This is a response to Critiquing the “Critique” and the “Critique of the Critique” of Bill Nye’s Video at UrbanAstro.org. In that post, FURYGuitar addresses both Critiquing the Critique of Bill Nye’s Video by me and Bill Nye’s “Don’t Teach Creationism…” Video Dissected by Business Communication Expert in which scientist and marketing expert Marc Kuchner writes in a guest blog for Scientific American Blogs an interview with communication expert Patrick Donadio. Continue reading Critiquing the critique of the critique of the critique of the critique of Bill Nye's video
Marc Kuchner has an interesting post at Scientific American called Bill Nye’s “Don’t Teach Creationism…” Video Dissected by Business Communication Expert in which … well, you can guess what it is about from the title. To refresh your memory, here is Bill Nye’s video, which I had posted earlier on this blog. The video made my friend Marc cringe, who was “…pretty sure that the video would do nothing for those who don’t believe in evolution but turn them away.” This prompted Marc to ask Patric Donadio, an MBA and speaking coach to review it.
While I found several of Patric Donadio’s comments to be generally useful and appropriate, I think some things were being missed here by both Marc and Patrick.
I get that a video that demonstrates disrespect for creationists (and therefore, for certain religions, religious beliefs, or religious individuals) will turn some people away, but there are two reasons that this does not matter. 1) Those most likely to be turned away are least likely to be convinced by any given argument and 2) This is part of a larger trope which is really bad, widespread, and needs to be addressed; religious voices are allowed nearly unfettered criticism of pretty much anyone, but religious individuals and organizations maintain a strong and real privilege of immunity from critique. They obtain this immunity by the simple act of being offended and making sure everyone knows that. This strategy may not seem like a very effective one (try it for a while, it won’t work for you over the short term) but if a social institution does it for, oh, 800 years or so at every opportunity it tends to stick.
Putting it another way, no one should ever be concerned that people who are totally wrong about something … dangerously, offensively and obnoxiously wrong … are going to be offended when they are told they are wrong. That should never come into consideration even though it always does. That is undeserved but strongly entrenched privilege. We’ve had enough of that.
I get the very strong impression that the marketing expert has never heard of Bill Nye before, which is probably a good thing because Donadio is at either by default or intentionally attempting to put aside Nye’s celebratie to look at the video and the presentation for what it is, to provide a more useful critique. But, doing so also ignores an important element. Bill is a personality who has a wide audience who like him because of who he is. Instead of a textbook critique of how Bill does in front of a camera, a critique that look at this as a video of a wildly popular figure and actually try to understand from, learn from, that video what it is that is working, because Bill Nye is working. (I quickly add that Bill Nye is a very in your face kind of guy, owing mainly to the bow tie, I’m sure, and I often think “oh, I wish he had done that a little differently” when watching him.)
It may well be true that Bill Nye is only getting at a subset of the audience out there, or could change his approach in order to reach other people that an adjustment in approach with advice from marketing would allow, but since Nye is being very successful with an existing large audience why would we try to do that? Also, it may not be possible. If Nye took an entirely different approach, anti-science people could sully such a new production by bringing out Nye’s older work and reminding people that he is an unabashed pro-evolutionary scientist. I hate the expression I am about to use right now but it actually fits (for once): Bill Nye is what he is. Or, more exactly, Bill Nye already was what he is.
Patrick Donadio spends a certain amount of time analyzing the potential audiences a message like this may reach.
Let’s say there’s a continuum of beliefs around this issue. There are those people in the middle that you might be able to attract and of course, you have “either/ors” on sides of the continuum ; the creationists on one side and evolutionists on the other. The people in the middle have the potential for an “and/and” shift on this issue. You might be able to influence them. If we can move people from “either/or” to and/and, that would be a smaller move. This is a challenge sometimes for scientists, because many times scientists think in terms of black and white, “either/or”.
This discussion is expanded on by Marc, and the idea of quoting a religious person rather than Carl Sagan is discussed, as is the idea of focusing on those with a belief in both science and religion overlap or don’t conflict as much as other’s might (“they might consider that the science and their religious beliefs might be consistent and co-exist.”)
