Letter to the editor: LePage will harm science

I’ve written a letter to the editor which appeared in the Kennebec Journal today. As is ever so common, the KJ threw in some poor editing. One of the changes I’ve noticed has to do with an omission – I refer to Paul LePage as a loon. Another is that they changed “okay” to “OK”. I half-expected the first change; the second change is just bad writing. I would never use “OK” anywhere besides maybe a text message.

But then there’s the big change. Here’s how the paper starts my letter.

In a televised debate on May 27, Paul LePage seems to indicate he thinks public schools ought to teach creationism to children.

No, no, no. Paul LePage actually, literally, without any doubt said he supports the teaching of creationism in public schools. He is a creationist. The KJ is effectively lying when they put these words into my mouth. I would never make such firm claims on such flimsy (and poorly written) grounds. Here’s how I actually started my letter.

Paul LePage thinks public schools ought to teach creationism to children.

He’s a loon.

Now does that sound a bit more like me?

In addition to this malarkey, the KJ also changed my final sentence, taking away its punch. Whereas I say, “Do not vote for Paul LePage”, they’ve pretended I said, “Do not vote for LePage”. In addition to this, they also made the title of the letter “Irreparable harm to science if LePage elected”. That’s crap. Bush harmed science greatly, but it isn’t irreparable.

Given all the errors the KJ has forced upon me, I will be giving them a call very shortly. I may report back on it. Until then, enjoy the letter I really wrote.

Paul LePage thinks public schools ought to teach creationism to children.

He’s a loon.

Creationism, in one version, means telling students that Adam and Eve really existed, that the entire globe flooded (in just over a month, no less), and that the Universe is 6,000 years old.

All these things are falsehoods. And LePage is okay with teaching them to children because he doesn’t really understand science.

This isn’t just some abstract misfortune in science education. There will be real world consequences including, for example, the harming of future conservation and management efforts.

Biologists often use genetic markers to determine variation within and between populations to determine the best way to maintain healthy species. One example involved the use of microsatellites to determine the temporal and spatial population structure of Atlantic cod populations across the Gulf of Maine. Were we seeing several distinct populations or was there breeding between seemingly distant groups? How much variation was there within populations that were being treated as separate? These were just some of the questions that had to be asked in order to better manage Maine’s Atlantic cod population.

Under LePage, students could be discouraged from ever getting to know what microsatellites are, what their importance in genetic testing is, or what they mean to management services in Maine. LePage could instead encourage students to reject science – especially biology and its underlying theme and fact of evolution – by having teachers instruct them that faith is an okay way of knowing. If LePage has his way, the future of Maine biologists – and all the species they manage – will be threatened. And that’s just the first field of science we know he could harm.

Do not vote for Paul LePage.

23 Responses

  1. Also, notice the first comment on the letter draws issue with the word “seems”. Bullshit. I did not say that.

  2. They have received this letter and will get a call tomorrow (the person in charge has already left for the day).

    I recently wrote a letter to the editor where I said Paul LePage thinks creationism ought to be taught in public schools. It can be found here.

    There are a number of issues with the editing that has occurred. First, there’s the simple issue of the word “OK”. If I was an 8 year old child I might use that, but as it is I took the time to type out the full word, “okay”. Second, I labeled LePage “a loon”. I thought I had a 50/50 shot of getting that in there, but figured the Kennebec Journal might prefer tip-toeing instead. At the very least, I should have been asked if I wanted to change the phrasing, especially since the pace of the letter is largely dependent on that one sentence.

    But then there’s the first paragraph. I did not write that. I did not say that. It is entirely wrong and changes the entire credibility of the letter. It is a lie to place my name next to not only such poor writing but also such poor substance. I did not say Paul LePage seems to think anything. I said what he wants to do based upon what he has actually said. He declared it in an interview. He was asked if he believed in creationism and if he supports teaching it. Here is his answer:

    I would say intelligence, uh, the more education you have the more knowledge you have the better person you are and I believe yes and yes.

    Notice the last part: “I believe yes and yes.” Does he only seem to mean anything or is he outright saying something? Personally, I would guess the latter.

