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Posted: 20 November 2007 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Science education encounters several challenges.
One is that many of the basics cannot be learned on the fly, they have to be hammered in through rigorous repetition. Most of the people who are now professors only really internalized what they know because they were at some point TAs (teaching assistants) and were forced to cram hard before reiterating a subject over and over again to regular students. Only after that often grueling experience did they become firm on a subject and able to take off from there and leap into research, further discovery and insight.

As should be obvious, little of that required repetition is offered to or asked of students up through high school, and where it is asked of them it may squelch initial curiosity and breed disdain instead.

That’s the real question: how do you lay the foundations (painful discipline required) without dousing the flames of curiosity?

As a psychology student (in the mid 1980s) I once came across an approach for science education for college (developed by a scholar by the name of Epstein) which encouraged students to reinvent major scientific discoveries. He reported that rediscovery was much more motivating than regurgitation, and that it brought out great potential in students that did not look like potential high achievers at first. I don’t know what ever became of the approach.
But I do remember how it bugged me that most of our time at the university seemed to be taken up by the need to regurgitate theories that had already proven of limited worth, and that there was no space for creatively thinking for ourselves.

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Posted: 20 November 2007 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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A more direct answer to why although we have more access to science but fewer scientifically literate people is that a lot of science is really difficult.  To understand physics without calculus is a joke (Degrasse can explain it but his listener can’t apply it without the math) . 

Over my education I needed several years to understand the significance of what are now basic concepts to me.  Stuff I could not do when I first learned ultimately became easy several years later.  I see many many self sure, smug, people who think that reading about science makes them knowledgable.  I also see graduates from top schools and programs making errors that are now glaringly obvious to me.  I can usually show the error but and the unfortunate source is usually thunderstruck that the issue I raised really applies.

The reason exposure to basic science still leaves people making sillly arguments, often on both sides of many current issues is that a pre-requisite is numancy and that learning science takes time and a lot of effort. Few confuse a concert season ticket holder with a musician. The Far East and similar places have a still functioning tradition of making students work hard. 

Toyota found that Japanese high school graduates were more familiar with statistics needed to understand quality than were most US Master’s degree holders. To understand a lot of this stuff, most of us have to work hard for a long time,and often suffer low grades.  Good science only looks easy after a lot of work.  Hard science is hard and most people spouting off about it have not done the work and had it ruthless critiqued by masters.  Most people don’t undestand it because hard science is hard.

One other thing.  China and other countries graduate more technical people because they treat them better.  I have now heard that my skills are in short supply for over 40 years.  I have had to pull up stakes and move my family about a half dozen times and none of my children would even consider a technical career.  I have had to endure down turn after down turn.  A technical career, like the education, is hard.  We reward Lawyers and their education is easier.  That’s why we have more of them

[ Edited: 20 November 2007 02:36 PM by Dr. JLW ]
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Posted: 21 November 2007 12:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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There’s one part I found odd in Tyson’s deliberations: He pondered that even among top notch scientists there’s still a sizable remnant of god believers, and that we can’t blame regular folks for sticking with belief if those supereducated profs can’t shed it.
I’ve never found this hard to explain, and I’ve just run into a first person account by a deconverted Mormon who answered Richard Dawkins’s call to tell his story.
Here’s a quote, and the key words are compartmentalization and childhood indoctrination:

I was raised a Mormon and remained a faithful one until I was 35. Although I was taught to believe that my holy books were infallible and not to be questioned, I was also taught to have great respect for science and education. My father was a professor of Astronomy, and I even earned my undergraduate degree in Physics. Its difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it the type of compartmentalization you develop that allows you to hold both of these world views at once, but obviously strong indoctrination as a child is a big part of it.

(...) An Atheist from Utah (the 4th entry on that page, for those who’d like to read the full account:
http://richarddawkins.net/convertsCorner

Or let’s move the scene to another continent or era: All the scientists, with the exception of a few prescient outliers, tend(ed) to be more or less in line with the religion of that society. That’s what humans do, they’re social sheep.
Or forget about religion and look at other communal systems of custom, superstition or behavior. Does Justus von Liebig (born 1803 in Germany) look like a feminist?
JustusLiebig.jpg Chances are, for all his phenomenal achievements he was just “ein Kind seiner Zeit”, a child of his times.

I do not think the question of the remaining 7% or so of believing scientists is enigmatic at all. It’s simply the eternal case of smart people believing stupid things - what else is new?

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Posted: 21 November 2007 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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moreover - 21 November 2007 12:04 AM

There’s one part I found odd in Tyson’s deliberations: He pondered that even among top notch scientists there’s still a sizable remnant of god believers, and that we can’t blame regular folks for sticking with belief if those supereducated profs can’t shed it.