This issue has been addressed extensively, and there are important points that have been largely established as part of the overall conversation. Let me bullet point this for you:
- There are multiple points of view and therefore multiple strategies must be considered.
- Some strategies step on each other; an “in your face” strategy might turn off people who would have been convinced to “believe in” (bad term) evolution had they only met with the right argument first.
- Antagonizing people who are unlikely to be convinced to change their minds about evolution might be bad (no sense in playing to the other guy’s base!) but it is not as bad as throwing science under the bus by playing to an appeasement strategy (allowing for a limited amount of supernatural cause to co-exist with the science).
- Some of us think the “overton window” might be real. Nye is nowhere near the far end of the spectrum but movement outside the ideal range can move that window. Certainly, spending much effort on the side of the spectrum we would like to move opinion against is not good, should this magic window actually exist. This does not mean that Glen Back is not a dangerous ideologue, I quickly add.
Finally, here’s the problem with addressing a specific effort like Bill Nye’s. When looking at a single piece of work in isolation, it is almost necessary, certainly very tempting, to abide by the premise that there is a single framing or marketing technique that is most appropriate for the entire science/anti-science discussion. But there are several, and as a community I’m pretty sure we’ve mostly agreed that multiple strategies are needed. If we examine every potential efffort in isolation and try to sus out what the best possible approach is for that effort, all the different efforts are going to be modal, targeted to the middle, average, and like each other.
This comes through especially in the comment about the concept that you can’t be an engineer and be a creationist.
Bill Nye is well aware of the well documented and researched fact that engineers and certain other hard sciences (chemistry, for example) is the part of the landscape of professionals that harbors the most creationists. The fact is you can’t be an engineer (really) and truly believe creationism. Creationist doctrine claims that certain things engineers should know can’t happen do. For example, the speed of light is not really known, radioactive isotopes do not decay as science says they do, and that hydrology and geology do not work as engineers and geologists think they do. Nye is absolutely correct; a real engineer can not be a real creationist and visa versa.
Nye is speaking here to those engineers using their own terms and putting the question to them, subtly: “Do you want to be a moron or not?” This is the kind of subtly in the discussion that a communication expert coming in and applying marketing expertise is not going to know about unless they have already researched the discussion extensively. I hope Patrick does that and comes back with some even more useful advice.
Added: See also Bill Nye is Not a Businessman
I am looking forward to the construction of the meatspace version of the currently on-line only “Creation Science Hall of Fame” on vacant land on Interstate 75 between the Creation Museum and the Ark Park.
Someday this section of Northern Kentucky will be a veritable Miracle Mile of Creationism Related Facilities. It is about this time this industry got some competition. We know that the Invisible Hand of the Free Market is like god and makes everything better. What could possibly go wrong?
Hat Tip: Joe
Barbara Forest Wrote Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Here is a recent talk by her:
Genie Scott’s report from the front, from Texas textbook battles to the Texas Board’s attempt to “creationize” the state’s science standards. How will this affect the future of education in Texas…and the U.S.? Where: Texas Freethought Convention. When: 10/8/2011.
The books referred to are Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, 2nd Edition and Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools.
Photo of Eve and Adam by elmada
Matt Lowry, whom I hope to be seeing in a couple of weeks, has written an article on his blog and republished on the JREF web site, called Is It Time To Call Creationists’ Bluff And Push For “Teaching All Views”?
The idea is this. There has been a recent change in strategy among creationists (which, I’m sorry, but I may have started a few years back for which I apologize). Instead of pushing creationism per se, they push “academic freedom” which doubles as a way to repress the teaching about climate change, evolution, and other inconvenient science, and a way to introduce whatever other “alternative view” a creationist or anti-science teacher might pull out of his or her nether regions. An by “nether regions” I mean material provided by the Heartland Institute, stuff they picked up at the Creation Museum, or took off the Answers in Genesis web site.
