Atheists score higher than religious on religious survey

Pew has a new and unsurprising poll about what Americans know about religion.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

One head of an atheist organization has an idea why we’re seeing these results.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

And for some, I suspect, the deep conflict between science and religion helps to inform people about the religions of the world. People see the truth of what science has to tell us, then they hear the lies of religion (miracles, for example), and they look into both more deeply. I lend much more weight to Silverman’s more straight-forward explanation, but I think there’s something to be said of my suggestion; people want to know what’s true and religion hasn’t a single answer.

Ben & Jerry’s drops “All Natural” from labels

I literally just watched Super Size Me when I came across this article about Ben & Jerry’s dropping the label “All Natural” from its labels.

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s is dropping the phrase “all natural” from all labels after a request from a health advocacy group.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the company confirmed the move Monday.

The CSPI told the company last month it should not use “all natural” if products contain alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, hydrogenated oil or other ingredients that are not natural.

Ben & Jerry’s, a unit of consumer products giant Unilever, said it’s not changing any recipes. It’s just removing the label from all products, whether they are among the majority that contain at least one of the ingredients CSPI listed or not.

The CSPI also played a role in “Super Size Me”.

I’m glad to see this move not out of health advocacy (though I’m also happy from that point of view) but because the term “All Natural” is almost entirely without meaning. It’s just some tricky buzzword that helps sell products, but it doesn’t add any information content to any packaging. I hope the next step will be for the FDA to define it, a position strongly supported by the CSPI.

U.S. science and math education ranked 48th

A lot of Americans are hostile towards science. With political parties like the Republicans and Teabaggers, it isn’t any surprise. (Of course, the Republicans are a contributor to the hostility; the Teabaggers are a result.) But at the root of these ugly movements is, naturally, religion. It’s fair to place a lot of the blame on religion because, for starters, it teaches that faith is a virtue. Of course, faith most certainly isn’t a virtue and it has only been made into one by the religious out of necessity, but the idea that it’s good to believe without evidence is ingrained into many American minds via religious rhetoric.

We’ve always been a religious nation, but there were times when we managed to lead in science and math. We can attribute a lot of that to economic superiority or importing scientists from elsewhere or, especially during the Cold War, nationalism. But I think we can also attribute a lot of it to the fact that historically it hasn’t been obvious to a great many people that there is a deep conflict between science and religion. Without people being widely aware that God is not only not evident but also not needed for the Universe and for life, there’s little reason to view science with any great hostility. Unfortunately, while science has been the tool man has used to make the greatest achievements ever seen on Earth, it has also revealed that a lot of people are just plain stubborn. People will favor their long-held beliefs over accepting a conflicting fact from science. (In fact, it’s 64% that will do that in America.) That’s why we have religion to blame for results like these.

Stagnant scientific education imperils U.S. economic leadership, says a report by leading business and science figures.

Released Thursday at a congressional briefing attended by senators and congressmen of both parties, the report updates a 2005 science education report that led to moves to double federal research funding.

Nevertheless, the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” review finds little improvement in U.S. elementary and secondary technical education since then.

“Our nation’s outlook has worsened,” concludes the report panel headed by former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine. The report “paints a daunting outlook for America if it were to continue on the perilous path it has been following”:

•U.S. mathematics and science K-12 education ranks 48th worldwide.

•49% of U.S. adults don’t know how long it takes for the Earth to circle the sun.

•China has replaced the United States as the world’s top high-technology exporter.

One of the most interesting facts in the research, though a bit of an outdated one, is that in 1999, 69% of 5-8th graders received instruction in the physical sciences from teachers lacking a major or certification in any physical science. It makes me wonder how many high school students are also receiving their education from un- or low-qualified teachers. We know they’re out there (which is one reason D.C. fired a bunch of them recently), but I’m not sure on the stats. I think there would be interesting implications for Paul LePage’s plan to give away degrees.

Science has nothing to do with conservation or technology

At least that’s according to another Teabagger at AsMaineGoes who was responding to my posts about Libby Mitchell being great for education.

Notice the circular and vacuous arguments. He gratuitously pronounces the falsehoods that “LePage and the Republican party is [sic] hostile towards science” and that LePage has “precisely suggested” “to just give away degrees”, misrepresents “science” and its purpose to be “areas of conservation and new technology (especially for clean energy)”, and claims that “LePage and Republicans aren’t hostile towards science because they disagree with Libby Mitchell” but because “they’re hostile towards science”.

I think this is a case of a blindly angry Teabagger (apologies for the redundancy) hearing the word “conservation” and making a lot of assumptions from ignorance. Take, for example, this part of his post.