Yes, I also found that a weak part of his discussion, although I can understand why he said it. There is some tendency in the skeptical community to think that one has to be literally stupid or scientifically illiterate to believe in God. Looking at that 7%, one cannot accuse those people of stupidity, neither can one accuse them of not knowing the science. So to one degree Tyson’s point is a good one: a person need not be stupid or scientifically illiterate to believe in God.

But of course, if we’re dealing with generalizations, one should not begin by trying to explain the outliers. Any explanation for human belief and behavior has to cover a lot of very complex issues. So his conclusion that one has to explain the beliefs of a vanishingly small percentage of the population, a single percentage of an extremely elite organization, or cease attempting to deal with the other 99.99% of believers, strikes me as forced. The fact is that that 7% are, to any statistical degree, anomalous. Their existence certainly demonstrates that religion will always be with us, and that the asymptotic limit of religious nonbelief probably lies somewhere around 93%. But that’s about all it demonstrates.

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Posted: 21 November 2007 03:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I do not think the question of the remaining 7% or so of believing scientists is enigmatic at all.

As Doug pointed out we are talking about an “extremely elite organization”, that is The National Academy of Sciences - “The Academy membership is composed of approximately 2,100 members and 380 foreign associates, of whom nearly 200 have won Nobel Prizes.”

The 7% number came from a survey published in Nature, by Larson. The published survey included 517 members of the Academy that were questioned , with 72% reporting disbelief, and 20% expressing doubt. (don’t know the response stat on this one, I’ve read anywhere from 50-65%)

Edit: Add - Larson on the returns:

Leuba obtained a return rate of about 70% in 1914 and more than 75% in 1933 whereas our returns stood at about 60% for the 1996 survey and slightly over 50% from NAS members

Arm chairing this I get for the NAS survey: Total - 259 returns: 18 answering “personal belief”: 51 answering “doubt or agnosticism”: 186 answering “personal disbelief”

Larson also published his findings in Nature of the general scientific community. Working off the Leabu survey of 1916. In 1916, 40% of respondents reported a belief in God. In the Larson survey, with a 60% response of those questioned - 40% responded to having a belief in God. 45% of the Larson survey responded to having no belief in God.

These surveys, both reported by Larson, have gotten a spin in many ways, including through American Atheist.

Here’s an example:

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/atheism1.htm

It would be difficult to interpret the figures reported in “Nature,” though, as suggesting that belief within the scientific community is gaining popularity, or even holding its own. The “belief in a person god” category suggests a precipitous drop, from about 40% in Larson’s survey to 7% in the “Nature” study.

That is a manipulation that borders on knowingly lying. Larson’s surveys were published in ‘97 and ‘98 with the general scientific community survey published first, then the follow up. The, AANEWS for July 24, 1998 (American Atheist News) was picked up widely. Also, the AA piece does not tell you that it was Larson in both surveys, they give an impression he was not in the “Nature” survey. B.S.

[ Edited: 21 November 2007 05:12 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 21 November 2007 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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To put my mild objection to Tyson in a different way, certainly part of the public’s acceptance of the pseudoscience of intelligent design is due to scientific illiteracy. The fact that some vanishingly small percentage of biologists may accept ID is really neither here nor there. It would be decidedly odd to claim that we should go about explaining why a handful of benighted biologists accept ID before tackling the larger issue of the acceptance of ID in the larger population.

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Posted: 21 November 2007 04:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Scientists are still keeping the faith

Edward J. Larson, Larry Witham

SUMMARY: Although the suggestion eighty years ago that four in ten scientists did not believe in God or an afterlife was astounding to contemporaries, the fact that so many scientists believe in God today

Nature 386, 435 - 436 (03 Apr 1997) Commentary

..........

Leading scientists still reject God

Edward J. Larson, Larry Witham

Nature 394, 313 - 313 (23 Jul 1998) Correspondence

<edit - link failed - do - http://www.nature.com/nature/index.html - search - Edward Larson>

[ Edited: 21 November 2007 04:14 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 21 November 2007 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Actually, Doug…

Here is what Tyson said:

That if among scientist, a third of western scientist, American scientist, claim a personal God, well that fraction gets a little lower when you get to those in the National Academy of Sciences, the elite scientist that fraction is even lower, but it’s not zero. [DJ - It’s far lower but it’s not zero]. Well, what does far lower mean, it’s a third or half, but it’s not 1/100 th, it’s not zero, what is it - 7%, [doing percentages]. So, I wonder, for those that are particularly adamant about riding society of religion and its ailments that it brings [DJ - we’re talking about people like Richard Dawkins, and others]. Yeah, and Christopher Hitchens,  these are the people very vocal in these sentiments and they somehow you would be left thinking that the public is, they just need to learn and they’ll figure out that their deluded. You can’t say that if a 1/3 of our own professional science community feels just that way.  I want to see that explained first. Before you want to take on the general public. Some of the most highly educated scientist .... some of them claim a personal God. If you don’t have an explanation of that for me, I don’t see what right you have to run out in the street and tell the masses that those who are religious, have something wrong with them. There might be something fascinating to learn about how it is that among your most highly trained scientist, the 7%, praise to a God to intervene in their lives. Maybe that 7% is the limit of how far you can get in convincing someone that there is no such thing as a God and a religion. If that’s the case, then lets study those people.