Matt is re-suggesting and giving new air to an idea that we all mutter under our collective breath about now and then; If they want to teach their particular religion in the classroom, then fine, but then we also must teach the origin stories of every one of the thousands of distinct tribal groups documented by anthropologists, all the other non-Abrahamic state level religion such as Hinduism, the much-hated1 Islam, and, of course, we must provide the origin and evolution related parts of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Matt is obviously being both serious and not serious at the same time. Sometimes this seems like a strategy one should try, a sort of massive passive aggressive attack. “Well, then, fine. Let’s just do that. Let’s see what the Bhagavad Gita says about cellular biology,” is how we would say it here in Minnesota, where Passive Aggressive originated and is still a refined art.
Other than pointing you to my colleague’s post, which also includes information about recent creationist antics in the legislative system, I also wanted to mention two-three reasons why we actually can’t do this. This is not a disagreement with Matt; he knows these things too. I just want to make sure they get mentioned.
First (but not most important), the curriculum is full. Only time neutral suggestion are reasonable. At times it seems like everyone has a thing they want taught in school. “If only they taught the kids how to bla bla bla then everything would be fine.” The thing is, whenever such an idea occurs to someone with power, like the person who happened to show up on nomination day and got elected to the school board in Poffadder Iowa, it actually DOES get added to the curriculum. School boards and administrators generally have no idea of what goes on in the classroom and despite words they may use have little respect for classroom time. Every year, in most schools, classroom time is taken away and replaced with dumb-ass crap mandated by the state legislature, the school board, the school’s administration, or whatever. Lockdown drills, Pledge of Allegiance, The News Minute, standardized tests that do not have a standardized schedule, etc. etc. People worry about snow days. Snow days are not the problem. Administrators with a microphone and a random thought popping into their head are the problem.
Another reason is the simple fact that if we let one of the hoard past the moat the rest will feel like they’ve been invited. The wall between church and state would actually have to be breached, or at least, a gate lowered, to let this happen. That can’t be allowed. This has happened already; at present, there are religiously based charter schools in the US being funded by tax dollars that give religious instruction and don’t teach evolution because the religion of the school does not accept it. That’s a breech. This is being walked back here and there, and the weakening of the charter school strategy is helping with that, but we can’t handle too many breaches.
Another reason which is the secret reason Matt would never really accept teaching the Origin Story of the Iroquois, as interesting and culturally relevant as it may be, as a scientific theory in a life science class, is because it is not science. A closely related but distinctly different reason is that it is not true.
One of the most important points Matt makes, and that I imply above, is that we are no longer talking about creationism vs. evolution. Increasingly we are talking about science in general. Well, we always have been to some extent, but it has gotten specific:
…let us note that the new Tennessee law also makes specific references to the science of global warming and human cloning, both increasingly hot-button issues for social and religious conservatives in the United States. But, interestingly, the language is more open-ended and doesn’t stop explicitly at those topics; in fact, the language states that “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that arouse “debate and disputation”. Note that the law doesn’t specify among whom these topics can arouse debate and disputation.
If this strategy is attempted, though, I very much hope that the first law suit demanding equal time comes from … well, you can probably guess what I think about that.
1Hated by many of those who want to force their particular religious beliefs onto others’ children by legislation.
Kopplin launched his anti-creationist effort while still in high school, and eventually gathered 55,000 signatures on a petition, enlisted the support of 78 Nobel laureates, and testified State Senate hearings.
He is also responsible for Hurricane Katrina. How cool is that?
Here’s his talk:
Those are peacocks in the background, right?
The attention of the Two Little Cousins and Huxley the Baby was easily diverted to the back of the house while Cousin Randy slipped out the front door into the cold dark night wearing the red suit and fake beard, carrying a bag of toys and a strap of sleigh bells. Suddenly, Cousin Chris exclaimed that she heard ringing sounds, and this made everyone stop talking and listen, theatrically. Sure enough, there was the sound of bells from somewhere outside! The two little cousins had a good idea what this meant; Huxley the Baby did not. Then, Grandpa exclaimed that he thought an animal had passed by the side window … a deer, maybe. No, said Grandma, a reindeer! Then there was a thud on the side of the house, and moments later a loud knock on the front door, which promptly flew open, letting in a cold draft, a few flurries of snow, and a large man with red cheeks and a gleam in his eye.