    Take a look at the comment section on that letter. The very first qualm drawn is with the use of waffling language. I cannot express just how angry and frustrated I am right now.

    I need to know what the Kennebec Journal is going to do to fix this. Words I did not say were written for me in a way which does not reflect anything I remotely believe. The effectiveness of my writing has been shot and I look like a fool. Something more than an apology email or even a buried correction in the corner of some page needs to be done.

    Cheers,

    Michael

  3. The reason they changed it to “OK” is for consistency purposes. The AP Style sets a consistent way to write a word or concept, and newspapers adopt it or modify it. All that matters is the paper is consistent, and letters that use alternate expressions get edited. For example, if you were to write “1:00 PM” or “1 P.M.” it would get changed to “1 p.m.” every time. Time of day is written minimalistic (so no “:00” ) and always lowercase and dotted for a.m. and p.m. The AP style book specifically addresses “okay” as a rejected spelling. Infact, it reads “Do not use okay.” This doesn’t remove it from the English language, but it does remove it from the newspaper.

    Removing “Paul” from “do not vote for Paul LePage” is a space-saving tactic, and it could go either way, but it’s not a bad edit. You already introduced him by his first name. It’s a redundant word, and the removal can only make it more powerful.

    As for “loon,” that was a matter of taste.

    You do have two legitimate concerns. The titled they created used “Irreparable” as hyperbole, but that’s minor and I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. You’re also correct that they made your definitive statement into something wishy-washy. Perhaps the reason is that LePage’s single support of creationism in schools was buried in a small puddle of questions.

    As for your point, I think you’re extrapolating a lot. LePage has laid out a detailed overhaul of the Maine education system and it does not include creationism. He said he supports it when asked, but he has never made it a campaign promise. The idea that he’s going to micromanage state agencies towards creationism is far-fetched.

    I have my own pet issues, the pseudoeconomic “buy local” movement, which former Democratic candidate Rosa Scarcelli made a part of her campaign. That would have done actual damage to the state if she hadn’t turned out to be ballot box poison because she had specifically policies in mind. But it still would have had to go through the political machine, and I know there would have been resistance there, so I didn’t jump to conclusions.

    I’m glad to see there are other skeptics in Maine that stand up to alt medicine and creationism, but you also need to keep things in perspective. Is it possible that you just don’t like Republicans so you’ve been more diligent about seeking out LePage’s woo beliefs? The economic policies he will put in place look a lot more appetizing to me than Libby Mitchell’s (The MEA supports her, for example, which is a terrible sign) and I’d rather risk the 1 in a million chance of him making a failed push for creationism in Maine that the certain doom of Mitchell’s.

  4. I’ll again make the point that the governor doesn’t set the school curriculum, so it matters extremely little.

    I would agree there has to be some bias here, as no one can really be neutral, we are just not wired for it.

    When the MEA endorses a candidate it typically means that they expect a big pay raise. I don’t see a link between ever increasing teacher benefits and a good education. I do see a link between increasing benefits and small budgets for books, buses, facilities and ever increasing property taxes.

  5. Michael,

    I am aware the KJ edits for AP style. They’ve done so in the past, butchering my punctuation. (I’ve also taken a class from a reporter for the paper, with input from her husband who writes for the AP.) They shouldn’t do that for letters to the editor (especially when the terms are so aesthetically repugnant).

    If I was writing a generic news piece, I wouldn’t want to repeat a full name. This is a letter to the editor. It is necessarily short and therefore necessarily needs to be punchier; terms, slogans, and phrases must remain in tact if the letter is to serve its purpose. Editing out “Paul” would be equal to changing “Do not” to “Don’t”. It would save plenty of space (even though I have 300 words), but it would take a casual, flimsy tone. Besides that, it is not what I wrote.

    As for LePage supporting creationism, he will cause harm to all areas of science where he has influence. And if he’s the governor, that’s a lot of areas. How can any state expect to promote any science with a leader who denies it all?

