Monday, July 17, 2017

'Weeding Out' Does Not Mean Actual Weeds -- Unless You Work For the Discovery Institute

As usual, the Discovery Institute can't seem to keep their stories straight.  Check out: "On Controversial Science, Skepticism Is Now “Social Deviance,” Skeptics Are “Weeds”"  That isn't what the 'offending' article said, but it did say we need to 'weed out' people who would fill roles in the wrong way.  Here's the quote the DI used:
"Requiring [mandatory evolution training] it though would, for one, provide teachers “with more confidence to teach evolution forthrightly,” they write, “even in communities where public opinion is sympathetic to creationism”; and two, it would help weed out creationists who want to teach high school biology by either converting them or encouraging them to “pursue other careers.”"
The DI's talking head, davey 'klingy' klinghoffer, responds with:
"Look, I wouldn’t want my kids taught creationism either, but the idea of casting human beings as “weeds” has an unhappy history."
Where does the first quote cast anyone as a weed?  The phrase 'weed out' does not do that!  It's an expression, and if klingy was being honest he would recognize it as such.  Weeding out, as defined by Merriam-Webster is:
": to remove (people or things that are not wanted) from a group.  'They will review the applications to weed out the less qualified candidates.' "
I 'weed out' things all the time.
  • Not too long ago it was a set of resumes, weeding out the ones who didn't have the required qualifications.  Sounds unfair, but when you have 100 resumes for 1 position, and most do not have any of the mandatory qualifications, you have to have some way of filtering through them because 100 interviews would be unwieldy.  Plus, why would you interview someone without a single qualification for a job?
  • I also 'weeded out' companies several years ago when I was looking for a new job.  Does that mean the other companies who made me an offer were weeds?  No, just not the best fit for me at that time.  Now the ones who didn't make me an offer . . . oh never mind :-), just teasing.
  •  In addition I 'weeded out' software application frameworks when we were looking for one for a new application.  There are plenty of frameworks, but only a few were serious contenders.  How much time were we supposed to waste on frameworks that can't possibly meet our needs?
Somehow I managed to do all that 'weeding out' without characterizing a single person, company, or product as a 'weed' -- something apparently beyond klingy's abilities.  So if I was looking for someone who could differentiate between an expression and a literal label, I guess I could weed out klingy!

Back to the example actually mentioned in the first quote and not klingy trying to drag us into the weeds of obfuscation, is the very idea of a Creationist teaching biology.  It's probably a bad idea if, and only if, the teacher would insist on teaching religion instead of actual biology.  Being a Creationist doesn't make you unable to do a job, but refusing to actually do the job certainly makes you unwilling to do the job and you should be held accountable -- as Abraham, Coppedge, and Freshwater, among others, found out.

Just because the article used the term 'weeding out' doesn't mean people who are skeptical of evolution are weeds.  The DI even had to stretch the story by a quote from 1924 to try and make their case.  As usual, they are quote-mining a dead horse.  There have been a number of 'weed' quotes attributed to Margaret Sanger, and according to, nearly all of them are crap.  They found that she may have used the term, but metaphorically, not literally.  I noticed he didn't complain that Sanger may have called American Youth 'flowers'?  Yes, Sanger was a controversial figure in her day, even today.  But this little maybe 'quote' is just another tactic, trying to tie actual science to someone controversial.  You might have noticed that klingy also brought in the Nazi's  . . . again.  Don't they get tired of this sort of nonsense?  Anyone else want to hazard a guess why no one takes klingy, or the Discovery Institute, seriously?  One reason might be writings like this.

But, as usual, the DI misses the point and tried to spin it into something it's not.  Skepticism and Denial-ism are two separate things.  People who are skeptical question, consider, and usually think about the subject at hand.  Deniers deny, regardless of the evidence in front of them.

A couple of year back, we discussed 'skepticism' before in "Skeptics vs Deniers, is there a difference?" in response to the NY Times article where they stopped using the term 'climate skeptic' and started using 'climate deniers' and we determined there is a difference, and it's not a subtle one.  A skeptic will be convinced when faced with the actual evidence of whatever they are skeptical about.  A denier will never be convinced, no matter what evidence is placed before them and if they have to go look for themselves, you know they will rarely make the effort.  It's easier to deny than face the possibility you are wrong.  You see it in anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, and most certainly in evolution deniers.

