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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Right's war on science? Lots of ink spilled there, but how about the Left's war on science?

Yuval Levin, senior editor at The New Atlantis, has some fun with the loud red shriekies who believe science is being hijacked whenever it doesn't conform to a left-wing agenda:

... beneath these grave accusations, it turns out, are some remarkably flimsy grievances, most of which seem to amount to political disputes about policy questions in which science plays a role. Ethical disagreements over the destruction of embryos for research are described instead as a conflict between science and ignorant theology. Differing judgments about the proper role of government in sex education in schools are painted as a quarrel between objective public health and medieval prudishness. A dispute about the prudential wisdom of a variety of energy policy alternatives is depicted as a clash of simple scientific facts against willful ignorance and greed. And the countless minor personnel and policy decisions that always shape the day-to-day operations of the federal executive branch are pored over in an effort to reveal a nefarious pattern of retrograde anti-rational obscurantism. The president’s science advisor, it seems, now has an office located a little further from the Oval Office than his predecessors had, and a member of a Food and Drug Administration advisory board once wrote a book about his religious conversion.
But, of course, at a Stalinist tribunal, those would all be firing squad offences, wouldn't they?

Anyway, Levin argues in "Science and the Left" (Winter 2008) that the reality is much more complex. He argues, for example, that while leftism and science used to be at home with each other, environmentalism has challenged that because environmentalism is a deeply conservative trend:

There is no question that for some, especially in Europe, the obsession with climate change is a way to avoid thinking about serious geopolitical problems, particularly the threat of radical Islam. Rather than marshalling modernity to defend itself, this obsession allows Western elites to persist in a silly and feckless pseudo-moralism. Instead of looking to America for leadership and protection, it allows them to blame America for its strength and its confidence. And for some on the left, too, the obsession is a way to stir up the kind of crisis atmosphere necessary for some pet causes and ideas to become politically plausible. But whatever the reason, environmentalism, and with it a worldview deeply at odds with that behind the scientific enterprise, has come to play a pivotal role in the thinking of the left.

So far, the American left has managed mostly to ignore this difficulty, and to treat environmentalism as a cause of the party of science. An ongoing dispute about the basic facts and figures of global warming has made this easier by putting science and environmentalism on the same side for a time. But as that argument subsides, and attention turns to the causes of environmental degradation and to possible solutions, the fissure between science and environmentalism will be harder to ignore. An American environmentalism newly empowered by a decades-long debate that put it front and center on the agenda of the cultural and political left may come to resemble the European Green movement, which shares many of the attitudes of American progressives, but which does not view itself by any means as a party of science. Indeed, the Greens in Europe have been at the leading edge of nearly every contemporary effort to curb the power and the reach of science, most notably biotechnology—from bans on human cloning to prohibitions against genetically modified foods. But in America, the left has yet to confront this glaring complication in its claim to the mantle of the party of science. Science, it turns out, is behind much of what troubles and worries the left.
And much more to think about.

Like many people, I have noticed the growing incoherence of the ideological left on many science-related issues, ranging from the claim that stem cells taken from human embryos are absolutely essential to medical treatments (exploded) to the claim that there are no inherent differences between men and women (exploded) to freaking out over the possibility that the universe and life forms show evidence of intelligent design (they do, and you'll just have to get used to it, Lefty. That's not something you can legislate out of existence).

While you're here, find out WHY there is an intelligent design controversy ...

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Teacher accused of burning cross on student's arm and of teaching creationism

This story is making the rounds:

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (AP) - A public school teacher preached his Christian beliefs despite complaints by other teachers and administrators and used a device to burn the image of a cross on students' arms, according to a report by independent investigators.
Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater also taught creationism in his science class and was insubordinate in failing to remove a Bible and other religious materials from his classroom, the report said.

[ ... ]

But Lynda Weston, the district's director of teaching and learning, told investigators that she has dealt with complaints about Freshwater for much of her 11-year term at the district, the report said.

Some say the image, burned using a high-frequency generator, is an X, not a cross. See what you think.

