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November 09, 2005

Intelligent Voting

The good news is that every single member of the Dover school board that attempted to foist "Intelligent Design" into science classes who was up for election this year was voted out of office and replaced by people who want ID out of science classes. Go rationality!

The bad news is that in a couple of years voters will get lazy and forget about voting for school boards, thereby allowing the nutbags in again to wreak more havoc. Which was what happened in Kansas, when the forces of moronicism, previously booted from the state school board for attempting to strip evolution of science classes entirely, managed to wheedle their way back in and not only officially question evolution, but actually change the definition of science because the old definition, you know, was based on the need for facts and observational data and inconvenient things like that. And now poor Kansas is yet again saddled with the reputation of being where religious idiots go to breed. I don't actually doubt that the school board will change yet again at the next election as people who are sane stand for election, thus nudging Kansas once again closer to the 21st century, but the damage has already been done.

Moral of the story: Evolution-hating whackjobs never sleep, and they love the elections and elected positions no one else cares about. They will be back as soon as possible and they're counting on moderate, sensible people to let the local elections slide off their radar. Who is to blame for Kansas bashing in the academic careers of its children? The moderate voters who weren't paying attention to the school board. You can really blame the evolution-hating whackjobs, after all. They did what they intended to, and all of Kansas will suffer for it.

As for Dover, will, good on them for getting better people for the school board. Let's hope they remember to keep it going the next school board election. And the next. And the next. And so on.

Posted by john at November 9, 2005 02:14 PM

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Comments

Jim | November 9, 2005 03:55 PM

It scares me though, that the difference between the folks who got booted out with the fewest votes and the ones who got the most is still only a matter of a few hundred votes... I'm no expert, but that sounds uncomfortably close.

John Scalzi | November 9, 2005 03:57 PM

Well, yes. Which only accentuates my point.

Megan | November 9, 2005 04:02 PM

Perhaps some of the folks who voted for the whackjobs were overzealous Pastafarians. Less frightening than the alternative. But then, most things are.

Ramen.

John Scalzi | November 9, 2005 04:04 PM

I doubt the (former) Dover board has been touched by His Noodly Appendage, arrrrr.

Peter | November 9, 2005 04:35 PM

Hi John),

This is my first comment here, but I've read the Whatever for a while (and enjoyed myself mining its archives!), and I enjoyed Old Man's War. I also heartily agree with many of your thoughts (from publishing to religion). :)

WRT this post -- I'm curious as to what solution you'd suggest. The first thing that popped into my mind is "make voting compulsory", but of course there's no way that would be accepted. The second thing was "abolish boards", but that, in addition to also being (most likely) unacceptable, leaves the problem of "would their replacements be any better?"

John Scalzi | November 9, 2005 05:01 PM

Peter:

"The first thing that popped into my mind is 'make voting compulsory', but of course there's no way that would be accepted."

Actually, voting is compulsory in at least one country I can think of -- Australia, where you can be fined for not voting. So it seems possible if one wishes to do so.

Another attractive solution is to make voting day a national holiday: Everyone gets out of work free! to vote. I figure that would probably raise participation.

However, for the moment, my solution is simply to harangue and hector people into exercising their franchise. it's one of those unsexy things you have to do to keep America great.

Touched... | November 9, 2005 05:13 PM

Arrrr...perhaps now His Noodliness will have His day in the school rooms.

"...where religious idiots go to breed."

Good one!

MKeaton | November 9, 2005 05:18 PM

I'm not convinced that the world has exactly ended here. This may turn out to be a good thing in the long run.

To quote from the same CNN article:
"The standards state that high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that some concepts have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology."

The standards don't mandate ID or creationism be taught and does require evolution. As far as the teaching standards, this looks to be just an acknowledgement of what science already knows (that there is anomalous data that needs to be redressed in the current prevailing theory). If they happen to choose to teach a bad theory alongside a good one, well, we've already spent billions on "critical thinking" classes. And I do seem to remember being taught Kepler and Lamarkin as well as several other flawed theories over the years. It's a blow against Evangelical Evolution but most biologist now agree that pure Darwinism is outdated and should be re-examined. Challenge is always good for science. If the challenge has to come from a really bone-headed theory, there is still as much chance for improvement as detriment.