Not only does this a) have nothing whatsoever to do with “science”, b) misrepresent science as ideological environmentalism…

He goes on, but (b) is the important point. He heard “conservation” and assumed evil, anti-business environmentalism. I was actually referring to a wide array of concerns all Mainers share regardless of their party or ideological affiliation. For example, like every other state to my knowledge, Maine has a wide range of hunting restrictions that are important to maintaining the health of whatever the given population is. An insane conservative with insane ideology might object on immature libertarian grounds that this is mere “ideological environmentalism”, but it remains a fact that in order to be sure hunting is a worthwhile endeavor in Maine, we need to deploy the tools of science.

Take the common place event of someone killing two deer when a limit of one has been imposed (or however many constitutes more than the given limit). There’s no way to know something illegal has happened after the fact by looking into someone’s freezer filled with cut-up meat – unless we have the right people with the right background in science. Qualified biologists need to compare DNA sequences in order to determine if there are two individuals in a given freezer (or whatever the location may be).

Or take the issue of microsatellites and Atlantic cod. Research was conducted that was important in determining the spatial and temporal population structure over a range of several banks (or, if you’re anal retentive, two banks and one shoal). This matters because it isn’t in anyone’s interest to manage any stock in a way that doesn’t reflect the way genetic information is being passed around.

Call me crazy, but I think this is pretty important conservation – no matter the reason one wants to maintain a given animal population. But maybe I should avoid buzzwords like “conservation” so I don’t get the conservatives twitching. (On second thought, nah.)

But let’s go back to that first paragraph I quoted.

…and claims that “LePage and Republicans aren’t hostile towards science because they disagree with Libby Mitchell” but because “they’re hostile towards science”.

I want to give this guy credit for pointing out a typo on my part (where I said “is” instead of “are” – I originally had written the sentence with just LePage), but then he goes and displays some rather sloppy reading comprehension. I didn’t say anyone is hostile towards science because they’re hostile towards science. I actually said this:

They just disagree with Libby Mitchell because they’re hostile towards science.

I’m not even making a claim as to why LePage or the Republicans are hostile towards science. I’m claiming – rightly – that they are hostile and as a result they disagree with Mitchell.

This isn’t that hard.

Thought of the day

‘AsMaineGoes’ user gets it wrong

From time to time I find that someone links to FTSOS from some right-wing, teabagging, anti-common sense site called AsMaineGoes.com. I usually just ignore it because there isn’t really any substance being added; the user will just link back here because he* can safely assume that everyone will agree that whatever I’ve said is disagreeable. But now someone has made a thread based on my post about Libby Mitchell being great for education, and while he basically just does the standard practice of quoting me with the assumption that all his right-wing friends are on board with what he thinks, he did have to make a thread title.

Disagree wtih (sic) Libby? You’re ‘Hostile Towards Science’

Why, Michael, you say, do you really believe people are hostile towards science for disagreeing with Libby Mitchell? No. Here’s what I actually said (and even what this guy actually quoted):

Whereas LePage and the Republican party are hostile towards science, Mitchell recognizes its crucial importance to the future of the state.

It isn’t that hard to get. LePage and Republicans aren’t hostile towards science because they disagree with Libby Mitchell. That would be ridiculous. They just disagree with Libby Mitchell because they’re hostile towards science.

*I normally use “he” in my writing when I could use either gender (or both – “he or she”) because I’m not usually looking to make a point about gender equality, at least not in a way that constitutes a literary distraction for most people. But I think in this case of using “he” for users at AsMaineGoes, I have pretty high odds of using the correct pronoun.

Libby Mitchell would be great for education

In deep contrast to creationist Paul LePage, Libby Mitchell would be excellent for education in Maine.

Mitchell said Maine schools need to emphasize science curriculum more.

“(We) need to make sure they get it and know that there’s a future for them,” she said. “Maine has a school of math and science, which has been very successful, but all of our curriculum needs to focus on that.”

Whereas LePage and the Republican party are hostile towards science, Mitchell recognizes its crucial importance to the future of the state. She knows that in areas of conservation and new technology (especially for clean energy) it’s going to take a lot of quality education. Maine, just like every single place in the entire world, needs a strong core of people who have highly specialized scientific knowledge.

Mitchell also knows that the answer isn’t to just give away degrees – which is precisely what LePage has suggested we do. It’s obvious to anyone remotely intelligent that the biggest obstacle to students gaining the knowledge they need to get high quality jobs is money: people can’t afford to go to college. Mitchell, seeing this overwhelmingly obvious fact, has a solution.

Maine has far too few citizens with a college degree: only 37% of Maine citizens aged 25 to 64 hold a college degree compared with the New England average of 47%. Creating a public/private partnership for a matching grant program to guarantee tuition for the first year at the university system, community colleges, or Maine Maritime Academy will expand access to higher education and degree completion. This will also help lifelong learners by giving people looking to make job transitions help in getting the education and re-training they need.

Rather than make it easier for people to gain degrees, Mitchell is going to make it easier for people to gain knowledge. If you’re a Maine citizen and you don’t want your degree to mean less and less because absolutely everyone can get one for virtually nothing, vote Libby Mitchell.

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