Three things I don't get:

1. Why isn't Freshwater facing criminal charges over the alleged cross burn?

2. Second, did it really take a student's parents' lawsuit to draw attention to a problem like this?

3. And third, they're telling me he was still teaching there after eleven years of complaints?

Never mind Freshwater (the courts can deal with him). A few other heads should be rolling and bouncing along the corridors at this point.

But just watch them try to deflect the major issue (allegedly barbecuing his students) by highlighting the comparatively minor hot-button issue (creationism in the classroom).

Note: If the owner of the sauce image objects to my using it, I will remove it. This sauce strongly recommended by yours truly, but not for use on students. Use this one on students, as they are very tender.

Find out WHY there is an intelligent design controversy ...


Write! Canada coverage highlights intellectual freedom risks, troubles of book industry

Publicity from Write! Canada 2008, which ended two Saturdays ago, is humming along, and I see where Lloyd Mackey kindly quoted me at some length at, on the "human rights commissions" (= the Nanny Monster), and on the publishing climate in Canada in general,

Noting that Canada's 26-year-old Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees "freedom of thought, conscience and belief," O'Leary suggested that concept is "slowly being eroded by the 'human rights' system -- which I call the 'human' face of fascism."

While "those who seek to undermine intellectual freedom in Canada aim very frequently (but not only) at Christians," she maintained the aim of such people is to consolidate "their own power over society."

Tackling some of the recent practical challenges to Christian book writing and publishing, O'Leary pointed out that the market "is increasingly restricted to people who approach a publisher with a guaranteed existing audience . . . Securing an audience in advance has become a key task for the writer."

Her comments reflected an underlying current of concern at the conference, attended by some 200 writers, journalists and authors from across Canada.

The concern was predicated by the shutdown of the Canadian arm of the Christian Booksellers' Association one year ago, as well as the closure of close to 20 bookstores nationwide in the Blessings and Christian Publications chains earlier this year.
Here's the whole talk. Whatever else we do, let's maintain the current of concern (and ramp it up plenty). But we must not, under any circumstances, turn it into a "culture of concern," thus merely adding to the number of professional busybodies undermining the timbers of our society.
You know, people who can't write who presume to judge writers, people who can't publish or sell books and magazines, who would lord it over publishers and booksellers, all in the guise of "human rights."
As I have written elsewhere, Canada is rotten with this kind of Commission creep. But it is very encouraging to see how many good citizens, coming from a variety of perspectives, are starting to get the big picture and speak out.

The book cover above is of Hot Apple Cider, introduced at the conference - an anthology of some of the best Canadian Christian writing in recent years. It would make a great gift, especially for someone new to Canada or just visiting. Plus, you are helping the Resistance fight the Nanny Monster. Christian writers don't get money from the government for shutting up.

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Write! Canada 2008: CD of my business course for writers available

Some of the best fun of Write! Canada is my business course, Freelance Survival 101, marketed under a variety of names in different years. (If it's me teaching, chances are the course is the business end of writing.)

The course is fun for me because I get to meet people who are serious about becoming professional writers, hear their stories, help them analyze their hopes and goals, and point them to many tools and trail markers along the way.

I just received a note recently from student Nikki Everts-Hammond who shares an interest in ecology with me. In particular, Nikki, who has a science background, knows that the health of the soil is the health of the garden. Her particular interest is earthworms, on which she blogs, along with other relevant subjects. I did not know, for example, that the common red rigger is an invasive species native to Australia
Eisenia feotida [red wriggler] IS an invader, along with 17 other species, only two are actually native to Ontario. Introduced through commercial cultivation, E. feotida is now found in the wild and was brought in by European settlers a century or two ago. Localized for the most part around human settlements.
E. feotida are indigenous to Australia

Now to business: You can order a CD of the business course (You love writing? Turn your dream into a life!) from Swordfish here for $40 and of my plenary talk for $10. The plenary talk was actually much funnier than the written version here. (No, I don't get royalties; they go to the conference, to help make each edition better than the last. So if you want to be nice to me, feed the Paypal kitty at the top right or check out some of the more interesting blog ads that Google runs.)

The photo at the top left is from my own garden - it is my favourite flower, ipomoea caerulea, the heavenly blue morning glory.
Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy here:


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