stackpole of the Phoenix Skeptics on “Practical Techniques for Street Skepticism,” John Lynch on “Academic Freedom and Intelligent Design,” and Tony Barnhart on “Methods of the Pseudo-Psychic.”
The event is sponsored by the Skeptics Society/Skeptic magazine, the Center for Skeptical Inquiry/Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and by the James Randi Educational Foundation. It will be the fifth SkeptiCamp, after two in Colorado, one in Vancouver, and one in Atlanta.
I’ll be there, and so should you if you are an Arizona skeptic. Register at the registration site to attend. As of tonight, there are 28 attendance slots available. It’s a one-day event but we hope to be heading for beers afterwards, so there should be plenty of opportunities to chat.
Jim Lippard is organizing SkeptiCamp Phoenix 2009. A SkeptiCamp is “a conference whose content is provided by attendees. Where BarCamp is focused on technology, SkeptiCamp instead focuses on topics of interest to skeptics, including science, critical thinking and skeptical inquiry.” The event is planned for February 21st and I’ve already agreed to talk on “Academic Freedom” and the Intelligent Design movement. If you are an Arizona skeptic, or even from further afield, wander on over to the Camp Wiki and sign-up either to attend or present.
There’s a FaceBook group as well, by the way.
John Wilkins and I have been at the Edges and Boundaries of Biological Objects workshop here in Salt Lake City for the past few days. John live-blogged some of the talks, so you may want to check his posts out. Lots of interesting stuff was discussed about populations (here and here), the fossil record (here), ecosystems (here and here), system dynamics and boundaries (here and here), DNA bar-coding (here and here), species, rank-free classification, and homology. All in all some really thought-provoking ideas that will take me a good while to digest.
Discussions are likely to continue at the Philosophy of Biology Cafe.
It’s just after noon here in Exeter and I’m getting ready to head off to lunch. Yesterday’s session on multi-level selection was very interesting with Rick Michod (U of Arizona) giving a particularly though provoking paper on the transition to multicellularity. Today’s sessions are relatively outside my interests, but I expect to catch an afternoon session on paleobiology before the General Business meeting (that most beloved of society events). Hopefully the rain will stay away!
Well I made it safely to England and the ISHPSSB meeting. Yesterday evening was spent in the pleasant company of Precious Little Snowflake and others. Good fun and good beer was had by all. Today the conference proper starts and I’ll be in two sessions on Evolutionary Developmental biology (“evodevo”) and perhaps one on either iconoclastic biologists or multilevel selection. Tomorrow looks good with sessions on selection and homology. My own session (on teaching methods) isn’t until Saturday afternoon, so I have plenty of wind-up time.
More anon … if the damp and greyness doesn’t depress me too much!
This afternoon there was a symposium on “Science Literacy and Pseudoscience” that I had intended to attend but eventually missed. According to this AP story, it was revealed there that
“People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that researchers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extraterrestrial aliens.”
So, science literacy is clearly increasing (from 10 to 28% according to one measure) but at the same time pseudoscientific beliefs are also increasing. It strikes me that this may be a problem for us as educators in that we might be teaching students (and thus the public) scientific facts but not teaching them how to think scientifically.
The problem with the AAAS meeting is that so much is going on that it can be difficult to actually decide what to do. And much of what is good involves stuff happening outside of the sessions. I have run into (and dined with) people from Alliance for Science, the Clergy Letter Project, Evolution Sunday and Darwin Day. I’ve hung out with Tara and brunched this morning with Janet, her husband, and the adorable Stemwedel Sprogs (charter members of the Order of the Science Scouts Special Children’s Auxiliary). This evening is looking like dinner with some of the crazies from NCSE, followed with hanging with Chris Mooney and some other journalist types. All good.
And somewhat surprisingly, this large science meeting has not had a sighting of any Discovery Institute fellows nor any sessions discussing the “new science for a new century”. I guess advancement of science is not their thing.
Things are very busy here at the AAAS Annual Meeting, so much so that I haven’t had a chance to sit at a computer and write anything. Hopefully, if I get some time together tomorrow, I’ll blog on a session on grassroots activism and science education. For now, I’ll just note the following:
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and nine science teachers who have been on the front lines of the battle to prevent introduction of “intelligent design” into science classrooms as an alternative to evolution, are recipients of the 2006 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.
Scott has been tireless in her efforts to offer assistance and information to those trying to stop local and statewide efforts to undermine science education. She has led workshops, conferences and seminars for teachers and others to explain the well-established scientific basis for evolutionary theory and why “intelligent design” fails to meet science criteria.
The award is shared by eight Pennsylvania teachers who fought efforts by the Dover Area District School Board to require the reading of an anti-evolution statement in ninth grade biology classes. The teachers, who were science teachers at Dover High School during the controversy, are Brian Bahn, Vickie Davis, Robert Eshbach, Bertha Spahr, Robert Linker, Jennifer Miller, Leslie Prall and David Taylor.
The award also is shared by R. Wesley McCoy, head of the science department at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. McCoy took on a public role in opposing a decision by the Cobb County School Board to require stickers on biology textbooks that read, in part: “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things.”
The AAAS selection memorandum notes that “each of these individuals has confronted efforts to undermine sound scientific thinking and has defended the integrity of science both locally and nationally.”
This morning I’m heading off to the Science Fest To Beat All Science Fests – a.k.a. the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Francisco. There I hope to at least hook up with Tara, Janet and Chris Mooney and do some blogging along the way (time permitting).
Assuming all goes well, I may try and post later on today.
Apologies for being MIA over the past day – the hotel’s wifi was acting up and I basically decided to go a day without connectivity. I’m now happily at home after thoroughly enjoying my SICB experience – science, beer, and discussion makes for a good four days. I’ll hopefully get some more SICB-inspired posts up over the next few days.
Special thanks have to go to Jim and Kat Lippard for putting up with us last night. We had a wonderful evening of discussion and I got to meet Brent Rasmussen whom I hadn’t even realized was living nearby. The above photo is of (left to right) Jim, Brent, GrrlScientist, PZ, and I, all looking very relaxed. Both PZ and Brent riff
about the evening on their respective blogs, though I will note that, since Brent describes me as a “pretty cool Prof”, I will now be hiring him to handle all my publicity!