    Also, where his crazy beliefs are concerned versus the other candidates, search their names on this blog. I’ve asked each one their position on creationism. Libby Mitchell did not answer (though I find it unlikely that she would speak in favor of it).

  6. Putting letters into AP style has been standard practice at the newspapers I’ve worked for.

    I don’t follow your logic that LePage will cause harm to all areas of science. All of them? How does that work? Why will his creationism impact the vascular research center in Scarborough, or any chemistry research in the state. Maine doesn’t have “rent control” on any of its apartments, should I be concerned about that happening (scientific consensus against it in the econ world)?

    I’m willing to admit he poses a small risk to Maine’s public schools – as in microscopic. But why should that impact anything else? The governor is not a king, and a creationist doesn’t reject all science.

  7. I am not surprised at the hack job the newspaper did to your letter. Most newspapers do it and have done it for decades. I learned about it the hard way 25 or so years ago when both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times twisted what I said to be unrecognizable to me. Those articles were written about technological issues and had nothing to do with politics. I have never given a quote or an interview to any media since. I no longer trusted them.

  8. Sorry, I forgot the “Notify-me…” check box :)

  9. True a creationist does not reject all science. In fact it could be as with myself, the only thing I disagree on is what the impetus for the beginning of time and space and so on.

  10. Michael,

    I’ve explained one connection LePage’s anti-science sort of mind has to the real world. It’s the sort of impact his stance will have. I’m not going to spell out every conceivable situation to you because you want to be cute.

    And you only show your ignorance by announcing that creationists do not reject all science. By virtue of only accepting what agrees with them theologically, they reject science. Not to mention the specific rejection of chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, oceanography, tectonic plate theory, physics, etc, etc. Oh, except a few will accept some age-related science.

  11. Hartwell left you a couple thoughtful responses and you call him ignorant in reply. Is it any wonder why the editors of a newspaper feel the need to tone down your hyperbole?

    When I used to write letters to the editor, I imagined I was speaking directly to my adversary with a tone of respect. I tried hard to make claims based directly on stated, sourced facts, rather than my fevered imaginings of the future theocracy. You’ll find they edit far less that way.

  12. Much more “scientific” that way, too.

  13. blockquote>
    …I imagined I was speaking directly to my adversary with a tone of respect.

    That would be foolish if the adversary in no way earned respect. Political correctness for its own sake is nonsense.

  14. Well, if foaming at the mouth, calling your adversary a “loon”, and decrying as ignorant anyone who questions you works better for you, then by all means, be my guest. I’m just saying the newspaper guys aren’t going to like it, for the most part.

  15. I suppose extreme exaggeration, like yours. is a better style?

  16. I did state that hyperbole is not the best method of argument, in my previous post. It’s more suited to ridicule.

  17. Michael, you are demonstrating one of the problems of someone being an atheist first and a skeptic second. I’ve been in the skepticism movement a few years longer than you, so I’m willing to tolerate your adolescent tone a bit more than Mark is, but he’s right. You really need to show more respect when someone disagrees with you, instead of resorting to name calling whenever someone agrees with you.

    You went from criticizing the paper for using “Irreparable” as hyperbole, to using blatant exaggeration that LePage is a threat to all science. Let me share a secret that skepticism has taught me: our opponents are not all idiots. I recall a conversation with Steve Novella where he summerized a debate the “Rational Response Squad” had with a Christian. Brian Sapient of the RSS made the claim that all Christians are stupid, and the woman he was debated called him on it, and he didn’t budge. She brought up tons of counterexamples and made him look like a fool. Novella’s point was that woo beliefs happen because people compartmentalize their minds, and someone who is a good engineer can still believe in UFOs or creationism.

    In addition, I urge you to read Carl Sagan’s opus “The Demon-Haunted World. In specific, chapter 18 “The Wind Makes Dust” is about how people are natural scientists.

    The way you tell it, Paul LePage must reject the combustion engine as some kind of divine battery that runs on prayer. Could it be that he fully understands how a four-stroke engine works (fuel-rich air explodes, pushing a piston and creating mechanical energy)?