That being said, the change in the definition of science leaves me gob-smacked. I'm still stuck in the fifties fighting with biologists over whether the falsibility clause is necessary. It's especially weird since, if the classic definition of science were applied, all life sciences and especially evolutionary theory would be severly undermined. (I defer here to Dr. Gerald Holton* and his excellent explination of how, since science requires reproducability, it is woefully hamstrung dealing with any matters related to origins and extinctions.) If they held to a strong, literal line, they could demand a laboratory demonstration of life created from an inert chemical soup before allowing generative evolution to be taught at all. I know it sounds crazy but, logically, it's a much sounder approach than randomly redefining things.

My best guess is that somewhere in someones thought process, they forgot that science is a tool for a specific set of purposes and is not supposed to define everything. It looks like they reversed their cart and horse and got run over by both of them. (You got Materialism in my Christianity. No, you got Christianity in my Materialism.)

Either way, the blame does lie at the feet of the inattentive voter. Beliefs are held; agendas are advanced; votes are taken; life goes on. It's a pulse and a pendulum and, thankfully, in a free country, the population has its mobility as a last resort. It's annoying but it might be a good thing. The history of science has shown that a challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy typically results in an advance in knowledge.

(Apologies for the length)
mk

*"Introduction to Concepts and Theories of Physical Science." Princeton University, 1985 edition. See especially pg. 31-37 and 186-223. Hawkings makes a similar argument in the first section of "A Brief History of Time." Both men also do a solid job of explaining how and why science can pursue knowledge of these two "endings" without violating the spirit and practice of scientific investigation.

Bob | November 9, 2005 05:20 PM

The point made here is rarely mentioned and can't be stressed enough: in a democracy, the blame usually has to be placed at the feet of the voters. You can't blame the king, or the duke, or the earl, or the Duke of Earl; it's us. The morons in Kansas didn't just show up for work one day. Somebody voted for them, and a whole bunch of other somebodies did nothing to stop them.

Yes, once in a while a candidate seems to be one thing and turns out to be another. Who thought that George W. Bush would turn out to be totally incompetent? OK, bad example. But if we take the trouble to choose carefully among people who actually have a track record of some sort, the risk of being greatly surprised is minimal.

By the way, the folks out here in California voted down each and every ballot initiative, including four that Arnold was stumping for. Message to governor: No more end-around runs, pal; working with the state legislature is part of the job.

John H | November 9, 2005 05:35 PM

A few observations:

In regards to the Dover elections, it's not entirely known (and probably won't be known) if they voted the IDiots out because they don't hold the same POV or because they were simply embarrassed by the whole circus surrounding the trial. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the latter.

As for making election day a national holiday, another idea would be to move elections to Saturday - the idea being people might actually vote if they don't have to take time off work to do it. More than likely the same people that would get the national holiday off would also have Saturdays off.

One of the biggest complaints I have is that the Electoral College process encourages voters to not bother if their state is already heavy one way or the other. Scrapping it would also force candidates to pay attention to the entire country and not just the handful of 'swing' states.

I believe you've written about the Electoral College before, but I can't remember what you're position was...

John H | November 9, 2005 05:42 PM

Sorry - I suppose I should have mentioned that I know the Electoral College has nothing to do with this years election (or next years, or the year after that). But I think it does affect the voting patterns of some people - they don't bother to vote in the presidential election, and then figure the lower elections aren't worth the effort either...

Holly P | November 9, 2005 06:01 PM

(delurk)

MKeaton, the issue here is that no, there *haven't* been concepts that have been recently challenged by fossil evidence and molecular biology. No matter how much Michael Behe wishes (or rants) otherwise. As for "re-examining Darwinism," "Darwinism" hasn't been taught in pure form anywhere but in courses *on* Darwin for years, ever since the Modern Synthesis of genetics & natural selection, which happened fifty-odd years ago. Toss in punctuated equilibrium and phenotypic plasticity and you've got a heady brew, one far removed from anything you could possibly call Darwinism, and one which handily assimilates all data that has been recently found. There just plain isn't any anomalous data actually disputing evolution that I know of, and I'm a graduate student in evolutionary biology -- trust me, I'd have heard about it.