For example, I was skeptical that 'sushi' will be something good to eat, until I actually tried a pretty wide variety of sushi -- Thanks Cathy -- and came to the conclusion I didn't like it.  The vinegar-tasting rice needed something to cut that taste, plus the texture of most raw seafood wasn't to my liking.  While the California Roll wasn't bad, if we go to any restaurants that offer sushi, I make sure it has a wider menu than just sushi or sashimi.  I was a skeptic, now I am simply not a fan.  Denial-ism doesn't work that way.

A denier, most likely, wouldn't have given sushi a try -- even if they had, they would come out of the place not being skeptical, but actively not wanting other people to have a chance to even try it.  A denier wants to make the decision for everyone!  Look at anti-vaxxers whose refusal to allow their kids to be vaccinated while ignoring the risk to hurting other children!  Evidence of the success of vaccinations means nothing to a vaccination denier.

Referring to a denier as a 'social deviant', especially within the context the term was used is entirely appropriate.  It takes an Intelligent Design proponent to cast such aspersions as comparing them to prostitute and other criminals.  But let's look at the whole Wikipedia quote:
"Social deviants"—prostitutes, vagrants, alcoholics, drug addicts, open dissidents, pacifists, draft resisters and common criminals—were also imprisoned in concentration camps. The common criminals frequently became Kapos, inmate guards of fellow prisoners."
Did klingy forget to mention this quote was at the very end of the Wikipedia page on Holocaust Victims?  Of course not, that wouldn't play well.  This example of 'social deviants' is not a denier of scientific consensus, but anyone the Nazi's didn't like as an afterthought more than anyone else.  Only an intelligent design proponent would try and equate this to science denial.

Look at the Discovery Institute, they have gone well past the idea of skepticism, they are active science deniers of the highest order.  Not only do they deny the evidence supporting real science, but they keep trying to pretend they are scientists and want to insert their religious beliefs into the science classroom.  Failing that, their most current tactic is to offer political protection to teachers who do manage to teach their religious beliefs instead of the actual science they are supposed to be teaching.  The DI is not just skeptical of evolution, they deny it over and over again while trying to hide their religious agenda.

Why is this important?  Simple, skepticism can be addressed by actually examining the evidence.  Once you face the evidence, further refusals put you in denial, and denial-ism is dangerous.  Not only are deniers of science seeking political protection for their own views, their views can cause actual harm.  The most common example are the anti-vaxxers.  Evidence, again, shows over and over again that failing to have your children vaccinated results in increasing cases of preventable diseases -- occurring not just in the un-vaccinated children, but the vaccinated who interact with them.  Vaccinated children are less likely to develop the disease, but vaccination is not immunity.

One of my favorite bloggers, and biology teachers, Allison Campbell, wrote up this just recently: "1896, and the consequences of refusing the smallpox vaccine".  It's a prime example of dealing with skeptics, deniers won't change their mind, even if they bother to read it.  They already have all the answers they need, regardless of the human consequences.  Like all deniers, the DI doesn't care about the human consequences, as long as their religion wins the day.

Denials of evolution impact the environment, medicines, and medical treatments -- all well supported by the science of evolution!  Climate denial has resulted in a significant delay of examining possible methods for dealing with a potentially catastrophic problem -- one supported by all the evidence, unless your research is funding by an oil company.  Tobacco deniers caused million of dollars in medical costs, not to mention deaths, due to denying the dangers of tobacco for decades.  Gasoline lead-additive deniers also cost countless dollars in medical costs and deaths, even if we didn't call them deniers over the 40 year fight to get the lead out!  Science denial kills real people, not nearly as much as religion has over the centuries, but that's another discussion the DI keeps trying to avoid.

Skepticism is a rational response to validate the information before adopting it, but once you have been presented with the information, you are no longer a skeptic if you continue to argue against it, you are a denier, and your actions end up affecting much more than yourself.  Education is the key to dealing with skeptics, I'm not sure what the best way to deal with deniers may be, but, if history is any example, eventually deniers as a group discover how wrong they have been.  Oh, there will always be a few whining that cigarettes aren't harmful and lead in gasoline doesn't hurt anyone, but, for the most part, they get relegated to the crackpot status, like flat-earthers.  One day we will be able to look back and laugh even harder at folks like klingy.  In the meantime, I'll just laugh my normal laugh when I see he's made another post trying to muddy the waters.

BTW, klingy, 'muddy the waters' is another expression, you might look it up.  I haven't actually been casting dirt in water and stirring it up.  

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