Continue reading Santa Clause vs Alan Alda — Religion vs Evolution
This just in:
Baton Rouge, LA — (March 27, 2012) — At Senator Santorum’s March 23rd rally in Pineville Louisiana, student activist, Zack Kopplin, had the chance to question the Senator about creationism laws. Kopplin, who has led the effort to repeal Louisiana’s creationism law, the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act, asked Santorum about the Louisiana Science Education Act and Santorum’s proposed amendment to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which served as a model for Louisiana’s law.
Kopplin asked, “In Louisiana we have a creationism law that’s based off a 2002 creationism amendment you proposed to the No Child Left Behind Act… Can you spend about two seconds explaining why you think this is a good idea?”
Stantorum responded, “states have a right to do what they want with education curriculum.”
First, Santorum didn’t take issue with the nature of Louisiana’s law or his amendment as being “creationist” laws.
Second, Santorum’s attempt to justify teaching creationism as a state’s right is wrong. There is no justification for teaching unconstitutional non-science in public school science classes. Students will not get the education they need to succeed and get the science and technology jobs of the 21st century. Ironically, Santorum’s own legislation would have been a federal mandate. So while it’s clearly convenient for him to cite state’s rights in favor of Louisiana’s creationism law, the fact that his own amendment would have been a federal mandate undercuts that argument and shows his real priority is the teaching of creationism.
When interviewed about the rally, Kopplin said,
“This defense of teaching creationism seems to be the Republican base’s party line. When Michele Bachmann was asked about the Louisiana Science Education Act last spring, and her own 2006 effort to pass a creationism law in Minnesota, she gave an equally ill-informed answer about state’s rights. Governor Perry, last fall, said that creationism was taught in Texas schools.
Governor Romney appears likely to win the Republican Primary and it is important to know what his views on creationism are. Will he stick to what he said in 2008 and defend the teaching of evolution, or will he shake up the etch-a-sketch and toe the line to the Republican base?”
To contact Zack Kopplin, email email@example.com.
Tennessee is where the famous Scopes Trial of 1925 played out, and more recently two state level state bills (one house and one senate) are in play in a move by legislatures to further enhance Tennessee’s reputation as a place where people don’t value education and would not know of valid scientific theory if it bit them on the ear.
You’all knew that if you’ve been following the news from there. Yesterday, an editorial was printed by four scientists who are rather fed up with Tennessee’s playing fast and loose with reality, and it is worth a look.
… Even the religious mainstream has accepted the theory of evolution as the scientific description of how living things change over large time scales. Over 12,000 Christian clergy in the U.S. have endorsed a statement acknowledging that “the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”
In opposing the legislation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science explained, “There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them.”…
Read the whole editorial here, it is quite good.
Have you ever read Natural Theology by William Paley? One could say that in it he makes the famous “Watchmaker” analogy. But really, the entire book is little other than the watchmaker analogy. If you were to compare the boringess-interestingness factor of Paley’s book with a similar number of pages of anything written by Darwin, it would look like this:
where being over to the right is more interesting. And that could be ANYTHING by Darwin.
I have a small story to tell you (which you may have heard before) and then a recommendation of something to click on.
Continue reading "But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground…"
Budget Travel is running one of those ill-fated Internet Polls to help make a list of the top 15 places to go for kids before they are 15. Sort of like bucket list but instead of dying you turn 15. One small problem is that the Creation Museum of Kentucky has been intruding in the top ten, even top five, of this list. You need to go there and vote for something else! Like, all the attractions that you happen to like that are lower than the Creation Museum at the moment.
A bill in Oklahoma that would, if enacted, encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution” and “global warming” is back from the dead. Entitled the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” House Bill 1551 was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2011 by Sally Kern (R-District 84), a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in the Sooner State, and referred to the House Common Education Committee. It was rejected there on February 22, 2011, on a 7-9 vote. But, as The Oklahoman (February 23, 2011) reported, the vote was not final, since a sponsor “could ask the committee to bring it up again this session or next year.” And indeed, on February 20, 2012, Gus Blackwell (R-District 61) resurrected the bill in the House Common Education Committee.
Here is the bill