He said something very, very similar to this at the Beyond Belief conference.

Arm chairing the NAS survey results [see above], I get that from Tyson that we should study 18 scientist.

[ Edited: 21 November 2007 05:14 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 21 November 2007 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Right, I know. That’s what I was reacting to—in particular the “I want to see that explained first.”

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Posted: 21 November 2007 07:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Ah, then I concur.

The question of why people believe in God was approached in Michael Shermer’s book, How We Believe.

In a section called, Scientists’ Belief in God, as part of the chapter, Why People Believe in God, he discusses these surveys in brief.

Michael’s response to Tyson’s suggestion at the Beyond Belief conference I think sums it up..“its irrelevant”.

In the surveys done by Shermer and Holloway on why skeptics believe they found very similar reasons as you find in the general population, almost down to the number on the list. From what I’ve seen there is little reason to think these do not apply to scientist as well.

First on each list of reasons for belief in God is a good design, beauty/perfection/complexity of the world and/or universe.

Personal experience was listed second in the general, but in the skeptics the second reason comforting, relieving, consoling etc., which is third on the general survey.

And so on… It is not until you get to number 8 on the skeptics (3%) and number 6 on the general (7%), that you find - Raised to believe in God.

An interesting inclusion in the surveys presented is the question of why you think others believe in God.

The answer - Raised to believe - jumps to number 2 on the general and 4 on the skeptics. Both show that the reason people most often given for why others believe is the - comfort, consoling, gives meaning.

The consistency in these and other surveys heavily suggest you will find a reasonable correlation to scientist, including the “elite”.

As a side note I notice in the recent issue of Free Inquiry [Dec. 07/Jan. 08] has articles on the Scientific Examination of Religion. Van A. Harvey covers some ground that looks rather familar.

As an example Harvey states:

~“When we understand that religious interpreters’ beliefs are quite specific, we can also understand why a certain type of religious believer is not only hostile toward biblical criticism but makes critical historical reasoning impossible. This is quite clear in the case of the fundamentalist but also, as we shall see, in the case of the more sophisticated belier who takes certain narratives to be true on faith.” [pg. 26]~

In Michael’s book mentioned above he states:

~“I attribute this paradoxical dearth to the hands-off nature of religion in general - religion is something to be followed, God is someone to be worshiped. To focus the narrow and intense beam of scientific light into this often dark and murky corner of the human condition can be blinding at first. As I have discovered in conducting this empirical study, to most folks there is something mildly unsettling about being asked personal and penetrating questions about their most deeply held and cherished religious beliefs. Still, if you want to understand the human condition the study of religious belief cannot be neglected, and since science is the best method yet devised for uncovering cause-and-effect relationships, we must apply that method whenever and wherever possible.”[pg. 242]~

Right on Michael!

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Posted: 21 November 2007 08:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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dougsmith - 21 November 2007 07:58 AM
moreover - 21 November 2007 12:04 AM

There’s one part I found odd in Tyson’s deliberations: He pondered that even among top notch scientists there’s still a sizable remnant of god believers, and that we can’t blame regular folks for sticking with belief if those supereducated profs can’t shed it.

The fact is that that 7% are, to any statistical degree, anomalous. Their existence certainly demonstrates that religion will always be with us, and that the asymptotic limit of religious nonbelief probably lies somewhere around 93%. But that’s about all it demonstrates.


There are subtleties to surveys—how the question is asked, how the question is understood, etc.  Does this 7% include both fundamentalists and Deists?

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Posted: 21 November 2007 08:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Jackson,

The Larson survey that purports the 7% is a correspondence to Nature.

The entire finding is reported - HERE

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Posted: 22 November 2007 01:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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This is a great talk if you haven’t seen it; reveals much about the denunciation of intellect and science: Neil At Beyond Belief 2006

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Posted: 22 November 2007 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Jackson - 21 November 2007 08:28 PM

There are subtleties to surveys—how the question is asked, how the question is understood, etc.  Does this 7% include both fundamentalists and Deists?

Quite so—important question to ask. From Zarcus’s URL it seems that the question asked if the scientists believed in a “personal God” and “personal immortality” (interestingly, 7.9%, which means perhaps that 0.9% of the scientists believe in immortality and no personal God).

And yes, scooternyc, Tyson’s Beyond Belief talk was great.

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Posted: 22 November 2007 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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scooternyc - 22 November 2007 01:50 AM

This is a great talk if you haven’t seen it; reveals much about the denunciation of intellect and science: Neil At Beyond Belief 2006


I agree with Doug—I also recommend this link from scooternyc as a route to a variety of related “postings” to youtube on the topic of religion & secularism.

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