Intelligent design advocates in general are a problem because they frequently sound superficially reasonable, and they're terrifyingly good at using the "teach the controversy" talking point as a lure. But biology courses already spend far too little time on evolution, just as a result of all the other gajillion things they have to cover (that would be the technical term), on which they also spend far too little time. "Teaching the controversy," when it's not a controversy to anybody *but* creationists and IDiots, wastes precious time that could be much more valuably spent.

In conclusion: the Kansas school board sux0rs.

(undelurk)

Jon H | November 9, 2005 06:48 PM

I'd like someone in the Kansas board to be sued, with a personal-injury complaint drawn up according to their own supernatural-evidence standards. Maybe "She causes my gout with her telekinetic hoodoo mind rays."

I bet they'd become a true-believing empiricist right quick.

The person would win the case, of course.

But their newly-acquired preference for natural evidence in a court of law would come in handy the next time seats on the Board are up for vote (or however they get on there).

If they dismiss supernatural explanations when it suits them, why should they be taught in school?

Madeline F | November 9, 2005 07:16 PM

Also, teaching political lies in school leads to the "Say-No-To-Drugs problem": many people don't believe a word the schools and government say about drugs because many of the things taught turned out to be lies. Do we want people who grow up believing much of science they're taught is hogwash? ID is the "Reefer Madness" of biology.

Peter | November 9, 2005 07:22 PM

Dear John,

Point taken -- as a matter of fact, I'm Australian. XD That's why "making voting compulsory" was the first thing to occur to me -- it's ingrained in us, but not in you guys, which is why I think it might have more trouble being accepted as a solution in the States. (I have my own opinions about compulsory voting in general, but I'll save them for another day.)

I do like your public holiday idea...

Mani A | November 9, 2005 07:45 PM

Technically, voting isn't compulsory in Australia. Showing up at the ballot box is. What you do then (I've heard some amazing examples of what bored people who do not want to vote will do to their ballot papers) is entirely up to you.

This also brings up the point that maybe if you don't have opinions on who to vote for, you should not be compelled to vote. Instead of spoiling their votes, some of these people might just be casting random votes to some lunatic fringe party like the Gun party guys or the Democrats

By the way, the fact that election day in the US isn't a public holiday is perhaps the stupidest thing I've heard. What is the accepted rationale for not making it/them one?

John Scalzi | November 9, 2005 08:40 PM

It's more important to make money for the company you work for than to vote, apparently.

andrew | November 9, 2005 08:45 PM

This also brings up the point that maybe if you don't have opinions on who to vote for, you should not be compelled to vote. Instead of spoiling their votes, some of these people might just be casting random votes to some lunatic fringe party like the Gun party guys or the Democrats

And that's their right. Hey the "Help End Marijuana Prohibition" polled about 0.6% in New South Wales last federal election.

I find the attitude, that if forces stupid people to vote and that they don't vote sensibly , distastefull and patronistic. People tend to pay attention to process because they know they have to vote.


RooK | November 9, 2005 10:01 PM

Additionally, I favour the idea of public officials needing to pass an IQ requirement. But the voting part is indeed pivotal.

Martin Wagner | November 9, 2005 10:55 PM

Victor Stenger has an interesting twist on his mailing list concerning the whole redefinition of science thing. I quote in full from his post:

The Kansas board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena. This has met with strong objections from scientists, which I think are misguided.

Scientists should stop insisting that science is limited to the study of natural phenomena ("natural" = material: space, time, mass, energy, etc.) This just plays into the hands of those who want to accuse us of dogmatism. Our stand should be that we examine all the evidence and seek to explain what is observed in terms of models based on concepts that in the past have proved successful and that we have labeled "natural." However, should some phenomenon defy all natural explanations, then we are willing to consider other models.