    Michael, I think its obvious that you have strong political views. So do I, and so do a lot of skeptics, but there is a constant struggle to control them and let the evidence speak for itself. You should make that a higher priority. You are on the way to becoming a skeptic, but you’re not there yet.

  18. When I used to write letters to the editor, I imagined I was speaking directly to my adversary with a tone of respect. I tried hard to make claims based directly on stated, sourced facts, rather than my fevered imaginings of the future theocracy. You’ll find they edit far less that way.

    I do not respect creationists. If I offer them a tone of respect beyond what they deserve merely by virtue of being people, then I am lying. I am unwilling to make that compromise. It’s silly politics.

    Michael, you are demonstrating one of the problems of someone being an atheist first and a skeptic second. I’ve been in the skepticism movement a few years longer than you, so I’m willing to tolerate your adolescent tone a bit more than Mark is, but he’s right. You really need to show more respect when someone disagrees with you, instead of resorting to name calling whenever someone agrees with you.

    “Skeptic” is a political term. It means nothing and is used by everyone.

    It is a fallacy to cite your age as giving you some sort of authority or maturity. If anything, such a lowly argument is a sign of immature argumentation.

    As for name calling, what shall you prefer I do? Should I say you’re “lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned” in terms of what creationists reject? Perhaps I should say you’re “lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact”? It’s all the same as labeling you ignorant. But Dictionary.com has a couple more options if you’d prefer.

    Incidentally, an insult is normative: it stakes a value claim. I called you ignorant. That is descriptive. There is a significant difference.

    But then I’m younger and more vigorous, so I might be expected to recognize all this a bit more quickly then you. Right? Age arguments are valid? Right? Right?!

    You went from criticizing the paper for using “Irreparable” as hyperbole, to using blatant exaggeration that LePage is a threat to all science.

    In what “skeptic” movement have you been all these years? How do you not know that Biblical literalism is a threat to the foundation of science?

    The way you tell it, Paul LePage must reject the combustion engine as some kind of divine battery that runs on prayer. Could it be that he fully understands how a four-stroke engine works (fuel-rich air explodes, pushing a piston and creating mechanical energy)?

    Careful. LePage’s full name has already been stated.

    The fact that someone can understand how something works or what science says does not mean their beliefs do not represent a threat to scientific thinking. LePage, at the very least, rejects evolution based upon a book by the goat herders who happened to be literate thousands of years ago. That’s inane. How much do you want to bet he also rejects embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights on the same grounds?

    Michael, I think its obvious that you have strong political views.

    This isn’t about politics. It’s about science. It just so happens that politics has such a habit of stepping where it doesn’t belong.

    You are on the way to becoming a skeptic, but you’re not there yet.

    Thank you for your condescension, but I hope I never become so ill-defined.

  19. You want a group of people that are a real threat to science?

    http://www.theflatearthsociety.org/tiki/tiki-index.php

    Or how about this, Paul Watson would have us grubbing about in caves again:

    http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2007/20070506180903.aspx

    The republican candidate believing that God may have created the universe is the least of your worries, but seems to be the topic of a large number of posts.

  20. What stupid links, Nate. Way to go to derail a thread.

  21. Obviously they are stupid links while you whine about something LePage will have no power to change, there are actual threats not imagined ones out there.

    Are you so blinded looking for a wolf in sheep’s clothing that you can no longer see the real wolves? or is it simply that LePage shares different politics and therefore must be ‘whipped through the town’?

  22. The rejection of evolution is as sane as the rejection of a round Earth. A candidate who does either one is inherently unqualified for any public leadership position.

  23. Creationism is not inherently the same as a rejection of evolution. After all even you have conceded that God could exist.

    And the public decides who they want to be in what position. Qualifications have nothing to do with it, what made Obama qualified to be president? He had never run so much as a hot dog stand.

    It is amazing that people still think the earth is flat. I wonder how that changes their travel arraignments when they fly long distances…

    I really can’t tell if its supposed to be humor or if they really believe it…

    Its quite far and beyond believing in miracles and God, things that can’t be proven or disproven using current science, as a pilot I have seen the curve of the earth many times flying by the coast especially.

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