Now, here is an additional advantage I can see if we take this attitude. It means that when supernatural phenomena are claimed we will be able to address them according to the same critical analysis we apply to natural phenomena. Make a hypothesis and test it against the data.

Those who are promoting a critical analysis of evolution in science classes might not be so happy if we come back with proposing a critical analysis of religious claims as a consequence of their "teach the controversy" principle. Maybe that would make them change their minds about putting religion in science classes!

Jim | November 9, 2005 11:10 PM

I came into the comments area with a thought of making some allusion to passing a law setting pi equal to 3 (as Heinlein once tongue-in-cheek accused Tennessee of doing and as Indian actually almost did back in the 19th century) but as I got to reading the comments I saw people acting as if quantity was identical to quality. Getting a higher percentage of people out to vote is of no value if they are uninformed and thoughtless. Every time election day nears I get so annoyed at these mindless Vote! Vote! Vote campaigns. I don't know about you guys, but I really don't want my vote cancelled by some drooling moron who cared so little about civic obligation that he had to be nagged and cajoled and begged to get to the polling place where he can randomly vote yea and nay on issues and candidates of which he is totally ignorant. Gee thanks. Yeah, that will really improve things.

Chris Gabel | November 9, 2005 11:58 PM

As an evangelical Christian, I've never understood my brothers & sisters who get all excited about evolution. (That, and end-of-the-world theories.) Truly, Jesus Christ has a lot more to offer than these things. But a good dustup over controversy is irrestistible for some, I guess.

I really don't know or care how old the earth is, or just how evolution does or doesn't work. I am highly confident that our theories about such things will be quite different in 50 years, just as todays are quite different than 50 years ago.

None of that has anything to do with whether or not God exists & what, if anything He expects from us, as revealed by the teachings of Jesus Christ. You would think we Christians would focus on THAT.....but human stupidity is the sole territory of no man.

mythago | November 10, 2005 02:04 AM

What is the accepted rationale for not making it/them one?

You'd have people who couldn't afford to take time off work getting to vote. Musn't have that.

Kevin Q | November 10, 2005 08:03 AM

Martin, with all due respect to you and Victor Stenger, I think that's a horrible idea, for two reasons:
1. It's allowing your opponents to define the terms of the debate. Defining the terms is most of the debate. If you let them argue under their own terms, they have an advantage. And since this isn't just a rhetorical exercise, but might have an effect on what my future children learn in school, I'm not willing to give that ground.

2. We already do expect people to apply critical analysis to supernatural claims. Anybody who wants to can do any sort of scientific experiment on any supernatural effects: ghosts, telepathy, intelligent (sic) design. But we expect them to bring us the scientific proof, not demand of us a scientific refutation to their nonsense.

K

Martin Wagner | November 10, 2005 08:25 AM

Kevin: While that's a good point (especially #2), the unfortunate fact is that the Kansas school board has essentially defined the terms of the debate, through their own little legislative fiat. I think Vic's suggestion is a lot like that behind the whole Flying Spaghetti Monster satire. Okay, you folks want alternative theories to evolution taught...here's mine! Vic's mainly making the point that the pro-ID crowd, who call scientists "closed-minded" for rejecting their non-scientific ideas, aren't exactly open to having their own beliefs challenged by legitimate science. Which we all can see, of course, even if they can't.

Primate | November 10, 2005 08:35 AM

Hey, Tuesday made sense back in the 1840's. Are you telling me that something established over a century and a half ago might need to be updated?

Write your congressmen, people.

GSLamb | November 10, 2005 08:48 AM

I keep having the vote/no vote argument with my brother (who seems perfectly willing to never affect elections due to issues with the Electoral College).

I am not one to drag people to the polls. Forcing someone to vote is one step away from forcing them to vote for a specific candidate. As far as I am concerned, the fewer people that vote, the more my vote counts.

John H | November 10, 2005 09:24 AM

I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument is a good one - if you want to teach an 'alternate theory', here is one that is equally plausible to yours, so let's teach it as well. It's the same absurdist argument I like to make when someone starts yammering for school prayer - OK, each day we'll have a different religion lead us in prayer - including Satanism, Voodoo, Paganism and Wicca...

Kevin Q | November 10, 2005 11:07 AM

Martin, the problem is that their claims are not challengeable by legitimate science. They make claims that science is unable to measure in any meaningful way. By allowing them to redefine science to include non-testable claims, we allow them to claim that their faith-based beliefs are science. It is not science. Faith starts where science ends. If they can get their faith declared part of science then they can get their faith taught in public schools. And that's just wrong.

K

Nick Kiddle | November 10, 2005 12:37 PM

I've never liked the idea of compulsory voting because making something compulsory leads a lot of people to treat it like a chore, and voting shouldn't be a chore. I favour educating people about how much their vote matters and how much politics affects their daily lives. During the last elections here in the UK, TV stations showed what I considered very good adverts featuring a man who said he didn't care about politics and his friend who pointed out, bit by bit, how many things he was denying all interest in.

Martin Wagner | November 10, 2005 01:09 PM

Martin, the problem is that their claims are not challengeable by legitimate science.

Well, yeah. But the ID crowd say their claims are scientific. Vic's point was to come up with a way to show how the thinking of the ID supporters in changing scientific standards is absurd and hypocritical. Announce that you're going to subject all of the supernatural claims of their religion, including ID, to the same standards of evidence as natural claims. Vic is pointing out that the mere act of suggesting you intend to do this will likely be met with indignation and anger by the ID proponents. If ID proponents answer as you did above, that their beliefs can't be scrutinized scientifically, you've caught them out. If nothing else in the Bible can be challenged scientifically, how can they claim scientific legitimacy for ID? Are they just picking and choosing what parts of the Bible are "scientific," because they're motivated by a political agenda? Gee whiz, sure looks like it.

Andrew Wade | November 10, 2005 01:24 PM

They make claims that science is unable to measure in any meaningful way.

The bigger problem for ID is the quality of its testable claims. Scientific theories are chock full of entities of dubious reality: electric fields, quantum fields, virtual particles, heck non-virtual particles. I don't see anything really wrong with having "God" as an dummy/bound variable in a scientific theory, so long as "God" performs some function in the theory and isn't completely superfluous. And in ID, the "intelligent designer(s)" really aren't superfluous. The real problem I have with ID as a scientific is not the untestable claims, but the testable ones. ID has very few, and vague, testable predictions. You don't get much out of it for all the assumptions you put in. And that's for the high-quality ID theories, much of the "theories" are nothing more than ill-conceived and ill-executed attacks on "Evolution".

Those who are promoting a critical analysis of evolution in science classes might not be so happy if we come back with proposing a critical analysis of religious claims as a consequence of their "teach the controversy" principle.

Heh. My experience with "fundamentalists" is that they're not familiar with intellectual debate, and aside from Paul's rants, not that familiar with the Bible either.

has | November 10, 2005 01:24 PM

MKeaton: "If they held to a strong, literal line, they could demand a laboratory demonstration of life created from an inert chemical soup before allowing generative evolution to be taught at all."

Why? Abiogenesis (the origin of life) has no bearing on the theory of evolution, which is only concerned with what goes on while life exists. Creationists, whether through ignorance or malice, often falsely conflate the two, but simply saying it doesn't make it so - as anyone with high-school grade reading skills and a free copy of Origin of Species can confirm for themselves.

Kevin H | November 10, 2005 09:51 PM

According to Pat Robertson, opponents of intelligent design will soon be swept from the face of the earth by natural disasters. His quote from "The 700 Club" is:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city ... [a]nd don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there[.]"

The article from Reuters: http://tinyurl.com/cl3kh

Jon H | November 11, 2005 01:45 AM


"The bigger problem for ID is the quality of its testable claims. "

I just think ID should be referred to as Scibonics from now on.

It's like Ebonics, but for Science!

JimW | November 11, 2005 12:34 PM

Scibonics - I like it!

Seems like Mr. Robertson's ravings go along way toward proving (by directly observing that which we already suspected) that ID-ism is merely Creationism in secular clothing.

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